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Team Defense (D/ST) Draft Sleepers


Football is a fickle game. NFL defenses can be the same. A defense can be good one year and not so good the next. The common sentiment is the need to get rid of defenses in fantasy football. While this much like the kicker, debate is a good thought, it has not happened yet. Until it does, we need to talk about them and the defenses who may help your fantasy team.

Some players feel taking a good defense is worth wasting a pick other than the last two rounds. These people are what we would call wrong. Never take a kicker or defense before your second to last pick. But which defense should you take when you are in a home league and inevitably half the league does just this? I am here to help.

The elite defenses everyone wants are clear. We all know the Bears, Jaguars and Vikings are going to go first. So, let us take a look at some other defenses. Maybe some who, even if you decide to punt the position in the draft in favor of an additional position player, you could still possibly grab off waivers before Week 1.

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Atlanta Falcons

You will notice a theme with all of these sleeper defenses. All of the teams want to get back to running the ball. A lot. And this starts in Atlanta with the Falcons.

Last season was a mess in Atlanta. After a top 10 defensive season in 2017, things were looking good heading into 2018. Then an injury happened. Then another and another. Not only did the snowball effect take out Devonta Freeman after the second game of the season, it also took out a lot of players on defense. Add to this the lackluster seasons by Takk McKinley and Vic Beasley and it was not hard to see why the Falcons team disappeared.

Julio Jones is still a stud; Calvin Ridley looks to add to a superb rookie season and Austin Hooper looks for a third-year breakout. All of these players added to the returning Freeman will mean the offense should be on the field for a good portion of games. The less a defense is on the field, the less it can give up. With the run game back in force and the pass game as stellar as ever, Atlanta looks to rebound into the playoffs yet again.

This is a make or break year for Dan Quinn. If he has another down season, he could be out. He is a defensive coach after leading the vaunted Seahawks Legion of Boom and although not as talented, he will get the most out of his defense yet again. If Takk McKinley and Vic Beasley can join forces with newly minted Grady Jarrett in wrecking opposing offensive lines, the team should be a top 10 defense yet again after a one-year hiatus.

 

Detroit Lions

My love for Kerryon Johnson knows no bounds. In this case, it even extends to the defense in Detroit.

Matt Patricia is trying to build New England west. He thinks he is Bill Belichick. He isn’t. Nor is the team talented enough for him to really try. But until he figures this out, the run game and short pass game will live wild and free for the Lions.

Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones are good receivers. But a lot of teams have good receivers in the NFL. This does not mean they will produce to an elite level for Matthew Stafford.

Stafford is coming back from a miserable season which was due to many factors. Not the least of which was playing with multiple stress fractures in his back. The strong-armed quarterback from Georgia is set to have a revival this season. This will start with relying on Kerryon Johnson, C.J. Anderson and the rest of the run game to relieve some of the pressure.

The Lions drafted T.J. Hockenson in the first round of the draft and he is going to get a lot of work this season as a rookie. That is to say he will be using his dominant blocking skills a lot to get the run game moving and milk the clock. Detroit is going to be going for a conservative game plan in 2019 and again, this is good for the defense.

Although they are not star-studded by any means, bringing in Trey Flowers to anchor the line is a huge upgrade. If Snacks Harrison continues to be the run stopper he has been in recent years, this will force other teams to throw more. The secondary is anchored by Darius Slay, still one of the top cover corners in the NFL.

At 22.5 points per game given up in 2018, the Lions were middle of the pack finishing at 16th in the NFL. With the run game set to take a major step forward with Johnson and Anderson and the return of Matthew Stafford to a top 15 fantasy quarterback, Detroit’s defense is set to be a top 12 unit. So, while it might be tempting to take a higher ranked defense in drafts don’t forget. No team has repeated as the top ranked defense in the past five seasons. So, don’t expect it this season either.

 

Tennessee Titans

Unlike the other teams on this list, the Titans need to run more. Yes, as stated all of these teams are going to take a step forward in the run game. But with Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford, the other teams have some form of fall back. Marcus Mariota does not provide the same in Tennessee. The number two pick in the 2016 draft has been nothing short of incredibly disappointing in his time in the NFL. He has regressed in each season and injuries have not done him any favors. For these reasons, the Titans have to rely on Derek Henry and the run game.

Coach Mike Vrabel has already come out and said they will ride Henry like he should be ridden. This means close to, if not more than 300 carries. With Adam Humphries and his 72 receptions in Tampa Bay last season also in the fold and Delanie Walker back, this will be a dink and dunk offense to the max. This will lead to a lot of sustained drives.

This will bode well for a defense who was already third in the NFL in scoring defense in 2018 giving up just 18.9 points per game. Much of this stellar play was also due to the ground and pound philosophy brought in by coach Vrabel and will continue in year two of his regime. If rookie Jeffrey Simmons can come back and play at all this season, the Titans will have landed a top-five draft talent at pick 19 in the draft. The Ole Miss defensive lineman was projected to go much higher in April’s draft. Due to an ACL injury which could have him miss the entirety of the season he slipped. We have seen in recent seasons that an ACL is not a death sentence and if he comes back for a late playoff push? The Titans could be a defensive streaming option late in the season for you.

Even though Deion Sanders does not know the names of some of the players, the secondary is also very good. Kevin Byard might be the best safety no one is talking about. With the likes of Earl Thomas still in the league, Byard gets lost in the mix. Add Kenny Vaccaro to the strong side and the safety group is very good. If Malcolm Butler can do anything in his second season in from New England and this could be a shutdown group to match the front seven.

None of the defenses listed above are even being drafted in leagues as of now. All of them have a chance to finish as a top 10 defense if things go right for them. All of them play in environments in which weather will not be an issue for most of if not all of the season. This makes all of them great streaming defenses to look to on a weekly basis should you choose to do defenses in this manner.

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