Defense wins championships. The old cliche’ that was said about real football, also can apply to fantasy. However, you can make the claim that “streaming defenses wins championships” because even the top ranked units will likely run into a hot offense on their schedule and produce at least one week if not more with only 5 or less fantasy points. To be able to grab an under-the-radar team defense that has a juicy matchup a week or two ahead in the schedule is a wise strategy to give you a difference-making point advantage.
It is also smart to consider the special teams of these units, as they can become a factor in your league depending on if you receive points for a kickoff return or punt return touchdown. A team like Kansas City will be a popular pick due to their recent success but also because speed demon Tyreek Hill will still be handling the ball in return situations. He reminds some of us of what Dante Hall did years ago.
This is not to say never draft a highly ranked unit during your draft, but please do not use a draft pick before the double-digit rounds on any unit. (The ‘85 Bears or ‘00 Ravens are not coming back). Regular participants of the fantasy playoffs will usually wait until the second to last or third to last round to choose a defense, and use the middle-late rounds to round out a solid bench and take fliers on high upside skilled-players instead. I know that in many leagues, teams will choose a defense right after their starting lineup is filled up on paper, but this strategy is outdated now, and can lead to a light bench with little depth and messy bye-week situations.
Here is a look at the top 10 ranked defensive units going into the fantasy season as rated by a composite list of writers of Fantasypros.com, along with my analysis of why they will score well.
1. Denver Broncos
What’s not to like about the Broncos defense in the past few years? They carried Peyton Manning to a Super Bowl victory a couple of years ago, and are consistently among the leaders of points allowed and total fantasy points. Their “No Fly Zone” secondary has been tremendous with cornerbacks Chris Harris, Aqib Talib and slot corner Bradley Roby, along with hard hitting safeties Darian Stewart and TJ Ward. Oh, they also have probably the best pass-rusher in the league in Von Miller to rack up sacks every week. They might be the exception to the rule, and if you want to take a shot drafting them in round nine, I really could not blame you.
BONUS: They face the New York Jets in Week 14, aka the fantasy playoffs.
2. Houston Texans
This is a unit that was without the 2015 Defensive Player of the Year for 13 games in 2016. J.J. Watt is back, and this Texans defense should continue to dominate. Former #1 pick Jadeveon Clowney finally broke out, and put up a monster year like we all knew he was capable of. They are explosive on all three phases (D-line, linebackers, secondary) and very well coached by a defensive-minded staff. I like slot cornerback Kevin Johnson to morph into a top 10 player at his position, and same goes for stud backers Benardrick McKinney and Whitney Mercilus. They also have a great-looking fantasy playoff schedule with the 49ers and Jaguars in weeks 14 and 15 respectively. They finished 2016 only allowing 301.3 yards per game, tops in the NFL. Draft Houston with confidence.
3. Seattle Seahawks
Another consistently excellent unit for the last several years, the Seahawks defense are in the top 5 yet again. Veteran pass-rushers Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril lead the defensive line, with Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright backing them up to form a solid defensive front. The secondary, better known as the Legion of Boom, still has bonafide playmakers Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman. They allowed just 18.3 points per game in 2016, good for third in the league only behind New England and the New York Giants. They also have juicy playoff matchups with the Jaguars in Week 14 and the L.A. Rams in Week 15. The 12th man is in the building.
4. Kansas City Chiefs
As mentioned earlier in the article, KC had an explosive special teams unit led by rookie breakout speedster Tyreek Hill. He will have a larger role in the offense this year and thus will be returning punts, not kickoffs, for now. They suffered a big (350 pounds) loss in free agency with DT Dontari Poe going to Atlanta, but still have playmakers around the defense like Derrick Johnson and Justin Houston at linebacker, and 1st Team All-Pro Eric Berry at safety. Let’s not forget about 1st Team All-Pro corner Marcus Peters either. Head Coach Andy Reid still loves to run the ball and play strong D as their formula for success, and we can expect more of the same in 2017.
5. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings are another very well-rounded defensive unit from top to bottom. They played extremely well at home and early on looked like the best defense in the league before they seemed to hit a wall as a team. Still you cannot ignore the talent coming back. Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter form one of the best 1-2 punch combos at defensive end, and DT Linval Joseph is a load in the middle. They feature two of the most talented young backers in Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, and safety Harrison Smith and corner Xavier Rhodes are terrors in the secondary. Last season they only allowed 314.9 yards per game, good for third in the league.
6. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals will look to get back to their winning ways this season, and it starts with the defense that is filled with young talent. CB Patrick Peterson is still elite, and his partner Tyrann Mathieu might even be better. 33 year old safety Antoine Bethea gives them a hard hitter at safety. The linebackers are completely stacked with Deone Buccannon, Chandler Jones, Karlos Dansby and Marcus Golden. The loss of defensive lineman Calais Campbell hurts, but this is still a very strong and hungry squad. The Cards only allowed 305.2 yards per game last year, only behind Houston for tops in the NFL. I think this unit takes another step forward and produces a lot of sacks and turnovers in 2017, but is probably a little overrated at number 6 here.
7. New England Patriots
What can you say about the Pats defense in 2016? They came together when it mattered most in the playoffs and the second half of the Super Bowl of course. They allowed an NFL low 15.6 points per game during the season. Some will say “scheme over team” when it comes to the Pats defense, but there is a ton of talent on this defense too. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower emerged into one of the best in the league, and Malcolm Butler, Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung contribute to an excellent secondary. Bringing in Kony Ealy to rush the QB with Rob Ninkovich was a great move as well. It is easy to fly around to the ball and stay fresh when your offense controls the game so much. The schedule looks daunting on paper, but keep in mind the Pats are favored in every single game right now, and the defense has a lot to do with it too.
8. Carolina Panthers
This unit disappointed fantasy owners who drafted them to be a top defense in 2016. The loss of Josh Norman hurt the young secondary immensely, and the entire team went through some tough times, especially after their leader, linebacker Luke Keuchly went down with an injury. It would appear the Panthers defense is improved, and they did finish second in the league with 47 sacks. They still have beast DT Kawann Short to go with Charles Johnson on the line, the linebackers are tremendous with Kuechly, Thomas Davis, and Shaq Thompson, and Kurt Coleman had a great year at safety. The schedule is extremely tough, and if you ask me I would say this next team generates more fantasy points in 2017.
9. New York Giants
The Giants defense carried the underperforming offense to an 11-5 record and playoff berth last season. The emergence of star safety Landon Collins was a big reason for the rapid improvement, and he will be looking to build off his First Team All-Pro year. They spent a ton of money last offseason to improve the Big Blue defense, and boy did it ever pay off. Defensive End Olivier Vernon was among the leaders in QB hurries, Damon Harrison was arguably the best DT in football and ranked as the number one run-stopper by Pro Football Focus, and corner Janoris Jenkins shut down opposing #1 receivers basically every week. They bring back Jason Pierre Paul and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as veteran leaders. NYG allowed the second fewest points only behind the Patriots, and 17 interceptions and 4 TDs both also ranked second last year. The secondary was recently ranked #1 by PFF, and go by the nickname of “NYPD” (New York Pass Defense). The schedule and division is not easy at all, but if they can get after the QB a little more in 2017, we could be looking at a nice steal on draft day.
10. Los Angeles Rams
Honestly I was a little surprised to see the Rams crack the top 10 consensus DST rankings for 2017. The unit was not special at all last year as far as totals, and their offense will still be punting quite a bit this year. However, there is a good deal of talent here under Head Coach Sean McVay, including All-Pro DT Aaron Donald leading the way. DE Robert Quinn is a speed-rushing nightmare, and LB Alec Ogletree enjoyed a breakout season. They signed slot corner Nickell Robey-Coleman to go with Trumaine Johnson and Lamarcus Joyner in a talented young secondary. Tavon Austin is as dangerous as it gets as a return man, and the Rams usually find ways for him to score on special teams each year. This is not an easy schedule by any means, but I suppose you can do a lot worse than the Rams at DST.
Other defenses to consider drafting:
Baltimore, Jacksonville, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh
Good luck, have fun, and don’t forget to play the matchups!
Consensus rankings from Fantasypros.com as of July 19, 2017
Featured image from Mile High Sports
*Be sure to check back into the Win Your League fantasy series during the season as I will be posting great streaming matchups, defenses to pick up and when to deploy them in your lineup.
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