NFL Defenses are one of the most volatile positions in fantasy. They can be so matchup-based that even if you have a good defense it may not be best to play them. Some fantasy defenses are the best because they are completely dominant and prevent the opponent from scoring points. Others defenses present the best value by forcing turnovers. And the very few have a dominant punt returner that can score a number of touchdowns a season. I’m going to break down all 32 fantasy defenses and which IDP fantasy players are the best to roster.
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If you go down the stat sheet, the Arizona Cardinals defense was just about average-slightly above average in almost all categories in 2020. They were 12th in opponent points per game, 13th in opponent yards per game, and 17th in takeaways. However, this defense is going to look a lot different without Haason Reddick and Patrick Peterson. Malcolm Butler is going to take over as the number one corner and that is concerning. He has taken a step back and this secondary may be the weak spot for this defense.
This team is also going to miss another key piece as linebacker Jordan Hicks was notified that he would not compete for a starting spot as that will be reserved for second-year Isaiah Simmons and rookie Zaven Collins. He has since requested to be traded. Hicks was in the top 30 of IDP fantasy players last season. This team still has Budda Baker who finished with 90 tackles, two sacks, and two interceptions—top 15 of IDP fantasy players. Simmons should breakout in 2021. He now has a full offseason and is expected to play almost every down. He is a speedy linebacker that has the ability to play every down this season.
The Atlanta Falcons defense was not beneficial at all for fantasy if you managed to actually play them. They were destroyed in the passing going allowing 293.6 yards per game—last in the NFL. This defense was middle of the road in the turnover category averaging 1.3 takeaways per game. They would have been a lot better but over half of their forced fumbles were recovered by the offense. They finished the season as one of the bottom-third defenses in fantasy with six games of 30 or more points allowed.
This defense still has talent like linebacker Deion Jones, defensive lineman Grady Jarrett, and second-year corner A.J. Terrell. Jones packed the stat sheets as he had 106 tackles, ten quarterback hits, two interceptions, a forced fumble, and team-leading 4.5 sacks. He stepped up into a bigger role in the defense, especially as a pass rusher, which led to him being a top 12 IDP fantasy player. Expect more of the same from him in 2021 as this will be a bad defense, but he should be good for fantasy.
The Baltimore Ravens were a top-five defense a season ago. This team is absolutely stacked despite some departures on the defensive line. They drafted Odafe Oweh out of Penn State and bring in Justin Houston who has recorded at least eight sacks in each of his last four seasons. The Ravens are going to need it as they were 14th in the NFL in sacks per game. If the Ravens add a strong pass rush to that prolific secondary, then they can make the leap to the best fantasy defense.
Marlon Humphrey solidified his place as one of the best defensive backs in the NFL. He had 82 tackles, one interception, and an NFL-leading eight forced fumbles in 2020. He finished top five for defensive backs in IDP. Patrick Queen is primed for a breakout season in IDP in his second year in the league. He finished top 25 in IDP with 106 tackles, 10 quarterback hits, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. With a full offseason, Queen should make a leap as one of the best linebackers in the league.
Under head coach Sean McDermott, this Buffalo Bills defense typically gets the most out of the talent they have. Last year was not as good for them as they were 17th in yards per game and 14th in points per game. Their top ten finish in fantasy came from the turnovers as they forced 1.5 per game—fifth in the NFL. This team is normally a very strong defensive unit and expect to see some positive regression this season.
Tre’Davious White is clear-cut one of the best corners in the game. However, that does not get to translate to IDP as teams just avoid throwing his direction. Tremaine Edmunds is an upcoming linebacker in the league; however, the Bills system does not open the door for him to be a complete stud in IDP. The real money is in Jordan Poyer, who has finished as a DB1 each of the last four seasons. Last season his 124 tackles, five forced fumbles, and 14 passes defended led him to a finish as the DB2 overall. Poyer is continuing the trend with his tough style of play and finish again as a top 20 IDP fantasy player.
