Most Improved Fantasy Defenses for 2010
by Nick Sero
Defenses aren't usually taken too seriously by fantasy football team owners. In 2009 the Pittsburgh Steelers' Defense had an average draft position in the mid 80's, which means they were usually drafted in the seventh out of 15 rounds (based on a 12-team league). Their division foe Baltimore Ravens saw their defense drafted around the eighth round. The Ravens didn't fare terribly in 2009, ending as the fifth best fantasy defense. The 49ers and Saints, who ended the season with better fantasy outputs, wen't undrafted in most leagues. So what I am trying to say is don't get caught up in the hype and draft a defense very high, instead of say... Rashard Mendenhall (he was drafted around the ninth round and finished 78 spots better than the Steelers Defense). I'm not saying that you shouldn't buy the hype of the Jets or the 49ers in 2010, but be wary of paying too high of a price for a Defense. Here is a list of four NFL defenses that have improved greatly and could be a steal in your draft.
This one is kind of obvious. The Bears made the off season's biggest splash by signing the top free agent, Julius Peppers. Peppers will be moving from his DE position in the 4-3 system of the Carolina Panthers to join the Chicago Bears who work with the same front. What is more important for the Bears will be the return of Brian Urlacher. Without Urlacher the Bears became the 23rd worst against the run. A solid combination of a run stopping Urlacher and the pass rushing Peppers will cause nightmares for opposing Offensive Coordinators. In the draft the Bears added Major Wright, a safety from Florida. Wright will start the season behind Al Afalava as a free safety. This will mean that Charles Tillman, Danieal Manning and Zackary Bowman will be playing the cornerback position, a dangerous threesome. If Wright can improve on his open field tackling through training camp you could see him starting come the start of the 2010 season. The Bears have a defense that, on paper, looks to be a force to reckoned with.
The second NFC North on this list is the Detroit Lions. Ndamukong Suh may have been the best player in the entire draft this year, and this may have been one of the best drafts in recent memory. Suh is a beast but he wouldn't be able to fix the poor defensive line in Detroit. So the Lions went out and signed DE Kyle Vanden Bosch to help get to the quarterback. The Lions were the worst defense versus the pass, and they weren't much better against the run. The Lions Defense was the third worst for fantasy and considering they will be playing the Packers, Vikings and what could be a surprising Bears offense two times a piece, they won't be a top-10 defense this year either. But were talking about the most improved, not the best in the league.
New York Giants
The Giants will be switching up their defensive play calling in 2010. In 2009 they were right in the middle for yards allowed against the run and the pass. Where they really struggled was keeping the opposing offense out of the end zone. The Giants gave up an average of 26.7 points per game, good enough for the third worst in the NFL and the seventh worst in fantasy. The once deadly combination of Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora seems to be a thing of the past as Osi was delegated to a backup (after some issues with his coaching staff) and Tuck recorded only 6 sacks last season. This year the Giants will be operating under new Defensive Coordinator Perry Fewel who has a track record of being very stingy against the pass. The Giants gave up the second most passing touchdowns last season. Two more additions to the Giants defense will be Free Safety Antrel Rolle and SS Deon Grant. As of today Grant is backing up Kenny Phillips on the roster. Phillips, however, is coming off of major knee surgery and many around the league consider Grant a better SS than Phillips.
In 2009 the Steelers dropped from being the best defense to being very mediocre. The Black and Gold uncharacteristically gave up tons of points in the fourth quarter and allowed teams to come back. The knock on the Steelers defense is their age, and many will be writing them off this season, which makes them a steal for you. Troy Polamalu proved just how important he was to the Steelers defense after missing the majority of the season with a knee injury. In fact, Troy was the only member of the Steelers secondary to record an interception until the final week of the season. Troy will be back, and so will DE Aaron Smith. Smith could be the most under rated defensive lineman in the NFL, mostly because his role in the 3-4 scheme is to engage blockers and less getting to the quarterback. Smith is also fully healed from a shoulder injury, and when he is in, the Steelers run defense is very strong. The addition of former Steelers Bryant McFadden and Larry Foote can only help the Steelers return to their Super Bowl caliber form, and will help fix a locker room that had definite internal issues.