Jimmie Ward could be a pick machine for the 49ers. (AP)
The 2014 RotoRob NFL Draft Kit continues today with another cheat sheet. So while you wonder how the 279 free agents that changed teams this spring will affect the balance of power in the NFL, let’s review the top 20 team defenses.
When drafting a defense, you must remember that very rarely does one squad outshine every other defense in the league. Reaching for a team defense is not recommended, even if it’s Seattle right now or the Ravens a dozen years ago. In most cases when someone first drafts a defense others will start to follow. If your league trends like this, it might not be necessary to join the party, because in the Fantasy world defense does not always win champions. Not to mention the best defense on paper will probably not produce superior Fantasy numbers.
Last year’s rankings are in parentheses.
1. San Franscisco 49ers (1): Wait, numero uno isn’t Seattle? Are we crazy, you are now asking yourself. Yes, we saw the Super Bowl in which the Seahawks made Peyton Manning look like a lost rookie. But, here’s the thing: the 49ers are so stacked on defense that they will able to use multiple packages and keep people fresh not only all game long but all season long. Let’s start with the additions, first round pick safety Jimmie Ward will patrol the middle of the field like cat hunting its prey (see video below to get a sense of his ball skills). Ward is a strong/sure tackler and we see many of his jerseys being purchased in the Bay area this season. Ward may start the season as the fifth DB, which will allow him time to learn from free agent addition and nine-year veteran Antoine Bethea. Third round pick ILB Chris Borland will provide nice linebacker depth and allow 145-tackle man NaVorro Bowman’s knee time to heal. Patrick Willis (104 tackles) is still a beast and burden for the opposition. Repeat offender/sack master Aldon Smith (8.5 sacks in 11 games) might even be available for a game or two.
2. Seattle Seahawks (2): Many people will reach for this defense too early and miss out on a quality player. We all love the Seahawk defense and yes Richard Sherman is amazing. However, we are very concerned about the departure of Walter Thurmond and Brandon Browner because that leaves Byron Maxwell alone on an island all season long, as he will play opposite the “the Lord Almighty.” Maxwell did manage four picks in five starts at the end of the regular season last year, but, the book is now out on the fourth-year pro from Clemson. Re-signing DL Michael Bennett and drafting DE Cassius Marsh in the third round will help with depth on the defensive front. Still, we do think that San Francisco is a little deeper defensively so that’s why we ranked Seattle second.
3. New England Patriots (8): Barring another injury-riddled year, we believe in this Pats defense. Sure, chemistry always comes into play, but New England signed two elite CBs in Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis. With Dexter McCourty and Alfonzo Dennard in the same defensive backfield, the Patriots have loaded up to stop the trendy passing game. Second-year CB Logan Ryan was given valuable playing time last season, responding with five INTs. The NFL is a pass heavy league and we think the Pats have a solid core to defend it. Veteran DT and leader Vince Wilfork will be a question mark all season long due to a Achilles injury but that’s okay because this team has first-round pick Dominique Easley on the defensive line to energize its front seven — look for him to attack from a variety of positions. Jerod Mayo should be healthy for training camp, meaning he will have a full head of steam for Week One.
4. Carolina Panthers (NR): Though the recent misconduct of Greg Hardy might have some people doubting the Panthers defense, we think otherwise. It all starts in the middle with MLB Luke Kuechly — just mark him down for 150 tackles now. The scary thing is he is stilling learning. As for the Hardy, we are pretty confident that fellow DEs Charles Johnson (11 sacks) and rookie Kony Ealy will thrive in his absence. As a rookie last year, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (42 tackles) stuffed many running plays before they started and he too will be even better this season. The Panthers secondary might not grab you name-wise but the additions of SS Roman Harper and CB Antoine Cason will surely help alleviate any concerns.
5. Denver Broncos (5): This offseason, Denver went all-in by signing DE DeMarcus Ware, CB Aqib Talib and SS T.J. Ward. We love Ward but we have issues Talib’s injury history. Also we wonder how much Ware has left in the tank. These were win now moves, however, and we like the balls the Broncos brass is showing. This team also understands draft value and that’s why it landed CB Bradley Roby in Round One to line up opposite Talib. We also wouldn’t be surprised to see fifth-round pick ILB Lamin Barrow become a special teams superstar and situational defensive replacement. The returning core upfront of DT Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton (31 tackles) plus OLBs Danny Trevathan (120 tackles) and Von Miller (five sacks in nine games) will only be stronger with a healthy Ware on the field. This Bronco team is ready to return to the Super Bowl and the dice are already in the air.
