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2021 IDP Rookie Review: Interior Defensive Linemen

We examine the 2021 crop of interior defensive linemen. Who should be on your IDP radar?

Christian Barmore

Not every NFL Draft includes elite dynasty IDP assets. Typically, each position at least has some good depth: a decent number of IDPs you can fairly confidently say will make for decent fantasy starters or streaming options.

The 2021 class of interior defensive linemen is, shall we say, light in the pants. I’m guessing that in most 12-team leagues that start one defensive tackle, just one or two of the 2021 rookies are rostered. There are no elite assets, and the rosterable options are few.

Nevertheless, before moving on to digging into the 2022 draft class, I’m looking back at this season’s rookies by position. Even if that means I have to spend part of my Sunday on a defensive tackle class that didn’t include any first-round talents. In fact, only five were selected on day two. For those of us in defensive tackle-premium leagues, 2021 wasn’t the draft to find difference-makers.

Three notes before the IDP discussion:

  • I kicked off this rookie review series with the edge rushers. Next up I’ll tackle the linebackers, and finally safeties. Cornerbacks typically don’t carry value from year-to-year, so I won’t spend time on those profiles for dynasty.
  • I’m assuming the readers of this particular article are in defensive tackle-required and premium scoring formats: that is, defensive tackles get some sort of premium over other positions for statistics such as tackles, tackles in the backfield, and/or sacks. I doubt any of these tackles have any value in leagues that just require general defensive linemen starters.
  • As far as defensive statistics, they are of course subjective, and I realize that most people prefer the Pro Football Focus data. But that’s not freely available, so credit in this article goes to Pro Football Reference – which uses Sportradar data – for pressures (defined as a combination of hurries, quarterback knockdowns, and sacks) and missed tackles.

Tier One: Elite Assets

There’s no one here remotely close to Aaron Donald, DeForest Buckner, Jeffery Simmons, Quinnen Williams, Leonard Williams, and Chris Jones. I’d consider all of those to be elite dynasty assets at the defensive tackle position.

And truthfully, while maybe not elite dynasty assets, Jonathan Allen, Christian Wilkins, Cameron Heyward, Javon Hargrave, Stephon Tuitt, Da’Ron Payne, Sebastian Joseph-Day, Kenny Clark, and Grady Jarrett all belong in some kind of tier between tiers one and two.

Tier Two: Current or Future Fantasy Starters

The tackles in this tier have weekly starting fantasy upside either now or in future seasons. Depending on your league size and depth they may be matchup-based starts or sits, but they certainly have value as dynasty IDP assets in defensive tackle-required (and especially premium) formats. Veterans in this tier would include the likes of Larry Ogunjobi and Dre’Mont Jones.

1. Christian Barmore, NE

  • Drafted: Second round, No. 38 overall pick (Alabama)
  • Age prior to kickoff of 2022 season: 23

Stats to know:

  • played in all 17 games; 598 defensive snaps (55 percent)
  • 18 pressures; one-and-a-half sacks; nine quarterback hits; three tackles for loss
  • 23 solo tackles, 23 assists; two missed tackles (4.2 percent missed tackle rate)

Universally ranked as the top interior defensive lineman in the draft, Barmore lived up to his potential and impressed Bill Belichick along the way.

“He tries very hard to do whatever you tell him to do,” Belichick said of Barmore during a mid-November press conference. “It’s different at this level. It’s different keys, different things to do in certain situations. But he’s done a good job of adapting to those, and if you tell him to try to do something, he definitely tries to do it. I really appreciate that about him. He’s gotten better on all three downs, and he’s improving every day.

“He works hard. He always goes hard. You never have to tell him to pick it up. He always goes at a good pace and works hard. He’s got good energy. Loves football. Loves to play.”

Already a primary cog on the New England defensive line, Barmore is on an upward trajectory after leading rookie tackles in pressures and total tackles.

2. Milton Williams, PHI

  • Drafted: Third round, No. 73 overall pick (Louisiana Tech)
  • Age prior to kickoff of 2022 season: 23

Stats to know:

  • played in all 17 games; 456 defensive snaps (41 percent)
  • 11 pressures; two sacks; six quarterback hits; six tackles for loss
  • 15 solo tackles, 15 assists; two missed tackles (6.3 percent missed tackle rate)

It may be stretching it to include Williams in this tier, but I was pretty impressed with what I saw from him. Granted, because the Eagles value versatility on their line, Williams played on the edge as well as inside over the “B” gap. I’m lumping him in with the tackles as I think that’s his primary position moving forward.

Williams has some physical limitations, but as you can see from his spider graph, he’s an elite mover compared to other defensive tackles.

