With fantasy draft season about to be in full swing, here's a breakdown of my Top 10 players at each of the three IDP positions.
Of course, if you want a complete set of IDP rankings, you can get those along with projections and tiers in the 2014 Rotoworld Draft Guide, which you can also access as an IOS app. Remember, the Draft Guide has insights for all types of leagues including PPR, IDP, dynasty, and auction along with over 500 player profiles.
Alright, let's do this.
1. J.J. Watt, Texans - Watt is coming off a down year where he had 80 total tackles, 10.5 sacks, four forced, fumbles, and seven passes defensed. Yep, that’s right. A down year for Watt is a career year for 99 percent of defensive linemen in the league. He’s still spectacular, and is the No. 1 overall IDP this year.
2. Robert Quinn, Rams – We saw it coming, and Hurricane Quinn delivered in 2013, unleashing a fury of 19 sacks and seven forced fumbles. Quinn is now cemented among the league’s elite pass rushers, and gets a nice boost in the aggressive Greg Williams defense.
3. Chandler Jones, Patriots – Though he didn’t equal Quinn’s breakout, Jones put up some impressive numbers of his own last season with 79 total tackles and 11.5 sacks. I expect Jones to take another step forward as a pass rusher, and the tackle-friendly New England home stat crew will help keep his weekly tackle floor nice and high
4. Greg Hardy, Panthers – The Kraken has double-digit sacks in each of his last two seasons along with a combined 120 total tackles. He’s right with the top three, but he could be facing a league-mandated suspension stemming from a guilty conviction for domestic violence. Keep Hardy’s unresolved future in mind if you decide to draft him.
5. Cameron Wake, Dolphins – Do yourself a favor this season, and watch Wake play. He’s arguably the league’s best pass rusher, and gets the added benefit of playing opposite the ascending Olivier Vernon. Wake’s tackle floor is lower than the top options, but he’s a near lock for double-digit sacks and has massive weekly upside.
6. DeMarcus Ware, Broncos – While he’s certainly on the downslope of his career, Ware has already shown in the preseason that he can still get it done. He appears to be fully recovered from the quad and elbow injuries that hampered him last season, and should see plenty of single-teams playing opposite Von Miller.
7. Rob Ninkovich, Patriots – Of the top 10 defensive lineman, there’s no doubt Ninkovich offers the lowest sack ceiling. However, he does have one of the highest tackle floors. He’s racked up 58-or-more tackles in each of the last four seasons, and last year Ninkovich put up an eye popping 91 total tackles (42 solo). At a position where elite players record around 60 total tackles, Ninkovich offers a weekly advantage at defensive line.
8. Mario Williams, Bills – From a season-long perspective, Williams certainly belongs in the top 10. But not all fantasy defensive linemen are created equally. As his 2013 campaign shows, Williams is extremely feast or famine. He posted a whopping 4.5 sacks in Week 2 last season, but also scored zero fantasy points in Week 10. Be prepared for a roller coaster ride if you own Williams.
9. Cameron Jordan, Saints – Jordan took a huge step forward in his third season, notching an impressive 12.5 sacks to go along with 47 total tackles, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. A big part of his success can be attributed to Rob Ryan’s defense, which is a much better fit for Jordan’s skill set than what the Saints ran in his first two seasons. Look for more of the same out of Jordan in 2013.
10. Jason Pierre-Paul – While some currently have JPP ranked higher, I’m cautiously tempering my expectations. Sure, he displayed an elite fantasy ceiling in 2011, but two seasons of relative IDP mediocrity leave me unconvinced that he deserves to be ranked in the top 5. That being said, he’s still young and can certainly possesses enough upside to warrant DL1 consideration.
Just Missed: Carlos Dunlap, Lamarr Houston, Calais Campbell
1. Lavonte David, Buccaneers - In 2013, David recorded 145 total tackles (107 solo), seven sacks, five interceptions, ten passes defensed, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. That’s like the IDP version of the “Twelve Days of Christmas.” David is a stone cold stud, and he’s set up for another big year in Lovie Smith’s defense.
2. Luke Kuechly, Panthers – The margin separating David and Kuechly is razor thin, but I give the slight edge to David because he doesn’t have Thomas Davis to compete with for tackles. Even with Davis on the field, Kuechly is a stellar fantasy option, and one of the league’s best defensive players.
3. Vontaze Burfict, Bengals – Last season, Burfict led all defenders with 171 total tackles. He doesn’t quite have the fantasy upside of Kuechly and David, but Burfict’s massive tackle production makes him an elite fantasy option.
4. Paul Posluszny, Jaguars – Mr. Consistency has posted 100-plus total tackles in each of his last six seasons. In addition to leading the league with 122 solos last season, Poz also added three sacks and two interceptions. He’s not necessarily an elite player from a football standpoint, but his numbers speak for themselves.
