One of the number one rules in fantasy football is to avoid drafting a defense too early and the 2009 New York Giants were a prime example of why. Coming off back to back seasons of harassing quarterbacks and armed with free agent signee Chris Canty, the Giants defense supposed to dominate.
Unfortunately, nothing could have been further from the truth. Injuries struck early both upfront and in the secondary and the loss of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo hurt more than expected. A dominant unit had turned into a mediocre one overnight.
In the end most league's require only one defense making the position an afterthought on draft day. A quality defense can make a big difference at the end of the season but there is no need to over-invest in one.
While there were eight defenses our staff each ranked in among the top 10, one given in fantasy football is an under-appreciated unit will always emerge. If you want to focus on one item when evaluating a defense look at their pass rush. Sacks are much easier to predict than turnovers and touchdowns.
In the end, feel free to grab a defense in the 2nd to last round (saving the last round for a kicker) but based on the number of points a good defense can provide feel free to take one a few rounds earlier if you feel good about them just make sure it is a double digit round. There's too many quality defenses to be the first team to take one.
Tier I A Step Above
1. New York Jets - The Jets made a major turnaround last season allowing the fewest points and creating turnovers. This unit knows how to get off the field and a ball control offense helps keep them off the field. The pass rush needs to step up to live up the fantasy hype of being the No. 1 defense.
2. Minnesota Vikings - The Vikings led the league in sacks thanks to a strong pass rush and impenetrable run defense. The turnovers are solid and Percy Harvin provides a dynamic returner. If the Williams Wall loses its Starcaps appeal they could make for an interesting 4 weeks though.
3. Baltimore Ravens - The Ravens are one of the most consistently strong defenses in the league and the addition of NT Terrence Cody and OLB Sergio Kindle add young talent to a dangerous front seven. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are getting up in year's and the secondary has some holes making them a little shakier than usual.
4. Philadelphia Eagles - Despite playing with a MASH unit at linebacker the Eagles defense still managed to have one of the league's best fantasy defenses. The combination of a strong pass rush, ballhawks and quality return game could allow them to challenge for the top spot. They also used their first five picks in the draft to fortify the defense.
5. Green Bay Packers - Year two in the 3-4 should allow the Packers defense to continue to improve this season esp. in the pass rush. The Packers defense has also scored 4 or more touchdowns for three consecutive seasons and the team led the league in interceptions last season. On the negative side, the corners are getting old and the return game is below average which could
6. Pittsburgh Steelers - The Steelers are one of the best pass rushing teams in the league and as a result they are one of the league's most reliable defenses. The defense does not produce as many turnovers as you would expect however due to a weak secondary aside from injury prone Troy Polamalu.
7. Dallas Cowboys - The Cowboys have a one of the more consistent defensive units thanks to their strong pass rush but a shaky secondary and a lack of turnovers limits their upside.
8. San Francisco 49ers - Under Mike Singletary the 49ers have stepped up their play on the defensive side of the ball. Despite lacking a premier pass rusher the team ranked among the league leaders in sacks with 44 last season while forcing 33 turnovers. Playing in a division lacking a dynamic offense, the 49ers should be poised to repeat last season's success. On the negative side, their return game below average.
Tier II A Chance To Shine
9. Cincinnati Bengals - Under Mike Zimmer, the Bengals defense has steadily improved while developing its young talent. The pass rush will receive a boost with the return of Antwan Odom and addition of rookie Carlos Dunlap and the secondary features one of the best young tandems in the league in Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall. Returners Bernard Scott, Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley are dangerous as well. Last year was not a fluke and don't be surprised if this unit takes another step forward this year.
10. Miami Dolphins - The Dolphins are living a little bit on reputation after struggling last season. The pass rush is solid and the additions of Jared Odrick and Karlos Dansby bolster the front seven and a young secondary should improve this season.
11. New Orleans Saints - Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams employs an aggressive scheme that turns up the heat on opposing offenses which still allows too many points but generates turnovers (39 in 2009) and above average sack counts. Don't expect a repeat of last season's 8 defensive touchdowns. The return game has shown sparks the two years.
12. New York Giants - The Giants are coming off a disappointing season but with a deeper secondary and a new defensive coordinator making a bounce back season possible. Few teams have the number of pass rushers the Giants do but even during the units heyday they were merely average in the turnover department.
13. Chicago Bears - The signing of Julius Peppers and Devin Hester's larger role in the return game provide hope for a return to form by the formerly formidable Bears fantasy status.
14. Indianapolis Colts - The Colts defense is always one of the more underrated units in fantasy drafts as their offense gets all of the attention but they have allowed fewer than 20 ppg for the past three years and their above average pass rush should get a new spark from rookie DE Jerry Hughes. The return game is marginal.
Tier III Solid But Rebuilding or Aging
15. Tennessee Titans - Tennessee's defensive struggled mightily last season allowing a whopping 25.1 ppg as the pass rush and coverage units did not play up their usual standards. The Titans have added alot of young talent in recent years and they should start to pay dividends this season. The additions of DE Derrick Morgan and LB Rennie Curran should further add to the talent base. Expect a small boost in sacks and their point per game to drop into the 20.0 range as the Titans young talent begins to mature this season.
