2020 NFL Draft Kit: Defense/Special Teams Rankings
Javon Kinlaw (3) was drafted to replace DeForest Buckner. (David J. Phillip/Associated Press)
The 2020 RotoRob NFL Draft Kit continues today as we near the end of our rankings with another cheat sheet. So, while the debate over the name of Washington’s football team rages yet again, let’s review the top 20 Fantasy team defenses and special teams.
The old Ricky Bobby slogan, “if you ain’t first, you’re last” fits well when drafting D/ST. Leading defenses have been an amalgam of successful QB pressure and luck. Takeaways such as safeties and picks, plus defensive and special team touchdowns are notoriously hard to predict and have little correlation year-over-year. QB pressure rate (sacks, hurries and knockdowns) can provide a better picture on which team is scheming and creating openings for their players.
We strongly urge you to never draft a defense early, but instead invest the capital used on Pittsburgh (for instance) to draft players with comparable ADPs like Derrius Guice or Michael Gallup. This year, we at RotoRob.com love Baltimore’s D (though we would never draft them) as well as Denver, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia and Washington at their respective ADPs.
1. San Francisco 49ers: San Francisco’s new defensive line features rookie DT Javon Kinlaw (who has his teammates drooling already — see video below), DE standout Arik Armstead, All-Pro DE Joey Bosa and supplemental DT Solomon Thomas in 4-3 schemes. DC Robert Saleh‘s squad produced a 28.7 per cent pressure rate (second in the NFL), racking up 48 sacks (for a sack rate of 8.8 per cent). There is room for improvement as the secondary failed to capitalize on the front seven’s fantastic performance, snagging just 12 interceptions (17th in the NFL).
2. Pittsburgh Steelers: DC John Keith Butler‘s unit — since trading for Minkah Fitzpatrick — has looked like the Steel Curtain of old despite staying on the field an average of 31:12 minutes per game (26th highest in the league). Boasting the highest pressure rate in the NFL last season (30.5 per cent), the Steelers translated their ability to disrupt the quarterback into 56 sacks (9.51 per cent sack rate) as well as forcing 20 interceptions (second in the league). Pittsburgh returns all defensive players but NT Javon Hargraves.
3. New England Patriots: Under HC Bill Belichek‘s first year moonlighting as the defensive coordinator, New England finished with a pressure rate of 24.1 per cent (10th in the NFL), despite blitzing 37.1 per cent (sixt in the league), and converting it into an unworldly 47 sacks (8 per cent sack rate). More impressively, the Patriots led the league in interceptions (25) thanks to increased usage of Belichek’s Cover 0. Regression is likely, but you won’t catch us betting against Belichek.
4. Baltimore Ravens: The reformed Ravens’ defense added DT Derek Wolfe, DE Calais Campbell, MLB Patrick Queen and WLB Malik Harrison while re-signing rotational pass-rusher Pernell McPhee then franchising SLB Matt Judon. The Baltimore secondary features stone-knees RCB Marcus Peters, Pro Bowl LCB Marlon Humphrey and elite fill-in CB3 Jimmy Smith. In light of all the changes, Fantasy owners can — at the very least — expect the lowest time of possession.
5. Denver Broncos: HC Vic Fangio‘s newest DC, Ed Donatell, oversaw the acquisition of NT Mike Purcell, DE Jurrell Casey, ILB Alexander Johnson and LCB A.J. Bouye. The defense also waved goodbye to DE Derek Wolfe and iconic CB Chris Harris. Offseason transactions strongly suggest a forceful shift towards emulating Wade Phillips‘ famous 3-4 defense, relying on the front seven to create opportunities for the secondary. We believe that despite ranking 17th in Fantasy points last year, the Bronco D is a top 10 unit.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tampa Bay’s defense remains relatively unchanged, short of depth transactions and signing OLB Jason Pierre-Paul. Last year, the Bucs had the 10th-ranked defense, generating 23.9 per cent pressure rate (11th in the league), converting it into 47 sacks (6.61 per cent sack rate; 17th in the league) and 12 interceptions (19th in the league). Tampa Bay somehow boasted the league’s best run defense despite “greatest QB ever after lasik surgery” Jameis Winston, who was a turnover machine. We believe this could be the most undervalued defense in Fantasy this year.
7. Washington Redskins: Averaging the longest time of possession (32:48 minutes), the Redskins (as they are still known for now) managed the rare feat of pressuring QBs 28.5 per cent (third in the league) of all plays and converting it into 46 sacks (7.85 per cent sack rate) and 13 interceptions (13th in the league) all while allowing 35 passing touchdowns (third highest in the league), 14 rushing touchdowns (13th highest in the league), and 6,162 total yards (sixth in the league). Washington added CB Kendall Fuller, MLB Thomas Davis and FS Sean Davis to address the aforementioned problems.
