Fantasy Defense Rankings

By Pedro Moura

Top 10 DST’s (Snatch them up)
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (Bye: Week 8) — The Steelers allowed fewer than 14 points a game last season. They won the Super Bowl. They have the Defensive Player of the Year. No more needs to be said.
2. Baltimore Ravens (7) — Added Paul Kruger, Domonique Foxworth, and, essentially, Kelly Gregg and Dawan Landry, who both missed at least considerable time in 2008. They didn’t give up many yards last season (261 a game) and they’re only going to get better. Remember, in last season’s wild card round, Baltimore forced 5 turnovers — including a defensive TD from Ed Reed — in their 27-9 shellacking of the Dolphins.
3. San Diego Chargers (5) — The Chargers were 25th in yards allowed in 2008, but they were missing, mind you, their best defensive player, Shawne Merriman. By all reports, Merriman has fully recovered from the knee injury that ended his season after the opener last year. Most would say that one player can’t change an entire defense, but the Chargers come and go with Merriman. In 2007, they led the league with 48 takeaways and were fifth with 42 sacks and 17.8 points per game allowed.
Of course, San Diego is never going to be in the top five in total yards allowed as a defense, but the Chargers have the potential to produce huge Sundays from your DST spots. If you’re looking for a consistent point total, don’t take the Chargers. If you’re looking for a defense that could very well win your matchup multiple times this season, take them.
4. Washington Redskins (8) — Although I don’t think as much of Albert Haynesworth as most, this is still a solid Redskins defense. They were fourth in yards allowed and sixth in points allowed last season, and they’re adding Haynesworth, corner DeAngelo Hall, first rounder Brian Orakpo (who apparently is going to play outside linebacker), and defensive end Phillip Daniels, who missed all of last season due to injury.
5. Philadelphia Eagles (4) — The Eagles are the polar opposite of the Chargers, when it comes to fantasy defenses. Philly will give you solid, if not spectacular, defensive production most weeks out of the year. They lost Brian Dawkins, but replaced him in the secondary with Sean Jones and also added Ellis Hobbs in a trade with the Patriots. Hobbs was also second in the NFL last season in kick return average.
6. Minnesota Vikings (9) — Sixth in yards allowed last season, the Vikings didn’t add much on defense but didn’t lose much either. Also, with a pretty young defense including safety Tyrell Johnson, look for them to keep improving. They were by far the team most penalized in 2008, giving up 1,002 yards on flags. The second team in that category was the 49ers with 869. In what will be defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier’s third season with the team, look for that number to decrease.
7. Tennessee Titans (7) — The Titans had an amazing defensive season a year ago, allowing only 14.6 points per game, good for second in the NFL, and they have Chris Carr — fourth in yards per return — taking back kicks for them. The only reason I’m downgrading them is because they aren’t a ball hawking team and don’t produce too many turnovers. Also, Haynesworth is gone and will be replaced by Jovan Haye, formerly of the Buccaneers. Haye is a capable player in his own right, but few tackles would be able to match Haynesworth’s contract year production.
8. New York Giants (4) — Fifth in yards, fifth in points a year ago. Yes, Osi Umenyiora is back after missing all of 2008, but I’m not confident that the Giants have done enough to improve their back seven over the last couple of years. By no means are their secondary or linebackers subpar, but be don’t be surprised if you see a bit of a decline. Michael Boley and Clint Sintim are nice additions at the linebacker spot — with Boley slated to start — but Boley isn’t much of a fantasy producer.
9. Seattle Seahawks (7) — Call me crazy, but I really think the Seahawks defense will be solid this season. Their linebackers are just too good to not lead that side of the ball for Seattle. Lofa Tatupu’s a Pro Bowler, Leroy Hill is a top-10 outside linebacker in the NFL, and Aaron Curry could very well be the defensive rookie of the year. When you combine those three guys with a secondary including impressive second-year man Josh Wilson and Marcus Trufant, and a defensive line that includes Brandon Mebane — a star in the making — and Darryl Tapp, you have a formula for success.
10. New York Jets (9) — The talk you hear of the Jets becoming a top-five fantasy defense comes mainly from their hiring of Rex Ryan as their head coach, and although I’m high on Ryan, I think the Jets are a bit far from implementing his 3-4 system to perfection. They did, however, snag two solid players in the offseason: former Ravens linebacker Bart Scott and former Eagles corner Lito Sheppard. I’m tempering my expectations a bit for the Jets, who are coming off a season where they finished 16th in the NFL in total yards. I wouldn’t be surprised if New York finishes in the top-three or in the bottom-ten, though, as you can never be sure in the first year of a new system.

