How to Draft a Defense
Chicago should be the hottest team on everyone's draft list this season, thanks to an amazing effort in 2005. The Bears had 34 takeaways, recorded 41 sacks, and scored seven defensive/special teams TDs to stake a claim as the top fantasy defense heading into 2006. Brian Urlacher and Nathan Vasher help offset a weak Chicago offense and will help win some ballgames on the real gridiron, yes, but it is a gamble to spend anything higher than a tenth- or eleventh-round draft pick on the Bears, or any defense, for your fantasy team.
However, if you just have to prove me wrong, consider this list of potential "great" defenses in 2006, in no particular order of quality.
Carolina - In my league, defensive points are scored based on yardage given up and when teams get sacks and turnovers. Under our system of scoring, the Panthers easily have the top defense in the league. Under more traditional scoring leagues, Carolina didn't score enough to achieve that lofty ranking, but a team that boasts Julius Peppers, Mike Rucker, and Chris Gamble shouldn't last long on your draft board.
Indianapolis - The Colts came on strong last season, but that really shouldn't be considered a surprise since head coach Tony Dungy is a defensive mastermind. Indy gave up a good amount of yardage each game, but offset that with a ball-hungry unit and the fifth-highest total in sacks. Plus, the defense is usually playing against a team that is in catch-up mode, giving them more opportunities for interceptions and sacks.
Pittsburgh - Will the Steelers follow in the footsteps of many a Super Bowl winner and play soft this season? With linebacker Joey Porter leading the way, Pittsburgh finished third in the league with 47 sacks, but Porter is also the returning team leader in interceptions with two. That's not a good sign, and for Pittsburgh to maintain its high ranking, other players - such as Troy Polamalu - need to create turnovers.
Baltimore - Any team that has Ray Lewis and Ed Reed roaming on the defensive side of the ball has to be considered as a top squad. The Ravens were stingy on yards allowed but need to accrue more sacks and turnovers to move into the elite of the league.
Seattle - Unlike the Super Bowl winners, last year's losers might have a chip on their shoulders since most of them believe that the referees kept the trophy from them. The Seahawks led the league in sacks last year and beefed up its defense through the draft - they spent a first-rounder on defensive back Kelly Jennings - and signee Julian Peterson is a solid playmaker.
Jacksonville - The Jaguars might be one of the sleepers when it comes to team defense. They are one year removed from being considered "too young" as a unit, and they are poised to break out in 2006. Guys like Rashean Mathis, Deon Grant, and Mike Peterson are ballhawkers, while guys such as Paul Spicer and Reggie Hayward get to the QB quick and know how to finish it off.
Tampa Bay - Bringing us full circle in this section, here are my Bucs. Tampa Bay has been a top-ten defense since its Super Bowl years, but the team is inching its way back into elite status. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin returns to draw up the Xs and Os for All-Pros like Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber, and of course, defensive end Simeon Rice recently announced that he is the best ever to play his position. If Rice and his teammates cash the check his mouth has written, the Bucs will be dominant once again.
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