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2012 fantasy football profiles and projections (DEFs 1-15)

DEF RANKINGS 16-30![](

Statistical projections are provided by EA Sports

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  • Analysis

Thanks to a slew of playmaking defenders, the 49ers flexed their muscles in 2011 as fantasy football's highest-scoring defense. Their run-stopping unit earned much of the acclaim, but San Francisco held its own against opposing passing games, sacking the quarterback 42 times (tied for seventh-most in the league). The Niners were also an opportunistic bunch, tying for the NFL lead in turnovers forced. This unit also allowed the second-fewest points in the league, making them valuable in formats that reward that category. With most of the same pieces in place, the Niners are poised to likely be the first defense off the board in many 2012 fantasy leagues.

If you tried to run on the Bears last season, you might have had an easier time scaling the John Hancock Tower. But if you decided you'd rather fly than drive … well, things were wide open. Chicago was fifth in the NFL in stopping the run, but came in 28th against the pass. Part of that had to do with four games against the Packers and Lions, which isn't great news since the NFL isn't planning any realignment soon. Yes, the defense is getting older, but there is reason for optimism in a pair of young safeties - Chris Conte and Major Wright - who have an additional year of experience under their belts. The Bears defense remains a top-five fantasy option.

The Lions were a big-play defense in 2011. Unfortunately, that distinction cut both ways. This unit finished as the 23rd-ranked defense in the NFL, but it was an impressive fourth in fantasy points. For all of the big plays the Lions allowed, they also made more than a few on their own behalf. Detroit recorded 41 sacks - tied for 10th in the league - and scored an NFL-best seven defensive touchdowns. It was the success this unit enjoyed in those categories that made it so valuable in fantasy football. While the defensive backfield needs improvement, the Lions' front seven has a ton of talent and make this team a potential top-five unit in fantasy leagues.

For all the accolades heaped on the Packers offense, their defense earned just as much scorn. That's what happens when you're the league's worst defense. But that suggests that Green Bay didn't have any bite in 2011. In fact, the Pack tied for the NFL lead in turnovers forced and scored a combined seven touchdowns via defense and special teams - all of which helped them end up as the sixth-highest scoring fantasy defense. The upside for the Green and Gold is that aside from veterans like Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett, the defense is fairly young. Their opportunistic nature makes them a top-10 defense with room for improvement in fantasy land.

For all of their bombast, the Jets defense certainly had something to crow about as the NFL's fifth-ranked fantasy defense last season. Gang Green's CB duo of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie were arguably the best in the league, and the addition of DB LaRon Landry makes this pass defense even more formidable. While New York would like to be able to get far more pressure on the quarterback from its front seven - the team had a mediocre 35 sacks in 2011. The Jets also need to improve on their run defense, which was an unimpressive 22nd in the league. Regardless, the pieces are still in place for the Jets to remain a top 10 fantasy outfit.

For the last decade, the Ravens have been the gold standard among NFL defenses. Even if this unit has gotten a little long in the tooth at some key spots, Baltimore still finished 2011 with the league's third-ranked defense. Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata are more than most offensive lines can handle, Lardarius Webb became one of the NFL's top corners, and even approaching 37 years old, Ray Lewis still gets it done. The loss of All-Pro Terrell Suggs for part or all of the year is a serious concern, but until this group is proven to no longer be an elite NFL defense, there's no reason to think it won't be one of the first defenses selected in most 2012 fantasy football drafts.

The Giants' finish in 2011 was much stronger than their start defensively, and much of that had to do with having their top pass rushers getting healthy. Jason Pierre-Paul was a beast in the stat sheets and frustrated opposing offenses all season long, but the return of Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck helped cover up what was a patchwork secondary. While the future of Umenyiora is still unknown, Big Blue hopes cornerback Terrell Thomas is able to return from injury and help a back four that still combined for 18 interceptions. If the G-Men can make it through all of training camp with their pieces intact, this unit should be a No. 1 fantasy option in all formats.

The Texans experienced an huge turnaround last season, going from the 30th-ranked fantasy defense in 2010 to the 11th-ranked fantasy defense in 2011 - all while missing Mario Williams for the majority of the season. While defensive coordinator Wade Phillips certainly deserves a lot of credit, adding defensive backs Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning helped as well. Even without Williams, the Texans terrorized quarterbacks with Connor Barwin, Antonio Smith and rookie J.J. Watt contributing to Houston's 44 sacks. While this young defense will face a few potent offenses in Green Bay, New England and Detroit (all without Williams, who left for Buffalo), they're still poised to be one of fantasy football's most coveted defenses for the foreseeable future.