This Carolina Panthers bunch is an interesting bunch. They are extremely young as they are comprised of the majority of draft picks from the past couple of seasons. This defense struggled early on in the 2020 season but found a way to turn it on late. They never gave up and played physical as they forced 1.4 fumbles per game—fifth in the NFL. This unit should be better with time and reps. Expect them to be one of the better defensive teams with veteran additions like Hasson Reddick and A.J. Bouye.
Reddick should bring his IDP production and instantly boost this Panthers defense. Reddick had 63 tackles, 16 quarterback hits, six forced fumbles, and 12.5 sacks in 2020. He finished in the top 20 of IDP fantasy players and 15th among linebackers. Jeremy Chinn is going to be an interesting play as he moves back to his natural position as safety. He finished as a top 25 IDP fantasy player in his rookie year at linebacker. He should bring that same production and finish as a DB1 as he bolsters a struggling safety group.
Haason Reddick is on an absolute rampage this season
— PFF (@PFF) December 26, 2020
For so many seasons, the Chicago Bears defense was the pinnacle of fantasy defenses. So much so they were being drafted as the number 1-2 defense every season. They have now taken a downturn finishing middle of the pack. This unit is still very strong at the top with players like Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith, and Jaylon Johnson. Depth was an issue as they struggled to make a lot of plays that they were 26th in takeaways.
Roquan Smith broke out as one of the best IDP fantasy players in 2020. He finished with 139 tackles, four sacks, six quarterback hits, two interceptions, and one forced fumble. He was number two in IDP last season and is going to be one of the top IDP fantasy players drafted in the foreseeable future.
The Cincinnati Bengals defense was a rough group to watch in 2020. They were 21st in points per game and 26th in yards per game. Teams could run all over them as they gave up 148 rushing yards per game. The Bengals are bringing in a new unit to replace a lot of the long-time veterans that they had on the roster. The jury is still out if they will figure out how to put it all together.
Jessie Bates is one of the lone bright spots in this entire defense. He had 109 tackles, 15 passes defended, three inceptions, and a forced fumble in 2020. He finished as the DB6 and 27th overall IDP fantasy player. Bates is proof that even in a bad defense, that there can be breakouts in IDP. Bates should continue the trajectory as one of the top DBs in fantasy.
The Browns might have one of the most anticipated defensive units in the league this year. A team that was average last year and got exposed in the secondary is going to be healthier and very deep. Denzel Ward missed time last year with a calf injury. Former second round pick Grant Delpit did not even see the field after an Achilles injury in training camp. Now they get those guys and corner Greedy Williams back. Then added defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Takk McKinley, and defensive backs Troy Hill and John Johnson. This unit should breakout to one of the best in fantasy this year.
Myles Garrett is continuing to be an unstoppable force in the NFL. The former first overall pick had 48 tackles, 18 quarterback hits, four forced fumbles, and 12 sacks. He is a locked and loaded top three defensive linemen in fantasy. Coming off his first All-Pro season, expect much more of the same from one of the best defensive ends in the league.
The Dallas Cowboys would love to take a mulligan on their defensive effort last season. As one of the worst groups in the league, they gave up 158.8 rushing yards per game—second worst in the NFL. For much of the season they were an auto-bet on the over as they gave up 29.6 points per game. In an attempt to get better they bring in Dan Quinn as defensive coordinator and get him some much-needed help in the form of rookie Micah Parsons.
DeMarcus Lawrence was a DL1 in fantasy last year in a terrible season for that Cowboys defense. He still found ways to produce although his numbers were not as expected. Micah Parsons has all the intangibles to be a top IDP fantasy player in his rookie year. He is walking into the season as probably one of the fastest linebackers in the league. He is going to fly all around the field and play almost every down for this defense. Parsons is going to be a defensive rookie of the year candidate and key IDP fantasy player.
The Broncos were an injury-ridden unit in 2020. Their finish as 25th in points per game and 20th in yards per game was a complete anomaly and expect them to bounce right back into top ten contention. Bryce Callahan and Justin Simmons both played big for this secondary that now adds Kyle Fuller and first-round pick Patrick Surtain II. Bradley Chubb and Von Miller are both returning from injury and should reinvigorate a pass rush that still managed to be eighth in sacks per game. The Broncos should reclaim their spot as one of the best fantasy defenses.
