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Defensive Linemen to Draft in Sack-Heavy IDP Leagues

Using strength of schedule analysis to predict which up-and-coming IDP defensive linemen will maximize their sack totals in 2023.

You must know the scoring and roster settings to plan and execute your draft well when you go into a fantasy football draft. This is especially true in IDP fantasy football because IDP scoring systems vary so much.

One of the biggest differences between scoring systems is the value of a sack. The average IDP league scores a sack approximately six times as much as a solo tackle after accounting for stacking. But the first scoring system PFF devised only made sacks worth 2.5 times as much as a solo tackle. Jordan Rains’ IDP123, the default in Sleeper, put the ratio at 5.5. The scoring system I devised put it at exactly six. Meanwhile, the Big3 scoring system is especially sack-heavy. Sacks are rewarded over eight times more valuable than solo tackles.

I’m not lobbying for any particular format, but if you are in one of those sack-heavy formats–or if you like sacks–I will introduce you to half a dozen under-the-radar players to target. In preparation for my IDP fantasy drafts, I projected which teams face the most favorable schedules for making sacks. These six targets come from teams facing the top ten most favorable pass rusher schedules.

Will Anderson Jr., HOU

Anderson had 34.5 sacks in three seasons at Alabama. He tallied double-digit sacks in his final two seasons and led the NCAA in tackles for loss in 2021 while setting the SEC record. The Texans traded up to number three to select him in DeMeco Ryans’ first year as head coach.

Now in his first season in the NFL, Anderson will be unleashed. He is moving from OLB to DE, who launches from the three-point stance, a role that he is “super excited” about. Anderson only made one tackle and no sacks in nine snaps in his first preseason game. Yet, he was praised by analyst Jackson Krueger for showing motor and “having a pretty good performance in a small sample size.” PFF graded him at 69.8, which is not bad but not stellar.

His favorable pass-rush schedule maximizes his upside. His AFC South opponents have inexperienced quarterbacks, poor offensive lines, or both. The AFC South faces the NFC South in interconference play, another conference with Young (Carolina), inexperienced (Ridder/Atlanta), and sack-prone (Mayfield/Tampa Bay) quarterbacks. 

Twelve of the Texans’ matchups are easier than average for pass rushers. Including two matchups against the Tennessee Titans during the opening round and the championship round of the (three-round) fantasy playoffs. The Titans have the consensus worst offensive line across Pro Football NetworkPFF, and Sharp Football rankings

Grady Jarrett, ATL

Jarrett is a 30-year-old defensive tackle who has played his whole career with the Falcons since he was drafted out of Clemson in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. He became a season-long starter in his second year and was productive, with 48 combined tackles and three sacks. He ascended and had three of his best seasons from 2017 to 2019. 

In 2017 and 2019, he had a missed tackle rate of under 10%, very good for an interior defender. In 2019, the year he set a career-high with 69 tackles. He was recognized for his success with his first of two Pro Bowl selections. 

Jarrett’s missed tackle rate has since increased, but he has earned enough volume to make up for it in IDP. Every season since 2019, Jarrett has been on the field for over 800 snaps and had over 480 pass rush opportunities. That helped him produce two of his best sack seasons: 7.5 sacks and 16 QB hits in 2019 and six sacks and 17 QB hits last year.

In my analysis of Anderson, I mentioned how the NFC South quarterbacks are likely to be sacked frequently. Last season, Buccaneers QB Baker Mayfield was sacked on 30.8% of the snaps in which he was pressured. That was the highest rate of any starting quarterback. Another of the most-often-sacked quarterbacks is Justin Fields. He fell on 27.1% of his pressures instead of getting rid of the ball. The Falcons face the Bears in Week 17, the fantasy championship week. 

Jarrett fills the DT position in specific-position leagues, and he should be a good middle-tier option for managers who don’t want to prioritize DT.

Carl Granderson, NOS

Granderson made it as an undrafted free agent out of Wyoming in 2019. Now entering his fifth season, he is showing signs of a breakout. He has improved his tackling each season. His PFF tackling grade has improved from 25.5 in 2020 to 69.2 last season, as his rate of missed tackles declined from 43.8% to just 7.8%.

Granderson had 22 pressures on 257 pass rushes, which led to his being involved in eight sacks, a career-high. However, some of those sacks were assists, so they only counted for half-sacks. That led to his total being only 5.5, still a career high but only 0.5 higher than his 2020 sack total. If the randomness of half-sacks vs. full-sacks regresses in his favor, he should have closer to double-digit sacks this season, especially given the favorable schedule the Saints face.

The Saints have the sixth-best regular season schedule for pass rushers and an above-average schedule in the fantasy playoffs, too. They also start the season on a good run of sack-friendly games with the Titans, the Panthers and their rookie Bryce Young, the Packers (a good offensive line but a near-rookie quarterback), and the Bucs. 

The Saints go to Tampa Bay for the second game of their series with the Bucs in Week 17. Mayfield (assuming he’s still starting then) was sacked on 8.6% of his passing plays in 2021. That was his last season with a single team, even though the Browns’ offensive line was one of the best in the league. The Bucs’ line isn’t.

Michael Hoecht, LAR

Another undrafted free agent (2021), the 310-pound Hoecht, played defensive tackle at Brown. Injuries caused him to start at right outside linebacker in the final seven games of his second season. He did a good job, making 36 combined tackles and 4.5 sacks in six games. That’s a triple-digit tackle pace if extended over an entire season, and now he will move to OLB for good.

The Rams are a young defense, and new faces must step up. Hoecht could be that breakout and be snapped up in the late rounds of a draft. The Rams have the ninth-best schedule for pass rushers, and half of their matchups are favorable.

The Rams’ intraconference opponents include the NFC East, with Daniel Jones and the Giants hosting them in Week 17. Jones was sacked 43 times in 2022, the fifth-most. The AFC North, including the sack-prone Joe Burrow and Deshaun Watson, also appear on the schedule.

Kwity Paye, IND

In contrast to the above, Paye is a highly-touted player who has not fully lived up to the hype. He was drafted in the first round of the 2021 draft. Paye has been good but not great. He had four sacks as a rookie and six sacks last year and was graded as 69.6 in both years. Paye’s volume has been limited, too, as he has only played 66.5% of the Colts’ defensive snaps and has never done more than 400 pass rushes in a season.

If Paye can take his game to the next level, his production could explode in 2023 because of the Colts’ favorable schedule. Only three of their games are against teams with top-notch offensive line and quarterback combinations. 

The rest are either average or above-average for defensive linemen. Those include Tennessee (twice) and Cincinnati, and the Colts also lucked out with the Rams finishing second-to-last in the NFC West, meaning the Colts’ Paye outside and inside rushers DeForest Buckner will be matched up against the Rams’ No. 31 offensive line in the “seventeenth-game.” They get a favorable matchup that the other teams in their division do not.

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