Getting Defensive

(Tommy Gilligan, USA TODAY Sports)

Getting Defensive

Team Analysis

Getting Defensive

Everyone, especially fantasy football players love lists and rankings. You can find some great articles that rank and list the best running back of all-time, or WR and especially top QBs. While those lists and rankings are subjective, they at least can give you some entertainment. Lists and rankings that will get you into trouble are the ones many fantasy football players try to use to find success…last year’s fantasy team defense rankings. For skill positions, there may be some value (even then it’s minimal at best), but when it comes to the defensive side of the ball, the last thing you want to do is draft solely off of last year’s rankings. Below is a list of how teams finished in rank for The Huddle Expert 12 League in 2015. I’ve also included rankings for 2014 and 2013 so that one can see just how dangerous drafting off the previous seasons rankings can be. And for a bit of context I listed the totals for Sacks, Forced Fumbles and INTS for 2015. After the chart you’ll find info on what to expect for each team in 2016. If you have any additional questions please feel free to find me on twitter @SteveGalloNFL.

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Team Fantasy Ranking 2015 Totals
2015 2014 2013 Sacks Forced Fumbles INTS
Cardinals 1 8 4 36 22 19
Broncos 2 23 16 52 22 14
Panthers 3 25 3 44 22 24
Seahawks 4 11 2 37 18 14
Chiefs 5 27 1 47 13 22
Rams 6 3 7 41 20 13
Patriots 7 6 9 49 22 12
Eagles 8 1 18 37 18 15
Texans 9 4 32 45 12 14
Bengals 10 16 6 42 10 21
Steelers 11 20 23 48 16 17
Washington 12 29 19 38 22 11
Vikings 13 15 26 43 11 13
Packers 14 5 24 43 12 16
Giants 15 17 12 23 18 15
Jets 16 31 31 39 15 18
Colts 17 7 10 35 13 17
Buccaneers 18 22 13 38 19 11
Jaguars 19 18 28 36 14 9
Dolphins 20 10 17 31 8 13
Raiders 21 32 22 38 14 14
Ravens 22 9 15 37 8 6
Bills 23 2 8 21 9 17
Titans 24 28 25 39 11 11
Falcons 25 19 30 19 12 15
Saints 26 30 27 31 18 9
Browns 27 13 20 29 14 11
Lions 28 14 21 43 17 9
Chargers 29 21 29 32 11 11
Cowboys 30 24 11 31 6 8
Bears 31 26 14 35 6 8
49ers 32 12 5 28 5 9

Changes are in RED & BOLDED.

Arizona Cardinals

HC: Bruce Arians
DC: James Bettcher
Base Defensive Scheme: 3-4

The Cardinals finished last year ranked as the #1 fantasy defense and that was with ranking just 20th in sacks with 36. By adding Chandler Jones via trade with the Patriots and Robert Nkemdiche in the draft the Cardinals should improve on their sack totals from a year ago. Patrick Peterson’s foot injury is a scare but should be nothing more than that as he’s expected to be full go for the season. Even with Tyrann Mathieu coming back from injury the Cardinals have playmakers all over their defense so I’m expecting another top-5 finish for them.

Denver Broncos

HC: Gary Kubiak
DC: Wade Phillips
Base Defensive Scheme: 3-4

It was revealed after the Super Bowl, in a Gatorade commercial, that Peyton Manning likes to send personal handwritten thank you notes. You can bet your bottom dollar he sent a note to Von Miller for his help in bringing the Broncos and Peyton a Super Bowl Championship. The Broncos finished 1st in sacks (Big thanks to Miller) and forced fumbles a year ago, feats that will be hard to replicate in 2016. Miller will still bring the heat but DeMarcus Ware will see a smaller role as his age and health are catching up with him. Jared Crick, a serviceable player who was with the Texans last year, now calls Denver home. The biggest question on the defensive side of the ball is probably how the Broncos will deal with the loss of Danny Trevathan. But in my eyes the biggest issue will be if the offense can sustain so that the defense isn’t on the field too much. Many will expect a top-12 finish or better for the Broncos but I see them much more in the middle of the pack for fantasy purposes this year.

Carolina Panthers

HC: Ron Rivera
DC: Sean McDermott
Base Defensive Scheme: 4-3

Luke Kuechly is an all-world NFL talent but he is recovering from shoulder surgery he had in February. He is expected to be good to go for camp come July. My biggest concern with the Panthers defense this year isn’t Kuechly and how he returns from injury but how the Panthers handle the loss of Josh Norman. In addition to players like Kuechly there are vets like Thomas Davis and Charles Johnson plus younger talent like Shaq Thompson, Kony Ealy, Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short to make sure that the Panthers once again have a formidable defense but replicating last year’s 1st overall ranking in forced fumbles and interceptions won’t be an easy feat, especially in a secondary without Josh Norman.