6. Houston Texans (3): The big three is no longer just for the NBA. The Texans kicked off their glorious draft by picking a kid named Jadeveon Clowney first overall. The OLB will patrol the right side of the field with his freakish speed. Meanwhile, J.J. Watt will continue to be a hard charging beast at left DE. Finally, Brian Cushing in the middle will hopefully be back at full strength after a knee injury cost him half of 2013. If he returns to form the big three in Houston will cause fits for many offensive coordinators.
7. Kansas City Chiefs (NR): When you think about the Chiefs defense, Justin Houston and Tamba Hali are top of mind. Each recorded 11 sacks and over 40 tackles in 2014 but the man that makes them so effective is 346-pound NT Dontari Poe, who not only recorded a respectable sack total for an interior lineman with 4.5 but he also totalled 51 tackles which is amazing for a man his size and at his position. Derrick Johnson also added 107 tackles at ILB to help KC’s cause. Rookie Phillip Gaines (CB) will see valuable snaps after Brandon Flowers’ departure left a major hole. We believe Gaines is up the challenge and playing against Phillip Rivers and Peyton Manning will make you grow up fast. Rookie pass rusher and first round selection Dee Ford will be gently eased into his role and that will give the Chiefs with a fresh third down pass rusher.
8. Cincinnati Bengals (4): The key to the Bengals defense is their all-world DT Geno Atkins. His leadership and play mean so much to Marvin Lewis’s defense. This became obvious after Atkins succumbed to a knee injury last season. Cincy fans are praying he can be his old self again. First-round pick Darqueze Dennard (CB) will join Terence Newman and Leon Hall to form a devastating coverage blanket. OLB Vontaze Burfict may not exceed his 171 tackles from 2013, but he is clearly another invaluable cog in the Bengal machine. Atkins’s DT counterpart, Domata Peko, grew up in hurry when Atkins went down, racking up 52 important tackles — and that can only help him this season.
9. St. Louis Rams (12): The Rams play in the toughest division in football, therefore they understand the importance of a stacked defensive deck. That’s why they added athletic DT Aaron Donald and all-heart edge rusher Michael Sam to their scheme. Those rookies will compliment an already very good squadron that features MLB James Laurinaitis (116 tackles), Chris Long (8.5 sacks), Alec Ogletree (117 tackles) and Robert Quinn (franchise record 19 sacks). Donald will be added to an interior that saw fellow DTs Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford each record five sacks. Former Florida State Seminole Lamarcus Joyner will aid an underrated secondary anchored by CB Trumaine Johnson’s three INTs and 68 tackles.
10. Buffalo Bills (NR): The RotoRob.com football staff has a boyfriend named Kiko Alonso. The former Oregon Duck MLB exploded into an NFL juggernaut with 159 tackles and four INTs as a rookie. Unfortunately, Alonso torn his ACL on July 1 and he will miss the entire season. The Bills are another underrated team with three players (Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Jerry Hughes) who recorded double-digit sacks last season. Strong safety Aaron Williams and OLB Manny Lawson were also major contributors. Former Bengal and Giant Keith Rivers will fill in for Alonso, who was preparing to move to the weak side. Rookies ILB Preston Brown and CB Ross Cockrell will help lock down any deficiencies.
11. Arizona Cardinals (9): It appears ‘Zona could have a most formidable secondary with Patrick Peterson, Antonio Cromartie, Tyrann Mathieu and rookie sledgehammer Deone Bucannon. The front seven will led by OLB John Abraham (11.5 sacks) and 6′6″ rookie pass rusher Kareem Martin. Eleven-year veteran DE Darnell Dockett will continue to be a solid counterpart to the sack master Abraham.
12. Chicago Bears (6): Not only did the Bears strengthen both edges by signing veteran DEs Lamarr Houston (six sacks) and Jared Allen (11.5 sacks) but they also re-upped CB Charles “Peanut” Tillman. Chicago also shocked some by reaching for safety Brock Vereen in the fourth round (No. 131) of the draft. He is taking first-team reps at both safety positions and his upper-body strength figures to fit in well in Chitown. The Bears believe they have a pillar for the future in Vereen.
