Fantasy Football Draft 2012: Ranking This Year's Top 10 Defenses

Alex FieldCorrespondent IIJune 21, 2012

Fantasy Football Draft 2012: Ranking This Year's Top 10 Defenses

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    As the 2012 NFL season is seemingly right around the corner, fantasy football owners are gearing up for the upcoming campaign.

    There were some surprising defenses in 2011, such as the emergence of the 49ers as a top-tier defense under first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh.

    Regardless, there is surely going to be some changes to the top 10 defenses from last year, as teams have added and lost players to free agency, injuries and trades.

    Here is a ranking of the top 10 fantasy defenses next season:

10. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    After boasting one of the pre-eminent defenses of the decade, the Steelers may be starting to regress. 

    A main factor is age, as the Steelers start five defensive players who are on the wrong side of 30, in Troy Polamalu (31), Ike Taylor (32), James Harrison (34), Brett Keisel (33) and Casey Hampton (34).

    A changing of the guard could be in store for the Pittsburgh, as they look for younger players to come in and live up to their potential. With Ziggy Hood, Cameron Heyward and Sean Spence, the Steelers may need these youngsters to play some big minutes next season.

    Furthermore, Hampton may start the season on the physically unable to perform list, according to the Steelers general manager. Hampton tore his ACL during the Steelers playoff loss, and without the rock of their 3-4 defense, Pittsburgh could be scrambling to replace his production.

    They did draft Alameda Ta’amu, but he is an unknown commodity at this point. If he can step in and contribute that would be a definite bonus for the Steelers.

    Keenan Lewis played well last year, and he could be the starting corner opposite of Ike Taylor, but the secondary is still shaky, especially considering Polamalu’s age and health concerns.

9. Philadelphia Eagles

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    After forming the “dream team,” according to departed quarterback Vince Young, Philadelphia had a shaky start to the 2011 season.

    With Asante Samuel shipped out Philly, the Eagles will rely on a nucleus of Nnamdi Asomugha, Trent Cole and Jason Babin looking forward. That’s not too shabby of a defensive base.

    Regardless, the Eagles boasted the sixth-ranked defense last season in ESPN standard scoring leagues, and expect them to be in the top ten once again.

    With the addition of Demeco Ryans and rookie Fletcher Cox, the Eagles will hope to play some better rush defense. Philly allowed 1,801 rushing yards last season, a number that must go down if they hope to contend for an NFC East crown.

    Cullen Jenkins and the linebacking core must improve in 2012, but the Eagles are surely heading in the right direction.

8. Buffalo Bills

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    This will be a shocker to many, considering how terrible the Bills have been recently.

    After ranking 28th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed a season ago, the Bills made some overhaul to their defensive front. They brought in superstar Mario Williams, along with Mark Anderson, who quietly had 10 sacks last season for the Patriots.

    Buffalo will pair those two with Marcell Dareus along the defensive line.

    With proven players in the linebacking core in Nick Barnett, Kirk Morrison and Kelvin Sheppard, the Bills will get a boost from their offseason acquisitions.

    The Bills thrived on turnovers a year ago, racking up 16 in their first five games.

    With safeties George Wilson and Jairus Byrd, the Bills have ball hawks over the top that can make plays on the ball.

    Nonetheless, the Bills will have to count on major contributions from rookie Stephen Gilmore if they want to ascend to a top-tier defense in 2012, as Terrence McGee is still recovering from a torn patellar tendon.

    Buffalo should improve tenfold next season, and look for them to get after the quarterback and force turnovers.

7. Houston Texans

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    With Mario Williams on his way out of Houston, many would expect the Texans to slip on defense.

    That was not the case after Williams missed 11 games last season and the Texans still finished fifth in fantasy defense. The biggest move for Houston was switching to a 3-4 defense under coordinator Wade Phillips.

    The Texans also traded Demeco Ryans to leave more room for Brian Cushing, who had a tremendous 2011 season, finishing with 114 tackles, five sacks and two forced-fumbles.

    With the large overhaul to the defense, the Texans will rely on second-year man J.J. Watt, who impressed in his first season in the NFL. He got to the quarterback a respectable 5.5 times and could improve on that number next year.

    Along with Watt, the Texans feature Antonio Smith and Connor Barwin, who can certainly get after the passer.

    They brought in Whitney Mercilus in this year’s draft and he could fit nicely into the Texans’ 3-4.

    With the emergence of Jonathan Joseph, the Texans feature a defensive unit that is on the rise.

6. Baltimore Ravens

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    Much like the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens boast a defense that has remained near the top for the last decade.

    Along with age and injuries, the Ravens’ defense is not the mammoth it once was however.

    With no remarkable additions to the defense this offseason, the Ravens will go into the 2012 season much like they did a year ago.

    But they will be without superstar Terrell Suggs, who tore his Achilles tendon this offseason.

    The linebacker was a huge part of the Ravens defense a season ago, racking up seven forced-fumbles and 70 tackles along with striking fear to just about everyone who matched up opposite of him.

    The loss of Jarret Johnson will not smooth this transition either, as Johnson was excellent and outside containment for the Ravens.