Justin Simmons is coming off of not only a Pro Bowl season but also was a DB1 in fantasy. His 96 tackles, nine passes defensed, and five interceptions were good enough for DB9 overall. It also continued a steady trend of Simmons getting better and better with more time in the league. With the additions of these pieces around him, he should have the opportunity to keep climbing up the charts.
Dan Campbell is coming in and wanting to light a fire under one of the worst defensive units a season ago. They allowed a league most 32.4 points per game. Also, the second most passing yards with 289.4 yards per game. Former first-round pick Jeffrey Okaduh got lit up in his first year in that man coverage scheme. This unit still has a lot of holes to plug and it is not going to get better in Campbell’s first year as head coach. However, it will be incredibly tough to be much worse.
Although he is far removed from his prime days with the New England Patriots, Jamie Collins is still a fantasy asset in this defense. He quietly was a top 30 IDP fantasy player last year. In a bad defense, somebody has to step up and make plays eventually and Collins is able to do just that.
Green Bay Packers
Although this Green Bay Packers defense was much better than most years, they still did not take the leap that was expected. They finished middle in fantasy despite being top 10 in yards allowed (329.9). Mainly, because they could not force turnovers. The Packers were 25th in takeaways per game in 2020. They also could not make much of a difference in special teams. They struggled to score non-offensive touchdowns all year. However, they did have some injuries that contributed to their inconsistent play. This young secondary should be able to play more and get better as the season goes on to make things easier on the front seven.
Pro Bowler Za’Darius Smith shined last season in this season. He was essentially an LB2 as he finished with 52 tackles, 23 quarterback hits, and 12.5 sacks. Preston Smith, however, took a step backward as he struggled to produce the majority of the year. He was asked to drop back into coverage more. A role that is not too familiar to him. This year should be better for Preston Smith with the new coaching staff. He played for the new defensive coordinator, Joe Barry, in Washington and should feel more comfortable in his role on that defense. Preston Smith should be in for a bounce-back season and might be the IDP fantasy player you want to target as a sleeper.
The Houston Texans did not have many good moments last season as a whole, especially not on defense. They forced just nine turnovers all year—last in the NFL. And now with the exit of J.J. Watt, this feels like a completely new group. A lot of castaways and unwanted players on this roster should have everything to prove. It’s still hard to see it grow into being a useable fantasy defense in 2021.
Zach Cunningham was a very underrated defender as he broke out in 2020. He finished with 164 tackles, four quarterback hits, and three sacks. This was good enough as the third-best IDP fantasy player. From…Houston. There is talent in IDP all over the league. Even in bad defenses. However, do not expect the same finish from this new-look Texans system that is going to be more team-based in production. Cunningham should still finish as an LB1 and should be targeted.
The Indianapolis Colts were one of the top defenses in fantasy last season. They were top 10 in almost every metric you can think of. They led the league in non-offensive touchdowns. All by a zone-heavy scheme that got the most out of its players. Everyone bought in and it manifested as the third overall defense in fantasy. Now they add first-round pick, Kwity Paye, to this defense and it feels even scarier.
Darius Leonard is very, very good. You should draft Darius Leonard. He did not have incredible production as his rookie year, but he still finished as the seventh-best IDP fantasy player. The former South Carolina State Bulldog had 132 tackles, seven passes defended, and three sacks. DeForest Buckner and Kenny Moore II both also finished top 10 at their position. This defense is going to have plenty of options to choose from throughout the season.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, much like the Panthers, have a lot of youth on their defense. However, they have not started to materialize it into production yet. They were second to last in points per game (30.8) and yards per game (417.7). They have guys with some talent like Myles Jack, Josh Allen, and C.J. Henderson, but they are just not making the extra step. A new coaching staff could be what this team needs to move into the next level.
