Now that we wrapped up the offensive free agents, it is time to tackle the defensive free agents. These, honestly, will likely cause more debate, but this list is based off of the team these players have landed with, and the amount of playing time they should see. In general, for terms of fantasy, teams with bad offenses are fantasy gold for defensive players, as more time on the field usually equates to bigger, better stats. With that said, there are a few exceptions to the rule. However, this post is not going to discuss that topic. With some big names still out there to be signed, this list will be slightly shorter than the offensive post, but will still be deep. OK, enough talking, let’s get to business.
Note: Total tackles are counted as solo tackles only.
Arguably the easiest position to predict, and likely the position that will net you the most points in fantasy leagues in terms of defensive points.
1. Karlos Dansby (Cut) – Other than having a funky spelling of his first name, Dansby is very useful in terms of fantasy production. After being cut by the Dolphins, he was signed by the Cardinals, a fantasy goldmine. With Daryl Washington suspended for the first four games, and the Cardinals offense in disarray, Dansby should be able to put up solid numbers, and possibly expand upon his 122 tackle (TT), 4 sack (SK), 2 forced fumble (FF) line from last season. Draft him as a high-end LB2, with potential for LB1 production as he could approach the 140 TT, 6 SK, 8 stuff (SF) plateau with room for more. The best thing about this guy? If your league counts stuffs, then draft him earlier than you usually would, as he is only one of 3 players (2 active) to record 600+ tackles, 40+ stuffs, and 20+ sacks since 2004.
2. James Harrison (Cut) – Yes, this is an aggressive ranking for an aging linebacker, but this guy still hits hard as hell. Being cut by the Steelers, Harrison is out for revenge on Pittsburgh in Cincinnati. It doesn’t bother me that he only put up a 79 TT, 7.5 SK, 3 FF line last season. That is still a pretty solid line, minus tackle total. Expect a rebound to around a 90 TT, 10 SK, 4 FF line as he is playing angry, and still in the AFC North on a vastly improved Bengals team over the past few seasons. Be very comfortable with him as your LB3 or DP (if you league plays that slot) as he is the rare linebacker who can put up 90+ TT, and 10+ SK.
3. D.J. Williams (Cut) – Opportunity knocks. With the retirement of Brian Urlacher, Williams comes to an ideal situation. He’ll be the middle linebacker (MLB) on the Bears defense, meaning he’ll have the opportunity to return to LB2 status. Like Dansby, he is the second active player to record 600+ TT, 40+ SF, 20+ SK since 2004. Gamble here a little, and nab him as your LB2, as his floor is an LB3, but upside is high-end LB2 or low-end LB1. 90 TT/5 SK/7-8 SF could be in line as starter.
4. Anthony Spencer (Franchised) – After all my hating on the Cowboys in my bad/worst draft post, I decided to do my good deed for the day, and say something nice about a Cowboy. Spencer might be one of the most undervalued LBs in fantasy. He gets sacks, tackles, and throws in some forced fumbles. Not saying he’ll be your LB2, but take a shot on him in the later rounds as your LB3 or DP as he did post 11 SK, 95 TT, 2 FF last season. I picked him up to be my LB3 this season. Worth a gamble.
5. Connor Barwin (UFA) – What the hell happened between his 11.5 SK 2001 season, and last season where he only posted 3 SK. He is on this list because the Eagles defense will likely be on the field a good bit this season as the Eagles sort out kinks in their offense. Starting opposite Trent Cole should open up opportunities for him to rebound his sack total and provide a healthy dose of tackles for an outside linebacker. Draft-and-stash him this season as he could get 70+ TT, 8-9 SK, and a handful of passes defensed (PDs) if he rebounds. Not more than a low end LB3 going into this season, but his upside is a middle LB2.
Some names to keep an eye on, and potentially draft late: Rey Maualuga (UFA) had 112 TT last season, Nick Barnett (Cut) (112 TT, 3 FF last season), Daryl Smith (UFA) (107 TT, 3.5 SK last season), Dwight Freeney (UFA)- More of a defensive end DE, but should rebound from his 5 SK season last season and post more like 10 SK this season in SD.
