He we go again football fans, another grueling season of the game we all love… fantasy football! The 2014-15 season is upon us and like always, we must learn to adjust our draft strategies based on the changing landscape of the NFL.
The conventional wisdom in fantasy drafts used to be to lock up a stud RB in round 1, grab your RB2 or QB in round 2, then get whichever you didn’t get from before (RB or QB) in round 3, then start grabbing WRs in rounds 4 and 5, maybe a top-tier TE in round 6, then some depth at QB/RB/WR, then a defense, and wait until the final round to get a kicker. But, as fantasy football has evolved, so to have the scoring systems and player positions.
We are seeing more leagues with flex spots instead of a lone TE position; we are seeing leagues take out the kicker altogether; we are seeing more Point-Per-Reception (PPR) leagues than standard scoring. Then we also have the changing philosophies of the NFL where more teams are going to Running Back By Committees (RBBC) in place of the traditional workhorse RB. All these changes mean we have to constantly be on top of our game so that we can draft the best team possible for OUR league’s scoring and roster system.
That is where I come in. I am your ace in the hole, your secret weapon that your other league members won’t have. The Jaguars brought me back this year to help their fans make jaguars.com a one-stop shop for anything and everything they could possibly want. Each week we will be bringing you a fantasy forecast in which I give you start and sit picks for the week, as well as a weekly recap on which players were winners and losers in fantasy leagues.
There will also be a section in which you can send me an email and ask specific questions about your team and have me answer them personally with advice catered to you. And no, I don’t do like the other big box websites where I tell you to start Peyton Manning to pad my accuracy stats. I try and give you the borderline or bubble players who should do well to start, and the stars who I think will do poorly to sit. That way you have an edge on your opponents and don’t leave points on the bench.
I decided to go more in-depth at the RB and WR positions to help you out in drafting since the top 10 in those two positions doesn’t even cover a starter for each team. For RBs I went 15-deep and WRs I went 20 deep.
So, without further ado, let’s get to some fantasy rankings for your upcoming fantasy football draft!
Peyton Manning – QB Broncos: Manning is entering his 16th NFL season (he didn’t play in 2011), but showed no signs of slowing down last year. The problem is regression is inevitable after throwing for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns. I still think he is the #1 fantasy option at QB, but I would expect stats closer to 5,200 passing yards with 45 passing touchdowns.
Drew Brees – QB Saints: The Saints are a pass-first, pass-second, and pass-third kind of team, which is GREAT news for fantasy owners who want to draft Brees. Most leagues will take Manning and Aaron Rodgers before Brees, so that makes him somewhat of a “value pick” if you get him as the 3rd QB off the board. I wouldn’t expect anything less than 5,150 passing yards and 38 touchdowns this season.
Aaron Rodgers – QB Packers: Rodgers is probably the most talented QB in the NFL, but his ceiling is lower than Manning and Brees’ because the Packers have Eddie Lacy at RB. Rodgers should still be able to throw for 4,500 yards and 30-35 touchdowns this season, but that is about as much as you can expect.
Matthew Stafford – QB Lions: The Lions have moved on from Jim Schwartz, and new coach Jim Caldwell and OC Joe Lombardi have worked with Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. Now that Stafford has some better coaching behind him, he could easily be a top-5 fantasy QB with WR Golden Tate and TE Eric Ebron added to his arsenal. Stafford could revisit his 2011 stats of 5,000-plus passing yards and 40-ish touchdowns for his fantasy owners.
Andrew Luck – QB Colts: The biggest thing holding Luck back from being a top-5 fantasy QB is the Colts thinking that they are a “pound the rock” kind of team instead of a “spread the love” team. The Colts’ running game actually got worse than it already was when they lost Donald Brown to the Chargers, so you would think they have to turn him loose eventually. If the Colts cut him loose, I could see Luck finally reaching the 4,500/40 mark for passing yards and touchdowns. Just know that the drop from Stafford to Luck is a pretty sizable one from a fantasy standpoint.
