Drafting a defense in fantasy is the single most overlooked aspect of constructing a winning team.
Granted, there are sexier and more important decisions in your draft than what defense/special teams to take, but having a strategy for the position and choosing the right unit could be what gives you the edge in 2014.
Defenses often get drafted purely on reputation. When people think of a “good” defense they picture teams like the Bears, Ravens, or Steelers. Those teams finished 2013 as the 26th, 15th, and 17th ranked D/ST, respectively. Draft on statistics, not notoriety.
Special teams are a factor that is brought into the equation far too often. Yes, those extra six points for a return touchdown are a nice bonus, but they happen far too infrequently to predict and often times skew your perception of how valuable the unit is as a whole.
Top D/ST in 2014:
- The Seattle Seahawks are far and away the top D/ST in 2014. Seattle finished 2013 as the position’s scoring leader, with the 33rd overall highest point total amongst all “players.” The Super Bowl champions compiled 195 total points, more than twice as many as 14 other teams.
Led by their loud “12th man” home crowd and “Legion of Boom” secondary, the Seahawks’ defense totaled more points in 2013 than fantasy stars Adrian Peterson, Dez Bryant, and Alshon Jeffrey.
Seattle will be the first D/ST off the board in 2014, and should be in consideration starting in round 9.
- The Carolina Panthers were the second-best fantasy defense last season (185 points), and remain in that ranking heading into 2014.
Carolina surprised everyone last season en route to a 12-4 record and NFC South division title. The defense was the main reason why the team was so successful, led by Defensive Player of the Year linebacker Luke Kuechly.
The Panthers should continue to be dominant on the defensive side and will most likely be taken around the 11th round.
- The Denver Broncos, despite only getting headlines for their record-setting offensive production, bring one of the best defensive units into the 2014 season.
After being embarrassed by Seattle 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII, the Broncos were aggressive in free agency this offseason, significantly upgrading their defense.
Denver signed defensive end DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib, and safety T.J. Ward. The reigning AFC West champions also welcome back Pro Bowl linebacker Von Miller, who missed much of last season due to suspension and injury.
The Broncos are an underrated defense this season and should be one of the first few options off the board.
- The San Francisco 49ers are a steady, if unspectacular fantasy D/ST this season. They finished 2013 as the sixth ranked defense.
The 49ers, who have appeared in three consecutive NFC Championship games, have done so with a grinding mentality of running the ball and playing hard-nosed defense.
Keep in mind however, Pro Bowl starting linebackers Aldon Smith (suspension) and Navarro Bowman (injury) will miss significant time this season. It’s still a top-tier defense, but barely.
- The Arizona Cardinals are an underrated defense. They totaled 164 fantasy points in 2013, ranking them fifth, and they remain in that spot entering this season.
Arizona showcases star talent on their defense, despite not getting much acclaim. Cornerback Patrick Peterson and defensive lineman Calais Campbell lead the way, with the veteran Darnell Dockett and a healthy Tyrann Mathieu set to make significant contributions.
The Cardinals should be a D/ST that is taken relatively early and could start for your team on a weekly basis.
Other D/STs to own this year include the Bengals, Rams, Chiefs, Patriots, and Bills.
The Kansas City Chiefs will get overdrafted this season. They finished 2013 as the third-ranked defense, accumulating the 44th most total points in fantasy. Much of this was due to an unprecedented 11 touchdowns. That’s simply an irregularity, and a number that won’t be reproduced in 2014. The Chiefs are still a solid defense and should be taken in most drafts.
Keep in mind this is a position that fluctuates often. The Houston Texans were widely assumed to be a top-five D/ST entering last season and finished the year as the 28th ranked unit. If you’re not able to secure an elite defense, have a backup plan in mind.
Scott DeWeese is a geographer from the Baltimore area. One of the final graduates of the University of Maryland from the ACC era, DeWeese is an avid sports writer and fan. When he’s not looking up remedies to counteract male pattern baldness, you can probably find him at Camden Yards or checking the fantasy football waiver wire. Follow him on Twitter @ScottDeWeese.