In recent years, the defensive line has been the trickiest position in Individual Defensive Player (IDP) leagues. The reason was a lack of overall depth — in 12-team leagues that start at least two linemen, the number of dependable weekly starters usually ran out before each team had a pair.
It was quite the conundrum.
Things are better in 2020. Thanks to the emergence of young defensive linemen like San Francisco’s Nick Bosa and Las Vegas’ Maxx Crosby, there’s more depth on the defensive front this year. But the fact remains that once you get past the Top 25-30 defensive linemen, the questions start adding up pretty quickly.
That leaves IDP managers with a couple of options when rounding out the roster on the defensive line. The first is to target low-ceiling, high-floor veterans like Chicago’s Akiem Hicks and Philadelphia’s Brandon Graham. They aren’t going to single-handedly win you a week, but they should at least serve as an adequate fill-in starter from time to time.
The second option carries a bit more risk, in that the young defensive linemen listed here have yet to make a consistent impact in IDP leagues. But the young edge-rushers listed here have the potential to not only fill in in the starting lineup from time to time, but also to emerge as a weekly fantasy starter in their own right.
LATE-ROUND IDP BREAKOUT CANDIDATES AT DL
Marcus Davenport, DE, New Orleans Saints
Back in 2018, the Saints traded a first-round pick for the right to move up and draft Davenport in the first round out of tiny Texas-San Antonio. Two years and 10.5 sacks later, Davenport has yet to live up to that draft slot. As Chris Hogan reported for KPLC-TV, even Davenport admitted that he needs to get things in gear in his third NFL season.
“It took way too long for me to start stringing stuff together,” Davenport said. “It took way too long to start winning one on ones and actually any challenge I get. So that’s just how I feel about it. This whole offseason I have had to hold that in and try to use that because there’s a lot more I want to be able to do.”
Davenport has shown the occasional flash, including eight total tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles over his last three games in 2019 — numbers that slotted him inside the Top 10 at the position over that span in Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring. Playing opposite the great Cameron Jordan, Davenport will see plenty of single-teams in 2020. If he stays healthy and continues to develop, it isn’t hard at all to imagine him at least posting DL2 numbers.
Brian Burns, DE, Carolina Panthers
The 16th overall pick in the 2019 draft, Burns had a relatively quiet rookie year playing outside linebacker for the Panthers — 25 tackles and 7.5 sacks. This year, a bulked-up Burns will move to end in Carolina’s new four-man front, and he told Myles Simmons of the team’s website that he’s itching to make a bigger impression as a sophomore in the pros.
“My goals are kind of classified. I can’t really put those out there,” he said. “Ultimately, I really just want to win more games than we did last year and just have a great season. We can pretty much plug me in anywhere. It’s going to be a lot to come with this defense. It’s not going to be easy to stop, in my opinion.”
Whether it’s due to his so-so rookie numbers, the lack of impact talent around him or the new scheme in Carolina this year, there’s no stampede to select Burns in IDP leagues this season. But the 6-foot-5, 255-pounder was one of the highest-regarded edge-rushers in last year’s class for a reason — it’s not that hard to imagine him putting together a 40-plus tackle, 10-sack season and vying for inclusion toward the back end of the Top 25.
Clelin Ferrell, DE, Las Vegas Raiders
Ferrell was the first defensive lineman not named Nick Bosa drafted last year, but he spent his rookie season being severely outclassed by fellow rookie Maxx Crosby in Oakland. Now, Ferrell, Crosby and the Raiders are in Las Vegas, and he told Mike Grimala of the Las Vegas Sun that he’s eager to show he’s a better player than last year’s pedestrian stats indicated.
“I feel like the biggest thing is just cutting it loose,” Ferrell said. “Last year, kind of going through that process and learning about it, I feel like too much of me was thinking, trying to learn everything, but it’s a learning curve regardless of what people got to say. People don’t know what it takes to play or do what was asked of me last year. But aside from that, I’m ready to go. Anything that’s asked of me, I feel like I’m ready to do it and do it at a very high level.”
I will freely admit that I wasn’t a fan of Ferrell being drafted fourth overall last year, and his 38 tackles and 4.5 sacks weren’t much of a return on investment. But Ferrell is a former Hendricks Award winner who amassed over 50 tackles and 10.5 sacks two years ago at Clemson. With Crosby getting plenty of attention from opponents this year, Ferrell should have every opportunity to take a major step forward in 2020.