2018 NFL Season Outlook - Defenses

8 Jul 2018 - 9:56pm | DFS_Tom | Updated: 8 Jul 2018 - 9:56pm | Likes: 2

Welcome to Fantasy Football season! Yes, we are in the middle of the summer but football season will be here before you know it and with that, fantasy drafting season. As the season approaches, we’re going to take a look at several aspects for the upcoming fantasy season.

For starters, we are going to look at defenses. It may not be the stud position players or the exciting rookies, but defense is a valuable part of your fantasy team who can help you swing weeks into wins. With that said, let’s take a look some of the top defenses in the league. Plenty of teams made changes to their personnel, which could change how they operate. I’ll hit on anything that is relevant, news and notes, etc. for each team.

1.)    Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars ended last season as one of the top defenses and we should expect them to pick up right where they left off. They finished the season with the second most sacks 55, and the second most interceptions 21. They have one of the best defensive cores in the league and they come in with the fourth-easiest strength of schedule this year. They scored a league-high eight touchdowns last season while allowing the second-fewest yards. In the offseason, they did lose Paul Posluszny and CB Aaron Colvin, which should prove to be significant losses. AJ Bouye and Jalen Ramsey are their two starting corners for the Jags, both which finished in the top 12 graded cornerbacks according to ProFootballFocus. Currently, the Jaguars are the top drafted defense across the industry and will likely stay that way throughout the summer.

2.)    Los Angeles Rams

The Rams made a huge splash in the offseason by making a number of big free-agent signings and trades. They added Marcus Peters CB, Sam Shields CB, Ndamukong Suh DT, and Aqib Talib CB. Wow. Not much more you can say about those additions, other than the fact they should be among the top units in the league. They were top 10 in takeaways last season and with Suh now paired with Aaron Donald, we could be seeing plenty of them in the opposing team’s backfield. From a raw point perspective, they should be able to go head to head with the Jaguars. According to some in the industry, these two teams are a coin flip when it comes to drafting, and I see it the same way. Their ADP is 2.2 right now, so right behind the Jaguars and a viable option to take as number one.

3.)    Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota has been one of the more consistent defensive units in recent history and this year will be much of the same. They finished with 37 sacks, 14 interceptions, only one defensive touchdown, but allowed the fewest yards in the entire league. Now, it should be noted that some of their stats have declined from 2016 to 2017 in terms of quantity, but the consistency is still there. We know they are a defense first team, as they committed four of their eight draft picks to defensive players, three to the offense and one kicker. This is the fifth year the Vikings will be under their current head coach and defensive coordinator, so no major changes to worry about in the offseason. They still have one of the best cornerbacks in the league, Xavier Rhodes, who has shown time and time again he can shut down any opposing top receiver. The Jaguars and Rams look to have higher overall production, but you can’t go wrong with the Vikings.

4.)    Philadelphia Eagles

The defending Super Bowl Champs are ready to defend their title in a very winnable division. They come in with an ADP sitting at 3.3, which is just slightly higher compared to the Vikings, but were still in early summer. They allowed the fourth fewest yards in the league, tied for fourth in interceptions, and around league average in sacks and forced fumbles. They appear to be a less flashy version of the Vikings, which isn’t a bad thing. They allowed the fourth fewest points last season, along with the fourth fewest yards per game. All that is good, but as I mentioned, sometimes their takeaway numbers are lacking. Based on their schedule, they should be favorites in most games, which may not seem like a big deal, but if they are going to be leading in most games, it will open up plenty for their defense. This season doesn’t start for some time, but this is a general consensus about the Eagles.

5.)    Houston Texans

The Texans were not good last season and that is putting it nicely. They finished at or below league average in several categories, yards allowed, sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles, etc. You name, they just didn’t put up significant numbers. BUT, they had a ton of injuries, which truly impacted their team, so we didn’t get to see what they are capable of. JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus were both out for significant portions of the season, which truly limited the team’s sack potential. Everyone is back and healthy this season, along with the additions of Aaron Colvin and Tyrann Mathieu. If they can stay healthy, which is a big if, this defense can compete with any team in the league. We will also see Deshaun Watson back from his injury, which if it plays out, he will have the team in spots where they are leading, and thus allow the pass rushers to do their thing. This shouldn’t be overlooked as a real factor for the defense. When is a team is up, the opposing team generally has to pass it in order to catch up. Simple game script projections will present an opening for their pass rushers to rack up sacks. I’m buying in on this team early.

6.)    Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens are yet another strong option in this top tier and one you should be going after if you can’t get to first few. They are and have been one of the most consistent defenses in the league over the past few seasons, and we should be seeing the same this year. They have a new defensive coordinator, but he was the linebackers coach last season. Last season they had the 2nd DVOA vs the pass and the 9th DVOA vs the run. According to ESPN, they are returning 97% of the snaps from last year, meaning they had little to no change in their personnel. They led the league in interceptions, in the top-10 for forced fumbles, 11th in sacks, and 12th in yards per game. They always feel like a team who will never “burn” you with this pick and there is nothing wrong with that. In 2015, the average game the Ravens played in had over-unders set at 44.4 points, in 2017 the average over-unders were 40.6 points. Fewer points allowed due to better defense and the Vegas lines are showing it.

7.)    Los Angeles Chargers

I’m personally very high on the Chargers defense this season and think they have plenty of upsides to go after in your drafts. They had 43 sacks and 18 interceptions last season, both of which were sixth or better for the league. The sacks should be there with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, backed by a strong secondary with Casey Hayward, Desmond King, and Jason Verrett. The Chargers spent their first four draft picks on defenders, showing they are committed to improving their already top-10 defense. They have the third easiest strength of schedule this season and should be in a spot to produce similar numbers this season. As we move down the list of top defenses, they are a team I’m comfortable with “reaching” for. If you are looking for upside, this is the team to go to, since they have a high sack and turnover potential.

