The AFC South division has a lot of defensive talent. I will break down the tiers and the values of the defensive stars and the impact they will have.
The AFC North division has a history of being known as a defensive division and has so much defensive talent, from the up and coming youngsters to the superstar veterans. There are so many top fantasy options in this division for fantasy owners to choose from. Each IDP tier has impact defenders in this division and they will help you win fantasy championships. The fantasy point totals referenced below are based on the IDP Nation Listener 2 league scoring. Let’s take a look at who the studs are and those unsung heroes everyone will wish they had drafted.
Tier 1 IDP Studs (Top 14 Scoring)
Devin Bush, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers
2019 Stats: 16 games played, 15 starts, 889 snaps, 82% defensive snaps, 100 tackles (71 solos), 9 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 4 pressures, 2 interceptions, 4 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, 4 fumble recoveries, 1 touchdown, 11.4% missed tackle rate, 242 fantasy points
The Steelers have their linebacker of the future in 2nd-year stud Devin Bush. He was a freak in testing at the combine and it translated well to the field. Like any rookie, Bush had some lows and things he needs to improve, but overall he was as advertised. However, it’s extremely rare for a rookie linebacker to finish as an LB1 fantasy scorer. My colleague @seahawksdan8 wrote an article on just how rare that is. Bush just finished outside (16th) the top 14 at the position in fantasy points. He led Pittsburgh in total tackles, solo tackles, fumble recoveries, and tied for 2nd in interceptions. Bush finished the season as a member of the All-Rookie team. Now with a year of experience under his belt, I expect him to easily be an LB1 going forward.
Jessie Bates, FS, Cincinnati Bengals
2019 Stats: 16 games played, 15 starts, 1059 snaps, 99% defensive snaps, 109 tackles (72 solos), 3 interceptions, 9 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 14.5% missed tackle rate, 259.1 fantasy points.
One of the biggest discussions for fantasy owners has been the safety situation in Cincinnati. The Bengals have stud free safety and veteran Shawn Williams as starters but added Vonn Bell this past off-season. Who’s the odd man out? Well, it won’t be Bates! He has been a star at the free safety position in his first two professional seasons. I have been one of the highest on him since his rookie year and continue to plant my flag on him. Bates was named to the 2018 All-rookie team and has totaled two hundred and eleven tackles and six interceptions to begin his career. He’s a playmaker the Bengals need, so he’s not coming off the field or losing reps to Bell. Plug and play this tier 1 safety.
Myles Garrett, DE, Cleveland Browns
2019 Stats: 10 games played, 10 starts, 546 snaps, 51% defensive snaps, 29 tackles (20 solos), 11 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks, 29 pressures, 2 forced fumbles, 3.3% missed tackle rate, 158.4 fantasy points
Garrett was suspended for the last six games of the season, due to the helmet swinging incident. The loss of those games hurt his fantasy numbers, but make no mistake he’s a legit tier 1 fantasy option. Garrett was on pace to set career-best numbers in tackles, solos, sacks, and tackles for a loss, before the suspension. He has been one of the top players at his position, the past two seasons and seems to be only getting better. Garrett won’t give you a ton of tackles, but that’s not why you have him on your roster. It’s his pass-rushing ability and high sack totals, that you’re after. I expect Garrett to bounce back with a clear head and continue to be one of the best.
Cameron Heyward, DE, Pittsburgh Steelers
2019 Stats: 16 games played, 16 starts, 873 snaps, 81% defensive snaps, 83 tackles (51 solos), 11 tackles for a loss, 9 sacks, 33 pressures, 6 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 6.7% missed tackle rate, 278.9 fantasy points
In his ninth season, Heyward had quite possibly his best overall season. He would set career highs in total tackles and solo tackles while posting his second-best totals in sacks and pass breakups. Heyward would finish the season ranked as the 2nd best defensive end in fantasy scoring just behind Danielle Hunter. He consistently helped carry this defense along with TJ Watt, as the Steelers transition to youth and build toward their future. Heyward’s excellent season helped him win his 2nd All-Pro award and at age 31 he’s showing no signs of slowing down, as his two best seasons have come in the past three years. While he doesn’t carry the flashy name of some of the others at DE, his fantasy game does.