8. Buffalo Bills: Off the field issues plague the Bills’ defense as NT Ed Oliver is facing punishment for driving under the influence and possessing a fireman. Regardless, Buffalo added DE Mario Addison, WLB A.J. Klein and RCB Josh Norman to a defense that generated 23.3 per cent pressure rate (17th in the league). The defense racked up 44 sacks, 8.1 per cent sack rate (sixth in the league) and 14 interceptions (11th in the league). The Bills’ D is not dissimilar to Minnesota HC Mike Zimmer‘s defense in that it specializes in third downs, run-stopping and goal-line rather than takeaways.
9. Kansas City Chiefs: The Super Bowl champions return all defensive starters except CB Kendall Fuller and MLB Reggie Ragland. It is likely HC Andy Reid pulls SS Tyrann Mathieu into box in Cover 1-3 defense. Kansas City’s depth chart is signalling a 4-2 defense with two outside corners and a nickel. A true bend-don’t-break defense, the Chiefs snagged 16 interceptions (fifth in the league) and 45 sacks (7.19 per cent sack rate, 12th in the league) on 22.2 per cent pressure rate (11th in the league) despite allowing the 16th-most yards last season.
10. Los Angeles Chargers: The addition of NT Linval Joseph to DE Joey Bosa and DE/OB Melvin Ingram as well as CB Chris Harris to SS Derwin James and CB Casey Hayward gives the Chargers potentially one of the league’s most lethal defenses. Generating a 23.8 per cent pressure rate (13th in the league) last year, Los Angeles produced 31 sacks (6.1 per cent sack rate, 23rd in the league) and 11 interceptions (24th in the league). Boom or Bust.
11. Minnesota Vikings: Under Zimmer, the Vikes have become the NFL’s Forrest Gump defense, consistently being a high-floor, low-ceiling Fantasy asset. Co-DC Andre Patterson‘s squad includes new names such as rookie CB Jeff Gladney, NT Michael Pierce, DE Ifeadi Odenigbo and WLB Eric Wilson. Linval Joseph, Everson Griffin, Trae Waynes and Xavier Rhodes have departed. Despite the drop-off in talent, expect solid results as Zimmer has always extracted the most from his players.
12. Chicago Bears: Under DC Chuck Pagano, the Bears’ D produced a serviceable season, generating 25.2 per cent pressure rate (eighth in the league) while compiling 45 sacks (5.3 per cent sack rate, 28th in the league) and 10 interceptions (28th in the league). Chicago was the ultimate underperformer in the past year and Pagano has seized the opportunity to purge the remnants left over from the Vic Fangio era. Expect the front seven to maintain their pressure rate and begin converting it into sacks and interceptions.
Others to Consider
The remaining teams here are likely just streaming options at this point, obviously subject to change.
13. Los Angeles Rams: With the additions of NT A’Shawn Robinson, ILB Leonard Floyd, rookie OLB Terrell Lewis and LCB Troy Hill, DC Brandon Staley‘s super-fitted 4-3 defense will take time to implement. The talent of Los Angeles’ defensive line is capable of generating top 10 pressure.
14. New Orleans Saints: Averaging the third lowest defensive time of possession, the Saints generated a 26.4 per cent pressure rate, and subsequently 51 sacks (7.9 per cent sack rate) with 13 interceptions. Hawkish FS Malcolm Jenkins and CB Janoris Jenkins will no doubt help with takeaways.
15. Tennessee Titans: Ranking 11th among Fantasy defenses last year, the Titans feature a boring and sometimes leaky 4-3 defense. Generating the lowest pressure rate on this list at 21.1 per cent, Tennessee racked up 43 sacks (6.3 per cent sack rate, 20th in the league) and 14 interceptions (eighth in the league). However, the team suffered a significant loss with the departure of DT
16. Philadelphia Eagles: The defensive line now features DT Javon Hargraves as well as DE Derek Barnett, DT Fletcher Cox and DE Brandon Graham. The revamped Eagles secondary features CB Darius Slay and slot CB Nickell Robey-Coleman, but minus Malcolm Jenkins. Last year, Philadelphia generated 24.3 per cent pressure rate (ninth in the league).
17. Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys are filled to the brim with blue-chip talent at almost every position. Generating a pressure rate of 23.4 per cent (15th in the league), Dallas managed just 39 sacks (6.4 per cent sack rate, 18th in the league) and seven interceptions (last in the league). There is a lot of room for improvement under new management. Perhaps Jamal Adams can help.
RotoRob Tune of the Day
English industrial band Cabaret Voltaire originally launched in 1973, remaining active until 1994 before taking a 20-year break, and they’re still at it today. In 2001, the band released a compilation entitled Conform to Deform ’82/’90 Archive. From this efforts comes the 12″ version of “Sex, Money, Freaks” remixed by French DJ Francois Kevorkian, one of the founders of house music.
Now it’s your turn. Let us know in the comments below which teams you think are too high, too low or missing.