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Top NFL Team Defense (DST) Targets for Fantasy Football Drafts

Dallas Cowboys Defense, Trevon Diggs - Fantasy Football Rankings, IDP Targets, Draft Sleepers

Yes, it's me, and I'm back to talk to you about fantasy football defenses. I'm not sure how I ended up as a Defense Guy, but I was honored that my weekly DST rankings won the FSWA Award for Best Football Ongoing Series -- and that the weekly Youtube Pick 3(DST) series where I give you three defenses I like and one I'm fading has been really well received -- so I thank you for all of the support.

As I mentioned last year, fantasy football defense is often overlooked but has the ability to win you your weekly matchups. Last year, the top unit was the Cowboys, who scored 10.9 points per game (according to FantasyPros scoring). That's equivalent to Javonte Williams in Half-PPR formats, who finished as the 24th-ranked running back in per game scoring for running backs with over 10 games played with 10.8 points per game.

Any time we can get close to double-digit points (or more if we pick the right matchup), it's not something we should take for granted.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers won two writing awards and received 12 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. A big congrats to our very own Byron Lindeque (Golf) and Jordan McAbee (NASCAR) for both winning Writer Of The Year awards! Be sure to follow RotoBaller's analysis and advice all year long, and win more. Win More With RotoBaller!

 

When to Draft a Defense (DST) in Fantasy Football

However, even though getting 10 points per game from your defense is certainly beneficial, I still am a proponent of not reaching and drafting a DST early in our fantasy drafts. The Cowboys were often not even drafted in fantasy football drafts last year, which is a perfect example of how you can find defensive value without having to pay up for it.

In fact, the top five defenses drafted last year were the Rams, Steelers, Bucs, Commanders, and Ravens. None of them finished as top five defenses in the 2021 fantasy football season. 

Instead of taking the Rams in the 9th round or the Steelers in the 10th round, you could have taken an upside wide receiver like Michael Pittman Jr. and Jaylen Waddle or gone the "Zero RB" route and taken Devin Singletary or Tony Pollard.

To me, there is just too much value at that point in the draft to be taking a defense, and we've already covered that I spend way too much time thinking and writing about defenses. With that in mind, I'm going to focus on my DSTs by targeting according to their talent (duh!) but also their early-season schedule.

Another factor in determining who I target is my BOD (Best Overall Defense) Rankings. BOD is a metric I created last year that weighs together all of the stats I've come to believe are most important for determining if a defense will be a strong fantasy unit: pressure rate, sacks, quarterback hurries, drives ending in a turnover, drives ending in an offensive score, and yards allowed per play.

You can see the whole leaderboard based on last year's numbers here.

 

The "Obvious" Fantasy Football Defense (DST) Picks

Of course, we're not simply going to use last year's leaderboard to determine which DST you should target since personnel has changed in some cases and the schedules are totally different.

However, we will use it as a resource to determine the ability of a defensive unit (if similar in personnel and scheme) to produce strong numbers. Yet, as I mentioned above, the early-season schedule is super important when choosing the right defense.

Since I'm usually never going to be the first person drafting a DST in my leagues (there is almost always somebody who starts a mini-run three or four rounds before the end of the draft), I'm not likely to wind up with one of the top units.

However, I do love the following defenses this year and would be targeting them if they were somehow available in the final round or two when I'm finishing off my draft:

  • Buccaneers Defense
  • Bills Defense
  • 49ers Defense

 

My Top Draft Fantasy Football Defense (DST) Targets

If one of those top defenses doesn't fall to me, I'm often targeting the following defenses towards the end of drafts.

Remember that I am looking for defenses I think are talented and will score points, but I'm also unlikely to hold one defense on my roster all season in most league formats, so I'm paying a lot of attention to the early schedule and anticipating rotating out my defenses.

 

Denver Broncos Defense

Yes, the Broncos lost Von Miller to the Rams mid-way through the season and then saw him sign with the Bills, but I don't think that's a death blow for this defense. Despite Miller leaving and Bradley Chubb getting hurt, the Broncos finished 9th in my defensive rankings last year.