    As Ed Reed and Ray Lewis continue to age, Baltimore’s defense has seen better days.

    Nonetheless, they will be still be one of the top fantasy defenses until they prove otherwise.

5. Seattle Seahawks

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    The Seahawks were the fourth-ranked defense a season ago, and with a few key offseason moves, they are looking for improvement in 2012.

    By drafting Bruce Irvin and signing Jason Jones, the Seahawks have added both a run-stuffer and a player in Irvin who can simply get to the quarterback.

    Seattle ranked seventh last season in rushing yards allowed, thanks in large part to the emergence of defensive lineman Red Bryant and Chris Clemons. Both of them will be back in the fold in 2012, as the Seahawks biggest question mark is at the middle linebacker position.

    With the departure of David Hawthorne to the New Orleans Saints, the Seahawks surely have a hole to fill.

    Signs point to recently signed Barrett Ruud to start at middle linebacker, yet he is still recovering from a few injuries.

    With K.J. Wright and Leroy Hill on the outside, the Seahawks should not have many problems at that position.

    The secondary is perhaps the most exciting position group for the Hawks moving forward, as they boast one of the youngest, yet most talented secondaries in the game.

    Earl Thomas is quietly becoming one of the best safeties in the game and with youngsters such as Kam Chancellor, Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman, Seattle is sure to make some head turns next year with their fantasy output.

4. Chicago Bears

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    Chicago ranked in the top five in rushing yards allowed last season, yet they were near the bottom when it came to defending the pass.

    They were still the second ranked defense in fantasy football, but do not count on repeating that stellar 2011 performance.

    They got a major boost in fantasy scoring from the six defensive touchdowns they scored. With Devin Hester in the return game, this defense is surely dangerous, yet there is no way they can replicate their 2011 numbers.

    There are not many holes in the Bears defense moving forward. With linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs patrolling the middle of the field and Julius Peppers chasing down quarterbacks, the Bears will definitely be a top-5 fantasy defense next season.

    With Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman on the outside, the Bears will need help from their pass rush in 2012. Chicago finished the season with only 33 sacks, and a third of those came from Peppers.

    If the Bears can find production from rookie Shea McClellin along the defensive line, they could continue their ascent towards the top in terms of fantasy production.

3. Green Bay Packers

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    The Packers had a dismal 2011 campaign in terms of fantasy production.

    They slipped from a top-5 finish in 2010, to a 13th place finish in 2011. The Packers suffered from allowing a mind-blowing 411.6 yards per contest, which was worst in the NFL.

    However, they do have playmakers all over the field and were tied for first in the NFL in takeaways.

    With Charles Woodson, who was tied for the league lead in interceptions, returning for his 15th year in the league, the Packers may give Woodson more reps at safety this season.

    Clay Matthews finished 2011 with only six sacks, but that number could improve after the Packers selected Nick Perry in the first round of this year’s draft. With Perry on the opposite side of Matthews, offenses will have a hard time stopping both linebackers from getting to the quarterback.

    The upside surrounding the Packers is the fact they scored seven touchdowns on defense and special teams last season, which is a trend that is not likely to repeat.

    However, if they can get production from young players and can still rely on Woodson to anchor their secondary, the Packers should be set for a return to prominence in 2012.

2. Detroit Lions

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    The Lions finished eighth in fantasy defenses last season, but they will make the jump towards the top in 2012.

    With a front seven as dominating as this one could be, the Lions could be in store for a remarkable season. Ndamukong Suh will still be locking up the middle of the field and if Nick Fairley can show the upside that led the Lions to drafting him, then opposing offenses should watch out.

    Nonetheless, there are questions marks surrounding the Lions' D, especially after Fairley was arrested this offseason, according to ESPN. The Lions were able to bring back Cliff Avril, who had a strong 2011 season, finishing with 11 sacks and six forced-fumbles.

    They also brought back Stephen Tulloch who will be counted on to rack up tackles like he did in 2011 (111 tackles last season).

    There are still question marks in the secondary, and cornerback is definitely the weakest group on their defense. But, they added depth through the draft and with the athletes they have, Detroit will surprise some people last year.

    They are an opportunistic defense that will get after the quarterback and force turnovers. They ranked third in the league with 34 turnovers last year and that number will only improve with more experience.

1. San Francisco 49ers

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    As if any other team would occupy this spot, the Niners will return all 11 starters from their top-ranked defense last season.

    After allowing a ridiculous 77.3 rushing yards per game, San Fran looks like the same dangerous defense this season. With Patrick Willis and the underrated Navorro Bowman, the 49ers have the playmakers to haunt opposing offenses.

    San Fran got a boost from the emergence of rookie Aldon Smith, who had a whopping 14 sacks in his rookie campaign. That is a ridiculous number for any defensive player, but as a rookie, Smith’s potential is basically sky-high.

    The other Smith on the defensive line, Justin, was perhaps the better player for the Niners last season, as he did just about everything for the team.

    San Francisco tied for the lead in takeaways last season with 38, and with another year of experience as a defense, look for San Fran to have a stranglehold on the title of “top fantasy defense,” for years to come.