Not A Mock Draft – The Defensive Line

Me again. Due to popular indifference I’ve decided to get of de fence and give the defence a go. We’ll see how this goes and whether I can be arsed with linebackers or the secondary.

Joey Bosa – DE 5th Round – It’s not clear that Bosa is exactly what you want in a fantasy DE. As a general rule, even with the scoring changes, there’s a fairly solid correlation between sacks and total points. William Gholston (47T, 8TFL, 1FF, 3S) is behind both Jacquies Smith (16T, 5TFL, 3FF, 6.5S) and Jurrell Casey (33T, 11TFL, 7S) despite all those extra tackles, for example. Bosa put together a 7.5 and 13.5 sack campaigns in his first two years, but dropped to 5 in his final year due to consistently lining up against double teams. He was still able to work through those for an impressive 16 tackles for a loss, but Bosa lacks the things to really set him apart at the next level – he doesn’t have explosive burst, and there’s no obvious stunts he uses to get by, round or through opponents. He’s a hard worker and a safe, solid pick for the Chargers, but he’s not the next JJ Watt (as some very over-enthusiastic scouting reports have suggested). A lot will depend on how the Chargers use him. He could blossom into a pass rushing OLB type to complement Melvin Ingram, but early indications are he’ll line up at RDE, so more likely he’s the dependable every down DE, lining up on the strong side, who puts up creditable numbers and tickles the bottom quarter of the top 20, without ever hitting the double digit sack totals required for a top 10 position player.

DeForest Buckner – DE7th Round – Not a man you’d want to upset, at 6’7 and 291 lbs – he’s a monster, with scope to get more monstrous – made to play the position. I’m going to assume he’s named after the guy who played Bones in Star Trek (DeForest Kelly), because why not, and I can’t be bother researching the real reason. He has good initial power and burst with long arms and uses his hands well. There’s a lot of room for improvement, but that should come with NFL coaching – his snap anticipation isn’t great, and he doesn’t really chain his moves together, but his college career clearly demonstrates that he’s steadily improving, both in penetrating the backfield and making plays and in terms of general tackling. The major loser here is probably Arik Armstead, as Buckner is both a better prospect and probably more ready to play, but… San Francisco. The 49ers were one of the worst in the league in generating pressure last year, and while you could argue Buckner will therefore get plenty of chances to go after the QB because nobody else on this team does, more likely he’ll often be on an island doing it if he is. Chip Kelly seems to love over-paying corners and safeties to do the pass defending, rather than relying on pressure and pass rush.

Shaw Lawson- DE 3rd Round – Lawson slots straight into what could be a fairly significantly rejigged front 7 in Buffalo, taking over from Mario Williams, who’s gone to suck away the end of his career in Miami – where talent goes to die. Lawson only has one proper season in college as a starter, but what a season. In tandem with Kevin Dodd, he put up a respectable 12.5 sacks and an NCAA leading 24.5 tackles for loss. I make Lawson the best DE prospect for fantasy in this class. He’s in a reasonably good spot compared to Bosa and Buckner, and he’ll be set loose on opposing quarterbacks. He has the physical tools for it too, with good burst and power, and the ability to consistently get a drive on his tackle and make plays, unlike Buckner he’s also a smart football player, who will set and maintain the edge. Some guys rack up numbers against sub-par college tackles, Lawson took Ronnie Stanley (the top drafted tackle in case you forgot) to school in the game against Notre Dame. He’s probably not an elite guy, but he could be a fairly consistent DE1. Unless Rob Ryan really Rob Ryans the shit out of that defence.

Emanuel Ogbah – DE 5th Round – I avoided dinging Corey Coleman “because Cleveland”, and I really want to avoid doing the same for Ogbah, but… Offence is not defence, and Barkevious Mingo was once a highly promising edge rusher before Cleveland Clevelanded him. A two year starter at Oklahoma State, Ogbah put up 19.5 tackles for a loss and 22.5 sacks. And is slated to fill the hole Mingo was once supposed to. He’s a power rusher, ready to be impactful immediately at pro-level, he’s comfortable dropping into coverage too, and he probably ends up an OLB, rather than a DE in Cleveland’s system. He’s seen as a coachable prospect with the build and skills to develop further, but then, Oklahoma State don’t have a good record with players transitioning to the college game… and Cleveland!

