In Individual Defensive Player (IDP) formats, the defensive line can be a tricky position to evaluate depending on the league's scoring system. Getting a premier pass rushing defensive end is a priority, and then knowing which defensive tackles are also capable of getting consistent pressure up the middle is a plus. Here is a look at the Top 40 defensive linemen heading into the 2012 season.
The scoring systems employed from league to league can affect defensive lineman scoring more than any other Individual Defensive Player (IDP) position depending on how much emphasis is placed upon big plays such as sacks, forced fumbles, interceptions and recovered fumbles. Knowing your particular scoring system is vital when approaching the selection of defensive lineman in fantasy drafts as run-stuffing defensive tackles may slide further down the rankings even though they put up nice stats. They will not have the opportunity to get after the quarterback off the edge or drop into coverage as certain defensive ends will, and they will suffer in leagues that significantly reward big plays. For the purposes of these rankings, we will use a standard type of IDP scoring with a slight increase in points given to big plays (1.5 points per solo tackle, one point per assisted tackle and four points for sacks, forced fumbles, interceptions etc.).
1) Jason Pierre-Paul , DE, New York Giants: Pierre-Paul is the No. 1 defensive lineman in fantasy football already and the great thing is that he is still learning the position. He put up 16.5 sacks and 86 tackles last season in only his second year in the NFL. The Giants love to get after the quarterback and Pierre-Paul does it as well as anyone at his position. Often looks like a man among boys when bull rushing past offensive lineman.
2) Jared Allen , DE, Minnesota: Allen has averaged more than 15 sacks per season over the last five years and came within one sack in 2011 of breaking the single season sack record with 22. He has finished as a Top 5 defensive lineman for the past seven seasons and just consistently racks up sacks. He is very durable and has missed only three games in his entire career. He will continue to be fantasy gold in 2012.
3) Trent Cole , DE, Philadelphia: Cole managed to register 11 sacks last season while adjusting to a new defensive scheme and also missing two games due to injury. He has amassed double-digit sacks in four of the last five seasons, is a high-motor player who has averaged 60 tackles a season for his career. Lining up opposite Jason Babin along the Eagles' defensive line should help Cole reach the 15-sack plateau next season as offenses will have to choose which elite pass rusher to key on.
4) Mario Williams , DE, Buffalo: Williams has moved from the Houston Texans to the Buffalo Bills, but, even more importantly, has moved back to his familiar defensive end position for the 2012 season. He actually was having a nice 2011 season despite playing outside linebacker for Houston with five sacks and 11 tackles in five games before tearing a pectoral muscle and ending up on Injured Reserve. Healthy and happy to back at defensive end, look for Williams to return to the fantasy elite this season playing opposite Mark Anderson along the Buffalo defensive line.
5) Justin Tuck , DE, New York Giants: When analyzing the fantasy worth of Tuck, everything begins and ends with his health. He struggled through the 2011 regular season while dealing with neck, groin and shoulder injuries that limited him to playing in only 12 games. He rebounded in the post season and had 3.5 sacks during the Giants run to another championship. When healthy he can post solid tackle numbers, averaging nearly 50 tackles a season for his career, and he is usually good for double-digit sacks. He may slip down fantasy draft boards due to his sub par 2011 season and offer excellent value come fantasy draft day.
6) Julius Peppers , DE, Chicago: Peppers is just a solid high-end fantasy point producing defensive end that is an elite pass rusher. Despite being the only real pass rushing threat along the Chicago defensive line last season, he managed to post 11 sacks and has racked up at least 10.5 sacks in six of his 10 years in the league. He will never put up eye-popping tackle numbers but has had four interceptions and 11 forced fumbles in the past three seasons. The Bears selected Shea McClellin 16th overall in April's draft to line up opposite Peppers and hopefully become another pass rushing option along the defensive line to ease the double-teams that Peppers attracts.
7) Calais Campbell , DE, Arizona: Campbell is an ascending talent along the defensive line for Arizona that has seen his stats increase in each of his four seasons in the league. He is a physical freak at 6-foot-7 and more than 300 pounds and is learning to use his size in all facets of his game. He may never surpass 15 sacks in a season but makes up for that with his ability to make plays all over the field. Last season he did manage to put up eight sacks but it was the interception, two forced fumbles, 10 passes defended and three blocked field goals that make him a special IDP talent. He is only 26 years old and his best football is still ahead of him as he looks to improve on the 50 solo tackles he amassed in 2011.
