Back at it again! Hopefully, you were able to check out my first two Rookie Rusher Recaps from earlier this off-season. If not, please be sure to check those out here and here. Something that became abundantly clear during my digging for those two articles was that a third write up was on the table. The 2019 Defensive Line was that good. The players in this final, bonus edition of the series are deep sleepers with tremendous upside in 2020 and beyond.
Chase Winovich, New England Patriots
The 2019 New England Patriots defense was one for the record books. Allowing opponents only 223yd per game and amassing 22 turnovers. Even though Chase Winovich wasn’t on the field a lot as a rookie, his presence was still felt heavy as a rookie. Winovich recorded 5.5 sacks, 10 QB Hits, and 26 combined tackles on just 291 defensive snaps! Winovich also played over 200 Special Teams snaps and managed a Special Teams touchdown. It’s an unsustainable sack pace but a prolific rookie debut nonetheless.
The 2019 off-season saw the departure of several key pieces to the Patriots defense. Most notably, Jamie Collins LB, who signed a three-year deal with the Detroit Lions and Kyle Van Noy LB, signed a four-year deal with the Miami Dolphins. Collins and Van Noy accounted for 13.5 of the Patriots 47 sacks in 2019.
New Look Patriots
It’s the dawn of a new era in New England. Out with the old and in with the new. When the Patriots drafted Winovich seventy-seventh overall, they were preparing for a future without veterans like Collins and Van Noy. The Patriots youth movement on defense continued when they chose Kyle Dugger (Safety) and Josh Uche (Outside Linebacker) with their first two picks in 2020.
The commitment to reloading the defense started in 2019 with Winovich, and he’s in line to get the first crack at a starting edge role in 2020. Don’t be surprised if his defensive snaps double in 2020 and take advantage of anyone who may discount his upside because of the low snap counts. The talent and playmaking skills are there, and the Patriots will find a way to maximize his skillset going forward while he’s still on his rookie contract. Winovich has “breakout candidate” written all over him.
Clelin Ferrell, Las Vegas Raiders
Clelin Ferrell was selected fourth overall by the then Oakland, now Las Vegas Raiders. At Clemson, Ferrell accumulated many notable accolades, including First Team All American in 2017 and 2018, First Team All ACC 2017 and 2018, and ACC Defensive Player of the Year. Even so, when the Raider selected him fourth overall, it shocked many draft pundits. As has been stated many times through this Rookie Rusher Recap series, the 2019 defensive lineman class was extremely deep. Many had Ferrell much lower on their boards behind players like Josh Allen, Ed Oliver, Montez Sweat, but inexplicably Ferrell was the player taken.
Many criticized the pick, but honestly, for a rookie Ferrell’s performance wasn’t as bad as it appears at first glance. Here’s how it looked:
So Ferrell didn’t get home on many sacks, that’s obvious. But he was still on the field for 648 defensive snaps as a rookie. The draft capital spent on Ferrell means he has a long leash and will be given time and ample opportunity to produce. Maxx Crosby, who was in the first article in the series, for example, wasn’t given a full time starting role until week 9. Ferrell was a day one starter and started 15 games in 2019. Interestingly, Crosby ended up playing 100 more defensive snaps than Ferrell, but I digress.
Reasons To Be Optimistic
Ferrell managed to still find a way to help his team. Most notably with his five passes defended. In an IDP league and real football, it’s important to consider auxiliary strengths for your players and roster outside the conventional tackles and sacks. A pass defended is a negative play for the offense and one of the best-case scenarios for a defensive down. To have a defensive lineman who is adept in this area will always be valuable for a defense. For context, Josh Allen had 0 PDs, Nick Bosa had 2 PDs, and Crosby had 4 PD’s. All behind Ferrell in this category.
Knowing these little tidbits about a player can be important and overlooked when trying to build a projection or a narrative. Rookie defensive players do, usually, have a quicker transition to the NFL than offense, but that doesn’t always mean rookie season success. A perfect example of this is Danielle Hunter. Consensus DL1 in Dynasty Nerds rankings and Fantasy Pros. His first two seasons in the league Hunter only started one game, despite playing in 32. Hunter’s third season was his first as a full-time starter and honestly didn’t look too different than Ferrell’s 2019.
Although his pressures were well behind Hunter’s, there are definitely things to be encouraged by. The 2020 season should see a statistical improvement and maybe more snaps as word on the street is that Ferrell has added around 20lbs of muscle this offseason to increase his durability.
Charles Omenihu, Houston Texans
Houston, we have a problem. Well, sort of. JJ Watt has suffered a season-ending injury three of the last four seasons. He’s missed the equivalent of 2 full seasons and isn’t getting any younger. Still elite and still the best player on the field almost every time he steps on the field when healthy. For years, Watt has been the heart and soul of the Texans defense and their main source of pass-rushing production for almost a decade.
The Texans began to address the looming end in 2019 when they drafted Charles Omenihu. When JJ Watt went down with pectoral injury halfway through the season, Charles Omenihu saw a significant uptick in playing time and lined up mostly on the left end. The left end is JJ Watt’s primary edge to rush the passer from.
Even though Omenihu wasn’t a significant stat sheet stuffer, he was a productive disruptor, producing three sacks and two forced fumbles. He also managed to pressure the quarterback 27 times. Not great, but not bad for a rookie. Essentially the same number as Clelin Ferrell (26). His tackle numbers were fairly abysmal, but he wasn’t often asked to defend the run. Maybe that changes as he grows in his second year in the league. It is worth noting though he did line up all over the defensive line, not just on the left end. He’s a versatile piece to a young, retooling Texans team – a deep IDP sleeper as we roll into 2020.
It means a lot to me that you took the time to read this. I had a lot of fun with this bonus edition of the series. Diving deeper into the very deep 2019 defensive line class has just re-solidified my stance that you should be reloading your dynasty rosters with as many of these players as you can reasonably manage. Preparing for the aging out of some of the elite DL players in the game now will give you a competitive edge. Some notable DL players who will be 29 or older when the 2020 season kicks off include:
- JJ Watt
- Cameron Jordan
- Calais Campbell
- Carlos Dunlap
- Aaron Donald
- Jason Pierre Paul
- Khalil Mack
- Robert Quinn
- Cam Heyward
- Melvin Ingram
- Chandler Jones
- Justin Houston
- Brandon Graham
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