The off-season is a great time to look at re-evaluating players going into the draft so we can properly understand their trade and startup value. Since the bulk of the DLF IDP team has posted updated IDP rankings, we can see who is the highest and lowest on players. I have chosen a smattering of the most divisive players in the composite rankings and asked members of the team to defend their rankings. I also suggest following all of these IDP gurus if you have not yet. In the first part of this series, we will cover the defensive line. The major ranking discrepancies on the defensive line seem to revolve around defensive scheme, off-field issues, and future playing time.
Leonard Williams, DE NYJ – DLF Composite Rank: DL9
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Doug Green: DL3
Simply put, I think he’s the best defensive line prospects we’ve seen. He can play up and down the line, and plays for a defensive-minded head coach in an aggressive scheme. Yes, the rotation is crowded, but rumors are constantly swirling that someone is heading out the door, which would free up more snaps for Williams.
Alex Onushco: DL15
I’m certainly not a Williams hater – he did well to improve upon his already-impressive rookie numbers – but I find myself watching a player that leaves something to be desired. He finished the year outside of Pro Football Focus’ top 20 defensive linemen in terms of pass rushing grade despite logging the sixth most snaps at the position. It is nice to see him post back-to-back campaigns of 60+ tackles (again, not an easy feat), but it is fair to question whether he has already hit his ceiling as a pass rusher.
Deforest Buckner, DE SF – DLF Composite Rank: DL11
Travis May: DL7
How many rookies play on 87% of their team’s snaps at any position? Buckner did just that this past season. Not only did he play, but he produced too. Deforest grabbed 43 solo tackles, 30 assists, and six sacks as a 22-year-old rookie. What else do you want him to do? He has the perfect combination of talent and opportunity on a defense that can’t get off the field.
Doug Green: DL25
It’s not that I think he’s bad, I just don’t think he’s great. Yes, he’s the 49ers best DL and he’s the best defensive player from Oregon since Kiko Alonso, but I don’t see a high-end ceiling.
Frank Clark DE SEA – DLF Composite Rank: DL14
Eric Olinger: DL6
I’m pretty high on Frank Clark because of his age, talent and the system he plays in. He has major character concerns but plays for a coach who has somehow cracked the code on how to manage that. With Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett both getting older, I view Clark in the same way a lot people view(ed) Danielle Hunter of the Vikings. I like high upside players at the defensive end spot.
Doug Green: DL28
Doug did not have much to say about Frank Clark, but did mention that his lower ranking was based on him being a knucklehead. Doug has a point here since there is some risk that another off-field issue for Clark may mean curtains for him due to his long pre-draft rap sheet.
Cameron Heyward, DE PIT – DLF Composite Rank: DL28
Alex Onushco: DL13
Heyward was on pace to play the tenth most snaps among interior defenders, but injuries derailed his 2016 campaign. Prior to this year, he had been a model of consistency, having notched 50+ tackles in three straight years – a feat many defensive linemen struggle accomplishing in just one season. He also had two straight years of at least seven sacks. He may not be the flashiest option among defensive linemen, but he is consistently productive and at just 27 years old (28 for the start of the 2017 season) . It can be argued that he is just now entering the prime of his career.
Steve Wyremski: DL30
The Heyward ranking comes down to my general preference for 4-3 defensive ends and the handful of 3-4 defensive ends with double digit sack potential. You’ll see this consistent throughout my rankings. Heyward possesses a nice tackle floor each season, but he doesn’t accumulate sacks like you’d hope. He’s not an IDP difference-maker. He’s a fantastic NFL player, but the feast-or-famine production kills it for me. Four to five more sacks could level out the production a bit more, but I don’t see him reaching that level. He’s a poor man’s Calais Campbell. I prefer to roster 4-3 defensive ends with double-digit sack potential as my low end DE2/high DE3. Ultimately, I don’t believe Heyward’s production is difficult to cover through intelligent waiver moves and matchup plays and/or a breakout from a 4-3 defensive end with potential.
Trey Flowers, DE NEP – DLF Composite Rank:DL30
Bill Latin: DL20
Trey Flowers was a combine BEAST! He logged a 36.5” vertical, 121” broad jump, and a 12.03 second 60 yard shuttle. All of these were among the best at his position. The Patriots have a tradition of being judicious and successful in their drafts. This is especially true on the defensive side of the ball. Flowers put an exclamation on his outstanding season by sacking Matt Ryan with four minutes left in the Super Bowl to help his team in the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. Many teammates have cited his work ethic, drive and dedication as top notch. Lastly, the contract situation of the players on the D-Line. Flowers has cemented his place as a starter on that line. There is a better than average chance that he moves into my top 12 sooner rather than later
Eric Olinger: Not Ranked
Originally, the reason for Trey Flowers being unranked by me was an oversight to be quite honest. As I dig into my off-season rankings deeper, he may very well end up as high as the low to mid-twenties. I liked what I saw from him this year with the injuries to Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard but I’d like Flowers’ fantasy outlook a lot more if one of these vets were cut loose this off-season.
Yannick Ngakoue, DE JAX – DLF Composite Rank: DL34
Steve Wyremski: DL27
Ngakoue was tabbed as a raw player coming out of last year’s draft. Many expected Dante Fowler Jr to steal the spotlight back from injury, but it was Ngakoue who surprised finishing with 20 solo tackles and eight sacks in his rookie year. Only 22 years old at the start of next season, while Ngakoue still needs to improve his playing against the run, there is still plenty of growth potential. He already proved to be a quick learner and his athleticism isn’t going anywhere. He’s well worth a DE3 price. I acknowledge the snap risk with the coaching change as you never know what happens, as well as his struggles mid-year, but I prefer a home run swing in this range. Especially a 4-3 defensive end.
Travis May: DL39
Yannick Ngakoue definitely has the cool name factor going for him. I’ll give him that. And like Buckner, he had a fairly high snap count this season. However, Ngakoue may not have nearly the same outlook for a young defensive lineman. He has a considerable amount of other young play-makers and tackle-eaters around him. Ngakoue also doesn’t have the draft capital to back him like many other successful young defensive players. When push comes to shove as Dante Fowler Jr. continues to grow Ngakoue’s snaps and role may (and probably will) change. If he puts together another solid sack performance and adds a few tackles in his sophomore year count me in.