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2012 fantasy football profiles and projections (DEFs 16-30)

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Statistical projections are provided by EA Sports

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During a midseason six-game winning streak in 2011, the Broncos defense played its best football of the year. Before and after, however, the orange found itself crushed regularly - mostly because of an older secondary that allowed 24 touchdowns and recorded a mere nine interceptions. Of course, between Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller, it appears that Denver's pass rush is set for the foreseeable future. And with an offense that will be far more productive on the field with Peyton Manning under center, new defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio can afford to be a bit more aggressive with his play calling. Overall, this is a defense with some fantasy potential.

The Cowboys' secondary took a lot of criticism for being the weak link in the chain last season, as that group dragged the defense down to 20th in fantasy points at the position. The addition of cornerbacks Brandon Carr and rookie Morris Claiborne will help immensely, however, and the signing of linebacker Dan Connor will add youth to the linebacking corps. With a stud pass rusher like DeMarcus Ware on the outside, this unit can still be a useful option in fantasy leagues - it's just a matter of producing on a more consistent basis. Consider Dallas a No. 2 fantasy defense in drafts and a potential matchup-based starter throughout the entire season.

In just about every respect, the Falcons were an average defense in 2011. Atlanta was a solid sixth against the run but ranked 20th in pass defense, 12th in total defense and 17th in fantasy scoring. These Dirty Birds also sat middle-of-the-road in both sacks and turnovers forced. That's not the recipe for fantasy success. The team lost its leading tackler, linebacker Curtis Lofton, to the Saints, so linebackers Akeem Dent and Lofa Tatupu will need to step up in the middle of the field. The secondary should be better, as the addition of cornerback Asante Samuel was a solid move. Overall, the Falcons should be considered a No. 2 option or matchup-based starter in fantasy land.

Add the Jaguars to the list of teams that were better defensively than you probably realized. Jacksonville ended the season as the NFL's sixth-ranked defense, although those numbers didn't translate into big fantasy points - this unit was 14th in that area. Part of that had to so with a front seven that didn't generate a huge number of sacks. However, it's also a young group whose top veteran presence, Aaron Kampman, is no longer in the mix after being released. Of course, everyone up front will have another year of experience. This unit still won't be drafted in most leagues, but it could be a matchup-based option.

It's usually not a good sign when a team's top four tacklers all play in the secondary. Then again, that probably explains why the Titans were mired as the 19th highest-scoring fantasy defense in 2011. Cornerback Jason McCourty played big in his third pro season and could become the team's top defensive back with Cortland Finnegan now out of the mix. Tennessee also needs to find a way to get more pressure on the quarterback - the 28 sacks this unit recorded as a team last year is not getting it done. Hopefully, the addition of rookies linebacker Zach Brown and defensive tackle Mike Martin will help. Overall, consider this unit a No. 2 fantasy defense when it's time to draft.

The Chiefs' strength on defense in 2011 came from their secondary - and that was without Eric Berry, who tore an ACL in the season opener. Nonetheless, 18 of Kansas City's 20 interceptions came from the defensive backs - the team also ended the season with the NFL's sixth-best pass defense. Things turn 180 degrees in the opposite direction when you look at the rush defense, though, as K.C. was the seventh-worst team. That's part of the reason the team went after defensive tackle Dontari Poe with their first pick in April's draft. That's a good step in trying to improve a unit that will likely be a No. 2 fantasy option or waiver-wire fodder at the start of 2012.

The Saints defense barely finished in the top 25 in fantasy points at the position in 2011, and there are a lot of changes heading into this season. The unit took a beating from the NFL during the offseason, as linebacker Jonathan Vilma (16 games) and defensive end Will Smith (four games) were both suspended for the bounty scandal. The team did re-build its linebacking corps with the additions of linebackers Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne, however, so there will be some new blood on the roster. The Saints also added defensive end Akiem Hicks in the draft, looking to improve on the defensive line. Still, the boys from the Bayou should be considered a No. 2 option in fantasy land.