8.)    Denver Broncos

The Broncos defense has seemingly taken a step back in recent years, along with the team overall. They traded Aqib Talib away but added Tramaine Brock and Su’a Cravens for their secondary. They drafted Bradley Chubb with the fifth overall pick to bolster their defensive line, which should prove to be their strong suit moving forward. Chubb lining up opposite of Von Miller can be one of the edge rushing combos in the league. Right now they are, on average, the sixth defense being taken off the board, which in my opinion seems a bit too high. Denver allowed the third fewest runs last season, which is strong, but they were bottom 10 in both sacks and interceptions. Limiting yards is great, but that doesn’t translate to fantasy points. We should see a similar outcome this year, with a boost to their sack potential.

9.)    Carolina Panthers

The Panthers finished last season with 50 sacks which was third highest in the league, putting them up as the number 12th fantasy defense in the league. Despite having great sack numbers, they finished with only 10 interceptions which was 24th in the league. They have shown to be committed to their defense, as they spent six of their eight draft picks on defenders. The Panthers lost a few important players on defense, but they tried to patch those spots by adding Dontari Poe, Ross Cockrell and will have Luke Kuechly back and healthy. The Panthers feel like a “safe” option at defense, who have limited upside and some risk. It’s all wrapped together since they have plenty of sack potential, but showed they are very weak at cornerback. They play in a tough division, which can exploit them rather quickly.

10.) New Orleans Saints

Last year the Saints finished with the 5th DVOA vs the pass and the 23rd DVOA against the run. A clear weak spot in their defense, which they tried to address in the offseason. They drafted DE Marcus Davenport, signed S Kurt Coleman, CB Patrick Robinson, and added two solid linebackers. They have their offense set and are truly making strides to improve the defense. The Saints are a favorite pick across the industry to improve even further than they did last season. Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley will keep their passing defense at the top of the league, as they ended with the third most interceptions last season, and tied for fourth with 19th forced fumbles.

11.) Pittsburg Steelers

The Steelers haven and ADP sitting at 11.3 for defensive teams, which is right where most experts across the industry have them. They finished first in the league for sacks, ninth in interceptions, tied for 17th in forced fumbles, and fifth fewest yards allowed. They have been the face of consistency over the last several seasons and we should be expecting much of the same this year. A few additions, a few departures in terms of their personnel, but nothing too impactful. It’s clear they aren’t an “elite” defense, but also not a defense you should be passing up if you have the chance to draft them. Early projections have them as favorites in 11 of their games this season, which should hold true as the season goes on.

12.) Tennessee Titans

The Titans might be a bit of a reach pick, but they certainly have plenty of upside this season. First off, they now have Mike Vrabel as their head coach, who has spent the past few seasons in Houston as the DC and linebacker coach. They also have a new DC, who was the Ravens DC last year. It appears, they are committed to defense, which was shown by their offseason moves. Signing Malcolm Butler, Will Compton, and Bennie Logan, while drafting Rashaan Evans and Harold Landry. Five impactful defensive additions should give them strong upside, considering they have the seventh easiest strength of schedule this season. They finished last year with 43 sacks, 12 interceptions and were about league average when it comes to yards allowed.

13.) New England Patriots

The Patriots allowed the fourth most yards last season but allowed the fifth-fewest points. An interesting dynamic they are attempting to build on this season, with some solid offseason acquisitions. They added NT Danny Shelton, DE Adrian Clayborn, and CB Jason McCourty. They will be under the helm of a new DC, Greg Schiano, but the decade-plus of pedigree within the organization should elevate their consistency. They were below league average in interceptions, and fumbles recovered but seventh overall in sacks. If they can stay at the same level as last year in terms of points allowed, while increasing their other numbers, (Interceptions, fumbles, and touchdowns) they have a chance to be a top 10 offense. If you have a chance to reach for them, I don’t hate that idea, since they have the second easiest strength of schedule.

14.) Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals finished as the 15th defense last year according to ESPN scoring and we should see them in the same range this season. They were average in most defensive categories, points allowed, sacks, interceptions, and forced fumbles. But with being “average” they weren’t necessarily bad either. They have a number of departures in the offseason, Tyrann Mathieu, Karlos Dansby, Tramon Williams, and Kareem Martin. Sacks will continue to be their strong suit, along with their rushing defense, as they finished with the number one DVOA vs the rush. Their losses on the defensive side of the ball could prove to be the downfall for them this season, along with the fact they have a new head coach and new defensive coordinator. They still have plenty of talent, just a matter of limiting the damage, since they have the hardest strength of schedule.

15.) Chicago Bears

The Bears are somewhat of a sleeper pick to repeat their strong performance from last year, and you should be interested as well. They have an ADP of 15.8 for defenses, which allows you to take them a round or two after the top tier, but still, have a solid floor of points. Last season they finished 10th in yards allowed, ninth in points allowed, seventh in sacks, and first in recovered fumbles. Those numbers could compete with any team in the league, but since they were a “bad” team, many passed on them last year. Love the additions of Aaron Lynch, Nick Williams and drafting Roquan Smith. They are middle of the road when it comes to strength of schedule, which should prove to play a large part in their success. Clearly, something like recovered fumbles has a bit of variance in it, so that will likely drop, but the other numbers can stay consistent, making them a top defensive unit in the league yet again. 

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