Baltimore Ravens. Regardless of a comparatively mediocre 10 INTs (tied for 23rd) and 39 sacks (14th), the Ravens have been a top-five fantasy protection in 2020. Not solely did Baltimore restrict factors (second fewest per sport) and power fumbles (league-high 22) at elite clips, it additionally managed to get into the tip zone 4 instances on protection and particular groups. These latter two stats do not at all times translate from season to season, however Baltimore recovered simply 12 fumbles final yr (54.5 p.c restoration price), which is definitely beneath league common (70.5 p.c) in response to FantasyPros’ pressured fumble/fumble restoration knowledge. Baltimore nonetheless boasts a number of playmakers and added some gifted defensive gamers within the draft, together with first-round pass-rusher Jayson Oweh. If DB Tavon Younger can keep wholesome (simply two video games performed in 2019 and ’20 due to neck and knee accidents), the Ravens could have much more big-play potential.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Maybe surprisingly, Tampa introduced again just about all of its key defensive gamers from final yr’s Tremendous Bowl squad, and it added first-round pass-rusher Joe Tryon. Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh, Lavonte David, and William Gholston will all be on the fallacious aspect of 30 when the season begins, however LB Devin White, DB Carlton Davis, and DB Antoine Winfield Jr. are solely getting higher. This deep, gifted unit is a close to lock to complete within the prime 10 — possibly even prime 5 — particularly taking part in in a division with Matt Ryan, Sam Darnold, and both Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill as the opposite beginning QBs. Final yr, Tampa completed ninth in fantasy factors regardless of managing just one D/ST landing.
Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers are yearly probably the greatest defenses within the NFL, and that normally extends to the fantasy ranks, too. Final season, Pittsburgh led the league in sacks (56) and tied for the lead in INTs (18) whereas scoring three D/ST touchdowns and permitting the third-fewest factors per sport. Even with the losses of LB Bud Dupree (eight sacks in 11 video games) and DB Steven Nelson (two INTs), Pittsburgh has sufficient stars and a adequate scheme to be among the many top-five fantasy defenses as soon as once more.
New England Patriots. The return of Dont’a Hightower (Covid opt-out) and signings of LBs Kyle Van Noy and Matt Judon and run-stuffer Davon Godchaux (amongst others) ought to have the Patriots D/ST again within the higher tier. Few groups can match New England’s secondary relating to skill and playmaking, and everyone knows Invoice Belichick can scheme in addition to any coach within the NFL. Even in a down yr that included a league-low 4 fumble recoveries and simply 24 sacks (tied for sixth fewest), the Pats completed 11th in D/ST fantasy factors. It is cheap to count on noticeable upticks in each classes this yr, so even when New England would not lead the league in INTs or rating 4 D/ST touchdowns once more, it must be a top-10 fantasy unit. The most important fear for the Pats is the schedule, significantly within the second half, however do not be stunned in the event that they get off to a scorching begin with video games in opposition to suspect QBs Tua Tagovailoa, Zach Wilson, Jameis Winston/Taysom Hill, and whoever is beginning for Houston within the first 5 weeks.
Los Angeles Rams. The Rams misplaced some key contributors, together with main tackler John Johnson and big-play specialist Troy Hill (three defensive TDs) from final season’s top-ranked fantasy D/ST, however that is nonetheless a star-studded unit that can as soon as once more problem for the league lead in sacks and fewest factors allowed. L.A. was tied for the league lead in defensive touchdowns final season (4), which is at all times a fluky stat, nevertheless it wasn’t overly excessive, which bodes nicely for this season even when that quantity is reduce in half.
Miami Dolphins. Miami’s younger protection was one of many massive surprises of the fantasy world final yr, ending tied for fourth because of stable numbers throughout the board. Regardless of shedding LB Kyle Van Noy, Miami appears to be like poised to be even higher in 2021. Including former Professional Bowl LB Bernardrick McKinney and first-round LB Jaelan Phillips ought to assist shore up the second stage, whereas second-round DB Jevon Holland might give the Dolphins much more big-play potential. Veteran DB Jason McCourty additionally has a knack for large performs. The Dolphins will not sneak up on anybody this yr, however that may not matter.
