Fantasy Football Rankings 2012: Top 10 Defenses

Marco PatitucciContributor IIAugust 14, 2012

Fantasy Football Rankings 2012: Top 10 Defenses

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    Besides filling the kicker spot, drafting a defense is probably the bottom priority of the fantasy draft day agenda. But overlooking defense could be a costly mistake. A top fantasy defense is still an advantage that could swing a few head-to-head matchups in your favor.

    Of course, scoring for fantasy defenses varies by league, so make sure to check the league settings before you draft. Key differences that will change the value of defenses are whether special teams plays are included (specifically return TDs) and the point values for sacks, INTs and forced fumbles.

    Here's a look at the top 10 fantasy defenses from bottom to top.

10. Green Bay Packers

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    Sure, the Packers gave up almost 300 passing yards a game in 2011 (last in the league), but yards allowed is not counted in standard defensive scoring. Even still, Green Bay was only average in scoring defense as one of 17 teams to allow between 19 and 24 points per contest. But its value comes from takeaways.

    The Packers consistently create turnovers and are a good defense for leagues that reward takeaways, specifically interceptions. They have finished first or second in team interceptions each of the last three years. 

    Charles Woodson has been key to their dominance in that stat. His combination of ball skills and a refined ability of reading QBs make him a key to fantasy success of the Packers D/ST along with the play of LBs Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk.

9. Arizona Cardinals

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    The Cardinals were a defensive unit that improved as the season progressed last year. And it looks capable of improving even more in 2012. Arizona closed out its season going 7-2 and gave up only 17.6 points per contest in that span. They finished the season tied for seventh in sacks with 42.

    A large part of the Cardinals fantasy value comes from cornerback and return man Patrick Peterson. Peterson was a force in his rookie season; he had four return TDs on special teams and two interceptions on defense. Peterson also blocked two kicks.

    LB Daryl Washington had a standout year for the Cardinals in 2011 and will look to repeat that performance as well. Washington tallied 107 tackles, five sacks, 11 tackles for a loss and two interceptions.

8. New York Jets

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    The Jets were specifically strong against the pass in 2011, allowing only 201 yards a game through the air thanks in large part to corners Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie.

    The Jets had 31 takeaways (INTs plus recovered fumbles), which was T-2 in the AFC. Revis and Cromartie had four picks each.

    An area the Jets need to improve at is pressuring the quarterback; they ranked 17th in sacks with 35 in 2011. The Jets drafted DE Quinton Coples with the 16th overall pick with hopes he could help in that area. Coples had a sack and two tackles for a loss in the Jets' first preseason game.

7. Seattle Seahawks

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    Seattle was fourth in the league with 22 interceptions in 2011 and were a solid defense overall, allowing 19.7 points per game (seventh in the NFL). DE Chris Clemons brought the main pressure on the QB and 11 of the Seahawks 33 sacks.

    Earl Thomas heads up a solid defensive backfield that also features 6’4” corner Brandon Browner, who had a surprising six INTs last season.

    The Seahawks went defensive with their first two draft picks in 2012, adding LB/DE Bruce Irvin and LB Bobby Wagner in Rounds 1 and 2.  

    Considering this defense finished strong (16.25 points per game allowed Weeks 10-17) and the additions it's made, Seattle is a defense on the rise in 2012.

6. Philadelphia Eagles

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    The Eagles tied for the league lead in sacks with 50 in 2011 but were only middle-of-the-pack with 15 interceptions. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (zero INTs) and Nnamdi Asomugha (three) should be able to improve their totals from last season.

    The addition of DeMeco Ryans will help shore up the middle of the field for the Eagles while Jason Babin and Trent Cole continue to pressure the QB and rack up sacks.

    The Eagles used their first three draft picks in 2012 on the defensive side of the ball as well. First-round pick Fletcher Cox is listed is listed as a starter at DT on the Eagles most recent depth chart, and second-round pick Mychal Kendricks of Cal is listed as a starter at OLB. Their other second-round pick, Vinny Curry, provides depth at defensive end.

5. Chicago Bears

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    Brian Urlacher’s knee puts his status for the start of the season in question, meaning Lance Briggs and Co. may have to hold down the fort until he is at 100 percent. Briggs is certainly capable and the corner duo of Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings has received praise during camp from head coach Lovie Smith.

    The Bears, of course, are more valuable in leagues that count return yards and TDs as WR/KR Devin Hester is one of the best in the business. Hester had three return TDs in 2011.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Pittsburgh allowed the fewest yards and points in 2011, but it did not excel at creating turnovers. In fact, the Steelers' 15 takeaways were the fewest in the league.

    But Pittsburgh’s fantasy value is still high because of their ability to keep points off the board. The Steelers held their opponents to 10 or fewer points in nine of 16 regular season contests and allowed the fewest points in the NFL on the season.

    Pittsburgh will have some new faces in larger roles in 2012 with the departure of LB James Farrior (10 seasons with Steelers) and CB William Gay (five seasons). But some things remain the same as the Steelers have one of the best defensive backfields in the league with Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark and Ike Taylor. Of course, the fierce play of James Harrison will continue to be a key for the Steelers as well. 

3. Baltimore Ravens

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    The Ravens were No. 3 in scoring defense in 2011, allowing just 16.6 points per contest.

    Losing Terrell Suggs for at least the majority of 2012 is certainly a major concern. But the addition of 2012 first-round pick Courtney Upshaw should soften the blow. Upshaw was a key component of Alabama’s No. 1 defense in the country in 2011.  

    Even without Suggs, the Ravens will not be lacking stars on the defensive side of the ball. Ed Reed and Ray Lewis are still Pro Bowl-caliber players despite being in the twilight of their careers. Meanwhile, Haloti Ngata is in his prime and has been an All-Pro nose tackle the last four seasons.

2. Houston Texans

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    The Texans allowed the fourth fewest points and second fewest yards in 2011. Mario Williams, a former No. 1 overall draft pick by the Texans, signed with Buffalo in the offseason so the Houston D will be without a player previously held as a franchise cornerstone.

    Williams only played five games though, and the Texans still got enough pressure on the QB to finish sixth in the league in sacks (44). Solid production from last year’s first-round selection, DE J.J. Watt, was key to the Texans success. This year the Texans took a DE in the first round again, grabbing Whitney Mercilus of Illinois with the 26th overall selection.

    In the Texans first preseason game of 2012 against the Panthers, the defense tallied eight sacks to go along with one INT and a forced fumble. The rookie Mercilus had 1.5 of those sacks.

1. San Francisco 49ers

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    The 49ers were so stingy against the run last year that they didn’t allow a rushing TD until Week 16, when Marshawn Lynch punched one in from four yards out and ended the 49ers' NFL record streak of 14 games without allowing a rushing TD.

    The defensive unit was just as impressive in creating turnovers, as it led the league with 38 takeaways (23 interceptions, 15 takeaway fumbles). And not only did the 49ers create turnovers, but also they allowed the second fewest points in the NFL on the season.

    The 49ers have playmakers on every level of their defense including All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis at the heart of it. They return all their starters and second-year pass-rush specialist Aldon Smith, who had 14 sacks as a rookie last season.