Seattle Seahawks

HC: Pete Carroll
DC: Kris Richard
Base Defensive Scheme: 4-3

Simply put, the Seahawks have one of the most talented defenses in the league. Keeping everyone healthy will be key. That and the fact that I think we see Frank Clark, in his second season, take a big step forward which in turn will help the Seahawks to improve on their 37 sacks which ranked 17th a year ago.

Kansas City Chiefs

HC: Andy Reid
DC:  Bob Sutton
Base Defensive Scheme: 3-4

No Justin Houston means, no drafting the Kansas City Chiefs defense. Houston underwent ACL surgery in February and is expected to be out anywhere from 6-12 months. While I don’t expect the Chiefs to be a top-tier defense early in the season they should make for a solid pickup once Houston makes his way back into the lineup.

Los Angeles Rams

HC: Jeff Fisher
DC: Greg Williams
Base Defensive Scheme: 4-3

With a likely run heavy game plan this year (good for Todd Gurley owners) the Rams defense very well could be on the field for below average snaps/game. Longtime MLB, James Laurinaitis will be manning the MLB position for the Saints this year but his void will be filled by Alec Ogletree. Ogletree is returning from injury but he’s a net gain over Laurinaitis. Prior to playing MLB, Ogletree played SLB for the Rams but with Mark Barron making the transition to LB last year and Akeem Ayers in the fold, the athletic Ogletree gets to roam the middle of a defense where he’ll be protected by a formidable front four, led by DT Aaron Donald and DE Robert Quinn. The secondary concerns me some but I still see the Rams as a top-10 defense this year and one that could crack the top-5.

New England Patriots

HC: Bill Belichick
DC:  Matt Patricia
Base Defensive Scheme: 4-3

I’ll put this out there right now, I am a huge fan of Chandler Jones’ game. Yes, the Patriots shipped him off to the desert but watch Bill Belichick coax 12+ sacks out of former Brown Jabaal Sheard. Another top-12ish season is what I see in New England. That said they did finish 2nd in sacks (49) and 1st in forced fumbles (22) a year ago so I don’t see much movement up in the ranks and won’t be surprised if we see them in the middle of the pack either.

Philadelphia Eagles

HC: Doug Pederson
DC:  Jim Schwartz
Base Defensive Scheme: 4-3

Gone is Chip Kelly and you just know the defensive players that played under him have to be ecstatic. There was no rest for the weary on the defense when Kelly was calling the offensive in Philly. The Eagles finished 8th last year and this year I think they can make a run at #1 overall with Jim Schwartz and his 4-3 defense. Fletcher Cox is one of the most underrated players in the NFL and along with him and the rest of the front 7, the Eagles will get after the QB this year. Don’t be surprised to see Vinny Curry top double digits in sacks. My biggest concern is the secondary, not Malcolm Jenkins, but the rest of the back end of the Birds defense is concerning. Just maybe we will see the Eagles jump from 8th to 1st like the Cardinals jumped from 8th to 1st last year.

Houston Texans

HC: Bill O’Brien
DC:  Romeo Crennel
Base Defensive Scheme: 3-4

Here’s a line to behold…57-19-17.5-5. That’s J.J. Watt’s stat line from 2015, 57 solo tackles, 19 assisted tackles, 17.5 sacks and 5 torn muscles. According to an article by ESPN Staff Writer, Tania Ganguli, Watt had a “partially torn right adductor longus, a fully torn left adductor longus and a fully torn left adductor pectineus in his inner thigh and groin.” Man, just typing that hurt. Additionally Ganguli reported he had partial tears in his right and left abdominals, too. Don’t forget that Watt broke his hand in 2015 and played with a club cast for multiple games. Oh, and it has also since come out that he played with a herniated disc last year, too. Sounds like Watt had plenty of reasons he could have had a down year but all he did was tie Lawrence Taylor as the only two players in NFL history to win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award three times. Watt will be back and healthy in 2016 so look for another top-10 or better performance in 2016. I haven’t mentioned any other players on the Texans defense because quite honestly, as J.J. Watt goes, so goes the Texans defense.

Cincinnati Bengals

HC: Marvin Lewis
DC:  Paul Guenther
Base Defensive Scheme: 4-3

Not much to say about the Bengals going from 2015 to 2016. They added veteran LB, Karlos Dansby which will help the LB position but he’s not a game changer for the defense. In the first round of the draft the Bengals added CB William Jackson III but he’s not a game changer for 2016. The biggest question marks for me is if we see Margus Hunt and/or Will Clarke step up and add something to the pass rush. With solid vets and upside guys like Carlos Dulap and Geno Atkins the Bengals will once again be a solid defensive unit and if Pacman can continue to be Pacman then they’ll have obvious weekly upside based on his big-play ability.

