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D/ST preview: Uncover bargains in final rounds


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Wait until the final rounds before drafting a defense where a top 10 one will likely be available. If not, plenty of sleeper candidates are waiting, and recent history cites at least one top defense will be found on the waiver wire.



Creating sacks and turnovers form the basis for the best fantasy defenses. The ability to stop the run provides the foundation for putting offenses in third-and-longs and force quarterbacks to throw under heavy pressure. Putting offenses in those dire situations is one of the best scenarios for aggressive defenses to create sacks and interceptions.


Recently, and not coincidentally, the best run defenses have also been among the top fantasy defenses. Baltimore, Pittsburgh, New York Giants and New England fit the criteria best of consistently generating sacks and turnovers and stopping the run to ensure a greater chance that their dominance continues yearly.


Don't Sleep On


New coach Rex Ryan will help the New York Jets be successful again at creating sacks and turnovers. An architect of the great Baltimore defense, Ryan is expected to transform last year's No. 6 overall pick Vernon Gholston to a pass-rushing fiend. Adding linebacker Bart Scott strengthens the pass rush, and trading for Lito Sheppard to pair with Pro Bowler Darrelle Revis solidifies the pass defense. Both moves keep the turnover potential high.


Buffalo's pass rush was among the league's worst last year, and it ranked in the bottom half in turnovers. Aaron Schobel's return from a foot injury and drafting one of the top defensive end prospects Aaron Maybin in the first round will immediately bolster the pass rush. Adding cornerback Drayton Florence upgrades the secondary as well. If the offense improves with the addition of playmaking receiver Terrell Owens, a high-scoring offense will allow the defense to be more aggressive, and acquire more sacks and turnovers.


Washington's pass rush and turnover capability ranked in the NFL's bottom five last season. Signing one of the league's most dominant defensive linemen Albert Haynesworth and drafting one of the top defensive end prospects Brian Orakpo in the first round will quickly strengthen both critical areas.



Fantasy Football


Draft Advice:Free Draft Guide: Find rankings, previews, sleepers, flops and much more!

Rotter's rankings


Top 300 | QB | RB | WR | TE | K | D/ST

Harmon's previews


QB | RB | RB2 | RB3 | WR1 | WR2 | WR3

TE | K | D/ST1 | D/ST2

Harmon's sleepers


QB | RB | WR | TE | D/ST

Depth charts


QB | RB | WR | TE | K

Team previews


Evaluating fantasy impact of NFL teams

Value Buys


Philadelphia finished in the top five in sacks and points allowed, and placed in the top 10 in turnovers. The loss of All-Pro safety Brian Dawkins may downgrade this talented defense in drafts, but it still has the potential to be fantasy's top one. Significantly, its potent pass rush, led by sack artists Darren Howard and Trent Cole, and complex blitzing schemes will keep heavy pressure on quarterbacks.


Chicago's run defense has slipped in the past couple years, but its special teams return unit and the offseason addition of Jay Cutler may help bring it back to fantasy prominence. After setting records as a rookie, Devin Hester can only improve on his disappointing return game last year as he learns to balance both receiving and returning duties. If the offense can score more points with Cutler this season, giving the defense a lead will enable it to be more aggressive and help create more chances for sacks and turnovers.


Shawne Merriman's return from injury and the drafting of linebacker Alex English in the first round will help San Diego rebound to be one of the top sack leaders. More pressure on the quarterback will result into a significant boost in interceptions.


Minnesota already owns one of the best run defenses and pass rushes. If its offense can improve the passing attack and increase scoring, this will help this opportunistic defense take more chances and capitalize on them for turnovers.


Indianapolis' best defensive player Bob Sanders missed 10 games last year, hindering the team's ability to create turnovers. The return of the 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year will help his other talented teammates make more plays, such as sack-specialist Dwight Freeney, by deflecting offensive attention from them.



Buyer Beware


Losing Haynesworth in the offseason is a critical loss for Tennessee's interior dominance. If replacements like second-round rookie Sen'Derrick Marks struggle to attract double teams, it will be more difficult for the Titans to generate one of the league's top pass rushes again.


Tampa Bay will need to effectively replace last year's four starters released in the offseason (tackle Jovan Haye, linebackers Derrick Brooks and Cato June and cornerback Phillip Buchanan). It will be counting on inexperienced players to help quickly compensate for those veteran losses. The defense may also take time to adjust to a new coach and defensive coordinator.


Final thoughts


At least fulfill all starting quarterback, running back and wide receiver slots before drafting a defense. It's also better to strengthen the bench with potential starters from those critical fantasy positions. If one of the recent dominant defenses like Baltimore, Pittsburgh, New York Giants or New England is available in the final rounds, then seize one.


Otherwise, draft one in the next class of talented fantasy defenses like Philadelphia, Chicago, San Diego, Minnesota and Indianapolis. Each has the potential to finish as the top one.


If those disappear too quickly, take upgraded defenses like the New York Jets, Buffalo or Washington with the second-to-final pick in a 16-round standard fantasy league draft.


Even if the chosen defense flops, at least one or two undrafted ones usually finish in fantasy's top 10. Last year's shining examples of waiver-wire pickups include the New York Jets and Arizona.

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