April 24, 2024

2nd Year Surges: Defensive Line

9 min read

2nd Year Surges: Defensive Line

By Joe Goodwin

 

There was plenty of IDP talent drafted in the first three rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft and most of them did not register on IDP radars in their first seasons.  Will any of those players surge into IDP relevance in 2023?

This article is the first of a 3 part series reviewing IDP defensive players entering their 2nd year in the NFL and how to approach drafting/rostering these players.

 

Jordan Davis (NT, Eagles)

Last year for the Eagles, Jordan Davis slowly entered the defensive line mix.  Only when he was injured and missed a game, did the Eagles realize how valuable Davis was to stopping the run; the Eagles subsequently went out and signed Suh and Joseph.  Does that ability to stop the run translate into an IDP contributor?  In the short term, no.  The Eagles allowed Javon Hargrave to move on and re-signed Fletcher Cox.  The interior defensive line is Davis, Cox, and Milton Williams.  In 13 games (5 started), Davis had 18 total tackles and 1 tackle for loss.  Currently, that kind of output is not good enough to warrant consideration in IDP.

Davis may end up being a better football player than fantasy player.  He may have some upside, but let the next manager draft him based on predictions while you look for a more established, dependable IDP player.

 

Jermaine Johnson (DE, Jets)

In 14 games for the Jets, Johnson logged 29 total tackles, with 3 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and 1 safety. Those numbers are pretty impressive for a player that only notched 1 game over a 30% snap share.  Two factors could lead to a huge breakout for Johnson in 2023: 1) A snap share that consistently exceeds 50%, 2) He improves his ability to get out of his stance.  In watching tape, Johnson tends to be slow off the snap.  That slight hesitation could just be a result of coaching and not wanting him to be offside.  Either way, if he can time his “get off” better and be on the field for at least 50% of the snaps, Johnson could be worth a late round flier in your IDP draft based on upside.  If you are in a Dynasty League, there is a lot to like long term and Johnson is an interesting pick as you build depth; especially if your taxi squad allows 2nd year players.  Or, you start at least 3 defensive lineman, in that case, Johnson is a solid depth pick with a lot of room to improve.

 

Devonte Wyatt (DT, Packers)

In 16 games last year, Wyatt recorded 15 total tackles. Wyatt did not record any tackles for loss, but did have 1.5 sacks.  Wyatt was hardly used at the beginning of the season, but did see an increased snap share at the conclusion of the season.  Wyatt’s best game was his last of the season as he had a sack and a forced fumble.  With the departure of Dean Lowery, this should lead to more reps for Wyatt.  And if the Packers don’t sign a veteran of note, this could indicate a huge uptick in playing time.  Similar to Johnson, Wyatt is a great taxi squad stash if they allow 2nd year players. Otherwise, you may have to wait a while to see exactly how he will be used in the Packers defense.  In general, DT are hard to start unless they are named Aaron Donald.

 

George Karlaftis (DE, Chiefs)

Karlaftis is one of the most interesting 2nd year IDP potential surges heading into the 2023 season.  His usage rate was between 35 to 50%. He recorded 33 total tackles.  The most intriguing statistics about Karlaftis were his sacks (6.5) and his tackles for loss (8); both of those are impressive for his snap share.  With the Chiefs allowing Frank Clark to explore employment options, it may indicate the Chiefs are comfortable moving forward with Karlaftis being a main component on the offensive line. The “Greek Freak” is a young player ascending as an IDP player.  If your league values tackles for loss, his upside is worth targeting later in drafts.  If your league leans heavier on tackles, Karlaftis has not proven to be as effective as the other DL players; although 33 tackles is solid for his snap share.  In deeper IDP leagues, I fully endorse Karlaftis as a starting DL heading into this year based on his sack and tackles for loss potential.  And, as his snap share heads into the 60% area, he may record enough tackles to be a mainstay in IDP lineups for years to come.

 

Logan Hall (DE, Buccaneers)

Hall did not see a lot of snaps last year for Tampa Bay.  His 12 total tackles over 17 games does not warrant IDP consideration.  However, the 2.5 sacks and 5 tackles for loss are encouraging signs of a possible breakout season in the future.  However, it does not appear that the season is in 2023.  The Buccaneers were not overly impressed with Hall’s first season as his snap count decreased as the season progressed as injured players returned to the lineup and Hall was relegated to the sideline.  Hall is still young and can progress in his development, but his IDP potential is limited and Hall is not worthy of a roster spot at this point. 

 

Boye Mafe (DE, Seahawks)

Seattle’s defense saw contributions from some younger players in 2022; including some “pops” from Maffe.  Boye recorded 41 total tackles, 3 sacks, and 3 tackles for loss. Mafe’s usage ranged from 25 to 30% for a majority of the season, and should increase for the 2023 season.  The tackle total is encouraging.  If your league values tackles the most, Mafe has a lot of upside in that area with an increase in usage.  However, if the scoring rewards TFL or Sacks, Mafe has a lower ceiling at DL than others. Mafe is only a taxi squad candidate if they allow 2nd year players.  Otherwise, you can pass on Mafe in this year’s IDP draft unless you start more than 3 defensive lineman or have ample bench spots to wait for his breakout performance.

 

Drake Jackson (DE, 49ers)

With only 3 sacks in 2022, Jackson did not take advantage of the double-teams that floated Nick Bosa’s way.  This off season, the 49ers also went out and signed Javon Hargrave to fortify the middle of the defensive line.  Although Jackson is young and still developing, the 49ers are making it clear they have high expectations and will play the best players; not necessarily wait for younger players to improve.  Jackson will need to improve in a lot of areas before he can see his usage consistently in the 40 to  50% range.  Until that happens, Jackson is not a player worth drafting in IDP leagues this year.  He may be a long term play, but if you are looking for an impact player, Jackson is most likely not that player.

