In this weekly series, we're exploring every NFL team’s defense to provide in-depth fantasy football analysis for key IDPs. We'll focus on projected depth charts, what each IDP’s role will be heading into the 2020 NFL season and what we can expect from them for fantasy purposes. Plus, we'll cover a bonus name to watch for each team.
We start with the NFC North, where Khalil Mack anchors a Bears defense worth investing in, and new faces join a Minnesota secondary that has been profitable in the past.
Khalil Mack has compiled 23 total sacks (15th at his position) during his two seasons in Chicago and leads all edge rushers since 2017 in solo tackles with 119. Mack can be a trickier player when it comes to IDP depending on your league type, as he may be considered a LB instead of a DE/ED player, therefore sinking his value. For the sake of his true position, we'll consider him to be an edge rusher, which should land him among the top 15 at that position in IDP.
Most solo tackles since 2017 (edge defenders):
Khalil Mack – 119
Trey Flowers – 116
Danielle Hunter – 114
T.J. Watt – 113
Matthew Judon – 110 pic.twitter.com/nd4RoWQIdN
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) July 3, 2020
Akiem Hicks returns in 2020 having missed most of last season due to injury. With Hicks back to full health, there should be no denying his impact on our fantasy scoreboards. When we last saw Hicks fully healthy, he was able to generate eight sacks and 42 solo tackles from the defensive interior. If Hicks is able to stay on the field in 2020, he should start to creep his way back up those DT rankings fairly quickly.
Robert Quinn is the new face in Chicago and one that longtime IDPers know very well. Quinn entered the league in 2011 and has been a staple on many fantasy football rosters, having collected 87 total sacks over that time — including 12 last season with the Cowboys. Quinn should continue to add to his impressive sack totals this year opposite Mack.
Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan enter 2020 having missed some time last season, but both men are elite tacklers when on the field. Smith is the top target among Bears LBs in IDP leagues, coming in at No. 12 in my LB rankings, but Trevathan shouldn’t be ignored, especially if he’s healthy and able to play a full season. Smith and Trevathan totaled 171 tackles combined in 21 games last season, helping the Bears land in the top 10 in the NFL for tackles by LBs.
With Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and his 71 total tackles from 2019 now gone, the onus will fall on Eddie Jackson and newcomer Tashaun Gipson to step up in 2020. Jackson and Clinton-Dix both played significantly more snaps deep as opposed to in the box last year, making it harder for them to make plays closer to the line of scrimmage. I would expect this trend to continue in 2020 with the addition of Gipson, a player who also played more FS than SS last season.
IDP name to watch
One of the more interesting names in Chicago is CB Kyle Fuller, who I have ranked as my No. 1 corner heading into 2020. Only Logan Ryan of the Titans, currently an unsigned free agent, had more solo tackles than Kyle Fuller last season. Fuller finished in the top five of 2019 CBs in solos (second), targets (fifth) and total snaps (fourth) — all categories that lead to major fantasy production for cornerbacks.
Trey Flowers has been a fairly undervalued IDP over the last couple of seasons, quietly racking up tackles and sacks and turning them into solid fantasy production in New England and now Detroit. Flowers has played more than 700 snaps in each of the last three seasons and is expected to continue that pace in 2020. His strong tackle production and consistent sack numbers should once again land him among the top 20 edge rushers in the NFL.
Rookie Julian Okwara and free agent acquisition Danny Shelton are projected to be starters for Detroit this season, which earned the Lions some recognition as one of PFF’s most improved pass-rushing units this offseason. With Okwara, a physical freak off the edge, and Shelton, a run-stuffing tackle-machine, joining the DL, the Lions all of a sudden create some fantasy-relevant buzz worthy of draft capital. I currently have Okwara ranked as my No. 4 rookie edge-rusher for 2020 and Shelton inside the top 25 DI options.
Jarrad Davis has had high expectations in both the NFL and IDP ever since the Lions spent a first-round pick on him back in 2017. Unfortunately for Davis and his fantasy owners, he has just not lived up to the hype. Not only has he graded poorly over the last three seasons, but he has yet to even finish inside the top 25 for LB tackles for his NFL career, making him a substantial fantasy bust in this regard as well. With the addition of Jamie Collins from New England, expect to see Davis buried on fantasy depth charts even further, while I’d imagine Collins will be the higher-scoring LB in Detroit given his superior play.
Tracy Walker was the Lions’ leading tackler last season despite missing three games due to injury — 2019 ended up being a coming-out party for Walker who had played minimal snaps his rookie season before being thrust into a starting role last year. Walker’s 84 solo tackles were eye-catching for IDP owners last year, creating high expectations for 2020 and helping land him as a top 10 DB in our rankings.
The Lions added another former Patriot this offseason in Duron Harmon, who should be the second starting safety after Tavon Wilson hit free agency. Important to note in regards to Harmon — he has played the free safety role for the majority of his NFL career, so it’s difficult to expect him to come in and automatically be considered the box safety vs. Walker’s deep safety. The Lions played a considerable amount of snaps with both safeties playing deep, and that could be the game plan again heading into 2020. I’d fade Harmon for this reason — while others are expecting him to play more of a box role, I just don’t see it, not to mention Will Harris continuing to siphon snaps week to week.
