The D/ST position is often overlooked in fantasy football, and I think it’s because most of us just wish we didn’t have to deal with it. It can be so difficult to pick the right D/ST on any given week, let alone the entire season. The best advice I can give everyone is to just take it week by week. Unless you pull the trigger early and draft the Seahawks or Broncos, you’re most likely going to be playing the streaming game at some point during the season. I’ve been lucky enough to win 2 fantasy championships, and on both occasions, I streamed defenses throughout the season. At some points, I even committed a fantasy football sin and rostered multiple defenses at once. I was looking ahead to future match up and wanted to be ahead of the curve. Sometimes that’s the kind of crazy moves you have to make to get a small advantage. No matter what you do though, there’s going to be a point during the season where your defense will let you down. It’s part of the game. Don’t ever get too discouraged, or too over confident with your D/ST. Unpredictability is something you need to expect. With all that in mind, here are my top 15 defenses for the 2017 season.
15. Jacksonville Jaguars
This one is going to seem a bit out of place. At one point, one of the best defensive strategies was to stream whoever was facing the Jaguars that week. Their offense was garbage, and their defense wasn’t much better. The offense has improved significantly over the last couple of years, and this is the may be the year the defense finally puts it all together too. Last season, the Jaguars scored 75 fantasy points, forced only 13 turnovers, and allowed 25 points per game, per ESPN standard scoring. So, after such a poor outing in 2016, why do I think the Jags are worthy of ranking? Well, despite the horrid stat line, Jacksonville is actually a very talented defensive unit. They added, even more, talent over the off season. Calais Campbell, AJ Bouye, and Barry Church were all brought in to help transform a defense that’s good on paper, into a defense that’s good on the field. They’ll be usable this season.
Where I’d draft them: 14th round. Draft them ahead of only your kicker.
14. Los Angeles Rams
Some of you might think I’m crazy for having the Rams on this list after last year, but I think I might even have them a little low. Last season, the Rams scored 72 fantasy points, forced 18 turnovers, and allowed 24.6 points per game, per ESPN standard scoring. That’s less than stellar, but a lot has gone down since then. Head Coach, Jeff Fisher, and Defensive Coordinator, Greg Williams, are now gone, replaced by Sean McVay, and legendary Defensive Coordinator, Wade Phillips. With all due respect to McVay, Phillips is the reason I’m both excited, and optimistic. With him at the helm, the Rams will surely improve their horrid red zone defense, which allowed touchdowns at a 71% clip last year. Phillips is also likely to get the most out of Aaron Donald, and Robert Quinn, who are both elite pass rushers. Total it all up, and you get a defensive unit that’s going to catch some folks by surprise next season.
Where I’d draft them: 13th or 14th round. I see a big season coming, but they’re still a defense. Don’t draft early
13. Oakland Raiders
Man, am I going to rank any good defenses at any point? Don’t be fooled. Despite giving up 24.1 points per game, and only scoring 74 fantasy points last season, the Raiders forced a whopping 30 turnovers, per ESPN standard scoring. That was second to only the Atlanta Falcons, who forced 33. The Falcons didn’t make this list because they like to blow 28-3 leads at bad times. As for the Raiders, the ability to create that many turnovers are extremely appealing to any fantasy owner. They’ve improved their secondary a bit, and that should hopefully help them keep the yards and points allowed down. If Bruce Irvin and Khalil Mack help bring the Raiders’ sack total up from the 25 they got last season, then Oakland might just live up to their potential.
Where I’d draft them: 13th or 14th round. The high number of turnovers is nice, but that can fluctuate year to year. Potential is there, but don’t draft them too high.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers
We finally get to a historically good defense. Last season, the Steelers scored 91 fantasy points, forced 23 turnovers, and allowed 20.4 points per game, per ESPN standard scoring. It was business as usual for the “Steel Curtain” in 2016, and it should be more of the same this season. With the exception of the Patriots, Pittsburgh’s defense was able to smother their opponents, especially in the red zone, where teams only scored touchdowns on them 48% of the time. The Steelers have talent at every defensive position, and they’re hoping newly drafted rookie, TJ Watt, can eventually replace their long time defensive anchor James Harrison. They’ll be solid all season long.
