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Hindsight 2021: Defensive Linemen- Preseason Top 10

@IDP_Baumer takes a look in the rearview mirror at this past season's top ranked pass rushers. Did they meet, exceed, or fall short of expectations?

I know I teased that Defensive Backs would be my next series, but I decided to pivot for no good reason. The Defensive Line position can be one of the trickiest positions in all IDP Fantasy Football. Sure, there is some consistency, and there is a record of longevity for the top players. Still, there are surprises every year, injuries to top players, and top players who fail to repeat previous seasons’ performances. Let’s look back at the Defensive Line position for the 2021 season.


**All rankings and ADPs will be based on Sleeper stats, and scoring is based on IDP123 scoring. All positional designations are based on Sleeper as well.**

Where we started…

We’ll compare where defensive linemen finished in 2020 and where they ranked (by ADP) in 2021…

Top 10 in 2020

  1. T.J. Watt
  2. Haason Reddick
  3. Za’Darius Smith
  4. Aaron Donald
  5. Jason Pierre-Paul
  6. DeForest Buckner
  7. Leonard Williams
  8. Myles Garrett
  9. Kyle Van Noy
  10. Montez Sweat

Top 10 Preseason ADP

  1. T.J. Watt
  2. Chase Young
  3. Myles Garrett
  4. Aaron Donald
  5. Nick Bosa
  6. Joey Bosa
  7. Shaquil Barrett
  8. Khalil Mack
  9. Brian Burns
  10. Danielle Hunter

2020 was proof that some players can still produce even in an odd year. Sack numbers were down across the league with empty stadiums, reducing the crowd noise that helps affect opposing QBs. T.J. Watt continued his dominance, and others emerged as top pass rushers. Some top 2020 performers didn’t make the Top 10 ADP in 2021… some due to age, while others due to a lack of faith in their ability to repeat their 2020 performance.

T.J. Watt was at the top of the heap, followed by Chase Young, who many thought would be the next big thing. Other star pass rushers like Myles Garrett, Aaron Donald, and Nick and Joey Bosa round out the top of the chart. The remaining four players all either were ranked highly because of name recognition (Khalil Mack), hopes of a return to previous dominance (Shaq Barrett and Danielle Hunter), or because of the hope of continued growth (Brian Burns).

…where we ended up!

We all know where T.J. Watt ended up… back at the top, where he belongs. He finished with a record-setting 22.5 sacks in only 15 (14 really) games. His continued dominance was no surprise to anyone. Other than that, only Donald (DL3), Nick Bosa (DL4), and Garrett (DL5) finished in the Top 10. For those keeping track, that’s only 4-of-10. Let’s look at why each player exceeded, met, or fell short of their expectations.

T.J. Watt

  • Preseason Rank: DL1
  • End of Season Rank: DL1
  • IDP123 Points: 373
Defense & Fumbles Table
GameGame Def FumbFumbFumbFumbFumb TackTackTackTackTack
Year Age Tm Pos No. G GS PD FF Fmb FR Yds TD Sk Comb Solo Ast TFL QBHits Sfty AV Awards
2021*+27PITLB90151575031022.5644816213915AP DPoY-1, AP1, PB

In my LB Series, Watt was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2021. His continued dominance as a pass rusher will keep him as the overall Top IDP in most formats. His impact on the field and in fantasy box scores is truly something to sit back and marvel at.

I hope you are reading this as a Watt manager because his trade value is probably the highest it will ever be. I would still hold onto him if you’re in contention, but this is your time to strike if you need top value for an IDP. I’d honestly not take anything less than two first-round picks, plus some extras on the side.

Chase Young

  • Preseason Rank: DL2
  • End of Season Rank: DL169
  • IDP123 Points: 72
Defense & Fumbles Table
GameGame Def Fumb TackTackTackTackTack
Year Age Tm Pos No. G GS PD FF Sk Comb Solo Ast TFL QBHits Sfty AV Awards

After being taken second overall by Washington in 2020, the expectations were very high for Chase Young. He had a decent rookie season and was expected to play even better in 2021. However, this was not the case. His week 10 ACL tear aside, Young was not performing well. In eight full games, he could only tally 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.

I know I’m going to upset a lot of managers, but I’m beginning to think that Young may not be the player everyone hoped/thought he’d be. He has everything you’d want in an elite pass rusher, but he can’t seem to get to the QB. That’s what you want from a Top 10 DL, and I don’t see it happening. I would love to be wrong. I even roster Mr. Young on several teams. Fellow teammate Montez Sweat, for his value, would be a better addition to your team because you’d be able to draft him much later.

