He’s back, and he’s the man.
IDP owners missed J.J. Watt for most of last season, when he returned too soon from back surgery and ended his year before September was out. But all signs have been positive with Watt this time around. And a healthy Watt has dominated this position in fantasy more often than he hasn’t.
If Khalil Mack retains DL eligibility in your league, then the gap shrinks a bit. Mack would be #2 on this list -- we have him among the LBs – and in his own tier between Watt and Joey Bosa. But this remains Watt’s kingdom.
Of course, only 1 team in your league will land the Houston stud. Whether that ends up being you or not, the tiers below can reveal plenty of other value targets for your IDP fantasy football draft.
J.J. Watt, DE, Texans
In case it wasn’t clear, Watt gets his own tier.
Joey Bosa, DE, Chargers
Jason Pierre-Paul, DE Giants
Melvin Ingram, DE, Chargers
Ingram’s 2016 numbers would have ranked him top 5 among D-linemen. Now he is one, playing opposite breakout star Bosa. Only Ingram and Khalil Mack have tallied 50+ tackles and 8+ sacks each of the past 2 years.
JPP, meanwhile, got back to being his old self last year, leading all DL scorers at the time of his season-ending injury.
Olivier Vernon, DE, Giants
Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, Jets
Everson Griffen, DE, Vikings
DeForest Buckner, DT, 49ers
Danielle Hunter, DE, Vikings
Carlos Dunlap, DE, Bengals
Cameron Jordan, DE, Saints
The top 3 players in this group and Hunter beat the others in sack upside, while Buckner, Wilkerson and Jordan look like the safest bets for overall numbers. The rankings in this range could vary by scoring system. But this remains a solid group from which to pick your 1st D-lineman – and a strong group if you’re selecting your 2nd.
Jerry Hughes, DE, Bills
Ezekiel Ansah, DE, Lions
Calais Campbell, DE, Jaguars
Aaron Donald, DE, Rams
Leonard Williams, DE, Jets
Ndamukong Suh, DT, Dolphins
Brandon Graham, DE, Eagles
Kawann Short, DT, Panthers
Cameron Wake, DE, Dolphins
Fletcher Cox, DT, Eagles
Hughes leads another big tier as perhaps our biggest value at the whole position. (It’s Hughes vs. Melvin Ingram for the top spot – compared with where they commonly go.) Behind him follows a varied group.
Ansah and Donald are long on talent … but also on risk this year. As of this writing, neither has begun practicing with his team yet. Ansah’s still working back from an injury, though several Lions decision makers have sounded sure he’ll be ready for the opener. Donald has been holding out all spring and summer for a new contract.
Campbell exudes relative safety between them, even though he has a new team for the 1st time since his rookie season. Every other member of the group comes with significant upside.
So rather than keep going with tiers, here are a couple more sleepers that reside a little lower in the rankings.
Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Browns
You might not have heard much about Ogbah’s offseason and camp because #1 pick Myles Garrett’s absorbing the spotlight. But HC Hue Jackson told the team website earlier this month that the 2nd-year edge player has “done extremely well.”
Jackson said he expects Garrett’s presence to push some opportunities toward Ogbah at left DE and that, “I think he’s going to make those plays.” Ogbah quietly led last year’s Browns with 5.5 sacks, and his 16 total QB hits more than doubled his nearest teammate’s tally.
Noah Spence, DE, Buccaneers
The Bucs don’t list him as a starter on their “unofficial” depth chart, but you can bet Spence will play a key role in his 2nd season. Tampa hasn’t had a 10+ sack guy since DE Simeon Rice way back in 2005. Some around the team believe this 2nd-year pass rusher is the best bet to break that streak.
Fellow DE Robert Ayers said Spence “could be a 15-plus-sack guy.” DT Gerald McCoy added that he “can take over the NFL … because he is that good.”
Spence might continue to sport lower tackle numbers, which would hurt his fantasy consistency. But he already notched 5.5 sacks as a 2016 rookie playing through a torn shoulder labrum that required offseason surgery. He tallied QB hits in 9 of 12 appearances as a part-timer.
Grab Spence as a reserve late in your draft and get ready for early-season tests on his sack upside at Miami (Week 1) and Minnesota (Week 3).