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2009 Player Rankings: Defenses
Updated: September 10, 2009
Top 10's:        
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Tier 1
Baltimore Ravens YEAR FF PTS INT FUM SACK SF STTD DFTD
Huddle Rank: 1
Keeper: 1
Auction 10: 3%
Auction 12: 3%
2006 136 28 12 60     6
2007 79 17 6 32   3 1
2008 110 26 8 34 3   6
Avg 108 24 9 42 1 1 4

Sure, there are reasons to be concerned: Rex Ryan is gone, and with him Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard. But the cupboard is hardly bare for new DC Greg Mattison, who still has Ray Lewis setting the tone in the middle and franchise player Terrell Suggs on the outside. Ed Reed still patrols centerfield for a secondary that has led the NFL in picks two of the past three years, and the addition of Chris Carr not only upgrades the nickel but also the return game. With their propensity for taking turnovers back for six it’s easy to forget Baltimore finished top-three in run D, pass D, and points allowed as well. Jarret Johnson and rookie Paul Kruger rekindling a pass rush that recorded 60 sacks in 2006 would be gravy for a defense that’s firmly among the fantasy elite.

Pittsburgh Steelers YEAR FF PTS INT FUM SACK SF STTD DFTD
Huddle Rank: 2
Keeper: 2
Auction 10: 3%
Auction 12: 3%
2006 86 20 9 39   1 2
2007 79 11 14 36   1 2
2008 100 20 9 51 1   3
Avg 88 17 11 42 0 1 2

The latest iteration of the Steel Curtain has plenty to crow about; last year they led the NFL in points allowed, run defense, and total defense and were second in pass D and sacks. All the lead players return, with Lawrence Timmons assuming Larry Foote’s old duties in one of the league’s top linebacking corps alongside James Harrison, James Farrior, and LaMarr Woodley. The defensive line is aging, meaning first-round pick Ziggy Hood might be asked to contribute sooner rather than later. Playmaker Troy Polamalu spearheads the secondary, one of just four units to record at least 20 picks two of the past three years. Santonio Holmes may be pulled away from return duties, but quality candidates abound, from veteran Mewelde Moore to rookies Mike Wallace and Joe Burnett.

Minnesota Vikings YEAR FF PTS INT FUM SACK SF STTD DFTD
Huddle Rank: 3
Keeper: 3
Auction 10: 3%
Auction 12: 3%
2006 104 21 15 30 1 1 5
2007 126 15 17 38 1 1 8
2008 100 12 13 45 3 1 3
Avg 110 16 15 38 2 1 5

(-Risk) All the pieces are back from a top-10 fantasy D and the top run-stuffing unit from a year ago… at least for now. The StarCaps trial could cost the Williams Wall four games and the Vikings have broken off contract talks with Antoine Winfield, the secondary’s top playmaker. Sack master Jared Allen and his mullet provide plenty of pressure, though the potential absence of Kevin and Pat Williams would mean more double-teams. E.J. Henderson returns from injury and Chad Greenway is an underrated IDP contributor, but if the playoff loss to Philly was any indication second-year safety Tyrell Johnson isn’t on Darren Sharper’s level just yet.. A healthy Charles Gordon would help one of the worst special teams units in the league; it’s possible the Vikings may use Percy Harvin as a returner as well, though he had zero game experience in that role at the collegiate level.

Tier 2
Tennessee Titans YEAR FF PTS INT FUM SACK SF STTD DFTD
Huddle Rank: 4
Keeper: 4
Auction 10: 2%
Auction 12: 2%
2006 104 17 11 26 1 3 5
2007 86 22 12 40     2
2008 99 20 11 44     4
Avg 96 20 11 37 0 1 4

Sure, they’ll miss Albert Haynesworth—but not as much as you think. After all, Tennessee held the Steelers to 14 points without him in Week 16 and given his 22 missed games over the past six seasons they’re used to playing without him. Between Jason Jones, free agent signee Jovan Haye and rookie Sen’Derrick Marks the Titans should be able to plug the hole enough to remain a top-10 defense—fantasy and otherwise. More than replacing Haynesworth may be keeping ends Kyle Vanden Bosh and Jevon Kearse on the field. Linebacker Keith Bulluck is nearing the end of his run, but the secondary is full of playmakers like Cortland Finnegan, Chris Hope, and Michael Griffin. Tennessee lost Chris Carr but signed Mark Jones and drafted Ryan Mouton in hopes of improving a special teams unit that has failed to house a return three of the past four seasons.

New York Giants YEAR FF PTS INT FUM SACK SF STTD DFTD
Huddle Rank: 5
Keeper: 5
Auction 10: 2%
Auction 12: 2%
2006 72 17 11 32     2
2007 114 15 10 53   1 5
2008 88 17 5 42 3   3
Avg 91 16 9 42 1 0 3

The Giants get Osi Umenyiora back from injury, but that didn’t prevent them from adding Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard to what has to be the deepest defensive line rotation in the NFL. Mathias Kiwanuka may lose snaps—and Justin Tuck may lose sacks—to Umenyiora, but team-wise there’s no reason not to expect another 40-plus sacks. Free agent Michael Boley and rookie Clint Sintim spice up the linebacking corps, while the secondary is solid with Corey Webster, Aaron Ross, and Kenny Phillips—as you’d expect from a defense that finished in the top 10 across the board. With just one return touchdown the past three seasons, the Giants’ “special” teams have been anything but; that blemish may remain if Ahmad Bradshaw and Domenik Hixon are asked to pick up the slack of the departed Derrick Ward and Plaxico Burress, respectively.

