Having a quality defense is crucial in the NFL. It’s typically the difference between making the playoffs and sitting on a couch after the regular season dries up. And if you want to make a deep run and have a shot at the Super Bowl, it’s even more important. Just ask the Green Bay Packers, who had an elite offense to match anyone in 2012, but had a defense that got ravaged by the San Francisco 49ers.
That level of necessity for a stout defense translates seamlessly to fantasy football, believe it or not. In fact, having an elite defense can completely change your team’s scoring ceiling on a weekly basis. If you’re struggling to find the perfect matchup via a defensive unit on the waiver wire, you’re probably dancing a fine line between snatching up a team that might yield 10 points and get four sacks, or gives up 40 points and doesn’t force a single turnover.
Instead of having to use strategy and a little bit of luck every single week, you could just invest in a top of the line fantasy team defense in your fantasy draft, and rest easy most weeks. Even the best fantasy defense won’t be able to get it done for you every single week, but the top ones are going to be difference-makers about 3-4 times per year, and pay off 6-7 other weeks.
The true difference between having the 49ers or the Jacksonville Jaguars on a week to week basis can be up to 20 points, if not higher, depending on your league.
With that said, let’s talk less about why it’s important to draft an elite defense, and more about which ones are worth drafting. Here are our top-10 fantasy team defense rankings for the 2013 fantasy football season:
Not only does Seattle have arguably the best shutdown corner duo in the game right now, but they also have a rugged run defense. They finished as the #4 overall fantasy unit in 2012, and allowed the fewest points in the league (231). With a hopefully improved pass-rush, they should be even nastier in 2013 and could vault to the top overall spot.
2. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers are absolutely in the debate for the top fantasy defense spot, but for now they’ll take a backseat to their division rivals, who have a better pass defense. With that said, the 49ers retained defensive end Justin Smith on the cheap and added some nice prospects and veterans to round out an already elite defense. They actually finished outside of the top-five a year ago, but with clear improvements made across the board, I don’t see why they can’t get closer to the top spot again.
Houston’s drop-off last year had everything to do with the loss of inside linebacker Brian Cushing (knee), as well as sketchy play at safety. To rectify that, they added Ed Reed and rookie depth at safety, and are getting a healthy and determined Cushing back on the field. Add the ever formidable J.J. Watt to the mix, and there’s no way this isn’t a top-five defense in 2013.
Brian Urlacher is gone, but one guy doesn’t make an entire defense. In fact, Urlacher was slipping over the past 2-3 seasons, so one could actually make the argument that putting someone faster in his place could make this defense even better. Considering the Bears finished last year as the number one overall defense (thanks to 10 defensive touchdowns), they should at least remain in the top-five.
Denver’s pass defense ended up being pretty suspect in the playoffs last year, but their run defense keeps improving and their 52 sacks from 2012 aren’t to be messed with. They did lose Elvis Dumervil to free agency, but they still have an elite pass-rush put together and they’re only getting better with some very solid prospects added via the draft. They should vie for a spot in the top-five for the second year in a row.
Like the Broncos, the Patriots still have tons of trouble against elite passing offenses and probably give up too many points (323 last season), but they make their presence known with turnovers (41 in 2012). Their defense is only getting younger and nastier, too, so while they might not be a top-five unit, they certainly should hover right around there and at least stick inside the top-10 for 2013.
The Rams are a very nice sleeper defense going into 2013 after finishing inside the top-10 last year. They added immense talent via the draft this year and already had a stout pass-rush (52 sacks in 2012), as well as an improving run defense. They’re younger than most of the teams above them, so they carry more risk, but they also carry a ton of upside. They could easily take the leap into the top-five in 2013 and are a bargain buy late in fantasy drafts.
The Ravens in the top-10 without Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger? Possibly so. The important thing to remember here is that the Ravens weren’t really elite for much of the 2012 regular season. That had a lot to do with Terrell Suggs and Lewis not being 100%, and their run defense being inconsistent. They’ve patched up their holes across the board with talented young players, however, and could surprise people with a small ascension in the fantasy ranks in 2013.
Arizona’s nasty and aggressive defense would have received a ton more credit in 2012, had it not been for a woeful offense crushing their playoff hopes. It was largely due to the defense that the Cardinals got off to a hot 4-0 start in 2012, but the defense just couldn’t keep up the pace with such a bad offense. Still, the Cardinals finished as the #10 overall fantasy defense last year, and have the talent to do the same or possibly even better in 2013.
10. New York Giants
You can only keep Big Blue down for so long. Not only do the Giants seem to rise up and compete for a Super Bowl every couple of years, but they simply have too much talent on defense not to play better than they did in 2012. Their defensive line remains stacked and is easily one of the deepest in the entire league, while there is still enough talent in their secondary to keep their pass defense competitive. If they can make a big upgrade at inside linebacker before the year, they should be locked-in right around this spot in anyone’s defense rankings.