By Amol Nadkarni
In fantasy, defense is one of those positions that will be drafted a lot earlier than they should actually go. Of course, there are some defenses that are just miles better than the rest, but it is important to understand which defenses in the league are truly worth a relatively high draft pick. This article will breakdown the top fantasy defenses (in order) that are worth drafting.
Going into the 2016 season, the Broncos will be widely regarded as the best fantasy defense and rightfully so. They have talent all over the board and really no position group is lacking. The defensive line is very stout against the run, with NT Sylvester Williams in the middle, flanked by two underrated DEs in DE Derek Wolfe and DE Jared Crick. In this 3-4 defense, it is the d-line that does the dirty work and ties up the blockers, so that the dynamic pass rush duo of LBs Demarcus Ware and Von Miller can do what they do best: get after the quarterback. Ware and Miller are the best pass rush duo in the league and are one of the main reasons why this defense is so good. They not only get sacks but they put pressure on the quarterback to make errant throws and this is where Denver’s secondary comes into play. The Broncos have one of the best corner tandems in the league in Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr., who on their own are excellent corners. Now add to the mix that fierce pass rush and you have two corners that can take chances and make plays on the ball, knowing that the opposing quarterback does not have much time to operate in the pocket. Safeties TJ Ward and Darian Stewart anchor the deep middle of the field, with Ward also having that big-hitter mentality to help LBs Brandon Marshall and LB Todd Davis in run support. In addition to the talented players the Broncos have at their disposal, they are coached by one of the best defensive minds in the game in DC Wade Phillips. Phillips knows how to adjust his schemes to fit his players’ strengths and Denver’s defense is a lot about harassing the quarterback.
For years the Seattle Seahawks defense was the best in the league and one of those defenses that were drafted very early in fantasy drafts, as the unit was just head-and-shoulders better than other options. Last season, Denver’s defense took that top spot from the Seahawks, but Seattle’s defense is still one of the best in the league and an every week fantasy start. Led by the group known as the “Legion of Boom”, Seattle’s secondary is one of the best (if not the best) in the league. CBs Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner (who returns to the “Legion of Boom” after two seasons in New England and New Orleans, respectively) are excellent physical shutdown corners, while safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor make up a duo that without question is the best in the league. The secondary might get all the attention, but it is the front seven that plays a big part in the success of the “Legion of Boom”. On the defensive line, DEs Michael Bennett and DE Cliff Avril are excellent pass rushers who can also play the run very well. In the interior, DT Ahtyba Rubin plays the role of space eater freeing up rookie DT Jarran Reed to make plays in both the run and pass games. The linebackers are anchored by the impressive duo of LB Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright. Both of them are superior two-way players, who can drop into coverage or play the run. They are also effective blitzers when called upon. Since HC Pete Carroll took charge in Seattle in 2010, he has prioritized having strong defenses and in 2016, the Seahawks will continue to excel on that side of the ball, possibly regaining their status as the best defense the league.
The Arizona Cardinals defense has slowly become one those defenses that you can start week in and week out on your fantasy team. The Cardinals defense is a solid unit that has special players at all levels on that side of the ball. In the trenches, stud DE Calais Campbell will be joined by DE Chandler Jones from New England and freakish rookie DE Robert Nkemdiche, forming a stout defensive line. At the linebacker level, the strength is in the interior, with LB Deone Bucannon and LB Kevin Minter forming an interior that is free to make plays across the field, with blockers consumed by the line. The two rush linebackers in their 3-4 scheme, LB Kareem Martin and LB Markus Golden, aren’t household names but they produce when called upon. At the backend, CB Patrick Peterson and S Tyrann Mathieu lead a physical secondary that has the athleticism and smarts to disrupt opposing passing attacks. CB Tyvon Branch and newly acquired DJ Swearinger are also underrated members of that secondary that are asked to make plays with offenses doing all they can to avoid Peterson and Mathieu. Arizona’s defense should continue to excel in 2016 and is one of those defenses that you can rely on to score you solid fantasy points every week.
