The 2018 NFL Draft has come and gone, and with it another draft season in the National Football League. However, another season is just beginning to get underway.Fantasy draft season. It’s got all of the prognostication and speculation of the “real” thing—just with less Mel Kiper. The first group of fantasy fanatics who will get down to drafting are those who play in dynasty formats, as they add the incoming crop of rookies to their present squads.
Now that we know who has landed where from Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward (the first defensive player taken) to Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Kendall Donnerson (the last), here’s a look at the top rookie individual defensive players of 2018 for fantasy owners playing in IDP dynasty leagues.
Sadly, Donnerson didn’t make the cut.
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Every year IDP owners anxiously await draft day where defensive linemen are concerned, for a reason that looms large over the position—young edge-rushers drafted by 3-4 teams will lose DL eligibility with many fantasy providers.
Unfortunately, that’s what happened with many of this year’s biggest names, including top prospect Bradley Chubb. If Chubb has positional eligibility as a defensive lineman in your league count yourself as fortunate – and bump him to the top of this list.
1.) Marcus Davenport – DE, New Orleans Saints: The Saints were very aggressive in moving up to draft the small-school star from UTSA. It may take a little while for Davenport to acclimate to the pros, but he’s easily the best fantasy option up front among this year’s rookies.
2.) Kemoko Turay – DE, Indianapolis Colts: Turay isn’t the most talented of this year’s edge-rushers, but the former Rutgers standout hit the situational jackpot by landing in Indy. He could see significant snaps in short order.
3.) Arden Key – DE, Oakland Raiders: The Raiders need a pass-rusher opposite Khalil Mack, and Key’s got a tom of potential. However, there’s a reason he fell to the third round—his attitude and conditioning issues add a measure of risk to investing draft capital in him.
4.) Maurice Hurst – DT, Oakland Raiders: Hurst has the talent to become a disruptive interior pass-rusher for the Raiders. But concerns over his medical red-flag and heart condition led many NFL teams to remove him from draft boards altogether.
5.) Sam Hubbard – DE, Cincinnati Bengals: Hubbard’s probably never going to be a 15-sack player, but he’s a high-motor, hard-nosed edge-setter who could start for the Bengals as soon as the 2019 season with Carlos Dunlap in a contract year.
6.) Vita Vea – DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Vea’s never going to post gaudy sack totals, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a valuable IDP asset. Snacks Harrison has shown that there’s room for beefeaters even in IDP leagues that don’t require defensive tackles.
7.) Uchenna Nwosu – DE, Los Angeles Chargers: Nwosu is an athletic youngster with significant upside. But with Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa already in Los Angeles snaps could be hard to come by in the short term.
8.) Da’Ron Payne – DE, Washington Redskins: For the second straight year, Washington added a lineman from Alabama in Round 1. Payne should see a lot of work early for a Redskins team that desperately needs to get better on the defensive line.
9.) Tyquan Lewis – DE, Indianapolis Colts: Lewis never posted gaudy numbers at Ohio State, but he was a rotational player who didn’t see a lot of snaps. That could change in Indianapolis, where the Colts are moving to four-man front in 2018.
10.) DaShawn Hand – DE, Detroit Lions: Hand’s production never matched his potential at Alabama, but with big changes coming defensively in Motown this year the opportunity’s there for the big man to carve out an early role.
Most seasons, it’s the linebackers who make the biggest fantasy impact among rookie defenders, and 2018 is no exception.
The top five rookie linebackers this year are all excellent bets to make a dent on the stat sheet from Day 1 – these are players who have nearly as much IDP value in redraft formats as dynasties this year. There are also a few names farther down the list who could easily work their way into the IDP conversation as the season progresses.
It’s a good group.
1.) Roquan Smith – ILB, Chicago Bears: Smith is this year’s top rookie IDP overall and it isn’t close. The eighth overall pick will start and play in sub-packages right away and is a legitimate IDP LB2 before ever playing a snap in the pros.
2.) Tremaine Edmunds – ILB, Buffalo Bills: Edmunds is just 20 years old, and there may be some growing pains as he adjusts to the NFL. But there isn’t a more IDP-friendly role in the NFL than playing in the middle of the Bills defense in front of the league’s most generous scorekeepers.
3.) Rashaan Evans – ILB, Tennessee Titans: Evans is the latest Alabama linebacker to join the parade of elephants to the pros. He’s got the range to play all three downs and should slot next to Wesley Woodyard inside with the Titans.
4.) Leighton Vander Esch – ILB, Dallas Cowboys: Vander Esch was ridiculously productive in college and has the potential to become a star for the Star. If (when) Sean Lee goes down with an injury, Vander Esch would be in a position to clean up.
5.) Darius Leonard – OLB, Indianapolis Colts: Much like Kemoko Turay, Leonard isn’t the most talented linebacker in the Class of 2018. But the Colts need linebacker help in the worst way – the path to a three-down role isn’t a long or winding one.
6.) Bradley Chubb – OLB, Denver Broncos: Chubb landing in Denver was great for the Broncos and rotten for IDP owners. Bump him up the list a slot or two if your league is weighted toward sacks – he’s going to get plenty of them opposite Von Miller.
