Fantasy Football Rankings 2016: Top 20 Defense/Special Teams In Your Draft

by NESN Staff

August 26, 2016

There’s a bit of luck involved with fantasy football, and that’s underscored when drafting a defense.

We know a few teams should be very good and prosperous — the Denver Broncos, for example — but beyond that, we’re relying on defensive touchdowns, no garbage-time scores and return TDs. But every so often, even the best NFL defenses will give up 30 points, force no turnovers and wind up in negative fantasy points land.

With that in mind, here’s our best shot at ranking the top 20 defense/special teams units in the game this year.

1. Denver Broncos (Bye Week: 11)
The Broncos scored at least one point in every game last season, and also had six defensive touchdowns and one return TD. They outscored the next-best defense by 20 points, then shut down the greatest quarterback of all time and the league MVP in back-to-back playoff games to win the Super Bowl. That’s pretty good.

2. Arizona Cardinals (Bye Week: 9)
This explosive group only got better with the addition of Chandler Jones in a trade from the New England Patriots. The Cardinals had only one game scoring negative fantasy points (minus-3 in Week 17) last season, but posted two 30-plus-point scoring weeks. They had seven defensive touchdowns and one return TD.

3. Kansas City Chiefs (Bye Week: 5)
They had two games scoring negative fantasy points early in the season, but rebounded nicely with six defensive touchdowns and finished second in fantasy scoring.

4. Seattle Seahawks (Bye Week: 5)
They never scored fewer than two fantasy points and posted five defensive touchdowns and two return TDs last season, and they should be just as good this year.

5. Houston Texans (Bye Week: 9)
They scored negative fantasy points in three games and zero in another, and had just three defensive TDs and zero return scores last season. But this group is too good, and we’re confident in its abilities.

6. New England Patriots (Bye Week: 9)
They bookended last season with mediocre games, scoring zero fantasy points in Week 1 and minus-2 in Week 17, had just two defensive TDs and traded away Chandler Jones, a big-play kind of guy. But this defense still is stacked, and cornerback Malcolm Butler and linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins all are playing for contracts.

7. Minnesota Vikings (Bye Week: 6)
This young group is only getting better. They never scored negative fantasy points last season and had a whopping six defensive TDs and three return TDs.

8. Carolina Panthers (Bye Week: 7)
They were excellent last season, but losing Josh Norman could have a major impact on the secondary. They had negative fantasy points only once and scored four defensive TDs.

9. Los Angeles Rams (Bye Week: 8)
If they’re going to win games, the defense has to play well. They’re young and getting better, and despite losing some key veterans, they still can excel. They had three games scoring negative fantasy points in the final five weeks last season. They also posted four defensive TDs and one return score.

10. New York Jets (Bye Week: 11)
They didn’t have a single defensive or return touchdown last season, yet still finished 11th in fantasy scoring. The team seems to be buying into the hype that this is its year in the AFC East, so don’t be shocked to see some big plays reflecting that confidence. They scored negative fantasy points only once in 2015.

11. Cincinnati Bengals (Bye Week: 9)
They never scored negative fantasy points last season and held opponents to 21 points or fewer in 12 of 16 games. They had only one defensive TD and no return scores, but this is a solid defensive unit.

12. Washington Redskins (Bye Week: 9)
It’s amazing what a great cornerback can do for a defense. They added Josh Norman, one of the best corners in football last year, and should improve on a defense that had five defensive scores and another return TD last season. They scored negative fantasy points just twice.

13. Buffalo Bills (Bye Week: 10)
Buffalo fell off considerably last season from a tremendous 2014 season on defense. The Bills probably aren’t as good as they were in ’14, but they aren’t as bad as they were last year, and they get the Patriots on the road without Tom Brady in one game and in their house for the other.

14. Pittsburgh Steelers (Bye Week: 8)
Pittsburgh fared well against a so-so schedule last year and relatively held opponents to low scoring outputs. They finished eighth in fantasy scoring and had three defensive TDs, one return score and only one game scoring negative points.

15. Jacksonville Jaguars (Bye Week: 5)
This is either the best or the worst ranking we’ll ever make, but we believe the Jaguars have improved enough on paper to warrant this spot, despite scoring negative fantasy points four times last season.

Next Five
16. Miami Dolphins (Bye Week: 8)
17. Green Bay Packers (Bye Week: 4)
18. Oakland Raiders (Bye Week: 10)
19. Baltimore Ravens (Bye Week: 8)
20. Indianapolis Colts (Bye Week: 10)

Thumbnail photo via Troy Wayrynen/USA TODAY Sports Images

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