Washington Soccer Workforce. Washington completed because the No. 6 fantasy protection final yr because of stable numbers in just about all classes (although with simply seven fumble recoveries on 13 pressured fumbles, an enchancment will be anticipated there). Nearly all key gamers are again, together with budding celebrity Chase Younger and final season’s staff chief in sacks, Montez Sweat. Washington additionally added talented-but-raw LB Jamin Davis, who figures to be a big-play contributor, if nothing else. For fantasy functions, that has worth. The QBs within the NFC East must be higher this season, however there’ll nonetheless be INTs and sacks there for the taking. Anticipate one other stable season from the WFT D/ST.
Buffalo Payments. Buffalo did not actually stand out in anybody specific class (apart from scoring 4 D/ST touchdowns), nevertheless it nonetheless completed eighth amongst fantasy defenses final yr. With all key gamers returning, plus the additions of first- and second-round picks Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham Jr., Buffalo is about up for an additional stable season. With a first-place schedule this yr, the Payments won’t be an every-week play, however total, Buffalo ought to have extra favorable opponents than powerful ones.
Indianapolis Colts. With the departures of Denico Autry and (probably) Justin Houston, the Colts misplaced 15.5 sacks from final season, however they used first- and second-round picks on move rushers (Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo), which ought to maintain the drop-off to a minimal. All-Professional DT DeForest Buckner and All-Professional LB Darius Leonard are each again, and a deep secondary returns intact. Indianapolis’s No. Three fantasy rating final yr was spurred by a league-leading six D/ST touchdowns and a excessive fumble-recovery price (90.9 p.c), each of that are prone to come down this yr, however the Colts have sufficient expertise and a good sufficient schedule to nonetheless simply be a top-10 unit.
Kansas Metropolis Chiefs. The Chiefs quit their fair proportion of yards, particularly on the bottom, however persistently taking part in with the lead ought to give them extra alternatives for sacks and INTs. The Chiefs struggled within the former class final yr, registering simply 32 QB takedowns, however they actually have the expertise for extra (and the addition of Jarran Reed will assist). Even with no substantial enhance in sacks, the Chiefs will stay a continuing big-play risk because of DBs Tyrann Matthieu, Daniel Sorenson, and L’Jarius Sneed, who posted three INTs and two sacks regardless of taking part in simply 9 video games as a rookie final yr.
New Orleans Saints. The Saints misplaced pass-rusher Trey Hendrickson (13.5 sacks final yr) and playmaking DB Janoris Jenkins (three INTs, TD) within the offseason, creating holes at completely different ranges of the protection. Attempting to deal with that within the draft, New Orleans spent its first three picks on defensive gamers, choosing up pass-rusher Payton Turner within the first spherical, LB Pete Werner within the second, and DB Paulson Adebo within the third. New Orleans nonetheless contains a deep, well-rounded secondary, in addition to Professional Bowl pass-rusher Cameron Jordan and stud LB Demario Davis, so this unit will probably be stable as soon as once more. Its additionally probably to enhance on its one D/ST landing and 6 pressured fumbles from final yr, making it a stable beginning unit most weeks. The potential for a Superdome filled with noisy followers must also assist this yr.
San Francisco 49ers. With Nick Bosa set to return from a torn ACL and Fred Warner coming off an All-Professional season, the 49ers have stars at every of the primary two ranges. Nonetheless, the lack of final season’s staff sack chief, Kerry Hyder, will not assist as this staff tries to get again to its lofty perch amongst fantasy D/STs. Taking part in in a division with arguably one of the best assortment of QBs within the NFL additionally would not assist, however San Francisco has a way more favorable non-divisional schedule this yr, which will definitely pay dividends if it might probably maintain its key defensive gamers wholesome.
