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The Thanksgiving holiday is a time to appreciate those for whom we are thankful. Fantasy gamers are often most thankful for top producers acquired at little to no cost. This week's edition of Reading the Defense highlights the highest-scoring surprise at each of the five positions through eleven weeks and considers lessons each player's emergence offers for the future.
DT Justin Madubuike, Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore defensive tackle Justin Madubuike ranks second in fantasy points on Footballguys' leaderboard on the strength of 9.5 quarterback sacks. The former third-round pick was a post-hype sleeper entering his fourth year. His teammate Broderick Washington was the young tackle who signed a multi-year extension last summer in the wake of Calais Campbell's release. Washington's stock, however, has headed in the opposite direction. He was a healthy scratch in Week 11.
Madubuike has spearheaded a unit that ranks fourth in total defense and leads the league in sacks with 44. He is one of six Ravens with at least 3.0 sacks. Two tired veterans the team added off the street, Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy, have 6.5 and 6.0, respectively.
Curiously, the Ravens rank outside the top 20 teams in pressure rate and quarterback knockdown rate per Pro Football Reference. They're dead last in rate of quarterback hurries per dropback, which excludes sacks. When the Ravens get close to the quarterback, they finish.
The unit recorded five sacks against C.J. Stroud in his first start. The Ravens sacked Anthony Richardson five times in his third start. In two 30-point victories, they sacked Geno Smith and Jared Goff five times each. A good team capitalized by tilting the field and playing downhill versus passers who typically take sacks at a league-average rate. The Ravens' playoff schedule – at Jacksonville, at San Francisco, and home versus the Dolphins – does not portend similar results.
Fantasy managers enjoying Madubuike's eight-game streak of reaching quarterbacks hope it continues on the strength of strong play. Advanced metrics, however, don't support such hope. Madubuike has not separated himself from the pack as a pass-rusher who wins at the snap.
Double team rate at defensive tackle (x) by pass rush win rate at defensive tackle (y), updated chart!— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) November 10, 2023
Three big names at the top.
(ESPN Analytics / NFL Next Gen Stats) pic.twitter.com/x0eKrxLeNa
Madubuike fit summer roster construction as a DT3 with upside. He is Baltimore's 3-technique defensive tackle, the one-gapping interior penetrator, on a good team. His drafters have reaped enormous returns on their investment. Going forward, his in-game performance must better reflect results to date in the absence of overwhelmingly positive situations for the team's pass rush.
EDGE Jonathon Cooper, Denver Broncos
Randy Gregory and Frank Clark were the Broncos' starting outside linebackers in training camp. Clark had just signed a one-year $7.5 million contract to man the strong side after several years starting for division rival Kansas City. Both players disappointed new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph and were jettisoned in October.
Former seventh-round pick and current third-year man Jonathon Cooper overtook Clark in August. With 45 combined tackles and 5.5 sacks, Cooper ranks sixth on the Footballguys' leaderboard behind five perennial stars.
Cooper has the fewest sacks of any edge defender in the leaderboard's top ten. He's an active run defender who posted his highest tackle totals in games where the Broncos' defense couldn't get off the field. The team seems to have righted the ship since its historic loss to Miami.
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