The 2017 NFL Draft has come and gone, and now we know where this year’s top defensive players will be starting their professional careers. It didn’t take long for the first young defender to be taken, as for the first time since 2014 a defensive player went No. 1 overall. Texas A&M edge-rusher Myles Garrett was that first defender off the board, to the Cleveland Browns. The last was Eastern Michigan defensive end Pat O’ Connor, who the Detroit Lions selected at No. 250.
It’s a good bet that only one of those youngsters is going to have IDP value in 2017.
As it usually is, the draft was something of a mixed bag from a fantasy perspective. The good news from a positional eligibility standpoint is many of the top edge-rusher prospects (like Garrett, Derek Barnett, and super sleeper Derek Rivers – remember that name) landed on teams that should see them retain eligibility as defensive linemen in fantasy leagues.
The bad news is that with a couple of exceptions this year’s high-end linebackers fell into situations where it might take some time for them to earn every-down roles (and consistent IDP value). Alabama’s Reuben Foster falling to No. 31 was a gift for the San Francisco 49ers, but Navorro Bowman’s rehab is reportedly going well and the team just handed Malcolm Smith a fat sack full of money. The young thumper may be opening his NFL career as a two-down SAM linebacker for the 49ers – or not.
That’s the thing – uncertainty is the name of the game with many of the linebackers. Uncertainty that doesn’t help their fantasy value.
Now that we know who slots where, it’s rankings time. In advance of dynasty rookie drafts that will soon be getting underway, here’s a look at the top newcomers at each of the “main” IDP positions (and a top 25 overall) for 2017.
NOTE: A word to the wise. These rankings are for dynasty IDP leagues, so of course the future prospects of these players are a consideration. However, so much changes in IDP from year to year that it’s important not to look too far ahead – especially in the secondary. Don’t get so caught up in tomorrow that you lose sight of today.
1.) Myles Garrett – DE, Cleveland Browns: Garrett was an easy pick as the top overall prospect in this draft, and his incredible athleticism portends a great future both in the NFL and fantasy football. However, Joey Bosa’s big rookie season was more exception than rule – first-year pass-rushers often take a while to acclimate to the NFL.
2.) Derek Barnett – DE, Philadelphia Eagles: Barnett has the potential to shine getting after the quarterback in Jim Schwartz’s “Wide Nine” front opposite Brandon Graham. However, he’ll have to supplant Vinny Curry in the pecking order in Philadelphia, so snaps could be an issue in the early going.
3.) Solomon Thomas -- DE, San Francisco 49ers: The No. 3 overall pick may never be a 15-sack a season player, but Thomas has the makings of a high-floor fantasy option ala Calais Campbell. If Thomas lands the “Leo” pass-rushing role in San Fran’s new 4-3 “Under” front, the former Stanford star could challenge Barnett for the No. 2 spot.
4.) Jonathan Allen – DE, Washington Redskins: Allen was another Crimson Tide star who dropped in the first round, much to the delight of the Redskins. Allen losing DT eligibility in the nation’s capital is a bit of a letdown, but the big man should see full-time snaps out of the gate. If he can stay on the field, Washington got a steal here.
5.) Taco Charlton – DE, Dallas Cowboys: Charlton fell to the end of Round 1, in part because the 6’6”, 277-pounder really didn’t do much in Ann Arbor before 2016. Charlton may never be an especially high-ceiling fantasy option, but from a situational standpoint he hit the jackpot. Dallas needs help up front – now.
6.) Charles Harris – DE, Miami Dolphins: With 16 sacks and 30.5 tackles for loss over his last two seasons at Missouri, Harris’ ability to get into opposing backfields isn’t in question. However, the youngster landed on a crowded depth chart on the defensive front in Miami, so it may be a while until he sees regular playing time.
7.) Takkarist McKinley – DE, Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons traded up to take the speedy and athletic McKinley at No. 26. The potential is there for McKinley to form a frightening pass-rush duo with Vic Beasley, but McKinley is entering the NFL coming off shoulder surgery, and it may take the undersized end a while to get up to speed (so-to-speak).
