Any given team defense can see a great fluctuation in fantasy production from year to year based on the strength of schedule and offseason moves. Personally, I don’t like drafting a team defense early in drafts because so many factors go into a defense’s fantasy production, and if you get it wrong, you can often stream team defenses against bad quarterbacks/offenses after the dust starts to settle. That being said, in evaluating the best team defenses heading into the season, I look primarily at the unit’s defensive line and the secondary. I want teams that can get after the quarterback and get turnovers on the back end. Does the defense have a pass rush? Does the defense have a secondary that will make the opposition pay if the pass rush can’t get to the QB in time? Is the secondary so strong that it makes the pass rush better? Does the defensive coordinator deploy a scheme that is fantasy friendly? These are all questions you need to ask yourself when drafting your fantasy defense. Additionally, you should target defenses that have good offenses, because if an offense is scoring, it forces the opposition into clear passing situations, creating the opportunity for sacks and interceptions. Below, I ranked my top 12 fantasy defenses heading into the 2018 season based on personnel and scheme.
#1 Jacksonville Jaguars – DC Todd Walsh – 2017 Stats: 55 Sacks, 21 INT, 262 PA – The Jaguars may have the deepest defensive line in professional football, featuring Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, Dante Fowler, Malik Jackson and Marcell Dareus…having that much talent up front doesn’t even seem fair. At the second level, the Jags have Myles Jack and Telvin Smith, two of the more athletic linebackers in the league, and on the back end, Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye are easily the best cornerback tandem in the league. Simply put, although it’s usually bad form to take a defense before one of your last few picks, if you take the Jaguars defense before the 10th round, it might not be a bad idea. This unit could go down as one of the best in NFL history.
#2 Minnesota Vikings – DC George Edwards – 2017 Stats: 37 Sacks, 14 INT, 250 PA – The Vikings have two solid pass rushers in Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter and that pass rush becomes even more problematic for opposing offenses when you couple it with a solid secondary littered with first round talent. When you combine the pass rush, the strong secondary which features Xavier Rhodes and an athletic linebacker corps (Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr) that can rush the passer and cover, it makes for a dangerous situation.
#3 Los Angelas Rams – DC Wade Phillips – 2017 Stats: 48 Sacks, 18 INT, 317 PA – This offseason, the Rams sent Alec Ogletree packing to the New York Giants, which indicates the Rams don’t value elite linebackers in their defensive scheme. The Rams went all in on their secondary this offseason, trading for Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. The Rams defensive line isn’t as deep as it was last year now that Robert Quinn has been traded to the Dolphins, but he always had availability issues anyways, and they did add Suh as a free agent. As long as Aaron Donald ends his holdout before the first game of the season, they should be fine, especially with the high octane offense which is sure to throw big point totals up on the board.
#4 Philadelphia Eagles – DC Jim Schwartz – 2017 Stats: 38 Sacks, 19 INT, 283 PA – Jim Schwartz always seems to dial up a defensive scheme that’s friendly to fantasy football scoring. Other than Fletcher Cox at DT, the Eagles don’t really have a stud at any one position, but they are solid across the board. Schwartz and the Eagles are sure to bring the heat in 2018, and with an offense that will surely hang points on the board, the Eagles pass rush should be out in full force.
#5 Los Angelas Chargers – DC Gus Bradley – 2017 Stats: 43 Sacks, 18 INT, 262 PA – Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Corey Liuget, Casey Hayward and Derwin James are play makers, these guys are legit and make a difference in games. When you have this many playmakers on a defense, they are sure to rack up sacks and turnovers. The Chargers were rather terrible against the run in 2017, but in my view, that’s because the Chargers are built to play with the lead, and tee off on the quarterback, not get into a grind it out slugfest.
#6 New Orleans Saints – DC Dennis Allen – 2017 Stats: 42 Sacks, 20 INT, 314 PA – The New Orleans Saints now have 3 first round draft picks on their defensive line in Cameron Jordan, Marcus Davenport and Sheldon Rankins, all of which can get after the quarterback. In 2017, Marshon Lattimore burst onto the scene as a cornerback you want to avoid and he leads a secondary that is full of juice heading into 2018. Everybody remembers Marcus Williams for the Minnesota Miracle last year, but he truly had a great season in 2017 up until that point and he should continue to improve in 2018. The Saints have a solid pass rush, they will be solid on the back end and their offense should put points on the board putting the opposition in passing situations early and often, making the Saints a solid fantasy option.
