The defensive line group in the 2018 draft was the weakest of the position groups. There were no real rookie breakouts though some improved throughout the season. Here we predict who breaks out in year two.
There are some second-year defensive lineman who can make a significant impact in 2019. 2018 boasted one of the weaker rookie defensive line classes we have seen in a while but that does not mean they will not be productive. After a full year under their belts, another round of OTA’s and camp, these are some guys who can look to break out in their second season.
Dorance Armstrong – Dallas Cowboys Drafted 4th Round, 116th overall
Dorance Armstrong only played on 26.7% of the Cowboys defensive snaps in 2018. During his time on the field, he only accumulated 13 tackles, three quarterback hits, and 0.5 sack. Armstrong was a little inconsistent during his time in Kansas but put up a monster of a season his Sophomore year in 2016. He totaled 56 tackles, an amazing 20 tackles for a loss, and 10 sacks. His other years were still productive but not quite like 2016.
The Cowboys cannot seem to buy a break at defensive end. Demarcus Lawrence is a stud but they seem to be having trouble filling the role opposite of him. Randy Gregory cannot stop being suspended, Taco Charlton has been quite underwhelming so far in his career and newly signed Robert Quinn has been suspended in his own right. Armstrong is strong rusher off the edge and has very active hands forcing fumbles and deflecting passes. Watch here as he gets pressure off the edge and gets his hand up for the batted ball:
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) August 15, 2019
Armstrong may still be a bit of a work in progress but has impressed the team in preseason. With Robert Quinn serving a two-game suspension, Armstrong should step in and start opposite of Lawrence. If he can hold down a starting role or even a pass specialist role he could have a nice season.
Da’Shawn Hand– Detroit Lions Drafted 4th Round, 114th overall
Hand was able to contribute right away for the Lions as Ezekiel Ansah was regularly injured. Da’Shawn Hand is incredibly agile, especially for his size. He checks in at 6’3 and 297 Lbs and ran a 4.86-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine. During his rookie season, he played on 46.1% of the team’s defensive snaps and produced 27 tackles, four tackles for a loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery.
Hand was very disruptive his rookie season, not only for rookies but compared to the veterans as well. He ranked out 14th overall among all interior defensive lineman in 2018 per Pro Football Focus:
Da'Shawn Hand ranked in the top 15 among interior defensive linemen last season with his 87.3 overall grade pic.twitter.com/B2QQkAqnmM
— PFF (@PFF) March 2, 2019
The Lions now have one of the strongest defensive lines in the NFL which means they can rotate. Hand is the starter and should play the bulk of the team’s snaps but the breather will keep him fresh. This should allow his disruptive ability to really shine. Even playing DE in a base 3-4 Hand should be quite productive this season.
Kemoko Turay– Indianapolis Colts Drafted 2nd Round, 52nd overall
Kemoko Turay did not see the field much as a rookie but I would still call it a success. Though he had limited opportunity, while he was in he made the most of it. Turay played on only 36.6% of the teams defensive snaps but was able to come up with 15 total tackles, one tackle for a loss, four sacks, and a forced fumble. The stat that jumps out the most to me is 13 quarterback hits. This along with the four sacks in limited time shows that when Turay is on the field he is constantly getting pressure.
If there is one player who has been opening eyes for the Colts this preseason it is Turay. In the first three preseason games, Turay has posted seven tackles, three tackles for a loss and two sacks. Watch here as he uses his strength and a great move with his hands to sweep around the offensive lineman and pick up the sack:
Kemoko Turay picking up right where he left off last week. 🚫 #CHIvsIND
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) August 24, 2019
His pass rush moves look great this year and he may get an early opportunity to showcase them in the regular season. It is still up in the air if Jabaal Sheard is going to be ready week one. Turay would be the one to fill his spot in the starting lineup. If Turay can come in and show out week one and prove he has what it takes to be a starter, it makes Sheard expendable. Sheard is in the final year of his contract and if he is released it carries $0 in dead cap space. It is easy to see the possibilities for Turay this season, pick him up.
Marcus Davenport – New Orleans Saints Drafted 1st Round, 14th overall
Marcus Davenport was the most polarizing defensive line prospect in the 2018 draft. He came from a small school (UTSA) but was super productive accumulating 185 total tackles, 37.5 tackles for a loss and 21.5 sacks for his career. The Saints traded up and selected him in the first round with big aspirations for him. He missed some time with injury but still played in 13 games in 2018. Playing on only 40.5% of the teams snaps he came up with 22 tackles, six tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, two passes defended, a forced fumble and 12 quarterback hits.
Davenport did show flashes of his first-round pedigree last season. Watch here as he is super relentless, gets stopped initially, then beats a double team to get the pressure on the quarterback:
Davenport was playing behind veteran Alex Okafor last season who played on 63.7% of the team’s snaps. Okafor left during free agency and is now part of the Chiefs defensive line. This opens up a full opportunity for Marcus Davenport to play an every-down role for the Saints.
Sam Hubbard – Cincinnati Bengals Drafted 3rd Round, 77th overall
Many people are labeling Carl Lawson as the Bengals breakout player after his 8.5 sacks rookie season. I am going a different direction and picking Sam Hubbard. Lawson is coming off of an ACL tear and Hubbard was arguably the team’s most consistent defensive end last season. Both could eventually be the starting ends for the Bengals but until Carlos Dunlap is gone that will not happen.
Speaking of Dunlap he is aging going into his year 30 season. Last year he started the season on fire. In his first eight games of the season, he tallied 29 tackles, six tackles for a loss, seven sacks and five passes defended. During that same eight games, Sam Hubbard put up 19 tackles, four tackles for a loss and two sacks. In the final eight games of the season, Dunlap slowed immensely, accumulating only 18 tackles, two tackles for a loss, one sack and three passes defended. Hubbard, on the other hand, turned it up a little putting up 20 tackles, three tackles for a loss and four sacks, leading Dunlap in each category.
Watch here how easily Hubbard sheds the chip from the tight end and is able to bring down the super mobile Lamar Jackson:
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) November 18, 2018
Hubbard is now slated as the starter opposite of Carlos Dunlap on the depth chart. Lawson is bound to mix end as well as Jordan Willis but I think Hubbard stays on the field more with the aging Dunlap coming off the field more often. I expect big things from Sam Hubbard.
The 2018 defensive line draft class did not show too much during the 2018 season. For 2019 though many of these linemen are now slated for more opportunity. Marcus Davenport is now going to be relied upon to live up to his first-round pedigree while the rest are looking to make a huge splash early to force more playing time. All should be able to do so and all of these guys, maybe outside of Davenport can be late-round steals.
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