Picking a defense for a fantasy NFL team often ends up as an afterthought after quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs take center stage. Defenses can be unreliable on a weekly basis as they can vacillate depending on the opposing offense. Many of this year’s top 10 defenses will look familiar but some teams have made offseason changes for the better.
Seattle Seahawks – The Seahawks did well in the draft (see Jesse Williams) and in free agency. Sure the team will be miss suspended Bruce Irvin for the season’s first four games and will look forward to a solid return of Chris Clemons from his knee injury, but it should do well from the defensive line additions with Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett.
San Francisco 49ers – The team’s glaring defensive weakness is its secondary, which played poorly in last year’s playoffs. In 2013, they’ll be without top safety Dashon Goldson, who left in the free agency. Rookie Eric Reid is Goldson’s heir apparent and has big shoes to fill. Aside from this concern, this team has a solid defense.
Houston Texans – Expectations are again high after J.J. Watt’s sick 2012 performance: sitting at the top of the league with 20.5 sacks and 24 tackles for loss. And who can forget the player’s unique talent, his batted pass which isn’t going away anytime soon. Look for Watt to keep up the high level of play along with additional leadership.
Antonio Smith is also a great pass rusher and has tricks to keep opposing teams on their toes. There’s no reason why this team will decline and should Ed Reed acclimate well and Brian Cushing return to form, watch out.
Chicago Bears – Change has come to this team’s defense with the absence of leader Brian Urlacher and former defense coordinator Rod Marinelli. But it wasn’t really broken so there’s not too much to fix under new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. Look for veterans Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers and Charles Tillman to again lead this defense, something that is fun to watch each week as well as the younger players stepping up as the next generation for this aging defense.
Denver Broncos – The Broncos have some secondary weaknesses (see the postseason Baltimore Ravens game) and a need to fill the role left by former pass-rushing star and leader Elvis Dumervil. The team had been tied with the Rams in sacks last season (52) and have return specialist Trindon Holliday who had a great season in 2012.
Cincinnati Bengals – This is a young defense sans the addition of Dumervil and former Pittsburgh Steeler James Harrison. Last season the Bengals were No. 3 for sacks (51). Look for more with the addition of the talented veterans. Rookie Shawn Williams comes with high expectations. If the secondary comes together, watch out!
New England Patriots – There’s been lots less talk about this team’s defense in this offseason. They didn’t have a great season vs. the pass in 2012 but sat at the top of the NFL with its 32 forced fumbles. With sophomore Chandler Jones gaining more experience, this should be helpful for this defense.
Pittsburgh Steelers – This defense is comprised of talented veterans approaching their twilight years and the team has responded with some rookies to be groomed such as Jarvis Jones at the top of the list. Cortez Allen will take over for Keenan Lewis while rookie Shamarko Thomas will eventually replace Troy Polamalu, maybe in 2014.
St. Louis Rams – This defense has flown under the radar as its offense’s problems were more glaring last season. With a defense that was No. 15 vs the pass and the run, the team also led the NFL in sacks (52) with Chris Long and Robert Quinn having great seasons. Cortland Finnegan is wreaking havoc in the secondary and cornerback Janoris Jenkins had a great freshman year with his three pick-sixes.
For 2013, look for the Rams defense to add two rookies to the mix for an expanded talent pool: Alec Ogletree and T.J. McDonald.
Green Bay Packers – The Packers could use some improvement for the pass (No. 11) and the run (No. 17) from 2012 but with an 11-5 record, this defenses still had 47 sacks (No. 4) and 18 picks (ties for No. 6).
Face of the defense, linebacker Clay Matthews, was No.5 for sacks even after he missed four games. He needs a partner in this role and the team needs a Charles Woodson replacement.
But working with what they have is pretty good to land them in the top 10.