Carlos Dunlap, DE, Cincinnati Bengals
2019 Stats: 14 games played, 14 starts, 740 snaps, 69% defensive snaps, 63 tackles (39 solos), 13 tackles for a loss, 9 sacks, 32 pressures, 2 forced fumbles, 8 pass breakups, 3.1% missed tackle rate, 244.8 fantasy points
The veteran Carlos Dunlap will be heading into his eleventh season as a pro and continues to be one of the best and most consistent defensive ends in the game. Over the last seven seasons, he has only missed three games and has produced at least 7½ sacks in all seven of those seasons. Last year was one of his better all-around seasons as his 63 tackles were 2nd best and 9 sacks were 3rd best totals in his career. At age 31 he continues to perform at a high level and should be rostered in all IDP leagues. He just missed being a top-five fantasy defensive end, as he finished 6th.
Sam Hubbard, DE, Cincinnati Bengals
2019 Stats: 15 games played, 15 starts, 853 snaps, 80% defensive snaps, 76 tackles (46 solos), 10 tackles for a loss, 8½ sacks, 19 pressures, 1 forced fumble, 3 pass breakups, 6.2% missed tackle rate, 2398 fantasy points
The Cincinnati Bengals have a pair of really good defensive ends, with Sam Hubbard and Dunlap. They compliment each other very well, as they both can rush the passer and are very good at stopping the run. Hubbard broke out last year in his 2nd season, as the Bengals made him a starter. He rewarded them with numbers very similar to Dunlap’s. Hubbard also rewarded fantasy owners with the same similar fantasy production. He finished 7th in fantasy points, right behind Dunlap. Hubbard is the better dynasty option as he is much younger and I don’t believe we have seen the best from him just yet. His fantasy value takes a bit of a hit if you can only play him at linebacker in your leagues, which would push him down into tier 2.
Sheldon Richardson, DT, Cleveland Browns
2019 Stats: 16 games played, 15 starts, 775 snaps, 73% defensive snaps, 62 tackles (43 solos), 4 tackles for a loss, 3 sacks, 11 pressures, 3 forced fumbles, 4 pass breakups, 16.2% missed tackle rate, 211 fantasy points
Sheldon Richardson seems to have found a place he can settle down in, after bouncing around teams the past few seasons. He’s been exactly what the Browns have needed on the interior, as he can both stop the run and rush the passer. Richardson has also made a huge impact on Garrett and the linebacker group as he commands a lot of attention freeing them up to make plays. Richardson is a must roster player in position-specific leagues and tier 1 scorer. He set a career-best 43 solos tackles last season, which means more points, as most leagues utilize DT premium scoring. He gets overlooked by the bigger names but produces just as well.
Larry Ogunjobi, DT, Cleveland Browns
2019 Stats: 15 games played, 15 starts, 779 snaps, 73% defensive snaps, 50 tackles (35 solos), 10 tackles for a loss, 5½ sacks, 22 pressures, 1 pass breakup, 9.1% missed tackle rate, 207.3 fantasy points
Just like with Richardson above, Ogunjobi’s value will be best in position-specific leagues, where they score premiums. Ogunjobi has put together back to back solid seasons for both the Browns and fantasy owners. In fact, his numbers have been eerily identical across the board. Having Richardson as an inside mate helps a ton and had Garrett not been suspended, Ogunjobi would have posted career-best numbers. He has a high floor and is a must roster defensive tackle. Ogunjobi will be much cheaper than some of the bigger names but will produce nearly as good. He finished 7th in fantasy points at the position, just behind Richardson.
Joe Haden, CB, Pittsburgh Steelers
2019 Stats: 16 games played, 16 starts, 1055 snaps, 98% defensive snaps, 65 tackles (59 solos), 3 tackles for a loss, 1 pressure, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 5 interceptions, 17 pass breakups, 13.3% missed tackle rate, 253.3 fantasy points
The best corners don’t always make the best fantasy options. With that said there are some corners that you should be targeting to have on your rosters. Haden was one the top fantasy cornerbacks last season, finishing 3rd in fantasy points at the position. He was just one of five defenders in the entire league to record five or more interceptions and 15 or more pass breakups. It was the second time in his career that he accomplished this feat. I wrote an article on that here. Haden recorded a career-best 59 solos tackles and his 65 total was his second best. When looking for a corner, Haden is a must roster option.
Marlon Humphrey, CB, Pittsburgh Steelers
2019 Stats: 16 games played, 15 starts, 962 snaps, 98% defensive snaps, 65 tackles (53 solos), 4 tackles for a loss, 3 pressures, 12 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries, 2 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 14 pass breakups, 16.7% missed tackle rate, 252.6 fantasy points
Humphrey was a top-five fantasy scoring corner last year, as he had the best season of his young career. He was the Raven’s best impact player last year, as he led the team in solo tackles, interceptions, pass breakups, fumble recoveries, and defensive touchdowns. Humphrey was also the team’s second-leading tackler. Between him and safety chuck Clark, the two carried the defense. That’s good and bad, meaning its bad your corner is leading the way but good that he has that type of talent. Just like Haden above, don’t be afraid to target Humphrey for your teams as he is a must roster corner.
