It is always hard to provide a standard pre-season ranking on fantasy football defenses. It simply depends on the format you are playing. Does special teams count in the equation?? What about points allowed?? What about yardage??
The NFL’s decision to move up kickoffs five yards last year (now also adopted by the NCAA) has taken a lot of the fun out of the special teams aspect of the game, which reduces the defense/special teams aspect of fantasy football.
A lot of fantasy leagues have embraced the concept of individual defensive players (IDPs). The first leagues that I played in the late 1980s/early 1990s had this format. Yes, the seven-hour drafts – 10 teams, 40 players – I called it the “Fantasy 400.” One participant selected his defensive players looking through his football card binder. If I remember, he went 1-13 that year.
A couple of pointers to remember if going IDP…
- Tackles and sacks from the top players for those categories tend to be consistent, interceptions however are a crapshoot. We know that Darrelle Revis is arguably one of the best cornerbacks in the game. However he only has four INTs in his last 31 regular season games because the opposition simply does not throw to him. If a team has two solid corners, you are likely to see better INT totals in those cases.
- If you are looking for sacks, go with defensive ends/OLBs. Interior linemen do the grunt work but are least valuable in fantasy – not a lot of tackles and rarely enough sacks to make an impact. Your inside backers are most valuable, usually most tackles on the team along with forced fumbles/fumble recoveries. Corners are obviously an INT source, but it isn’t bad to have one that chips in with the corner blitzes (think Charles Woodson). Safeties are a lot like the inside backers, except a few more INTs to go with the tackles.
- You can get some extra stats, especially in terms of tackles, going with elite players simply on bad teams. Simple reason is they usually are on the wrong end of time-of-possession and are behind. Opposition then runs the ball, ILBs/safeties end up with a lot of tackles. Jeff Herrod back in the day with some woeful Indianapolis teams comes to mind.
- A little extra knowledge of an individual team’s particular schemes also helps. 3-4 or 4-3?? Does the player get pulled on third-down situations?? Obviously you like guys who are on the field as much as possible.
I will rank all 32 teams on the basis of stats and points allowed and will also give possible IDP targets for each team.
1. San Francisco
A near-unanimous number one defense on most draft boards and for good reason. The team was first against the rush last year, conceded only 14.3 points per game, and returns all 11 starters. Patrick Willis (74 tackles/4 forced fumbles/2 recoveries/1 INT/13 games) is considered perhaps the top defensive player in the league but may not even be the top IDP candidate on his own team.
Other options include NaVarro Bowman (111 tackles), OLB Aldon Smith (14 sacks) or CB Carlos Rogers and FS Dashon Goldson (six INTs each). Go ahead and draft the Niners mid-draft in most formats, where I may stay away though is in auction formats, where the bidding is likely going to spiral out of control.
Might as well go Harbaugh/Harbaugh with the top two defenses. I’m going with past performance with the Ravens. They have been a consistent top defense for the last decade and were ranked top five against the run and pass last year.Now, for the red flags, Ed Reed and Ray Lewis are getting pretty vested in the league’s pension plan and Terrell Suggs (14 sacks) is likely to miss most if not all the season after tearing his Achilles in an early-June pick-up basketball mishap. Corner Lardarius Webb (five picks) is a player whose IDP value is on the rise.
I’ll confess to having Houston ranked higher than most pundits, and should be on the board in the later rounds in most formats. Outside of the Ravens, the Texans were the only other team to finish top-five against both the run and pass. Second-year players J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed will come into the season with plenty of hype, but OLB Connor Barwin also had 11.5 sacks last year as the team improved to 44 sacks as a team after just 30 in both ’09 and ‘10. DeMeco Ryans and Mario Williams are no longer in the mix, but Wade Phillips’ unit will still be something to be reckoned with.
4. NY GiantsThe Super Bowl champs have to be slotted somewhere near the top, although the regular season numbers were not impressive. The Giants were only 19th v. the run and 29th against the pass while allowing an average of 25 points per game. Obviously the team’s performance from Christmas Eve on will make them one of the earlier-selected defenses. Jason Pierre-Paul is coming off a 16.5 sack season and is a prime IDP target.
5. Green BayThis is where the auction format gets out of control. In our MSF draft last year the Packers’ D ended up going for $30+ out of a $100 budget. That’s over 30% for a unit that wound up ranking dead last against the pass and whose sack total plummeted from 47 to 29.
Still, I get the hype, this is always a fun defense to own. In the past four years Charles Woodson has stuffed the stat sheet with 25 INTs (7 last year)/11 forced fumbles/7 TDs and also gets a couple of sacks each year. Clay Matthews gets the media run but ILB Desmond Bishop recorded 90 tackles/five sacks last year, look for him to go over triple-figures in tackles this time around.
Dick LeBeau is perhaps one the most revered defensive coordinator in the history of the game, and the Steelers are another unit that is always among the top and can be drafted without much worry. If you are into interceptions, you might be disappointed (only 11 picks last year, 12 in ’09), but the Steelers conceded the least amount of points (14.2) in the league last year and were also ranked first yardage-wise against the pass, eighth against the run.
Ah, the Dream Team. Actually, the Eagles seem to have been missing a cylinder since the passing of long-time coordinator Jim Johnson a few years back, but the team finished last year tied for first in the league with 50 sacks, led by DE Jason Babin (18 sacks) and his bookend Trent Cole (11 sacks).
I have the Bears ranked lower than most. The team did lead the league, scoring 10 times via way of the defense/special teams last year. But the seven defensive scores is likely an aberration – Chicago only scored once on defense in 2009 and ’10. Julius Peppers (11 sacks) is still an elite pass rusher, but Brian Urlacher is nearing the end of his career. You can still pencil in Devin Hester with 2-3 scores on punt returns.
The Seahawks appear on the verge of becoming the next elite defense to emerge from the NFC West. The defense improved drastically last year from being in the mid-20s to going seventh in points allowed and ninth in total yards against. Safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor and corner Brandon Browner are fast emerging into becoming one of the leagues best secondaries.
A top-ten unit against the run, the Cowboys have one elite IDP producer in DeMarcus Ware who has now had two 19+ sack seasons and is one of the best pass rushers of this generation. Rob Ryan is in his second year as coordinator and gets more TV run than most head coaches.
Click to see where the rest of the teams stack up.