 

Travis Jones (DT, Ravens)

In 15 games for the Ravens, Jones was limited to 24 total tackles and 1 sack and 1 tackle for loss.  Jones struggled to see the field and only registered a 30% or more snap share in 2 games.  The other 13 games, Jones averaged only 19.6% of the snaps.  In order for Jones to be IDP relevant, his snap share has to increase to at least 45-50%.  The Ravens, and Calais Campbell, all have a lot of positive things to say about Travis.  However, until he sees the field more, he cannot be trusted to produce as one of your valued draft picks.  If you have a lot of room on your taxi squad and are thin at DL, Jones isn’t a bad lottery ticket.  Just remember to keep expectations low and hope to be surprised.

 

Alex Wright (DE, Browns)

Wright saw action in all 17 games, even starting 5 games.  In those games, he tallied 28 total tackles, with 2 tackles for loss.  In the majority of games, Wright ranged from 30 to 50% snap share.  So, the fact he did not record a sack in his playing time is a little concerning.  However, with Jadeveon Clowney’s release, Wright appears to be in a battle with newly signed free agent Ogbonnia Okronkwo to complement Myles Garrett on the opposite side.  I love the opportunity Wright has for the 2023 season and would definitely stash him on my taxi squad.  If Wright wins at the point of attack and begins to log sacks, he can be a huge sleeper pick; especially in dynasty leagues.

 

DeMarvin Leal (DT,DE Steelers)

After missing 6 games last year due to injury, it's hard to assess Leal’s first season.  Leal did not record any sacks (similar to Wright), but had 14 total tackles and 1 tackle for loss.  Unlike the other names on this list, Leal was asked to play a variety of roles for the Steelers last year.  Leal even spent a bunch of snaps as a stand up linebacker.  As a linebacker, Leal has ZERO value.  He is currently a rotation piece for the Steelers and without a fixed spot on the field to grow into, I don’t see IDP relevance for Leal.  However, monitor his situation.  If Leal ends up lining up as an outside linebacker used to rush the passer, he may blossom in that role and be worth a flier late in drafts.

 

Cameron Thomas (DE, Cardinals)

Thomas played in all 17 games for Cardinals last year with 3 sacks, with 18 total tackles and 3 tackles for loss.  His playing time was limited, but Thomas has shown some ability to get to the quarterback.  JJ Watt took a vested interest in Thomas as he learned the position from the future Hall of Famer.  And, with more time, Cameron Thomas may turn into a valuable IDP piece.  However, Thomas is not a DL starter in fantasy right now.  I love his upside and would take a chance on Thomas using what Watt taught him and blossoming in 2023. Thomas may be your last pick in your draft, or a waiver wire find in dynasty, but I just love the opportunity he has in front of him.  Expectations should be minimal for now, but things are looking up for Thomas in the future.  

 

Zachary Carter (DT, Bengals)

Carter played in 16 games, and started in 9 of them.  In those games, Zach logged 23 total tackles and only 0.5 sacks.  In short, last year’s results were underwhelming.  Carter may end up trending similarly to Jordan Davis; better football players than fantasy players.  At this time, you can pass on Zachary Carter as an IDP contributor.

 

Eyioma Uwazurike (DL, Broncos)

After logging 9 DNP’s last year, Uwarzurike did see some limited action with minimal results.  Eyioma had 17 total tackles, with ZERO TFL’s or Sacks.  Uwazurike may be a future starter in the NFL, but all signs currently point to a non-factor in fantasy football.

 

Michael Clemons (DE, Jets)

After playing in 16 games last year, Clemons saw some moderate success with a limited snap share that ranged between 20 to 25%. In all, Clemons notched 36 total tackles and 2.5 sacks.  Paired with Jermaine Johnson, Clemons may Robin to his Batman.  Both are young and ascending players that with increased playing time, may warrant consideration as an IDP contributor.  For now, if your taxi squad allows it, I am good with Clemons occupying a spot.  When the snap share increases (and I predict it will), his fantasy impact will be felt. And while other teams scramble to add him, you can rest easy knowing you have already rostered him on your team.

 

Neil Farrell (DL, Raiders)

After playing in only 9 games last year, Farrell recorded just 12 total tackles; and only 1 of them for loss.  Currently, Farrell is not a fantasy relevant player.  His snap share and productivity are not aligning with key factors that contribute to being, at minimum, a taxi squad player.  Keep looking in other places for DL help.

 

Arnold Ebiketie (DE, Falcons)

Even though Ebiketie logged minutes in 16 games, he only started 1.  For a majority of the season, Ebiketie hovered in the 30-35% snap share.  With 30 combined tackles and 2.5 sacks, Ebiketie showed some promise in his first year.  Arnold also had 2 forced fumbles; not all leagues reward that stat, but if yours does, Ebiketie’s best game was against Chicago where he notched 6 tackles and 1 sack. However, he doesn’t appear ready to replicate that type of performance on a regular basis.  The Falcons are sure to improve their anemic pass rush this off season.  If the Falcons sign a proven starter, that will signal the organization's feelings on Ebiketie; so I would then suggest not drafting him at all.  On the other hand, if the Falcons choose to address the situation on day 2 or 3 of the draft, that could indicate Atlanta’s commitment to seeing Arnold grow; as such, I would suggest stashing him on your taxi squad and hope he continues his ascension and provides solid IDP production. 

 

Are there any 2nd year players I missed? 

Hit me up on Twitter @JGoody77 and post names….and I’ll dig into your players of interest and post for all to see.

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