Tier 2 IDP Stars
TJ Watt, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers
2019 Stats: 16 games played, 16 starts, 935 snaps, 87% defensive snaps, 55 tackles (35 solos), 14 tackles for a loss, 14½ sacks, 59 pressures, 2 interceptions, 8 pass breakups, 8 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries, 12.7% missed tackle rate, 234 fantasy points
TJ Watt is a player that I Like a lot but just can’t push him into that LB1 fantasy tier. Our listener league has really balanced scoring, especially for the edge rushers. Yes, I said edge! However, as great of a season as Watt had last year, he still just finished 19th in fantasy points which is LB2 tier. He’s heading into just his 4th professional season so I don’t believe we’ve seen his best. Watt led the NFL in forced fumbles last season and was 4th in sacks. With him being an outside linebacker it hurts his fantasy value, but if you can play him as a defensive end or edge, then his value moves into tier 1 for that position.
Patrick Queen, LB, Baltimore Ravens
2019 College Stats: 15 games played, 15 starts, 85 tackles (35 solos), 12 tackles for a loss, 3 sack, 1 interception, 2 pass breakups, 1 fumble recovery
Every year we see more and more rookies be impact players in their first season. Queen will be one of those rookies this year. He has the talent and the role for a team that needs him to be that. The Ravens don’t have any real viable options for the starting inside linebacker position, so Queen will be given every opportunity to run away with the job. Queen finished his senior year ranked in the top ten in the SEC for both tackles for a loss and assisted tackles, on the season. The AFC North is a division that has teams with top-notch quality running backs and gives them heavy workloads. This should give Queen plenty of chances to make plays and easily finish in the LB2 fantasy tier.
Logan Wilson, LB, Cincinnati Bengals
2019 College Stats: 13 games played, 13 starts, 105 tackles (62 solos), 8 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 4 interceptions, 7 pass breakups, 1 touchdown
Wilson and Queen above will be two of the most-watched rookies in the NFL this season. Both landed on a team that desperately needed a leader at the middle linebacker position. Wilson was a tackling machine for Wyoming as he racked up 409 career tackles for the Cowboys. The Bengals are going thru a youth movement and there isn’t a lot of depth in front of him. The Bengals have Germaine Pratt, but he was nothing special in nine starts as a rookie. Wilson is a much better overall player and he will be the best option for the Cincinnati at linebacker. If he gets to start right away, he’ll contend for defensive rookie of the year honors.
Shawn Williams, SS, Cincinnati Bengals
2019 Stats: 16 games played, 15 starts, 1003 snaps, 94% defensive snaps, 114 tackles (80 solos), 5 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 5 pressures, 1 interception, 3 pass breakups, 14.9% missed tackle rate, 269 fantasy points.
These next two players (Shawn Williams & Vonn Bell) will be tough to put into tiers until we see who starts and the role they have. The starter should be an easy tier 2 option and the other could be a good tier 3 guy. Williams has been so good the past two seasons, but could he lose snaps to Bell or play down inside at linebacker? We’ll have to wait and see. Over the past two seasons, Williams has produced 224 total tackles and six interceptions. He finished 5th in interceptions (5) and led the NFL in interception return yards (131) in 2018. Clearly Williams is an impact player, but what will his role be in 2020? I honestly feel Williams could be the odd man out, as Bell takes over at SS. With that said Williams will still be a great fantasy option.
Vonn Bell, SS, Cincinnati Bengals
2019 Stats: 13 games played, 13 starts, 871 snaps, 82% defensive snaps, 89 tackles (66 solos), 4 tackles for a loss, 1½ sacks, 6 pressures, 1 interception, 5 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles. 5 fumble recoveries, 9.2% missed tackle rate, 252.6 fantasy points.
As I mentioned above with Williams, Bell will be tough to tier until we see the role they have. Last season for the Saints, Bell was a tier 1 safety. He led the Saints and finished tied for 2nd in the NFL with five fumble recoveries. Bell is an opportunistic player, who’s been as a consistent player as you can find. In his four seasons as a pro, he has totaled at least eighty plus total tackles and sixty plus solos each season. Bell is a player that can and has been used in a variety of ways, which allows him to fill the boxscore on any given Sunday. If Bell wins the starting SS role then look for him to continue to be a tier 1 safety and a must roster fantasy option.
