Fantasy Football D/ST Preview: Pass Rush Needed
Dan Malin takes a look at some of the better D/ST's in fantasy football last season that can be even better in 2020 if they can improve their pass rush in the draft!
The NFL Draft is Thursday night so we’ll talk about some D/ST’s that can improve through the draft by addressing the pass rush. This is largely speculation based on draft needs, but these are D/ST’s that can still improve with younger players on the roster. It’s a fairly deep draft and if you’re a first-round pick, you’re expected to contribute immediately. But most of the players taken early can make an impact and if these certain teams address their pass rush and improve on their sack numbers, then more fantasy relevance is in store.
The Bills were one of the best defenses in football last season. They allowed the second-fewest points, and third-fewest yards. That helps the fantasy numbers quite a bit, but they can be better and they’re going to need to get better through the draft. They lost Shaq Lawson in free agency and Lorenzo Alexander retired. The Bills did sign Mario Addison and Quinton Jefferson in free agency, but they can still use some help with the pass rush. Considering the offensive line has gotten better and the offense acquired Stefon Diggs , there’s more of a need to address the defense, specifically the pass rush. The Bills don’t have a first-round pick after they traded it to Minnesota to acquire Diggs, but on Friday night, getting an edge rusher should be a priority. I don’t expect a huge drop off for this D/ST since a good portion of their production came from points and yards allowed. But acquiring a young, talented pass rusher can help the sack numbers for Buffalo and there will be reps/opportunities readily available.
The Ravens defense got off to a bit of a slow start last season. Weeks three and four really knocked them down the ranks quite a bit, but a strong turn around and finish to the season had them finish as the fourth-best D/ST in fantasy football. Their success was founded in the third-fewest points allowed as well as the fourth-fewest yards allowed. But there is room for improvement. The Ravens had just 37 sacks last season which put them outside the Top 20 in the league. It’s clearly been a struggle for the Ravens to replace C.J. Mosley , who signed with the Jets a year ago. They did trade for Calais Campbell to help out on the defensive line and they franchise tagged Matt Judon as well. But filling out the linebackers and getting more of a pass rush is on the “to do” list for the Ravens. And if they address it early on, this could be great news for the defense. Baltimore’s offense doesn’t really need to be addressed in the first round so I’m hoping they target improving upon the pass rush.
New York Jets
Similar to the Bills and Ravens, the Jets are in need of some help in the pass rush. The problem is that the Jets want to make a splash with a sexy pick. They clearly need help at wide receiver and will likely walk away with one of the three highly touted wideouts projected to go in the first round. The problem is that pass rush is just as much of a need for the Jets as well. If the Jets can address the pass rush on Friday night they may be in decent shape. This D/ST last year was actually seventh in fantasy points, but 23rd in sacks. And a dozen of their sacks came in weeks 10 and 11, so 23 of their sacks were parsed out over the remaining 14 games. They made some small adjustments to the defense via free agency, but nothing notable. Their bigger free agency moves were to improve the offensive line, which has gotten better. However, addressing the pass rush is a big need for the Jets. Even if the Jets do improve the pass rush this weekend, there is the concern that Jamal Adams could be traded as well. His name has been on the trade block for too long now and where there is smoke there’s usually fire. Adams wants a lengthy, lucrative contract except the Jets are hesitant to give it to him. So, New York is keeping the door open for a possible trade of Adams, who turns 25 in October. In the event that he is dealt, then the secondary will need to be addressed as well, but the Jets should get a decent haul for him. They need to start getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but those improvements likely come Friday and Saturday with the likelihood they grab a wide receiver on Thursday.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs offense is a well-oiled machine. With the best quarterback, tight end, and one of the best wide receivers in the league, the offense is loaded. But it’s clear the biggest needs are on defense and they’ll likely address this side of the ball in the draft. They were relatively quiet in free agency aside from placing the franchise tag on Chris Jones . Quite a few mock drafts have some favorable results for the Chiefs despite picking last at the end of the first round. If Kenneth Murray or AJ Epenesa make it to them at 32, then those seem like locks for Kansas City. I’d say Epenesa is much more likely to fall that far than Murray, but if Kansas City can come away from the draft with more talent and depth at linebacker and in the pass rush, then this defense is in decent shape for 2020. They finished as the 11th-best D/ST in fantasy last season so just a couple young, talented pieces could go a long way in their Super Bowl defense this year.
Sadly, I do feel that Seattle is more likely to address the offensive line in the first round. Protecting Russell Wilson has been a massive struggle for them in recent memory. But the pass rush is a big need for them as well. Seattle just bled yards, both on the ground and through the air, and lost value in fantasy because of that. They forced the third-most turnovers last season but tied for the third-fewest sacks in 2019. Seattle did bring back Bruce Irvin , who was a better pass rusher earlier in his first run with Seattle but can still make an impact now. Jadeveon Clowney is still a free agent, but reports a couple weeks ago indicated that it’s highly unlikely for Clowney to return to Seattle. A.J. Epenesa would be a great fit for Seattle if he’s still there at 27th overall, but that’s not a guarantee. Seattle is just as likely to take an offensive lineman there as well.
The Panthers may have a longer path to fantasy relevance, but they’re worth keeping an eye on. Seattle and Carolina have similar needs on offensive line and defense. It’s quite clear the Panthers need a lot of help on the defense. Between the defense and offensive line, the personnel turnover has been dreadful for Carolina. Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe both signed with Dallas this offseason and Luke Kuechly retired after eight seasons with the organization. So this defensive is in need of a new face and if Isaiah Simmons somehow falls to them then he would make for a great replacement for Kuechly. He played at Clemson and has made his reputation well known in the Carolinas, and he’s one of the best linebacker prospects in recent memory. The problem is that the chances of him falling to the Panthers are pretty minimal, but Derrick Brown would be a solid consolation prize to help beef up the defensive line following the losses of McCoy and Poe. The Panthers will have a lot of work to do to address the defense and offensive line needs with a new coaching staff in town.
I’ve written about the Patriots and Jaguars ad nausea the past few weeks. The Jaguars have seen a lot of their best defensive players get traded or leave in free agency, and the Patriots lost a few key pieces on defense as well. But since this article is mostly linked to the pass rush, I’m not sure either addresses that aspect of the game early on. I’ve seen Kenneth Murray to Jacksonville in some mock drafts, but I believe that re-building the secondary and offensive line are bigger needs for Jacksonville even as they look to possibly trade Leonard Fournette and/or Yannick Ngakoue . For the Patriots, they have plenty of needs and while they could easily address the pass rush with the 23rd overall pick, it’s clear that quarterback is a need as well. I expect both teams to regress in sacks and pressures this season, and I’m not completely sold they address it with their earlier picks Thursday and Friday night. Neither of these defenses are on my radar for fantasy football this season.