The names at the top of this list won’t surprise you.
We had 4 off-the-ball LBs go in the 1st round of the 2018 NFL Draft, along with just a pair of DEs. Spoiler alert: Those 6 guys rank among the top choices for your rookie draft in your IDP dynasty league.
Beyond that, a lot will depend on your format -- as well as your specific needs.
Play in a tackle-heavy setup? Then you’ll find a bunch of mid-round LB options who could find early opportunity.
Does your league lean more heavily on sacks and/or other pressure stats? Then you’re going to have to incur some risk to chase that area in a shaky pass-rushing class.
And if you’re pretty well set in the front 7 but in dire need of a safety, then feel free to reach a little earlier for Derwin James -- and then skip down to the DBs whenever you don’t like the offensive options at your turns in Round 3 and beyond.
Here are the top 30 defenders (with a fairly balanced scoring system in mind), plus extended lists for each position group. If you play in a particularly deep league and this list doesn’t go far enough for you, then feel free to email me at Schauf@DraftSharks.com.
Top 30 IDPs
1. Roquan Smith, LB, Bears
Smith’s the most proven package among this year’s top LBs. We saw him star in coverage. We saw him make plays coming forward. We saw him deliver top-level play in a role similar to what he’ll do in the pros. And now Chicago will place him in a 3-down role immediately that has supplied strong IDP production for Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan the past 2 years.
2. Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Bills
Edmunds hit the Combine 17 pounds larger than Smith but just as fast. And he has yet to turn 20. There’s tremendous size and athleticism here, and now a home in the middle of a Buffalo defense that needs him right away. The only think Smith has on Edmunds is more time as an off-the-line LB.
3. Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Cowboys
Vander Esch rocked a 97th-percentile SPARQ score this spring at 6’4 and 256 pounds. And he filled the stat sheet with 141 tackles, 4 sacks, 5 passes defensed, 2 INTs and 4 forced fumbles in 2017. It wouldn’t be shocking if he turns into the most productive LB from this class. But he spent just 1 season as a college starter and is a little older than the 2 LBs ahead of him. Any of these 3 LBs should treat your dynasty roster well for years.
4. Marcus Davenport, DE, Saints
Many of us thought the Saints were leaping up from 27th to 14th for QB Lamar Jackson. Nope. Instead they made Davenport look like the clear #2 pass rusher in this draft. And the next EDGE player didn’t go until Harold Landry with the 9th pick of Round 2. At an imposing 6’5.5 and 264 pounds, Davenport posted the EDGE class’ #3 speed score. That followed 15 sacks and 27.5 tackles for loss over his final 2 seasons. He’ll likely need more development time than Chub after playing in Conference-USA, but Davenport’s tape is more fun to watch than Harold Landry’s.
5. Derwin James, S, Chargers
James spent 2 full seasons starting at Florida State, losing 11 games to injury in 2016. He finished each of those complete seasons as THE top-gaded safety in Pro Football Focus’ charting. Not top 10 or top 5. Number 1. And the versatile defender added numbers to that: 175 total tackles across those seasons, 15 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 3 INTs, 15 passes defensed.
**6. Bradley Chubb, LB, Broncos
Chubb wrapped up a highly productive 4 years at N.C. State with 2 straight seasons of 10 sacks and 21+ tackles for loss. And then he delivered the 7th-best speed score among EDGE players in this class. Throw him into a defense that already threatens QBs with OLBs Von Miller and Shane Ray, and I don’t see anything to dislike about him.
Update: The only thing to dislike about him in fantasy is that Denver will be playing Chubb at OLB. Smile if your league-hosting site gives him a DL designation. Where Chubb's a LB, drop him down to 6th on this list -- behind Derwin James.
7. Rashaan Evans, LB, Titans
Tennessee made sure to get ahead of Pittsburgh to land this guy, so you can bet he’ll take over Avery Williamson’s vacated ILB spot right away. That makes up for not running a 40 during pre-draft season, which reportedly rankled some teams. Evans is a bit more projection than the LBs ahead of him, having spent a fair amount of time rushing off the edge at Alabama and playing more than half of his career snaps in his final season -- according to Pro Football Focus.
