There’s a ton of unanswered questions with the 2015 NFL season only three months away: Will Adrian Peterson be the same dominant running back? Will Tom Brady actually miss the first four games of the season due to his “Deflategate” suspension? How will the 49ers fare with four players retiring this offseason? Can Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota adjust quickly to life in the NFL? And on and on.
But the one thing we know for sure is that the Seattle Seahawks will once again reign as the league’s most dominant and consistent defense. Gunning for their third straight appearance in the Super Bowl, the Seahawks are already the first team in more than 30 years to lead the NFL in total defense and points allowed in consecutive seasons. And with every member of last year’s almost impenetrable lineup returning, with the exception of cornerback Byron Maxwell, the Seahawks will undoubtedly be the first defense (DST) selected in fantasy football drafts across the country.
Unfortunately for most owners, the chances of landing Seattle as your defense, and the almost guaranteed 10 to 12 points it will garner from week-to-week, are very slim.
And in fantasy, contingency plans are a must as you battle anywhere from nine to 11 other owners in most leagues. Thus, taking into account the players acquired in free agency and the draft, as well as who left, and their schedules, let’s delve into the six defenses other than the Seahawks fantasy owners should target in drafts later this summer.
The loss of corner Antonio Cromartie and defensive tackle Dan Williams hurt, but the core of a defense that allowed only 18.7 points per game, and held opposing quarterbacks to a 86.0 passer rating while forcing 18 interceptions is still intact. They lost linebacker Karlos Dansby in free agency before last year and didn’t miss a beat, and should do the same, even with defensive coordinator Todd Bowles tabbed as the Jets next coach. The Cardinals have one of the best corners in the league in Patrick Peterson, with safety Rashad Johnson backing him up, and defensive end Calais Campbell is good for at least 8.0 sacks.
With the fifth-hardest schedule in the league next season, owners might be scared off. But remember NFC West rivals San Francisco got weaker in the offseason, and St. Louis faces uncertainty under quarterback Nick Foles. Arizona does have a tough slate against the loaded NFC and AFC North, but should feast on the Bears in Week 2, Bengals in Week 11, and Vikings in Week 14.
New York Jets
Rex Ryan’s not there anymore to lead the defense, but the Jets have one the most talented and young group of defensive stars in the league. And Bowles to boot. With the addition of Cromartie and the return of Darrelle Revis, the Jets have an excellent secondary, with defensive ends Muhammad Wilkerson and rookie Leonard Williams to pester quarterbacks and d-tackle Sheldon Richardson already one of the best at his position.
Essentially, Bowles has more talent in New York than he did in Arizona, and with a schedule ranked as the 18th hardest in the NFL, the Jets will roll in 2015. Last season, they were fifth in sacks (45), sixth in total yards, and really only had issues giving up big plays down field. New York allowed 14 plays of 40 or more yards, tied for the third-worst in the NFL. That should change with Revis.
Technically, by allowing only 18.1 points, forcing 30 turnovers, and the best pass rush in the league with 54 sacks, the Bills were the highest-scoring DST in ESPN leagues last season. There’s already an incredible defensive front of Mario Williams and Kyle Williams, with fellow d-tackle Marcell Dareus entering a contract year.
In the secondary, pass swatter and safety Corey Graham (15 passes defensed) and interception leader Leodis McKelvin are a punishing duo that should take advantage of opponents with a combined .486 winning percentage last season, only the 19th hardest schedule in the league in 2015. Currently, the Bills are the No. 2 ranked defense by average draft position on FantasyPros, and a case could be made for them going ahead of the Seahawks.
Last season the Ravens made up for a lack of turnovers, only 22 forced, with the third-best pass rush in the league tallying 49 sacks, 17 of which came from All-Pro linebacker Elvis Dumervil. And really nothing should change. Baltimore will likely see the growth of C.J. Mosley as one of the best linebackers in the league, and Terrell Suggs remains an incredible force, while Timmy Jernigan should build on his 4.0 sacks from last season.
The schedule suggests a slightly difficult road, with the 11th hardest slate next season, especially in Week 1 at the Denver Broncos. But the Ravens have some gimmes against Oakland the following week, then division rivals Cleveland in Weeks 5 and 12, and face Jacksonville at home in Week 10.
The addition of Ndamukong Suh at defensive tackle should work wonders for a Dolphins pass rush that was tied for No. 16 in the league with 39 sacks. It was a lack of pressure upfront that allowed opposing quarterbacks an 89.7 passer rating against the Dolphins, No. 18 in the NFL. And they couldn’t really force too many turnovers, with only 25.
Suh’s presence adds an extra dynamic that gives awesome defensive backs Brent Grimes, Reshad Jones, and Louis Delmas extra time to stop big plays and generate more turnovers. Miami’s the No. 12 defense off the board according to FantasyPros, or No. 169 overall, making them a potential sleeper and steal.
The schedule’s also pretty favorable, as the 17th most difficult next season, even with the Dolphins easier opponents owning home field advantage. Miami gets the chance to pick on lowly Washington and Jacksonville in the first two weeks even though the games are on the road. Dolphins play Tennessee in Week 6.