8.) Carl Lawson – DE, Cincinnati Bengals: Many draftniks believe that Lawson has first-round talent, but he struggled through an injury-marred career at Auburn. The 6’2”, 261-pounder actually went one round after the Bengals took Jordan Willis, but it’s Lawson who would appear better suited to make an early impact at the NFL level.
9.) Malik McDowell – DT, Seattle Seahawks: There are plays where McDowell looks like he could become a dominant NFL player and weekly IDP starter in fantasy leagues that require his position. Unfortunately there are also plays where he disappears, and that ain’t easy for a 295-pound player to do.
10.) Derek Rivers – DE, New England Patriots: It’s a big jump from the FCS and Youngstown State to the champions of the National Football League, and Rivers is very much a “project” as a pass-rusher. But there’s a reason the Pats made Rivers their first draft pick in 2017 – his quickness and motor are off the charts.
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1.) Jarrad Davis – ILB, Detroit Lions: Davis was the first player at his position drafted in 2017, and Lions GM Bob Quinn has already stated Detroit will slot the former Florida standout at middle linebacker. Davis will likely make the play calls and stay on the field in sub-packages right out of the gate and could be a weekly IDP starter from Day 1.
2.) Reuben Foster – ILB, San Francisco 49ers: Foster was the front-runner to be the top rookie IDP for most of the pre-draft process, and even with a bit of uncertainty surrounding his role (not to mention his surgically repaired shoulder) he still isn’t far behind Davis. If he plays to his potential, Foster could be a star.
3.) Haason Reddick – ILB, Arizona Cardinals: Reddick ranked third in the nation with 22.5 TFL in 2016 and had 10.5 sacks as an outside linebacker at Temple. However, at only 237 pounds Reddick would appear best-suited to kicking inside – where he’ll have to beat out veteran Karlos Dansby and perhaps the reinstated Daryl Washington for snaps next to Deone Bucannon.
4.) Zach Cunningham – ILB, Houston Texans: Injuries have sapped the wheels of Brian Cushing, so it’s not hard to see why the Texans wanted an upgrade next to Bernardrick McKinney. However, Cunningham will have to show he can hold up at the point of attack to bump Cushing out of base defensive sets.
5.) Raekwon McMillan – ILB, Miami Dolphins: McMillan’s a physical presence against the run who I think is better in coverage than many give him credit for. However, the reality is that with veterans Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons in Miami the odds aren’t especially good he lands a three-down role early.
6.) Anthony Walker – ILB, Indianapolis Colts: Walker is the 2017 poster child for opportunity sometimes trumping talent in IDP leagues. The fifth-round pick isn’t an exceptional talent, nor is he especially athletic. But there’s not a lot standing between the former Northwestern Wildcat and steady playing time in Indianapolis.
7.) Duke Riley – OLB, Atlanta Falcons: The addition of Riley to a cadre of linebackers in Atlanta that includes Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell gives the Falcons a young and athletic trio at the position. Only two of those young linebackers will be on the field in the nickel though, and at the moment Riley would appear the odd man out.
8.) Tyus Bowser – OLB, Baltimore Ravens: I was torn on which of the new arrivals in Baltimore to slot here. Tim Williams has the potential to become a double-digit sack producer who could shine in big-play leagues, but it's Bowser who gets the nod. He's a more well-rounded prospect, and it's not out of the realm of reason that he could see some time inside.
9.) Kendall Beckwith – ILB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The good news is that Beckwith’s a talented inside linebacker with the potential to become an every-down player. The bad news is he’s also recovering from a torn ACL and that every-down role isn’t coming any time soon behind Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander in Tampa.
10.) T.J. Watt – OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers: I love T.J. Watt, a young player who makes up for a lack of elite quickness with strong instincts and by playing like his hair’s on fire every play. The reality though is that the latest Watt to enter the NFL faces an uphill battle to become any sort of reliable IDP option. But he's a Watt -- so I can't help myself.
1.) Jamal Adams – SS, New York Jets: Purely from a 2017 standpoint, Adams may well be the No. 1 IDP overall – an elite talent playing in a highly favorable situation in front of a suspect group of linebackers. Adams has top 10 IDP upside among defensive backs from the moment he takes the playing field for the first time.
