2018 Fantasy Football Defense Preview: Koerner, Raybon & Freedman

Aug 18, 2018 4:36 AM EDT
  • Below are profiles on each defense/special teams from NFL experts Sean Koerner, Matthew Freedman, and Chris Raybon.
  • Koerner has been the No. 1 in-season FantasyPros ranker for three straight seasons, Freedman was No. 6 last year, and Raybon has watched every NFL snap since 2010.
  • Links to more in-depth content appear below each profile.

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Arizona Cardinals

Were 16th last year in fantasy points per game and now have a defensive-minded head coach and a rebuilt offense that can control the ball for longer stretches. – Freedman

A middling defense that ranked between 12th and 19th in points per game allowed (22.6), interceptions (15) and sacks (37) gets a first-year head coach, first-year coordinator, and the league’s toughest schedule according to 2018 win totals. – Raybon

Atlanta Falcons

Marquand Manuel replaces Richard Smith as coordinator of a speedy defense that finished eighth in points per game allowed (19.7) but tied for just 13th in sacks (39) and 27th in turnovers (16) in 2017; a potential return to form for pass rusher Vic Beasley (who was inexplicably used in coverage too often last season) and cornerback Desmond Trufant gives the unit upside. – Raybon

Baltimore Ravens

Led the league in interceptions in 2017 (21) while finishing sixth in points per game allowed (18.9) and tied for 11th in sacks (41); has the NFL’s 11th-easiest schedule according to Vegas win totals. – Raybon

Buffalo Bills

An average fantasy unit in 2017 could still garner frequent streaming consideration thanks to a Week 1 matchup vs. Joe Flacco and games against the likes of Blake Bortles, Marcus Mariota, Mitchell Trubisky, Ryan Tannehill and Jets quarterbacks. – Raybon

Carolina Panthers

A unit that finished 10th in points per game allowed (20.4) and third in sacks (50) is anchored by a Kawann Short-led defensive line and Luke Kuechly-led linebacking corps, but a shaky secondary will have to improve after the team intercepted only 10 passes last year. – Raybon

Chicago Bears

Vic Fangio will continue to coordinate an underrated unit that posted top-10 finishes in points per game allowed (20.0) and sacks (42) in 2017; a secondary that features three of Pro Football Focus’ top-45 cornerbacks (Kyle Fuller, Bryce Callahan, Prince Amukamara) and the No. 2 safety (Adrian Amos) has the potential to improve on last season’s lowly eight interceptions. – Raybon

Cincinnati Bengals

A defense featuring high-caliber players on each level in tackle Geno Atkins, linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback William Jackson could provide ample streaming opportunities against a schedule that features two games against the Ravens and Browns as well as games against the Dolphins, Buccaneers and Broncos at home; they could be viable even in Week 1 in Indianapolis depending on the status of Andrew Luck (shoulder). – Raybon

Cleveland Browns

The league’s second-worst scoring defense (25.6 points per game allowed) added talent to the back seven in linebacker Mychal Kendricks and cornerbacks E.J. Gaines, T.J. Carrie and No. 4 overall pick Denzel Ward, but the Browns face the league’s eighth-toughest schedule in 2018 Vegas win totals, and a Gregg Williams-coordinated defense hasn’t finished in the top half of the league in interceptions since 2009. – Raybon

Dallas Cowboys

An average unit statistically and talent-wise has more downside than upside due to a declining offense that may be unable to sustain drives and the fragile durability of 32-year-old linchpin Sean Lee. – Raybon

Denver Broncos

Underperformed their Nos. 3 and 15 rankings in 2017 rush- and pass-defense DVOA but should rebound after adding pass-rusher Bradley Chubb to play opposite Von Miller. – Raybon

Detroit Lions

One of fantasy’s top DSTs in 2017 is likely in for major regression after posting top-two finishes in fumble recoveries (13), defensive touchdowns (5) and kick-return touchdowns (2). – Raybon

Green Bay Packers

A Week 1 home matchup with the Bears and games against the likes of the Bills, Dolphins, Jets, and Cardinals give the Packers some streaming appeal, but a young secondary will have to gel for a unit that allowed the seventh-most points per game in 2017 (24.0). – Raybon

Houston Texans

Owner of the NFL’s easiest schedule in opponent Vegas win totals gets back difference-makers J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus, who missed 22 games last season. – Raybon

Indianapolis Colts

Highly regarded first-year coordinator Matt Eberflus will try to elevate a young, unproven unit that’s finished 22nd or worse in points allowed for three straight seasons. – Raybon

Jacksonville Jaguars

A top-two defense in points allowed, interceptions, and sacks in 2017 gets the NFL’s fourth-easiest schedule in opponent Vegas win totals in 2018. – Raybon

