Defensive Player Rankings

Defensive Player Rankings
By Christopher Harris
July 10, 2006

Christopher Harris
Yahoo Sports
You thirst for control.

You've never owned an automated transmission in your life. You won't get on an airplane unless they let you drive. Your offspring have GPS microchips implanted in their scalps.

Simply owning an entire fantasy defense isn't enough for you.

For those who seek a little something extra out of their fantasy football lives, who think it's stupid to get credit because some backup linebacker happened to get an interception caught in his facemask, and who (let's face it) are looking for yet one more thing to obsess over, an IDP league is the way to go. In an IDP league, owners draft individual defensive players rather than team defenses, and as such, get credit for stellar individual defensive play, rather than for an entire team's defensive output. Players are typically divided into three positions: defensive linemen, linebackers and defensive backs; thus defensive tackles and defensive ends are all lumped under the "defensive lineman" heading, inside and outside linebackers are all "linebackers," and safeties and cornerbacks are "defensive backs."

IDP leagues are cool because it gives draft day that much more variance: some fantasy franchises will elect to wait to take defense players, while others will grab their favorite defensive studs earlier. Meanwhile, some leagues hold entirely separate defensive drafts, after the offensive draft is done. Regardless, if you're in an IDP league, you've got an extra layer of scouting to do, and I'm here to help.

For the purposes of this preseason ranking of individual defensive players, I'm going to use the following scoring system:

Tackle:1 point
Assist:0.5 points
Sack:2 points for every 0.5
Interception:5 points
Interception for a TD:6 points (in addition to the five for the pick itself)
Fumble Forced:3 points
Fumble Recovered:2 points
Fumble Recovered for a TD:    6 points (in addition to the two for the recovery itself)
Pass Defended:1 point
Safety:2 points

This scoring is relatively standard, though many leagues use different stats in different measures in order to create some degree of equity among the three defensive fantasy positions. And I'll be the first to admit, this scoring method is actually a wee bit linebacker-heavy, but frankly, that tends to be the case in most IDP scoring systems, because linebackers tend to do a ton of tackling, and a fair amount of everything else.

What follows are my rankings for each of the three defensive fantasy positions, with some discussion of key players and some notes on each. At the end of this article, I'll give an idea of my favorite IDP players for 2006, regardless of position.

Defensive Linemen

1. Jason Taylor Mia   Still the best and most consistent; no missed games in six years
2. Julius Peppers Car Followed up mammoth '04 with an '05 almost as good
3. Terrell Suggs Bal With healthy defense, can go back to sack specialty and lead the league
4. Michael Strahan NYG Tackles give him edge over teammate Umenyiora; both will get sacks
5. Osi Umenyiora NYG If Giants have questions on defense, they don't involve their bookends
6. Charles Grant NO Like Smith, but still like Grant more; should recover from down sack year
7. John Abraham Atl Change of locale helps; health must withstand more turf games, though
8. Will Smith NO Fumble-forcing machine on the end, makes powerful duo with Grant
9. Dwight Freeney Ind Wonderful sacker who doesn't tackle as much as those in front of him
10. Aaron Schobel Buf An ace in tackles, he also had 12.0 sacks in '05
11. Simeon Rice TB Five straight years of double-digit sacks; not done at age 32
12. Robert Mathis Ind Rotation in Indy has thinned; Mathis made a ton of tackles in '05
13. Adewale Ogunleye Chi Not a bad deal for Marty Booker. Not a tackle machine, but gets sacks
14. Bertrand Berry Ari Sacks dried up after two great years; he'll hit double digits again
15. Derrick Burgess Oak '05 sack leader will come back to Earth a bit, but still lead Oakland's D
16. Jevon Kearse Phi Very consistent, though he may never be All-World like predicted
17. Mario Williams Hou High for a rookie, but his motor is great, and he will get an opportunity
18. Patrick Kerney Atl Stout defensive line features three fantasy-worthy players
19. Justin Smith Cin This is high, but I expect a breakout year, especially in tackles
20. Leonard Little StL Over 11 sacks per year over his last five seasons
21. Darren Howard Phi Disastrous year in Big Easy, but he'll get a chance to succeed on good D
22. Rod Coleman Atl 1st DT listed; sacks at DT are rare, but '05 proved '04 was no fluke
23. Kevin Williams Min Strong '03 and '04 could make him a steal, but he was awful last year
24. Alex Brown Chi Not a big sacker, but hybrid player with wonderful size and quickness
25. Kyle Vanden Bosch Ten May go higher, but '05 was the first year he did it; prove it to us again
26. Richard Seymour NE If the Pats can afford to play him more on the end, value goes way up
27. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila GB Great player on what may be a bad team; last year was a downturn
28. Jared Allen KC Improved on breakout '04; will KC find enough players around him?
29. Shaun Rogers Det Injury-plagued in '05, but he's healthy and should plug middle again
30 Mike Rucker Car Lots of single coverage as Peppers' running mate; '03 form would be nice