Defensive Line (DL) DE/DT
Combining DE and DT here, as defensive tackle (DT) isn’t deep enough to have its own category. Defensive end is the best bet to find sacks, outside the good middle linebackers, as DEs often have a less obstacles course to the QB. While defensive tackles are usually the least fantasy-relevant position, leagues that count stuffs should definitely pay attention.
1. Elvis Dumervil (Cut) – Elvis has left the building! Thanks to a fax machine, the Ravens were able to steal Dumervil from the Broncos. This guy was an absolute monster in Denver (54 TT/11 SK/6 FF as a Bronco last season), and is going to be an absolute beast again this season. He will start in Baltimore and should return to his QB hitting ways in Baltimore. Upper-echelon DE1, and a sleeper to lead DEs in FFs and SK this season (unless J.J. Watt has something to say on the matter), draft him as your DE1, and reap the rewards. A surefire DE1 after Watt and Jared Allen.
2. Osi Umenyiora (UFA) – Signed to be Atlanta’s DE1, Osi should get ample opportunity to lead the Falcons in sacks, and improve upon his paltry 6 sack, 42 tackle, 2 forced fumble line from last season. In addition to likely posting around a 70 tackle, 9 sack, 2 forced fumble line, Umenyiora could also provide a handful of stuffs. Draft him as a low-end DE2, but don’t be surprised if he posts middle DE2 stats. He just needs opportunity.
3. Michael Johnson (Franchised) – Where did that com from? Dude broke out like a cannonball out of a cannon. Returning to Cincinnati after being franchised, Johnson could very well put up another 50+ TT, 11.5 SK season, and throw in a few PDs and SFs. Draft him in the later rounds as your DE2, and know he could end up being your DE1, but also be aware he could slump a bit following his breakout campaign. 55 TT, 11.5 SK, 10-11 combined PDs and SFs would look nice on any team.
4. Cliff Avril (UFA) – Means more to the Seahwks than he does to fantasy owners. Be anointed the Hawks ‘Leo’ DE position, Avril should continue to post a 45 TT, 10.5 SK, 3 FF season, and potentially throw in a recovered fumble or two (FR), and 3 SF. Draft him as your DE2-3, but you might be able to pick him up off the waiver wire. Not flashy, but will git r done.
5. Henry Melton ( Franchised) – There’s your DT ladies and gentlemen. Yes, DTs are usually the refrigerators that clog the middle and create paths for the DEs and DTs to hit the QB, but Melton is one of those DTs that actually can get to the QB. Chicago franchised him for a reason: they need a body in the middle to get stuffs, open the lanes for the DEs and LBs, and get to the QB. That’s exactly what Melton should do this season. he has DT1 upside written all over, and should be drafted as such, as there are not many guarantees in the DT world. Calling my shot now, Melton should get 40 TT, 7 SK, and 4-5 SFs, and I’ll be looking to draft him to be my rock at DT if I can’t nab a Muhammad Wilkerson or Geno Atkins (damn the Bengals D-Line is stacked).
Sleepers at DL include, but are not limited to: Randy Starks (Franchised)- Should post 30 TT, 4-5 SK, 4-5 SFs, and possibly another INT. Bonus if he qualifies at DE and DT. Michael Bennett (UFA)- Any league that counts SFs, he will be mine. 10 SF last season to go along with 9 sacks. Sign me up as drafting this hybrid DE/DT now in Seattle. John Abraham (Cut)- Needs to learn he may have to settle for a DE3 role, but potential still there, even at his age, for another 10+ SK season (had 10 SK, 6 FF, 7 PD, 5 SFs) last season. Draft him only if/when he signs. Israel Idonije (UFA)- More a product of the lack of depth at DL left than his talent. Should be a nice WW pickup this season once he signs, depending on landing spot and playing time. A DT3 or bye week filler, he could put up 30 TT, 7 SK, 4-5 SF, but not much more.
