2018 Fantasy Football Rankings: Defenses/Special Teams
As we round out the first full week of August, we’ve got one final rankings list for this upcoming fantasy football seasons: defenses/special teams. We all want to dominate our fantasy football drafts, so I’m here to help you out in order to gain bragging rights over all your friends with what should be your second-to-last starting pick. (note: I won;t be including a rankings list for kickers considering they’re almost all the same if they play in a decent offense)
Defenses/special teams are one of the more underwhelming fantasy positions, but they have the potential to make all the difference if given the right matchups. While only the deepest 12-team fantasy formats warrant drafting more than one D/ST, I’ll just be speaking about the top 12 units I think should be off the board. Along with each pick, I’ll list their bye week as well as their statistical finishes by the end of last season.
You can check out our 2018 fantasy rankings for other positions in the links below:
Now, let’s end these lists off with a bang. Good luck to all of you this season, and may the fantasy football gods be with you.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars (9)
2nd in yards allowed, 2nd in points allowed, 55.0 sacks, 21 INT, 12 FR, 2 BK, 8 TD
The Good: There’s no level of defense in which the Jaguars aren’t stellar. Their pass rush is absurd, with defensive end Calais Campbell ranking second in the NFL in sacks at age 31. Myles Jack has as much talent as any young linebacker in the league when he’s healthy. Perhaps most impressive, though, is that fact that Jacksonville already has arguably two of the top five cornerbacks in the NFL in Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye. The best part about those two guys? They’re only 23 and 26-years-old respectively. In short, you can’t run the ball or pass the ball against the Jaguars. This unit should be great for a long time and are an easy pick as your top defense in fantasy.
The Catch: Their schedule isn’t pretty. The AFC South is going to be considerably better than last season, as both the Texans and the Colts will have their star quarterbacks healthy. The Jags also lost to the Titans in both of their 2017-18 matchups, one of which saw them give up 36 points. Jacksonville also has to face the Patriots, Eagles, and Steelers, all of which have one of the league’s elite offenses.
2. Minnesota Vikings (10)
1st in yards allowed, 1st in points allowed, 37.0 sacks, 14 INT, 5 FR, 0 BK, 1 TD
The Good: When you rank first in both yards allowed and points allowed, you know you’re doing something right on defense. The Vikings were great on both sides of the ball last season, but it was mostly their defense that carried them to the NFC Championship (except, of course, for Stefon Diggs and Marcus Williams). Their defense is stacked from a personnel standpoint (especially their secondary with Xavior Rhodes at cornerback and Harrison Smith at safety) and stayed remarkably healthy last season. They could be in for another monstrous year if everything stays the same.
The Catch: Aaron Rodgers is back under center the Packers, giving the Vikings a way tougher divisional opponent than last season. Also, the first five weeks see Minnesota play at the Packers, at the Rams, and at the Eagles. You may want a backup plan early on in the season.
3. Los Angeles Rams (12)
19th in yards allowed, 12th in points allowed, 48.0 sacks, 18 INT, 10 FR, 5 BK, 4 TD
The Good: The Rams were probably the most aggressive team in football the past offseason, clearly in win-now mode. Acquiring cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib strengthened their secondary considerably, and placing Ndamukong Suh next to reigning Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald was just straight up unfair to the rest of the league. The Rams finished last season in the top 4 in fantasy points in most formats, and they’ve only gotten better.
The Catch: With so many new faces on the Rams defense, it’s impossible to know how they will coalesce, especially given the fact that Suh is as temperamental as it gets and Talib can be a hot head as well. We also have no idea of what’s going to happen with Aaron Donald’s contract situation as of right now. Seattle’s offense will be great once again, San Francisco will be way better than last season, and Arizona could be a surprise success, so their NFC West divisional rivals could all prove to be more competition than expected.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (9)
4th in yards allowed, 4th in points allowed, 38.0 sacks, 19 INT, 12 FR, 5 BK, 6 TD
The Good: There isn’t much of an argument to make against the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles being the best team in football. Their offense led by quarterback Carson Wentz is a scoring powerhouse, and their defense is almost as elite. Their 31 forced turnovers were third only to the Ravens and Jaguars, and their roster has improved considerably through the additions of defensive linemen Michael Bennett and Haloti Ngata. They are playing some pretty great offensive teams, but most of those matchups will be in Philly. Having one of the best return men of the past couple of decades in Darren Sproles fielding punts also provides a nice boost to their fantasy value when it comes to special teams.
