Fantasy Football D/ST Preview: D/ST's on the Rise
Dan Malin begins the D/ST position preview with a look at the NFL's free agency period to look at which teams made the biggest improvements to aid their defenses!
Considering the fact that this is normally a position that you’ll wait on to draft, “late-round D/ST” is a bit redundant. You could also view this as an article that will start helping you identify some potential D/ST’s to stream when the season comes around. But these are the few defenses that have made some noise so far in the offseason, and who could still improve on the defensive side of the ball through the draft. We’re still a few weeks away from the NFL Draft and while it’ll be a more private event this time, it’s still a large building block for teams. Free agency is a similar building block for teams, as we’ve seen this past month. If you’re waiting until your last two picks to take a D/ST then be aware the Steelers, Bills, 49ers, Ravens, etc. will not be on the board. But there are plenty of solid units going in the later rounds that you should keep an eye on based on the improvements they’ve made in free agency.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The Bucs made a huge splash in free agency by signing Tom Brady as a free agent to a two-year deal. Not to mention Shaquil Barrett and his 19.5 sacks from a year ago are returning via the franchise tag. The Bucs also re-signed Ndamukong Suh and Jason Pierre-Paul to stabilize the defensive line. With the 14th pick in the upcoming draft it’s likely that the Bucs address the offensive line. Tampa’s O-Line was better than expected last season, but they still allowed a lot of pressure on former starting quarterback, Jameis Winston . Tom Brady comes in and obviously the Bucs want to keep him upright since he’ll be 43 years old when the season starts. Tampa could really use some help in their secondary, but the simple addition of Tom Brady makes the defense better. Winston was simply awful protecting the ball as evidenced by his 30 interceptions and 12 total fumbles from a year ago. When you consider the extra defensive series they have to come back on to the field for, as well as the extra yards and points allowed, the Bucs’ D/ST wasn’t privy to favors from Winston in 2019. Brady has just 29 interceptions in his last four seasons and has never come close to sniffing 20 interceptions in a single year. With the greatest quarterback of all time under center, the defense will get a little more rest between series.
Indianapolis Colts – Similar to Tampa Bay, the Colts went out and signed a veteran quarterback to a short-term deal. However, Rivers is more of a gunslinger than Brady and is more prone to turnovers. Rivers will easily throw more interceptions than Jacoby Brissett did a year ago, but the Colts have a team they can win immediately with. They have a great offensive line and weapons, and they’ve made some improvements to the defense during free agency. They signed defensive back Xavier Rhodes to a one-year deal and traded their first-round pick in April’s draft to the 49ers for DeForest Buckner who they’ve already given an extension to. Buckner is a big defensive tackle that can fill holes and stuff the running game pretty well. Not to mention he also has 19.5 sacks over the last two seasons. Indy may not be a sexy option for fantasy, but they are an intriguing option especially if they continue to address the defense with the rest of their picks in the draft.
Las Vegas Raiders – The Raiders may have lost Karl Joseph to Cleveland, but Maliek Collins and Eli Apple will provide for decent short-term solutions on the defense in 2020. They made a pretty big splash signing Cory Littleton away from the Rams as well as Nick Kwiatkoski. Those two should help what was a fairly weak linebacking core from a year ago. They also have two first-round draft picks next month and one will likely be used to get a young, talented wide receiver for Marcus Mariota , but don’t be surprised if they try to address the defense as well. They could still use help in the secondary but getting Johnathan Abram back will certainly help at Safety. His season was cut very short with a torn rotator cuff so if he’s healthy he can easily help the defense. The downside for the Raiders is that they will have to face off against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs twice, so you may need a streamer for those matchups if you roll the dice on the Raiders in a deeper league. Update: The deal with the Raiders and Eli Apple fell apart and he is now a free agent.
Los Angeles Chargers – I’m of the mindset that this has been an offseason of “trimming” fat for the Chargers. That’s not to say the losses of Philip Rivers and Melvin Gordon aren’t notable, but it was clear that Rivers wasn’t coming back, and they didn’t want to pay Gordon. The Chargers were already a D/ST on everybody’s radar based on the talent they already had, but Los Angeles also lost Adrian Phillips to New England. They made a big splash signing Chris Harris to give them arguably the best secondary in the league with Harris, Casey Hayward , and Derwin James . They also added Linval Joseph on the defensive line and made some great additions on the offensive side as well. They’ll easily address the gaping hole at quarterback, but this defense is set to be pretty solid in 2020. Like Las Vegas, they also play the Chiefs twice, but this is a secondary that could frustrate a passing attack like Kansas City’s.
Miami Dolphins – When you play two games each year against the Patriots, a team that has dominated the division for nearly two decades and who will no longer have Tom Brady under center, then the Dolphins, Bills, and Jets make for better streamers off that factor alone. But the Fins have also made some noticeable moves in free agency that are worth keeping an eye on as well. They agreed to a big deal with Byron Jones who will greatly improve their cornerback play, and they also agreed to deals with Kyle Van Noy , Shaq Lawson , and Emmanuel Ogbah . Miami also has three first-round picks in next month’s draft and while they’ll likely make a big splash to get a quarterback with their first pick, they’ll definitely want to address the offensive line and safety position as well, but it’s clear they’ve made some solid additions in March to the defense.
Cincinnati Bengals – Go ahead and laugh, but the Bengals have made moves in free agency to address the defense. That’s not to say I’m ready to trust this team in fantasy especially with two games against Lamar Jackson , but they’re at least trending in the right direction. With the first overall pick they’ll address the quarterback position, and then maybe the offensive line with a few other picks as well. The defense should be better next season though. They gave D.J. Reader a nice contract and while he doesn’t have a ton of sacks throughout his career, he possesses a wide body ideal for plugging holes and stopping the opponent’s running game. They also gave Trae Waynes a three-year deal to help out the secondary as well as Waynes’ teammate from Minnesota, Mackensie Alexander , who signed a one-year deal. Vonn Bell also comes over from New Orleans so the Bengals defense will have an entirely different look in 2020. Update: As of Tuesday morning the Bengals have released veteran defensive back, and former first-round pick, Dre Kirkpatrick.