Rookie Defensive Linemen


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Rookie Defensive Linemen

In 2020, many of the defensive ends entering the draft specialize in edge rushing. With NFL teams looking for diversity and versatility in defensive linemen, we are seeing a consistent shift from traditional positions to more hybrid and situational roles. A defensive lineman that can play multiple positions will likely see more playing time in their rookie season than a one-dimensional DE or DT.

Defensive Linemen

Derrick Brown — Brown stands at 6’5” and weighs in around 325 lbs. He is a flexible athlete that can play up and down the defensive line. His upper body strength allows him to quick punch blockers into a recovery mode. Brown is better suited to apply pressure more so than record sacks. Thus, players around him will garner more sacks than him. Yet, his ability to plug holes and stuff double team blocks makes him a solid run defender too. Once Brown gets his hands on a ball carrier, they usually go down and often with a thud.

Fantasy Points: Brown is a disruptive force that can attack any gap or gobble up offensive linemen to help out his linebackers. Thus, he can fit into 4-3 and 3-4 base defenses with relative ease. Brown will not have issues fitting in with any type of scheme as he can play up and down the defensive line, inside and outside. While he may not be a starter right out of the gate, Brown will see the field plenty in his rookie season. His fantasy stats may not be impressive in his first year, but he will be a force to reckon.

A.J. Epenesa — Epenesa is not an elite run defender, but does excel at applying pressure in the backfield. He is versatile enough to play up and down the defensive line, but excels off the edge. Epenesa has the size at 6’5” and weighs in around 275 lbs. His arm length is a whopping 34 ½” and has 10” hands. Epenesa is extremely adept at stripping the ball when hitting opposing quarterbacks. While he has a closing burst, Epenesa will need to work on his quickness at the next level.

Fantasy Points: Epenesa will likely see limited snaps early on in his rookie year and may not supply many tackles in his first season. He probably is not a starter in his first, or possibly his second season. Still, his ability to get after a quarterback and produce sacks makes him a viable IDP option, especially in big play heavy scoring leagues.

Marlon Davidson — Davidson was a four-year starter with Auburn. His run and pass coverage skills were at their best in his senior year. Still, he played in the shadow of fellow defensive lineman Derrick Brown at Auburn and did not stand out. Davidson is 6’3” and weighs a stout 300 lbs. Do not let his weight fool you, though, as Davidson has quickness and speed to go with power. This makes him a sneaky edge rusher, but he thrives as an inside pass rusher. Davidson can play a number of different defensive linemen positions.

Fantasy Points: Davidson flashed power and quickness as an edge rusher at Auburn, but lacked consistency doing this. He seemed to lack power at times and will need to boost his strength going forward. Davidson is best suited to play outside the offensive tackle. It may take him a few years to sniff a starting job in the NFL. He likely ends up in a 4-3 scheme. His fantasy value will depend heavily on where he lands in the draft.

Javon Kinlaw — Kinlaw did lose 40 lbs before playing 13 games for the Gamecocks in his sophomore year. He had hip surgery at the end of his junior year, but rebounded with an AP All-American senior season. Still, his elite physical traits (6’5”, 325 lbs, nearly 35” arm length, 10 ½” hands) were overshadowed by his inconsistent play. His explosive first step and menacing bull-rush skills tend to be off-set by a lack of quickness off the ball. Kinlaw also tends to play too high off the snap and that hinders his power and strength.

Fantasy Points: At 6’5” with a nearly 35” arm length, Kinlaw is very adept at knocking down pass attempts. He does tend to play a little bit out of control and his balance is affected by this. Kinlaw is best suited as a read and react 3-4 defensive lineman. This should help him develop better control of his body and balance, thus leading to improved consistency.

Jabari Zuniga — Zuniga displayed explosiveness coming off the ball as a pass rusher from the outside as well as inside at DT. His excellent burst and closing speed make him a viable sack producer at the next level. He defends the run well as he has good lateral quickness and change of direction. Zuniga has a tendency to stand up and play upright at the snap and he loses leverage and power when he does this.

Fantasy Points: Zuniga can play a multitude of positions along the defensive line. He showed signs of explosiveness as a pass rusher and good competitiveness to be an effective run defender. If he develops his arsenal of rush moves, Zuniga has the potential to be a top edge rusher in the NFL. There are no guarantees here but under the right tutelage, he could be a big time pass rusher.

Ross Blacklock — Blacklock hits gaps extremely well, but falters when sitting down and taking blockers head-on. He tore his Achilles’ during his sophomore year. He lost weight during his rehab and then rebounded well from the injury. Blacklock is extremely agile in small spaces and his lateral quickness allows him to exploit offensive line weaknesses. This helps him get after the quarterback, but he still lacks run defending skills

Fantasy Points: Blacklock is a hit-or-miss option, especially against the run. This could hinder his snap count early in his career. He is a one-gap, three-technique developmental player with decent rush potential. His snap count will likely be low in his first season. Blacklock may not sniff a starting job for a few years.

Raekwon Davis — Davis is 6’6” and weighs in around 310 lbs, which makes him a large specimen at DT. He stood out for Alabama in 2017, but did not maintain that during the last two seasons. Nonetheless, his raw power and rugged physical traits should have NFL teams looking at him in the late part of the first round.

Fantasy Points: Davis could thrive in a 3-4 base defense as he takes on double team blocks very well and this would help the ILBs. He could also play in a 4-3 base system as well. Davis does come with some maturity concerns and that could drop his stock forcing him to slide later in the draft. Still, some NFL teams have fallen in love with his size and strength. We are not sold on him being an immediate starter, but he should partake in a defensive rotation no matter where he lands.

Neville Gallimore — Gallimore has good size at 6’2” and 304 lbs. He has good athleticism and quickness for his size. Gallimore has strong and active hands when rushing the passer. He can extend himself outside the box with good sideline-to-sideline range. Gallimore did struggle with down teams in college. He also played upright too much and that in affect offset his strengths.

Fantasy Points: Gallimore can play any inside gap (0-technique, 1-technique, 3-technique) but needs to use slants to take advantage of his quickness. He likely will be used in a committee approach during his first NFL season. This could limit his snap count and render him ineffective for fantasy purposes.

Jordan Elliott — Elliott has explosive upper body strength and is a very skilled hand fighter. He has good balance and agile feet to go along with his powerful hands. Elliott played in a variety of alignments at Missouri and consistently controlled gaps more so than shoot them. He does tend to let his motor cool down during pursuit.

Fantasy Points: Elliott will entice NFL teams as they can utilize his versatility by placing him up and down the defensive line depending on a matchup. His ability to plug gaps seems a good fit for a 3-4 base defense that looks to free up their linebackers. This does not bode well for fantasy production. Even more so when you consider that Elliott lacks sack productions and needs to add moves to his rushing arsenal.

Justin Madubuike — Madubuike posted an impressive 4.83 40-yard dash. He is considered undersized by some scouts. Hard to see that when you consider he is 6’3” and 293 lbs. Even if he is, Madubuike offsets this with speed and quickness. He uses his hands and technique moves to get off blocks. His speed makes him a valid threat off the edge even from the DT position.

Fantasy Points: Madubuike is likely a one-gap DT that could suffer from his size which limits the schemes he can play in. Still, he has the quickness to shadow scrambling quarterbacks and the NFL is seeing more and more of this type of QBs. Madubuike will likely not be a starter early on in his career, but in the right system should be part of a rotational defensive line.

A savvy veteran of fantasy football since 1990, Thomas specializes in IDP and Special Teams. When he is not delving into fantasy football, Thomas works as an instant or slow-motion replay technician for national and regional clients.