5. Patrick Willis, 49ers – A few years ago, Willis was annually the consensus top IDP, but then NaVorro Bowman happened. With Bowman on the field, Willis’ numbers have dipped in recent seasons, but his play has remained impressive. Bowman won’t see the field until at least Week 7 (and more likely Week 9), giving Willis the opportunity to again put up strong fantasy numbers.
6. Derrick Johnson, Chiefs – Like Posluszny, Johnson has been a model of consistency, topping triple-digit tackles in each of the last four seasons. His total tackle numbers won’t rival the league leaders, but that’s due to his playing eight games in front of the league’s most solo tackle heavy stats crew. Johnson’s high floor and ability to fill up the stats sheet make him an excellent value at his current ADP as the No. 13 linebacker.
7. Bobby Wagner, Seahawks – From a skill standpoint, Wagner could certainly be higher on this list. But his is an interesting case where the strength of the Seahawks’ defense is actually a weakness for Wagner’s IDP value. This obviously doesn’t impact him significantly, but it’s enough to consider him outside the Top 5 players at the position.
8. Karlos Dansby, Browns – One of last season’s biggest IDP surprises, Dansby is coming off a defensive MVP-like campaign where he excelled in all phases of the game. He now gets the benefit of a stat-friendly home crew and Mike Pettine’s aggressive defense.
9. Jerod Mayo, Patriots – Mayo returns from a torn pectoral that caused him to miss 10 games last season, but don’t let that dissuade you. When healthy, Mayo has consistently put up strong fantasy numbers over his career. He’s also available at a value, with a current ADP of the No. 16 linebacker.
10. Paul Worrilow, Falcons – One of these things is not like the other. Yes, Worrilow doesn’t belong in the conversation with the aforementioned nine players from a skill or experience standpoint, but he did show the ability to put up some big numbers last season with 127 total tackles despite not starting until Week 7. With Sean Weatherspoon on injured reserve, Worrilow is set up to potentially put up some big numbers for the Falcons.
Just Missed: Alec Ogletree, James Laurinaitis, Chad Greenway, Brian Cushing, Wesley Woodyard
1. Barry Church, Cowboys - Last season, Church led all defensive backs with 135 total tackles. In fact, only seven linebackers managed more tackles on the year. While it’s reasonable to expect some regression, another Sean Lee injury (sigh) could mean a repeat performance out of Church.
2. Harrison Smith, Vikings – While he missed a bulk of last season due to injury, Smith was tremendously productive when he was on the field, averaging the fifth most fantasy points per game among defensive backs. Like Church, Smith gets the benefit of playing behind a suspect linebacker corps.
3. Eric Weddle, Chargers – It’s rare to see a defensive back consistently produce strong fantasy numbers, but Weddle has done just that over his career. He has at least one interception in all seven seasons as a pro, and last year he managed and impressive 115 total tackles. Like Smith and Church, the Chargers linebackers should do Weddle’s tackle numbers a lot of favors.
4. Johnathan Cyprien, Jaguars – Many are surprised to find out that Cyprien actually posted 104 total tackles in his rookie campaign last season. He certainly looked like a rookie at times, but his production is very encouraging. With a favorable home stats crew, I really like Cyprien to take a step forward in 2014.
5. Morgan Burnett, Packers – Burnett racked up 96 total tackles in 13 games last season, which is an average of seven per game. That solid production could increase with the presence of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix allowing Burnett to play more snaps in the box this season. While he’s currently dealing with an oblique injury, I’m not overly concerned. Still, it is something to monitor as your draft approaches.
6. Kenny Vaccaro, Saints – Last year’s No. 15 overall selection is primed for breakout in a big way this season with Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins out of the mix. With the Saints signing Jairus Byrd, Vaccaro will get plenty of snaps within 8-yards of the line of scrimmage. His dynamic two-way ability is ideal from an IDP standpoint.
7. T.J. Ward, Broncos – Ward is coming off a strong season where he finished as fantasy’s No. 4 defensive back. While Denver hasn’t necessarily been a bastion of IDP value for defensive backs in recent seasons, Ward’s numbers should remain strong, especially in the beginning of the season with Danny Trevathan sidelined.
8. Mark Barron, Buccaneers – This is a tough one for me to rank. I love Barron as a player, but the system could really limit his production this season. While the Bucs’ transition under Lovie Smith should benefit Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy, Tampa-2 concepts tend to cap safety tackle numbers. Barron is still capable of putting up strong numbers, but my expectations are tempered.
9. Antrel Rolle, Giants – No defensive back scored more fantasy points than Rolle did from Week 4 on last season. We’ll likely see some regression out of Rolle, but he’s still in a great situation to produce behind an extremely shaky linebacker corps that features the perennially injured Jon Beason.
10. Bernard Pollard, Titans – No, he’s not one of the league’s best defensive backs from a football standpoint. But Pollard does have a knack for putting up strong fantasy numbers. Last season, he finished as fantasy’s No. 6 defensive back with 99 total tackles, three interceptions, and ten passes defensed.
Just Missed: Earl Thomas, Tyvon Branch, Eric Berry