Doing it Again: Seasonal Scoring in Defensive Linemen

Identifying and drafting young talent and rookies is a great part of dynasty leagues. Seeing how college production and skills can relate to professional excellence is just a great fun thing to watch. The reward to diligent scouting on our dynasty teams is also significant.

But that’s only one part of dynasty leagues. The debate of youth versus age is never-ending. The hot young stud certainly is talented, but it might take him a while to become a top-12 producer, while a veteran might only have a year or two left before he’s out of the league – with those years still being very effective.

In an effort to make these decisions a little bit easier, I’ve been breaking down each defensive position to understand better how stable their production is across seasons.

Disclaimer: I’ve used a specific league scoring settings here. Your own leagues can and will be different. I’ve also excluded all return yards and defensive touchdowns because those are essentially random and act only as noise here.

Defensive tackle

The following table shows the top 24 tackles for the past 12 seasons. Players who managed to land in the top 24 in consecutive seasons have a little green box next to them. The numbers are their points just so you can compare them across seasons.

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The first take-out is that there are quite a few ‘green’ players here. On average, 11 players (44%) have repeated each year from the previous season’s top 24 players. This can be taken two ways – depending on your expectations. I suspect that many of you will be surprised it’s ‘only’ 44%. I’m encouraged that it’s so high.

We humans are poor at long-term thinking. We tend to think short-term only. This is why we can’t save money or lose weight effectively – because we always want to just buy this one thing or have this snack instead. In this situation, that manifests as us expecting fantasy production to stay the same. “This player was good last year so he probably will be good this year.”

Although the repeat rate is under 50%, it’s still easier to predict hits from last season’s good players than find them from the ranks of players outside the top 24.

Top 24 is good and all but let’s narrow it down a bit. Many leagues only require one starting tackle so top 12 is probably a bit more useful.

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On average, five tackles per year repeat as top 12 options. So, you can feel reasonably confident that players will perform as well as they did last season. Tackle is generally a low-impact position, but this is great news for the small number of elite interior pass rushers. Geno Atkins, Kawann Short, Sheldon Richardson and DeForest Buckner are all players to feel confident in.

This is an area where scoring system is very specific. Tackle-heavy IDP leagues vs big-play leagues vs DT-premium ones offer very different challenges at the position. You need to be very aware of the sort of league you have to decide how valuable a certain tackle is to you.

Defensive end

We’ve seen that tackle is relatively consistent, but ends are more dependent on big plays and therefore should be more subject to fluctuation.

Here’s how the data looks for top 24 ends:

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Surprisingly similar to tackle, isn’t it? On average, (slightly under) 11 ends manage to repeat top-24 finishes. The same number as tackles. This is also a reminder about how absurdly good JJ Watt was at his peak. Four top finishes in a row is just amazing.

Let’s look at the data for finishing as a top-12 option:

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On average, five of the top 12 DEs remain the same from season to season. It has also not slipped underneath three in this period so again, we can see that elite players are relatively reliable. Calais Campbell, Cameron Jordan, Jason Pierre-Paul and the like can be expected to be effective starters most years. Injuries happen and players age, but this just reinforces my belief that DE is the most premium position in IDP. The top options score incrementally much more than replacements and they hold their value over time.

The flipside of this is that if the elite DEs tend to produce year in and year out, it’s tough for other players to break into that tier. Myles Garrett, Joey Bosa and Nick Bosa are blue-chip prospects who we can feel confident about immediately producing. This data makes me feel less confident it’s possible to identify ends who can break into fantasy starting level production from relatively unheralded sources.


So, what have we learned? Mostly that both positions are pretty steady – if you manage to get hold of one of these players who can be relied on to be a fixture in your starting lineup. This just means that when elite prospects come along, they carry a lot of value. Normally taking a skill-position player in the second round of IDP rookie drafts is the higher upside move but this reliability tells me that elite ends are actually a pretty decent option. If you manage to find one, they can be relied on to keep being productive beyond the immediate short term.

tom kislingbury