New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan recently admitted he thinks his defensive unit will finish 2012 among the top-five defenses. I don’t tend to like Ryan, but I do tend to agree with his philosophy on defense. I also agree that the Jets will be a top-five unit.
I don’t think it’s tough to figure out who the other four defensive groups will be in the top-five, but the bottom five of a top-10 gets a little trickier. Let’s see what team defenses you’ll want to be using more than others in fantasy football this year, with our top-10 fantasy defenses:
1. San Francisco 49ers
I’m picking last year’s top fantasy defense to finish atop the league, once again. They’re returning all 11 defensive starters from last year, so unless they get hit with a rash of devastating injuries, they should again be beasts against the run, and could be better against the pass, as well. From Dashon Goldson making plays in the secondary to Patrick Willis manning the middle, this team is easily the most balanced and possibly the deepest in all of football.
2. Baltimore Ravens
I’m keeping last year’s number two in the same spot, too. I know Terrell Suggs may miss some time (or even the season), but Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are still around, and I like the young talent on this defense. The Ravens always find a way to score touchdowns in random weeks, and were able to rack up an insane 48 sacks in 2011. They put constant pressure on the quarterback and stuff the run with the best of them. They’re without a doubt a top-five unit on a weekly basis, and I think they will find themselves right back here at the two spot when it’s all said and done this year.
3. Chicago Bears
The only question with Chicago is health. Losing Jay Cutler and Matt Forte last year put a ton of senseless pressure on their defense, and so did losing their heart and soul in the middle – Brian Urlacher. Urlacher being healthy is big, and if he can’t get/stay healthy, the Bears could slip. With that said, him even being on the field gives them a chance, and the cast around him is still very solid. Chicago also gets touchdowns with the best of them, and led the entire league last year with 10. I wouldn’t be shocked if they did so again.
4. New York Jets
Some people are down on the Jets, but what you have to understand is that New York turned the ball over a ton in 2011, which really didn’t help the Jets’ defense control the game. They still have arguably the league’s best secondary with Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson, while I really think rookie Quinton Coples could make an impact right away. Rex Ryan does defense better than just about anyone in the league, and I like the Jets to turn it around and get back inside the top-five after finishing as the 7th best fantasy unit last year.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers finished as the 5th unit last year, and I like them to do so again in 2012. James Harrison has knee issues and there’s a lot of age on the defensive side of the ball, so I doubt they ascend from this spot. They’re still led by the gritty Troy Polomalu and a very balanced unit, however, so you can bet the Steelers will continue to be one of the toughest defenses to face. An improved offense with Todd Haley coming to town could help them ease the pressure off the D, too.
6. Houston Texans
Houston finished as the 3rd best unit in 2011, and they could certainly do so again. I just think losing Mario Williams deserves a bit of a knock, while J.J. Watt is currently rehabbing a dislocated elbow. Obviously I still love the Texans this year, as Brooks Reed, Connor Barwin and rookie Whitney Mercilus offer up crazy pass-rushing. Toss in the loss of linebacker Demeco Ryans, and I just don’t think they’ll finish quite as high as they did last year.
7. New York Giants
The Super Bowl champs are beasts in the playoffs, but actually only finished as the 23rd ranked fantasy unit in 2011. Yeah, I was surprised, too. But if you look back, it makes sense. They had loads of injuries that killed them until the end of the year, and their offense was inconsistent from week to week until the second half of the season, when they really turned it on. I don’t think the Giants defend their championship, but I do think they stay healthy enough to get their defense in the top-10 in fantasy football in 2012. Their defensive line is just too stout (48 sacks last year) and they’ll be healthier than last season.
8. Seattle Seahawks
Seattle drops two spots from where they were last year, but that’s less about them and more about there simply being better units ahead of them. Seattle was OK at rushing the passer with 34 sacks last year, but they could have been better. Adding talented pass-rusher Bruce Irvin could help change that right away, while ball-hawk safety Earl Thomas should help the secondary keep the interceptions coming (22 in 2011). Seattle is a young, nasty defense that is a little unpredictable based on their youth and their questions on offense, but I can’t leave them out of my top-10.
9. Philadelphia Eagles
Philly was supposed to be the Dream Team, remember? That didn’t happen, as they struggled to an 8-8 finish and their defense gave up a whopping 5,198 total yards in the process. That doesn’t sound very good, but they were actually still a very solid fantasy defense, coming in as the 10th overall unit in 2011. They paced the leagues in sacks (50), and in a high-scoring season, actually held the opposition to just 328 points. Luis Castillo isn’t a defensive mastermind, but the DC has a second year now, and I think this unit improves as a whole. Demeco Ryans and some solid rookie additions should get them up a spot, if not much further.
10. Detroit Lions
I really like the potential I see in Buffalo, Green Bay and Dallas, but they all also scare me. Detroit, on the other hand, has a tenacious front-line and very solid linebackers. Jim Schwartz is a defensive genius, and I think it’s only a matter of time before this team is ranking in the top-five. With that said, they still gave up way too many points last year, and really couldn’t stop either the run or pass consistently. I love their pass-rush and think their secondary will improve this year, but I won’t vouch for them any higher than the 10 spot just yet.
Just Missed the Cut: Buffalo Bills, Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys
That wraps up our preseason fantasy rankings. Now it’s time to check out some sleepers, busts, and rookies. Be sure to come back to the DJ blog and check out the latest fantasy football contests live to play for week one!