There are certain constants in life. Death. Taxes. The Cleveland Browns being a bad football team. And over the past several years, J.J. Watt’s status as the No. 1 defensive lineman in fantasy football – and top individual defensive player (IDP) overall.
Beginning with his mammoth, 20.5 breakout season in 2012, Watt peeled off four straight seasons as the top defensive lineman in Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring. In three of those years Watt outscored the runner-up by over 40 fantasy points. Two were by over than 50 fantasy points.
It was J.J. Watt’s world, and everyone else was just living in it.
However, 2016 was a different story. A back injury that required multiple surgeries limited Watt to just three games and a single sack, and Watt went so far as to mention the “R” word (retirement) while speaking with a Houston area radio station.
That development has led to another in some IDP circles this year – rumbles that maybe, just maybe, King J.J. the First isn’t the unquestioned ruler of all he surveys. That perhaps one of the young defensive linemen who broke out in 2016 have usurped Watt’s crown.
Could this be true? Could Watt’s reign atop IDP mountain have ended not with a bang, but with a whimper? Could it be that Minnesota’s Danielle Hunter or Los Angeles Chargers’ Joey Bosa has staked a legitimate claim to the title Watt held for so long?
Well, let’s take a look – beginning with the youngest of the three contenders.
Joey Bosa, DE, Los Angeles Chargers
It’s a relative rarity for a rookie defensive end to make a big statistical dent. Even more so when that rookie end in involved in a contract dispute that costs him almost the entire offseason as he’s trying to learn an entirely new defensive scheme.
Joey Bosa apparently did not get the memo. In his first NFL game, Bosa tallied five tackles and two sacks against one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, Oakland. By season’s end Bosa had piled up 41 stops, 10.5 sacks and brought home Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
It was a season that evoked comparisons to Watt from Matthew Burks of Pro Football Focus.
“A simple comparison for Bosa as far as his impact is Houston’s J.J. Watt,” he said. “Watt has either been the best or one of the best defenders in the league for his entire career, as evidenced by his claim to three Defensive Player of the Year awards. If Bosa’s rookie season is any indicator, that’s the kind of potential the Chargers’ edge defender has.”
Now, with defensive coordinator Gus Bradley bringing his 4-3 “under” front to Los Angeles in 2017, Bosa told Ricky Henne of the team’s website that he thinks last year’s success was only the beginning.
“Honestly, I think we were just scratching the surface of what our productivity could be last year,” he said. “There were a lot more plays we left out there that we could have had. I think with more reps and time working together, we’ll only get better.”
Bosa will slot as the left defensive end in Bradley’s defense – a role that isn’t usually considered overly IDP-friendly. It is, however a role that Bosa’s both familiar with and one that suits his skill set well. He’s not supremely athletic, but when it comes to power, motor and setting the edge, you won’t find a better young end in football.
Oh, and he’s only 21.
Danielle Hunter, DE, Minnesota
As good as Bosa was for the Chargers in 2016, Danielle Hunter was even better in his second season for Minnesota.
After showing the occasional flash as a rookie, Hunter positively exploded in Year 2, piling up 12.5 sacks despite not starting a single game in 2016. Combined with his 56 total tackles is a forced fumble and a safety, and only Oakland’s Khalil Mack (moment of silence for Mack losing defensive line eligibility at My Fantasy League) had more fantasy points up front in Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring.
This year, a chiseled, 260-pound Hunter showed up at training camp, and, given his 2016 dominance to the surprise of absolutely no one, Hunter worked with the first-team defense. Batterymate Everson Griffen told Chris Tomasson of The St. Paul Pioneer-Press that he expects a huge year from Hunter in 2017.
“Danielle’s a young monster,” Griffen said. “He’s 22 years old, he’s physically gifted and he works hard each and every day. He’s looking good.”
Griffen’s not alone in that assessment. Hunter’s a wildly athletic pass-rusher who can be past blockers and on the quarterback in the blink of an eye. On a per-snap basis, there wasn’t a more productive lineman in the NFL last year.
Granted. Hunter isn’t the run defender Bosa (or Watt) is (his grade in run defense in the B/R 1000 in 2016 was more than 30 percent lower than the rookie’s), but if Hunter can maintain anything close to that per span production with an increased workload?
That’s enough to give IDP owners the vapors.