For several years, there’s been a movement among some in the Individual Defensive Player (IDP) community to create an “edge-rusher” position that lumps together 4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 linebackers. The main reason behind this is to give rush linebackers like Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt and Arizona’s Chandler Jones more fantasy value by lumping them in with guys who play a similar role.
Adding an entirely new position to the software that runs fantasy leagues is (to my understanding) a more complicated endeavor than one might think. But in 2020 a couple of IDP providers have found a work-around of sorts — rather than create a new position, they have just modified the ones that were already there.
The defensive end spot (DE) has become “Defensive Edge”— it’s the 4-3 defensive ends, 3-4 rush linebackers and a 3-4 end or two. The defensive tackle position is now “Defensive Interior” (or something to that effect) — the tackles are joined at that spot by most 3-4 defensive ends (many of which spend more snaps playing inside in subpackages now anyway).
Now, My Fantasy League (the gold standard for IDP providers) doesn’t currently offer these designations. But what MFL does offer is the most customizable setup in the business. If this sounds like a change your IDP league would be interested in, it’s simply a matter of the commissioner going in and changing positional designations. Don’t freak out — it’s not a huge undertaking. A couple hours and a few of your favorite beverages will get it done.
I’m going to do that very thing with an IDP league here at Fantasy Sharks later this summer — but that’s a story for another day.
The thing is, with this being a relatively new format, there aren’t many rankings set up especially for it. It can be difficult to know where the Top 3-4 outside linebackers slot relative to 4-3 defensive ends, which can make it difficult to know when the optimal time is to draft those linebackers.
Conversely, if you do know when to draft those linebackers, it can offer savvy IDP managers an opportunity to obtain those players at, as an old friend puts it, a position of value.
With that in mind, here’s a look at the Top 10 rush linebackers in fantasy football in 2020. You’re going to notice a trend as we move through the list. Quite a few of these linebackers scored right at the top of the defensive edge players — largely because rush linebackers are better bets to eclipse 50 tackles than most defensive ends. If the other managers in your league aren’t aware of this and don’t alter their strategy up front, you may be able to secure a nice edge at the edge position without spending big to do so.
2019 Fantasy Scoring Listed is From Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring
1. Chandler Jones, Arizona Cardinals
2019 Fantasy Points: 151.6 Finish Among DE: DE1
Over the past five seasons, there hasn’t been a more consistent pass-rusher in the NFL than Jones, who was second in the NFL last year with 19 sacks. Over four years with the Cardinals, Jones has averaged over 50 stops, 15 sacks and over four forced fumbles a season. If the 30-year-old still played in New England, Jones would have brought home Defensive Player of the Year honors. Jones posted Top 5 fantasy numbers among linebackers a year ago, and in leagues with the defensive edge position, he’s absolutely worth consideration as the first player at his position off the board.
2. T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers
2019 Fantasy Points: 143 Finish Among DE: DE3
In just three short seasons, T.J. Watt has already developed a reputation as one of the most feared outside linebackers in the game, and he was third in Defensive Player of the Year voting in 2019. After piling up 68 tackles and 13 sacks back in 2018, Watt followed that up with 55 tackles, 14.5 sacks, eight forced fumbles and two interceptions in 2019. Those takeaway stats are going to be hard to duplicate in 2020, but Watt’s a safe bet for 55-60 tackles, 12-plus sacks and a DE1 finish. He’s a Top 5 option at the position and in the argument to be the first defensive edge chosen in fantasy drafts.
3. Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears
2019 Fantasy Points: 91.5 Finish Among DE: DE9
Mack actually had a down season in 2019 — at least by his standards. In his second season in Chicago, the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year posted 47 tackles (tied for a career-low) and 8.5 sacks — his fewest since his rookie year with the Oakland Raiders back in 2014. That that “down” season still slotted Mack inside the Top 10 at the defensive edge position is indicative of the upside that Mack could have if he rebounds in 2020. He’s very capable of finishing inside the Top 5, but getting him cheaply on draft day isn’t going to be easy. He’s kind of famous.
4. Shaq Barrett, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2019 Fantasy Points: 147 Finish Among DE: DE2
Barrett had himself quite the coming-out party with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a year ago. After logging just 14 sacks in his first five seasons in the NFL, Barrett led the league in that category in 2019 with 19.5, chipping in 58 total tackles and six forced fumbles on the way to a fourth-place finish in Defensive Player of the Year voting and runner-up finish among defensive edge players in fantasy points. Any time a player comes from nowhere to post massive numbers there’s some risk involved in counting on a repeat, but Barrett’s upside makes him an easy call as a Top 10 (if not Top 5) pick at the position.
5. Von Miller, Denver Broncos
2019 Fantasy Points: 73.5 Finish Among DE: DE17
Among all the players in this piece, Miller has by far had the best career — the 31-year-old has been to eight Pro Bowls, ranks first in franchise history with 106 career sacks and was the MVP of the Broncos’ win over the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50. Miller’s numbers were down in 2019 — his eight sacks were his fewest since he managed just five in nine games in 2013. But as recently as two years ago Miller posted 14.5 sacks, and with a healthy Bradley Chubb opposite him in 2020 Miller’s a good bet to rebound back into DE1 status. The question is whether his age and down 2019 will depress his asking price.