Matt Ryan – QB Falcons: Ryan was a fantasy disaster last year with Julio Jones and Roddy White injured, but they enter this season healthy and ready to do some damage. Steven Jackson is clearly on the downside of his career, and the Falcons drafted RB Devonta Freeman in the 4th round for that very reason. Ryan will have to adjust to life after Tony Gonzalez, but I think he has the weapons to do it. I could see 4,800 passing yards and 30-35 touchdowns this season if everyone stays healthy.
Nick Foles – QB Eagles: Here is where the QB rankings start to get dicey. Foles is probably an every-week starter at QB, but just barely since the Eagles feature a low-volume passing offense. Add to that the departure of WR DeSean Jackson, and there is a legitimate hole in the WR depth chart for the Eagles. With that said, Foles has shown he has the talent to be a fantasy starter and I wouldn’t be shocked to see 3,700 passing yards and 30 touchdowns from him this season.
Tony Romo – QB Cowboys: The Cowboys lost Miles Austin, which is a good thing for Dez Bryant, Terrence Williams, and Jason Witten. And, a defense without Sean Lee and DeMarcus Ware is sure to keep the offense on the field plenty. Romo is a solid QB1 starter, but there are whispers that this is his year to finally shine. I think you could even flip-flop Romo with Foles and be just as right.
Robert Griffin III – QB Redskins: RGIII is almost two years removed from ACL surgery, and Coach Jay Gruden said run plays designed specifically for the dynamic QB will be “far and few between.” If the Redskins can keep him out of harm’s way with him running, RGIII has top-5 fantasy QB upside with Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson, Andre Jordan, and Andre Roberts to throw to. If he reaches 4,000 passing yards and 25 passing touchdowns this season, he will be a value pick in the middle-late middle rounds of the draft.
Jay Cutler – QB Bears: Cutler’s average draft position (ADP) is about 92.5, which puts him at the tail end of the 7th round. I see QBs like Tom Brady, Colin Kaepernick, and Cam Newton going well before him, but Cutler has more weapons and more potential for success than any of them. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are possibly the most dangerous 1-2 combo at WR in the NFL, Martellus Bennett is an underrated TE, and Matt Forte is a RB that can catch 75 passes out of the backfield. Cutler is a sleeper, so make sure you don’t sleep on him.
* You may have noticed that I left out Cam Newton from my rankings. I did so because the Panthers have possibly the worst WR corps in the league, combined with an offensive line that has more questions than it has answers. I have Cam I Am on my do-not-draft list and would suggest you do the same because an auto-draft will take him in round 1 or 2.
LeSean McCoy – RB Eagles: Coach Chip Kelley’s offense will be a run-heavy scheme with McCoy as the centerpiece. Yes, the Eagles brought in Darren Sproles. But, Sproles’ job is more to replace DeSean Jackson than it is to steal carries from McCoy. I would take McCoy with the #1 overall pick this year and feel just fine about it.
Adrian Peterson – RB Vikings: AP is now 29 years old, the age when most running backs in the NFL start their decline. But Peterson has beaten the odds on more than one occasion, and there is little doubt in my mind that he will do it again this year. The Vikings brought in Norv Turner to run the offense, and Turner has coached three separate rushing champions in Emmitt Smith, Ricky Williams and LaDainian Tomlinson. If there was one RB I had to pick to lead the NFL in rushing yards, Peterson would be that guy.
Jamaal Charles – RB Chiefs: You could swap McCoy, Peterson, and Charles in and out of the #1 overall pick and make a solid argument for each of them. But I see the Chiefs as a weaker offense with question marks at WR2, WR3, and TE. Charles will be in the top-5 for touches in the NFL, but I think the lack of a complete offense will make him finish as the 3rd-best fantasy RB at season’s end.
Matt Forte – RB Bears: Thank the fantasy football Gods that touchdown vulture Michael Bush is gone! While Forte is one of the safest picks at RB, there are real questions about his durability since he has racked up 1,892 touches in his short 6 year career. With that said, the 2014 Bears look strikingly similar to the 2013 Bears, which means 2,000 total yards and 12-15 touchdowns is realistic. Forte is a top-5 fantasy pick in any format.