In 2011, the Browns were fantastic when it came to stopping opposing passing games. Against the run? Not so much. Cleveland's single-mindedness on defense still allowed them to land as the NFL's 10th-ranked unit during the regular season, but with just 20 takeaways and 32 sacks, the Browns languished in the bottom third of fantasy defenses. There are some solid young playmakers on the squad - most notably cornerback Joe Haden and defensive end Jabaal Sheard - but they'll have to do better against the run before they're anything more than a matchup-based option. As a result, don't look for the Browns to be drafted in the majority of fantasy leagues in 2012.

In just about every respect, the Chargers were a very average defense in 2011, except one - fantasy scoring. The Bolts finished a very un-electric 25th in that category. Much of the blame lies with the guys up front. San Diego posted an uninspiring 32 sacks. Missing Luis Castillo all season hurt, but probably not as much as you'd think. While there are some talented players on this team, like strong safety Eric Weddle and rookie defensive end Melvin Ingram, the Chargers have much to prove before becoming a defense to lean on in fantasy leagues. Consider them in the late rounds as a No. 2 option.

Washington's defense was mostly free of the Mike Shanahan maneuverings that plagued so many fantasy owners. But this unit had problems of its own, namely giving up a ton of points. The Redskins allowed the 12th-most points in the NFL last season, mostly undoing good work by a front seven that registered 41 sacks. It also didn't help that Washington forced a mere 21 turnovers all season, which was a big part in finishing an unimpressive 26th in fantasy points at the position. In what figures to be a high-scoring defense, it's going to be tough to trust the 'Skins as more than a matchup-based option in 2012.

By the numbers, it was hard to figure out the Dolphins defense in 2011. Despite giving up just 313 points - sixth-fewest in the league - Miami had just the 22nd-ranked fantasy defense. The answer is a lack of turnovers. The 'Fins grabbed just 19 takeaways all season (16 INTs, three fumble recoveries). It's hard to imagine a defense being less opportunistic; then again, those things aren't really predictable. Miami's 2012 schedule makes it slightly more attractive, but if you're itching to take a chance on Miami in drafts, don't do it as more than a reserve option.

Were it not for DE Jared Allen's 22 sacks, the 2011 Vikings defense would have been next to last in fantasy points at the position. Minnesota was eaten alive by opposing offenses, landing in the bottom third of the league in total yards allowed, passing yards allowed and points allowed. From a fantasy perspective, this unit scored just 98 points - that was tied for the sixth fewest. The good news is that outside of their division, the Vikings have a forgiving schedule in 2012. But until this unit proves it's again fantasy worthy, it's best left on the free-agent market.

Injuries were not kind to the Panthers' linebacking corps - especially the loss of Jon Beason. But even with a healthy Beason back in the defensive mix, Carolina's defense was full of holes and landed them as the 30th-ranked fantasy unit. In Ron Rivera's second season as head coach, changes are undoubtedly coming to shore up that side of the football - the addition of rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly was a good start. Right now, however, the Panthers are better left to the waiver wire heading into the 2012 campaign.

There's no way around it, the Raiders defense just wasn't very good in 2011. The Silver and Black didn't register a lot of sacks, didn't force a lot of turnovers and was torched by most opposing offenses. But it would appear that help is on the way. New coach Dennis Allen is a defensive-minded guy, so it's easy to imagine him remaking the Raiders more in his image. That's potentially good news for the long-term future, but for 2012, it's not enough to make this unit more than a matchup-based, fill-in defense from a fantasy perspective.

The Rams put together a mixture of young players and veterans, but failed to build a cohesive defense last season. St. Louis landed in the bottom third of the NFL in most major defensive categories in 2011, and aside from big years out of defensive end Chris Long and linebacker James Laurinaitis there wasn't much about this group worth discussing. There is a new sheriff in town with Jeff Fisher assuming the head coaching role, but this defense will no doubt need some time before becoming a fantasy factor. Avoid them in most drafts.

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