Fantasy Football D/ST Preview: D/ST's Post-Draft
Dan Malin reviews the NFL Draft from last week and breaks down the D/ST's that improved through the Draft that you should keep an eye on in 2020!
Last week’s NFL Draft was loaded with talent. Heading into Rounds 2 and 3 on Friday there were still plenty of talented players available that could’ve been drafted in the first round any other year. I previewed a few D/ST’s last week that were in need of a pass rush, but we’ll focus on the D/ST’s that were either much improved through the draft or filled a big void. It’s all encumbering in a way. But do check out Fantasy Alarm’s recap of the NFL Draft. We put out plenty of reaction videos regarding some of the more notable picks and there will be plenty of post-draft content coming out soon.
I’m getting tired of the Ravens having talent fall to them every draft. Every year they seemingly come away with a stud player and this year they got two with Patrick Queen and J.K. Dobbins. In last week’s D/ST preview I mentioned D/ST’s that could use some help with the pass rush and I touched on how the Ravens needed help filling out their linebackers. I don’t expect Queen to really rack up the sacks since he likely won’t come off the edge very much, but he’s still a dominant presence for this defense. The Ravens were a top five D/ST in fantasy last season and Queen only makes them better. Other notable additions acquired via the draft are Justin Madubuike from Texas A&M and Malik Harrison from Ohio State.
I mentioned the Panthers last week, but with the caveat that they were probably a few years away from being fantasy relevant as a D/ST considering they lost so many core pieces in the offseason. I didn’t have many expectations for their draft other than drafting either Derrick Brown or Isaiah Simmons. Alas, they had their options between the two and opted for Brown. And not just Brown, but the Panthers used all seven of their picks on the defense, which is great news for Carolina’s offensive players for fantasy purposes. Other notable picks were Yetur Gross-Matos out of Penn State and Jeremy Chinn from Southern Illinois. Both were taken in the second round and Gross-Matos will help beef up the defensive line while Chinn can help out in a depleted secondary. While it’s impressive the Panthers used all their draft capital on the defense, they’re still a couple years away from returning to fantasy relevance as a reliable D/ST. They may be worth streaming this upcoming season and their rookies will be worth keeping an eye on.
New Orleans Saints
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Saints had just four picks, and used just one on the defense. However, they got a really solid value in the third round with Zack Baun. In plenty of mock drafts he had a late first-round projection, and I thought he should have gone around then. He had a diluted drug sample emerge from the combine and apparently didn’t impress in his pre-draft interviews. The interviews concerned me more than the diluted sample, but still didn’t imagine Baun falling to the third round. He was incredibly impressive last year at Wisconsin with 12.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. The Saints defense held its own last year and were top ten for fantasy. They didn’t have many needs on defense, but Zack Baun will help out an already stout pass rush that was third in the league with 51 sacks.
The Jags were mentioned as an honorable mention last week, but they crushed their draft. Like Carolina, I don’t expect them to contribute right away in fantasy, but they’ll be worth streaming at times and they could surprise some people. With their first pick in round one they took the second-best cornerback in the draft, C.J. Henderson from Florida and followed that up by selecting K’Lavon Chaisson out of LSU. Chaisson’s collegiate pass rush numbers aren’t that impressive. He had a total of 9.5 sacks in three years, with 6.5 of those coming last year. A huge reason for the lack of production overall is that he tore his ACL in 2018 and still bounced back with a solid 2019 season. They also added Davon Hamilton to help out the defensive line, and then Josiah Scott as a little more depth in the secondary with Henderson. For a team that’s lost some vital pieces on their defense the last couple years, the Jags did a phenomenal job rebuilding the defense. They’ve gone on record saying they would welcome Yannick Ngakoue back after he demanded a trade, and if they can persuade him to suit up for them again then this defense is in better shape than previously thought.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers took a similar approach to the Saints in that they only used one of five picks on the defense. But they got a very solid defensive tackle in Javon Kinlaw out of South Carolina. Kinlaw is huge at 6’5” and 324 pounds. He can come in and fill the void left behind by DeForest Buckner after he was traded to the Indianapolis Colts. The 49ers pass rush and secondary should continue where they left off last year as a dominant D/ST for fantasy. Kinlaw won’t immediately match Buckner’s production or have the same impact right away, but he projects as a solid interior defensive lineman in the NFL.
The Bills were another team mentioned last week that could use help in the pass rush. They didn’t have a first-round pick in this year’s draft because they traded it to Minnesota for Stefon Diggs . However, this was a deep draft. It was loaded with talent on both sides of the ball and even on the second night of the draft there were some great players still available. They used their first pick to select A.J. Epenesa out of Iowa. Epenesa was fantastic in his final collegiate season. In 13 starts he had 11.5 sacks, 14.5 tackles for loss and he forced four fumbles. The Bills needed to get some new juice into their pass rush considering they lost Shaq Lawson to Miami and Lorenzo Alexander retired. Epenesa was the only defensive player selected by Buffalo until their seventh-round pick when they selected a defensive back. The Buffalo defense will look different next year, but Epenesa has an opportunity to help out immediately.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
A few weeks back I wrote up the Bucs D/ST as one that I would target later in the draft assuming other owners in your fantasy football league will draft D/ST’s earlier. But if you’re waiting until the final round or two for a D/ST then the Bucs may be available and I like them for a few reasons. For starters, Shaquil Barrett is returning to the team on the franchise tag, Jason Pierre-Paul will be back, as will Ndamukong Suh . Let’s not forget that last year’s first round pick, Devin White, made a very strong impact in his rookie season. Additionally, Tom Brady won’t turn the ball over nearly as much as Jameis Winston , so the defense won’t be overworked like they were last year. It was a foregone conclusion the Bucs needed to protect Tom Brady by drafting a tackle, which they did, and they wanted to get him another weapon in the backfield, which they did in the third round by drafting Ke’Shawn Vaughn. But sandwiched between their first and third picks, the Bucs took Antoine Winfield Jr., a safety out of Minnesota. Winfield comes with a football pedigree as his father was a three-time Pro Bowler with the Vikings. Between Winfield, Carlton Davis , Mike Edwards, Justin Evans , and Sean Murphy-Bunting this secondary is very young and Winfield provides some much-needed depth and talent to round out the defense. I definitely think the Bucs can finish as a top ten D/ST, the downside is the opposing offenses on their schedule will be pretty stout.
There are some teams that acquired some key defensive players. I like Grant Delpit to Cleveland as he helps a secondary in need, and I love what the Seahawks and Cardinals did. Seattle likely isn’t bringing back Jadeveon Clowney , but the Seahawks used their first two picks on Jordyn Brooks and Darrell Taylor. Seattle may have bigger needs on the offensive line but drafting Brooks and Taylor will aid the pass rush in time. And I’d be careless if I didn’t mention Isaiah Simmons to Arizona considering he was one of the better defensive prospects in the draft. Simmons can play linebacker, he can come off the edge, and he could even play safety at times. He’s a bit of multi-purpose weapon on defense. The Cardinals also drafted Leki Fotu, Rashard Lawrence, and Evan Weaver later in the draft. Arizona may not be fantasy relevant for quite some time, but they made steps in the right direction. Chandler Jones is still a sack machine and Patrick Peterson is still one of the better defensive backs in the league, but for how much longer? I wouldn’t like to own this D/ST for fantasy, but there are clearly IDP gems on this team.