The loss of CB Josh Norman hurts and that is why Carolina’s defense has fallen to the fourth best fantasy defense heading into 2016. Norman was not a shutdown corner per say, but he was a top-end player at the position, who fit very well into the Panther’s 4-3 scheme. Despite his loss, the Panthers are still stacked with talent and all-pro LB Luke Kuechly leads the way. Kuechly might be the best linebacker in the game today and his physical abilities, coupled with his elite football IQ, make him the perfect field general. Flanked on his left and right are LB Thomas Davis and LB Shaq Thompson. Davis is an elite linebacker in his own right, while Thompson is an up and coming linebacker, whose game is based off of speed. The three of them form a strong unit and the men up front make the backers even better. DE Charles Johnson and DE Kony Ealy are great pass rushers, while DT Kwann Short and NT Star Lotuleilei form a stout run defense and can push the pocket in the pass game. The secondary will enter the season as the weakest unit on the defense and the question that needs to be answered is who will lineup across from CB Robert McClain? From the looks of it, CB Bene’ Benwikere, CB Daryl Worley, CB James Bradberry and CB Zach Sanchez will all compete for Norman’s old position. At safety, S Tre Boston and S Kurt Koleman will need to step up to ensure that the defense remains productive on the back end, but the loss of a player of Norman’s talents is not easily replaceable. Carolina is still a top defense until we see otherwise but they did take a hit with the loss of Norman.
New York Jets:
The Jets defense might be one of those fringe defenses to draft, but they have talent that cannot be ignored. Under HC Todd Bowles, the defense flourished last season and should continue to be one of top defenses in the league in 2016. The strength of the defense lies on the defensive line, with DE Muhammed Wilkerson serving as the anchor. Wilkerson is a beast in both the running and passing games, often requiring double teams to keep him at bay. This frees up the likes of NT Steve McLendon, DE Sheldon Richardson, DE Leonard Williams and DE Jarvis Jenkins to make plays. At the linebacker level, the Jets are led by the savvy veteran LB David Harris. Harris is one of those student of the game type players, who can diagnose a play before it happens. He is getting up there in age, and as a result the Jets decided to draft LB Darron Lee out of Ohio State in this year’s draft, to add youth and speed to the linebacker core. Lee will play alongside Harris as the second inside linebacker in the Jets’ 3-4 front, with LB Lorenzo Mauldin and either LB Trevor Reilly or rookie LB Jordan Jenkins playing as the outside backers. In the secondary, the Jets have stud CB Darrelle Revis serving as a cornerstone but questions do remain about the other corner position. CB Buster Skrine will likely continue in that role, but he did struggle last season. Former first round pick CB Dee Milner is looking like a bust more and more and right now this corner spot is the biggest concern on the defense. At safety, the Jets have a solid back end unit with the hard-hitting S Calvin Pryor and free-roaming S Marcus Gilchrist. The front seven will have to big in 2016, to cover the weakness at the corner spot opposite of Revis, but the Jets are a solid defense that can be started every week and can be had at the tail end of the draft.
Every year Cincinnati seem to produce on the defensive side of the ball and seeing as they did not really lose an key players in free agency, the Bengals should continue to be a solid defensive unit in 2016. On the defensive line, the Bengals have two book-ends in DE Carlos Dunlap and DE Michael Johnson. Both of them excel at getting after the passer, mainly due to the help they get from the interior. DT Geno Atkins is one of the strongest defensive tackles in the league and often draws double teams, while DT Domata Peko is underrated in his ability to get after the passer. The defensive line is definitely a major strength, but the linebacker corp are also a very strong unit. Led by the super talented but controversial LB Vontaze Burfict and middle LB Rey Maualuga, the duo forms a formidable one-two punch. The Bengals also brought in this offseason veteran Karlos Dansby, who might not be as athletic as he used to be but still has the smarts to anticipate and then make plays. In the secondary, CB Adam “Pacman” Jones and CB Dre Kirkpatrick represent a solid, if not great corner tandem. At the Safety position S George Iloka and S Derron Smith are a dependable duo that fit well into the Bengals’ 4-3 system. The Bengals might be one of the last defenses to be drafted but they can serve their purpose as a solid start this season.