Notes: It goes without saying that the DLs who give the best combination of sacks and tackles rate the highest. Taylor and Strahan are the high-ranked guys with the most multi-year consistency in both categories, and neither shows any signs of slowing down … With Ray Lewis and Ed Reed back and happy, and Haloti Ngata plugging the middle, I think Suggs will have a huge year. He can be what Kearse was before injuries sapped him of the top end of his burst … It's worth noting that five defensive-end duos rank in my top 20; you probably don't want to own both guys on any given NFL team, but for me that emphasizes the extent to which ends feed off of one another … I'm sure I'll get lots of hate mail on Freeney, but while he's probably the most talented pass rusher in the game, he doesn't make enough tackles for him to merit being any higher on this list. Remember: real-life excellence doesn't translate directly into fantasy excellence … When Rice ranks 11th on a list of defensive lineman, fantasy or otherwise, you know it's a deep position.


Linebackers

1. Keith Bulluck Ten   Tackling machine had 137, 152 and 138 in last three seasons
2. Ray Lewis Bal Will take cajones, but healthy he's amazing, and defense funnels to him
3. Donnie Edwards SD 151 or more tackles in last three seasons, could be solo-tackle king in '06
4. Mike Peterson Jac Best sack artist of the high-tackle LBs; I love the Jags' D overall this year
5. Jonathan Vilma NYJ Did somebody say 173 tackles in '05? Holy cow
6. Brian Urlacher Chi Not his fault tackles are down, but they are; makes up for it with sacks
7. Zach Thomas Mia Slightly lower top end, but the most consistently great player on this list
8. Antonio Pierce NYG Extremely underrated; benefits from Arrington; scores a TD every year
9. Odell Thurman Cin Questionable character, but rookie had five INTs and 106 tackles
10. Andra Davis Cle Plays crucial role in Crennel defense; should top 2005's 149 tackles
11. London Fletcher Buf Insane '05 partly due to injuries around him, but he'll still top 120 tackles
12. Tedy Bruschi NE Back in the saddle with a full camp under his belt
13. Lance Briggs Chi Only so many tackles to go around on incredible Bear D, but he's a stud
14. Derrick Brooks TB Never a big sack man, but used to pick off more than he does now
15. Lofa Tatupu Sea Save hate mail; great solo tackler, fine player, not top-10 fantasy #'s yet
16. Will Witherspoon StL Ex-Panther gets limelight and a whole lot of solo tackles in this shaky D
17. Nick Barnett GB Extremely solid and gets A.J. Hawk to play next to him
18. Karlos Dansby Ari Improved on very good rookie year, scored two TDs on pick returns
19. Keith Brooking Atl 7 picks the past two years, though tackles have decreased from hey-day
20. Adalius Thomas Bal Lewis's running mate one of the league's best pass-rushing LBs
21. James Farrior Pit Steelers spread around the tackles, but Farrior is a great player
22. Marcus Washington Was Sacker inherits more tackles this year; Marshall's presence helps too
23. Takeo Spikes Buf Coming back from major injury, but should be just about full speed
24. Derrick Johnson KC Overrated rookie year, but will be a great fantasy player in a year or two
25. Jeremiah Trotter Phi Big comeback year in '05 put him back on the fantasy map
26. Gary Brackett Ind 3 picks and 127 tackles ain't bad, though he's not the main option here
27. Shawne Merriman SD Could lead all LBs in sacks, though he's more a pass rusher than a tackler
28. LaVar Arrington NYG Too much money for this freelancer, but he'll get to the QB
29. Lemar Marshall Was Four picks and over 100 tackles in Arrington's place last year
30. A.J. Hawk GB Starter on Day 1 and bound to make some plays on the outside

Notes: I'm obviously middle linebacker-heavy here, but that's the way most IDP leagues go: tackles reign supreme. Also, the sackers (like Joey Porter, Demarcus Ware, David Pollack, etc. who are conspicuous by their absence from this list) tend to be less valuable in standard leagues, but if sacks are more valuable in your league, bump them way up … If he stays healthy, Dan Morgan gets pushed almost into the top 10 here. Unfortunately, that's a pretty big if … Nothing personal against Colby Bockwoldt, Alfred Fincher and Scott Fujita, but wouldn't it make sense for the Saints to draft a linebacker instead of a defensive lineman? Just once? … If you believe something like forced fumbles isn't random (I'm not sure where I stand on that), Thurman led all LBs in his rookie year. That's pretty incredible, considering he also tied for the lead at the position in picks. But he came to the NFL with character questions, and now missed June's mandatory minicamp. Stay tuned.


