If you’ve read much of my work here at Fantasy Sharks, then you know I’m a proponent of waiting to draft defensive players in IDP leagues. One of the reasons that I champion this strategy is that there’s more depth on the defensive side of the ball, and that deeper player pool allows savvy IDP owners to load up on offense and still put together a strong group if IDPs.
However, the defensive lineman slot is relatively shallow compared to linebacker and defensive back, due in large part to the proliferation of the 3-4 defensive front across the National Football League. The number of truly reliable, every-week fantasy starters on the defensive line has shrunk in recent years, which puts a premium on grabbing one with one of your first few defensive picks.
However, sometimes things don’t quite work out as planned, so whether you got caught on the outside looking in during a run or you’re just looking for some badly-needed depth in the trenches, this edition of the IDP Bargain Bin will take a look at some undervalued defensive linemen in 2013.
Julius Peppers – DE, Chicago Bears
Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers has been shipped off to the old folks’ home by IDP drafters, with an average draft position of DL14 at My Fantasy League. Yes, Peppers is 33 years old, and it’s just about guaranteed that once a year Peppers will post a goose-egg and leave his fantasy owners throwing stuff. However, Peppers is also a player with double-digit sacks in eight of 11 NFL seasons (including 11.5 in 2012) and has finished inside DL1 territory in Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring each of the past five years. Even if he’s not the player he once was, Peppers is still a serviceable first pick on the defensive line if you stock up on offense and linebackers early or get caught by a run.
LaMarr Houston – DE, Oakland Raiders
The 30th defensive lineman off draft boards according to MFL, LaMarr Houston’s four sacks in 2012 are hardly eye-popping, but the fact that the fourth-year pro’s 69 tackles led all 4-3 defensive ends in 2012 should get your attention. So should the fact that Houston will be in for the heaviest workload of his career this season, for a Raiders defense that will be on the field in perpetuity in 2013. I’m a big fan of pairing a high-tackle end like Houston with an elite pass-rusher, and when you take into consideration the low asking price Houston is commanding in IDP drafts the idea becomes all the better
Rob Ninkovich – DE, New England Patriots
The converted linebacker led the Patriots with eight sacks last year and finished as fantasy football’s seventh-ranked defensive lineman. However, skeptics must believe that performance was a fluke, as Ninkovich (on average) is being taken outside the top 30 players at his position. Ninkovich may not repeat last year’s top 10 campaign, but in addition to those eight sacks in 2012 Ninkovich also graded in the top 10 among 4-3 defensive ends in run stop percentage according to Pro Football Focus. This ability to both help against the run and get after the quarterback adds a measure of consistency to Ninkovich’s IDP production. The 29-year-old is at the very least a solid fantasy reserve with IDP DL2 upside who can be had cheaply on draft day.
Brian Robison – DE, Minnesota Vikings
He may toil in the shadow of the great Jared Allen, but Brian Robison is a more than capable defensive end in his own right. The 30-year-old quietly finished as the 14th-ranked 4-3 defensive end in the NFL in 2012 according to Pro Football Focus, racking up 8.5 sacks and finishing inside the top 25 at his position in fantasy points. Much like Ray Edwards before him, Robison is the beneficiary of the constant double-teams that Allen faces, but unlike Ray Edwards, Robison is actually a football player (and not a “professional, um, boxer”). As an added plus, Robison’s bye week (5) differs from every other defensive lineman in my top 25 here at Fantasy Sharks except his teammate. Add it all up, and Robison is a great pick as depth late in IDP drafts.
Derek Wolfe – DE, Denver Broncos
Find yourself at the end of an IDP draft and feeling like you could use one more defensive lineman? If Derek Wolfe is in the board, think hard about pulling the trigger. Yes, the second year pro finished outside the top 50 last year, and yes Wolfe ranked dead last in pass rushing among 4-3 defensive ends according to Pro Football Focus. On the other hand, Wolfe was one of the league’s best at his position against the run in 2012, and teammate Von Miller thinks that Wolfe can make a jump similar to what J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans did in his second season, according to Gray Caldwell of the Broncos’ website. That may be wishful thinking, but there’s more than a little IDP upside to be had with Wolfe, largely due to his run-stuffing acumen and the tackles he rolls up because of it.
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