Eddie Lacy – RB Packers: When you talk about dynamic offenses in the NFL, the Packers are going to be at the top of everyone’s list. Leading the rushing attack in that offense is Lacy, a young and versatile running back. I have heard people talk about Lacy possibly leading the league in rushing, and challenging Jamaal Charles for the touchdown title, but I think that may be a bit of a stretch. No matter what, Lacy is a 1st-round fantasy pick in any format.
DeMarco Murray – RB Cowboys: Once you’ve seen Lacy go off the board, you shouldn’t see another RB go for at least the next 10-12 picks. Murray is the best of the 2nd-tier RBs because he has the best passing attack to keep defense from stacking the line. The Cowboys have said publicly that they plan to run the ball more, and that will only help Murray early in the season when he is healthy. I could see Murray hitting the 1,000 [rushing] club, while adding another 300-400 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns for fantasy owners this year.
Montee Ball – RB Broncos: Ball takes over as the Broncos starting RB with Knowshon Moreno in Miami. Moreno finished last season as a top 5-7 fantasy RB thanks to Peyton Manning and the high-powered Broncos offense. When you figure in that Ball is younger and more talented than Moreno was, you have a recipe for a fantasy breakout year for Ball. His ADP has shot up to around #16 overall the last few weeks, so sleeper isn’t a term you can attach to him anymore.
Giovani Bernard – RB Bengals: Jay Gruden and his pass-happy scheme are out, and Hue Jackson and his balanced attack are in. BenJarvis Green-Ellis has been demoted to 3rd down duties, and Gio is now the undisputed starting RB in Cincinnati. I’m looking for 300 touches from Bernard this season, and with his unique ability to make players miss, he should turn those touches into 1,500 total yards and 9-10 touchdowns this season.
Arian Foster – RB Texans: Foster is no longer a top-tier RB in the NFL, or fantasy football. But, that doesn’t mean his value is completely gone either. With Ben Tate no longer there to steal carries, the Texans will look for him to be a 3-down back that should be able to reach 1,400 total yards and 7-8 touchdowns. Foster is a low-end RB1 with some injury risk involved.
Doug Martin – RB Buccaneers: How times have changed for Martin, who racked up 1,926 yards from scrimmage as a rookie and just 3 years later isn’t even a lock to be a 3-down back. The Bucs used a 3rd-round pick on RB Charles Sims, and said he will have a “major role” in the passing game. All that means Martin is still the unquestioned starting RB, but is more of a standard scoring format RB than a PPR format RB. Even in standard scoring leagues, Martin is a bubble RB1/2 with Sims in the mix.
Zac Stacy – RB Rams: The Rams are junking last’s year’s semi-spread offense and going back to their bread and butter, the run. Coach Jeff Fisher has said that Stacy will "probably be that 70-percent of the carries (kind of) guy", meaning he is a RB1/RB2 bubble back.
Le’Veon Bell – RB Steelers: Bell is going to be the Steelers workhorse who also handles the passing down plays. What knocks him down a peg or two is the fact that the Steelers brought in LeGarrette Blount to be the change-of-pace (and probably the goal-line back). Bell will probably get you 950 or so rushing yards, 40-45 receptions, and 400 receiving yards, but touchdowns may be in the 6-7 total range for the season.
Alfred Morris – RB Redskins: From strictly a standard scoring format perspective, Morris is a RB1 ceiling kind of fantasy running back. We’ve seen 1,600 yards from him as a rookie, and his YPC last year were on pace with that rookie campaign (4.8 as a rookie, 4.6 last year). But, as good of a standard RB as he is, his value takes a nose dive for those in PPR formats. Morris has just 20 receptions in his career, which means he is more of a flex option for those in PPR scoring leagues. Know your scoring system before drafting Morris.
C.J. Spiller – RB Bills: Spiller has elite talent, but is handcuffed by Fred Jackson. To make matters worse, the Bills also brought in Bryce Brown to compete for carries in the already frustratingly crowded backfield. Again, when Spiller is healthy and getting the touches, he can put up very good numbers for fantasy owners. His problems are the gigantic red flags in Jackson and Brown. His upside is capped because of their presence, so make sure you don’t reach on him in your draft.
