DT Premium: Who is the next big BIG thing?

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Are you in a Defensive Tackle (DT) premium IDP dynasty league? Whether you already have an elite player at the position or are looking to get in on the next generation before you're priced out of the market, this is the article for you.

Defensive tackle (DT) premium scoring IDP formats are nothing new in fantasy football. Interior defensive linemen don’t typically pad the stat sheet in the same way as their edge counterparts, so the IDP community gave them a bit of help. Understandable.

There are exceptions. Aaron Donald headlines a small group of DTs considered to be the fantasy elites at the position. DeForest Buckner and Chris Jones are mainstays and others come and go but not with any real consistency. Everyone knows about this small group of guys, everyone wants these guys in DT premium formats. Again, understandable.

But Donald is now 30, while Buckner and Jones are 27. Hardly old by any stretch, but savvy dynasty owners should be thinking about a succession plan or quality bye/injury replacement. So, which players have a realistic chance to enter the conversation as the next DTs to roster in DT premium leagues? I’m here to help answer that question.

I am only considering players who will be 25 and under at the start of the 2021 season.

Quinnen Williams, NY Jets

13 games. 587 total snaps (206 run def, 379 pass rush)
47 tackles (37 solos, 10 assists)
39 pressures (8 sacks, 8 QB hits, 23 hurries)
2 FFs
3 Batted Passes

Williams was on a tear in his sophomore campaign prior to being placed on IR in week 15. He tallied only eight pressures in his first six games but managed 31 pressures in the next seven. It is always nice to see in-season improvement, especially for a young player still refining his craft.

He delivered these numbers despite playing fewer snaps than all but 1 of the other guys mentioned here, that level of efficiency shouldn’t be overlooked. Brian Grow pointed to how Williams may be in line for more playing time too. Unfortunately for Williams, his availability has been a problem so far in his young career, missing 3 games apiece in each of his 2 seasons. At least the timing of his recent foot injury was fortuitous. Reports suggest he is recovering well from the surgery he had in May and that he should be ready for the season opener.

Until fairly recently, I would have pointed to how Williams had additional help in 2020. New arrivals Carl Lawson and Sheldon Rankins pair with underrated players John Franklin-Myers and Foley Fatukasi to form what could be a good D line, one capable of drawing attention away from Williams. Then, Tom Kislingbury dispelled the myth that a stud pass-rusher makes other pass-rushers significantly more effective.

What will help Williams is that new Jets HC Robert Saleh oversaw dominant defensive lines in his former role as the 49’ers DC. Williams is enamored with his new HC, when asked about Saleh’s scheme he replied “I love it, man, I’m a huge, huge Robert Saleh fan from the beginning, just getting a chance to meet him, talk to him, and just watching him throughout his career in the NFL,” before adding “He’s a very passionate person, he’s got a great defensive mind. Just to be able to play in this defense you can see why it thrives. So I’m just ready to get out there and perform in it.

The feeling is reciprocated, new Jets DC Jeff Ulbrich seems giddy with excitement at the prospect of working with Williams. “I’m very excited to see him unhinged, to do the stuff he was born to do,”. Coach speak, yes, but interesting all the same.

Williams had the name recognition from the moment he was drafted third overall in 2019. In DT premium formats he is already borderline elite at just age 23. I’m afraid you have already missed your opportunity to pick him up at a discount, his ADP has already climbed above that of the Chiefs Chris Jones. Your best shot is to hope that his current owner is slow on the uptake, or is perhaps concerned about last year’s concussion and the foot injury.

If you need any more persuasion, watch the highlights of Williams vs the 49ers below. He was a force to be reckoned with in this game. And keep in mind that he went on to record five games with a higher PFF pass-rush grade than he achieved in this game. Yikes!

Kenny Clark, Green Bay Packers

13 games. 699 total snaps (271 run def, 424 pass rush)
48 tackles (38 solos, 10 assists)
32 pressures (5 sacks, 4 QB hits, 23 hurries)

It feels like Kenny Clark has been around forever. The former first-round pick was drafted at age 20 and has already accrued five seasons in the league. It’s difficult to believe he won’t turn 26 until week 4 of the 2021 season.