IDP name to watch
The Lions have officially declined Jarrad Davis’ fifth-year option for 2021, and after spending a second round pick in last year’s draft at the LB position, it could be time for Jahlani Tavai to start making more of a name for himself in IDP circles. He's more of a dynasty stash at this point, but if Davis continues to show poorly in 2020, Tavai would be the next man up.
Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith were pressure-generating machines in 2019, combining for 154 total pressures and 29 sacks, making them one of the most effective duos in the NFL. To replicate that production is a huge ask for the “Smith Brothers,” considering that these numbers reached career-highs by far for both players. It’s hard not to see 2019 as an outlier right now, but they still deserve credit for the production and I still like both inside the top 35 edge rushers this coming season.
One of the rarest IDPs you can find is a nose tackle who can get after the passer and also collect enough tackles to be fantasy-relevant. Look no further than Kenny Clark, who has been an IDP unicorn in this regard. With Clark’s great tackle numbers and impressive sack totals over the last three seasons, it’s no wonder he lands on PFF’s top 25 players under 25 two years in a row. Clark is a defensive interior standout and should be in consideration as a starting IDP in your fantasy lineup every week, no matter the format.
Formerly the home of IDP stud Blake Martinez, Green Bay now belongs to the likes of Christian Kirksey and Oren Burks. IDP owners may be eager to recreate the fond memories of owning a 100-plus tackler in Green Bay over the last three seasons, but leaning on Kirksey or Burks in 2020 could lead to disappointment.
Kirksey hasn’t played a full season since 2017. While he was able to put up great numbers for IDP purposes, he’ll have big shoes to fill and a lot to prove if he is going to be a true LB1 again. As for Burks, we just haven’t seen much out of him, having only started four games for his career — all of which came in 2018. Burks was held back by injuries and poor play last season, but he has a chance for significant playing time — and the opportunity to prove he belongs on fantasy rosters.
Adrian Amos, in his first year as a Packer, is coming off his best IDP season since entering the NFL with Chicago in 2015. Amos was used fairly evenly at both safety spots and was able to flourish in the tackle department as the team’s second-leading tackler last year. With Amos likely to continue in a similar role — and his safety partner Darnell Savage likely to remain playing deep — Amos will be the top DB target out of Green Bay again this season.
IDP name to watch
Jaire Alexander is quickly emerging as one of the better cover corners in the NFL, even helping the Packers land at No. 3 on Solomon Wilcots’ list of the NFL’s best cornerback trios ahead of the 2020 NFL season. Alexander was one of the highest targeted corners in the NFL last year and broke up 13 passes (tied for the second-highest rate in the league). He should see a healthy number of opportunities again in 2020 to produce solid fantasy numbers.
What can we say about Danielle Hunter that can’t be said using just his regular-season stats and how he ranks among all edge-rushers over the last two seasons:
|Solo tackles:||86 (1st)|
|Total tackles:||107 (1st)|
|Total pressures:||159 (3rd)|
Hunter is our No. 1 edge-rusher heading into 2020, and he should be yours, too.
One of the more interesting names for IDP heading into 2020 is Ifeadi Odenigbo, who has found his way into a starting role on this Vikings’ defense following the loss of Everson Griffen to free agency. Odenigbo was a full-time backup last season for Minnesota but was able to manage seven sacks on just 368 regular season snaps and 25 total pressures. While that level of efficiency is going to be difficult to maintain, it certainly creates a decent amount of IDP buzz, which is enough for him to sneak into my top 50 DLs heading into this season.
Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr return for another season together as the Vikings’ top LB duo, with Kendricks leading his team in tackles every year since entering the league and Barr usually close behind. Kendricks does maintain a significant gap in terms of IDP numbers, being more of an LB1 option vs. Barr’s LB3.
Harrison Smith has been a top-tier safety in the NFL — as well as IDP — since entering the league in 2012, thanks to elite tackle and turnover numbers. While Smith may be getting older, his fantasy relevance is still undeniable, making him a top-10 safety option once again according to our consensus ranks.
Anthony Harris finally got a chance to be a full-time starter last season and made the most of his opportunity, earning a 90.5 overall grade to go along with 58 total tackles and six interceptions during the regular season. Harris’ elite play last year even helped Minnesota grab the top spot in PFF’s best safety tandems ahead of the 2020 NFL season. If he can sustain that level of play, Harris should continue to garner more well-deserved recognition in IDP leagues.
IDP name(s) to watch
The Vikings were third in the NFL last season when it came to tackles from cornerbacks, with Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander and Mike Hughes leading the way. With three of the four now gone from the team — leaving only Hughes standing — it’s likely that the Vikings' young group of corners will see plenty of targets and tackle opportunities. With Hughes likely to see the most snaps, it would be worth a flier in CB-required leagues to take a shot on Jeff Gladney and/or Cameron Dantzler as well.