Fantasy football is all about balance.
Sure, having a top-tier quarterback and big-play wide receiver go a long way toward a championship, but what often puts you over the top is the points gained from your defense/special teams unit. A kickoff return for a touchdown or late sack often can be the difference between a win and a loss, so you shouldn’t play fast and loose with your D/ST slot.
So, let’s take a look at the top defense/special teams units for the 2018 fantasy football season.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars (Bye Week: 9)
The Jags are loaded on the defensive side of the ball. With Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, Calais Campbell, Telvin Smith and Myles Jack, to name a few, Jacksonville returns all of the key starters from the NFL’s top-scoring fantasy defense last season. The Jags scored eight defensive touchdowns while racking up 21 interceptions and 12 fumble recoveries in 2017 and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t dominate again this season.
2. Los Angeles Rams (Bye Week: 12)
The Jags are stacked on defense, but the Rams aren’t that far behind. After adding Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib to a defense that already boasts the league’s top defensive player in Aaron Donald and star end Michael Brockers, L.A. should have one of the top units in the NFL.
3. Minnesota Vikings (Bye Week: 10)
Minnesota’s D/ST followed up a massive 2016 fantasy season with an average 2017 campaign, thanks in large part to its inability to create big plays: The Vikings’ defense allowed the fewest yards and points last season, but forced just 19 turnovers. With all their playmakers returning, odds are the Vikes force more turnovers this year and return to being a top-tier fantasy defense.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (Bye Week: 9)
The defending Super Bowl champions ranked in the top five last season in interceptions and tackles for loss — as well as fewest touchdowns, points and yards — while also leading the NFL in blocked kicks. There’s little reason to believe the Eagles won’t have a stellar defense once again this season.
5. Houston Texans (Bye Week: 10)
As it turns out, losing two of your best defensive players significantly hampers your fantasy potential. The Texans were a top-end fantasy unit through Week 4 in 2017, but the losses of J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus caused them to crash and finish near the bottom of the league. With both players back, along with Jadeveon Clowney and new additions Tyrann Mathieu and Aaron Colvin, the Texans should return to form this season.
6. Los Angeles Chargers (Bye Week: 8)
Led by the dominant edge rushing duo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, the Chargers’ defense is slated to have another stellar fantasy season. L.A. replaced Tre Boston with first-round draft pick and noted ball hawk Derwin James, adding the Florida State product to a secondary that already has Casey Hayward and Desmond King. Draft the Chargers’ D.
7. Baltimore Ravens (Bye Week: 10)
The Ravens continue to be synonymous with defense and that’s unlikely to change in 2018. Baltimore welcomes back 97 percent of its defensive snap-takers from a season ago and appears to be one of the best fantasy units for the upcoming season.
8. Tenessee Titans (Bye Week: 8)
The Titans’ defense should make a big leap in 2018. Tennessee struggled to force turnovers last season but made a number of additions to the unit, including cornerback Malcolm Butler. That should help vault the Titans from an average defense to a top-10 unit.
9. New England Patriots (Bye Week: 11)
Bill Belichick’s defense was downright atrocious at the start of last season, getting shredded by the Kansas City Chiefs, Texans and Carolina Panthers in three of the first four weeks. The Pats picked it up after that but still were a spot play at best in fantasy. This year should be different. Adding Danny Shelton, Jason McCourty and Adrian Clayborn should make them more formidable, and Cordarrelle Patterson could find the end zone a few times on kickoffs.
10. New Orleans Saints (Bye Week: 6)
The Saints surprised nearly everyone by finishing with a top-10 defense in 2017, and all their young playmakers return a year wiser in 2018. Couple that with the signing of middle linebacker Demario Davis and first-round pick Marcus Davenport, and the Saints’ D should be near the top of your draft wish list.
11. Denver Broncos (Bye Week: 10)
The Orange Crush this defense is not, but the Broncos’ defense should be an above-average fantasy play this season, as first-round pick Bradley Chubb will fit nicely with Von Miller and Derek Wolfe. Don’t expect this unit to be as vaunted as years past, though.
12. Carolina Panthers (Bye Week: 4)
Luke Kuechly and Kawann Short lead a Panthers defense that terrorized the quarterback last season by racking up 50 sacks but struggled to force turnovers (21 total). Carolina didn’t change much on defense, so it likely will remain a middle-tier defensive unit.
13. Pittsburgh Steelers (Bye Week: 7)
The loss of Ryan Shazier will hurt the Steelers both on and off the field, but they still have the talent to be a middle-of-the-road defense. Pittsburgh led the league in sacks and were fifth in total defense, but they scored only two defense/special teams touchdowns and forced lowly 22 turnovers.
14. Atlanta Falcons (Bye Week: 8)
Atlanta has a solid defensive core led by young pass rushers Vic Beasley Jr. and Takkarist McKinley. If the Falcons can force opponents into coughing up the ball more in 2018, this could be a unit worth owning.
15. Detroit Lions (Bye Week: 6)
The Lions cleaned up in the big-play area last season. Detroit recovered 13 fumbles and scored seven defensive touchdowns, making them one of the top fantasy units of the year. The Lions did finish 27th in total defense, however, so there might be a little drop off this season.
16. Chicago Bears
17. Arizona Cardinals
18. Seattle Seahawks
19. Buffalo Bills
20. Kansas City Chiefs
Thumbnail photo via Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY Sports Images