Minkah Fitzpatrick, SS, Pittsburgh Steelers
2019 Stats: 16 games played, 16 starts, 930 snaps, 86% defensive snaps, 69 tackles (44 solos), 1 tackle for a loss, 1 pressure, 5 interceptions, 9 pass breakups, 1 touchdown, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 touchdown, 11.5% missed tackle rate, 217.7 fantasy points
Minkah Fitzpatrick is a player that is polarizing, to say the least. When you ask fantasy owners about him they are split on whether he is elite or not. The trade from Miami to Pittsburgh was such a huge boost for him and his fantasy value. He was a star for the Steelers and the impact plays he produced proved such. Once he got to Pittsburgh, we saw his snap count go up and his missed tackle rate went down. Now that he’s heading into his 2nd year with Steelers, I believe we’ll see much improvement from him. A bigger role on a team with much better talent than he had in Miami, should result in him being a much better player. A solid tier 2 safety.
Terrell Edmunds, SS, Pittsburgh Steelers
2019 Stats: 16 games played, 16 starts, 935 snaps, 87% defensive snaps, 55 tackles (35 solos), 2 tackles for a loss, 2 pressures, 3 pass breakups, 9.5% missed tackle rate, 233.4 fantasy points.
Two seasons ago when the Steelers drafted Edmunds in the 1st round with the 28th overall pick, there was some that raised eyebrows at that decision. Two years later, it appears that Pittsburgh made a good decision. Edmunds rookie season was a bit of a mixed bag, but he really came into his own in year two. He finished 2nd on the team in both total tackles and solos and was just a handful of each in leading the team in both. The Steelers are in a youth movement on defense and are playing exactly the right cards at the right time. Edmunds is so underrated in fantasy and now is the time to take advantage of that and get your fantasy teams a quality addition.
Chuck Clark, FS, Baltimore Ravens
2019 Stats: 16 games played, 12 starts, 748 snaps, 76% defensive snaps, 73 tackles (45 solos), 2 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 7 pressures, 2 forced fumbles, 1 interception, 9 pass breakups, 8.8% missed tackle rate, 191.9 fantasy points.
Clark finally got his chance to be a full-time starter last season and performed very well in that role. He was one of the more underrated players not only for the Ravens but for fantasy owners. Clark set career-bests across the board, including leading the Ravens in total tackles and third in pass breakups. Going to his second year as a starter, I expect him to continue to get better, especially now that the Ravens have added some talent around him. Clark finished as a low-end tier 2 fantasy safety last season, while only starting twelve games. He is going for a lot cheaper value than most of the similar players around him. A great value pick up.
Mike Hilton, CB, Pittsburgh Steelers
2019 Stats: 16 games played, 8 starts, 671snaps, 62% defensive snaps, 65 tackles (52 solos), 6 tackles for a loss, 1½ sacks, 7 pressures, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 1 interception, 11 pass breakups, 5.8% missed tackle rate, 291.6 fantasy points
Despite only making eight starts on the season, Hilton was a borderline CB1/2 fantasy option. You have to think a few more starts give him the snaps to get into tier 1. He’s also one of the few cornerbacks that I really make an effort to target, due to how the Steelers use him. Hilton is one of the few corners around the league, that gets utilized as a blitzer on a regular basis. As we all know sacks for cornerbacks are huge fantasy points. Heading into his fourth season, I expect him to be a full-time starter and push to be a tier 1 cornerback. Get him on your rosters and reap the rewards.
Marcus Peters, CB, Baltimore Ravens
2019 Stats: 16 games played, 15 starts, 987 snaps, 48% defensive snaps, 53 tackles (53 solos), 1 tackle for a loss, 1 fumble recovery, 5 interceptions, 14 pass breakups, 210 return yards, 3 touchdowns, 13.1% missed tackle rate, 212 fantasy points
Marcus Peters is one of the most polarizing cornerbacks in the game. His home run hitting ability is second to none. Peters is one of the most opportunistic players in the NFL and that equates to big fantasy points. He has 797 career interception return yards and has led the league three times. In his five pro seasons, he has had at least five or more interceptions in all but one. Peters is a threat to score from anywhere on the field as he has six career defensive touchdowns, five on interceptions and one on a fumble return. If your league scores points for return yards then I would easily boost him into the tier 1 status.
Buys – Logan Wilson, Marcus Peters, Sam Hubbard, Sione Takitaki