#7 Baltimore Ravens – DC Don Martindale – 2017 Stats: 41 Sacks, 22 INT, 291 PA – The Ravens have a defense littered with proven veterans who always seem to carry on that Ravens tradition on the defensive side of the ball. Brandon Williams is the anchor of this defense and if the 6’1″ 340 pound lineman can hold up for the entire season, it will allow guys like CJ Mosley, Terrell Suggs and Eric Weddle to make plays on the back end.
#8 Houston Texans – DC Romeo Crennel – 2017 Stats: 32 Sacks, 11 INT, 416 PA – The Texans finished in the bottom half of almost every defensive category last year, but they did so without JJ Watt for 75% of the season. JJ Watt is a difference maker and will make the secondary, which struggled mightily in 2017, look a lot better while quarterbacks are throwing the ball under constant duress. Full disclosure, and this is a big disclosure, if the Texans lose JJ Watt, cut this defense from your fantasy team.
#9 Chicago Bears – DC Vic Fangio – 2017 Stats: 42 Sacks, 8 INT, 306 PA – Vic Fangio likes to use his big guys up front to tie up the offensive line so the linebackers and secondary can do their job and make plays. The Bears locked up Kyle Fuller this offseason and over the last two drafts, they’ve acquired both Roquan Smith and Leonard Floyd who are as athletic as they come. The Bears have decent pass rushers, some solid defensive backs, and if the Bears offense puts some points up so the Bears play with the lead, the Bears defense could tee off on opponents.
#10 Denver Broncos – DC Joe Woods – 2017 Stats: 33 Sacks, 10 INT, 354 PA – The Broncos lost Aqib Talib to the Rams this offseason, but they still have Chris Harris and Bradley Roby at corner, along with Von Miller and Bradley Chubb applying pressure on the quarterback. The Broncos don’t look to be as strong of a unit as in years past, but the offense should be better in 2018 with improved quarterback play from Case Keenum, so the defense should theoretically be able to use its pass rush more since they will be more competitive.
#11 Atlanta Falcons – DC Marquand Manuel – 2017 Stats: 39 Sacks, 8 INT, 303 PA – Takk McKinley does it for his grandma…when he was selected in the first round of the 2017 draft he dropped several f bombs in an emotionally charged interview with Deion Sanders, but luckily Primetime was able to calm him down. The Falcons are deep up front with Vic Beasley, Brooks Reed, Takk McKinley and Grady Jarrett and Deion Jones is arguably the most athletic linebacker in the NFL. Desmond Trufant is a lock down corner on the backend and Robert Alford and Brian Poole have proven to be more than serviceable over the last few seasons. Don’t forget about Keanu Neal on the back end, who is decent in pass coverage but an absolute body rocker at the safety position. The Falcons have an ideal defensive unit, primed to get sacks and force turnovers in route to fantasy production. Additionally, the Falcons have one of the more explosive offenses in the NFL, so their deep defensive line should be able to tee off on quarterbacks late in games, generating fantasy points.
#12 Cincinnati Bengals – DC Teryl Austin – 2017 Stats: 41 Sacks, 11 INT, 343 PA – After basically redshirting his rookie year in 2016, William Jackson III had a nice 2017 and looks to be the real deal in Bengals training camp thus far. If Jackson can emerge as the next lock down corner in the NFL, the Bengals secondary will be one of the more formidable units in the NFL. Teryl Austin joined the Bengals during the offseason from Detroit and the move should go smoothly as the Lions also played mainly 4-3 with man coverage concepts. With Carlos Dunlap, Jordan Willis, Carl Lawson, Geno Atkins and now Sam Hubbard lining up in the trenches, the Bengals pass rush looks lethal.
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Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Cole Freel and Kyle Amore live on Sunday August 19th, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #133 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will discuss the latest information in the world of fantasy baseball.
Major League Fantasy Football Radio Show: Join host Corey D Roberts live August 16th, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #89 of Major League Fantasy Football Radio. Call in number is 323-870-4395 press 1 to speak with the host. This week we will take a close look at some possible ADP steals in our drafts this season.
My guest this week is Andy Macuga. He is the former Head Football and Baseball Coach for Borrego Springs H.S. out in the San Diego area. Andy is also a 6 year veteran of Major League Fantasy Sports leagues and a frequent radio guest.