Clark’s 2020 numbers aren’t exactly eye-popping. His tackle count and pressure totals were very modest by his standard. Admittedly, he played sparingly in week 1, he missed weeks 2-4 while dealing with a groin strain and the Packers were on a BYE in week 5. Even so, he had a very quiet start to the year. Four games with zero pressures prior until, and including, week 9.

Then the lights came on. In the second half of the season, Clark was visibly more disruptive. He looked like a different player, or rather, he returned to the player he was in previous years. PFF’s Jon Macri recently drew attention to a similar point:

Prior to the 2020 season, Clark had established himself as one of the better tier two players at the position. In 2019 he registered 63 tackles, 69 pressures, and 9 sacks. Per PFF, he earned the third-highest pass-rush grade of any interior lineman that year. Don’t be dismayed by his comparatively pedestrian performance in 2020, there is much to be said for a player who is still young and has a proven track record, especially one who finished the season strongly. Given his history, it is by no means an optimistic outlook to expect Clark to carry that momentum into 2021 and return to the player we have all come to appreciate.

Any time a team takes on a new DC it can cause uncertainty for player projections. However, Joe Barry is quoted as saying the Packers will “remain a 3-4 base”. While most modern defenses are more multiple than most of us conceive and cannot really be defined in such simplistic terms, the Packers are close to being the exception. They aligned in a 3-man front more than all but two teams in 2020, the Bears and the Steelers. The fact Clark has consistently produced in a D line that aligned in such a high percentage of 3-man fronts does bode well.

Jeffery Simmons, Tennessee Titans

15 games. 901 total snaps (328 run def, 571 pass rush)
49 tackles (34 solos, 15 assists)
44 pressures (3 sacks, 11 QB hits, 30 hurries)
1 FF
4 Batted Passes

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Simmons’ sophomore year numbers compare favorably with others on the list. Three sacks may seem unimpressive at a glance but the QB hits and hurries suggest this can change. Better minds than me have repeatedly demonstrated how pressures are a better indicator of future sack numbers than sacks alone.

As always, context is important, so we can’t overlook that Simmons played 571 pass-rush snaps which dwarf that of others listed here, it is almost 200 more than Quinnen Williams. We don’t expect to see a linear statistical output based on an increased snap count, tiredness must play a part, especially for a 300+lb hog molly. And it's important not to overthink the fact that we do actually want to roster guys who play the most. But in order to take that next step in fantasy terms, he will need to become more efficient with the snaps he gets and/or continue exceeding the snap counts of his peers. No sure thing.

Mike Vrabel named Shane Bowen as the new Titans DC in January 2021. Bowen isn’t entirely new to the job, he performed the role in all but name last year as the position was officially left vacant following Dean Pees retirement in 2019. Of some concern is the fact that the Titans managed only 19 sacks in 2020 under Bowen’s direction. Bowen’s vague “we’re trying new things” comment doesn’t exactly inspire confidence things will change. Sure, Denico Autry and Bud Dupree may help the overall unit, but what of Simmons specifically?

What does inspire optimism is that Simmons played well despite missing the first half of the 2019 season with a torn ACL and despite the disruption of the 2020 season caused by the pandemic. I’m excited to see what the 2021 season has in store for the talented former Bulldog.

Christian Wilkins, Miami Dolphins

14 games. 637 total snaps (260 run def, 363 pass rush)
47 tackles (40 solos, 7 assists)
18 pressures (2 sacks, 1 QB hits, 15 hurries)
3 Batted Passes

Wilkins earned a similar tackle count to his peers in this article. In terms of pressuring the QB, he didn’t do a huge amount in his sophomore year and was generally inconsistent. His inclusion here is based more on potential rather than production. There was a slight improvement in his overall play in the second half of the season but it wasn’t significant enough to instill confidence that we are on an upward trajectory heading into 2021. So far in his young career, he falls into the category of a good NFL player but a not-so-good fantasy player.