The pass rush really suffered without those two, but the Broncos were 4th-best in the NFL in drives that ended in an offensive score, and they missed the fewest tackles of any defense in the NFL. In fact, no other defense finished within ten of them.

They will get Bradley Chubb back this season, which will help their pass rush tremendously, as will the addition of second-round pass-rusher Nik Bonitto from Oklahoma.

The Broncos will always continue to maintain one of the biggest home-field advantages by playing in the Mile High City, and the offense's likely improvement under Russell Wilson will put more pressure on opponents to try to keep up, which tends to lead to more opportunities for sacks and turnovers.

Early games against the Texans and the Seahawks with Geno Smith or Drew Lock under center are certainly appealing, but the 49ers will also have Trey Lance at quarterback, and his inexperience could lead to turnovers and a solid fantasy showing for the Broncos.

EARLY SCHEDULE: @Seahawks, vs Texans, vs 49ers, @Raiders

 

New Orleans Saints Defense

The Saints are a perennially underrated defense. They finished 2nd in my BOD (Best Overall Defense) rankings last year thanks to being 7th in sacks, 3rd in tackles for a loss, 6th in quarterback pressure rate, and 4th in the percentage of drives that ended in an offensive score. They were also 4th in scoring defense and 7th in total yards allowed last season, so this was a tremendously well-rounded defense.

I also expect the offense to be a little bit better this year, which will put the defense in less harmful situations and also, hopefully, keep them more rested on the sidelines during games.

In the offseason, they added safety Tyrann Mathieu, who should help their turnover rate and also just generally improve the quality of their defense, which is saying something since the Saints have finished 8th or better in defensive efficiency for five straight seasons.

The Saints also come out of the gates with a tremendous matchup against the Atlanta Falcons, who should be one of the worst teams in the league this year. You'll probably want to find another option versus the Bucs, but I think the Saints are a solid option against the Panthers as well, which makes them a solid target for me in drafts.

EARLY SCHEDULE: @Falcons, vs Bucs, @Panthers, vs Vikings

 

New England Patriots Defense

The Patriots were the number one defense in my BOD rankings last year and have ranked within the top 12 as a fantasy defense every season since 2018. It's hard to knock that kind of consistency. Last year, New England was 10th in quarterback pressure rate, 2nd in turnover rate, 5th in yards allowed per play, and 1st in percentage of drives that ended in an opponent's score.

Now, I want to be clear that I don't expect the Patriots to be a top-three defense again this year. So much of their success depended on turnovers, and it's hard to repeat that year-to-year, especially since they lost cornerback J.C. Jackson, who had eight interceptions last year.

However, the Patriots have a solid defensive line led by Matt Judon and defensive tackle Christian Barmore, and they have always been among the best-coached units in the league. I think that will give them a relatively high floor.

They also open the season with what I believe is a solid schedule. The Dolphins are a trendy team this year, but we have no idea how the pieces will fit together and Tua Tagovailoa has not proven to be an above-average NFL starting quarterback yet. Bill Belichick has weeks to prepare for a matchup against a first-time head coach in Mike McDaniel, so I give the edge to the Patriots there.

Then they face a Steelers team that might be led by Mitch Trubisky, and a Ravens offense that has Lamar Jackson but is turnover prone and had all kinds of issues last year. They follow that up against a matchup with the Packers, who no longer have Davante Adams.

I'm not suggesting those are all plus matchups, but I'm saying that I don't think the matchups are as difficult as they might appear at first blush and could make the Patriots a sneaky defense early on.

EARLY SCHEDULE: @Dolphins, @Steelers, vs Ravens, @Packers

 

Dallas Cowboys Defense

The Cowboys finished as the best fantasy defense last year but are still currently being drafted as the 10th overall defense. I'm not sure I understand that. The Cowboys are young and talented with reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Micah Parsons and cornerback Trevon Diggs who has turned into an interception machine.