8) Jason Babin , DE, Philadelphia: Jason Babin put up a then-career-high in sacks in 2010 while in Tennessee with 12.5 and then bested that total with 18 last season for Philadelphia. The common thread in those two seasons is defensive line coach Jim Washburn, who was Babin's coach in both of those seasons. Babin flourishes under Washburn and flat-out gets after the quarterback. He will never put up big tackle numbers in the wide-9 defensive scheme that Philadelphia uses but he is not expected to. What he does is put up impressive sack totals, and look for that trend to continue in 2012.
9) Jabaal Sheard , DE, Cleveland: As a rookie last season, Sheard played more than 80 percent of Cleveland's defensive snaps and posted an impressive 55 tackles and 8.5 sacks. The Browns have quietly put together an impressive defensive line heading into 2012 with the addition of Juqua Parker and Frostee Rucker. If Phil Taylor can return from his pectoral injury to contribute this season, Sheard should have the help he needs to reach double-digit sacks and finish as a Top 10 fantasy defensive lineman.
10) Charles Johnson, DE, Carolina: Johnson is on track to be ready for training camp after a "minor" surgery on his knee. Johnson saw a drop off from his monster 2010 last season but still managed to post nine sacks, more than 40 tackles and remains a productive fantasy defensive lineman. He possesses great power and speed to beat offensive tackles off the snap but desperately needs another pass rushing threat to develop along the Carolina defensive line. Until that player emerges he will face constant double-teams. He will post solid fantasy numbers but fail to be able to post elite stats.
11) Cliff Avril, DE, Detroit: Avril is coming off a season in which he set a career-high in sacks with 11 and is currently in negotiations with Detroit on a long-term deal. He is a versatile big-play defensive end for fantasy purposes, forcing six fumbles, intercepting a pass (which he returned for a touchdown) and recovering three fumbles last season for the Lions. Avril benefits from the plethora of talent that Detroit has amassed along the defensive line the past few seasons, as well as the aggressive play calling of defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham. Avril has Ndamukong Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Lawrence Jackson, Willie Young and Nick Fairley rotating along the Detroit defensive line with him and makes the most of his opportunities. Look for another season of big plays and double-digit sacks for Avril and a possible Top 10 fantasy finish.
12) Chris Long, DE, St. Louis: Long posted a career-high 13 sacks in 2011 and has increased his production in each of his four NFL seasons. Long just turned 27 years old and is finally showing the pass-rush skills that the Rams and their fans have been waiting for. He is an ascending talent who is already a premier defensive end and he has blossomed since moving to the strong-side left end position back in 2010. St. Louis will line up Long opposite second-year pass rushing threat Robert Quinn in 2012 and offenses will be forced to pick their poison when choosing which end to double-team. Long has an excellent chance to surpass the 13 sacks he posted last season as well as build on the 37 total tackles.
13) Elvis Dumervil, DE, Denver: After missing the entire 2010 season with a torn pectoral muscle, Dumervil returned last season to post 9.5 sacks for the Broncos. Not a bad season by any stretch, but fantasy owners should expect a much better 2012 campaign for Dumervil as he will be another year removed from the injury and lining up opposite sack-master Von Miller . Dumervil has always been able to explode off the edge and beat offensive lineman to the outside, and now that he has Miller attracting attention from the offensive line, he will have ample opportunity to get to the quarterback. He is another name that may fall in fantasy drafts after a less-than-stellar 2011 season, leaving him as available later than expected and be an excellent value pick in fantasy drafts.
14) Justin Smith, DE, San Francisco: Smith always seem to fly under the radar despite being one of the most consistent fantasy defensive lineman over the last 10 years. He averages more than 65 tackles a season and has missed only one game in his decade-long career. He has also amassed more than 72 sacks, three interceptions and 13 forced fumbles during his time in the league. With second-year pass rushing specialist Aldon Smith drawing attention from opposing offensive lines in 2012, Smith has the definite upside to improve on the 6.5 sacks he had in 2011, while continuing to rack up solid tackle totals. He...