Fantasy football gamers playing in mixed leagues, with offensive and defensive players, have long thought of defensive tackles like the tight ends of defense. Tackles have fewer opportunities to collect sacks than their pass-rushing brethren at defensive end. Tight ends have fewer opportunities to catch passes. Both defensive tackles and tight ends have obligations in the battle at the line of scrimmage that requires them to set the table for their teammates.
In recent years, the ranks of the tight-end position have included a top tier or two of quality players who serve as primary targets in their offenses. In 2022, the second tier behind Travis Kelce and Mark Andrews is vanishingly small. Each week, fantasy gamers are plugging in check-down options compiling receptions against today’s prevalent shell coverages.
The defensive-tackle position has evolved quite differently. In leagues that require the position, IDP fantasy gamers have targeted five top veterans and considered the rest as dart throws or, at best, boom/bust youngsters. Through Week 5 of 2022, the results yield an emerging tier of reliable options.
Players who have finished a season in the top twelve at their position comprise nine of the top twelve defensive tackles through the five weeks of 2022. Several of these, the aforementioned top veterans, have finished as DT1s in multiple seasons.
Of note, the Footballguys’ player database classifies Aaron Donald as a defensive end. In those leagues that he carries a defensive tackle designation, he’s clearly the top overall player at the position going back several years and going forward in 2022.
The Veteran Studs
Cameron Heyward, DeForest Buckner, Chris Jones, Jonathan Allen, and Jeffery Simmons have finished in the top twelve scorers at their position twenty times collectively. Simmons, the youngest of the group, leads all defensive tackles in fantasy points through five weeks. The Titan was a mid-first-round pick in 2019 despite an ACL tear feared to cost him his entire rookie season. Instead, he flashed in this first game and has been a top target among IDP gamers since.
Heyward, Buckner, and Allen all appear in the top seven defensive tackles on the current Footballguys leaderboard for defensive-tackle scoring. If his sack of Derek Carr had not been nullified by a soft call of “roughing the passer,” Chris Jones would also rank among DT1s as well.
Five more players among the top twelve scorers among defensive tackles have finished one or more seasons among the top twelve at their position. DaRon Payne, the thirteenth overall pick of 2018, and Grady Jarrett have each posted three DT1 seasons.
Grady Jarrett, Atlanta
Jarrett has not achieved the feat since 2019. He had, at that point, been considered a veteran stud. Lean years in Atlanta have helped depress his numbers. A second underappreciated factor has been his deployment.
A new regime brought in veteran defensive coordinator Dean Pees ahead of the 2021 season. Pees revealed this summer that he could only use 60 percent of his playbook in 2021. Jarrett and other incumbent defenders were ready to do more this season with a full year in the system. Pees is tasking Jarrett with more, and he’s delivering in 2022.
Quinnen Williams, NY Jets
Quinnen Williams, another bounce-back player, is benefitting from a striking improvement in pass-rushing performance around him. In their first seasons playing as Jets, Carl Lawson and Jermaine Johnson supplement a rush that finished 27th in pressure rate according to Pro-Football-Reference.com in 2021. Through the first five weeks of 2022, the Jets are in the middle of a remarkable turnaround. Their defense is pressuring opposing quarterbacks 28.9% of dropbacks versus 21.4% last season.
Williams, the former third overall pick, ranks among the top six defensive tackles in pass-rush win rate in both seasons. Despite his success in 2021, he played just 59% of the Jets’ defensive snaps. His share is up to 64% this year, back to where it was in his break-out sophomore season of 2020. His production in 2022 has likewise rebounded with help from the improved talent around him.
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