The Catch: The Cowboys and Giants are sure to be better offensively than they were last year, making the NFC East a bit harder to navigate. The second half of their season also sees some tough matchups, as they’ll have to play at the Saints, at the Cowboys, and at the Rams leading up to and into the fantasy playoffs.
5. Los Angeles Chargers (8)
15th in yards allowed, 3rd in points allowed, 43.0 sacks, 18 INT, 9 FR, 1 BK, 5 TD
The Good: The Chargers finished off last season as the hottest team in football, winning six of their last seven games, only to narrowly miss the playoffs. I expect them to be a playoff team this season, and their defense should play a big role in why. They’ve got two of the best pass rushers in the game in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, the former of whom is one of my favorites for Defensive Player of the Year. I also love the addition of safety Derwin James through the 2018 draft. They have a relatively easy schedule as well, as the AFC West is a pretty lackluster division. They also play the AFC North, which really only has one good team in the Steelers.
The Catch: Last year’s relatively large discrepancy in yards allowed and points allowed is a bit concerning, as that essentially makes the Chargers seem average in the middle of the field but excellent in the red zone. Points allowed are ultimately what matters more in fantasy (and in football in general, I suppose), but I’d like to see a bit more consistency in those rankings before I consider them a definitively elite fantasy defense.
6. Houston Texans (10)
20th in yards allowed, 32nd in points allowed, 32.0 sacks, 11 INT, 5 FR, 0 BK, 4 TD
The Good: Don’t let those dreadful final rankings fool you: the Texans defense will be way better this season. Defensive end JJ Watt missed nearly all of last season, and a team is bound to take a hit when arguably the best defensive player of the past decade is sidelined. They also only got five games out of Whitney Mercilus, who’s probably their second or third best defensive player; bringing in a top safety like Tyrann Mathieu is just icing on the cake. Perhaps just as important as their personnel, though, is that the Texans could very well have the easiest schedule in football.
The Catch: Houston did not have a single kickoff or punt return touchdown last season, so their special teams are very unlikely to bring much fantasy value. Fantasy owners will have to rely solely on the defense to provide points. This shouldn’t scare you away from drafting them, but it’s still something to keep in mind.
7. Baltimore Ravens (10)
12th in yards allowed, 6th in points allowed, 41.0 sacks, 22 INT, 12 FR, 1 BK, 8 TD
The Good: Baltimore’s defense has consistently been as safe a bet in fantasy since the turn of the century as any other team in football. They ranked second only to the Jaguars in defensive touchdowns, while also ranking just behind Jacksonville as the second best defense in fantasy last year. It could be tough to keep up that touchdown total, but Baltimore is well worth your pick.
The Catch: The end of Baltimore’s season looks rough, as they play at the Falcons, at the Chiefs, and at the Chargers throughout the fantasy postseason. They should be great during the regular fantasy season, but you might have to look elsewhere if you want to make a playoff run.
8. Denver Broncos (10)
3rd in yards allowed, 22nd in points allowed, 33.0 sacks, 10 INT, 7 FR, 3 BK, 4 TD
The Good: The Broncos might not be the defensive powerhouse they were over the previous few seasons, but they’re still pretty great. Linebacker Von Miller is still as good as it gets, and rookie defensive end Bradley Chubb, widely considered the best defensive player in this year’s draft, could make a huge impact in the pass rush. Denver also has a pretty easy schedule this year, so there’s reason to expect a nice bounce back.
