Predicting fantasy defensive production is an inexact science to say the least. You have teams like the Bears, where the metrics match the production, and the top defensive unit in the NFL also becomes the top fantasy unit. But you also have the Ravens, a team ranked second in points allowed but only 15th in fantasy points. Finally, the 2018 Chiefs speak to this disparity between fantasy football and actual football. In terms of stopping the opposition, Kansas City was one of the worst teams in the league, but, by virtue of turnovers forced, the Chiefs were the second best fantasy defense.
For the most part, fantasy defensive production relies on turnovers and sacks, the former of which can be owed as much to luck and circumstance as to scheme and talent. Thus, any projections and preseason rankings regarding fantasy football defenses must be taken with a grain of salt. That being said, here are a few thoughts to help guide your thinking come draft day.
2019 DEF Cheat Sheet
Note: All stats are allowed by defense. PTS = PTS Allowed
|Team||Tier||FPTS 2018||PTS||YDS||YDS/PLY||RU YDS||RU YDS/ATT||RU TD||PA YDS/ATT||PA YDS||PA TDS||RZ TD %||TO||INT||FUM||SCKS||Draftkings FPTS/G||FanDuel FPTS/G||Yahoo FPTS/G|
|Los Angeles Rams||1||135||384||5,737||6||1,957||5.1||12||7.1||3,780||31||58%||30||18||12||41||9.63||9.63||9.63|
|Los Angeles Chargers||1||98||329||5,339||5.4||1,693||4.3||11||6.7||3,646||23||50%||20||13||7||38||7||7.38||7|
|New England Patriots||2||104||325||5,746||5.7||1,803||4.9||7||6.5||3,943||29||59%||28||18||10||30||8.69||8.69||8.69|
|New Orleans Saints||2||103||353||5,585||5.7||1,284||3.6||12||7.5||4,301||30||63%||24||12||12||49||7||7||7|
|Kansas City Chiefs||4||137||421||6,488||5.9||2,114||5||19||6.9||4,374||30||72%||27||15||12||52||8.31||8.31||8.31|
|New York Jets||4||109||441||6,086||5.7||2,021||4.6||17||7||4,065||29||53%||20||13||7||39||6.81||6.81||6.81|
|Green Bay Packers||4||80||400||5,670||5.6||1,918||4.3||15||7.1||3,752||30||61%||15||7||8||44||5.94||6.13||5.94|
|San Francisco 49ers||5||66||435||5,546||5.4||1,814||4.1||13||6.9||3,732||35||66%||7||2||5||37||3.69||3.69||3.69|
|New York Giants||6||90||412||5,942||5.7||1,898||4.3||19||7.2||4,044||24||57%||21||16||5||30||5.25||5.25||5.25|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||6||78||464||6,134||6.1||1,983||4.7||19||7.8||4,151||34||78%||17||9||8||38||4.25||4.25||4.25|
The Clear Number One
The Chicago Bears blew every other defense out of the water last year with a whopping 160 points. The next closest team, the Rams, were 25 points back. Expecting the Bears to replicate all 160 points would be unrealistic, but they should still be the top unit in fantasy football. If you’re the type of drafter that values defense highly and plans to be the first player picking on that side of the ball, the Bears have to be your selection. Other teams like the Rams or Vikings might seem promising, but don’t get cute. If you’re the first person drafting a defense, you better pick Chicago.
Good Value Teams
One defense that’s flying a bit under the radar this offseason resides is that of the Los Angeles Chargers. While the Rams steal all of the LA headlines, the Chargers are also building a pretty strong contender for 2019, and that starts on defense. Joey Bosa should finally be healthy this year to pair with Melvin Ingram, forming one of the most formidable pass rushes in the league. At defensive back, the team is equally loaded. Strong safety Derwin James was All-Pro as a rookie, free safety Desmond King joined him, and Casey Hayward is a two-time Pro Bowler himself. If young stars Bosa, James, and King each take that next step, this defense could be among the league’s very best.
Bill Belichick will be his own defensive coordinator this season, meaning that the New England defense will immediately become the best coached unit in the league. Devin McCourty and Stephon Gilmore lead from the secondary, and fresh talent comes in from the draft in the form of linebacker Chase Winovich, cornerback Joejuan Williams, and defensive end Byron Cowart. The Patriots finished last season just inside the top ten for fantasy defenses. Expect a similar performance this year.
The Arizona Cardinals probably will probably go unselected in roughly 90 percent of fantasy football drafts this August. Considering that they finished 18th in fantasy points last season, the lack of excitement around this unit is hardly surprising. But this 2019 Arizona defense has some fresh faces. Terrell Suggs, Jordan Hicks, and D.J. Swearinger join Patrick Peterson and company to form a unit with playmakers all over the field. If they can piece all of this new talent together, the Cardinals could surprise some people en route to becoming a solid, playable defense.
Although recent history hasn’t been kind to the defense of the Dallas Cowboys, this year’s team has the talent to flip the narrative. Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and Sean Lee form perhaps the best linebacker corps in the NFL, while Demarcus Lawrence dominates as a pass rusher and Byron Jones excels in the secondary. However, for the Cowboys to become a dominant fantasy defense, they’ll have to do more than hold the opposing team off of the scoreboard; they’ll need to create turnovers as well, and last year’s unit did a poor job of that, generating just 20 on the season.
Teams to Avoid
While the Seattle Seahawks have long been one of the most reliable defensive teams in fantasy football, I fear that their time at the top has come to an end. With the departure of Earl Thomas this offseason, the Legion of Boom era is officially over. The only remaining star from those Super Bowl runs in linebacker Bobby Wagner, and although Wagner is as good as ever, his supporting cast is not. Pass rusher Frank Clark is now on the Chiefs, and it is unclear who will step up in his stead. It feels odd advising drafters to avoid the Seahawks, but they were only an average unit last year, and this year’s version doesn’t seem nearly as good.
The decline for the defense of the Baltimore Ravens should be less steep than that of the Seahawks but noticeable nonetheless. Like Seattle, Baltimore is a historically strong defensive team. In fact, the Ravens ranked second in points allowed as recently as last season. Also like the Seahawks, the Ravens have lost a lot of talent recently. C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs, Eric Weddle, and Za’Darius Smith all departed this offseason, meaning that roster turnover will be as much of a challenge as facing the potent Pittsburgh and Cleveland offenses a combined four times. Even with all of their talent, the Ravens were a middling fantasy defense last year. This year, expect more of the same, if not worse.
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