I witnessed outstanding pass rush traits in year one: off-the-line quickness, lateral agility, and power to complement a nice swat-and-swim move. With Fletcher Cox entering his age-31 season, Williams will continue to be groomed as a long-term replacement and will likely continue to rotate as both an interior and edge pass rusher.

Tier Three: Worthy of a Roster Spot

3. Osa Odighizuwa, DAL

  • Drafted: Third round, No. 75 overall pick (UCLA)
  • Age prior to kickoff of 2022 season: 24

Stats to know:

  • played in 16 games; 616 defensive snaps (57 percent)
  • 14 pressures; two sacks; 11 quarterback hits; six tackles for loss
  • 21 solo tackles, 15 assists; seven missed tackles (16.3 percent missed tackle rate)

With injuries out of the gate to Trysten Hill and Neville Gallimore, Dallas needed Odighizuwa well before he was supposed to be ready to play a key role. Long-limbed and energetic, Odighizuwa proved to be just what the doctor ordered, giving the Cowboys an interior disruptor and leading all rookie defensive tackles in plays in the backfield (quarterback hits and tackles-for-loss). Moving forward, he’ll likely rotate with Gallimore for snaps at the three-tech spot, and will merit spot starts in fantasy lineups.

4. Levi Onwuzurike, DET

  • Drafted: Second round, No. 41 overall pick (Washington)
  • Age prior to kickoff of 2022 season: 24

Stats to know:

  • played in 16 games; 396 defensive snaps (37 percent)
  • two pressures; one sack; one quarterback hit; two tackles for loss
  • 15 solo tackles, 20 assists; two missed tackles (5.4 percent missed tackle rate)

Onwuzurike’s inclusion in this tier is only due to his draft capital and potential as an athletic pocket disruptor playing three-technique, because he’s off to a less-than-promising start to his NFL career. Despite his quickness, the plays in the backfield were few and far between. He consistently lost the leverage game, getting bullied against the run. Onwuzurike’s future value depends on his off-season dedication to adding lower body muscle – if he’s unable to add bulk to his lower half, he’s just not going to be able to hold his own against professional linemen.

If I have the roster space I’ll hold on, and watch the training camp reports to see if he looks like a different player. Otherwise he’ll have a short leash once the in-season roster churning begins.

Tier Four: Watch List

If you’re in a defensive tackle-premium league that is 14 or 16 teams in size, or in a league with a ton of roster spots or with oversized taxi squads, you could consider rostering the interior linemen in this tier based on draft capital or brief flashes in their rookie seasons. Otherwise you can likely find preferable alternatives in your free agent pool.

5. Alim McNeill, DET

  • Drafted: Third round, No. 72 overall pick (N.C. State)
  • Age prior to kickoff of 2022 season: 22

Stats to know:

  • played in all 17 games; 422 defensive snaps (37 percent)
  • eight pressures; two sacks; three quarterback hits; three tackles for loss
  • 15 solo tackles, 24 assists; three missed tackles (7.1 percent missed tackle rate)

McNeill has quick feet and capable pocket-pushing skills for a 330-pound man, but he was drafted to play nose in Detroit, and two-gapping over the center really caps statistical production. A valuable player from an NFL team perspective, McNeill just doesn’t hold the same appeal in fantasy.

6. Daviyon Nixon, CAR

  • Drafted: Fifth round, No. 158 overall pick (Iowa)
  • Age prior to kickoff of 2022 season: 23

Stats to know:

  • played in seven games; 82 defensive snaps (18 percent)
  • three pressures; half-a-sack; two quarterback hits; zero tackles for loss
  • one solo tackle, eight assists; zero missed tackles

Just as his snaps started to grow early in the season, Nixon suffered a knee injury during practice prior to week eight and spent the rest of the season on injured reserve. There are snaps to be had in Carolina though with DaQuan Jones entering free agency and Derrick Brown coming off an uneven season. Highly touted by some draftniks, Nixon is a pro we’re still waiting to get a good read on.

7. Naquan Jones, TEN

  • Undrafted (Michigan State)
  • Age prior to kickoff of 2022 season: 24

Stats to know:

  • played in 13 games; 328 defensive snaps (38 percent)
  • five pressures; two-and-a-half sacks; three quarterback hits; four tackles for loss
  • 18 solo tackles, 11 assists; two missed tackles (6.5 percent missed tackle rate)

The Titans again found a nice rotational interior linemen in post-draft free agency (Teair Tart was a hit in 2020), but Jones is a nose tackle seemingly without a lot of statistical upside. That said, he was productive given his snaps as a rookie. I’m just not seeing a fantasy asset who is consistent enough to merit roster consideration.