The Catch: Losing cornerback Aqib Talib is rough, as it not only makes their pass defense worse, but it could also knock down their already average turnover total. Also, in contrast to the Chargers, their yards/points allowed discrepancy is concerning in that they tend to collapse while in the red zone. That will certainly need to improve if Denver’s defense is going to return to elite fantasy status.
9. New Orleans Saints (11)
17th in yards allowed, 10th in points allowed, 42.0 sacks, 20 INT, 5 FR, 1 BK, 4 TD
The Good: Honestly, when was the last time you even considered drafted a Saints defense in fantasy? New Orleans has been a “score first, ask questions later”-type team since Drew Brees took over in 2006. But 2017-18 proved to be a pretty nice turnaround season, as they finished in the top 10 in both points allowed and takeaways. Rookie defensive backs Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams, the former of whom won Defensive Rookie of they Year, are stars in the making and will only make this defense better as they develop.
The Catch: In terms of personnel, I need to see one more year of excellence from this defense in order to consider them as a definitive fantasy starting unit. The Saints also have a wildly difficult schedule, especially once the fantasy postseason starts to take place. Tread lightly later on in the season.
10. Carolina Panthers (4)
7th in yards allowed, 11th in points allowed, 50.0 sacks, 10 INT, 11 FR, 1 BK, 3 TD
The Good: The Panthers possess one of the best front-7’s in football led by the likes of linebacker Luke Kuechly and defensive tackle Kawann Short, which stifled opposing running games and finished the season ranked third in both rushing yards allowed and rushing touchdowns allowed. This being the case, teams really have to take to the air to beat them. However, their 50 sacks were also good for third in the NFL, making that difficult as well.
The Catch: As good as their front-7 is, the same cannot be said of their secondary, which is pretty much average at best. Carolina’s pass rush makes it tough for opposing quarterbacks to get their best throws off, when they do hit their receivers, it’s off to the races. It’s tough to be 100% certain in considering a defense to be a definite starting option in fantasy when their pass defense is as weak as Carolina’s is.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers (7)
5th in yards allowed, 7th in points allowed, 56.0 sacks, 16 INT, 6 FR, 2 BK, 1 TD
The Good: Pittsburgh’s final rankings last season were excellent, as were their NFL-leading 56 sacks. They might not be as elite as some of the Steelers’ past defensive units, but they do have one of the easiest schedules in the NFL for this upcoming season, especially given how weak the rest of the AFC North is likely to be on offense.
The Catch: The loss of Pro-Bowl linebacker Ryan Shazier to injury is like to hurt Pittsburgh’s defense considerably. Their front-7 is going to take a major hit, making it difficult for them to improve upon their 10th place finish in rushing defense. Their sack total could also be a lot lower, and with the unlikelihood of the defense and special teams scoring many touchdowns, their fantasy value will have to rely heavily on limiting opposing teams’ scoring first and foremost. And with their offense being so good, the Steelers D will have a lot of opposing offense to keep up with.
12. New England Patriots (11)
29th in yards allowed, 5th in points allowed, 42.0 sacks, 12 INT, 6 FR, 3 BLK, 1 TD
The Good: It was ridiculously hard to score on New England last season, as proven by their top 5 finish in points allowed despite being toward the bottom in yards allowed. They’re the only good team in arguably the worst division in football, which helps to make their schedule relatively easy. The addition of return man Cordarrelle Patterson can be huge for their fantasy value on special teams, especially since the team as been vocal about using him as much as possible in the return game.
The Catch: With defensive mastermind Matt Patricia now the head coach of the Detroit Lions, the Patriots defense will have to work with a brand new coordinator. Given that they don’t have particularly elite talent on the offensive side of the ball, 2018-19 could be a year of adjustment for New England’s defensive unit. They also won’t be able to have Julian Edelman returning punts for the first half of the season thanks to a four-game PED suspension, which could potentially take some fantasy points away early on in the season.
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