Myles Garrett

  • Preseason Rank: DL3
  • End of Season Rank: DL5
  • IDP123 Points: 270
Defense & Fumbles Table
GameGame Def FumbFumbFumbFumbFumb TackTackTackTackTack
Year Age Tm Pos No. G GS PD FF Fmb FR Yds TD Sk Comb Solo Ast TFL QBHits Sfty AV Awards
2021*+26CLEDE951717310115116.0513318173317AP1, PB

Garrett is one of those consistent DLs you love to have on your teams. He’s good for 10-16 sacks, plus quite a few other impact plays, to pad his stats. You know you’re set with Garrett on your team. You can expect him to continue to be a top 10 DL, and I wouldn’t look to move him from your rosters. He most likely won’t get you what you’d be losing from your team. That being said, if a juicy offer comes through, take it!

Aaron Donald

  • Preseason Rank: DL4
  • End of Season Rank: DL3
  • IDP123 Points: 284
Defense & Fumbles Table
GameGame Def Fumb TackTackTackTackTack
Year Age Tm Pos No. G GS PD FF Sk Comb Solo Ast TFL QBHits Sfty AV Awards
2021*+30LARDT9917174412.5843846192517AP DPoY-3, AP1, PB

Donald is also another one of those players who is consistently a Top 5-10 DL. We may be seeing his last few great years. There was even talk of him retiring at the end of last season, but he’s sticking around. If you are a Donald manager and not a contender, I will look to move him ASAP. Trade him to a contender looking for a championship.

Nick Bosa

  • Preseason Rank: DL5
  • End of Season Rank: DL4
  • IDP123 Points: 274

After suffering a season-ending injury early in the 2020 season, Nick Bosa returned with a vengeance. He picked up right back where he left off during his rookie season, where he finished near the top of the ranks. I think we’ve seen that this Bosa brother is entering the prime of his career. If you happen to play on a platform that has Watt stuck as an LB only, Nick Bosa will be your DL1 moving forward. He’s someone I’d look to acquire on my team.

The Rest of the “Best”

The remaining Top 10 failed to live up to their rankings. Some because of injury, and others because of either scheme or ability.

Joey Bosa (DL6/DL25) had a bit of a down year in 2021 after coming off of an injury-plagued 2020. He could still put up double-digit sacks and crack the top 25. LA added Khalil Mack and Kyle Van Noy, who have had their share of top 10 DL seasons, which may impact Joey’s snap share.

Shaquil Barrett (DL7/DL14) had a solid season but fell out of the Top 10. He’s still a DL1 and will have plenty of chances to score alongside second-year player Joe Tryon-Shoyinka.

Khalil Mack (DL8/DL124), as I mentioned earlier, is now a Charger after an offseason trade that LA gave up a 2022 second-round pick and a 2023 sixth-round pick to acquire. He missed over half of the season with a foot injury but could still rack up six sacks. If his foot heals well, count on him returning to a high-end DL1 alongside Joey Bosa.

Brian Burns (DL9/DL26) also fell out of the Top 10 and had single-digit sacks yet again. Burns is consistently expected to be a Top 10, yet fails to meet those expectations every year. He’s still a high-end DL2 but has DL1 potential. Maybe this year is “his year.”

Danielle Hunter (DL10/DL88) can’t catch a break. After missing all of 2020 with a neck injury, he went down in Week 8 with a torn pectoral, missing the remainder of the season. The Vikings picked up Za’Darius Smith, also coming off an injury, and if they both remain healthy, they should be a force to be reckoned with.

Moving Forward

Most of the Top 10 from 2021 should be able to return to form. I’m a bit more skeptical of some than others, but time will tell.

Defensive Linemen, much like their offensive counterpart Tight Ends, can be frustrating. In a position that relies heavily on sacks, players who almost get there don’t do you any good. That being said, I do think all of these players from last season’s Top 10 can still be top DLs.

Stay tuned for the next article in the series, where I cover some surprises and “one-hit wonders” at the DL position.

For my previous series on Linebackers, check out

Hindsight 2021: Linebackers – Preseason Top 10

Hindsight 2021: Linebackers – Surprises and One Hit Wonders

Hindsight 2021: Linebackers – Where Are They Now???

Thanks for reading! Please give me feedback in the comments here or on Twitter! Follow me @IDP_Baumer for more IDP content year-round!

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