Josh Allen is the single most important player on this defense. His ability to stay on the field is going to change the outlook of this team. He is flashed in his rookie season with 10.5 sacks but saw a drop in production in a limited role last year. Now, he is healthy and will serve as the multi-capable linebacker in this system. He is going to get after the quarterback and drop back into coverage. This could be the season that he makes the leap into the upper echelon of IDP fantasy players.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs have a well-coached unit that may seem to overachieve at times compared to the talent on other top 12 defenses. They were 10th in points allowed last season and 12th in passing yards allowed. They struggled to stop the run against teams that were actually capable of running the ball. That is clearly the weak spot on this defense and should be addressed before the 2021 season. However, that did not affect fantasy as much as the Chiefs finished top 12 overall.
Chris Jones is probably the best IDP fantasy player on this Kansas City defense. He is making the switch from interior lineman to defensive end this year. It’s a move that both the Chiefs and Jones are excited about that should create more opportunities for him to make plays. The last time Jones was listed as a defensive end he saw 15.5 sacks on the season.
Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders defense could not get anything going in 2020. They had a number of injuries in the secondary that negatively impacted the entire team. This defense was 30th in points per game (29.9) and 25th in passing yards per game (263.2). The Raiders could not get any pressure on opposing quarterbacks and got carved up. Hopefully, Yannick Ngakoue and Casey Hayward Jr. can boost this unit because they are going to need it. They are going to have to see Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert a total of four times this year. Fully healthy, this unit should be a lot better than the bottom third, but they are still far from fantasy-relevant.
Johnathan Abrams has had a rough start to his NFL career. Injuries have followed him to where he has only played in 14 games in his first two seasons. Even though there is going to be a lot of competition in that secondary, Abrams should win out and see a majority of snaps. He is a quick ballhawk that can cover the entire field and come up to make a hit. If he can stay healthy, he should be one of the IDP fantasy players to break out in 2021.
Los Angeles Chargers
All of the promise and opportunity that the Chargers once had in 2020 is now gone. After a number of injuries and changes in the coaching staff, this team looks completely different. Casey Hayward, Rayshawn Davis, and Melvin Ingram have all moved on and Brandon Staley is going to new playmakers on defense. Staley has the pedigree as the former defensive coordinator of the number overall fantasy defense—the Rams. He probably will not be able to turn this group around that quick, but they should be stream-worthy in some weeks.
Going to say it here, when healthy Derwin James Jr. is one of the best safeties in the NFL—easily. He proved it in his rookie season in 2018 where he played all 16 games, earned first-team All-Pro honors, and finished as the DB5. However, since he has only played in five games in two seasons. He is now back healthy and is going to reclaim his spot as one of the top defensive backs. Again, in his sole healthy season, James had 105 tackles, six quarterback hits, 3.5 sacks, and three interceptions. He should be one of the top defensive backs drafted.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams are still very good and have an overall stacked defense. They, however, should not be drafted as the number one overall defense. Because of personnel and coaching changes, they are due to see some natural regression from the group we saw a season ago. Not saying they will be bad, just expect a lower finish. They still have Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, who both are going to wreak havoc all season. Darious Williams is breaking out into an excellent second option to Ramsey and should only get better.
Aaron Donald is living proof that just because you are one of the best NFL players, that does not mean you a great IDP fantasy player. There are legit arguments every year that Donald should be in NFL MVP consideration. But for IDP, he finished 47th overall because of the opportunity in other positions and the amount of attention he commands. That being said he still was the DL02 overall and should be regarded as sure. He is just not one of the players you want to reach for with your first defensive picks.
The Dolphins were a pleasant surprise rising up the defensive charts. Well not really a surprise because we knew this team was loaded, but they were not drafted as such in 2020. They allowed a lot of yardage (19th in the NFL), but kept teams out of the endzone allowing the fourth-lowest points per game (21.1). Xavien Howard led the league with ten interceptions last season. The Dolphins are going to need to plug in some holes in the defense. They are bound for some natural regression if they continue to allow as many yards as they did in 2020. Instead of the top five, this defense is trending to more towards the 10-15 range. Which is still good, just not for as high as they are getting drafted.
Jerome Baker has taken his game to another level in Brian Flores’ system. He is getting into the backfield with 11 quarterback hits, seven tackles for loss, and seven sacks. You can see on the field he that feels comfortable. He’s fast and he can cover. He’s the prototype that you are looking for in an IDP fantasy player and is going to be a sleeper this year.
