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Fantasy football 2014 draft preview: Defense position primer

Fantasy football 2014 draft preview: Defense position primer Photo: Rob Mar/SI

It's crucial to understand your league's scoring rules for defense/special teams. Know that some leagues use defense-only stats and some have special teams as a separate player altogether. Some leagues use major categories like sacks, interceptions, fumbles recovered and safeties, whereas other go deeper with points allowed and yardage allowed.

FANTASY FOOTBALL POSITION RANKINGS AND PROJECTIONS:

You might also be in a league that rewards fantasy points to an offensive player that might also return a kick or a punt for a touchdown. Some leagues give bonus points for long touchdowns, too, which makes return men and speedsters even more valuable for a fantasy DST.

So how do we best assess the upcoming fantasy season for the defense/special teams position? Turnovers and sacks. Turnovers set up a chance for a touchdown on a return, stop more scoring and stop more yardage. Sacks are nearly as important because they are most often the event that forces the turnover (or a near-sack “hurry” in the case of an interception).

POSITION PRIMERS:
QB | RB | WR | TE | K | DST

Some of the best DST have undergone some changes that smart fantasy owners will consider as they get into the later rounds.

The 49ers defense, for instance, is a stout unit, but it lost a few key players. Linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who was considered one of the top players in IDP leagues last season, suffered a major knee injury in the team’s loss to Seattle in the 2013 playoffs and is expected to miss a good portion of the season. Fellow linebacker Aldon Smith is facing a suspension for off-the-field troubles over the past couple years, including a DUI arrest and gun charges. In spite of these issues, we expect the 49ers defense to perform well in 2014, led by DE Justin Smith and LB Patrick Willis.

The Broncos defense was a big priority in the offseason for John Elway and Co. The pass rush gets a huge boost as DE DeMarcus Ware comes to town after a fruitful career with Dallas. The defense also added cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward to a secondary that gave up 29 touchdown passes in 2013 (only six other teams allowed as many). Finally, Denver hopes LB Von Miller can recover from his late-season knee injury in time to start in Week 1. One note of warning, however, is that the Broncos defense has the toughest schedule for fantasy DSTs.

Elite

Seattle Seahawks -- The city of Seattle rode on the backs of the Seahawks defense all the way through Super Bowl XLVIII, where they crushed the high-flying Broncos offense and Peyton Manning. Opposing offenses were held to an NFL-low 231 points scored. This team still led all fantasy DSTs scoring, despite amassing only four touchdowns all season. No team has averaged more interceptions over the past three years than the Seahawks defense (23), obviously thanks in large part to the top cornerback in the league, Richard Sherman. While the team did lose some key players, like DE Chris Clemons and CB Brandon Browner, it’s still a stacked unit.

Reach

Kansas City Chiefs -- The Chiefs DST checked in as the second-highest scoring defense last year, and linebackers Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali and safety Eric Berry are all standout players. But the 11 touchdowns this unit scored in 2013 is definitely an aberration, and that should return to the average of about five or six.

Steal

Cincinnati Bengals -- Over the past three seasons, the Bengals defense ranks up there with the Seahawks and 49ers in fantasy scoring. The defense averaged 47 sacks and 28 turnovers in that span. While longtime defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer moved on to be the head coach of the Vikings and DE Michael Johnson joined the Buccaneers, this defense does get back some key pieces. Big defensive tackle Geno Atkins is back from a torn ACL and cornerback Leon Hall is healthy again after his second Achilles’ heel injury. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict was a second-team All-Pro in 2013, and he always ranks among the league leaders in tackles.

Defense Tier Explanations

First Tier -- The Seahawks DST is the Jimmy Graham of the defense/special teams position – no one else comes close in production. Even so, the best DSTs usually don’t score a great amount more fantasy points than the 12th-best defense, so don’t reach too early (ADP: Round 8).

Second Tier -- These defensive units are all proven and have ranked among the best over the past three seasons. They should be snatched up between Rounds 9 and 11 in most formats.

Third Tier --This group is up-and-coming with big prospects for 2014. The teams here are worth a look after the top-five units are off the board, but you’re also looking at taking one of them at the back end of your draft.

Fourth Tier -- With your second-to-last pick, just before taking a kicker, these defense/special teams units should be available for you.

Fifth Tier -- Think of this group as some possible streaming options as your season begins. These defensive units will be good plays during certain matchups.

DEFENSE
  Team bye VALUE TDS SACKS INT FUMBLES tier
1 Seattle Seahawks 4 $5 6 40 24 9 1
2 San Francisco 49ers 8 $3 5 36 21 12 2
3 Cincinnati Bengals 4 $3 5 41 18 10 2
4 Carolina Panthers 12 $3 5 43 16 10 2
5 St. Louis Rams 4 $3 6 42 14 9 2
6 Denver Broncos 4 $2 5 42 15 11 3
7 Arizona Cardinals 4 $2 6 40 15 10 3
8 New England Patriots 10 $2 4 42 19 9 3
9 Baltimore Ravens 11 $1 4 39 17 10 4
10 Kansas City Chiefs 6 $1 5 39 15 9 4
11 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7 $1 5 33 19 10 4
12 Cleveland Browns 4 $1 4 38 18 9 4
13 Houston Texans 10 $0 4 38 15 11 5
14 Miami Dolphins 5 $0 4 37 14 9 5
15 Pittsburgh Steelers 12 $0 4 36 14 9 5
16 Chicago Bears 9 $0 4 34 15 10 5
17 Buffalo Bills 9 $0 3 40 13 8 5
18 New Orleans Saints 6 $0 3 37 15 8 5

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