The Seattle Seahawks proved defense typically prevails over the best offense the NFL has ever seen. Demolishing the record-setting Denver Broncos 43-8 to claim the first Super Bowl in the franchise’s history, Seattle’s defense and special teams forced four turnovers, generated a safety in the game’s opening drive, and blew the game wide open with a 69-yard interception return and an 87-yard kickoff return in the second half.
It was arguably the most dominate defensive performance in any Super Bowl. And you still shouldn’t target the Seahawks defense in your upcoming fantasy draft. If the fantasy playoffs went as deep as the NFL’s actually do, then any team lucky or smart enough to pick Seattle would have accumulated more than 30 points, a mark the Seahawks never reached during the fantasy season.
That’s not to say Seattle’s performance was a misnomer, just that it’s very rare for an owner to rely on 30 points per week from defense, let alone from any other player. In many leagues last season, most of the top defense/special teams, DSTs, hovered around 10 to 11 points a week. Decent production, but equal to that of a third-tier receiver or quarterback.
Having said that, Seattle’s, San Francisco’s, Cincinnati’s and St. Louis’ defenses will likely be the first four off the draft board. But using a pick in the 12th to 15th round of your draft on a defense will give you far better value in the long run than selecting one any higher.
Let’s take a look at the top 10 sleeper DSTs that will provide your team with the most value through the fantasy season. Many of the rankings are based on last year’s performance, but also each team’s strength-of-schedule and any key additions they made in the offseason.
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They came on very strong at the end of last season behind linebacker Paul Posluszny and rookie defensive back Jonathan Cyrpien, and the addition of defensive end Chris Clemons from Seattle’s D last season and re-signing Will Blackmon will certainly help. The Jags also have a much easier road in 2014, facing opponents with a .453 winning percentage from last year, the 29th hardest schedule in the NFL.
Last year they were 20th in total defense, but were No. 9 allowing 21 points per game. They re-signed corner back Vontae Davis and stole defensive end Arthur Jones away from Baltimore, both of which should make up for the losses of safety Antoine Bethea. And the Colts have the easiest schedule in NFL next season.
8.New York Giants
They smartly spruced up the inside linebacker position by re-signing Jon Beason and landing Jameel McClain from Baltimore. The biggest splash was provided by the $35 million over five years to corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who’s knocked down 103 passes and made 19 interceptions in his career. Their division is still one of the toughest in the league, but the Giants defense should be much improved and worthy of a late round pick.
They were dead last in the NFL allowing 30 points a game last season, and had the No. 31 ranked pass defense. But they did miss top free safety Harrison Smith for half the season. In the spring they added Linval Joseph to the d-line, and cornerback Captain Mummerlyn might be one of the most underrated players at his position in the league.
The Vikes also have the 21st hardest schedule in the league, and should show much improvement on the defensive end.
Total defense wasn’t the issue last year as Cleveland allowed only 332.4 yards per game. But they still let up more than 25 points a game, awful for fantasy purposes. They signed safety Donte Whitner away from San Francisco and Defensive Player of the Year candidate and inside linebacker Karlos Dansby from the Cardinals.
Whitner, along with T.J. Ward, Joe Haden and Buster Skrine, should be one of the most devastating secondarys in the league and could force plenty of turnovers.
J.J Watt and Jadeveon Clowney will be the sack leaders, we know that much. But this was a top defense that again missed Brian Cushing up front for nine games last year, and was still the third best secondary in the league and first with a plus-20 takeaway-giveaway ratio. Their schedule is 30th in the league, and the Texans will be a dominant defense once again.
They couldn’t make up for the loss of top corner Alterraun Verner, a big reason the Titans were 11th in the league against the pass last year. But the extra money went towards inside linebacker Wesley Woodyard, defensive ends Shaun Phillips and Al Woods and the re-signing of d-tackle Antonio Johnson.
That group can only bolster the 10.5 sack performance that d-tackle Jurrell Casey posted last year.
Washington was 18th in total defense and 29th in points allowed last season and new head coach Jay Gruden is expected to focus more on the offense than defense. He likely felt more comfortable doing so after the Redskins swiped defensive end Jason Hatcher from the Cowboys, and inked cornerback Tracy Porter and defensive end Clifton Geathers.
Keep in mind that this is a preseason ranking, and at this moment Washington has the talent to be one of the better Ds in the league.
2.New Orleans Saints
The Saints spent much of the offseason building the secondary. They loaded up on safety Jarius Byrd while keeping Rafael Bush in black and gold for two more years, and then gambled on whether or not Champ Bailey has anything left in the tank.
Add a healthy Kenny Vaccaro, who was on pace for a Defensive Rookie of the Year award last year, and the steady production of Curtis Lofton and Jabari Greer, and New Orleans might have a defense that equals Drew Bree’s offense.
1.Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In three of his nine years in Chicago, Lovie Smith’s teams posted a top three defense. And in six of those nine, the Bears were ranked in the top three in at least one major defensive category.
Smith’s first season in Tampa Bay should be stellar, with linebacker Lavonte David and d-tackle Gerald McCoy upfront, and Alterraun Verner and Dashon Goldson in the secondary. Not to mention the signings of d-end Michael Johnson and d-tackle Clinton McDonald. All signs point to a dominate D from Smith and the Bucs in 2014.