Fantasy Football Rankings: The Top 10 Defenses
With the start of the NFL regular season less than two weeks away, fantasy football drafts are now in full swing.
Just as in the NFL, if you want to compete for a championship, you're going to need a complete team. So while skill positions may get most of the attention, your defense may be the the selection that either puts you over the top or leaves you in the loser's seat.
If you aspire to be in the former category, you should pay close attention to the following top 10 fantasy defenses.
10. New England Patriots
Although they are no longer stacked with superstars, the New England Patriots are still mainstays when it comes to fantasy football defenses.
Led by All-Pro nose tackle Vince Wilfork, the Patriots finished fourth in points allowed last season while managing a respectable 31 sacks and 18 interceptions.
The biggest concern for the Patriots in 2010 will be rushing the quarterback, but as long as they stay healthy they should be able to replicate their performance from 2009 and keep opponents' scoring to a minimum.
9. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals turned some heads in 2009 with a surprising performance by a very young defense. With another year now under their belts, Cincinnati should only continue to improve in the upcoming season.
Cincinnati is headlined by one of the NFL's best cornerback tandems in Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph. This combination should limit other teams' passing attacks and allow them to improve upon a year in which they finished seventh in points allowed.
The return of defensive end Antwan Odom should improve the Bengals' pass rush and create more interception opportunities for the secondary.
The Bengals defense is a good value with a lot of upsie near the end of the draft.
8. Philadelphia Eagles
If you're looking for a defense that will shut down an opponent's offense, you may be best served looking elsewhere. However, if you want a defense that generates a lot of pressure and manufactures turnovers, the Philadelphia Eagles may be just what you're looking for.
Personnel-wise, the Eagles have the two biggest things you look for in a good defense: a disruptive defensive line and quality cornerbacks. On the defensive line, tackles Broderick Bunkley and Mike Patterson excel at run-stopping, while defensive end Trent Cole is one of the league's premier pass-rushers.
The Eagles also have two of the league's better corners in Asante Samuel and Ellis Hobbs. Expect this combination to lead to a good amount of turnovers and the possibility for a few defensive touchdowns.
Additionally, if your league includes special teams, DeSean Jackson's return ability adds major value.
7. San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers defense was one of the biggest surprises in fantasy football in 2009 and look to be one of the most underrated going into this season.
The 49ers have one of the best linebacking corps in the NFL, led by All-Pro Patrick Willis. They also have a solid secondary, which includes cornerbacks Nate Clements and Shawntae Spencer, as well as safety Michael Lewis.
This combination of players led the 49ers to finish fifth in points allowed and most importantly, first in total fantasy points last season. While it seems unlikely that the 49ers will duplicate this first place finish in 2010, they could very well manage a top 5 ranking by season's end.
The addition of Ted Ginn Jr. should upgrade the 49ers return game and provide the potential for a few more return touchdowns.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers experienced some uncharacteristic struggles on defense last season, due largely in part to injuries to Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith. Now with a healthy roster, expect the Steelers to make a return as one of the NFL's top defenses.
In addition to Polamalu and Smith, the Steelers also have arguably the best linebacking corps in the league, led by James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. Woodley and Harrison alone accounted for a total of 23.5 sacks last season and should have no problem repeating their performances in 2010.
The main concern for the Steelers is a weakness at cornerback, but with such a great pass rush, this should serve as no huge concern for fantasy owners. Expect Pittsburgh to be near the top of the league in sacks and top five in points allowed.
5. Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens have historically had one of the best defenses in fantasy football. Expect this season to be no different.
The Ravens were nothing short of dominant on defense last season. They finished the year ranked third in points allowed and fifth in interceptions. The only disappointment was their low number (32) of sacks, but this can most likely be attributed to a down year by linebacker Terrell Suggs.
The Ravens do have a lot of questions surrounding their secondary as they have been plagued by injuries. The health of safety Ed Reed is a major point of interest, as he is one of the best ball-hawks in the NFL. If he can get healthy, he could elevate the Ravens' defense to another level.
Either way, the Ravens will still have a ferocious front seven which should be able to propel them to another top 10 finish in 2010.
4. Green Bay Packers
After finishing third in total fantasy points last season, Green Bay is certainly deserving of a spot among the top five defenses in the league going into this season.
The Packers' M.O. in 2009 was creating turnovers. In fact, they lead the NFL in interceptions with a total of 30. Much of this can be accounted for by the NFL's 2009 Defensive Player of the Year, Charles Woodson. Woodson was a fantasy force by himself, accounting for nine interceptions and three defensive touchdowns.
Woodson returns in 2010, along with an impressive front seven, led by linebacker A.J. Hawk and should continue to improve. However, if you do consider choosing the Packers defense, keep an eye on the injury report. A.J. Hawk, Clay Mathews, Nick Barnett, and Atari Bigby have all been banged up recently, and losing any of them for a significant amount of time could really hurt the Packers' fantasy value.
3. Minnesota Vikings
Don't let the controversy surrounding Brett Favre cause you to neglect the Minnesota Vikings defense come draft day.
Led by Pat Williams and Kevin Williams, the Vikings defensive line is nearly impenetrable. Add in defensive end Jared Allen, who accounted for 14.5 sacks last season, and you already have one of the best defenses in the NFL. The secondary is also worth remembering as it includes cornerbacks Lito Sheppard and Antoine Winfield.
The Vikings led the NFL in sacks last season with 48 and finished 10th in points allowed. As a fantasy owner, you would like to see them improve on their total of 11 interceptions, but with such a dominant pass rush the turnovers are bound to come eventually.
Also don't forget about Percy Harvin as a returner. If he can get his migraines under control, he will find his way into the end zone.
2. Dallas Cowboys
If we're ranking based on talent, the Cowboys certainly have to be near the top. Headlining the Dallas defense are linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer and cornerbacks Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins.
Other than Pittsburgh's James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, there may be no better duo of pass rushers in the NFL than Ware and Spencer. The two helped the Dallas defense finish seventh in sacks last season, which was a disappointment by their standards. Don't be surprised to see them finish top five in sacks this year.
Perhaps even more important, the Cowboys finished second in points allowed last season. This type of performance should continue in 2010 barring any major injuries.
Dallas could also afford to see some more interceptions on defense, but with an elite pass rush and solid corners, it's more of a question of when than if.
1. New York Jets
A lot hinges on the questionable return of Darrelle Revis from holdout this season. Revis is arguably the best cornerback in the NFL and can take away an entire side of the field while playing defense. The Jets certainly won't be the same team without him.
Yet, they will still be very good, possibly the best in the NFL. The Jets blew away the rest of the league in points allowed last season, besting the Dallas Cowboys by 38 yards. They also finished fifth in fumble recoveries and accounted for the second-most fantasy points among all defenses.
There may be a drop-off if Revis never shows up, but the team will still have an electrifying front seven, including such big names as Bart Scott, Jason Taylor, Calvin Pace, and Kris Jenkins. These players will not only put a lot of pressure on the opposing quarterback, but will be able to shut down the opponent's running game.
Don't be surprised to see the Jets atop defensive rankings this season, even without Revis. If Revis does decide to return, expect them to dominate. Either way, they deserve to be the first defense on your draft board.