13. Green Bay Packers (14): “HaHa” could be the standing joke for the Packer defense whenever their rookie safety pastes a would-be ball catcher to the ground. That’s right, Hasean “HaHa” Clinton-Dix will be a major factor in the Packers success. Green Bay also signed aging free agent pass rusher Julius Peppers (7.5 sacks), who will play opposite Clay Matthews (7.5 sacks in 11 games) and should they both stay healthy and effective it will prevent the Packers DBs from making over 200 tackles as they did in 2013.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers (13): Before an overhyped rookie like Johnny Manziel can scamper into the end zone he has to escape an underappreciated rookie like OLB Ryan Shazier. First round pick Shazier could have a Lawrence Taylor-like effect for the Steel Curtain. Fellow rookies Stephon Tuitt (DL) and Daniel McCullers (DT) will add nice size to aid the aging ILB Lawrence Timmons (126 tackles), OLB Jason Worilds (eight sacks), SS Troy Polamalu (69 tackles and two INTs) and CB Ike Taylor (63 tackles). We believe the new beef upfront will increase Pittsburgh’s sack (34) and INT (10) totals from 2013.
15. Indianapolis Colts (NR): Losing OLB Robert Mathis and his 19.5 sacks for the first four games will probably cause this unit to go undrafted in most formats. We do believe the addition of ILB D’Qwell Jackson (141 tackles) will help the underrated Jerrell Freeman (126 tackles and 5.5 sacks) become an even better player. A seemingly no name patchwork defensive line concerns us, but cornerback Vontae Davis and SS LaRon Landry will anchor a secondary that should see a lot of action.
16. Baltimore Ravens (11): B-More went defense with four of its first five draft picks. The Ravens seem to be loading up for a better tomorrow. ILB C.J. Mosley was the high profile first rounder, and he’ll be surrounded by a talented linebacking corps. Terrell Suggs (80 tackles and 10 sacks) and fellow OLB Elvis Dumervil (9.5 sacks) are already well established players. Eleven-year veteran ILB Darryl Smith (123 tackles, five sacks and three INTs) figures to mentor Mosley with his actions on the field. Rookie free safety Terrence Brooks could silence the Ed Reed fan club.
17. Philadelphia Eagles (NR): In the most surprising move of the draft, the Eagles selected DE Marcus Smith from Louisville. He will apparently back up Trent Cole (eight sacks) at OLB. The move still baffles us, but we are sure that ILB DeMeco Ryans (127 tackles) is the anchor of this defense. Ryans is annual 120-plus tackle machine. Second-year pro Mychal Kendricks chipped with 106 tackles, four sacks and three INTs. The big move of the offseason was the signing of free agent FS Malcolm Jenkins, whose speed and bone-crunching tackles will be extremely welcome.
18. New York Giants (15): The Giant defense started 2013 looking lost and almost outnumbered. They woke up on an awkward Monday night in Mid-October and finished strong. By season’s end they appeared to be a couple pieces away from contending again. We think they got those pieces in the form of CBs Walter Thurmond and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. They will join a secondary already featuring Prince Amukamara (85 tackles) and Antrel Rolle (98 tackles and six INTs). However, the health of MLB Jon Beason (93 tackles in 12 games) will be paramount to the G-Men’s success and it looks like he’s questionable for the start of the season. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul hopes his recent weight loss will help him find the same groove that saw him average a sack a game in 2012, but just 8.5 sacks in 27 games since. We like low-grade rookies DT Kelcy Quarles and OLB Devon Kennard to step up as role players. The potential is here and remember that New York’s division was weak last season.
19. New Orleans Saints (NR): The Saints focused on their secondary this offseason by adding veterans Jarius Byrd (FS) and Champ Bailey (CB). They also drafted Stanley Jean-Baptiste who they feel can play multiple positions. Upfront OLB Junior Galette and DE Cameron Jordan each recorded 12 sacks. All this might make you wonder why we didn’t rank them higher — we feel the constant pressure of playing with the lead will be detrimental as the season progresses.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7): The Bucs boast three of the NFL best defenders: OLB Lavonte David (144 tackles, six sacks and five INTs), DL Gerald McCoy (50 tackles and nine sacks) and CB Alterraun Verner (five INTs). They will all need to be at the top of their game all season. This team looks improved on paper but their division is very solid, so given their main opponents, the Tampa Bay DST should be nothing more than a solid bye week replacement.
Now it’s your turn. Let us know in the comments below what you think of our team defense rankings.
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