Fantasy Football 2014: Defense Rankings, Riser, Faller, Sleepers and Risks
Fantasy is just not reality. Defense wins championships in real life, as the Seattle Seahawks showed, but in fantasy, it is an afterthought from week to week.
That doesn't mean the position doesn't warrant your attention before draft day. You can help stack your fantasy roster with useful pieces in the middle rounds by ignoring the defense position and falling back on one of the options discussed in this slideshow. We present the latest defense/special teams rankings, highlight a team sliding and one rising, and review the sleepers to target and risks to avoid.
D/ST Rankings: Defensive-Minded Head Coaches Need More Love
There doesn't seem to be enough top-tier defenses right now. Even the San Francisco 49ers look shaky because of their age, injury and suspension issues.
Still, it is fairly surprising fantasy owners are not buying more into the theory that defensive-minded head coaches make for productive defensive/special teams units. We broke that strategy down in depth in Bleacher Report's D/ST Blueprint earlier this month.
Lovie Smith is going to turn around a talented Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense in his first season, but that unit is just 13th in FantasyPros.com's average draft position (ADP). If Smith's recent comments are any indication, his team at least has the right mindset to put up some defensive points (via Ira Kaufman of The Tampa Tribune):
Each week we talk about it. You talk about ‘Buc Ball,’ to me, that’s our version of Buc Ball right there. When the defense scores, or they put the offense in position, and then of course converting from there.
Also, the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots might seem like offensive teams because of their Hall of Fame quarterbacks, but it is their Hall of Fame coaches (John Fox and Bill Belichick) and big-ticket free-agent defensive additions that make them late-round bargains in fantasy football.
We update our defense/special teams rankings one through 32, ranking each unit based on its fantasy-points potential this season and weighing some of the ADP data to give you a general sense of how the units will fly off the board. After the Seattle Seahawks, there are no sure things right now.
Updated Defense/Special Teams Rankings
|Rank||Defenses and Special Teams||Team||ECR||vs. ECR|
|2||San Francisco 49ers||SF||2||0|
|6||New England Patriots||NE||7||+1|
|7||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||TB||14||+7|
|9||St. Louis Rams||StL||4||-5|
|10||Kansas City Chiefs||KC||9||-1|
|11||New Orleans Saints||NO||13||+2|
|14||New York Jets||NYJ||20||+6|
|15||New York Giants||NYG||21||+6|
|17||Green Bay Packers||GB||17||0|
|27||San Diego Chargers||SD||28||+1|
Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR) from over 100 experts provided by FantasyPros
Faller: Sam Bradford's Loss Makes It Tough to Trust St. Louis Rams D/ST
You might not buy this because it seems counterintuitive, but a team's starting-quarterback situation has a lot of influence on the performance of its fantasy defense/special teams. You shouldn't need to be reminded, but look at the Houston Texans a year ago.
The St. Louis Rams have lost Sam Bradford (knee) for the season again, so they could be this year's Texans cautionary tale. The Rams might be the most overrated defense/special teams unit in fantasy right now.
You could argue the Rams can get after the quarterback with Robert Quinn and Chris Long, but their own quarterback play, or lack thereof, will have a direct correlation with defensive struggles. Elite pass-rushers cannot cover for the lack of a quarterback, as the Texans showed.
A unit led by arguably the best defensive player in football, J.J. Watt, was dead last among fantasy D/STs last year, per FFToday.com. This was a unit drafted among the top 10 in leagues, and it went bust. It wasn't necessarily injury, scheme or schedule. It was the disaster that was Matt Schaub, aka Pick Six. The Texans couldn't generate enough offense to keep the defense off the field.
The Rams might be in danger of doing the same with backup Shaun Hill now installed as the starting quarterback, as Ian Rapoport tweeted Sunday.
Riser: Marvin Lewis' Cincinnati Bengals Not Getting Enough Love
Right now, there is a disconnect between the fantasy analysts and the drafting public on the top five fantasy defense/special teams. FantasyPros.com's consensus rankings list the Cincinnati Bengals unit fifth, although you can make a case it should jump the St. Louis Rams at No. 4 after Sam Bradford's knee injury. ADP has the Bengals just eighth.
The Bengals are behind the likes of the Rams, Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs. Ouch.
The return of Geno Atkins (knee) should more than make up for the free-agent loss of Michael Johnson, while first-round pick Darqueze Dennard gives the Bengals a much-needed athlete in what has been an aging and banged-up secondary.
Oh, they also still have defensive-minded head coach Marvin Lewis calling the shots, and new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is a run-oriented guy who should serve the defense better than the wide-open play-caller Jay Gruden did.