Arizona Cardinals. Franchise staple Patrick Peterson is now not in Arizona, and with Dre Kirkpatrick additionally leaving, the Cardinals misplaced six INTs from final season. Nonetheless All-Professional Budda Baker continues to be patrolling the backend, and he’ll be joined this yr by DBs Malcolm Butler and Robert Alford, which ought to decrease any potential dropoff. Arizona additionally added pass-rusher J.J. Watt in free company to interchange departed staff sack chief (and forced-fumble maestro) Haason Reddick and can hope to get greater than 5 video games from Chandler Jones (biceps). Markus Golden, who came visiting final yr in a midseason commerce, will even play extra. Throw in first-round LB Zaven Collins, and Arizona ought to characteristic an total unit just like final season when it completed 10th in fantasy factors regardless of not scoring any D/ST touchdowns. That can actually enhance this yr, so contemplate the Playing cards a robust matchup-based sleeper.
Minnesota Vikings. Minnesota made some massive additions within the offseason, most notably run-stuffers Dalvin Tomlinson and Sheldon Richardson and big-play DB Patrick Peterson. Maybe none will probably be greater than the ostensible returns of former Professional Bowlers, LB Anthony Barr (two video games performed final yr due to a pectoral harm) and DL Danielle Hunter (no video games performed due to a neck harm). The lack of LB Eric Wilson (three INTs, two fumble recoveries, three sacks) hurts, however Minnesota’s anemic move rush must be tremendously improved. Contemplating Minnesota nonetheless had 15 INTs final yr (tied for seventh), extra strain might actually result in an improved all-around fantasy efficiency. Anticipate a pleasant bounce-back yr from the Vikings.
Cleveland Browns. Move-rusher Jadeveon Clowney is perhaps the largest identify amongst Cleveland’s offseason additions, however production-wise, he is not essentially the most notable. Cleveland additionally picked up former Rams John Johnson and Troy Hill, who mixed for 182 tackles, 4 INTs, two fumble recoveries, and three TDs final season. With first-round decide Greg Newsome additionally becoming a member of the secondary, Cleveland appears to be like to construct on final season’s subpar 11 INTs and 22nd-ranked move protection. Outdoors of Myles Garrett, move rush continues to be a problem, but when the Browns can do a greater job limiting factors, they need to be playable most weeks.
Denver Broncos. Denver completed ninth in sacks (42) final yr regardless of lacking Von Miller (ankle/foot), however poor showings in INTs (tied for 23rd), fumble recoveries (t-25th), and factors allowed (24th) made its D/ST unplayable most weeks. The return of Miller and additions of big-play DBs Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby, and first-round decide Patrick Surtain II might actually go an extended method to serving to this squad return to fantasy prominence.
Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks misplaced playmaking DB Shaquill Griffin, pass-rushing DT Jarran Reed, and long-time LB Okay.J. Wright, however the additions of DE Kerry Hyder, DT Al Woods, and LB Ahkello Witherspoon ought to assist. Much more than that, improved harm luck will go a great distance, as DB Jamal Adams (4 video games missed), DB D.J. Reed (6), LB Carlos Dunlap (8), and second-round edge-rusher Darrell Taylor (season) all missed time. The ‘Hawks nonetheless managed to complete tied for 13th in fantasy factors with out even scoring a D/ST landing, which reveals how a lot upside they’ve heading into this yr.
Tennessee Titans. After ending 30th in sacks (19) and 29th in move protection (277.Four yards allowed per sport), Tennessee made some massive adjustments within the offseason, including pass-rushers Denico Autry (7.5 sacks final yr) and LB Bud Dupree (8.5 sacks in 11 video games) and DBs Caleb Farley (first-round decide) and Janoris Jenkins (three INTs ,TD final yr). Barring some additional enhancements from latest excessive draft picks Jeffery Simmons and Rashaan Evans, Tennessee will probably nonetheless have a mediocre move rush, however given its knack for large performs, the Titans ought to nonetheless be a lot improved.