* Again you will notice a big name left off the list, Marshawn Lynch. At the time of this article there are multiple reports of Lynch refusing to report to training camp, and similar reports of the Seahawks saying they will NOT cave into his demands for a new deal. What that means is you have to draft Lynch at your own risk because there is no telling how long this battle will last. For me, unless I can get Lynch in the middle rounds when my starters are all set, I will just pass on him until the picture is a little clearer.
Calvin Johnson – WR Lions: The Lions brought in Golden Tate, a massive upgrade at WR which will force defenses to pay attention to someone other than Megatron. Then the team selected TE Eric Ebron with the #10 overall pick in the draft. Ebron is basically a smaller version of Jimmy Graham, and he too will force defenses to pay attention to him in pass coverage. Johnson is clearly still in his prime, and some talent around him will only help as it forces defenses to slide coverage around to more than just one person.
Dez Bryant – WR Cowboys: There’s no gentle way to say this, so I will just say it… the Cowboys have possibly the worst defense in the NFL. Because of the absolutely horrible defense, that means there will be plenty of shootouts for Bryant to rack up massive totals in this season. Adding to that, Jerry Jones brought in Scott Linehan to call the offensive plays. Linehan has helped guys like Randy Moss, Calvin Johnson and Torry Holt have monster seasons thanks to his passing philosophy. I don’t think it is absolutely crazy to say that Bryant could very well finish the season as the #1 overall fantasy WR.
Demaryius Thomas – WR Broncos: The Broncos lost Eric Decker in free agency, but that is a good thing for Thomas as Decker racked up 137 targets and hauled in 11 touchdowns last year. To replace Decker the team brought in Emmanuel Sanders, a far less reliable option at WR. What that means is Manning is going to lean on Thomas that much more. I honestly think the gap between Thomas, Johnson, and Bryant isn’t as big as people think it is, especially if Thomas gets the redzone targets that Decker had.
Julio Jones – WR Falcons: What keeps Jones this high on the list is talent, plain and simple. The Falcons lost Tony Gonzalez to retirement, their running game is led by Steven Jackson who averaged 3.5 YPC last year, and their defense is in the same conversation as the Cowboys. The Falcons also didn’t add any help to the passing game in the draft, and abandoned the pass-catching TE role with Gonzo out. All this means that Jones should be back to his old stats as long as he can keep himself on the field and off the injury report.
A.J. Green – WR Bengals: When you talk about pure talent, Green is right there with Johnson, Bryant, Thomas, and Jones. But now that the Bengals will be transitioning from a pass-heavy offense under Jay Gruden to a smash-mouth attack under Hue Jackson, Andy Dalton is going to be more of a game manager than a play maker. That means Green’s opportunities for success are going to be fewer than in years past. He has the talent to be any fantasy team’s #1 WR, but I just don’t know if he will get as many chances as he did before.
Brandon Marshall – WR Bears: The Bears offense is nearly a carbon copy of last year’s, so there is no reason to think there will be much of a drop in production from Marshall. Marshall has Alshon Jeffery on the other side of him, which is a blessing and a curse. Jeffery will steal targets and TDs from Marshall, but he also takes a LOT of pressure off him as defenses have to game plan specifically for him. Marshall is sure to be on par with last season’s stats if he stays healthy.
Jordy Nelson – WR Packers: Nelson and Rodgers have a great rapport with each other, and having Lacy at RB certainly helps as he is a difference-maker on offense. The loss of Jermichael Finley and James Jones could create some problems for Nelson as there are fewer options for defenses to worry about. I still like Nelson as a solid WR1 for fantasy purposes though.
Alshon Jeffery – WR Bears: Jeffery is the perfect big-play WR to compliment Marshall, and his breakout campaign last season was no fluke. Jeffery has the vertical to go up and get the ball, whereas Marshall is more of a short-to-intermediate route runner. I look for Jeffery to finish this season as a top-10 fantasy WR as he continues to push for the #1 WR role for the Bears.
