4 Defenders Who Could Make or Break Their Team's Fantasy D/ST
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Return men, sack artists, ball hawks and hard hitters are all players you’d like to see on your fantasy team's defense and special teams unit. But a lot of the time, one player's performance (from any of those categories) can be enough to turn a mediocre fantasy defense into a great one.
Of course, being aware of your league's settings on defensive scoring is extremely important. Some leagues greatly reward defenses for creating turnovers, while others place more value in keeping opponent point totals low.
The key to success is finding a team that can do both—shut down opponents and create turnovers. Here are four players who directly, or indirectly, contribute both ways and are the key for their team's D/ST being tops in fantasy football this year.
Charles Woodson, Green Bay Packers
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While Woodson is entering his 15th season (seventh with the Packers), he hasn’t shown signs of slowing down. He has averaged more tackles (80), interceptions (6) and sacks (2) in the past three seasons than his other nine healthy seasons (64 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 3.5 interceptions). Woodson has scored at least one TD each of the last three seasons as well.
The Packers are a good defense in a fantasy league that rewards the creation of turnovers. They have finished first or second in team interceptions each of the last three years. Woodson’s combination of ball skills and a refined ability for reading QBs makes him the key to the fantasy success of the Packers D/ST.
Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers
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The No. 1 defensive player on the No. 1 fantasy defense of 2011 was Patrick Willis. If the San Francisco defense is to reclaim the top spot again in 2012, Willis is the key. While his fantasy impact may not show up in the form of sacks and interceptions, Willis keeps opposing offenses out of the end zone with his elite tackling ability and sideline-to-sideline field coverage.
Willis adds to the 49ers' value by creating turnovers as well. He forced four fumbles and had one interception in 2011.
Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Carlos Rogers and Co. contribute with greater numbers of sacks and interceptions, but Willis is the key to the 49ers’ success in shutting down opposing offenses as he can lock up the middle of the field while assisting in other zones.
Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals
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If Peterson can make a few more plays on the defensive side of the ball while continuing to show his prowess as a return man, the Arizona Cardinals could be a relevant fantasy defense once again in 2012. The Cards were the No. 2 fantasy defense in 2010, mainly because of a league-high eight defensive TDs.
Peterson was a force in his rookie season—he had four return TDs on special teams and two interceptions as a defensive back.
The special teams value from Peterson was impressive. In addition to being a dangerous return man on punts and kickoffs, Peterson also blocked two kicks. While the blocked kicks may not be a scoring statistic in your league, it did keep points off the board.
Peterson has an opportunity to make the Cardinals D/ST valuable by both scoring and preventing TDs.
DeMarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys
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The former NFC Defensive Player of the Year (2008) is still on top of his game and leading the Cowboys defense in what will be his eighth year as a pro. The sack artist will anchor a revamped Cowboys defense in 2012. Dallas added veterans Brandon Carr and Dan Connor, and used the sixth pick in the draft to get LSU’s Morris Claiborne.
Ware’s ability to get to the quarterback is the key to the Cowboys defense in fantasy. Ware has tallied six straight seasons of double-digit sacks. In addition, Ware has forced at least two fumbles in each of his seven seasons. If your fantasy league rewards sacks handsomely, the Cowboys are attractive simply because of Ware. But even with settings that favor scoring defenses, Ware’s play will determine the Cowboys' success.