Watt became the first defensive lineman to score 100-plus fantasy points in back-to-back seasons since NFL.com started tracking IDP fantasy performances. That's an impressive feat. There's little dispute that Watt is one of if not the most talented defensive linemen in the NFL. Nobody fills the stat sheets like the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year. Case in point, his sack total decreased by 10 from 2012, yet he still managed to tie Robert Quinn for the most fantasy points scored among defensive linemen. Watt was at or near the top in solo tackles, forced fumbles, blocked kicks and passes defended among all linemen. New defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel will be sure to find ways to put Watt in advantageous matchups each and every game, leaving no doubt that Watt should be the first defensive lineman taken in all IDP formats.
An IDP afterthought since he entered the league in 2011, Quinn dominated last season and earned the top spot in fantasy scoring for his position (tied with J.J. Watt). He was able to more than double his fantasy output from 2012 by nearly doubling his sack total, getting to the quarterback 19 times, forcing seven fumbles in the process. Quinn appeared to put it all together last season, and at times looked unblockable. Sacks are difficult to predict, however, and it's unlikely he finishes near the 20 mark once again. Double digits? Definitely. But a dip in his sack and turnover numbers will be followed by a sizeable drop in fantasy production. Quinn is still a likely top-10 lineman in IDP formats, but don't reach too high for him chasing last year's production.
Jones blossomed nicely in his second pro season, improving statistcially in almost every category -- especially sacks. Jones finished with 11.5 quarterback takedowns and was the primary force in the Patriots pass rush. That doesn't figure to change in 2014, as the Pats will once again rely on Jones to keep opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable in the pocket. It's an encouraging sign for Jones' fantasy potential that he wasn't solely dependent on one statistical category to produce. It'd be nice to see him fill out the stat sheet a little more with some pass defenses or a few more turnovers, though. If the ball bounces his way next season, those numbers could be on the rise. Regardless, Jones figures to be a top-15 mainstay for years to come. Draft him as such this fall.
Since entering the league in 2011, the only time Wilkerson hasn't finished in the top 10 in fantasy scoring for defensive linemen was his rookie season. Since then, the New York Jets big man has been an IDP stud, posting at least 83 fantasy points in back-to-back years. Wilkerson upped his pass-rushing game in 2013, more than doubling his sack output from 2012 with 10.5 quarterback takedowns. As long as Rex Ryan is head honcho in the Big Apple, Wilkerson's stock will remain high as the Jets will remain a defensive minded team. The Jets picked up the fifth-year option on Wilkerson, meaning he's under contract through 2015. But the big man out of Temple will want to keep piling up the stats so he can cash in on a long-term deal soon, making him an enticing candidate for a breakout fantasy season. It might be worthwhile to reach a tad earlier on Wilkerson and reap the rewards of a potentially monster fantasy season.
Limited by a knee injury that plagued him for most of the season, Wake saw his tackle and sack numbers take sizeable hits last season, even though he only sat out for one full game. Expect Wake to return to his Pro Bowl form in 2014, as he pairs with rising defensive end (and fantasy commodity) Oliver Vernon to spearhead the Dolphins pass rush. Wake is an excellent player with an extremely high motor, which allows him to keep his tackle numbers up by chasing down plays from the backside, and shutting down the run to his side. Don't let last year's stats fool you into sleeping on Wake -- he's had two top-six finishes since 2010. Draft Wake confidently as a starting-caliber defensive lineman.
Looking for a consistent defensive lineman to draft? Look no further than Ninkovich. From 2010 to 2013 he's never finished lower than 19th in fantasy scoring at his position and that run includes two fifth-place finishes, most recently in 2013. Ninkovich isn't going to set the stat sheets on fire, but he's also not going to ingore them either. He hasn't had to rely on touchdowns to keep his fantasy production up, but instead has racked up a handful of sacks, forced fumbles and tons of tackles each year to remain relevant in IDP leagues. He won't be one of the first names off the board in drafts, but he'll likely be sitting there waiting as a solid, but unspectacular name to roster. Draft Ninkovich and count on his production week after week while others reach for flashier names.
"The Kraken" was playing for a contract extension in 2013, and delivered arguably the finest season of his professional career. Hardy devoured opposing quarterbacks last season, tying Kevin Greene for the franchise record in sacks with 15. Hardy, still playing for a contract extension after receiving the franchise tag this offseason, will once again team with Charles Johnson and Star Lotulelei to form one of the most fearsome defensive lines in pro football. Carolina's dominant defense also isn't changing much aside from the secondary, but that has little impact on Hardy and co. Expect another dominant season from "The Kraken," who will only be 26-years-old when the 2014 season kicks off and he begins hunting quarterbacks once again.
