Fantasy Football: 2024 IDP bounce-back candidates

2W99MPH San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Javon Hargrave (98) is introduced before an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

Javon Hargrave is coming off another strong season, but it didn’t quite translate to IDP: Lower sack and tackle totals in 2023 caused a fantasy production drop for one of the best interior defensive linemen in the league.

Jeremy Chinn is a lock to bounce back in 2024: After a nightmarish 2023, Chinn is set to start again, doing so in an ideal defense for safety production.

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Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes

Injuries and inefficiencies are the plagues of the fantasy football world, but for the fantasy managers who are willing to forgive and forget, several options are ready to make things right in 2024.

Listed below are seven players who fantasy managers have depended on in the past but are coming off down years. Not included are more obvious options who played fewer than 10 games in 2023, such as Matt Judon and Uchenna Nwosu Instead, we focus on players who missed some time and/or also disappointed as fantasy assets when they were on the field in 2023.

Referenced scoring uses the settings below, with a link to all point leaders for 2022 and 2023 (minimum of 100 defensive snaps) here.

PFF-Preferred IDP Scoring
DL 2.5 1.25 5 1 2
LB 1.5 0.75 4 1 2
DB 2 1 4 1 2

DT Javon Hargrave, San Francisco 49ers

Hargrave, 31, is among the best defensive tackles in the NFL. However, his first season with the 49ers in 2023 wasn’t as strong as fantasy managers hoped after his career year in terms of sacks the season prior. Sacks play a significant part in how well defensive linemen score in IDP fantasy football. Hargrave's seven sacks in 2023 is a good number, but it wasn't quite enough to push him into that locked-in weekly starter production for IDP.

Hargrave went from 12.0 fantasy points per game in 2023 (DT14) to just 9.1 (DT28) in 2023, in large part due to the aforementioned drop-off in sacks. As discussed in detail here, sacks and sack rate are unreliable metrics to lean on year-to-year, but using a player’s expected sacks is a more stable and predictive metric.

Hargrave’s pass-rush grade and expected sacks totals in 2023 were top-10 marks at his position, yet his points per game total suffered a fair bit from that drop-off in actual sack production. His tackle numbers also declined.

Coming through and delivering those big plays more consistently will be the biggest factor in Hargrave's potential bounce back in 2024.

EDGE Za’Darius Smith, Cleveland Browns

Another older defensive lineman who is still earning some of the best marks at his position, Za’Darius Smith re-signed with the Cleveland Browns this offseason to partner up with reigning Defensive Player of the Year Myles Garrett once again. Smith’s bounce-back candidacy is based entirely on his lower sack total in 2023 (5.5), which wasn’t indicative of his actual play.

Smith recorded his best pass-rush grade (87.4) since his career year in 2019 and maintained a top-10 pass-rush grade and win rate as he did in 2022 when he posted 10 sacks on the season. Even if Smith isn’t expected to get back into double-digit sack territory at this stage of his career, he still measures as one of the best pass-rushers at his position and is deserving of a greater sack total in 2024, as indicated by his expected sack totals in the chart below. Should Smith maintain his level of play from 2023, then there’s no doubt his sack totals will be on the rise in 2024.

Za’Darius Smith’s 2023 Season vs. 2022 Season
Metric 2023 (EDGE Rank) 2022 (EDGE Rank)
Fantasy Points per Game 7.3 (ED66) 12.3 (ED19)
Sacks 5.5 (ED57) 10 (ED13)
Expected Sacks 8.7 (ED19) 13.1 (ED5)
Pass-Rush Grade 87.4 (ED9) 84.7 (ED9)

EDGE Josh Sweat, Philadelphia Eagles

We mentioned Sweat last week as one of the top positive regression candidates, and he’s a prime bounce-back candidate in IDP for all the same reasons.

Sweat’s overall efficiency in 2022, when he tallied 11 sacks on just 356 pass-rush snaps, is going to be difficult to replicate, but his playing time will greatly help him push closer to that double-digit sack total. Sweat set a new career high in playing time in 2023 with 828 defensive snaps (564 pass-rush snaps), and with Haason Reddick off to the New York Jets, Sweat is still going to be relied on heavily in this defense in 2024, creating plenty of opportunities to bounce back.

Sweat was a top-12 edge rusher in expected sacks this past season, but he delivered just 6.5 to rank 45th at the position. There is a significant gap to fill there for Sweat, and it starts with his high-end playing time creating those opportunities. His pass-rush metrics are also strong, though not as good as they were during his career year in 2022, but he still ranked 14th in total pressures (68), which by itself should have led to more sacks.

The Eagles brought in Bryce Huff this offseason, but he has never been an every-down contributor and is unlikely to greatly hurt Sweat’s playing time. Even with more snaps expected for 2023 first-rounder Nolan Smith, there isn’t a concern that Sweat won’t lead that group in snaps, if healthy.

As one of the more undervalued edge defenders this offseason, Sweat should greatly outperform his current ADP and have a nice bounce-back year in 2024.