The Steelers were the top-ranked defense in the entire NFL last season. Unfortunately, that didn't translate to fantasy success - they were the 13th-highest scoring unit. Much of that had to do with a relatively small number of sacks (35) and turnovers forced (15). It also didn't help that Pittsburgh had to deal with key injuries to a number of starters. It's that injury issue that could become a bigger one for the Steel Curtain this season, with the potential for seven starters having nine or more years of NFL service. In other words, this group is getting older. As long as you have Troy Polamalu, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, though, you can't ever overlook them as a No. 1 fantasy defense.

Considering the disappointment that was the Eagles season in 2011, it might surprise many to learn that they boasted a top-10 fantasy defense. A large part of that is owed to a steady improvement by the defense throughout the season. Nonetheless, Philadelphia's run defense was one of the NFL's most vulnerable, pointing out a glaring weakness in the team's linebacking corps. Fortunately, the addition of DeMeco Ryans should help improve that part of the unit that faltered a year ago. With playmakers like Trent Cole, Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Ryans all in the mix, the Eagles could turn into an elite defense in fantasy land.

The Patriots' opportunistic players turned the NFL's 31st-ranked defense on the field into the ninth-ranked fantasy defense based on points. New England forced a solid 34 turnovers in 2011 - the third-highest total in the league. In just about every other defensive metric, however, the Pats were average or worse. Individually, Kyle Arrington and Vince Wilfork had standout seasons, and the addition of rookies defensive end Chandler Jones, linebacker Dont'a Hightower and free safety Tavon Wilson will help. This unit will be one of the top 10 selected based on name value alone, so hopefully the improvements made will make the P-Men a more-well rounded and still productive fantasy option.

The Seahawks defense was better than you probably realized in 2011. Not only did they finish ninth in total defense, but coach Pete Carroll's crew was the seventh-highest scoring fantasy defense (no, that's not a misprint). A lot of the credit should go with a young and aggressive secondary led by safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. This unit should only improve in 2012, especially with the additions of rookies DE Bruce Irvin and LB Bobby Wagner, and will be helped by playing in a questionable division without a true offensive juggernaut. While this unit might not be drafted as a No. 1 fantasy option, the Hawks clearly have that sort of upside.

The Bills were yet another defense that was repeatedly torched by opposing offenses in 2011, yet salvaged its fantasy value through the power of the turnover. Buffalo scored 30 takeaways during the season, including 16 in their first five games. If they're going to improve, it will have to start with the front seven - a group that now features superstar Mario Williams and sack specialist Mark Anderson. That should mean more quarterback pressures, more sacks and potentially more turnovers - all of that should equate to more fantasy points. In a best-case scenario, the new-look Bills could develop into a legitimate top-10 fantasy defense this season. Regardless, this unit will be worth a late-round look in all fantasy drafts.

The Bengals were a surprise on both sides of the football in 2011, but much of the credit for the team's return to the postseason should probably go to their defense. Cincinnati went from 27th to 11th as a fantasy defense from 2010 to 2011, doing it primarily with a pass rush that registered a solid 45 sacks - that was fifth most in the NFL. It's also a relatively young group, with just two potential starters over the age of 30 in 2012. The re-signing of defensive back Reggie Nelson was critical, as the safety led the team in interceptions. With rookies cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and defensive tackle Devon Still now in the mix, there's no reason to believe the Bengals can't be a starting fantasy option this season.

Were it not for Patrick Peterson and his four punt return touchdowns, it's hard to imagine the Cardinals would have landed as the 15th-ranked fantasy defense of 2011. There are plenty of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball, however, like Peterson, Calais Campbell, not to mention the makings of a solid linebacker corps. So, the good news is that the Cards are poised to be better in 2012. The bad news is that their schedule includes matchups against a number of premier offenses like the Eagles, Lions, Packers and Patriots. It's likely that Arizona ends 2012 in the same area statistically as it finished 2011, so draft (or don't) accordingly.

DEF RANKINGS 16-30![](

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