2.) Jabrill Peppers – SS, Cleveland Browns: No one is questioning Peppers’ impressive physical gifts, and if used properly by the Browns he could be a difference-maker in the NFL. However, in switching to safety he’s going to be learning a new position, so while there’s fantasy upside galore there’s also considerable risk.
3.) Malik Hooker – FS, Indianapolis Colts: Hooker parlayed one phenomenal season in Columbus into becoming a first-rounder in the NFL draft. There are going to be weeks when the 6’2”, 205-pounder posts gonzo stat lines. But he’s probably going to be big-play reliant, so be ready for the slow weeks too.
4.) Obi Melifonwu – S, Oakland Raiders: This ranking could two spots too low or three spots too high. It’s not matter of talent, mind you – Melifonwu has plenty of that. But the same versatility that attracted the Raiders to him makes Melifonwu’s role with the Silver and Black hard to peg. He could be anything from a corner to a safety/linebacker hybrid.
5.) Justin Evans – S, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Evans isn’t a talent on the same level as Jamal Adams, but he’s no schmuck either. More importantly, there’s not a lot standing between Evans and a starting job at the back end of the Tampa defense. He could be a sneaky value late in IDP drafts in 2017.
6.) Marshon Lattimore – CB, New Orleans Saints: The top cornerback in this year’s draft was another “gift” pick that fell in part because teams in the top 10 went offense-heavy. Well, that and Lattimore’s balky hammy. Still, he is a cornerback, so it’s a virtual toss-up as to whether he’ll have much IDP value.
7.) Budda Baker – S, Arizona Cardinals: The former Washington standout is a talented and versatile defensive back capable of playing more than one position for the Redbirds. However, with veteran Antoine Bethea in front of him at strong safety it could be a year before Baker sees enough snaps to have consistent fantasy value.
8.) Josh Jones – S, Green Bay Packers: It’s déjà vu all over again. Like Baker, Jones has talent galore and the ability to play either safety spot. And with Morgan Burnett in a walk year he’ll probably be starting next to Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in Titletown in 2018. Unfortunately, it isn’t 2018 yet, and barring injury Jones probably isn’t going to play a ton as a rookie.
9.) Marcus Williams – S, New Orleans Saints: I’m starting to feel like a broken record. Williams, who was the Saints’ second-rounder in 2017, is a ball-hawking young defensive back with a bright future. However, for now he’s also stuck behind starters Vonn Bell and Kenny Vaccaro in the Big Easy.
10.) Marlon Humphrey – CB, Baltimore Ravens: Humphrey’s a fine young cornerback, but even the most talented of first-year players at the position often struggle. NFL quarterbacks (for the most part) won’t hesitate to exploit the flaws in a developing cornerback’s game. Thus, the “rookie corner rule” was born.
TOP 25 ROOKIE INDIVIDUAL DEFENSIVE PLAYER1.) Jarrad Davis – ILB, Detroit Lions
2.) Reuben Foster – ILB, San Francisco 49ers
3.) Myles Garrett – DE, Cleveland Browns
4.) Jamal Adams – SS, New York Jets
5.) Haason Reddick – ILB, Arizona Cardinals
6.) Zach Cunningham – ILB, Houston Texans
7.) Derek Barnett – DE, Philadelphia Eagles
8.) Solomon Thomas – DE, San Francisco 49ers
9.) Jonathan Allen – DE, Washington Redskins
10.) Raekwon McMillan – ILB, Miami Dolphins
11.) Taco Charlton – DE, Dallas Cowboys
12.) Jabrill Peppers – SS, Cleveland Browns
13.) Malik Hooker – FS, Indianapolis Colts
14.) Obi Melifonwu – S, Oakland Raiders
15.) Justin Evans – SS, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
16.) Anthony Walker – ILB, Indianapolis Colts
17.) Charles Harris – DE, Miami Dolphins
18.) Duke Riley – OLB, Atlanta Falcons
19.) Takkarist McKinley – DE, Atlanta Falcons
20.) Tyus Bowser – OLB, Baltimore Ravens
21.) Carl Lawson – DE, Cincinnati Bengals
22.) Kendall Beckwith – ILB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
23.) Malik McDowell – DT, Seattle Seahawks
24.) Marshon Lattimore – CB, New Orleans Saints
25.) Budda Baker -- S, Arizona Cardinals