8. Tommy Togiai, CLE

  • Drafted: Fourth round, No. 132 overall pick (Ohio State)
  • Age prior to kickoff of 2022 season: 22

Stats to know:

  • played in six games; 124 defensive snaps (33 percent)
  • one pressure; half-a-sack; one quarterback hit; zero tackles for loss
  • nine solo tackles, seven assists; two missed tackles (11.1 percent missed tackle rate)

Togiai saw his playing time pick up down the stretch as Cleveland dealt with injuries to Malik McDowell, Malik Jackson, and Jordan Elliott. As you can pretty much read from his stat line, there’s nothing to indicate that Togiai is ready to contribute as a pass rusher. He can right now contribute as a run-down defender, and we’ll have to keep an eye on his development over the next couple of years to see if he can add a pass rush element to his game.

I mention him here due to uncertainty along the Browns’ interior line next season. Jackson is 32 and will be a free agent once his contract voids on Feb. 10. McDowell, who enjoyed a successful reclamation season, is an exclusive rights free agent but his NFL future is once again in doubt following a recent arrest for allegedly attacking a police officer who approached McDowell as he walked naked near a children’s learning center. Elliott didn’t show a lot of growth in his second season. All that said, there’s currently an opportunity for a larger role for Togiai as early as next season.

9. Roy Lopez, HOU

  • Drafted: Sixth round, No. 195 overall pick (Arizona)
  • Age prior to kickoff of 2022 season: 25

Stats to know:

  • played in 16 games; 501 defensive snaps (46 percent)
  • three pressures; one sack; two quarterback hits; five tackles for loss
  • 20 solo tackles, 11 assists; seven missed tackles (18.4 percent missed tackle rate)

You probably wouldn’t have found a soul before the season who thought Lopez would start 15 games and finish third among rookie interior linemen in snaps played. His playing time may have been more of an indictment on Houston’s interior depth, but Lopez at least showed he could play a rotational role. I just wouldn’t count on fantasy production.

10. Isaiahh Loudermilk, PIT

  • Drafted: Fifth round, No. 156 overall pick (Wisconsin)
  • Age prior to kickoff of 2022 season: 24

Stats to know:

  • played in 15 games; 288 defensive snaps (29 percent)
  • one pressure; one sack; zero quarterback hits; zero tackles for loss
  • 16 solo tackles, seven assists; three missed tackles (11.5 percent missed tackle rate)

Pittsburgh traded a 2022 fourth-round pick in order to draft Loudermilk in the fifth round, which just seemed odd given the lack of production in college, and draft buzz around him. He seems like a bit of a long-term project, but I’m putting him in the top ten since he gets to learn from Cam Heyward. I’d still be surprised if he turned into anything more than an early-down tackle.

11. Jay Tufele, JAC

  • Drafted: Fourth round, No. 106 overall pick (Southern California)
  • Age prior to kickoff of 2022 season: 23

Stats to know:

  • played in four games; 54 defensive snaps (22 percent)
  • one solo tackle, one assist

A developmental pass-rushing tackle, Tufele was never able to crack a deep rotation that included veterans Malcom Brown, Roy Robertson-Harris, Adam Gotsis and Taven Bryan, and second-year nose Davon Hamilton. That’s not a good sign, but Gotsis and Bryan are free agents this off-season. I’ll keep an eye on Tufele if he comes into camp as fourth or higher on the interior depth chart. Otherwise there’s not much to see here.

12. Marlon Tuipulotu, PHI

  • Drafted: Sixth round, No. 189 overall pick (Southern California)
  • Age prior to kickoff of 2022 season: 23

Stats to know:

  • played in five games; 55 defensive snaps (16 percent)
  • one solo tackle, four assists

The only thing that stood out about Tuipulotu in his rookie season was a lack of snaps – pretty telling for the once-highly thought-of prospect from USC.

13. Tedarrell Slaton, GB

  • Drafted: Fifth round, No. 173 overall pick (Florida)
  • Age prior to kickoff of 2022 season: 24

Stats to know:

  • played in all 17 games; 255 defensive snaps (24 percent)
  • three pressures; one sack; two quarterback hits; zero tackles for loss
  • 14 solo tackles, nine assists; two missed tackles (8.0 percent missed tackle rate)

Slaton carved out a rotational role as a two-gapping nose, and should have room to grow as a player. He’s more-or-less a run game anchor though, and there’s little-to-no fantasy appeal.

14. Khyiris Tonga, CHI

  • Drafted: Seventh round, No. 250 overall pick (BYU)
  • Age prior to kickoff of 2022 season: 26

Stats to know:

  • played in 15 games; 216 defensive snaps (23 percent)
  • one tackle for loss
  • ten solo tackles, 14 assists; four missed tackles (14.3 percent missed tackle rate)

Tonga is no more than a part-time nose tackle who made just one play in the backfield on 216 snaps. And he’s going to be a 26-year-old second-year pro. This is a hard pass.

2021 IDP Rookie Review: Interior Defensive Linemen
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