Shaq Lawson & 7 Other Breakout Defensive Linemen to Target in IDP Leagues in 2017
As with linebackers, at defensive line you need to identify mid-to-late round sleepers and breakout players give your IDP squad an edge.
Which defensive lineman are primed for a breakout in 2017?
Shaq Lawson, DE, Buffalo Bills
The Bills are switching up schemes and converting to a base 4-3 defense, and one of the beneficiaries in new head coach Sean McDermott's defense appears to be Lawson, who's making the switch from rushing outside linebacker to edge defensive end, a position he's already getting comfortable with.
Lawson found himself behind the eight-ball last season, as a shoulder injury kept him out of camp, preseason, and the first six weeks of the regular season. He was also out of position and had to get used to playing the edge in Rex Ryan's base 3-4. Lawson ended up playing 10 games (one start) and 237 defensive snaps. He managed to produce nearly a 10-percent pressure rate and two sacks, showing flashes of his rush prowess.
Now, Lawson is more at ease in a system where he's comfortable, and he can get back to do what he did at Clemson: pin his ears back, see the quarterback, and sack the quarterback. Playing opposite Jerry Hughes should allow for more single coverage and open gaps for Lawson to stop the run. I'm projecting Lawson to hit the eight-sack mark and post at least 50 tackles this season.
Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Cleveland Browns
Like an RKO, Ogbah came out of nowhere in 2016 to be one of Cleveland's bright spots from their draft class. His arrow is pointing up heading into his second year thanks to an IDP-friendly defensive scheme and position change.
Ogbah received a very generous workload as a rookie, appearing on 849 snaps (77 percent of the team's total). He recorded a respectable 6.2-percent tackle rate and produced a 10-percent pressure rate, converting six of his total pressures into sacks. He did play both outside linebacker and end throughout his rookie season, but took on more blockers in the 3-4.
Like Lawson, Ogbah is transitioning to a familiar scheme and will play more on the end in Gregg Williams's aggressive 4-3. Also in Ogbah's favor is that offenses will have to account for the addition of Myles Garrett via the draft, as well as last year's midseason acquisition Jamie Collins, both of whom should ensure that Ogbah does not see much attention in the way of double-teams. Ogbah's tackle and points per snap rate would've put him among the top 25 IDP DEs last year, so if he improves upon his numbers, he's looking a top-20 season. I'm targeting him as my DE3, and he has upside to produce DE2 numbers.
Benson Mayowa, DE, Dallas Cowboys
Mayowa is an under-the-radar breakout candidate; at this point, I'm not seeing a whole lot written on this kid, but he played well in limited snaps last season.
Related: IDP Rankings - 2017 Season - DL
Mayowa made my IDP Stock Up/Stock Down column last season, and I think his stock is still on the rise, especially with the Cowboys' pass rush being ineffective as a whole. Despite the struggles of his team, Mayowa was a bright spot in '16, appearing on 381 defensive snaps. Despite producing a 7.2-percent pressure rate, he efficiently converted seven of his pressures into sacks.
Danny Shelton, DT, Cleveland Browns
Heading back to the AFC North, Shelton is a potential breakout in DT-required leagues. He was a first-round pick in 2015 and was known more for his JOPs (jump on piles) than anything, but he did manage to take a step forward in '16.
Shelton will make the shift from nose tackle in a 3-4, where he handled both one- and two-gap responsibilities, to a 4-3 defensive tackle, where he's going to be asked to cause mayhem in the offense's backfield. Last season, Shelton recorded an eight-percent tackle rate and his first career sack. Shelton hasn't generated much pressure in his short career, but that wasn't his real responsibility. This season, he should be asked to pressure the quarterback on a more consistent basis. He has 60-tackle and six-sack upside in Williams's defense, and is a DT2 target in DT-required leagues.
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