Defenses and special teams aren’t given much thought in fantasy football, especially during draft time. The common rule is to wait until the second to last round before taking a defense or kicker. Outside of a few outliers, that’s usually the case for most owners.
And while it’s a position many players ignore, you can’t completely disregard it. The reason to take defenses so late is they are the hardest position to predict in the preseason, and the difference between top defenses and mid-range isn’t much.
Consider last season when the Arizona, Kansas City, Denver and Carolina defenses were drafted 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th according to ADP at FantasyFootballCalculator. Those four defenses were all on the same level, or even better than Seattle’s defense, which is/was often taken multiple rounds too early.
Or what about in Week 1 last year when teams like the Titans and 49ers had unexpectedly large wins and top defensive displays?
While it’s important not to reach for a defense, it’s also important not to blindly take one. Taking a look at the schedule and situations can go a long way in getting a good defense for Week 1.
And so, let’s try and find the best options to draft. While these probably aren’t units that you want to keep for the entire season, they’ll be good enough for the first couple weeks, which is all you need.
Tennessee Titans vs. Minnesota Vikings
(Vegas projected score, Titans 21-20; going undrafted)
No, this isn’t a joke. Undoubtedly, no one else will be looking to draft the Titans, and for good reason. But look at the schedule. The Titans host a Teddy Bridgewater-less team in Week 1 and then travel to Detroit and host Oakland in the following weeks.
Less than two weeks before the season, the Vikings lost Bridgewater, which is going to have an impact on the offense. Sure, they’ll hand off to Adrian Peterson a ton, but Shaun Hill isn’t scaring anyone.
As for the actual defense, their front seven is decent with Jurrell Casey the top name. Brian Orakpo had six sacks last season while Derrick Morgan returns to the other side after an injury-plagued 2015. The secondary is still iffy, but that might not be too big of a deal against the Vikings. Even then, the Titans added Rashad Johnson from Arizona to go with Jason McCourty at safety.
This isn’t a pretty pick and could easily backfire, but in the home opener for the Titans against a team that wants to run the entire game, it may turn out better than most late options.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Buffalo Bills
(Vegas projected score, Ravens 24-21; No. 19 ADP at FantasyPros consensus)
The days of the Ravens being an elite defense are gone, but there’s still life in the squad. A home game against Buffalo is an okay matchup with a divisional meeting at Cleveland next.
Baltimore wants to get back to being a top defense, and there are more pieces this year than any of the prior ones. At the minimum, Terrell Suggs is back on the field to go with Elvis Dumervil on the ends. CJ Mosley is still in the middle, while they’ve been hyping rookie Matt Judon all preseason. Even in the secondary, the Ravens have to be better with Eric Weddle, but also everyone is healthy–for now. Plus, they have more depth than usual at corner with Jerraud Powers on the roster.
Against a mobile quarterback in Week 1, it’s not an overly great fantasy matchup, but the Bills offensive line is mediocre at best.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Cleveland Browns
(Vegas projected score, Eagles 24-19; No. 17 ADP at FantasyPros)
The Eagles defense won’t get nearly as many opportunities for turnovers as when Chip Kelly was the coach, but they host Cleveland in Week 1, followed by a trip to Chicago, who has a new offensive coordinator.
They have a lot of questions, but also a lot of new faces. Either way, Fletcher Cox is still there to cause havoc with Brandon Graham expecting to have a bigger role. But it’s other spots that are improved. Linebacker Stephen Tulloch comes over from Detroit, while the secondary is almost completely new outside of Malcolm Jenkins. At corner, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks step in, with Rodney McLeod at the other safety spot.
Those guys should help a bit against the Browns that will take plenty of shots downfield with Robert Griffin III. And RG3 looked great in preseason, but he loves turning the ball over. On the road in the opener, the Eagles are a decent bet to force a couple of turnovers, even if they allow 20 or so points.