Inexperienced Bay Packers. The Packers are at all times within the streamer combine because of a stable move rush (41 sacks final yr) and usually stable total protection (ninth in complete yards allowed), however a shaky secondary is a fear. First-round DB Eric Stokes is without doubt one of the solely notable newcomers to this protection, so it is simple to count on an analogous end as final yr’s No. 18 rating. Nonetheless, a extremely favorable early-season schedule vs. doubtlessly shaky QBs (@NO, vs. DET, @SF in Weeks 1-3; @CIN, @CHI, vs. WAS in Weeks 5-7) might imply a scorching begin. Issues get significantly more durable within the second half, however the Packers are nonetheless a stable staff to focus on late in drafts. Journey them when you can.
Chicago Bears. Chicago’s protection appears to be like largely the identical as final yr’s squad that completed 19th in fantasy factors. There are nonetheless standouts on this group, most notably LB Khalil Mack and LB Roquan Smith, and at the very least one massive addition was made in DB Desmond Trufant. The Bears have been largely mediocre in each class final yr, however nothing stood out as significantly dangerous. Some higher fumble restoration luck (61.5 p.c restoration price) is perhaps in retailer, however except Chicago has an outlier season in D/ST touchdowns, it should probably be nothing greater than a bye-week fill-in/matchup play once more.
Carolina Panthers. The Panthers have been largely center of the street final yr, however including pass-rusher Haason Reddick, veteran DB A.J. Bouye, and first-round DB Jaycee Horn ought to go an extended method to creating extra massive performs. Carolina had main outlier luck in fumble recoveries and scored three D/ST touchdowns final yr, so there might be a correction there, however the Panthers nonetheless profile as a high-risk, high-reward protection.
New York Giants. Fantasy house owners is perhaps stunned to study that the Giants completed tied for 13th in fantasy factors final yr. Sacks (40) and fumble recoveries (11) have been a giant cause why, however an absence of consistency made them powerful to belief. This yr will probably be comparable, however the Giants have high-upside gamers at each stage, so it is potential we’re undervaluing them right here.
Los Angeles Chargers. It at all times looks like the Chargers must be higher defensively, however they’ve had a behavior of disappointing recently. Star DE Joey Bosa stays and can hopefully play greater than 12 video games this yr, however he can solely achieve this a lot. The important thing for LA will probably be whether or not DB Derwin James can keep wholesome. He is been restricted to simply 5 video games the previous two years due to foot and knee accidents. He is a big-play machine who will immediately enhance the Chargers’ fantasy output, but when he and fellow DB Chris Harris Jr. (9 video games final yr) as soon as once more have injury-plagued campaigns, it is probably L.A. will end round final yr’s No. 23 rating.
Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles are one of many hardest defenses to judge heading into this season. They completed 15th in fantasy factors final yr, thanks largely to 49 sacks (third), however with simply eight INTs (29th) and outlier luck in fumble recoveries (91.7-percent restoration price) and TDs (3), it is simple to see how issues might go south for the Eagles in ’21. DE Ryan Kerrigan may also help an already sturdy move rush and LB Eric Wilson is usually a playmaker within the center, however the Eagles have main questions within the secondary apart from Darius Slay. Philly’s move rush will maintain it within the plug-and-play dialog from week-to-week (particularly in opposition to divisional opponents), nevertheless it’s powerful to think about this squad being constant.
Las Vegas Raiders. The Raiders spent three of their first 4 picks on protection and added DT Quinton Jefferson and DL Yannick Ngakoue. The latter ought to assist Vegas’s pathetic move rush (21 sacks). If the 2018-’19 Rams model of Cory Littleton as a substitute of final yr’s Raiders model reveals up, this will probably be a decent protection, however there is not any cause to fret about it — or any of the groups ranked beneath it — on draft day.