Pittsburgh Steelers

HC: Mike Tomlin
DC:  Keith Butler
Base Defensive Scheme: 3-4

The Steelers needed to address their secondary and they did so in the draft selecting a CB with a pick in each of round 1 and 2. Upside is there with the picks of Artie Burns and Sean Davis but both are raw and likely don’t show full payoff this year. One thing to like about the Steelers this year is the thought of them having their linebackers healthy and on the field and the other thing to worry about is if their linebackers can’t stay healthy. A drop-off in sacks, where they ranked 3rd in 2015 with 48 could easily land the Steelers in the bottom half of fantasy defenses in 2016.

Washington Redskins

HC: Jay Gruden
DC:  Joe Barry
Base Defensive Scheme: 3-4

Washington landed rookie Su’a Cravens with the 22nd pick (53rd overall) of the 2nd round in this past year’s NFL draft. He’s a hybrid of the Deone Bucannon mold and a player that should have an immediate positive impact on the Washington defense. They also landed Josh Norman. Norman would seem to be a plus addition but I question if he’s actually a good fit for their defense. Will these two moves be enough to help them remain a top-12 fantasy defense? That remains to be seen but if I were a betting man I’d look for them to finish outside the top-12. If for no other reason than I see teams like the Vikings, and Packers moving past them. And yes, I’m bearish on Norman’s value in this scheme.

Minnesota Vikings

HC: Mike Zimmer
DC: George Edwards
Base Defensive Scheme: 4-3

Ranking just 23rd with 11 forced fumbles is a major reason why the Vikings finished just outside the top-12 of fantasy defenses in 2015. Having Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith healthy this year goes a long way to give the reason that I love the Vikings to crash into the top-5 of fantasy defenses this year. Plus I think second year LB Eric Kendricks takes a big step forward in 2016 too.

Green Bay Packers

HC: Mike McCarthy
DC: Dom Capers
Base Defensive Scheme: 3-4

Good news, bad news with regards to the Packers. Bad news first is that with Clay Matthews moving back to OLB it’s a hit to his IDP value. Good news for the Packers overall defense is that Clay Matthews is moving back to his natural OLB position. That will allow Matthews to chase down QBs and cause much more havoc. In the process the Packers should see their sacks go up but also their forced fumbles as Matthews, like many other pass rushers will cause his fare share of strip sacks. This move along with strong safety play pushes the Packers into the top-12 in 2016.

New York Giants

HC: Ben McAdoo
DC:  Steve Spagnuolo
Base Defensive Scheme: 4-3

The Giants, unbelievably ranked 15th among fantasy defenses last year and that was with them ranking just 30th in sacks with 23. One would like to think that having Jason Pierre-Paul back for a full 16 games will help that number go up but I still have reservations about how much production he can have being, “short handed” if I may say so. Olivier Vernon comes to town after playing for the Dolphins to this point of his career. I like Vernon but he’s not J.J. Watt, but then again, no one is. The loss of Prince Amukamara and addition of Eli Apple (via pick 1.10 in the draft) is a net loss for the Giants, imo. A net gain is most likely going to come from 3rd round draft pick Darian Thompson and 2nd year safety Landon Collins likely manning the two safety positions. With that said, I see the Giants as a middling 16-20ish type team in 2016.

New York Jets

HC: Todd Bowles
DC:  Kacy Rodgers
Base Defensive Scheme: 3-4

Fantasy wise you expect to get more from a team with Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson up front, David Harris and Demario Davis at LB and Calvin Pryor and Darrelle Revis in the secondary.  Davis is now gone and he’s been replaced by Erin Henderson. That’s a net meh, at best. A positive that could pay dividends for fantasy owners is the addition of first round pick Darron Lee but more than likely his impact will be much greater in subsequent years than it will be in 2016.

