Like Chris Wesseling, Evan Silva, Mike Clay and Patrick Daugherty all did on offense, I’m going to break down my top 10 players on the defensive side of the ball. If you are interested in a more in-depth look at my rankings in addition to seeing projections for each player, check out the 2012 Rotoworld Draft Guide where we have projections for the top 75 at each position and break these rankings down by tiers to better help you on draft day.
Here are my top 10 players at the three IDP positions:
1. Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants – JPP was a straight up beast last season for the Giants. Not only did he put up 16.5 sacks, but he also led all defensive linemen with 86 total tackles. Last season he came in under the radar, but you’re going to have to pay a premium if you want Pierre-Paul on your roster this season.
2. Jared Allen, Vikings – There are few if any pass rushers who can rival Allen’s dominance in the game today. Last season he came within a half sack of tying Michael Strahan’s single season sack record, and he’s gone on record saying that he believes he can still break it. I wouldn’t be shocked if he does.
3. Trent Cole, Eagles – Cole had a down season last year due in part to a calf injury, but the numbers aren’t as bad as some make them out to be. Despite missing two games he still managed 11 sacks. While some may argue that the Wide-9 hurt his tackle production, a closer look at data from Pro Football Focus shows that his per snap tackle frequency dipped only slightly from 6.6% in 2010 to 6.3% last season. Cole still has the talent to get it done at an elite level.
4. Mario Williams, Bills – The move to Buffalo is a very good one for Williams. Not only does he get to shift back to a 4-3 DE, but he also gets to play on a defensive line with Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, and Mark Anderson. Expect big things from Williams in 2012.
5. Justin Tuck, Giants – Like Cole, Tuck battled injuries in 2011 and ended up disappointing a lot of fantasy owners (including yours truly). But a fully healthy Tuck is a valuable fantasy commodity, as few defensive linemen have the chops to record double-digit sacks and put up 45+ solo tackles in a season.
6. Julius Peppers, Bears – He’s no spring chicken, but Peppers is still a solid producer. His tackle numbers won’t rival the guys in the top five, but with double-digit sacks in seven of the last ten seasons, there are few more consistently productive DLs out there.
7. Jason Babin, Eagles – In Babin’s first six seasons in the NFL, he recorded 17.5 sacks. He’s had 30.5 in the last two. This bull knows how to rush the QB, and Babin has found his niche in the Wide-9. He’ll continue to put up big sack numbers this season.
8. Cameron Wake, Dolphins – One of the many 3-4 OLBs victimized by fantasy scoring systems, Wake finally has fantasy value with Miami transitioning to a 4-3. He’s one of the elite pass rushers in the game and will excel with his hand in the dirt.
9. Elvis Dumervil, Broncos – With 9.5 sacks in the final nine games of the season last year, Dumervil came on like a freight train down the stretch. He enters this season healthy and ten pounds lighter. At the top of his game, Dumervil is a bad, bad man.
10. Chris Long, Rams – We finally got the breakout we had expected from Long last season. At times he looked downright dominant, but he also had stretches of inconsistency. If Long can put it all together, he could flirt with elite-level fantasy production this year.
Just Missed: Calais Campbell, Jabaal Sheard, Cliff Avril, Kamerion Wimbley
1. Desmond Bishop, Packers – Were it not for an untimely injury at the end of the season, Bishop likely would have challenged D’Qwell Jackson as the top-scoring fantasy LB. Bishop is one of the most productive tacklers in the NFL and is capable of putting up points across the stats sheet like only few players can.
2. D'Qwell Jackson, Browns – There’s a razor-thin margin between Jackson and Bishop, and Jackson could easily top this list. Jackson surprised many last season with his how well he took to the MLB job in the Browns new-look 4-3 and also with the fact that he stayed healthy for the first time since 2008. In this defense, Jackson will again put up big tackle numbers and solid across the board fantasy production.
3. Patrick Willis, 49ers – It’s strange not having Willis at #1. This ranking is not a knock on Willis, so much as it is an acknowledgment of the emergence of NaVorro Bowman. There is no better LB in the game than Willis, but he now loses some of his fantasy production to Bowman. Willis is still an elite fantasy option, but he’s no longer on a pedestal above the rest.
4. Derrick Johnson, Chiefs – Over 100 solo tackles plus two sacks and two picks last season equals a high-end fantasy option. Johnson has really emerged as a stud LB, both on the field and in terms of fantasy. That continues this season.
5. James Laurinaitis, Rams – Though he doesn’t always generate the buzz that some of the other LB1 options have, Laurinaitis is about as rock solid as they come. He has the ability to put up triple-digit solo tackles and put up stats across the board in the fantasy relevant categories. At just 25 years old, he’s also especially valuable in dynasty formats.