Keenan Allen – WR Chargers: As a rookie, Allen stepped right into the #1 WR role for the Chargers and excelled immediately as he hauled in 71 passes for 1,046 yards and 8 TDs. If he could do that as a rookie with no prior workouts behind him, imagine what he will accomplish with a full offseason of work and total trust heading into this season. I think the Chargers running game can hurt him a little as defenses don’t have to truly worry about it. Nevertheless, Allen is a low-end WR1 in standard formats.
Antonio Brown – WR Steelers: Brown was a PPR monster last season with 100 reception, 1,499 yards, and 8 touchdowns. Emmanuel Sanders is in Denver, which means there is nothing between Brown and the ball but WRs that aren’t threats to his numbers. The Steelers are a pass-to-win kind of team, which means Brown will have plenty of chances to repeat his 100/1400/8 season again in 2014.
Andre Johnson – WR Texans: Johnson is no longer a top-10 WR option, and I really wonder if he is a WR1 for fantasy purposes, to be honest. While it is true the Texans have one of the toughest defenses in the NFL when healthy, it is also true that Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t going to strike fear into any defense’s heart. And, let us not forget that Johnson is now 33 years old, pretty old for a WR1 in the NFL.
Randall Cobb – WR Packers: Cobb is a playmaker with the ball in his hands, of that there is no doubt. The problem for Cobb is that Rodgers has a lot of weapons at his disposal. I see Cobb more as a PPR WR than I do a standard scoring format WR, but he will have value either way as he should be able to hit 80 catches, 1,000 yards, and 8 touchdowns if he can stay on the field.
Pierre Garcon – WR Redskins: A lot of fantasy owners are getting scared off from Garcon because of the addition of DeSean Jackson. Personally, I think Garcon will do just as well, whereas Jackson is likely to see a drop in production. Garcon is a chain-moving kind of WR, whereas Jackson is a deep route swing for the fences kind of WR. I like Garcon to approach 100 receptions, 1,200 yards, and 7-8 touchdowns this season.
Vincent Jackson – WR Buccaneers: Coach Lovie Smith is trying to recreate the Bears 2013 offense with the Bucs this year, which is good news for V-Jax. Jackson’s greatest asset is his size, and QB Josh McCown loves to throw the ball high and let a WR go get it (Marshall and Jeffery last season). I think his stats will remain somewhat similar to last year (78/1,224/7), with the upside being in the touchdowns thanks to his size in the redzone.
Victor Cruz – WR Giants: The Giants brought in Ben McAdoo to run the offense, which means Cruz is likely to play a slot role similar to what Cobb does in Green Bay. If this is what happens, I could see a 100-catch season from Cruz, with maybe 1,100 yards and 6-7 TDs. There is a sharp drop in production after Cruz, so make sure you have one of the WRs mentioned by the time you see him go off the board.
Larry Fitzgerald – WR Cardinals: This is where the drop in fantasy value is felt the most, from Cruz to Fitzgerald. The danger with Fitzgerald is that he will be drafted too high because of his name, and because Yahoo and ESPN always put him WAY too high in the pre-draft rankings. Fitzgerald is moving inside this season after seeing just 15 total targets last season on routes of 20 or more yards. He is more valuable in PPR formats, but could still hit double-digit TD totals for those in standard scoring formats. At this point in his career, he’s a WR2 with not much upside into the WR1 ranks.
Torrey Smith – WR Ravens: The Ravens got Smith some help in WR Steve Smith and TE Owen Daniels. New OC Gary Kubiak will bring with him the same zone blocking schemes that made Andre Johnson so successful in Houston. One big red flag to me though is the running game crumbling right before our very eyes. With defenses not needing to worry about putting up 8-man fronts to stop Ray Rice, they can drop an extra linebacker or nickel back into coverage and just use a cloud-type of coverage to minimize the damage Joe Flacco can do.
Roddy White – WR Falcons: With Julio Jones back to take pressure off of him, White is a prime bounce-back candidate this season. Jones is the prize of the offense, but White is the guy who should see plenty of action as the offense looks to compensate for the absence of Gonzalez at TE. While White is 32 years old, I think he has a sleeper-type of season ahead of him and think he is a great mid-round pick for owners.