Last season marked the first time since 2010 where Campbell failed to hit 60 combined tackles, but he made up for it with a career-high nine sacks. Campbell's massive frame (he stands 6-foot-8 inches) allows him plenty of leverage to disrupt passes, which is why he's averaged over seven pass defenses per season since 2011. The Cardinals boasted a top-10 defense in most statistical categories in 2013, and little is changing on the talented squad led by defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, which is an excellent sign for Campbell. Campbell thrived under Bowles' guidance and will be looking to improve even more in 2014 as the Cardinals battle for the playoff spot they fell just short of last season.
It was a surprising, but understandable move by the Cowboys when they severed ties with Ware this offseason. They're in need of a complete overhaul, while Ware is in need of a championship. Ware has that option now that he's suiting up as a Denver Bronco. He'll be rushing the passer opposite Von Miller, forming one of the most fearsome tandems in all of football. Even though he has 10 seasons already under his belt, and is coming off an injury-plagued 2013 campaign, Ware still has the athleticism, talent and most importantly, desire, to put together a monster statistical season. He's definitely worth targeting as a high-end No. 2 option with loads of upside as he chases the championship that has eluded him thus far in his career.
Even though Jordan increased his sack total by 4.5 in 2014, his overall fantasy finish dropped 13 spots due to his meager 28 solo tackles. Jordan has blossomed into a dominant defensive end, however, and it's not too much of a stretch to foresee his tackle total rebounding in 2014. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will be constantly looking for ways to put his talented pass-rusher in advantageous situations through the use of stunts and other techniques, which means Jordan once again is a name that should be called early in fantasy drafts at the defensive lineman position.
Pierre-Paul filled out the stat sheet last season, just not in a cateogory he (or fantasy owners) were expecting. Injuries were a constant concern for the hyper-athletic defensive end, as he entered the season recovering from back surgery, injured his knee in Week 4 and then his shoulder in Week 10. The latter ended up costing Pierre-Paul the rest of his season. As for 2014, the South Florida product reported to training camp 15 pounds lighter, and promises to play like he's 21 again. Let's not forget that Pierre-Paul is in the final year of his rookie contract and will be out to prove he deserves a long-term deal. Expect a bounce-back year for the G-Men's top pass rusher, and potential return to the top of the fantasy mountain for defensive lineman.
Allen is in the midst of a seven-year streak of posting double-digit sacks, and will look to make it eight straight with his new team in 2014, the Chicago Bears. Fortunately for Allen, he'll be chasing most of the same quarterbacks in 2014 as he stayed within the NFC North. While he's unlikely to win you a fantasy week, Allen can be a solid contributor in the stat sheets notching a few tackles and a sack roughly every game. Grab him as a backup defensive lineman and hope he plays with a chip on his shoulder trying to prove to the NFL that he still has it.
This was Dunlap's first year as a full-time starter, and he did not disappoint. He posted career-bests in solo and assisted tackles, passes defended and tied his career-high in forced fumbles. Dunlap's stock is aided by the fact that he's a talented member of an elite defense, meaning he avoids the dreaded double teams and scheme focus of other top defensive linemen. With Geno Atkins recovering from a torn ACL, and Michael Johnson leaving for greener pastures in Tampa Bay, Dunlap might face a tougher road to start 2014. That being said, ACL injuries aren't what they once were so Atkins could rebound quickly and Johnson is coming off a down year. Dunlap might not crack the top-10 in fantasy scoring at his position again, but he should still be one of the top defensive linemen drafted, as he will continue to fill the stat sheets for the talented Bengals defense.
Williams' move to Buffalo has been paying off for both him and the Bills. Williams has notched double digit sacks in both seasons with the Bills, a plateau he only crossed twice during his six years in Houtson. With new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz in the fold, Williams should still be able to find plenty of ways to get to the quarterback. Hopefully his tackle numbers can rise again, as 2013 was the lowest total of his career when he played a full 16 games. Williams is a solid target for the later rounds as a backup and matchup based defensive lineman.
What a time to put up career numbers. Houston was in a contract year in 2013, and delivered career highs in solo tackles (56) and sacks (6), helping him land a free agent contract with the Chicago Bears worth $35 million dollars. There's always the risk that Houston becomes the latest player to rest on his laurels after breaking the bank in free agency, but the Bears will be relying on Houston to be the force in their pass rush with Julius Peppers no longer in the fold and he'll likely be motivated after leaving the Raiders. The Bears are keeping defensive coordinator Mel Tucker in the fold despite a season to forget in 2013. He'll likely be trying his darndest to turn things around, and getting the most out of Houston will be one way to do that. Houston is a solid mid-tier defensive lineman, but his ceiling is right around where he finished in 2013.