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2008 Player Rankings: Defenses
Updated: September 2, 2008
Top 10's:        
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Tier 1
Chicago Bears YEAR FF PTS INT FUM SACK SF STTD DFTD
Huddle Rank: 1
Keeper: 1
Auction 10: 3%
Auction 12: 3%
2005 104 24 10 40   1 4
2006 138 24 20 40   5 4
2007 124 16 17 41 1 6 2
Avg 122 21 16 40 0 4 3

If your league includes special teams scores, the Bears are hands-down the top fantasy defense. Chicago’s dozen return touchdowns over the past three seasons is more than any two other teams have compiled during that time. Of course, 11 of those touchdowns have come since Devin Hester joined the Bears in 2006, and don’t sweat Devin’s additional receiver responsibilities; they shouldn’t keep him from excelling at his return duties. But there’s actually more to the Bears than just Hester; maybe you’ve heard of Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs? The front four applies plenty of pressure as well, and if Mike Brown is finally healthy he’s a threat to score from his safety position—especially in overtime.

Minnesota Vikings YEAR FF PTS INT FUM SACK SF STTD DFTD
Huddle Rank: 2
Keeper: 2
Auction 10: 3%
Auction 12: 3%
2005 86 24 11 33     3
2006 104 21 15 30 1 1 5
2007 126 15 17 38 1 1 8
Avg 105 20 14 34 1 1 5

Add the NFL’s leading sacker to the Williams Wall and what do you get? We’ll find out when Jared Allen and the Vikings take the field in 2008. But that’s not all the Purple have going for them. Ball-hawking safety Madieu Williams joins Darren Sharper in a secondary that will look markedly better thanks to the improved pressure provided by Allen. Free agent acquisition Maurice Hicks should help upgrade the return game, but the D doesn’t need much assistance; they’ve scored 16 defensive touchdowns over the past three seasons, 33 percent more than any other team. The aggressiveness flowing from Allen’s pass rush should uptick the sack, pick, and fumble numbers as well, making Minnesota the top option for any league that excludes special teams scores from defensive scoring.

San Diego Chargers YEAR FF PTS INT FUM SACK SF STTD DFTD
Huddle Rank: 3
Keeper: 3
Auction 10: 3%
Auction 12: 3%
2005 78 10 10 46     2
2006 107 16 12 61     3
2007 138 30 18 42   2 6
Avg 108 19 13 50 0 1 4

First pick Antoine Cason replaces a pair of departed free agents in the secondary, but for the most part the San Diego defense remains stable. And that’s a good thing, considering no team has sacked more quarterbacks over the past three seasons than the Chargers. But the Chargers are more than just Shawne Merriman; Shaun Phillips on the other side brings his own heat, and Luis Castillo finds his way onto plenty of IDP teams as well. Antonio Cromartie moves into the starting lineup full-time on the heels of a 10-pick season; he’s a pick- six threat every time the ball is in the air. Darren Sproles brings plenty to the return game as well, making the Chargers a solid pick in any defensive scoring format.

Tier 2
Dallas Cowboys YEAR FF PTS INT FUM SACK SF STTD DFTD
Huddle Rank: 4
Keeper: 4
Auction 10: 3%
Auction 12: 3%
2005 75 15 11 37     2
2006 95 18 13 34   1 4
2007 99 19 10 46     4
Avg 90 17 11 39 0 0 3

It’s not as if the Cowboys’ defense had major holes to fill, but when Zach Thomas falls into your lap and you have an extra first-round pick to throw at a cornerback making such moves becomes a no-brainer. The biggest question with this unit may be how they can best use—or hide—Roy Williams. Elite corner Terence Newman, first-round pick Mike Jenkins, and safety Ken Hamlin should allow Williams to continue to play linebacker, but in coverage the Horse Collarer is a liability. Williams didn’t even record a sack last season, leaving those duties in the more than capable hands of DeMarcus Ware and Greg Ellis. America’s Team received little from its specials last season, but if Felix Jones takes over kickoff returns that should change. And Pacman Jones’ reinstatement would push this defense/special teams unit from a top-10 group to one of the best in the league—at least as long as Jones avoids the temptation to make it rain at Baby Dolls or LaBare.

08-28-08 Update: The reinstatement of Pacman Jones means more than just a rain storm at Baby Dolls; his return skills, both with a pick or a punt, boost the ‘Boys defense/special teams unit a couple notches. Mix in Felix Jones' potential as a kick returner and the Dallas D/ST should be one of the first units off your draft board.

Seattle Seahawks YEAR FF PTS INT FUM SACK SF STTD DFTD
Huddle Rank: 5
Keeper: 5
Auction 10: 2%
Auction 12: 2%
2005 100 16 11 49   1 3
2006 85 12 14 41   1 2
2007 111 20 14 45 1 3 2
Avg 99 16 13 45 0 2 2

When you think Seahawks, defense isn’t generally the first thing to come to mind. That’s changing, thanks primarily to the efforts of Lofa Tatupu and Marcus Trufant. That duo combined for 194 tackles and 11 interceptions, pacing a Seattle defense that finished top-five in both sacks and picks last season. Nate Burleson was one of just five specialists to return both a punt and a kick for a score last season, but if his presence is required more on offense the Hawks may need to seek another option. The Hawks are plenty formidable as a fantasy defense without Burleson’s contributions, but if he is replaced you may want to downtick them a notch or two.

