Cream of the Crop
Chris Long (STL) – Howie’s kid is by far the best bet in terms of rookie defensive linemen here this year. He not only has the pedigree and college stats to back up his game, but steps into a good situation: starting on a defensive line that needs him, badly. He’ll start opposite Leonard Little, who has been a decent fantasy performer in his six seasons. Long could approach double digit sacks and make other “big plays” that translate into fantasy success.
Derrick Harvey (JAC) – Probably one of the best statements about how the Jags like this big end from the University of Florida is that the Jags did not pursue Jason Taylor this off-season. The Jags drafted not only Harvey, but another solid end in Quentin Groves (more on him later). Harvey is a physical specimen at 6’4” and 291 lbs. Both he and Groves will see time at DE for the Jags, but veterans Paul Spicer and Brent Hawkins will also see time there, lining up on the other side of Reggie Hayward. Harvey is the best of the bunch, whether rookie or veteran, so he’s definitely got “cream of the crop” status.
Middle of the Road
Quentin Groves (JAC) – See above. Groves has a bit more speed than Harvey, but isn’t quite as polished. He’ll see some time in certain situations, but it would take an incredible training camp and pre-season for Groves to reach re-draft league importance this year. Should Harvey or Haywood get injured, though, you might want to look at Groves.
Glenn Dorsey (KCC) – In leagues that require you start a DT, Dorsey (and Sedrick Ellis, below) could actually be classified as “cream of the crop” for re-draft purposes. But we’ll assume that your league lumps DEs and DTs together as “DL”, in which case you could probably find better fantasy choices than Dorsey in redraft leagues. Add in the fact that Dorsey may hold out, and you’re looking at a somewhat risky prospect. Good news is, for Chief IDP owners, that the Chief defense will probably spend a lot of time on the field, allowing the playmakers to have more opportunities at making plays that lead to big fantasy points. Dorsey was a stud in college and will ultimately be a solid NFL player. He’s a run stuffer with great inside speed.
Sedrick Ellis (NOS) – In some circles, it was discussed that Ellis was actually a better talent than the highly-touted Dorsey. Ellis doesn’t have the sheer size of Dorsey, but has a great motor and finds his way into the defensive backfield on many occasions. Like Dorsey, he’s probably not an option in leagues that lump DT and DE, but in leagues that separate, Ellis is worth a shot.
Philip Merling (MIA) – With the trade of Jason Taylor, there’s room for Merling to move up in the depth chart. Merling has been described as a perfect “Bill Parcells player”, which is a good indication of his upside in the Miami 3-4 defense. However, he’s currently slated to get time at one of the worst spots in the 3-4 defense from a fantasy perspective. Still, he’s going to get time and will be worth a look in deeper leagues.
Maybe in a Few Years
Lawrence Jackson (SEA) – Jackson has fantastic size and was generally overshadowed by the other USC defenders in the past few years. He will make a name for himself once Patrick Kerney hangs them up (or gets injured, in which case you can move Jackson up).
Calais Campbell (ARI) – Campbell is massive (6’7” and 290 lbs.) and has the pedigree (University of Miami), but will be a project that gets only limited looks this season, unless he really impresses this summer.
Cliff Avril (DET) – Avril was generally overlooked in many rookie drafts this summer, as people opted for the “bigger names”. But don’t overlook him if he gets more time in training camp and pre-season. He will definitely get time on the Lion DL and only has to beat out a pair of average veterans in Dewayne White and Jared DeVries. Last year’s DE prospect Ikaika Alama-Francis still looks like a project, so it might be Avril that gets the bulk of the backup time.