By Derek of The Sportmeisters
Hello Football Fans! It’s July and that means OTA’s and minicamps are over and actual training camp is around the corner. Preseason games start on August 13 and boy o boy I can’t wait. Now, what I am here to discuss today are my preseason, pre training camp Fantasy rankings for the Defense and Special Teams. Obviously, my rankings are likely to change, but here are my first projections of the year.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers Projection: 50 Sacks, 20 Interceptions, 15 Forced Fumbles, 11 Fumble Recoveries, 5 Defensive TD, 235 Points Against, 4100 Yards Against, 2 Safeties, 2 Return TD
The Steel Curtain is alive and well. Linebackers James Harrison, James Farrior, and LaMarr Woodley lead this unit. Not to mention Safety Troy Polamalu. The Steelers allowed the fewest Yards and Points Against last year and they haven’t really lost any significant pieces to the puzzle. Look for them to be the No.1 fantasy Defense yet again and expect them to be taken off the board before any other unit.
2. New York Giants Projection: 49 Sacks, 18 Interceptions, 16 Forced Fumbles, 10 Fumble Recoveries, 4 Defensive TD, 275 Points Against, 4650 Yards Against, 1 Safety, 1 Return TD
The Giants lost their Defensive Coordinator, but picked up some significant pieces to their Defensive unit. They are getting All-Pro DE Osi Umenyiora back from injury and signed DE Chris Canty, DT Rocky Bernard, and LB Michael Boley (even though Boley is injured and suspended for one game). Combine that with DE’s Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka and LB Antonio Pierce and you have one feared unit. Expect similar production from last year and watch them go right after the Steelers in most drafts.
3. New York Jets Projection: 45 Sacks, 18 Interceptions, 19 Forced Fumbles, 16 Fumble Recoveries, 4 Defensive TD, 305 Points Against, 4900 Yards Against, 2 Safeties, 3 Return TD
This is the Defense that I think you should expect huge things from this year. With new Defensive Genius Rex Ryan as Head Coach, the signing of LB Bart Scott and S Jim Leonhard, and the trade for CB Lito Sheppard, the Jets are poised for Defensive greatness. They still have LB’s Calvin Pace and David Harris, DT Kris Jenkins, and CB Darrelle Revis to go with those new additions, not to mention one of the most dynamic return men in the NFL in RB Leon Washington. The Jets aren’t expected to be a top five D/ST unit by most, but I would take them right along with the top two.
4. Minnesota Vikings Projection: 43 Sacks, 17 Interceptions, 17 Forced Fumbles, 12 Fumble Recoveries, 3 Defensive TD, 340 Points Against, 4850 Yards Against, 2 Safeties, 2 Return TD
The Vikings have been among the top five Defensive units for the past three seasons. They still have DE Jared Allen and DT’s Pat and Kevin Williams reeking havoc on opposing teams and have a little bit better secondary this year. Expect the Vikings D/ST to be one of the first taken in most drafts.
5. Tennessee Titans Projection: 40 Sacks, 18 Interceptions, 18 Forced Fumbles, 12 Fumble Recoveries, 4 Defensive TD, 325 Points Against, 4875 Yards Against, 1 Safety, 1 Return TD
The Titans will have to get over the loss of their best Defensive player in DT Albert Haynesworth and the loss of their Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz. However, they have the other 10 starters returning and they were a top five Defense last year. They are definitely still a top five fantasy D/ST unit and will be right there with the Steelers, Vikings, and Giants as the first to be taken in drafts.
6. Philadelphia Eagles Projection: 44 Sacks, 17 Interceptions, 18 Forced Fumbles, 15 Fumble Recoveries, 4 Defensive TD, 320 Points Against, 4775 Yards Against, 1 Safety, 2 Return TD
The Eagles lost three key defensive backs this off—season in Safeties Brian Dawkins and Sean Considine and CB Lito Sheppard. However, they have a healthy Asante Samuel returning and brought in CB Ellis Hobbs and Safety Sean Jones. They will still run the same blitz happy style of Defense and will be force to be reckoned with this season. Expect them to be a strong No.1 fantasy D/ST unit.
7. Baltimore Ravens Projection: 35 Sacks, 19 Interceptions, 14 Forced Fumbles, 12 Fumble Recoveries, 3 Defensive TD, 305 Points Against, 4600 Yards Against, 1 Safety, 1 Return TD
The Ravens are getting older and the losses of LB Bart Scott, S Jim Leonhard, CB’s Chris McAlister, Samari Rolle, and Corey Ivy, and their Defensive Coordinator Rex Ryan won’t help either. However, they still have LB’s Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, S Ed Reed, and DT Haloti Ngata. The style won’t change much and they still have talent, so expect them to still be a strong fantasy Defense, but don’t reach for them.
8. New England Patriots Projection: 35 Sacks, 17 Interceptions, 14 Forced Fumbles, 11 Fumble Recoveries, 3 Defensive TD, 335 Points Against, 4750 Yards Against, 1 Safety, 1 Return TD
The Patriots are still coached by Bill Belichick and still have their veteran leaders in LB’s Tedy Bruschi and Adalius Thomas and DE Richard Seymour. They have a few good young players to add into the mix and should bounce back from a disappointing fantasy year in 2008.