Indianapolis Colts

HC: Chuck Pagano
DC:  Ted Monachino
Base Defensive Scheme: 3-4

What I think you will witness in 2016 is the final year of the Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano era. I can’t see how this defense will be good in 2016. Vontae Davis is one of the better corners in the game and D’Qwell Jackson has been a solid vet but this team lacks playmakers and will be lucky to be average at best, both fantasy and NFL wise.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

HC: Dick Koetter
DC: Mike Smith
Base Defensive Scheme: 4-3

There wasn’t much help to be had defensively, from a fantasy perspective in the draft this year but the Buccaneers are one of a few teams that I feel did help their selves in the draft. Adding CB Vernon Hargreaves with the 11th pick in round one and DE Noah Spence with the 8th pick in round 2 are clear pluses for a defense that finished 2015 ranked 15th. Spence like many DEs will have a learning curve to overcome in the NFL and thusly his production will be sporadic and inconsistent, but even a few more sacks could help to push TB towards the top-12. I also think the addition of Robert Ayers is a plus move. The Bucs won’t be a draft target for me but I do see them having matchup play value.

Jacksonville Jaguars

HC: Casey “Gus” Bradley
DC:  Todd Wash
Base Defensive Scheme: 4-3

The Jaguars were a middle of the road fantasy defense last year but this year I expect them to improve on both their 20th ranking in sacks (36) as well as their overall ranking. It was a blow when they lost Dante Fowler last year but this year I do feel like he’s going to be a big part of what makes people sit up and take notice of the Jaguars defense. The addition of Malik Jackson is one that I like a lot too. Will they break thru the top-10 in 2016? Not likely but they’ll end up being a waiver wire pickup early in the season that can be used more often than not.

Miami Dolphins

HC: Adam Gase
DC:  Vance Joseph
Base Defensive Scheme: 4-3

There are a lot of changes in southern Florida for the 2016 season. New Head Coach, check. New Defensive Coordinator, check. New starting DE, check. New starting MLB, check. New starting CBs, check. Both Cameron Wake and Mario Williams have been elite pass rushers but both are getting up there in age. Williams will take the place of the departed Olivier Vernon who landed in New York with the Giants. Ndamukong Suh still has what it takes to be a dominant player and it would be hard for the Dolphins to be as bad as they were last year, but I’m not sold on them being an every week fantasy option either.

Oakland Raiders

HC: Jack Del Rio
DC:  Ken Norton Jr.
Base Defensive Scheme: 4-3

I absolutely love, love LOVE Khalil Mack. For those that don’t know him, you will after this year. I’m looking for Mack to build on his 57-20-15 line from a year ago. Yes, I think it’s entirely possible we see Mack best his 15 sacks from a year ago. Additions to the Raiders defense that were made for 2016 are CB, Sean Smith formerly of the Chiefs and Bruce Irvin of the Seahawks. At safety they lose future HOFer Charles Woodson but they addressed the position in the draft when they added safety Karl Joseph who was added with the 14th pick of the 1st round. When a player has names like Earl Thomas, Brian Dawkins and Bob Sanders used to describe his play you know you are getting someone that can be a difference maker. However, he does have big shoes to fill. I think the Raiders are going in the right direction both defensively and as a team overall.

Baltimore Ravens

HC: John Harbaugh
DC:  Dean Pees
Base Defensive Scheme: 3-4

Gone are the days of the Ray Lewis/Ed Reed top fantasy defense and now it’s just an also-ran defense that can’t get out of it’s own way more often than not. I love Eric Weddle but even he won’t be able to bring the Ravens defense back to greatness.

Buffalo Bills

HC: Rex Ryan
DC:  Dennis Thurman
Base Defensive Scheme:  4-3 (will be multiple)

It may be hard to believe but Rex Ryan’s Bills only ranked 31st in sacks last year with 21. Last year was perplexing to my eyes when I watched the Bills, I just didn’t see a defense that reminded me of Ryan. This year, Mario Williams is gone. The Bills selected Shaq Lawson in the first round to help their pass rush but he suffered a shoulder injury in a non-contact drill that required surgery. Lawson will be hard pressed to give much to the Bills defense this year. Additionally, the team added Reggie Ragland in the draft and he’s slated to start at WLB in place of the departed Nigel Bradham. I think it would be hard for the Bills not to be better in 2016 but even then it’s not going to be enough to warrant drafting them. Oh, and I should add that the Bills also add Rex Ryan’s brother Rob to their defensive staff.

Tennessee Titans

HC: Mike Mularkey
DC:  Dick LeBeau
Base Defensive Scheme: 3-4

The Titans are another team with a new Head Coach and new Defensive Coordinator for the 2016 season. They added Kevin Dodd in the draft but I’d have much rather seen him go to a 4-3 team and play DE instead of OLB like he’s slated to do in Tennessee. The Titans also added safety Rashad Johnson formerly from Arizona. There is some talent on the Titans defensive side of the ball but I don’t think it’s enough to generate viable fantasy production for 2016.