Where I’d draft them: 13th round. We’re starting to get to more usable defenses now. Honestly, if you chose to stick with Pittsburgh all season long, they would help you more than they’d hurt you. Sometimes, that’s all you can really expect from your defense.
11. Philadelphia Eagles
A seriously underrated D/ST, in my opinion. Last season, the Eagles scored 127 fantasy points, forced 26 turnovers, and allowed 20.7 points per game, per ESPN standard scoring. Defensively, the Eagles have one of the best lines in all of football. Their front four can cause havoc, but they need some help in the secondary, and their line backers aren’t exactly blowing people away. What really makes this unit desirable to fantasy owners is their special teams. A weapon like Darren Sproles can seriously turn a game around in the blink of an eye. All he needs is a punt and some room to work. They’re a solid defense, and they’re gonna give you a fair amount of extra points via their special teams.
Where I’d draft them: 13th round. I’m not sure if you’re starting to notice a pattern, but I don’t recommend taking any defense early. Not even one with such an upside on special teams.
10. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens have been one of the league’s most dominant defenses for over a decade. Last season, they scored 118 fantasy points, forced 28 turnovers, and held teams to 20.1 points game, per ESPN standard scoring. It was a solid season, but despite finishing inside the top 10 in points per game, yards per game, and turnovers, you’d want the same defense we’d all grown accustomed to seeing. The Ravens noticed it too, and they addressed the issue over the off season. They used their first 4 picks in the NFL draft on defensive players, and also signed veteran free agents Brandon Carr, and Tony Jefferson. They should easily be a top 10 defense this year.
Where I’d draft them: 13th round. This is getting pretty redundant now, but virtually no defense is worthy of being taken early. The Ravens are no different
9. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers’ offense wasn’t the only ones suffering from a SuperBowl hangover last year. After an awesome 2015 season, their defense also took a step back in 2016. They scored 101 fantasy points, forced 27 turnovers, and allowed 25.1 points per game, per ESPN standard scoring. It was obvious that Carolina’s defense missed Josh Norman. They ranked 29th in passing yards allowed and looked even worse than that when they had to defend Julio Jones. Their secondary is still going to be an issue, but their defensive line got even stronger with the additions of Julius Peppers, and Daeshaun Hall over the off season. Assuming that Luke Kuechly is back to 100%, the Panthers should resemble their 2015 form again this year.
Where I’d draft them: 13th round. Bounce back year should be coming. They’re going to be a solid option this season. The later you land them, the better value they’ll hold.
8. New York Giants
From a team that took a step back last season, to one that made a huge leap. The Giants went from a bottom 5 defense in 2015, to a top 5 defense last season. They scored 130 fantasy points, forced 25 turnovers, and allowed a 17.8 points points per game, per ESPN standard scoring. Last season was just a glimpse of the potential this Giants defense has. They were the only team that could slow down the Cowboys’ offense last season, and they’re looking to carry that’s over to this season. They lost Jonathan Hankins over the off season, but they added Dalvin Tomlinson through the draft to help improve the defense. I see another big year in store for the Giants.
Where I’d draft them: 12th or 13th round. I wouldn’t mind taking a chance one round earlier on a defense with the potential that the Giants have. Just don’t get too cute.
7. Houston Texans
Now we’re getting into the really good defenses. Last season, Houston scored 102 fantasy points, forced 17 turnovers, and allowed 20.5 points per game, per ESPN standard scoring. Despite losing JJ Watt for most of the season, the Texans led the NFL in total yards last year, and surprised most experts with their resilience. A returning Watt will no doubt provide a boost to an already strong Houston defense, and will keep them hovering around the top 5 all season long. I’d feel comfortable rolling them out as my defense every week.
Where I’d draft them: 12th round. I won’t go as far as calling them elite, but they’re in the next tier. I’d feel comfortable reaching for them a little bit sooner.
6. New England Patriots
From a strictly football standpoint, the Patriots probably have the best defense on this list. Last season, they scored 117 fantasy points, forced 23 turnovers, and allowed a league low 15.6 points per game, per ESPN standard scoring. From a fantasy standpoint they’re a bit less dominant, but great nonetheless. What makes them so good is their ability to adapt to my style of play. The addition of Stephon Gilmore over the off season will only add to their versatility, and will have them around the top 5 in all defensive categories.