San Diego Chargers YEAR FF PTS INT FUM SACK SF STTD DFTD
Huddle Rank: 6
Keeper: 6
Auction 10: 2%
Auction 12: 2%
2006 107 16 12 61     3
2007 138 30 18 42   2 6
2008 78 15 9 28 1 1 3
Avg 108 20 13 44 0 1 4

The Bolts’ defensive stats plunged without Shawne Merriman, who missed 15 games with a knee injury; picks and fumble recoveries fell by half and sacks declined by more than a third, costing Ted Cotrell his job. Enter Ron Rivera, the architect of the Bears’ Super Bowl defense just a few years back, and re-enter Merriman—along with fellow pass rusher (and injury insurance) Larry English via the draft. The Chargers still have tons of talent, especially in a loaded secondary with Quentin Jammer, Antonio Cromartie, and Eric Weddle, and if Merriman returns the pass rush to its previous levels—San Diego averaged 50 sacks a season from 2005 to 2007—those playmakers will have even more opportunities to do their thing. Be aware that if franchised running back Darren Sproles sees more carries from scrimmage his workload in the return game will be diminished.

Philadelphia Eagles YEAR FF PTS INT FUM SACK SF STTD DFTD
Huddle Rank: 7
Keeper: 7
Auction 10: 2%
Auction 12: 2%
2006 99 19 10 40     5
2007 68 11 8 37     2
2008 121 15 14 48 1 2 5
Avg 96 15 11 42 0 1 4

The passing of defensive coordinator Jim Johnson was unquestionably tragic, but the Eagles remain in good hands as his long-time assistant Sean McDermott assumes the reins. Moreover, 10 starters return from a unit that finished in the top four in sacks, defensive touchdowns, and special teams scores as well as run D, passing D, and points allowed. Of course, the one departed starter is Brian Dawkins, the heart and soul of Philly’s blitzing scheme, but the returning cast adds Ellis Hobbs and Sean Jones to a deep secondary and the defensive line rotation is equally stacked. Hobbs is also an adept kick returner, as is DeSean Jackson—who may be pulled into more receiver duties this year—and top pick Jeremy Maclin.

08-24-09 Update: Maybe the adjustment will be tougher on Philly's defense than initially believed. In eight first-half possessions this season they've allowed four 75-yard touchdown drives. Of course, they've seen a couple of pretty good offenses in the Patriots and Colts, but with MLB Stewart Bradley gone for the season there are enough question marks here to bump the Eagles' D down a notch or two.

Chicago Bears YEAR FF PTS INT FUM SACK SF STTD DFTD
Huddle Rank: 8
Keeper: 8
Auction 10: 2%
Auction 12: 2%
Movement:
2006 138 24 20 40   5 4
2007 124 16 17 41 1 6 2
2008 104 22 10 28 1 1 6
Avg 122 21 16 36 1 4 4

Da Bears saw their sacks dwindle by almost a third—Mark Anderson, Brian Urlacher, and Lance Briggs had but one between them—yet they still produced six defensive touchdowns and ranked among the top five fantasy D/STs. They did it with little help from Devin Hester, who turned over much of his kick return duties to Danieal Manning while focusing on his duties as the Bears’ No. 1 wideout. Not that Manning is a slouch, but the dip from 11 kick return TDs to one last year was dramatic. Urlacher and Briggs still make tackles but aren’t making plays like they used to, but a secondary that includes Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher produced 20-plus picks for the third time in four years. If Anderson, Adewale Ogunleye, and/or Alex Brown remember how to get after the passer, Chicago’s fantasy D will regain its elite status; otherwise, they may have to settle for merely very good.

Green Bay Packers YEAR FF PTS INT FUM SACK SF STTD DFTD
Huddle Rank: 9
Keeper: 9
Auction 10: 1%
Auction 12: 1%
Movement:
2006 109 23 10 46     5
2007 100 19 9 36   2 4
2008 109 22 6 27   2 7
Avg 106 21 8 36 0 1 5

Defensive purists didn’t appreciate the Packers last season as they finished 20th in yardage allowed and 22nd in points allowed. Fantasy followers, however, loved the way Green Bay turned a quarter of the 28 turnovers they generated into six the other way. The transition to a 3-4 scheme under new DC Dom Capers, as well as the addition of first-round picks B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews, should alleviate the purists’ concerns while continuing the defensive focus on making plays. If Aaron Kampman, now a rush linebacker, and Matthews generate the pressure a Capers defense traditionally provides, Nick Collins and Charles Woodson and Atari Bigby may actually have even more pick-six opportunities. Will Blackmon in the return game is an added bonus in leagues where special teams scores count.

Dallas Cowboys YEAR FF PTS INT FUM SACK SF STTD DFTD
Huddle Rank: 10
Keeper: 10
Auction 10: 1%
Auction 12: 1%
2006 95 18 13 34   1 4
2007 99 19 10 46     4
2008 95 8 14 59 1 1 1
Avg 96 15 12 46 0 1 3

Dallas’ defense was hardly dominant—the Bengals and Browns were among 19 teams who allowed fewer points than the Cowboys last year—but they did one thing extremely well: they got after the quarterback. DeMarcus Ware’s 20 sacks led the way, but three other Cowboys—Jay Ratliff, Bradie James, and Greg Ellis—recorded eight each. Dallas is actively shopping Ellis, so 2007 first-round pick Anthony Spencer will need to step up his game. Offseason acquisitions Igor Olshansky, Keith Brooking, and Gerald Sensabaugh aren’t sexy, but they do provide a solid foundation that should allow Ware to continue his pursuit of sacks. Given the pressure opposing passers were under, just eight INTs was surprising; Terence Newman was the only Cowboy with more than one. A healthy Felix Jones could rejuvenate the return game, assuming he’s not too busy sharing carries with Marion Barber.

   
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