Every year, we’re treated to some pretty special rookie performances. Eddie Lacy, Giovani Bernard, and Keenan Allen were the darlings of many fantasy teams in 2013, and it seems every year more and more rookies are able to make the transition to the pro ranks with relative ease (or so they make it look). That trend also extends to the defensive side of the ball.
Kiko Alosno, Tyrann Mathieu, and Alec Ogltree are just but a few names that made significant contributions on fantasy rosters this last year, and those that knew the names and did their homework on the players benefited greatly from someone they likely got near the end of drafts.
So, with the 2013 season almost in the rear view mirror and draft talk starting to heat up, it’s time to take a look at a few of the defensive prospects likely to impact fantasy rosters next year and for years to come that you should be targeting in dynasty and even some redraft leagues.
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Keep in mind that much like their offensive counterparts, where a defensive player lands can often (but not always) determine how effective he’ll be in his first year. Defensive coordinators, schemes, surrounding talent (or lack there of), and how quickly a player acclimates to the speed of the pro game can all be factors in wether or not your player performs up to your expectations.
Jadeveon Clowney DL/South Carolina
It probably comes as no surprise to see Clowney atop this list, but let’s be honest, with a talent like this when talking defensive (or overall prospects for that matter), it begins and ends with JC. I wouldn’t normally advise taking a defensive lineman over a linebacker for IDP(depending on type of league), but Clowney, by all accounts, appears to be too special to pass up. He’s the rare blend of size and speed and has the look of a future all pro and guy who can deliver double digit sacks annually. In fact, former college coach Steve Spurier, was quoted and saying Clowney could have made the jump to pros right out of high school he was that good.
Questions will abound about his work ethic as he was often criticized this year of taking plays off, but one things for sure, this is the one of the best defensive line prospects to come along in several years. If all the offensive studs are off the board in your draft, instead of taking another running back just to take another running back, take Clowney, shock the draft room, and reap the rewards.
2014 Prediction: 35 total tackles, 8 sacks, 3 forced fumbles
CJ Mosley LB/Alabama
Linebacker is usually the position where we see the biggest influx of rookie talent, and 2014 doesn’t appear to be any different. The cream of the crop appears to be CJ Mosley from Alabama. If you’re in tackle heavy league, he should be one of the first defensive players off the board, and should be a fantasy contributor from day one. Described as a coach’s dream, he’s able to diagnose plays very quickly and uses his speed and athleticism to get to the ball carrier. He’s also adapt at blitzing as well as in pass coverage. Another thing going in has favor is his ability to play inside backer in a 3-4 or 4-3, or the outside in a 4-3.
2014 Prediction: 105 total tackles, 2 sacks, 1 Int, 2 forced fumbles
Ryan Shazier LB/Ohio St
Shazier is yet but another great linebacker in the history of great linebackers to come out of THE Ohio St. He was very productive in his three year college career, racking up a massive 315 tackles including 44 tackles for loss. Like Mosley, he’s highly athletic and can range sideline to sideline, but is a tad undersized at 6’2″/226 lbs., and is thus likely best suited to play outside linebacker in 4-3. Given how productive he was in college and his knack for getting to the ball carrier, he should be a good source for tackles at the next level. And, his speed is an asset in the passing game and he should be used to cover opposing tight ends which will give him more opportunities for pass breakups and interceptions.
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2014 Prediction: 95 total tackles, 2 sacks, 2 Int’s, 3 forced fumbles
Chris Borland LB/Wisconsin
Described as a hard-nosed run stuffer, Borland may not have the measurables that Mosley and Shazier have, but what he does have is great intelligence and a high football IQ. That may sound extremely cliche, but it’s the honest truth with Borland. It wouldn’t shock me at all if some team lands him in the 3rd or 4th round, ends up winning a starting MLB position in camp, and then is one of the league leaders in tackles.
2014 Prediction: 115 total tackles, 3 sacks
Anthony Barr LB/UCLA
Khalil Mack LB/Buffalo
Barr and Mack get lumped together because both are outside rush linebackers. If you play in sack heavy leagues, these two will be the players to target after Clowney, but if tackle heavy is more your bag then they’ll be much further down your draft board. Both are projected to be top 10 players due to the need of pass rushers in the NFL, and will most certainly be impact talents.
Barr 2014 Prediction: 40 total tackles, 7 sacks, 3 forced fumbles
Mack 2014 Prediction: 35 total tackles, 6 sacks, 3 forced fumbles
Calvin Pryor DB/Louisville
Rookie safeties are a hard group to peg when it comes to projecting them for IDP, because, more than any other position, who plays in front of them usually determines how effective they’ll be. Pryor is a thumper and a very good tackler which gives me some hope on how he’ll perform at the next level, but where he lands will likely determine wether or not I pursue him heavily in drafts.
2014 Prediction: 80 total tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 2 Int’s
Hasean Clinton-Dix DB/Alabama
Not as strong a tackler as Pryor, Clinton-Dix is however more fluid and reliable in coverage. He’s able to read the quarterback’s eyes, react, and break on the ball with tremendous instincts. Additionally, he’s also shown terrific ball skills and can be deadly once he has the ball going back the other way for six. He probably won’t be used in the box as much so tackle numbers likely won’t ever get too high, but he should contribute nicely with secondary stats.
2014 Prediction: 65 total tackles, 5 Int’s
These are just but a few names that I’ll be watching on draft day, and I’m sure guys will rise and fall on my board as we see where these players will call home once in the NFL. Do your homework and don’t be afraid to pull the plug on a defensive stud in your upcoming drafts this year–even if that means going against the grain and taking them over an offensive prospect.