Ranking the 2024 NFL Rookie Defensive Lineman and Defensive Back Class

Jason Abbey

As always, our outlook on the potential fantasy impact of IDPs changed significantly after the 2024 NFL Draft. Some players joined teams where they were primed for early success, others ended up buried on the depth chart, while many fell somewhere in between.

This article ranks rookie defensive linemen and defensive backs into tiers based on various factors, such as talent, team fit, and potential.

Defensive Line

Tier One

Byron Murphy II, DT SEA

The Seahawks needed a DT. Jarran Reed’s deal expires after 2024, and the team can save $16.5m by parting ways with Dre’Mont Jones ahead of the 2025 season.

However, Reed, Jones, and Leonard Williams might restrict Murphy’s opportunities for significant playing time during his rookie season. Additionally, the Seahawks’ new defensive coordinator, Aden Durde, may continue his practice of rotating interior defensive linemen, similar to his approach as the defensive line coach in Dan Quinn’s system at the Dallas Cowboys.

Nevertheless, Murphy was my number one interior defensive lineman in the draft, and if he can realize his potential early, his talent could see him displace Reed and Jones in the pecking order. We may just have to remain patient.

Jer’Zhan Newton, DT WAS

Newton is not set up for early success with the Washington Commanders. Jonathan Allen is still playing reasonably well, and Daron Payne signed a mammoth four-year, $90 million extension in 2023.

The arrival of new defensive coordinator Joe Whitt Jr may provide a glimmer of hope for Newton in year one. Allen and Payne rarely rotated under former defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. Perhaps we’ll see more opportunities afforded to other DTs on the roster under Whitt Jr.

In redraft formats, Newton’s ranking would be lower. However, this article focuses on the players’ dynasty outlook, and Newton belongs in this tier based on his talent and potential.

Tier Two

Braden Fiske, DT LAR

The retirement of Aaron Donald created an immediate need for the Rams to find a replacement at DT, and they addressed it by selecting Fiske with the 39th overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.

The landing spot was ideal for the uber-athletic 24-year-old. Kobie Turner has one DT spot locked down after his impressive 2023 campaign, but Bobby Brown III offers little competition as a pass rusher, and the draft capital invested in sixth-round pick Tyler Davis suggests he’ll sit behind Fiske in the hierarchy.

Former defensive coordinator Raheem Morris is no longer with the team, which creates some concerns that the Rams may introduce a DT rotation. Still, the new defensive coordinator, Chris Shula, has suggested that he’ll take a similar approach to Morris.

Tier Three

Ruke Orhorhoro, DT ATL

Orhorhoro lacks the polish of some of his peers in the draft and needs time to develop. However, the Falcons were clearly enamored with his potential, making him the second DT selected in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Grady Jarrett and David Onyemata both have some juice left and are both under contract through 2025, but their age and the way their contracts are structured mean we may not have to wait that long before Orhorhoro finds his way onto the field.

T’Vondre Sweat, DT TEN

In Jeffery Simmons, the Titans have one of the best DTs in the NFL, and he has dominated snaps at the position in years past.

New defensive coordinator Dennard Wilson is presumably more invested in Sweat than the other mediocre DT options on the roster. Even so, Sweat’s skillset suggests he’ll be a two-down player early in his career, and his landing spot did not change that outlook.

Justin Eboigbe, DT LAC

There were more talented DTs selected ahead of Eboigbe in the draft, but few were drafted by teams with such a glaring need for a DT. The Los Angeles Chargers’ run defense has struggled in recent years, and although Austin Johnson and Sebastian Joseph-Day were somewhat culpable for that problem, their departure left the team with very few options at the position.

If Eboigbe impresses early, it’s well within his range of outcomes to be challenging Poona Ford and Otito Ogbonnia for playing time in 2024.

Defensive Backs

Tier One

Tyler Nubin, S NYG

Nubin was my top safety pre-draft, and he remains one of my favorite rookie defensive backs heading into the 2024 season. Being drafted by the Xavier McKinney-less New York Giants presents an opportunity for him to step into an immediate starting role, and he should thrive.

Expecting Nubin to match McKinney’s performance or statistical production would be unrealistic. Nonetheless, new defensive coordinator Shane Bowen had success with his former student Amani Hooker during his tenure with the Tennessee Titans, and it’s reasonable to expect Hooker’s 2023 production could be Nubin’s floor in 2024.

Javon Bullard, S GB

The production of the Green Bay Packers safeties was woeful in 2023. Rudy Ford had some bright spots, but Jonathan Owens and Darnell Savage were deservedly left on the waiver wire in the majority of IDP leagues.

The Packers’ safety unit will look completely different in 2024. They selected Javon Bullard in the second round and will partner him with one of last year’s best safeties, Xavier McKinney, who joined the team in free agency.

Jeff Hafley’s arrival as the new defensive coordinator provides hope that the abysmal fantasy output of the Packers’ safeties will be a thing of the past. At the very least, it can’t be any worse. Bullard should immediately step into a starting role and could reap the rewards in Hafley’s more aggressive scheme.

Tier Two

Jaden Hicks, S KC

The Kansas City Chiefs nabbed Jaden Hicks in the fourth round of the 2024 NFL draft, and it could prove to be one of the shrewdest selections in the middle rounds. Juan Thornhill departed to join the Cleveland Browns in free agency, and 2022 second-round safety, Bryan Cook, has yet to prove he belongs as a starter.

Whether Hicks immediately replaces Cook will depend on the rookie’s performance in training camp and preseason. This may be another situation where IDP managers have to remain patient and be ready to pull the trigger if Hicks is still on waivers when his time comes.

Cole Bishop, S BUF

Jordan Poyer left the team to join the Miami Dolphins in free agency, and Micah Hyde is now a free agent mulling retirement, leaving the door wide open for Bishop to stake a claim for a starting spot.

However, anointing Cole Bishop as the immediate starter alongside Taylor Rapp may be a hasty prediction. Mike Edwards has, somehow, parlayed his extremely poor play into a starting role for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs in the last two years, and we cannot rule out Damar Hamlin.

Still, it would be a surprise if Bishop wasn’t starting at some point in 2024, and as a physical safety, he could be tasked with playing near the line of scrimmage in a role similar to that which Jordan Poyer occupied in 2023.

Mike Sainristil, CB WAS

In 2023, the Washington Commanders used a variety of players in the nickel cornerback position, and none of those players performed admirably in the role. Enter Mike Sainristil, their second-round selection, who played almost 1,000 snaps for arguably the best defense in college football over the past two seasons.

Sainristil should immediately step into the nickel role and earn a significant amount of snaps. He also offers big-play potential as a capable blitzer, assuming he is asked to occasionally rush the passer by defensive coordinator Whitt Jnr.

Tier Three

Kamren Kinchens, S LAR

Kinchens was listed as an IDP sleeper in a previous article because he finds himself in an excellent situation after being by the Rams. John Johnson and Jordan Fuller left the team in free agency, and the team will be looking for someone to start alongside Kam Curl.

It’s possible that Russ Yeast or Quentin Lake hold Kinchens at bay, but Yeast played poorly in 2023, and Lake was the team’s designated nickel corner.

jason abbey