The fantasy football season is quickly approaching, and it is time to get your fantasy football cheat sheets together. Although there is still a lot of time before the NFL season kicks off (IF it kicks off), it is never too early to do your homework. These are just the first round of fantasy football rankings, and there will undoubtedly be some developments during the off-season that will shake up the rankings.
How the rankings work: Every year when we get together to make our fantasy football positional rankings, projections and cheat sheet we have to take a few variables in to mind. We calculate fantasy football strength of schedules for certain players and teams, decide a realistic amount of games for injury prone players, and take into account the supporting cast for each player.
As the season progresses, you will be able to see the change in rankings as we continue to tweak the projections.
Fantasy Football Positional Rankings: Defenses 1.0
In the NFL, defense wins championships. The same thing can’t be said about fantasy football, but I’d be willing to bet the guy who won your league last year had a defense in the top-five. There are still viable free agents that could significantly better a team’s defensive prowess to be signed, so these ranking are far too early to be concrete.
Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Baltimore are almost always a guarantee to be near the top of the fantasy leaderboards year after year, but there is one team that may shock you in this year’s early rankings. The Arizona Cardinals will be transitioning to a permanent 3-4 defensive scheme as they continue to be 'Pittsburgh West'.
New defensive coordinator and former Steelers’ defensive backs coach Ray Horton will surely bring even more aggression to the Cardinals’ defense.
1. Green Bay Packers: The defending a Super Bowl Champs look to keep their second best fantasy defense intact for the most part. Cullen Jenkins likely could leave the Frozen Tundra, but their sixth easiest schedule for a fantasy defense should keep them at the top. Bye: Week 9
2. Pittsburgh Steelers: Despite all the talk about how old their defense is, the Steelers seemed to only improve their stellar defense in 2010. Although their passing defense came apart at the end of the season, the Steelers D still kept opposing teams from scoring often and, as always, had very high sack numbers. Bye: Week 11
3. Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens had a down year by their own standards last season, but you can’t expect the Ravens defense to not be a top-five points leader in 2011. The defense is getting older, but added a very strong playmaker in this year’s draft with Jimmy Smith.
Combining Smith and Ed Reed’s ball-hawking skills could put the Ravens defense on top again. Oh yeah, did I mention they have the fourth easiest schedule for fantasy defenses? Because they do. Bye: Week 5
4. Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals could become one of the more feared defenses in the NFL overnight. Their transition to a 3-4 is official, and they are only one playmaking outside linebacker away from truly becoming dominant.
The 3-4 starts in the middle, and the Cards have a promising nose tackle in Dan Williams who should be the starter. Not to mention the fact that the Cardinals now have two extremely athletic cornerbacks in rookie Patrick Peterson and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
The Cardinals will also benefit from playing low scoring teams like Seattle and San Francisco twice per year. Bye: Week 6
5. Philadelphia Eagles: When the Eagles went out looking for a new defensive coordinator this year, they looked for a coach that could specifically help them mold a middle-of-the-pack defense into one of the NFL’s best.
The Eagles had a hard time with opposing receivers, allowing the seventh most yards per catch, so you would think they would have looked for a defensive coach that specializes in pass protection. The Eagles instead hired from within by promoting offensive line coach Juan Castillo to defensive coordinator. Most in Philadelphia weren’t pleased, but Castillo draws rave reviews from some of the league’s best defensive minds.
The Eagles also hired former Titans defensive line coach Jim Washburn, which could make for an intriguing combination of coaching strategy. The Eagles appear extremely poised to take advantage of opposing offensive lines in 2011. Bye: Week 7
6. Chicago Bears: The Bears always have a stout defense, but add the additional points Devin Hester brings in via special teams, and the Bears Defense is consistent top-five threat. This year it will be harder for special team’s specialists to take kickoffs back to the house, but Hester is mostly used as a punt returner. The Bears made a great move by adding Julius Peppers last year and he should only be better in his second year as a Bear. Bye: Week 8
7. New York Jets: The Jets defense’s value took a huge hit when seemingly every safety on the roster was injured. This year, the Rex Ryan-led Jets should have a better run of things. The Jets found a steal in Muhammad Wilkerson dropping to them late in the first round, and he was sorely needed.
Mike DeVito showed some glimpses of quality football in 2010 but will likely stay a backup, leaving the Jets with Shaun Ellis and Trevor Pryce to play DE. Ellis is obviously a great player but both he and Pryce are over 33 years old. Bye: Week 8
8. New York Giants: When the Giants hired Perry Fewell as their defensive coordinator it was to specifically revamp their secondary. After being torched for touchdowns in 2009, the Giants ended 2010 as one of the best defenses in passing yards allowed.
The Giants were only middle of the road as far as keeping opposing receivers out of the end zone, but they should only improve that passing defense with the addition of rookie Prince Amukamara. Bye: Week 7
9. New England Patriots: The Patriots need a pass rusher badly. Despite ending the year as one of fantasy football’s best defenses, the Patriots still gave up the third-most passing yards in the league. The need for an improved pass rush is obvious, but the Patriots did not draft a pass rusher, instead hoping Jermaine Cunningham could be the breakout star they think he can be. Bye: Week 7
10. Atlanta Falcons: Bye: Week 8
11. Dallas Cowboys: Bye: Week 5
12. Detroit Lions: Bye: Week 9
13. San Francisco 49ers: Bye: Week 7
14. San Diego Chargers: Bye: Week 6
15. New Orleans Saints: Bye: Week 11
16. Oakland Raiders: Bye: Week 8
17. Seattle Seahawks: Bye: Week 6
18. St. Louis Rams: Bye: Week 5
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Bye: Week 8
20. Minnesota Vikings: Bye: Week 9
21. Kansas City Chiefs: Bye: Week 6
22. Cleveland Browns: Bye: Week 5
23. Tennessee Titans: Bye: Week 6
24. Washington Redskins: Bye: Week 5
25. Cincinnati Bengals: Bye: Week 7
26. Carolina Panthers: Bye: Week 9
27. Miami Dolphins: Bye: Week 5
28. Houston Texans: Bye: Week 11
29. Indianapolis Colts: Bye: Week 11
30. Buffalo Bills: Bye: Week 7
31. Denver Broncos: Bye: Week 6
32. Jacksonville Jaguars: Bye: Week 9