Jihad Ward – DE Undrafted – What were they thinking? A question people may have asked of his parents about his name. Or of the Raiders for drafting this monumental turd of a player so high. On one level, I get this – the Raiders needed a bookend rusher to partner Mack (the next best rusher on the team got 4 sacks compared to Mack’s 15) – and Mario Edwards seemed to split time between DE and NT, so he clearly isn’t the answer. But isn’t that why the spunked a load of money at Bruce Irvin? Ward played both inside and outside on the defensive line in college, lining up and catching the eye at RDE in the Senior Bowl and while some might see that flexibility as a bonus, really it’s an indication of his weaknesses. Not big or strong enough to match up inside and lacking the quickness or power to do anything but occupy space on the edge, Ward is a mid to late round project drafted about 3 rounds too early. I like what Oakland have done in the draft in the previous couple of years, but with bad reaches in both rounds one and two, and the unfathomable waste of a pick on Connor Cook, 2016 was a return to the baffling Raiders of old.

Carl Nassib – DEUndrafted – Nassib is a bit of an unknown. I’m not going to throw up the “because Cleveland” excuse to ding him, but it does apply. A walk on at Pitt, who finally earned a starting spot as a redshirt Senior, Nassib broke out and broke school records on his way to being the sack-leader in NCAA football. But, that’s it. He is essentially a one-year wonder, a bit of a fairy tale and the sort of high-upside raffle ticket the Browns seem to have been targeting in this draft. If Nassib doesn’t work it out, it won’t be for a lack of effort. He’s a humble, shy sort who’s worked and earned everything he’s got and more power to him for it. But that’s not necessarily going to be enough. It’d be unfair to compare him to Michael Sam, but it’s reasonable to draw some small comparisons – both are an example of how standout college play may not translate to the NFL – Sam was named Defensive Player of the Year in his conference before the draft and Nassib led all college football in sacks. However, what works in college doesn’t always translate and you need more than one move or effort. Nassib has more to him than Sam, but he’s a long way from an NFL prospect, let alone a fantasy relevant one. His ceiling is probably as part of a defensive rotation, fine for where the Browns picked him.

The Rest – There’s a quick drop off in talent. This wasn’t an exceptional class of pass rushers anyway, at DE or OLB, but in general – fantasy relevant defensive ends are actually going to be few and far between, and the elite at the position tend to stick around (Dunlap, Watt, Wilkerson, Quinn, Ansah aren’t going anywhere soon). There’s probably only two others to consider… Shilique Calhoun (brilliant name – 7th Round) has impressive tape, and merited a better pick than a third rounder, but concerns about the lack of power in his game and his sometimes sloppy play – particularly his tendency to play with his head down and lose in initial contact – dropped him through the rounds. If he improves these elements, he could be the booked DE the Raiders want that Ward clearly isn’t. Might be worth a taxi squad stash. Bronson Kaufusi (another brilliant name – 5th Round) is worth a poke. He inherited the starting role from Ansah at BYU and is clearly a more polished product than Ansah (although without the freakish athletic gifts), with great footwork, drive and speed, and more than a couple of moves in his locker. He lacks flexibility and doesn’t run with much bend and that could be an issue, which is why he’s there in the third round. The Ravens are quite old at pass rusher, and have been looking for a young talent to step up and challenge Suggs and Dumervil. Kaufusi could offer something in that area, if he transitions to OLB.