9. San Diego Chargers Projection: 39 Sacks, 16 Interceptions, 14 Forced Fumbles, 11 Fumble Recoveries, 3 Defensive TD, 350 Points Against, 5200 Yards Against, 1 Safety, 2 Return TD
We all know what happened to the Chargers last year. When LB Shawne Merriman went down, it seems like the entire Defense went down with him. However, he returns this year and I expect the Chargers to bounce back, especially with Ron Rivera as the Defensive Coordinator for a full season and with speedy RB Darren Sproles as their return man. This is the official Sportmeisters fantasy D/ST sleeper pick.
10. Miami Dolphins Projection: 38 Sacks, 17 Interceptions, 15 Forced Fumbles, 11 Fumble Recoveries, 3 Defensive TD, 340 Points Against, 5300 Yards Against, 1 Safety, 1 Return TD
Did I just put the Dolphins in my top ten? As much as I hate the Dolphins, I have to admit they were good last year. Their Defense was surprisingly stingy and LB Joey Porter showed that he was no bust, posting 17.5 sacks. They should put up similar numbers to last years resurgent team and could emerge as a top six fantasy defense as the year progresses.
11. Chicago Bears Projection: 33 Sacks, 18 Interceptions, 13 Forced Fumbles, 10 Fumble Recoveries, 5 Defensive TD, 350 Points Against, 5175 Yards Against, 1 Safety, 2 Return TD
OK, there’s no way the Bears can be that bad for three straight years…can they? I don’t think so. LB Brian Urlacher appears to be healthy again and looks to rebound from his worst statistical year in 2008. Plus, there’s no way you can hold WR/KR Devin Hester without a KR/PR touchdown for two straight years, even if he is trying to be their No.1 WR. I don’t expect them to be a top five defense, but they could definitely produce within the top 10. They could wind up being a nice fantasy sleeper.
12. Washington Redskins Projection: 33 Sacks, 13 Interceptions, 13 Forced Fumbles, 11 Fumble Recoveries, 2 Defensive TD, 340 Points Against, 4875 Yards Against, 1 Safety, 1 Return TD
The addition of DT Albert Haynesworth should help one of the league’s lowest sack totals, even with older DE’s Renaldo Wynn and Phillip Daniels. However, they did draft LB/DE Brian Orakpo for the future and CB DeAngelo Hall can’t really be that bad…Can he? The Redskins could be a pleasant surprise in the fantasy world, but they could also go the complete other way and be a bust. Draft carefully.
13. Carolina Panthers Projection: 35 Sacks, 16 Interceptions, 16 Forced Fumbles, 13 Fumble Recoveries, 3 Defensive TD, 350 Points Against, 5050 Yards Against, 1 Safety, 1 Return TD
Now that we know that DE Julius Peppers will at least be here for this year, it is safe to put the Panthers on this list. LB Jon Beason is a beast and they also drafted DE Everette Brown (from my partner’s alma mater FSU) and have put CB Richard Marshall into the starting role opposite CB Chris Gamble. The Panthers could be a nice sleeper pick and could put up good numbers.
14. Dallas Cowboys Projection: 49 Sacks, 13 Interceptions, 17 Forced Fumbles, 13 Fumble Recoveries, 3 Defensive TD, 370 Points Against, 5100 Yards Against, 1 Safety, 1 Return TD
Boy, were they a bust last year or what? The Cowboys D/ST unit was highly touted last year and I thought they would be the best fantasy unit around. However, injuries and suspensions led them to a disastrous fantasy season. However, the one bright spot was LB DeMarcus Ware who had a league leading 20 sacks. Ware is back and they brought in DE Igor Olshansky from San Diego. The Cowboys should have plenty of sacks, but an inexperienced secondary could get torched. Be careful if you draft them.
15. Green Bay Packers Projection: 32 Sacks, 17 Interceptions, 13 Forced Fumbles, 10 Fumble Recoveries, 4 Defensive TD, 355 Points Against, 5350 Yards Against, 1 Safety, 2 Return TD
The Packers have a new Defensive Coordinator in Dom Capers and he brings a new 3—4 scheme with him. They are moving DE Aaron Kampman to OLB and they drafted OLB Clay Matthews from USC. LB A.J. Hawk is a fantastic pass rusher and run stopper and they are getting LB Nick Barnett back from injury. All of this goes with first round pick, DT B.J. Raji and veteran CB’s Al Harris and Charles Woodson. Not to mention CB Will Blackmon had two punt return touchdowns last year. The Packers could be a low—end No.1 fantasy D, with the possibility of sleeper top 10 value.
There are my first projections for fantasy football. The D/ST position could be very important to your fantasy team if you choose the right one. However, depending on your scoring system, you usually should not draft a Defense/Special Teams unit before the later rounds of the draft. Any questions or concerns, email me at Derek@Sportmeisters.com.