Last year, the Cowboys were 1st in defensive DVOA, 3rd in turnover rate, and 2nd in percentage of drives ending in a score, which helped to offset ranking 21st in quarterback pressure rate and 15th in sacks.

The Cowboys are, obviously, not likely to repeat their turnover success from last year, or the number of turnovers that they returned for touchdowns, but they do run an opportunistic scheme which means they won't regress too far.

Another factor working in the Cowboys' favor is that they have the second-easiest schedule in football since their opponents had a collective .452 winning percentage last season.

You will need another defense for Week 1 since a matchup against the Bucs is not ideal, but the Cowboys' schedule from Week 3 on looks pretty juicy. If I play in a league with a shallow bench, I won't draft Dallas, but if I'm in a league where I can roster two defenses, Dallas should be a strong stash early on.

EARLY SCHEDULE: vs Bucs, vs Bengals, @Giants, vs Commanders

 

Baltimore Ravens Defense

We'll end with a perennially elite defense that fell on hard times last year. The Ravens ranked 21st in my BOD rankings in 2021 and 28th in defensive efficiency overall, but they were decimated by injuries, so you almost need to throw out last year when trying to evaluate this defense.

In the offseason, the Ravens replaced defensive coordinator Don Martindale with Mike Macdonald, who led John Harbaugh's brother Jim's defense at Michigan last year. Macdonald will bring a more forward-thinking and schematically diverse defense, which should help to bring this unit back to prominence.

Especially since they still have tons of talent and added more in signing safety Marcus Williams and nose tackle Michael Pierce in free agency. They also used the 14th pick on safety Kyle Hamilton and the 76th pick on defensive tackle Travis Jones, so they have reloaded this team with even more talent.

The Ravens also start the year with a solid schedule with the Jets likely being led by Joe Flacco. We already covered my concerns with the Dolphins' offense, and I am still not a believer in the Patriots' offense, especially with the brutal reports coming out of training camp.

I probably won't run the Ravens out against the Bills in Week 4, but I love the first three matchups and will be targeting them often in drafts.

EARLY SCHEDULE: @Jets, vs Dolphins, @Patriots, vs Bills

 

Eric's DST Combo Meal for Fantasy Football Drafts

DRAFT the Washington Commanders and PICK-UP the Los Angeles Chargers Defense

Washington was a top-five defensive option going into last season based on the strength of their pass rush. While that didn't work out last year, I still expect this to be a playable defense in the right matchup. That should certainly be the case early since they open the season against Jacksonville and Detroit.

After that, drop them to add the Los Angeles Chargers. The Chargers open the season against the Raiders and Chiefs, which will not make them an enticing option, but then their next three weeks are: vs Jaguars, @Texans, and @Browns. Yummy.

The Chargers are one of my favorite season-long defenses since they acquired three-time All-Pro Khalil Mack to pair with Joey Bosa and also added the aforementioned former Patriot cornerback J.C. Jackson.

If you go with the Commanders early and then add the Chargers to your bench before their Week 2 matchup against the Chiefs, you will have plus matchups for the first five weeks and maybe an elite defense for the rest of the season.

 

Other Early Season Defense (DST) Streaming Options

Cleveland Browns

Last year, Cleveland was 7th in passing DVOA and 12th in overall DVOA. They always have a high-sack ceiling with Myles Garrett healthy, but they are a bit vulnerable to good rushing attacks.

Since they start the season against the Panthers, Jets, Steelers, and Falcons, I'm not too worried. That’s a tremendous four-week stretch if you want to wait on defense in your drafts.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The case for the Steelers is simple: they finished in the top half of the league in defensive DVOA for seven straight seasons and finished top-10 in three of those years. They are driven by T.J. Watt, who led the NFL with 22.5 sacks, and Cam Heyward, who is coming off of an All-Pro season.

I wouldn't want the Steelers in Week 1 against Cincinnati, but then they follow that up with a three-game stretch against New England, Cleveland, and the New York Jets. That's another pretty nice run if you pair them with a better option for the first week.



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