6. Colin McCarthy, Titans – Is he unproven? Yes, but I have a hunch about McCarthy, who showed us that he can put up LB2 numbers or better in the eight games he started last season for the Titans. I’m leaning towards “or better” this year, as McCarthy will get the every-down role in Tennessee.
7. Daryl Washington, Cardinals – One of the most impressive young LBs in the league, Washington put up triple-digit total tackles and recorded five sacks and two picks in his first season as an every-down ‘backer for Arizona. His tackle numbers are only going to go up this season.
8. NaVorro Bowman, 49ers – Along with Jason Pierre-Paul, Bowman was one of the biggest breakouts among the IDPs in 2011. He’ll likely regress from the 111 solo tackles he notched last season, but Bowman will still be productive enough to be counted on as a solid LB1.
9. Sean Lee, Cowboys – Not to get all John Gruden on you, but I love this guy. Lee has a nose for the football and has some of the best big play upside out of the top-level LBs. His production dipped last season after he dislocated his wrist and played out the season with a club cast. Without the cast, Lee is a top-ten LB capable of producing numbers in all of the fantasy relevant stat categories.
10. Paul Posluszny, Jaguars – His fantasy numbers took a hit in his first season with the Jaguars, but there’s more than meets the eye here. Posluszny still managed 119 total tackles on the season, which was the second highest of his career. The problem for fantasy owners was that 50 of these tackles were recorded as assists. This anomalous ratio of 69 solo tackles to 50 assisted tackles is not a good indicator of his fantasy value, and I expect Posluszny to return to the top-ten in 2012.
Just Missed: Ray Lewis, Sean Weatherspoon, Lawrence Timmons, Curtis Lofton
1. Tyvon Branch, Raiders – The 100+ tackle safety is a rarity in today’s game, but Branch is one of the few who can put up those numbers. In fact, he’s done so in each of the last three years. He’s also topped 80 solo tackles each season. That kind of production makes Branch stand out among his peers.
2. Eric Berry, Chiefs – My 2011 preseason #1 DB managed just four snaps last season before he tore his ACL. While he’ll no doubt need some time to get completely back into the flow of things, there are few safeties in the league who possess Berry’s talent and fantasy potential.
3. Kam Chancellor, Seahawks – Chancellor’s size/speed combination allows him to do things on the field that mere mortals could only dream of. Not only is he a threat to top triple-digit tackles, but he is also rock solid in coverage. Big play upside and solid tackle numbers make for an elite fantasy DB.
4. George Wilson, Bills – Compared to the top-three, Wilson is generally getting overlooked by fantasy owners so far this preseason and I’m not entirely sure why. He started last season on a torrid pace, and while did miss three games, Wilson still managed to put up just three less total tackles than Tyvon Branch. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Wilson finishes the year as the number one fantasy DB.
5. Roman Harper, Saints – It’s unlikely that Harper leads the Saints in sacks again this season, but his ability as a pass rusher in addition to his solid tackle numbers make him a desirable DB. Things will be different this season with Gregg Williams gone, but we have seen safeties be quite productive under new DC Steve Spagnuolo. Harper will continue this trend in 2012.
6. Eric Weddle, Chargers – Weddle doesn’t rack up the tackles like the rest of this bunch, but his big play upside is higher than essentially anyone else at the position. I do expect some regression from his seven interceptions last season, but the fact that he can do that makes him a very interesting fantasy option.
7. Bernard Pollard, Ravens – No, he’s likely not going to rip off triple-digit tackles like he did in his two seasons with the Texans, but Pollard could certainly top 90 and add a few sacks and picks to the mix. He was trending upward at the end of last season and is a great value this year.
8. Morgan Burnett, Packers – You might be surprised to find out that Burnett put up 107 total tackles, 11 passes defensed, three interceptions, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and a sack last season, and that he did so despite breaking his hand in Week 6. Those numbers were likely good enough for a top-ten finish in your fantasy league, and you can expect him to repeat that performance this season.
9. Antoine Bethea, Colts – Bethea was an absolute tackling machine last season for the Colts, leading all DBs with 139 total tackles. He’ll get to clean up behind a suspect LB corps again this season, and should have no problem reaching triple digit tackles.
10. Mark Barron, Buccaneers – Talk about an ideal situation. Barron will step right in as the starting strong safety for the revamped Tampa Bay defense. The Bucs are young and inexperienced at LB, so there should be ample opportunity for Barron to clean up behind them.
Just Missed: Pat Chung, Jason McCourty, Charles Tillman, Antrel Rolle