That can still change. The talent is there, the Clemson product was a fantastic four-year starter in college prior to being selected by the Dolphins 13th overall in 2019. The opportunity is there too, he will once again be the unquestioned starter alongside Raekwon Davis on the interior. Josh Boyer remains the defensive coordinator for the Dolphins so there will be a familiarity level too. While Boyer’s arrival in 2020 signified a great turnaround for the Miami defense as a whole, I’m not sure the scheme really helps Wilkins in terms of stuffing the stat sheet.

Wilkins is on record as more of a team player than someone too caught up in his individual numbers “The biggest thing for me is I just try to just be a good teammate. I pride myself on that first and foremost. So whatever I’m asked to do, whether it holds guys up, whether it’s to make a play, whether it’s to knock guys (down); whatever I’m asked to do, I just like to play within the scheme and be the best I can within my role and be a good teammate first. That’s the number one important thing to me.” This is a bit cliché and some of you reading this will roll your eyes. After all, we’ve heard it before from other players who haven’t yet realized their potential.

Wilkins’s measurables don’t excite those looking for athletic freaks at the position. He posted good numbers in the bench press but was a modest performer in most other areas:

Heading into the 2021 season the Dolphins do have the makings of what should be an improved pass rush. Jaelan Phillips is an exciting prospect who could make an early impact. JoeyTheToothIDP wrote about Phillips’ potential. As for Wilkins himself, while many of us expected more from him in year two, it’s far too soon to give up on him in DT premium dynasty leagues. If he is your starter, try and pick up a reliable veteran to bridge the gap.

I remain slightly optimistic about his outlook but I’m definitely tempering expectations until I see some improvement.

Javon Kinlaw, San Francisco 49'ers

14 games. 547 total snaps (205 run def, 341 pass rush)
32 tackles (24 solo, 8 assists)
19 pressures (2 sacks, 3 QB hits, 14 hurries)
2 Batted Passes
1 INT returned for TD

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Kinlaw had a very modest rookie year. Fantasy owners shouldn’t have expected an earth-shattering performance from a rookie DT but even so, he was particularly quiet. There is no other way to cut it and neither should we try, however much we like players as prospects. For the record, I personally loved Kinlaw.

However, we should all be willing to give rookies a bit of a pass for last season, they had very little opportunity to prepare in what were unprecedented circumstances. Numbers – particularly for defensive players - were down across the board. Could the knee injury have played a part in Kinlaw’s case too? He had tendonitis at the combine, missed the last two games of the season with a knee injury, then reportedly had knee surgery in the offseason which was described as a routine “clean up” procedure, albeit unrelated to the tendonitis he suffered earlier.

Am I making excuses? To some extent, yes, but I’m not exactly going out on a limb and declaring him a breakout candidate either. I do think he has the pedigree and the opportunity to make more of an impact in his sophomore season. Hopefully, he has spent the offseason refining his pass-rush technique rather than relying on pure athleticism.

If you can afford the roster spot on your dynasty roster, keep stashing Kinlaw in your DT premium dynasty leagues and try to remain patient.

Almost made the list:

If the interest level is there I could post a write-up for each of these guys too.

Daron Payne
Dexter Lawrence
Derrick Brown
Ed Oliver (read more about him in Kyle Bellefeuil’s article here)
Charles Omenihu
Jordan Elliott
Jerry Tillery

If you play in seasonal redraft leagues, if you want a safer floor, and/or if your league scoring format rewards tackles higher than the average, you may want to consider the likes of Payne and Lawrence above as yet unproven players like Wilkins and Kinlaw. I consider the latter two to have slightly higher ceilings in DT premium dynasty leagues but I won’t criticize anyone who thinks otherwise.

Player stats are courtesy of PFF Premium Stats.


Jase Abbey

I'm an IDP-obsessive and have been playing fantasy football for 20 years. I write the weekly IDP start/sit for IDP Guys in-season, redraft IDP content during the offseason, and appear on the odd podcast from time to time. I am a big, big believer in data-driven and evidence-based content. I'm UK-based, love most sports, and study sports journalism at university. My favorite two things in life are family and sarcasm.

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