16. San Diego Chargers - The Chargers defense benefits from playing in the offensively challenged AFC West but overall the unit is not as strong as in previous seasons. The defense is still solid but don't expect much more than they provided last season (28 turnovers, 35 sacks and 20.0 ppg).
17. New England Patriots - The Patriots have one of the best defensive schemes in the league but are not as talented or as fearsome as they were during their Super Bowl years. The Pats will limit opponents points per game (19.3 or less each of the past three seasons) but their failure to upgrade the pass rush will continue to hold the Patriots back from a fantasy standpoint this season. The return game is average at best.
18. Arizona Cardinals - The departure of Karlos Dansby would lead you to believe the Cardinals defense was in for a fall but the additions of NT Dan Williams, ILB Daryl Washington, S Kerry Rhodes and OLB Joey Porter helps upgrade the overall talent base. Playing in the offensively challenged NFC West boosts their stock but the key to this sleeper defense is whether the offense is able to sustain drives and keep them off the field.
19. Houston Texans - The Texans have developed a nice talent base but need to improve their consistency if they are to be fantasy relevant. The pass rush has potential as Mario Williams enters his prime and returners Jacoby Jones and Andre Davis provide a dangerous duo.
20. Carolina Panthers - Expectations for the Panther defense are low after the departure of Julius Peppers but have a talented young core that could surprise if they are able to generate a pass rush. The Panther defense has generated 25 or more turnovers each of the past three seasons including 37 last year.
21. Washington Redskins - Our staff was divided on the Redskins defense. The shift to the 3-4 should generate more turnovers but an aging roster and lack of rush linebackers limits their upside.
Tier IV Darkhorses
22. Buffalo Bills - The Bills may not be a good team but their defense is better than they are given credit for from a fantasy perspective as they feature and opportunistic secondary and an excellent return game. The move to a 3-4 could help bolster their sluggish run defense and pass rush enough to allow them to be fantasy relevant.
23. Oakland Raiders - The Raiders added young talent up the middle to shore up the porous run defense providing them room for improvement but generating more turnovers and upgrading the return game are the keys to fantasy improvement.
24. Atlanta Falcons - The Falcons have upgrade their talent on the defensive side of the ball with the additions of OLB Sean Weatherspoon and CB Dunta Robinson but the lack of a pass rush limits their upside.
25. Cleveland Browns - Kick returner Josh Cribbs is capable of taking it to the house at any time making the Browns capable of big games but the Browns did not add enough talent in the front seven to expect the defense to take a major step forward this season. Their interceptions should increase but repeating last season's 40 sacks will prove difficult.
Tier V Hope You Don't Need Them
26. Denver Broncos - After effectively transitioning to the 3-4 last season the Broncos surprisingly let go of defensive coordinator Mike Nolan after the unit regressed late in the season. On the positive side, the defense generated 39 sacks and 30 turnovers but concerns on the offensive side of the ball and the change in coordinators makes one wonder if it was a fluke. The loss of Elvis Dumervil makes the pass rush a major concern and removes any upside the defense had.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - For as bad as their defense played last season, the Bucs generated a remarkable number of turnovers (29). The additions of rookie Gerald McCoy and Brian Price will improve the run defense but generating a pass rush will continue to be a problem. The Bucs return game ranked among the league's best last season including a kickoff and punt return touchdown.
28. Seattle Seahawks - The Seahawks defense ranked in the bottom third in interceptions and sacks in 2009 and a rebuilding effort is underway under defensive minded Pete Carroll. While S Earl Thomas provides an upgrade in the secondary, the pass rush remains a major concern.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars - Not long ago the Jaguars defense was ranked among the best in the league but they have struggled to make plays the past two years including a league low 14 sacks last season. The Jaguars traded for MLB Kirk Morrison, signed DE Aaron Kampman and spent their first four picks to upgrade the defensive front seven but it was not enough to make them sleeper worthy.
30. Kansas City Chiefs - The Chiefs added playmaking safety Eric Berry and has a strong secondary but did little to upgrade a porous front seven. Until they can stop the run and rush the passer this unit will struggle.
31. Detroit Lions - Adding Ndamukong Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Corey Williams to the front four will improve this unit but playing the Vikings, Packers and Bears six times makes them an upside play not worth taking. They will be better this year but not enough to make them fantasy worthy.
32. St.Louis Rams - Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo is regarded as one of the top defensive minds in the game yet the Rams ranked 2nd to last in defense last year. The lack of defensive talent is the primary problem and the team only used one of its first five picks on the defensive side of the ball so don't expect a major upgrade. Rookie Mardy Gilyard could provide a lift to a return game likely to get far too much action.
Rankings Based on: 2 points per sack, interception fumble recovery, safety or blocked kick, 6 points per touchdown and 15 points for a shutout, 12 for allowing 1-6 points, 10 for 7-13 points, 3 for 14-20 points, 0 for 21-27, -5 for 28-34 points and -10 for 35+ points.
Visit NFLDraft101 for Complete Fantasy Rankings, Sleepers and More leading up to your league's fantasy draft.
Rankings were done by using the average of our staff's individual rankings and were based on a single season not a dynasty league.