Josh Sweat’s 2023 Season vs. 2022 Season
Metric 2023 (ED Rank) 2022 (ED Rank)
Fantasy Points per Game 10.4 (ED40) 12.3 (ED21)
Sacks 6.5 (ED45) 11 (ED10)
Expected Sacks 10.9 (ED12) 7.6 (ED25)
Pass-Rush Grade 74.1 (ED37) 82.1 (ED13)

LB Josey Jewell, Carolina Panthers

Jewell underdelivered in 2023 in playing time and tackle production, relative to the expectations he set for IDP managers in 2022. He had previously ranked in the 90th percentile in tackles versus expected (+11.2) while playing 95% of his team's defensive snaps across 13 games in 2022. This past year, he played just 73% of snaps and ranked in the 26th percentile at his position in tackles versus expected (-9.8) across 16 games and only 30 fewer snaps than the year prior.

One of the biggest changes for Jewell from 2022 to 2023 was the departure of defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, who deployed Jewell as his lead linebacker.

Jewell may not get a true every-down role in 2024 with the Panthers, but his comfort and familiarity with Evero’s defense should still allow for more consistent production and stronger play at the position, similar to what IDP managers got in 2022.

Josey Jewell’s 2023 Season vs. 2022 Season
Metric 2023 (LB Rank) 2022 (LB Rank)
Fantasy Points per Game 9.9 (LB51) 16.1 (LB2)
Tackles vs. Expected -9.8 (LB82) +11.2 (LB13)
PFF Grade 67.2 (LB45) 71.7 (LB25)
Defensive Snap Share 73% 95%

LB Denzel Perryman, Los Angeles Chargers

Perryman, another veteran linebacker who joined a new team this season, hasn’t been a full-time linebacker for a few years now, but that could certainly change in 2024 with the Chargers, who lack depth at the position. Aside from rookie Junior Colson, the team doesn’t offer any obvious starting linebacker candidates, and considering Perryman’s NFL experience, he was likely brought in this free agency to help lead the defense and work alongside the young Colson so the team doesn’t have to rely solely on a rookie or another inexperienced starter.

The veteran's 2023 season resulted in just 11 appearances through the first 17 weeks of the year, though he still averaged a higher weekly snap share (73%) than he did across 12 appearances in 2022 (70%). Unfortunately, his level of production was nowhere near what fantasy managers got from him in 2022, which should be the new bar to set for Perryman entering Year 10 of his NFL career.

Perryman ranked in the 85th percentile in tackles versus expected in 2022, despite the lower snap share, but couldn’t crack the top 30th percentile in that regard in 2023. His health will always be a factor, but assuming he can avoid a major injury, he should be able to bounce back to being a regular fantasy starter again in deeper leagues.

Denzel Perryman’s 2023 Season vs. 2022 Season
Metric 2023 (LB Rank) 2022 (LB Rank)
Fantasy Points per Game 9.4 (LB65) 12.4 (LB25)
Tackles vs. Expected -8.9 (LB80) +7.7 (LB18)
PFF Grade 59.9 (LB69) 74.2 (LB18)
Defensive Snap Share 73% 70%

S Budda Baker, Arizona Cardinals

Baker has been among the most consistent and efficient defensive backs for several years, allowing him to become an IDP darling. Unfortunately, that hot streak came to an end in 2023 after he missed a handful of games with an injury. Baker’s 11.8 fantasy points per game just wasn’t the level of production we’ve become accustomed to, and it ultimately came down to a lack of big plays, as highlighted in the chart below.

Baker’s tackle production was still among the very best at the position, a positive sign that he can bounce back in 2023 with a little more luck. He failed to record an interception for the first time since 2019, didn’t force a fumble for only the second time in his career, didn’t tally even a half-sack for just the second time in his career and also didn’t break up a pass for the second time in his career. That created the perfect storm of lackluster IDP production in 2023.

Luckily for arguably the best player on the Cardinals' defense, those things tend to vary wildly year-to-year. Baker's high-end tackle floor makes him a great bet to bounce back in 2024.

Budda Baker’s 2023 Season vs. 2022 Season
Metric 2023 (SAF Rank) 2022 (SAF Rank)
Fantasy Points per Game 11.8 (S33) 14.7 (S5)
Tackles vs. Expected 11.1 (S14) +21.0 (S4)
Big Play Rate 0.68% (S111) 1.71% (S31)

S Jeremy Chinn, Washington Commanders

Chinn may never reach the heights of his rookie season, when he averaged an elite 15.9 fantasy points per game as one of the top scorers at his position. But after last year’s hugely disappointing season, this may be one of the easiest bounce-back calls on the list.

Chinn appeared in 12 games in 2023 for the Carolina Panthers, failing to crack even an 80% weekly defensive snap share and averaging a career-low 39% of defensive snaps when he was active. It was a marked change from his 90%-plus rate in each of the three seasons prior.

As a result, Chinn wasn’t a factor for IDP, averaging a measly 4.9 points per game. Luckily for Chinn, Dan Quinn and the Washington Commanders needed a player with his skill set in free agency after Kamren Curl departed for the Los Angeles Rams. Quinn’s single-high defensive coverage scheme should help Chinn get back in the good graces of IDP managers, as he’s the best fit for that box-heavy deployment to soak up tackles. Most importantly, Chinn will be starting again, which is clearly the most important step on his path back to IDP relevance.

Jeremy Chinn’s 2023 season compared to the year prior
Metric 2023 (SAF Rank) 2022 (SAF Rank)
Fantasy Points per Game 4.9 (S85) 14.1 (S10)
Tackles vs. Expected -3.3 (S78) +4.0 (S28)
Defensive Snap Share 39% 91%

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