Fantasy 2011 defense rankings

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Nnamdi Asomugha did something we figured wasn't possible going into free agency: He shuffled the fantasy defense rankings.

The addition wouldn't have meant as much to a shoddy secondary like the Texans; it might have hardly improved the Cowboys' stock; and we had already ranked the Jets No. 1 anyway, so there would be no place for them to go. Those are three of the teams Asomugha spurned.

For the Eagles, his addition shot them up to the edge of elite status. We previously had them barely in the top 10.

Adding the best cover corner in football does a lot, especially when you put a play-making corner like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie -- acquired from the Cardinals in the Kevin Kolb deal -- on the other side. Oh, and Asante Samuel just happens to be a nickel back. Yes, merely a situational piece for their secondary. Wow!

With cover guys like that, an already-aggressive defense gets its license to abuse quarterbacks. And everyone should know in fantasy that pressure on the passer takes them out of the game and forces turnovers, leads to touchdowns and keeps points and yards off the board.

That just about sums up -- no, nails down precisely -- what you want from your fantasy defense.

We opened our initial rankings with the platform that elite defenses are built on stopping the run, so we can't quite put the Eagles in the class of the Jets and Steelers. But maybe you can make a case they could be drafted before the Packers.

The Eagles and Packers will have elite fantasy defenses without being as run-stiff with their front seven. They were middle of the pack (no pun intended) in rushing yards allowed, but they are going to significantly improve in that category even if they aren't any more stout against the run.

Why? Because the best defense can still be a great offense.

With Michael Vick and Aaron Rodgers so darned impossible to stop, game scores can easily take a team out of its running game. And when quarterbacks are going to be forced to pass against the likes of the Eagles nickel package led by the law firm of Asomugha-Rodgers-Cromartie-Samuel, they are going to be in for a long day.

The Eagles front seven will be able to pin its ears back and play Malachi Crunch in the backfield (a Happy Days reference for you old, graybeards out there).

Yes, the Eagles secondary will make happy days for owners drafting their D/ST -- especially when you toss in the fact DeSean Jackson will return kicks in the clutch. Ask the Giants fans about what he can do in the realm of return TDs.

But -- with all this said -- you want to know why a fantasy analyst's sleepers, busts and breakouts never work? It is because so many actually listen and jump all over them.

You call a team a breakout or a sleeper: someone reaches up and picks them too high. You call a team a bust, the masses sleep on them and make them actually a decent value relative to draft position.

The Eagles offseason -- it is funny calling a week-plus of movement an offseason -- moved its D/ST up nine spots in the Average Draft Position. They sit right there now in our D/ST tiers, too: Fourth, behind the Jets, Steelers and Packers, and up four spots from eighth. We also slide the Raiders out of the draftable tiers.

We could go ahead and call the Eagles a potential breakout defense, and they will be, but where they will wind up getting picked after the hype, as the Asomugha-Rodgers-Cromartie-Samuel group has its way, will render the Eagles D/ST merely neutral in value relative to draft position.

Now on to some of the defenses where perception doesn't quite meet what will be reality.

Detroit Lions D/ST -- If you sort your three-year averages of D/STs in your fantasy football league, the team dead last is very likely the Lions. But they have bolstered their unit up front with the burgeoning dominance of sophomore DT Ndamukong Suh and the drafting of linemate Nick Fairley from Auburn. That is going to help them take away the running game -- albeit in an NFC North division that is home to Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte and Ryan Grant. The Lions are going to surprise people, though, making them a solid backup D/ST on draft day.

New York Giants D/ST -- Yes, the Eagles and Cowboys have explosive offenses in their division, but the Giants have the potential to be an explosive defense. Coordinator Perry Fewell has fueled an attacking unit that focuses on generating turnovers. The Giants led the NFL with 23 forced fumbles -- no one else had more than 18 -- and their cross-over games this season are against the weaker-QB divisions of the AFC East (save for Tom Brady) and the NFC West. That should lead to more interceptions and defensive scores from a secondary that added a premium cover corner in the draft (when Prince Amukamara [broken foot] gets healthy) and is famously strong and deep along the line (once Osi Umenyiora stops acting injured amid his contract dispute).

Also, Eli Manning figures to cut down on his league-high 25 INTs, improving field position and making the unit more stingy in points against. The Giants are going to be selected well into the second tier of D/STs -- likely even in the third tier -- but they are talented enough to outscore everyone with sacks and turnovers, even the Eagles.

Arizona Cardinals D/ST -- Standard leagues were led by the New England Patriots and Cardinals last year because those D/STs scored the most defensive touchdowns (the Pats had nine and the Cards 10). It boils down the quality of quarterbacks you play, and the Cards played their division games against suspect quarterbacks. The Rams have Sam Bradford ready to take off in Year 2, but the Seahawks and 49ers have to try to get by with subpar passers. Other than the favorable schedule the Cardinals will face, this really isn't a talented-enough unit to consider drafting in fantasy.

Not all defenses are created equal. How do things stack up in 2011:

Eric Mack writes fantasy for You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice on Twitter @EricMackFantasy.

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