8. Darius Leonard, LB, Colts
Leonard racked up numbers at FCS South Carolina State, while packing 50 pounds onto a frame that began college at 180 pounds. Leonard won the MEAC defensive player of the year award in 2016 -- and then delivered 114 tackles (12 for loss), 8.5 sacks and 2 INTs as a senior. He could have stood to run better than 4.70 in the 40, but landing with the Colts early in Round 2 more than makes up for that. Leonard should get an immediate starting gig in 1 of the league’s neediest situations.
9. Josey Jewell, LB, Broncos
Jewell faces a tougher path, with incumbent ILBs Brandon Marshall and Todd Davis still on the roster. But Davis has played just 60% of the snaps each of the past 2 years, and Marshall faces a pair of expensive seasons -- with cuttable cap hits -- to close out his contract, plus a history of lower-body injuries. Jewell, meanwhile, led his class in run-stop percentage and passes defensed last season. And he delivered the traditional stats, too: 124+ tackles for 3 straight years, 28 total tackles for loss, 10 sacks, 6 INTs and 26 total passes defensed.
10. Malik Jefferson, LB, Bengals
Jefferson fell short of high expectations for much of his time at Texas, but Bengals HC Marvin Lewis believes he can play any of the 3 LB spots. Which of those spots he settles into will affect the IDP value. MLB Preston Brown arrived this offseason on just a 1-year deal. Weak-side LB Vontaze Burfict will spend the 1st 4 weeks of this season suspended, and appears to have 2 cuttable seasons on his contract beyond that. Nick Vigil delivered nice IDP numbers in his 1st turn on the strong side last year (before injury) but graded terribly in Pro Football Focus charting. Jefferson brings enough size (6’2, 236), speed (4.52-second 40) and athleticism (91st percentile SPARQ, 5th in the class) to be intriguing wherever Cincinnati tries him.
**11. Micah Kiser, LB, Rams
Kiser vs. Josey Jewell is tough. Both were tackle machines in college, and each should start at some point in the pros. But Kiser is faster (4.66 vs. 4.79 in the 40-yard dash) and could get that starting shot sooner. The Rams should be holding an open competition for Alec Ogletree’s spot. Kiser, by the way, racked up 393 tackles over his 3 starting seasons, including 33.5 for loss and 19 sacks.
UPDATE: Jewell and Jefferson look like surer bets to stay on the field in passing sub packages than Kiser, so I've knocked him down a couple spots.
12. Rasheem Green, DE, Seahawks
There’s opportunity in Seattle. Michael Bennett left via trade this offseason, and Cliff Avril’s a question mark after a 2017 neck injury. (Plus, he just turned 32.) Green finished his USC sting with 10 sacks among 12.5 tackles for loss as a 2017 junior. At 6’4 and 275, Green move outside and in as Bennett did.
13. Marquis Haynes, DE, Panthers
Haynes cracked 7 sacks in each of his 4 seasons at Ole Miss, totaling 32. He tallied 11+ tackles for loss in each of the past 3 seasons. He heads to a Panthers D whose top 3 DEs in snaps last season will all be at least 31 when this season begins.
14. Tyquan Lewis, DE, Colts
The Colts spent 2 second-round picks on EDGE players, selecting Kemoko Turay 12 spots earlier than Lewis. I think this Buckeye is the safer bet, however, after delivering bigger numbers than his Rutgers counterpart and then beating Turay in speed score.
15. Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Dolphins
Fitzpatrick has the speed and skills to move around the defense. We’ll see whether the Dolphins stick him primarily at CB or safety -- or a Tyrann Mathieu-style hybrid role. He made plays on the ball in coverage at Alabama, including 24 total passes defense.
16. Terrell Edmunds, S, Steelers
The “other” Edmunds brother from Virginia Tech surprised many viewers by leaving the board in Round 1. But Edmunds’ 97th-percentile SPARQ, 4.47-second 40 and 101-tackle 2016 season give Pittsburgh something to play with.
