Since fantasy football exploded in popularity over 20 years ago, the general belief has always been that team owners should wait until the final two rounds to even consider drafting a defense. However, with better, more specialized players entering the league every year, NFL defenses have gotten decidedly better, and picking one a few rounds earlier is no longer considered taboo. Accordingly, here are five sleeper defenses for you to consider when drafting your team this season.
This choice may surprise some of you. The Titans have been thought of as a middle-of-the-road team for the past several years, mainly due to question marks surrounding quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back Derrick Henry. However, the Titan defense played well toward the end of 2018, scoring at least 10 points every week while getting four INT’s, six sacks, and two defensive touchdowns. They also had an eight game stretch with at least two sacks and allowed just 19.4 PPG, good enough for sixth best in the league. The Titans should be favored in both games against the Jaguars. Their schedule looks friendly enough, although two games versus the Texans will occur in two of the three fantasy playoff weeks, so it might be wise to drop them and find a late season replacement in those weeks if you do jump on the Titans in your leagues.
The Eagles have been trying to figure out their defense for years. There was the “dream team” when they signed Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Since then, they’ve done a good job drafting and growing their own talent while mixing in the occasional free agent. The Eagles notched 44 sacks and 10 INT’s last season while allowing 22.9 PPG. The front seven has long been a strength while the secondary would get picked apart, but that is starting to change with the addition of Rasul Douglas (drafted in the 3rd round in 2017) who will likely start this year. The Redskins and Giants are trending downward. The Cowboys improved their offense last year with the mid-season addition of wide receiver Amari Cooper, but quarterback Dak Prescott is prone to sacks, having been victimized 56 times last year.
Green Bay Packers
Some may consider the Packers to be in a bit of a rebuild after the firing of head coach Mike McCarthy, but with Aaron Rodgers still entrenched at quarterback, Green Bay must always be considered to be a playoff contender and to contend, the defense must step up to the challenge. The Packers racked up 44 sacks last season, good enough for eighth in the league. The secondary was not very good, logging just seven INT’s; the defense allowed 20 points in all but two games. Clearly that unit needed to be improved. To that end, the Packers went heavy on defense in free agency and the draft. They signed LB’s Z’darius Smith and Preston Smith in free agency, along with Safety Adrian Amos. They took Michigan LB Rashan Gary with their first pick, and then traded up to grab Safety Darnell Savage from Maryland, who many consider to be a veritable ball hawk and one of the biggest steals of the draft. The Bears, Vikings and Lions all have explosive players on offense and the Packers’ defensive additions should go a long way toward keeping those rivals in check.
New England Patriots
The Patriots are not known for their stellar defense. They have key players, but the team’s success comes at the hands of quarterback Tom Brady. Yet, in the perennially weak AFC East, the Patriots should have an easy job for at least six games. They’ve added depth to the defensive line and employ a veteran staff in the secondary. The Jets, Dolphins and Bills are all starting second-year quarterbacks and with little support around them, the Patriots defense will feast on the young signal callers.
New Orleans Saints
Like the Patriots, the Saints have been known for their high-octane offense. Yet, they allowed just 22.1 points per game with 49 sacks and 12 interceptions, 14th, fifth and 18th in the league, respectively. After their Week 9 bye last season, the Saints allowed 30+ points just once, in Week 17 against the Panthers, when most fantasy had already concluded. The NFC South is a tough division but the Bucs and Panthers have had issues on offense. Take the Saints going against both of those teams. As for the Falcons, those games are shootouts, so look elsewhere in the weeks they play each other. The secondary with Marshon Lattimore and Eli Apple at the corners makes throwing deep a dangerous idea.
Drafting a top defense may work out for a week or two but with scoring increasing, the margin between No. 1 and 10 is smaller than ever. You can wait or even stream defenses throughout the season and still win your matchups. Consider some of the defenses above late in your draft after the top defenses have all been drafted.