Mike Zimmer would love to forget that his name was ever attached to the Vikings 2020 defense. They were bottom third in the league in points allowed and yards allowed. They had so much turnover in personnel last season that contributed to their terrible finish. Now they get guys like Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr back. Also, they add Patrick Peterson and Dalvin Tomlinson to the fold to bolster that unit. The Vikings should be a very good streaming defense based on the matchup in 2021.
Danielle Hunter was a top 25 IDP fantasy player in 2019. Hunter missed all of the 2020 season due to herniated disc surgery. Now, he is back and looking to build on 2+ years of 70 tackles and 14.5 sacks. He should finish easily as a DL1 in most IDP formats.
New England Patriots
Bill Belichick is another coach that is not used to having mediocre defenses attached to his name. And by his standards, this Patriots defense was absolutely that. A tad bit surprising as they were eighth in points allowed and passing yards allowed. They will need to improve as they were 26th against the run, but Belichick is already all over it. The Patriots spent some serious cheddar in the offseason bringing in Matthew Judon and Jalen Mills. They also get Donta Hightower back from opting out in 2020. This is going to be a new-look defense that can vault back into the top ten conservation for 2021. With coaching alone, they could be one of the best fantasy defenses.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints held the title as one of the best defenses in the league for much of the 2020 season. They were second in yards allowed per game and third in points allowed. They got to the quarterback as they were ninth in sacks. The Saints will have a lot of turnovers to work through in the early part of the season. Interior lineman David Onyemata will start the suspension for six games leaving a big void that will need to be filled. The Saints also have an open competition at the second corner spot opposite of Marshon Lattimore. With turnover comes natural regression, however, this Saints defense is still good enough to have weekly value. Expect them to finish inside the top ten.
Cameron Jordan is one of the bigger names on this defense but Demario Davis and Malcolm Jenkins both were top 25 IDP fantasy players. Jenkins was good enough to be the DB5 in fantasy last season. This defense is predicated on its playmakers making plays and you will not go wrong having a couple of them on your roster.
New York Giants
This Giants defense is not satisfied with their top 15 finish a season ago. So much so Jabrill Peppers and Logan Ryan both personally recruited Adoree Jackson to join their ranks. He joins a defense that allowed the ninth-lowest points per game. The Giants could really use a boost in their pass rush, and they believe they have that in second-round pick Azeez Ojulari. He is a first-round talent that is quick enough to beat tackles on the edge. This defense has the ability to finish top ten this year in the second year of Patrick Graham’s system.
Blake Martinez padded up the stat sheets in 2020 leading him to the fourth overall IDP fantasy player. He is a vocal leader and is able to rush the quarterback and drop back into coverage. Martinez is easily the best linebacker on this team. While fourth overall is a bit much to ask for, he has the opportunity to finish as an LB1 again. Jabrill Peppers is a sleeper IDP fantasy player that is playing for his next contract this year. Whether it is from the Giants or someone else.
— New York Giants (@Giants) May 20, 2019
New York Jets
This may be the most positive Jets outlook out right now. Because this team was BAD last season. 26th in points allowed and 24th in yards allowed. 24th in takeaways and 29th in opponent’s passer rating. However, if you look deeper into the coaching and personnel, you will see why they should have a more optimistic outlook. Out with Adam Gase and defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, and in with Robert Saleh—former 49ers defensive coordinator. Saleh is going to have a heavy imprint on that defense. And they are getting some key players back from injury and COVID opt-outs like C.J. Mosely. Do not go as far as to label them as starting worthy, but they will improve.
Mosely should revert back to form from two years ago before injury and COVID. The four-time Pro Bowler opted out last season and took another year to get healthier and stronger. He is a quick, versatile back and will surely shoulder a major load for this Jets Defense. He should be in the LB2 conversation with upside.
The Eagles’ defense for so many seasons was predicated on a good pass rush and a struggling secondary. However, now the secondary seems to be good with Darius Slay and Anthony Harris now on the team. The defensive line is good, but not what they are used to. They struggled to get pressure last year outside of the blitz. The Eagles should be a good defense to stream based on the matchup, but not an every-week starter.
Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, and Josh Sweat all still really good options for some depth at defensive lineman. They all finished as a top 30 IDP fantasy player in 2020. Anthony Harris is a sleeper at the defensive back position that could be playing all over the field. The Eagles have not had a safety that could be so versatile. He is worth a flyer.
The Steelers have been known to have a consistently good defense. They had the best pressure rates in the league in 2020. Unfortunately, they lose Bud Dupree, but they gain Melvin Ingram from the Chargers. They are going to lack in coverage at certain spots, particularly tight end, but this is still one of the top defenses in the league and should repeat the success.
T.J. Watt is coming back as one of the best linebackers in the game. He is going to be a hot commodity in fantasy for good reason. Watt had 15 sacks, 53 tackles,
and seven passes defended in 2020. Minkah Fitzpatrick has all of the talent to be a top DB, but his production does not always translate back to fantasy. I would draft him as a potential DB2.
San Francisco 49ers
There was not a defense unluckier, in terms of injuries than the San Francisco 49ers. Their struggles were because they could not keep anyone on the field. DeMeco Ryans has been on this defensive staff for a while under Robert Saleh, so don’t expect too many changes. The question mark for this defense is going to be in the secondary, but they still have what it takes to be one of the best fantasy defenses.
Joey Bosa will be one of the top defensive linemen in a position where the talent is going to drop off quickly. Fred Warner was the bright spot in 2020 as he had his first All-Pro season. Warner had 125 tackles and two interceptions last season and finished as one of the top linebackers in fantasy. He should have similar output even with all the familiar faces returning.
The Seahawks defense is one of the most confusing groups in the NFL. They do not have the overall talent level of a lot of NFL defenses, but they are well-coached. They still have the veteran Bobby Wagner there to anchor them. The Seahawks can still be one of the best streaming fantasy defenses.
Bobby Wagner is still killing the game finishing as the tenth overall IDP fantasy player in 2020. He continues to do everything asked of him and excel. Jamal Adams is coming back healthier and should still be a DB1 in fantasy. He has the potential to be one of the top DBs if he plays every game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers returned all 11 starters on defense. Todd Bowles has this unit playing their potential and then some. In 2020, they were the best run-stopping group in the league. They were also second in the league in takeaways. With the continuity of these defenses and the coaching that Bowles is doing right now, Tampa Bay should easily finish as a top 5 defense—probably the best fantasy defense.
In addition, Tampa Bay had the number one overall defensive player in Devin White. In his second season, White had 140 tackles, 16 quarterback hits, and nine sacks. He should be one of the top IDP fantasy players drafted. Lavonte David is a guy on that defensive that does not get as much love but finished top eight in 2020. That pair of linebackers are so effective without tapping into the other’s production that they both should finish top at the position in 2021.
— NFL (@NFL) February 12, 2021
The Titans’ defensive rebuild is going to take time. Bud Dupree was a good addition as well is Caleb Farley. But Rome was not built in a day. The Titans gave up 398.4 yards per game—fourth-most in the NFL. Farley has everything it takes to be a top NFL corner, but it is not going to materialize in his rookie year. I would stay away from the Titans defense this year. It may be the reason why they do not win the division.
With that being said, I still love a healthy Bud Dupree. He is going to be relied on heavily in the scheme and will have to play all over the field. Somebody in the defense is going to be fantasy-relevant and I’m sure it’s Dupree.
Washington Football Team
The Washington Football Team defense completely dominated in Ron Rivera’s first year. This is the same style that he had in Carolina. Defense wins championships (well, in his case gets you there). And they only got better. They added William Jackson and Jamin Davis who both should be upgrades at their position. Davis, although a rookie, has the intangibles in IQ and physicality to make it on this level. Washington Football Team is going to be one of the first defenses drafted in every league, so you are going to have to reach to get them. Do not be surprised if they finish as the best fantasy defense.
Chase Young and Montez Sweat stepped into prominent defensive line starters in fantasy. Both finished in the top 10 at the position. Again, I am planting my flag on Davis. I believe he is going to break out in this linebacking room and fly all over the field. He is a rookie to take a flyer on and see.