I am not going to do an official fantasy defense ranking. This is how I draft my fantasy defense. I make a list of 4 or 5 teams that I view as elite defenses and then, if when my pick comes up, more than half of those defenses are gone, I take one of the remaining. This way, I guarantee myself an elite defense, without having to draft a defense first and possibly drafting a defense way too early, before anyone else is even considering drafting a defense. Without further adieu, here are my top 5 fantasy defenses (in no particular order).
Green Bay Packers
What’s not to like about this defense? With two rookie rush linebackers, they still generated 37 sacks last year. They have the reigning defensive player of the year in Charles Woodson at cornerback and they led the league with 30 picks last year. Nick Collins is one of the better safeties in the league in terms of picking off passes. As their offense gets better this season, thanks to a full season of Clifton and Tauscher, their defense will also only get better. I think, with the maturation of Matthews and Jones at rush linebacker, they should have 40 sacks this year, and generate somewhere between 25-30 picks. They also ranked 7th in the league in fewest points per game allowed with 18.6 per game, a number which I expect will drop this year, due to the reasons I listed before.
They had 44 sacks last year and added a true pass rushing end at left end, across from Trent Cole, in rookie Brandon Graham. He may be a rookie, but he’s NFL ready. With Asante Samuel leading the way, they had 25 picks last year and, even with the loss of Sheldon Brown at cornerback, they should once again get 20+ picks. The only issue, they do give up points. They were middle of pack in terms of points per game allowed last year and with Sheldon Brown gone and either rookie Trevard Lindley or Ellis Hobbs in, that isn’t going to get much better this year, even with an improved pass rush. They’re also almost guaranteed to have a special teams touchdown or two with DeSean Jackson.
New York Jets
8/12/10: I’m not ready to call them no longer an elite squad, but do not draft the Jets defense as the first defense off the board until Revis and his island are in camp. You’re probably safer with a defense like Philadelphia, Minnesota, or Pittsburgh.
They were the best defense is the league in terms of points allowed, yards allowed, you name it, last year. They added two potential shutdown corners in Kyle Wilson and Antonio Cromartie this offseason, as well as Jason Taylor, to help their pass rush. They also are getting Kris Jenkins back from injury. They have the best cornerback in the game in Darrelle Revis, assuming he doesn’t hold out into the season, but I doubt he will. Their 17 picks last year should increase this year. The reason they didn’t have a ton of picks is because defenses rarely threw on Revis, their best interceptor. Cromartie has had a double digit interception season in his career and Kyle Wilson can pick them off too. It’ll be pick your poison for opposing quarterbacks this year so I expect 25 or so interceptions from them. Pass rush still remains their weak point. They had a mere 32 sacks last year. Jason Taylor will help, as will a revamped secondary, but Taylor is old so I wouldn’t expect too much from him. 40+ sacks is possible, but not likely for this bunch. Their special teams are also just so so, maybe a bit above average.
Don’t pay much attention to the Steelers defense last year. It wasn’t elite. Sure the 47 sacks were nice, but 12 picks? Yikes! 20.3 points per game allowed? Double yikes! However, that will all change with a full season of Troy Polamalu. The Steelers gave up about 14 points per game in games he played last year, about 10 points fewer than in games without him. The last time they had a full season of Polamalu, 2008, they were first in the league in almost every defensive category. I think they’ll be closer to that this year. Expect close to 50 sacks, 20 picks, and a top 5 defense in terms of points per game allowed, and yards and all that good stuff. Their weak point will be special teams.
They led the league in sacks with 48 last year, but their major weakness is the secondary. They had a mere 11 picks last year and with a secondary that bad, that doesn’t bode well for them keeping guys out of the end zone. They ranked 10th in the league in fewest points allowed last year, which isn’t bad, but that isn’t elite. There is a big wild card with this team and that is whether or not Pat and Kevin Williams get suspended. If that happens, their run defense will be significantly worse, as will their defense as a whole, and, without them, 50 sacks looks pretty unrealistic. However, as it stands right now, this looks like a team with an excellent pass rush, the favorite in my mind to lead the league in sacks, poor turnover creation, solid touchdown prevention, and solid special teams. If Ray Edwards produces like he did down the stretch last year, that only makes their pass rush that much more deadly.
Don’t want to just go by my top 5, here are a few other candidates to put in your top 5, if you so choose, in no particular order.
They’re not going to get you a ton of picks, as they had 11 all last year, but their defensive backs are extremely athletic and look likely to return a few picks for scores again this year. They had 42 sacks last year, and that was with DeMarcus Ware hurt and having a down year. I expect that number to go up this year. They also ranked 2nd in the league in points per game allowed last year, another good thing to like about them, and their special teams are pretty solid and should get you a score or two, at least.
San Francisco 49ers
They had 44 sacks last year, despite not having anyone on the team with more than 6.5. If either Ahmad Brooks or Manny Lawson pick up where they left off last year, and become a 10 sack player, this defense is only going to rack up more and more sacks. They also ranked 4th in the league in points per game allowed, thanks to a fierce Mike Singletary coached defense. Their secondary remains their weak point, and they will struggle against pass heavy teams, even with an amazing pass rush, but they have fantasy upside. Their 18 picks are complimented by their 23 forced fumbles. They hit hard.
The Ravens have had a great defensive squad for years, but last year they took a bit of a step back. They did rank 3rd in points per game allowed, but their 32 sacks were pretty mediocre, and their 22 picks left something to be desired. However, I expect a better pass rush out of them this year. Terrell Suggs really sucked last year. He was out of shape and had a mere 4.5 sacks, and, to be completely honest, I was surprised he even had that many. They drafted Sergio Kindle in case Suggs struggles again this year, but I actually don’t think Suggs will. He has been participating in non-mandatory OTAs this offseason, for the first time since 2007, and reports say he’s in the best shape he’s been in in years. I think them drafting Kindle has motivated him to work harder to keep his job and it’s paying off. I think it was brilliant. They also have a fully healthy Ed Reed to help with their interceptions and they still have Ray Lewis, so I think this will once again be a very solid fantasy football defense.
New Orleans Saints
Their pass rush is going to be a middle of the road pass rush, 35 sacks last year, until they get a true pass rusher opposite Will Smith. I don’t think Alex Brown is that guy. However, they’re going to force a ton of turnovers. They had 26 picks last year, 8 of which were returned for scores. I highly doubt they’ll have that many touchdowns as a unit this year, but Darren Sharper has 11 career defensive scores and Tracy Porter can also return them well so they should be able to score you points in that way. They also have great special teams, led by Reggie Bush.