17. Harold Landry, LB, Titans
Landry and Lorenzo Carter carry the risk of being limited to less-than-full-time roles. Landry struggled a bit through injury in his final season but racked up 16.5 sacks among 22 tackles for loss as a 2016 junior. And he posted 16 tackles for loss as a sophomore. He shouldn’t wait long to jump in for Derrick Morgan or Brian Orakpo, each of whom heads into the final year of his contract this fall.
18. Lorenzo Carter, LB, Giants
Carter might be the better bet than Landry to start right away in a transitioning Giants defense. He delivered the 2nd-best speed score among EDGE players in this class and the top SPARQ score (96th percentile). Carter’s sack numbers weren’t huge -- 4.5, 5.0 and 4.5 in his 3 full seasons -- but Georgia coaches asked him to drop into coverage often. Pro Football Focus credited him with the 5th-best pass-rushing productivity rate among draft-eligible EDGE players last season. If Carter played the run better, he’d sit ahead of Landry on this list.
**19. Shaquem Griffin, LB, Seahawks
You probably know all you need to about Griffin’s story by now, including his conference defensive player of the year award in 2017 and Combine-slaying performance in February. It’s not yet clear what his NFL role might be, but I don’t plan to bet against him.
UPDATE: I moved Griffin up after reading that Pete Carroll already likes him at weak-side LB. Starter K.J. Wright's heading into a contract year at 29. If your league's scoring favors tackles over pressure stats, you could even consider Griffin over Carter and/or Landry.
**20. Uchenna Nwosu, LB, Chargers
Scheme changes can significantly alter a defender’s fantasy value by changing his position designation. For now, though, Nwosu benefits by landing in L.A.’s 4-3, though we'll see if he lands a DE tag. He’ll also begin his career behind Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. The 2017 numbers make Nwosu worth your patience: 75 tackles, 11.5 for loss, 9.5 sacks, 13 passes defensed.
Update: Nwosu will indeed play LB and thus slips down these rankings.
21. Justin Reid, S, Texans
Many expected Harrison and Justin Reid to leave the board before their 3rd-round slots, but each landed in fine destinations for long-term opportunity. Reid closed out his Stanford time (3 years) with 94 tackles and 5 INTs as a 2017 junior. His 4.4-second 40 time then proved 3rd-fastest in the safety class, to go with the group’s 3rd-best SPARQ score (96th percentile among NFL safeties).
22. Ronnie Harrison, S, Jaguars
Jacksonville has Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson each heading into cuttable finishes to their free-agent contracts beyond this season. Harrison displayed the skills to play either safety spot, including 7 career INTs among 17 total passes defensed (in 3 seasons).
23. Sam Hubbard, DE, Bengals
Hubbard lacks explosiveness off the edge but could grow into Carlos Dunlap’s replacement at left DE. He presents a nice 6’5, 270-pound frame and averaged a solid 10 tackles for loss and 5.7 sacks across 3 seasons at Ohio State -- despite playing behind Joey Bosa as a 2015 freshman.
24. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, LB, Rams
After tallying 29 tackles for loss and 17 sacks over 2 starting seasons at Oklahoma, Okoronkwo crushed Senior Bowl week. Pro Football Focus credited him with the 2nd-highest win rate among pass-rushers in 1-on-1 drills and the highest grade of any defensive player in the game. Landing with DC Wade Phillips can only help his development.
25. Jerome Baker, LB, Dolphins
Baker used his range to collect 155 tackles and 7 sacks across 2 starting seasons at Ohio State. Then he confirmed his speed with an 89th-percentile 40 time at the Scouting Combine (4.53 seconds). Miami should present open competition for snaps, at least aside from Kiko Alonso’s spot.
26. Fred Warner, LB, 49ers
Warner could stand to get tougher against the run, but his rangy coverage game fits today’s NFL needs. He defensed 11 passes over his final 2 seasons at BYU, then delivered a solid 4.64-second 40 and 80th percentile SPARQ score in pre-draft testing. Reuben Foster likely has his spot locked down after his ex-girlfriend recanted her domestic-assault story. But there’s room for competition otherwise.
27. Dorian O’Daniel, LB, Chiefs
O’Daniel built to a strong finish to his 4 years at Clemson. He tallied 88 tackles, including 11.5 for loss and 5 sacks, plus 5 passes defensed and 2 INTs -- both of which he returned for TDs. O’Daniel will need to fight past Reggie Ragland (or wait out the final 2 seasons on his contract) for playing time in Kansas City.