On both sides of the ball, there's been tweaking. The changes haven't been wholesale -- the Bengals have won 30 games over the last three years, after all -- but the hope is new voices can help push a loaded group of young players to the next level. Lewis himself has seen it before.
The Bengals are a bargain and arguably a safer pick than the San Francisco 49ers, whom we at B/R have second at the position...on resume and ADP more than 2014 projection. This is still going to be a stout Bengals defense, as it showed Sunday night against the Arizona Cardinals.
Sleepers: There Is More Than One Way to Pick Your D/ST
- Carolina Panthers: Ron Rivera
- Denver Broncos: John Fox
- Cincinnati Bengals: Marvin Lewis
- New England Patriots: Bill Belichick
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Lovie Smith
- St. Louis Rams: Jeff Fisher
- Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Tomlin
- New York Jets: Rex Ryan
- Cleveland Browns: Mike Pettine
- Minnesota Vikings: Mike Zimmer
- Jacksonville Jaguars: Gus Bradley
- Oakland Raiders: Dennis Allen
- Denver Broncos
- Kansas City Chiefs
- New Orleans Saints (they also have Rob Ryan as a defensive coordinator, mind you)
- Green Bay Packers
- Indianapolis Colts
- Carolina Panthers (at Bucs)
- St. Louis Rams (vs. Vikings)
- Kansas City Chiefs (vs. Titans)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. Browns)
- New York Jets (vs. Raiders)
- Washington Redskins (at Texans)
- Oakland Raiders (vs. Jets)
- Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Jags)
- Chicago Bears (vs. Bills)
In reviewing the sleepers at defense/special teams, a position where every option is drafted late anyway, we refer you to B/R's D/ST Blueprint from earlier this month. There, we give you strategies which can talk you into picking just about any unit on the board—save for the injury- and cap-hit Dallas Cowboys (they stink!).
Streaming D/STs week to week has become a popular strategy in fantasy football. It means whichever unit you pick is likely to just wind up on the waiver wire. Here is a quick review of the strategies you can employ when you need a last-round answer at the second-thought position:
As we wrote in a previous slide, the teams with defensive-minded head coaches play to prop up their defenses. Here are the units to consider in this category (although we slid the Rams down):
Go with a Contender
Teams that win games wind up with productive defensive units, even if they are not the most talented defenses. Productive offensive teams can blow out opponents and score D/ST points by pinning their ears back in lopsided games. Here are some top offenses that can boast productive units for that reason:
Play Matchups Every Week
Like we said above, if you subscribe to the streaming defense strategy, there is no reason to waste a pick on a unit before the last round. You are going to cut them anyway. Here is a ranking of the units with the best Week 1 matchups:
Set It and Forget It
You might see your defense/special-teams position as meaningless and a function of luck week to week. That is understandable. In that event, just pick a defense with a late bye week and don't bother swapping it out. Just take any points you get there as gravy.
Here are the teams with the latest bye weeks:
- Week 12: Carolina Panthers, Pittsburgh Steelers
- Week 11: Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars (not advisable), Dallas Cowboys (avoid at all costs)
- Week 10: New England Patriots, Houston Texans, Washington Redskins, Indianapolis Colts, Minnesota Vikings, San Diego Chargers (not advisable)
Risks: Defenses Are Generally Low-Reward, but You Can Still Blow Your Pick Here
No one cares if your late-round pick goes bust, because you can just recycle those disposable fantasy football players to the waiver wire. There are so few consistently good defensive units, though. You want to try to avoid picking the ones that disappoint even at late-round draft positions.
Our No. 1 defense to avoid is the aforementioned No. 32 defense from last year—no kidding.
The Houston Texans might look more intriguing with first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney bolstering the J.J. Watt-led defense, but that is a bad offensive team that will put its defense in compromising positions. The Texans are a bad selection even at their current No. 12 ranking in FantasyPros.com's consensus rankings. The drafting public has them two spots higher at No. 10 in current ADP.
Anyone who drafts the Texans defense is basing it on Clowney hype, not fantasy projection. Hype is a bad thing to buy into.
Here are some of the other risk-ridden defensive units, reprinted from B/R's D/ST Blueprint earlier this month (with the addition of the St. Louis Rams):
- Seattle Seahawks (Super Bowl hangover and depth losses via free agency)
- San Francisco 49ers (aging, injury-laden [NaVorro Bowman's knee], impacted by suspension [Aldon Smith: see here] and free-agent losses [Carlos Rogers and Donte Whitner])
- St. Louis Rams (lost starting quarterback Sam Bradford)
- Kansas City Chiefs (suspect secondary, coming off second-half decline and playing a much tougher schedule)
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.