I nearly glommed safety and cornerback into open, but decided not too as both are deep, and have players worth mentioning in separate categories. Safety is deeper, and has more talent, but there are some cornerbacks who could be beasts as well.
1. LaRon Landry (UFA) – This is a case where can two safeties co-exist and produce in Indianapolis? I would think so. Landry could play linebacker if a team needed him to. He’s that physical. In addition to getting tackles and 4 forced fumbles last season, he added 8 passes defensed and 3 stuffs. In other words, he was one of the best all-around safeties last season. His stats may increase some in Indy,and he should put up top 10 safety numbers and be drafted as an S1 again. 90 TT, 3 FFs, 7 PD, 3 SF, and 2 interceptions (INT) could be in store.
2. Stevie Brown (RFA) – Might have the biggest upside of any name on this list, and he can tackle too (64 in 2012). The craziest stat though was his yards off INTs. He had 8 INTs for 307 yards last season, or an average of 38 yd/INT, and threw in 11 PDs and 3 SFs. As a full-time starter for the first time in his career, the 25 year old could put up gawdy numbers, and potentially lead all safeties in INTs (you heard it here first). Draft him as an S2, but know he has upside for S1, and should at least put up 80 TT, 9 INTs, 15 PDs, and 5SFs. Did I mention I took him in one of my offline drafts already this offseason?
3. Charles Woodson (Cut) – A transition from cornerback to safety likely gives Woodson’s career more longevity. Now back in Oakland, he will be the ballhawk who is just waiting to pick opposing quarterbacks’ passes off. During his time in Green Bay, he was an absolute nightmare, posting 94 PDs in 7 seasons, to go with 9 TDs on defense, and 38 INTs. In other words no opposing offenses wanted to see him on the field. He may have lost a step, but that doesn’t mean much. He will still notch around 70 TT, 5-6 INTs, 15+ PDs, and potentially a handful of SFs as he could come up more to the defensive line as a safety than as a cornerback. He’s an S2, but could put up lower-end S1 stats. Just be aware of his age. Expect another solid season filled with INTs and PDs.
4. Bernard Pollard (Cut) – Hard hitting safety who will be on the field more in Tennessee than he was in Baltimore, due to offensive woes of the Titans. Not a safety that will net a ton of INTs (2 in 2 seasons in Baltimore), but he will provide some PDs and SFs. Expect his tackling numbers to go up in Tennessee, and for him to eclipse the 75 TT plateau, with 3 FF, 2 FR, 10 PD, and 4 SF. He’ll be a serviceable S2, and should be available late in drafts. Make sure to find another safety for INTs, though, as Pollard likely won’t net many INTs.
5. William Moore (UFA) – Not the flashiest safety, and probably not owned in most fantasy leagues, but definitely someone to keep an eye on in Atlanta. In a full 16 game season, he could put up 70 TT, 6 INTs, 10 PDs, and 5 SFs. The key here is his health as he’s only play 12 games a piece the past 2 seasons. With the Falcons revamping their secondary in the NFL draft, expect Moore to help shoulder the load, along with Thomas DeCoud in Atlanta as the newbies become accustomed to the NFL. Draft him as your S3 or DP, and see what happens. He could approach career highs in multiple categories, but keep an eye on his health.
Other players to keep an eye on: Ed Reed (UFA) – Everybody knows him, or at least should. In Houston he could get 50 TT, 6 INT, 2 FF, 2 FR, and 12 or so PDs. Be advised, he is getting old and the Texans may elect to rest him some. Quintin Mikell (Cut)- Another aging safety, but unlike Reed, he doesn’t currently have a team. Be cautious if you draft him as he may not be a full-rime starter, yet could still post 70 TT, 3 FF, and a handful of PD and SF. Jairus Byrd (Franchised)- If the Bills were smart they would work as quickly as possible to get him on a new contract as he could be their rock at safety for years to come. When drafting him, target him late as he could pay huge dividends. Does nothing great, but does a little bit of everything, and has the potential to burst in to the top 10 safeties.