Defensive tackle is a bit tougher to evaluate, but here we go:

Sheldon Rankins – DT – 6th Round – is a run stuffer who offers pass rush upside. I’d be a lot higher on him if he hadn’t gone to New Orleans to be part of the worst defence in history. Dennis Allen (left in the Airport in London by the Raiders) steps into Rob Ryan’s shoes, and Rankins will be a big part of the improvement New Orleans will hope to see, lining up alongside John Jenkins in the middle. There’s not really enough on the roster (Cameron Jordan Cameron is a one-man show) to force opposing offences into cheating and open up gaps for Rankins to attack, so he could simply be a very good, fantasy irrelevant DT. I’ve got him ranked a little higher than the write-up suggests because he’s the consensus best DT in the class, and if you’re going to pick one, this is probably the guy.

Kenny Clark – DT/NTUndrafted – A classic Nose Tackle. For these guys to be fantasy relevant they have to be absolute monsters, capable of pushing two guys around like Dontari Poe. Don’t bother.

Robert Nkemdiche – DT/DE3rd Round – Stupidly dropped down the draft for stupid reasons. There’s times NFL teams are too risk averse (see his Ole Miss team-mate Laremy Tunsil) and get scared off making decisions which have little or no real risk attached. I love Nkemdiche as both a character and a player, and have no concerns about his transition. He’ll be great – most likely at DE, but he is officially a DT, having played there mostly in college. One note of caution – Arizona’s great defence isn’t all that great and isn’t filled with fantasy relevant players up front.

Vernon Butler – DT Undrafted – It’s not clear where Butler lines up, with Star Lotulei and Kawaan Short both fairly young and a solid inside combination for Carolina. It feels a bit like a BPA pick, rather than one which fits in any particular plan. He’s not clearly a NT, although he did play some passing downs there in college, and with an ability to get upfield and make plays, Butler could end up stealing time from Kawaan Short and hurting the fantasy value of both players.

Chris Jones – DTUndrafted – A bit of a project, Jones flashed all the tools in college, but inconsistently, and didn’t exactly look like he knew what to do with what he had. The Chiefs are obviously set with Poe and Jaye Howard in the middle, and more likely Jones ends up as an inside DE in their 3-4 front, with pass rush as ever coming from Justin Houston and 85-year-old Tamba Hali. Not really worthy of consideration, even as a post-draft pick-up.

Austin Johnson – DTUndrafted – His 6.5 sacks last year in college point to a potential pass-rush upside, but don’t be fooled, Johnson is a run-stuffer first and foremost. He’s going to be playing on a Titans interior that doesn’t do all that much, so wouldn’t expect him to do much either.

A’Shawn Robinson – DT 7th Round – Stick with me here, having shot down three higher picks as not worth drafting, why is Robinson different? Because he’s better, and in a better place. I’m not sure where he lines up for Detroit, he lined up all over for Alabama and was often asked to clog lanes and occupy bodies. If he ends up at NT, forget about it. But if he ends up paired with another NT, he’s in a much better spot than Rankins to get lanes to attack the QB. He doesn’t have explosive burst to collapse or penetrate the pocket and pressure the QB, but he has the traits to do so effectively if the opportunities open up.

The Rest – Too much effort separating Noses from actual useful DTs, and trying to work out where most of these guys will play, but there’s two others you might have considered or should consider. Andrew Billings (Undrafted) probably ends up as a nose tackle, replacing Peko for the Bengals. I mentioned earlier that Noses need to be absolute beasts to be fantasy successes, well Billings is that. A disruptive, powerful man who can toss blockers around and really disrupt the pocket, he could be worth keeping an eye on as a free agent down the line. Adolphus Washington (7th Round) is a raw prospect, but he will likely slot in alongside Marcel Dareus or just behind Kyle Williams on the Bills depth chart. With Dareus seemingly moving into a more NT role in Rex Ryan’s defence, probably out of spite because Max traded for him and Rex hates Max, that means Washington will be the guy in the middle moving up field to make plays. Of course, since Rex essentially plays a false four and lines up more like a 3-4, that could in theory make him an interior DE. That’s basically not much worth. But Rex won’t last long in Buffalo in all likelihood, and the Bills might get a Defensive Co-ordinator who builds a defence from what he has, rather than trying to put square pegs in the round holes of his own pet scheme.

David Slater

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