Atlanta Falcons

HC: Dan Quinn
DC: Richard Smith
Base Defensive Scheme: 4-3

Over the last couple of years we’ve had 2-3 teams that ranked in the 20s the previous year end up busting into the top-5. This year if I had to pick one of the teams with a serious chance to do that I’d pick the Atlanta Falcons. I like that Vic Beasley has a year under his belt and I won’t be shocked to see him surpass double digit sacks. Adding a big hitter in Keanu Neal to the safety position is also a big plus. The Falcons may not be a draftable defense but they will provide spot value at times this year.

New Orleans Saints

HC: Sean Payton
DC: Dennis Allen
Base Defensive Scheme: 4-3

The Saints are one of just two teams (Eagles) to change base defensive schemes this year. That should bode well for Cameron Jordan which should help the Saints improve on their 25th ranking in sacks where they had just 31 a year ago. The addition of DT, Sheldon Rankins in the draft was a positive one. James Laurinaitis comes over from the Rams. He’ll man the MLB spot and call plays. The plus there is that it will allow second year LB, Stephone Anthony to just play instinctive football instead of having to focus on calling the defense. I don’t see the Saints being worse than they were in 2016 but I also don’t see much upside either.

Cleveland Browns

HC: Hue Jackson
DC:  Ray Horton
Base Defensive Scheme: 3-4

Cleveland, you can bask in the Cavaliers NBA championship, you can bask in the fact that Hue Jackson is now your head coach. You can even bask in the fact that Ray Horton is your new Defensive Coordinator. Bask in the fact that Johnny Manziel won’t be your starting QB. Bask in Robert Griffin III returning to glory…maybe. But don’t bask in the Browns defense making much noise fantasy wise or NFL wise this year.

Detroit Lions

HC: Jim Caldwell
DC: Teryl Austin
Base Defensive Scheme: 4-3

What I’m most excited about for 2016 with the Lions is the pass rushing due of Ziggy Ansah and Devin Taylor. Last year the Lions finished as the 28th ranked fantasy defense which is surprising considering they were 7th in sacks with 43. Taylor will help Ansah to build on that total. At LB, getting DeAndre Levy back will be a big plus. Then at MLB, Stephen Tulloch is still up in the air. He was expected to be cut, yet he’s still on the team. He’s a solid LB that if cut is a hit against the Lions value. Secondary play or lack there of is what will ultimately doom this Lions team in 2016.

San Diego Chargers

HC: Mike McCoy
DC:  John Pagano
Base Defensive Scheme: 3-4

Joey Bosa was taken with the 3rd pick of the NFL draft. As far as IDP goes that was the death knell since the Chargers play a 3-4 that will likely deflate his fantasy value. Overall defensively, he’ll help a unit that ranked 24th in sacks with just 32. With the loss of Eric Weddle to the Ravens the Chargers are devoid of a playmaker that will help to fill the stat sheet for those in non-IDP leagues.

Dallas Cowboys

HC: Jason Garrett
DC:  Rod Marinelli
Base Defensive Scheme: 4-3

Greg Hardy was a failed experiment for the Cowboys. Hopefully Hardy can get the help he so very clearly needs. Speaking of help, the Cowboys need some up front in the form of a pass rush. Are they going to get that from 4th round selection Charles Tapper? Likely not but Tapper is a step in the right direction. Will it come from 2nd year DE, Randy Gregory? Not in the first four games because he’s been suspended for the 1st four games of 2016. I do like the addition of Jaylon Smith but he won’t be helping in 2016, at all. A healthy Sean Lee, yeah I know, bite my tongue, is always a plus. I do think that former Eagles DT, Cedric Thornton was a good add but at the end of the day, the Cowboys just don’t have enough on the defensive side of the ball to make a difference for 2016.

Chicago Bears

HC: John Fox
DC: Vic Fangio
Base Defensive Scheme: 3-4

The Jay Cutler led Bears ranked 22nd in sacks with 35 and just 30th in both forced fumbles (6) and INTs (8). Yes, Jay is the whipping boy in Chicago so I figured I might as well tie him to the defense, too. The addition of Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan are plus moves but far too little to make much of a difference for the Bears in 2016. At best they’ll be lucky to break into the teens, ranking wise.

San Francisco 49ers

HC: Chip Kelly
DC: Jim O’Neil
Base Defensive Scheme: 3-4

Chip Kelly comes to town and the 49ers defense is about to find out what cardio training is all about. I do like the addition of DE DeForest  Buckner who was taken with the 7th pick in the draft and is a perfect fit for the 49ers 3-4 defense. Will it be enough to make them fantasy relevant? No, not at all. There is no, worst to first story here to be had. There is some IDP value (NaVorro Bowman and Antoine Bethea) here but nothing much for defense/ST leagues.

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