7.) Jerome Baker – OLB, Miami Dolphins: Baker’s undersized (229 pounds), but many NFL teams are utilizing smaller WILL linebackers. It’s probably going to take a while, but eventually that’s where he’ll probably slot with the Dolphins.
8.) Fred Warner – OLB, San Francisco 49ers: Warner will try to unseat Malcolm Smith on the weak side in san Francisco. Even if he doesn’t this season, Smith (who missed all of last year with a pec tear) could be a cap casualty in the spring of 2019.
9.) Josey Jewell – ILB, Denver Broncos: Jewell slid in the draft over concerns about his athleticism, but he was always near the ball while at Iowa. There’s a bit of a Chris Borland vibe to his game – his instincts compensate for a perceived lack of wheels.
10.) Malik Jefferson – OLB, Cincinnati Bengals: At first glance, there doesn’t appear a clear path to playing time in Cincy for Jefferson. Be patient – the clock’s ticking on the next stupid thing Vontaze Burfict does.
I’ll freely admit that I don’t invest any more heavily in rookie defensive backs in IDP leagues than I do the position as a whole. The players with the best chance at making an impact in 2018 will come off the board earlier than I’d be willing to draft them, and I’m not a fan of burning roster spots on “maybes” at a position that’s as deep as DB.
Still, that doesn’t mean there isn’t talent available on the back end this year – including one young safety who could be the biggest rookie steal at any position in 2018.
1.) Derwin James – S, Los Angeles Chargers: James is a versatile young safety capable of playing all over the secondary who will start right away, but with Jahleel Addae still on the roster he may see more time playing deep than IDP owners would like in the early-going.
2.) Minkah Fitzpatrick – S, Miami Dolphins: From a talent perspective there’s a lot to like about Fitzpatrick. But as long as Reshad Jones is still on the team Fitzpatrick’s IDP ceiling (and tackle opportunities) is going to be a bit limited.
4.) Justin Reid – S, Houston Texans: Reid’s that value I mentioned. I expect the former Stanford standout to win a starting job next to Tyrann Mathieu in Houston behind a suspect pair of inside linebackers – a favorable IDP situation.
5.) Denzel Ward – CB, Cleveland Browns: Ward’s got all the ingredients for a “Rookie Corner Rule” candidate. He’ll start right away and is physical, but not so good in coverage that opposing quarterbacks will hesitate to attack him.
6.) Jaire Alexander – CB, Green Bay Packers: Most of what I just said about Ward applies to Alexander as well. Josh Jackson too, for that matter. The Louisville standout has some value for IDP owners in leagues that require his position.
7.) Jessie Bates – S, Cincinnati Bengals: Bates is a quick and athletic young defensive back, and the Bengals are hardly loaded at safety. But his role is that of center-field ball-hawk and not that of a box safety who will rack up stops.
8.) Terrell Edmunds – S, Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers surprised some people by taking Edmunds at the back of Round 1. The problem here is that playing behind Morgan Burnett and Sean Davis his role in 2018 could be limited.
9.) Mike Hughes – CB, Minnesota Vikings: Hughes has a chance at carving out an early role with the Vikings, as Xavier Rhodes needs help on the back end. If the snaps are there, the fantasy production should be too.
10.) Rashaan Gaulden – S, Carolina Panthers: Gaulden’s hardly a household name, but the Panthers’ safety situation is such that we could see the third-rounder work his way into the starting lineup sooner than many think.
TOP 25 OVERALL
1.) Roquan Smith – ILB, Chicago Bears
2.) Tremaine Edmunds – ILB, Buffalo Bills
3.) Rashaan Evans – ILB, Tennessee Titans
4.) Derwin James – S, Los Angeles Chargers
5.) Leighton Vander Esch – ILB, Dallas Cowboys
6.) Marcus Davenport – DE, New Orleans Saints
7.) Minkah Fitzpatrick – S, Miami Dolphins
8.) Darius Leonard – OLB, Indianapolis Colts
9.) Kemoko Turay – DE, Indianapolis Colts
10.) Bradley Chubb – OLB, Denver Broncos
11.) Jerome Baker – OLB, Miami Dolphins
12.) Fred Warner – OLB, San Francisco 49ers
13.) Ronnie Harrison – S, Jacksonville Jaguars
14.) Josey Jewell – ILB, Denver Broncos
15.) Justin Reid – S, Houston Texans
16.) Arden Key – DE, Oakland Raiders
17.) Malik Jefferson – OLB, Cincinnati Bengals
18.) Maurice Hurst – DT, Oakland Raiders
19.) Sam Hubbard – DE, Cincinnati Bengals
20.) Lorenzo Carter – OLB, New York Giants
21.) Denzel Ward – CB. Cleveland Browns
22.) Owen Burks – ILB, Green Bay Packers
23.) Jaire Alexander – CB, Green Bay Packers
24.) Vita Vea – DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
25.) Jessie Bates – S, Cincinnati Bengals
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