28. Josh Sweat, DE, Eagles
We’re all making educated guesses (at best) in this range, so feel free to elevated the DEs ahead of the LBs down here if you need 1. Sweat didn’t live up to the hype over 3 seasons at Florida State, as evidenced by his late-Round 4 draft position. But solid run defense should help get him onto the field, and he still boasts elite athleticism: 94th percentile speed score, 95th percentile SPARQ. Sweat’s speed could match up nicely with Philly DC Jim Schwartz’s wide-9 DE alignment.
29. Kemoko Turay, DE, Colts
Turay generated some pre-draft buzz and then landed via the 2nd round in a Colts defense that needs the pass-rush help. But Turay posted modest college production -- just 7 sacks over his final 3 seasons, including 3 in a healthy senior year -- and I worry that he might settle in as a situational rusher in the pros. I'm assuming for now that he'll at least garner a DE designation rather than LB.
30. John Franklin-Myers, DE, Rams
The Stephen F. Austin alum spent 3 years as an all-conference performer, including a 1st-team nod in 2016. He supplied 14.5 tackles for loss that season, including 8 sacks. Franklin-Myers surrounded that campaign with 22 total tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks over his other 2 starting turns. Then he turned in a decent 51st-percentile SPARQ and 111.2 speed score (8th in the class) at nearly 6’4 and 283 pounds.
|Marcus Davenport, DE, Saints|
|Rasheem Green, DE, Seahawks|
|Marquis Haynes, DE, Panthers|
|Tyquan Lewis, DE, Colts|
|Sam Hubbard, DE, Bengals|
|Josh Sweat, DE, Eagles|
|Kemoko Turay, DE, Colts|
|John Franklin-Myers, DE, Rams|
|Dorance Armstrong, DE, Cowboys|
|Kentavius Street, DE, 49ers|
|Jalyn Holmes, DE, Vikings|
|Taven Bryan, DT, Jaguars|
|Chad Thomas, DE, Browns|
|Harrison Phillips, DT, Bills|
|Maurice Hurst, DT, Raiders|
|Vita Vea, DT, Buccaneers|
|Joe Ostman, DE, Eagles|
|Da'Shawn Hand, DT, Lions* (Update: Hand replaces Daron Payne.)|
|Roquan Smith, LB, Bears|
|Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Bills|
|Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Cowboys|
|Bradley Chubb, LB, Broncos|
Rashaan Evans, LB, Titans
|Darius Leonard, LB, Colts|
|Josey Jewell, LB, Broncos|
|Malik Jefferson, LB, Bengals|
|Micah Kiser, LB, Rams|
|Harold Landry, LB, Titans|
|Lorenzo Carter, LB, Giants|
|Shaquem Griffin, LB, Seahawks|
Uchenna Nwosu, LB, Chargers
|Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, LB, Rams|
|Jerome Baker, LB, Dolphins|
|Fred Warner, LB, 49ers|
|Dorian O'Daniel, LB, Chiefs|
|Kenny Young, LB, Ravens|
|Arden Key, LB, Raiders|
|Skai Moore, LB, Colts|
|Genard Avery, LB, Browns|
|Duke Ejiofor, LB, Texans|
|Tegray Scales, LB, Rams|
|Oren Burks, LB, Packers|
|Matthew Thomas, LB, Steelers|
|Stacy Thomas, LB, Colts|
|Al-Rasheed Benton, LB, Lions|
|Derwin James, S, Chargers|
|Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Dolphins|
|Terrell Edmunds, S, Steelers|
|Justin Reid, S, Texans|
|Ronnie Harrison, S, Jaguars|
|Jaire Alexander, CB, Packers|
|Tarvarius Moore, S, 49ers|
|Jessie Bates, S, Bengals|
|Carlton Davis, CB, Buccaneers|
|Denzel Ward, CB, Browns|
|Kyzir White, S, Chargers|
|Joshua Jackson, CB, Packers|
|Troy Apke, S, Washington|
|Mike Hughes, CB, Vikings|
|Armani Watts, DB, Chiefs|