Cordarrelle Patterson – WR Vikings: OC Norv Turner’s first act as a coach was to install 10 plays specifically designed for Patterson. That means plenty of touches to make Patterson worth owning in PPR and Standard scoring formats. Who knows, maybe Patterson will sneak up on the fantasy world the same way Josh Gordon did. I don’t know if he can double his stats from last season, but I think he could very well approach it if Matt Cassel can keep it together for another season.
Wes Welker – WR Broncos: Welker slides into the #20 spot only because Peyton Manning is his QB. The upside is there because we all know that this Manning brother can make an average WR look like a stud WR. The risk in Welker is his concussion history. Welker is in the final year of his contract, and at 33 years old his next concussion could very well be his last. Know that if you take Welker, there is at least a 50 percent chance he will get knocked on the head and miss time.
Jimmy Graham – TE Saints: With his contract dispute behind him, Graham can now focus on just decimating defenses with his size and power. Graham is the only TE in the NFL whom you can draft as a WR (in terms of ADP), and not get booted from the league. He has the realistic ability to score enough fantasy points to be in the top 10 for WRs.
Julius Thomas – TE Broncos: Another Peyton Manning product, Thomas is a small step below Graham in terms of fantasy value. Thomas is a former basketball player who uses his size to create matchup problems for the defense, especially in the red zone. He is currently being taken at the top of the 3rd round, which means if your league counts the TE position, you will need to get him early to ensure you have a top-tier TE.
Rob Gronkowski – TE Patriots: And just like that, the TE drop has hit us. Gronk is a MAJOR injury risk, so drafting him means you will also be taking another TE. With that said, Gronk is sure to be fed the ball plenty as Tom Brady tries to keep up production as he is seeing the light at the end of the career tunnel. One more injury could be the last for Gronk though, and his injury history is well established and documented at the ripe young age of just 25.
Jordan Cameron – TE Browns: You could easily flip-flop Cameron with Gronkowski and I wouldn’t put up much of a fight. The Browns are going to struggle to find much success with the pass [outside of Cameron] with Gordon out for the season, and Miles Austin, Andrew Hawkins, and Nate Burleson as their top 3 WRs. As long as Brian Hoyer is healthy and the Ben Tate/Terrence West combo at RB can move the ball, Cameron has a real shot at bettering his 80/917/7 line from last season.
Vernon Davis – TE 49ers: Davis was once considered to be one of the most athletic talents in the NFL, but those years were wasted as the Niners leaned on the run and had iffy QB after iffy QB. Davis is now 30 years old, and the running game isn’t what it used to be as Frank Gore is now 31 and slowing. I would expect a 50/800/8 season from Davis, with upside in the TDs if things break just right for him.
Jason Witten – TE Cowboys: As I’ve talked about before, there is a new offensive play-caller in Dallas. That means more of a spread-the-wealth type of offense, and Witten is a major staple in that offense. I see Witten’s stats remaining close to what he did last year, and he remains one of the safest TE picks after the top 4-5 TEs are gone.
Jordan Reed – TE Redskins: If you haven’t got a TE yet, you have missed out and are going to hate the TE position in fantasy football. Reed will enjoy a full season of action after seeing just 9 games last year, but he has to deal with an offense in which Jay Gruden doesn’t really give the TE much of a chance to succeed. If you remember, in three years in Cincinnati, a TE never reached 750 yards in Gruden’s offense. I think a 60/650/6 line is in the future for Reed.
Dennis Pitta – TE Ravens: The only real positive thing I can say about Pitta is that he is in a TE-friendly offensive scheme under Kubiak. Pitta was a major disappointment last year after managing just 169 receiving yards and a single touchdown; but, with the running game issues I foresee, Pitta might be a good value pick in the later rounds of the draft.
Kyle Rudolph – TE Vikings: We’ve seen fantasy value from Rudolph in 2012 when he finished with a 53/493/9 line. Last year he took a major step back when he managed just 30/313/3, and fantasy owners looking for a sleeper found a guy that never woke up. But, as I’ve said several times before here, the addition of Norv Turner will do wonders for the Vikings offense and passing game more specifically. I would look for a rebound season from Rudolph and expect to see numbers closer to 2012 in receptions and receiving yards. The touchdowns though I think will be harder to come by.