Where I’d draft them: 11th or 12th round. This is where I start to tolerate reaching for defenses you want. As long as you don’t go too crazy, the Patriots should hold good value all year long.
5. Arizona Cardinals
We’ve arrived at the top 5, and what a way to kick it off. On paper, the Cardinals might very well be the most talented defensive unit in the league. They’ve got elite talent at every important position. Last season, they scored 143 fantasy points, forced 28 turnovers, and allowed 22.6 points per game, per ESPN standard scoring. They lost Calais Campbell to free agency, but brought in Carlos Dansby to boost the 2nd best run defense in the league last year. Add him to a core of Patrick Peterson, Chandler Jones, and Tyrann Mathieu, and it’s hard not to get excited about the Cardinals defense.
Where I’d draft them: 11th or 12th round. The Cardinals play in one of the most offensively challenged divisions in the league, the NFC West. Draft them and reap the benefits.
4. Minnesota Vikings
The Vinkings stared off hot last year, especially their defense. They allowed just 63 combined points during the first 5 games of the season, and got off to a 5-0 start. They scored 157 fantasy points, forced 27 turnovers, and allowed 19.2 points per game, per ESPN standard scoring. Unfortunately for the Vikings, their offense didn’t match their defense, and they eventually became too much dead weight to carry. Things should be a bit different this year though . The Vikings added Latavius Murray through free agency, and drafted Dalvin Cook in the 2nd round of the NFL draft, so they should have way more ball control this year. That’s great news for the defense, and anyone who owns them.
Where I’d draft them: 11th or 12th round. It’s rare to see a defense get dragged down by their offense, but it’s a real possibility for the Vikings. If it wasn’t for that, they’d be ranked even higher. Regardless though, they’re going to have huge games, and a great season.
3. Seattle Seahawks
The top 3 defenses are pretty much interchangeable. It’s honestly all about preference. All three will be elite. We start off with the Seahawks. Last season, they scored 113 fantasy points, forced 19 turnovers, and allowed 18.3 points per game, per ESPN standard scoring. They would’ve had an even better season, but they lost their anchor Earl Thomas halfway through the year. Despite losing Thomas though, the Seahawks finished in the top 5 in points and yards allowed, and 3rd in sacks. With a healthy Thomas, and what should be a motivated Richard Sherman, the Seahawks should be locking teams down again this season.
Where I’d draft them: 11th round. They’re going to be elite all season long, and they also have the luxury of playing in the NFC West. If they stay healthy all year, they will challenge for the top spot in fantasy. They should be vintage the Seahawks this year.
2. Denver Broncos
This season is really going to show us a lot about the Denver defense. Last season, they scored 146 fantasy points, forced 27 turnovers, and allowed 18.6 points per game, per ESPN standard scoring. They mostly looked like the same dominant defense that carried them to a SuperBowl the year before, but not against the run. Uncharacteristicly, the Broncos were 28th in the league against the run last season, and losing legendary Defensive Coordinator, Wade Phillips, won’t help improve that. Regardless, they still have Von Miller, and one of the best defensive units in the game so I’m not worried about them at all.
Where I’d draft them: 9th or 10th round. They should be one of the first 3 defenses to get drafted. If they can just improve their run defense a bit, they will defiantly be elite.
1. Kansas City Chiefs
You can agree or disagree, but in my opinion, the Chiefs are going to dominate the rest of the league defensively this year. Last season, they scored 140 fantasy points, forced 33 turnovers, and allowed 19.4 points per game, per ESPN standard scoring. All that virtually came without Derrick Johnson, and Justin Houston, who were injured most of the season. Their absence was felt though, as the Chiefs were in the bottom 10 in both yards allowed, and sacks. They lost Dontari Poe to free agency, but getting Johnson, and Houston back at 100% should be more than enough to end the season as the #1 fantasy defense.
Where I’d draft them: 10th round. I honestly couldn’t be mad if you decide to reach for them earlier. They’re going to be worth the pick, regardless of where you take them. Odds are they’ll go off at some point, and win you a couple of games. If I had my pick of any defense, I’d take them.
Baseline Times NFL Contributor