Middle 11 (Consider)
11. New England Patriots (8) — The Patriots added a lot of young talent on defense through the draft, but they also lost some. Rodney Harrison and Ellis Hobbs are gone from the secondary, and a defense that was eighth in points allowed a year ago will probably decline a bit.
12. Buffalo Bills (9) — This could be the best fantasy defense in this middle 11 grouping. They were 14th in yards allowed a year ago, and added pass rusher Aaron Maybin in the draft. I like their secondary a lot. Corner and kick returner Leodis McKelvin was third in yards per return in 2008.
13. Dallas Cowboys (6) — I’ve seen the Cowboys ranked as high as eighth as a fantasy defense, but I just don’t see it. Dallas was 20th in points allowed last year. They lost Chris Canty but replaced him with Igor Olshansky, lost linebacker Kevin Burnett, released corner Pacman Jones and safety Roy Williams, and added Gerald Sensabaugh at safety. The Cowboys still have sack machine DeMarcus Ware, though, and that’s got to be worth something.
14. Miami Dolphins (6) — The Dolphins added Gibril Wilson, Vontae Davis, Sean Smith, Eric Green in the secondary, which I like, but the defensive line is still lacking firepower. This could be a takeaway-heavy defense though.
15. Carolina Panthers (4) — Will the Panthers get Julius Peppers back? If they do, boost them up to about the 10 spot. I’m counting on them not to, however, and that would mean Carolina would have even less sack production from an already big-play anemic defense. The Panthers were 12th in points allowed per game in 2008, but snatched only 12 interceptions.
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8) — Tampa was 10th in the league in points allowed but didn’t produce too many turnovers. Also, the Buccaneers have completely overhauled their defense, with longtime coordinator Monte Kiffin gone to Tennessee and Derrick Brooks, Cato June, Phillip Buchanon gone to various places. With new coordinator Jim Bates implementing a new defense that hasn’t been successful in recent years, don’t expect too much from this Buccaneer defense.
17. Chicago Bears (5) — I’m not nearly as high on the Bears as some are. They weren’t great last year, and what did they do to improve their defense, besides signing Pisa Tinoisamoa? They do have Danieal Manning returning kicks though, and the fourth-year man led the league in return average.
18. Jacksonville Jaguars (7) — Middle of the road, in every aspect. Defensive line is lacking a tackle aside John Henderson, and the linebackers and secondary will miss Mike Peterson and Gerald Sensabaugh. They’ll be a 15-20 fantasy defense, and their returner, Brian Witherspoon, won’t impress either.
19. Indianapolis Colts (6) — They’d be a bit higher, except for the hiring of former Broncos D-coordinator Larry Coyer to replace the now-retired Ron Meeks. Coyer was fired after a disastrous 2006 season at the helm of the Broncos defense. Let’s see what Ed Johnson can do with a second chance on that defensive line, and Fili Moala could be exactly the type of player they need to fill the under tackle gap partially filled last year by new Broncos tackle Darrell Reid.
20. Arizona Cardinals (4) — Bryant McFadden and Rashad Johnson can help that secondary immediately, but new coordinator Billy Davis’ last defense gave up nearly 26 points a game.
21. San Francisco 49ers (6) — I like Mike Singletary as the head coach in San Francisco, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a considerable amount more from his players than most expect. 13th in yards allowed and 23rd in points last year, we could see an improvement from this 49ers team, even though they didn’t add much on defense this off-season.

Bottom 11 (Avoid)
22. Atlanta Falcons (4) — Just mediocre. DT Peria Jerry, although a solid pick at #24 in the April draft, isn’t enough to boost this team from its 24th place ranking in yards allowed in 2008.
23. Green Bay Packers (5) — With Dom Capers at the helm of the Green Bay defense, the Packers are switching to a 3-4 scheme. Although they do have some of the pieces necessary — first-rounders B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews are built for the 3-4 — I’m not too sure A.J. Hawk, Nick Barnett, and Aaron Kampman will be good fits.
24. Houston Texans (4) — Their linebackers will be a lot better with the additions of USC’s Brian Cushing and former Buccaneer Cato June, but what about that secondary?
25. Cincinnati Bengals (8) — If I had to pick one team in this bottom 12 that I could see being a viable fantasy defense, it would probably be the Bengals. Still, I’m not too sure this team can hold it all together.
26. Detroit Lions (7) — They’ll be better. But how much?
27. Denver Broncos (7) — The addition of Andra Davis is nice — although he’s not much of a fantasy producer. And Renaldo Hill will likely start at safety, and he nabbed three interceptions last year, but the Denver defensive line will drag their team down.
28. New Orleans Saints (5) — I very much believe in Gregg Williams as a defensive coordinator, but this Saints team has no pass rush. None.
29. Cleveland Browns (9) — 26th in yards allowed in 2008, the Browns didn’t improve their defense. They are a bit of a “bend but don’t break” defense — tied for 16th in points allowed last year — but the yards and the lack of takeaways will kill you.
30. Oakland Raiders (9) — The linebackers are solid, but the line and the secondary — save for all-world corner Nnamdi Asomugha — leave something to be desired. Their return game was horrific a year ago.
31. St. Louis Rams (9) — Bringing in Steve Spagnuolo to be the head man is a start, but with Tinoisamoa gone and not too many reinforcements brought in, don’t expect much from St. Louis. The secondary won’t be too bad — especially with the addition of James Butler at safety — but the Rams’ front seven is below average.
32. Kansas City Chiefs (8) — Clancy Pendergast did good things in Arizona as the defensive coordinator, but with the Chiefs’ talent level and the switch to a new system, things don’t look bright.