2016 Fantasy Rankings- Top 10 Defensive Ends/Lineman

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Out of all the positions on the field that I can relate to most physically, it’s along the defensive line.  Standing at 6’4″ and weighing in at 315 pounds I could have easily been a defensive tackle or an end if my high school had a football team. I didn’t go to college either so I settled for a career in rec league flag football as a quarterback. For the record, I was pretty good!

To be a defensive lineman you have to have a lunch pail mentality and be willing to do the real dirty work on the field. Most fans aren’t watching you or your technique until you break through the line for a sack or a forced fumble. Only the best of the best can do this even once or twice per game. Most players toil in relative anonymity during the season. These ten players are the exception to that rule. True play makers who can decide a game by disrupting the quarterback, forcing mistakes,turnovers and stuffing the run. Here are our top 10 defensive ends and lineman:

  1. J.J. Watt – The cream of the crop, three time defensive player of the year and arguably the best defensive player alive is in a tier all by himself. Watt continued to amaze in 2015 posting a 17.5 sack season to go with three forced fumbles and 76 tackles. Justin James underwent groin surgery in the off season and early reports is he may miss some time early on. If Watt misses games his rank does not change for me at all, up until this news he has played in 80/80 games in his NFL career. I expect him to return and be the dominant force we know and love every Sunday.
  1. Khalil Mack – Every time I watch the movie Draft Day I think of Khalil Mack. The movie version “Vontae” Mack is a high character, play making, athletic freak of an outside linebacker who was selected highly in the draft. Yeah, they ripped off Khalil pretty well! No word if he has a brass knuckle phone case, however. Mack has dual eligibility in most IDP leagues and we chose to rank him as a DE/DL instead of a LB. The only player to ever receive first team all pro honors at two positions is a star in the making. Mack exploded onto the scene in 2015 with a 15 sack, 77 tackle season. The Raiders defense is on the rise and will feature their third year player all over the field this year. The Mack truck is going to run over people yet again in 2016!
  1. Muhammad Wilkerson – One common thread you will see with almost all of the players on this list is it pays to be good at getting to the quarterback. Wilkerson received the franchise tag this off-season and luckily for him was able to sign a long term deal for $86 million dollars with $54 million guaranteed. Wilkerson uses his raw power and quick hands and feet to get to the quarterback which he did 12 times last year all the while playing great run support defense which lead to 64 combined tackles which is phenomenal for a DT. Wilkerson is a safe bet to improve on these numbers in his second year under Todd Bowles and his attacking style of defense. You may be able to draft him under the radar as he isn’t a “sexy” name and people forget about how darn good he is.
  1. Fletcher Cox –  I am a big fan of the Eagles this year in IDP and team defense leagues. Why you ask? One name, Jim Schwartz. Schwartz lead the Bills defense to the number one spot in 2014 but was egregiously let go when Rex Ryan came to town and the defense he built was a shell of itself last year. Schwartz loves to attack on defense and the Eagles have a great personnel to do so, starting with Fletcher Cox. Another player who got paid in the off-season, Cox is one of the best in the business at absolutely destroying offensive lineman and getting into the opposing teams backfield. Cox’s career year ended up with him securing 9.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, 71 combined tackles and  getting voted into his first pro bowl. Cox is a player on the rise in a system that should tailor itself to his style of game play. Win win.
  1. Aaron Donald –  Aaron Donald is the closest thing the NFL has to a grizzly bear. Absolutely relentless, full of rage and ferocious on opposing teams quarterbacks. Donald enjoyed his first double digit sack season which led to his first pro bowl birth. He was Pro Football Focuses number one player in the entire NFL last season which should tell you that not only is he pretty good but he is an ascending talent. The Rams hope to get a healthy Robert Quinn back which should only help Donald’s numbers as he sees less double teams. I would not be surprised to see Donald finish first overall this year, he is that good. J.J. Watt take notice!
  1. Ezekiel Ansah – Last year I wrote that Ansah had 20 sack upside and he got pretty close finishing at 16.5. The only concern I have with drafting Ansah is he is very sack dependent. He only totaled 47 combined tackles last year which wasn’t terrible but he did make up for this by forcing four fumbles. I still think Ansah can reach that 20 sack number as he gets better every year and didn’t start playing football until he was eighteen years old. He’s a physical freak and a complete mismatch on the edge. This Lion is gonna hunt in 2016.
  1. Robert Quinn– Quinn was limited to seven games in 2015 due to injury. In those seven games Quinn notched five sacks, three forced fumbles and three pass deflections. This gives you an idea of the type of impact player Quin can be when he is 100%. Just two years removed from a nineteen sack, seven forced fumble season and being in the same conversation as Watt for best lineman in the league, Quinn comes with a bit of a discount in 2016 as some may have forgotten about his previous dominance on the edge. 
  1. Carlos Dunlap – Carlos Dunlap finally had the breakout season many have predicted over the years with a 13.5 sack campaign. It is no coincidence that this happened in the same year that Geno Atkins was finally healthy and playing dominantly in the middle of the Bengals defense. With the exception of his rookie year Dunlap has increased his sack total the last five years so he seems to be a bit of a late bloomer and that is perfectly fine in my book! He has put himself in the conversation for one of the best pass rushers in the AFC. Look for him to get to 15 sacks this year with respectable tackle numbers for his position.
  1. Everson Griffen – Griffen has been in the league for six seasons and until 2014 started a total of one game. Opportunity reared its head two seasons ago and Griffen responded with a 12 sack season followed up by 10.5 last year. Playing on what has the potential to be a dominant defense and with help in the middle, Griffen easily projects for double digit sacks yet again in 2016. 
  1. Chandler Jones – The largest trade of the off season involved Jones being dealt to the Cardinals for former first round pick Jonathan Cooper and a 2016 2nd round pick going to New England. I really enjoyed watching Jones play with the Patriots and I think he is a great addition to a very talented Cardinals defense.  Jones is great in run support for a defensive end so he sees a boost in fantasy week in and week out. Jones tends to get his sacks in bunches so expect big weeks and then some quiet ones. I expect Chandler to put up similar numbers to 2015 when he had 12.5 sacks. Hopefully he can stay on the straight and narrow as he did have a situation late in the season with the Patriots where he was supposedly high on synthetic marijuana. Hopefully he can be the good Jones brother when it comes to suspensions for drug use.

Honorable Mentions

  1. Michael Bennett –  One of the most entertaining players in the league, Bennett has been a dominant force in the Seahawks defense since 2013. He finally hit double digit sacks last year for the first time in his seven year career. Bennett has openly lobbied for a new contract so there is no doubt about his motivation going into 2016. I project Bennett to eclipse double digit sacks yet again this year.
  2. Olivier Vernon – One of the biggest free agent acquisitions this off season, Vernon signed a mega deal with the New York Giants pairing him with Jason Pierre-Paul and Jonathan Hankins to form a promising line of defense over in Met Life stadium. 
  3. Cameron Jordan – One of the more consistent and reliable players at his position, Cameron has only missed one game in his career and has averaged nine sacks a season over the last four seasons. Much better success than his similarly named Jordan Cameron!

Thank you for reading and keep your eyes peeled for our top 10 Defensive Backs making its debut next week here on tffgurus.com! If you haven’t already, please give our Trophy Time podcast a listen. It can be found here on the site under the podcasts link as well as on the Itunes store, Google Play and Stitcher Radio!

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