New England Patriots YEAR FF PTS INT FUM SACK SF STTD DFTD
Huddle Rank: 6
Keeper: 6
Auction 10: 2%
Auction 12: 2%
2005 63 10 8 33     2
2006 85 22 13 44   1  
2007 126 19 12 47   2 6
Avg 91 17 11 41 0 1 3

Sure, some of their big-name guys are getting a bit long in the tooth. But Bill Belichick has plenty of experience plugging guys into his system, and with first- round pick Jerod Mayo joining the fray it’s not as if the Patriots will be devoid of talent. The true test will come with New England’s plug-and-play secondary, which took another hit this past offseason with the departures of Asante Samuel and Randall Gay. Rookies Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite could push for playing time in a group that features players who have toiled for 10 different teams besides the Pats. Wes Welker and Ellis Hobbs are both return threats, though Hobbs may see those duties decline if he’s the team’s topped corner. Sans home video, we’ll learn if Belichick’s coaching is genius or technology.

Baltimore Ravens YEAR FF PTS INT FUM SACK SF STTD DFTD
Huddle Rank: 7
Keeper: 7
Auction 10: 2%
Auction 12: 2%
2005 91 12 14 41   1 3
2006 136 28 12 60     6
2007 79 17 6 32   3 1
Avg 102 19 11 44 0 1 3

Used to be you just penciled the Ravens in as the top defense and moved on. How far have the mighty fallen? Last year Baltimore mustered just one defensive touchdown and recovered the fewest fumbles in the league. The names remain the same, but Ray Lewis and Chris McAlister are both in double digits in service time and Ed Reed isn’t even the best fantasy safety on his own team anymore. Franchised end/linebacker Terrell Suggs could follow Adalius Thomas out of town, though it’s tough to see Ozzie Newsome letting that happen. The Ravens’ saving grace last season was what Yamon Figurs brought to the return game, as the rookie used his 4.3 speed to score on both a punt and kick return. Factoring in Figurs the Ravens remain a viable fantasy defense; without special teams, they’re in serious danger of being relegated to the category of “nothing special”.

Green Bay Packers YEAR FF PTS INT FUM SACK SF STTD DFTD
Huddle Rank: 8
Keeper: 8
Auction 10: 1%
Auction 12: 1%
2005 68 10 11 35     2
2006 109 23 10 46     5
2007 100 19 9 36   2 4
Avg 92 17 10 39 0 1 4

Only two teams have scored more defensive touchdowns the past two years than the nine Green Bay has posted. Considering the Pack’s sacks dipped dramatically last season and they’ve been near the bottom of the league in fumble recoveries the past two seasons it’s rather impressive that they’ve managed to score that many times given the limited opportunities. Green Bay’s defense has playmakers in Aaron Kampman, A.J. Hawk, and Charles Woodson, plus Kbeer Gbaja-Biamila can still get to the passer and Atari Bigby seems to have a nose for the ball. However, the loss of Corey Williams could hurt. Woodson, Will Blackmon, and Tramon Williams provide a potent return game, but again there’s a loss—in this case Koren Robinson—that will be felt. With no Brett Favre to bail them out, the Pack will have to rely on its underrated defense more frequently this season—which could actually be a fantasy boon.

Arizona Cardinals YEAR FF PTS INT FUM SACK SF STTD DFTD
Huddle Rank: 9
Keeper: 9
Auction 10: 1%
Auction 12: 1%
2005 105 15 11 37   4 3
2006 95 16 17 38   1 3
2007 113 18 11 36   1 7
Avg 104 16 13 37 0 2 4

It may surprise you to learn that since 2005 only the Bears have scored more defensive and special teams touchdowns than the Cardinals. That’s right, the Cardinals are a legitimate fantasy helper—and their offseason suggests they’re serious about getting even better. Arizona signed ex-Titans pass rusher Travis LaBoy, and the draft yielded two more pass rushers and a cornerback with a name familiar to those who track returns. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie could see time at the nickel, but even without him the Arizona secondary has juice in Rod Hood (two return touchdowns last year) and corner-turned-safety Antrel Rolle, who tallied three pick-sixes last season. Assuming Ken Whisenhunt doesn’t steal Steve Breaston for more offensive duties, the Cards’ return game is solid as well. Unless you live in the greater Phoenix area you shouldn’t have any trouble acquiring the Cardinals as your fantasy defense, and odds are you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the results.

Buffalo Bills YEAR FF PTS INT FUM SACK SF STTD DFTD
Huddle Rank: 10
Keeper: 10
Auction 10: 1%
Auction 12: 1%
2005 82 17 13 38 1 1 1
2006 96 13 11 40 1 1 4
2007 91 18 13 26 2 2 3
Avg 90 16 12 35 1 1 3

The Bills made some noise in the offseason by trading for Jaguars defensive tackle Marcus Stroud, signing linebacker Kawika Mitchell from the Super Bowl champion Giants, then drafting cornerback Leodis McKelvin in April. Factor in last year’s second-round selection, Paul Posluszny, who returns from a broken forearm and talented young safeties Ko Simpson and Donte Whitner, and when McKelvin cracks the starting lineup the Bills will have five starters drafted in 2006 or later. So there’s some potential here. Including Bobby April’s perennially productive special teams unit boosts Buffalo as well; in fact, only four teams have scored more defense/special teams touchdowns over the past two seasons. Roscoe Parish and Terrence McGee each housed a return last year, and you know April will have his charges ready to go again. If there’s a sleeper fantasy team defense this year, it could very well be the Bills.

   
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