Greg Olsen – TE Panthers: I’ve read where this one website called Olsen a poor man’s Jason Witten. If by poor man’s they mean bankrupt man, then yes, Olsen is just like Witten. Look, Olsen is the very last TE that you can get and have SOME sort of fantasy presence from. Olsen will give you just enough to get you by, but he is far from a guy I want on my squad. If you have waited this long, you might really want to consider just streaming a TE week-to-week based on matchups off the waiver wire.
Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks have without a doubt the best defense in the NFL, and that will translate into fantasy dominance as well. The pleasure of having the best fantasy defense will come at a price though, as you’ll have to take them close to the middle of the draft if you want them.
Carolina Panthers: The Panthers finished last season right behind the Seahawks in fantasy numbers, and not much has changed. The Panthers did sign Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud to anchor their safety needs, which was a source of some problems last season. The Panthers are a small step down at #2, so be ready to grab them when you see the Seahawks go.
Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs have a good pass rush with Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, and IDP (Individual Defensive Player) stud Eric Berry is a staple in the secondary. As fantasy defenses go, the Chiefs are a tad below what I would consider a top-tier fantasy defense to own.
Cincinnati Bengals: The truth is you could put the Bengals above the Chiefs, or the Chiefs above the Bengals, and not miss too much in fantasy terms. I put the Bengals here because I am curious to see how the pass rush does with Wallace Gilberry and Margus Hunt. Those in IDP leagues will want to keep a close eye on SLB Emmanuel Lamur, as he is going to be a sleeper for sure.
San Francisco 49ers: The loss of ILB NaVorro Bowman and OLB Aldon Smith until about midseason is a huge blow to this defense. Patrick Willis will anchor the defense, but I’m not sure they have what it takes to be an “elite” fantasy defense in the first half of the season. If you take the 49ers, understand it will be ugly early on.
St. Louis Rams: The Rams get back Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams and his multiple front defense that was very successful in New Orleans for so many years. Rookie DT Aaron Donald is being compared to Geno Atkins, which I am sure the Rams can live with. The Rams defense is an up-and-coming one, and I could see them leapfrog the 49ers and end up a top-5 fantasy defense if everything comes together on the field as it does on paper.
New England Patriots: The Patriots restocked at CB by adding Darrelle Revis via free agency, and on paper this defense is a major upgrade over last season’s patchwork job. Chandler Jones looks like an up-and-coming pass rusher to keep an eye on, and with Revis locking down their opponents’ #1 WR, this defense could be a bit of a sleeper based on their ADP (later middle rounds).
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The addition of Lovie Smith is what bumps the Bucs into the top 10 conversation for fantasy defenses. Smith is a defensive-minded coach who always put together elite fantasy defenses in Chicago. Michael Johnson gives the Bucs an underrated pass rusher who is hungry, and will create havoc with Adrian Clayborn on the other edge. The Bucs are more of a solid fantasy defense than one with elite potential, so don’t reach too high because of the Smith factor.
New Orleans Saints: The Saints fixed their secondary issues by drafting Kenny Vaccaro in the first round. Alongside him you have Jairus Byrd, and the two will combine to make one of the more impressive safety combos in the league. The Saints will be better than last season for sure, but their offense is still what they rely on to win games.
Cleveland Browns: The Browns brought in LB Karlos Dansby and SS Donte Whitner, but lost T.J. Ward to Denver. Mike Pettine also takes over as the new head coach, and if you remember, he led the Bills to being a top-10 fantasy defense last year. The Browns offense will be a running offense, so the defense should have plenty of time to rest and stay fresh this season. I don’t think their ceiling is as high as others, but I do think they will be a top-10 fantasy defense this year.
James Morris hails from Rio Rancho, NM and has been playing fantasy sports for just over 16 years. Not only does he write the Jaguars fantasy section, but he also does the Cincinnati Bengals fantasy section. Just send him an email and he will reply back the same day with your answer. Or, find him on Twitter (Fantasyguy23) and get all your NFL news before it hits the national media.