When evaluating fantasy success, identifying sleepers is always important. It’s easier to hit on top tier players that have shown consistency and are in a similar situation to ones they’ve been successful with in the past. It’s when we find that 17th round pick that performs like a 7th round pick that more often than not nets you a championship. Finding value is always a key to success in fantasy and I’m here to help with some defensive linemen that can be had at a value.
1. Shaq Lawson – DE, Buffalo Bills
6’3″ 269 lbs
Last season: 13 tackles 2.0 sacks
When looking at Shaq Lawson, you see a top pass rushing prospect out of last season’s NFL draft. Due to a shoulder injury that required surgery before the start of last season, Lawson didn’t get to show all he has to offer – only recording 13 tackles and 2 sacks in limited time during his 10 games with the Bills. It was also discovered that Lawson had a knee injury that required surgery early this offseason. While it was not considered major and Lawson is expected to be full-go for training camp, one does have to wonder how much this affected Lawson last season. So Lawson enters the 2017 season healthy and is set to show everyone why he was such a highly touted pass rusher coming out of Clemson in the 2016 NFL draft but there is even more good news here for Lawson.
The Bills have brought in a new coaching staff, and with it a new defensive scheme that will benefit Lawson’s talents. Leslie Frazier is an experienced defensive coordinator and will know exactly how to use Shaq Lawson. The Bills will be running an aggressive 4-3 defensive scheme this season after running a 3-4 last season. A 4-3 scheme is what Lawson is used to playing, putting one hand in the dirt and rushing from a typical defensive end position. Lawson racked up 123 tackles, 45.5 tackles-for-loss and 20 sacks in 37 games during his time in college at Clemson. Lawson is currently going undrafted in many leagues, and should be monitored early in the season. He could be an excellent free agent addition.
2. Emmanuel Ogbah – DE, Cleveland Browns
6’4″ 275 lbs
Last Season: 53 tackles 5.5 sacks
The 32nd pick in the 2016 NFL draft had a quietly solid rookie season last year. Ogbah is a bigger DE, and usually wins with power. He excels at shedding blocks and is able to make a good amount of tackles at the DE position. Considering he plays for the Browns, and they see a fair amount of run plays when they are behind (so you know, always.) this helps Ogbah rack up valuable fantasy points. While this helps Ogbah maintain fantasy relevance, his potential for double-digit sacks this season is what makes him a true sleeper. The addition of Myles Garrett is going to help Ogbah more than any other player on the Browns roster. With teams being concerned with Garrett and Jamie Collins, Ogbah is the player that should see fewer double teams and more winnable situations at the point of attack. Ogbah is currently going undrafted in most leagues, and can be a steal as a late round flyer.
3. Sheldon Rankins – DT, New Orleans Saints
6’2″ 305 lbs
Last Season: 20 tackles 4 sacks
For leagues requiring a defensive tackle, it helps to look outside the box for a boom or bust type player. Look no further than Sheldon Rankins. The Saints drafted Sheldon Rankins out of Louisville 12th overall in the 2016 draft. Rankins racked up 133 tackles and 18 sacks during his 4-year career at Louisville. Unfortunately for the Saints Rankins got injured before the season and was unable to suit up until Week 9. When Rankins returned he was eased back into playing time. Rankins would end up with 20 tackles and 4 sacks in 8 games played. Entering the season at 100%, Rankins was already being looked at by the Saints to increase his production and take the next step in his progression when teammate and fellow defensive tackle Nick Fairley was diagnosed with a heart condition that could prove to be career threatening. This news puts added pressure on Rankins to produce, but also should increase his opportunity. Rankins is currently going undrafted in most leagues and is worth a flier in the late rounds – or at least continue to monitor his situation and be ready to pounce on him in free agency.
Follow James Koutoulas on Twitter: @DFF_Psychic