Often overlooked in fantasy leagues, the main purpose of corners is not only interceptions, but also passes defensed. It is the elite cornerbacks that often times get over looked, and the ones targeted the most are the corners playing opposite the elite cornerbacks. There’s a reason no one throws on Darrelle Revis, he is too a corner and will either pick the ball with no problem or knock the pass down.
1. Antoine Winfield (Cut)- The only bad thing about this guy: I can’t draft him twice in one draft. Seriously, this guy is fantasy gold at cornerback. In Seattle he will get every opportunity to play more physically as Seattle’s nickel back. While this likely caps his production, don’t shy away from him as he will line up closer to the line and get more tackles. I see no reason why he couldn’t be any fantasy owner’s CB1 and post 70 TT, 1 FR and FF apiece, 10 PD, 11 SF this season. Just be sure to nab a solid CB2 or lower CB1 as Winfield is 35.
2. Cary Williams (UFA)- Will be on the field a ton in Philly as Chip Kelley plays fast and furious. This is good news for fantasy owners. More snaps on field equates more potential for solid stats. Williams posted 75 TT and 4 INT last season, and should easily eclipse the 83 TT, 5 INT line this season, and increase his PDs to 20. He is bad in coverage, and can be exploited, leading opposing QBs to throw his way more often. Gamble on him as your CB1, or high-end CB2 and see what happens. Not guaranteeing he’ll finish as your CB2, but rewards could be immense.
3. Dunta Robinson (Cut)- The Eagles are glad this guy is out of the NFC, as he loved to level their receivers. Just ask DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Robinson is not afraid to lower the boom, but doesn’t tackle well. Now in Kansas City he will be on the field more as KC is in rebuild mode. If you want to play a dangerous game, draft him as your CB1, and expect 70 TT, 2 SK, 3 INT, 9 PD, and 7 SF. Beware that opposing teams may not throw his way that often, and thus his numbers could suffer.
4. DeAngelo Hall (Cut)- Similar player to Robinson, but Robinson is the better real-life corner. Hall is one of the biggest ballhawks in the NFL, and, given that he may be on the field a ton again this season, especially if RGIII isn’t ready to go week 1, he could potentially reach a new high in INTs. 80 TT, 6 INT, 15 PD, and 7 SFs would be a solid stat baseline on any fantasy team, and will be one of the first CBs off the board.
5. Brent Grimes (UFA)- If he truly is healthy, he will be make the Falcons regret cutting him, while Dolphin fans will celebrate. Other than horrible coverage skills, leading to him getting targeted a bunch, he is a top CB. The difference between the two offenses is that Atlanta’s is one of the elite 3-4 offenses that can put up crooked numbers on any given week. This is a transition season for the Dolphins, and as a result, Grimes could put together one of finest seasons yet. It wouldn’t surprise to see 7 INTs,
Potential sleepers/players to keep an eye on: Nnamdi Asomugha (Cut)- This could be very interesting. Asomugha goes to the nastiest defense in San Francisco, where the shear physicality of the defense could open up plays for him pick off more passes, or get his tackle totals up. 5 INT, 15 PD may be in reach. Take a late flier on him in leagues counting PDs. Aqib Talib (UFA)- I’ll wait until he proves he can stay healthy for a full season before drafting him anymore than as a late round flier. Interesting potential, but also don’t trust any Patriots CB. If he stays healthy he could be a steal. Baseline numbers if he stays healthy: 45 TT, 4 INT, 12 PD. Tread softly. Chris Houston (UFA)- Always been consistently mediocre, and leaves fantasy owners wanting more. Resigning with the Lions, Houston will put up another 45 TT, and 12 PD, but the question is how many INT he’ll snag? I say 3. I’m still divided on him, honestly, but I’ll take a shot in the dark on him in hopes of him showing more this season.