5 IDP Defensive Line Breakouts to Target in 2015
Anyone can tell you to draft J.J. Watt or Cameron Wake for your IDP league. But, it’s the mid-to-late round gems who are going to give your IDP squad an edge over your competition. Below I list five defensive linemen to target who are primed for breakout campaigns in 2015
How do I find and mine these gems you ask? Simple; The criteria I look for are 2nd to 3rd year players who received a boost in playing time last year and now find themselves with increased opportunity, whether it’s a starting role or increased assignments and snaps. Another metric you want to look at, is the QB pressure rate. Now, without further ado, here are my top five defensive linemen primed for breakout campaigns..
Jacquies Smith, DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Thanks to the Michael Johnson experiment that went terribly awry, Smith had a chance to showcase his talents. After appearing in 27% of Tampa’s defensive snaps in his first eight games of 2014, from Week 11 on, he appeared in over 63% of the snaps over the remainder of the season.
For a DE, you want to see at least a 60%-plus usage rate. I know we tend to want to have the 3-down guys, but with so many rotations, those guys don’t really exist (outside of Watt, who appeared in 93% of the defensive snaps). Smith hit the 60%-plus target and was able to produce a near 9% QB pressure rate in his 317 pass rush snaps, which led to 6.5 sacks.
Michael Johnson is back in Cincinnati and Adrian Clayborn moved up north to Atlanta, so Smith has no competition for snaps, meaning an increase from his 470 in 2014, is all but guaranteed. If we extrapolate a full-season of snaps, Smith should be able to generate a near 10% QB pressure rate since he’ll be involved in more blitzes with a favorable schedule, which could lead to double-digit sacks in 2015. The tackle rate should also rise, and Smith should compile over 40 tackles this season. Target him as a DE3, with DE2 upside.
Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Dallas Cowboys
I’m going to get the chalk pick out of the way early. There’s a lot to like about Lawrence heading into 2015. The Cowboys were a team void of any semblance of a pass rush last season, generating just 28 sacks on the year (losing Demarcus Ware didn’t help). Lawrence’s move to LDE should solidify his breakout candidacy.
Lawrence missed a portion of the 2014 season due to a broken foot, but from Week 9 on, appeared in nearly 55% of the defensive snaps, generating pressure on nearly 7% of his blitzes. He picked up his game in the playoffs, producing pressure on over 11% of his blitzes, which led to two sacks in two games.
Lawrence appeared in 277 total defensive snaps between the regular season and playoffs in 2014, and with Greg Hardy suspended for 10 games this season, Lawrence will have a chance to establish himself as the premier pass rusher in Dallas playing alongside Randy Gregory. I’m expecting a healthy increase in snaps and double-digit sacks.
Timmy Jernigan, DE, BAL
As a rookie, Jernigan wasn't expected to contribute much in 2014, however, he did manage 312 regular season snaps at defensive end, including 18 in the divisional playoff against New England. So what’s to like about him heading into 2015?
The Ravens trading Haloti Ngata has certainly opened up more snaps and opportunities for the 2nd year defender and Jernigan is on track to start at LDE for the Ravens. While a 3-4 defense isn’t ideal for an end, he has plenty of help behind him so offensive lines don’t have to focus attention on him. He has a nice foundation to build from, as he generated pressure just over 11% of the time on 202 blitzes, converting four of those for sacks. He also produced either a solo tackle or assist on just over 7% of his snaps. Let’s hope he can turn around the solo-to-assist-ratio in 2015.
Jernigan really showed flashes of ability during Ngata’s suspension, so one of the steals of the 2014 draft appears set for an expanded role. Jernigan should see 700+ snaps this season and flirt with double-digit sacks. Target him as high floor DE3 with DE2 upside.
Stephon Tuitt, DE, PIT
I’m going to stay in the AFC North with my next suggestion. Tuitt was underwhelming for most of the season, appearing in just 20% of the defensive snaps in Pittsburgh’s first 11 games. He graded out negatively for most of the season, however, it appears he’ll get another opportunity as a starter in 2015.
When all was said and done, Tuitt finished with 405 defensive snaps after assuming a starting role in Week 14, where he appeared in nearly 90% of the snaps to close out the season. In those four games, he produced a pressure on the QB nearly 8% of the time and converted one for a sack. Even though he was below average in stopping the run and pass rush, the opportunities are there with the snaps, and the Steelers are intent on giving him a chance.
Tuitt appears set to start opposite Cameron Heyward and is one of the few DL with a near every-down role. There’s still a lot to like in the youngster, and I feel confident targeting him as a DE3 in most league formats, as he has 6-8 sack potential given his role.
Kony Ealy, DE, Carolina Panthers
Ealy was a projected 1st round pick but fell to the 2nd (60th overall) in 2014. Things didn’t look good early on after a Week 1 inactive, however, he did go on to appear in 15 games his rookie year. However, it’s how he finished the season that has me excited for 2015.
Ealy notched three sacks in Carolina’s final five games and really played like a starter once he started to get more snaps. He ended up appearing in nearly 38% of the team’s snaps and generated pressure on nearly 10% of his blitzes, which is a number I like to see out of efficient rushers.
Now that Greg Hardy’s baggage has been shipped down to Dallas, the door is open for Ealy to take the starting role opposite Charles Johnson. I do not believe Wes Horton will provide much competition and I expect Ealy to take a huge step in his sophomore year. Don’t overdraft him, but target him as a high upside DE3/4 this year.
Others to Target
DaQuan Jones, DE/DT, TEN: Entering 2nd year as starter opposite Jurrell Casey.
Allen Baily, DE, KCC: Just misses the bill, since this is his 5th season, however, 6-8 sacks is possible.
George Johnson, DE, TBB: Like Bailey, Johnson just misses the criteria, but I like him opposite Jacquies in Tampa.
Ziggy Ansah, DE, DET: Expect a jump to double-digit sacks this year. He has already compiled 15.5 sacks in two seasons.
Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, ATL: Will be a DT-required league target if he can move up the depth chart.
Tank Carradine, DE, SF: Someone to keep an eye on if he can make noise in training camp.
Stefan Charles, DE, BUF: Entering 3rd year and gets to play in a Rex Ryan defense. Deep sleeper, coming off three sacks in 2014.
Make sure to follow me on Twitter @Mike_Woellert all season for any IDP suggestions or questions.