Kansas City Chiefs

The return of elite safety Eric Berry and continued excellence of pass rusher Justin Houston will have to carry a defense that didn’t stand out in any category last season, but a perennially strong special teams unit helps in fantasy. – Raybon

Los Angeles Chargers

A top-six defense in points allowed, interceptions, and sacks in 2017 gets the NFL’s third-easiest schedule in opponent Vegas win totals in 2018. – Raybon

Los Angeles Rams

A defense that finished top-six in interceptions and sacks in 2017 has received reinforcements in the form of Ndamukong Suh at defensive tackle and Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters at cornerback. – Raybon

Miami Dolphins

Finished bottom-six in points allowed per game (24.6), sacks (30) and interceptions (9) in 2017; have one of the league’s easier schedules but may lack the talent to exploit it. – Raybon

Minnesota Vikings

One of the league’s most talented defenses didn’t translate to top-tier fantasy production in 2017 but should have a high floor in points allowed after leading the league in that category. – Raybon

New England Patriots

Owner of the NFL’s highest Vegas win totals and second-easiest win-total schedules should be a viable option most weeks despite losing defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. – Raybon

New Orleans Saints

Unit headlined by pass rusher Cameron Jordan and cornerback Marshon Lattimore should get ample chances to make plays as opponents try to keep up with the Saints’ potent offense. – Raybon

New York Giants

Have good pieces in tackle Damon Harrison, edge rusher Olivier Vernon, cornerback Janoris Jenkins and safety Landon Collins, but outside of a Week 1 home matchup against Blake Bortles the schedule doesn’t soften up until after their Week 9 bye. – Raybon

New York Jets

Could see improved secondary play with the addition of cornerback Trumaine Johnson and second-year leaps from safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye but have a long way to go after finishing last season ranked 20th or worse in points per game allowed (23.9), sacks (28) and interceptions (11); could be a viable streaming option in Weeks 2-5 (vs. Dolphins, at Browns, at Jaguars, vs. Broncos). – Raybon

Oakland Raiders

One of the league’s softer schedules could make them a viable streamer at times, but they’ve finished 25th or worse in sacks for two years straight and still lack adequate pass-rushing punch alongside three-time Pro Bowler (and holdout threat) Khalil Mack. – Raybon

Philadelphia Eagles

Super Bowl champs expected to win double-digit games in 2018 has an offense that should force opponents to pass and a defensive line that should rush them into mistakes. – Raybon

Pittsburgh Steelers

A great late-round flier with a good Week 1 matchup against the Browns; the impact of losing Ryan Shazier is overstated, as they led the NFL in sacks (56; Shazier had 0) and still ranked top-10 in fantasy in the four games he missed. – Koerner

San Francisco 49ers

Vegas expects the 49ers to be above .500 coming off a 6-10 season, and the defense should be improved with cornerback Richard Sherman now in tow, although a Week 1 matchup in Minnesota isn’t ideal for streamers. – Raybon

Seattle Seahawks

Linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright ensure a solid front seven, but the fall of the Legion of Doom is cause for concern for a unit that slipped to 13th in points per game allowed (20.8), sacks (39) and interceptions (14) in 2017. – Raybon

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Their first six weeks contain a bye and games against Drew Brees, Carson Wentz, Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan, and they have the second-hardest overall schedule in 2018 Vegas win totals. – Raybon

Tennessee Titans

The emergence of safety Kevin Byard, addition of cornerback Malcolm Butler, and one of the league’s softer schedules could allow a unit now overseen by defensive-minded head coach Mike Vrabel and veteran former Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees to surprise in 2018. – Raybon

Washington Redskins

Tied for the fifth-most points allowed per game in 2017 (24.3), mostly offsetting top-10 finishes in sacks (42) and interceptions (16); Greg Manusky-coordinated defenses have finished ranked Nos. 19-27 in points allowed in five of his past six seasons. – Raybon

Credit:

Charles LeClaire – USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Jalen Ramsey (20), Tashaun Gipson (39)

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SCHEDULE
OPEN
CURR
# BETS
ATL
NYG
-4.5
54
-4
54
WAS
DAL
-1
42
PK
41.5
CHI
NE
+2.5
50
+3
48.5
TB
CLE
-3
49.5
-3.5
52.5
JAC
HOU
-3.5
44
-4
41
NYJ
MIN
+3
47
+3.5
46
SF
LA
+10.5
53
+9.5
52
IND
BUF
-7
42.5
-7
43
LAC
TEN
-7
45.5
-6.5
45
ARI
DEN
+1
41
+1
42
MIA
DET
+2.5
47
+3
46.5
KC
CIN
-6
58.5
-6
58.5
PHI
CAR
-4.5
45
-5
44.5
BAL
NO
-2.5
51
-3
49.5