Defensive Backs

1. Ed Reed Bal   Healthy, newly signed turnover machine is also an insanely hard hitter
2. Ronde Barber TB Probably won't again see 10 picks ('01), but is NFL's best fantasy corner still
3. Troy Polamalu Pit A little out-of-control, but made me a believer in '05
4. Adrian Wilson Ari A safety with eight sacks is nice; expect tackles to go up
5. Sean Taylor Was May be a punk, but I expect third-year breakout season
6. Sammy Knight KC Always seems to be in middle of tackles (missed or otherwise) and TOs
7. Charles Tillman Chi Great '05; rare very good cover corner who likes to hit
8. Antoine Winfield Min If entire world picks on Fred Smoot, will Winfield get enough balls his way?
9. Roy Williams Dal Huge hitter should cause fumbles; needs to be much better vs. the pass
10. Chris Gamble Car True comer verging on being best cover man around
11. Michael Lewis Phi Topped 100 tackles in '05; tied with Wilson for most solos among DBs
12. Darren Sharper Min Tackles way down with Vikes, but allowed to roam and generate picks as FS
13. Madieu Williams Cin Sophomore year interrupted by injury; should be a big tackler in '06
14. Gibril Wilson NYG Crushing in run support, has some sack upside as well
15. Dunta Robinson Hou On a better team, he could be a star; does like to hit for a good cover man
16. Marcus Trufant Sea So good in coverage, rarely sees action; decent tackler for under six feet
17. Nate Clements Buf My favorite cover man in the NFL, but a better player than fantasy asset
18. Rodney Harrison NE If he hasn't lost a step (knee injury), he should be way higher than this
19. Dre' Bly Det Still solid, but more help from Fernando Bryant on other side would be nice
20. Ty Law --- Big year in '05 because everyone picked on him; they won't this year
21. Erik Coleman NYJ Hard hitter should feature more picks this year, too
22. Champ Bailey Den Eight INTs in '05, but offenses tried him more than ever; injury risk, too
23. Adam Archuleta Was Way too undisciplined, but will get in the middle of a lot of tackles
24. Brian Dawkins Phi Not a lot of tackles, but makes up by contributing in every category
25. Michael Boulware Sea Nice cover abilities for a SS; doesn't support run a ton
26. Tony Parrish SF Back from injury; lots of tackles to be had in Niners' last line of defense
27. Rashean Mathis Jac My fave '05 breakout never broke out, was oft-toasted; another shot in '06
28. Mike Brown Chi Hurt for playoffs, back now; big plays have dried up a bit, but he's solid
29. Ken Lucas Car Should get loads of chances playing opposite Gamble
30 DeAngelo Hall Atl Just not a ton of reasons to throw his way, unless Jimmy Williams surprises

Notes: Nathan Vasher's agent seems to have a higher opinion of Vasher than I do; he was a fine player at UT (go 'Horns), and made a bunch of big plays in '05, but he's not a hitter and he's only done it two seasons. Wrong time for a holdout … You'll notice that both Deltha O'Neal and Tory James, the Bengals' starting corners, are absent from this list. Part of that is because this scoring system rewards tacklers (which they aren't), but part of it is that I believe much of Cincy's aerial defensive studliness in '05 was the result of teams getting way behind and throwing all the time. If Carson Palmer is out any length of time, that may not be the case … I still believe in Mathis, but I relentlessly hyped him in '05, and he played badly against the best receivers. Marvin Harrison embarrassed him … I wrote some questioning stuff about Polamalu through much of last year, but he kept answering his critics. He still freestyles a little too much for my tastes, and commits to run-support too early. But man, he's good. I'll shut up now … Taylor is certainly the pick that could cause me the most grief, but he's set up for greatness this year.


Overall Ranking
Because different scoring systems cause DTs, LBs and DBs to be weighed very differently, this may be something of a futile exercise. As I mentioned above, the system I'm using for this column is pretty tackle-heavy, and as such, you'll note quite a lot of linebackers beating out the other positions; obviously, if your league weighs sacks heavier, DLs will get a boost, and if your league counts INTs more, DBs go up. This may go without saying, but the good thing about linebackers, of course, is that their position allows them to be eligible for just about every defensive fantasy stat there is. Here would be my top 40:

1. Keith Bulluck          21. Tedy Bruschi
2. Ray Lewis 22. Charles Grant
3. Donnie Edwards 23. John Abraham
4. Mike Peterson 24. Derrick Brooks
5. Jonathan Vilma 25. Sean Taylor
6. Brian Urlacher 26. Will Smith
7. Zach Thomas 27. Dwight Freeney
8. Antonio Pierce 28. Sammy Knight
9. Ed Reed 29. Charles Tilman
10. Ronde Barber 30. Lance Briggs
11. Jason Taylor 31. Antoine Winfield
12. Julius Peppers 32. Will Witherspoon
13. Troy Polamalu 33. Aaron Schobel
14. Odell Thurman 34. Roy Williams
15. Andra Davis 35. Chris Gamble
16. Terrell Suggs 36. Michael Lewis
17. Michael Strahan 37. Simeon Rice
18. Adrian Wilson 38. Nick Barnett
19. Osi Umenyiora 39. Karlos Dansby
20. London Fletcher 40. Darren Sharper

Christopher Harris is a Fantasy Sports Writers Association award-winning columnist and beagle-owner who has written about fantasy sports for SportsIllustrated.com, NBA.com, and TalentedMrRoto.com. Send Christopher a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Monday, Jul 10, 2006 8:47 pm, EDT

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