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Best Defense 2016 Fantasy Football Defense Rankings, Fantasy Football 2016: Defense Rankings, Preview

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If it were up to me, D/STs wouldn”t exist in fantasy football. As painful as this is to say, I like kickers more than D/STs. Why? Because it”s very rare for a kicker to score negative points or score 25-plus points — something defenses can do on a weekly basis. Sure, any player can have a good or bad week, but it seems harder — if not impossible — to predict with D/STs. But, we”re nothing if not thorough here, so we went ahead and put together some 2016 fantasy football defense rankings for you to add to your cheat sheets.

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Normally, our draft strategy when it comes to D/STs is to wait until the late-middle rounds (or later) and try to avoid busts, knowing full well that we”ll have to play matchups at some point during the season anyway. That”s what makes finding a true D/ST “sleeper” so difficult — even some of the top-10 defenses will likely have several weeks where you can”t/don”t want to use them. 

MORE 2016 RANKINGS: Quarterbacks | Running backs | Wide receivers | Tight ends | Kickers

Ultimately, though, someone has to be the first person to draft a defense, and if you”re going to do it, you obviously want the best of the best. Here”s who we like heading into the season.

2016 fantasy football rankings: Defense/special teams

1. Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals were one of the top fantasy D/STs last year, and they”ve added LB Chandler Jones, DB Tyvon Branch, and first-round DE Robert Nkemdiche this offseason. The main knock on the Cardinals the past few seasons has been so-so sack totals — and losing Dwight Freeney this offseason doesn”t figure to help that — but with some of the new additions, plus Year 2 from talented pass-rusher Markus Golden, this unit should put up an acceptable number of QB takedowns to go along with a bunch of takeaways and several touchdowns.

2. Denver Broncos. Denver lost DE Malik Jackson in the offseason, but this group, which was first among D/STs in fantasy points last year, is still absolutely loaded. If anything, the Broncos could actually be better this year, as they only had 14 INTs last season. Either way, they”re easily a top-three defense on draft day.

3. Seattle Seahawks. The loss of LB Bruce Irvin could hurt Seattle”s pass rush, but we all know what the Seahawks bring to the table defensively. The Legion of Boom is still intact (and actually brings back former member Brandon Browner…whatever that”s worth), and there are still playmakers at all three levels.

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4. Carolina Panthers. How much did Josh Norman matter to this defense last year? Clearly, the Panthers secondary will be worse without him, but the front seven is still a terror and should provide enough pressure to limit opponents” passing games. If Carolina can clamp down late in games — a problem last season — it will allow even fewer points and once again be in the discussion for the top fantasy defense.

MORE: 32 teams, 32 sleepers | Get Fantasy Alarm”s FF Draft Guide!

5. Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs did it all last season, and despite some losses to their secondary, Marcus Peters and his eight INTs return. This defense is still loaded up front and should challenge for the most sacks in the league, which helps it be consistent week-in and week-out.

6. Houston Texans. “If Jadeveon Clowney can figure it out this year …” Yeah, we said that last year and it didn”t work out, so you shouldn”t draft the Texans expecting Clowney to be a big contributor. It could easily happen, which would make this already dangerous unit arguably the best in the league, but until it does, focus instead on what you know: J.J. Watt and Co. wreaking havoc all over the field. Of course, with Watt”s back injury, it”s unclear when exactly he”ll be wreaking said havoc. For now, we”re still giving Houston the benefit of the doubt after it ranked sixth in D/ST fantasy points last year despite a modest INT total (14). As we get closer to the season and know more about Watt”s timeline, we”ll adjust this ranking.

7. Los Angeles Rams. The Rams lost several well-known defensive players this offseason (DE Chris Long, LB James Laurinaitis, CB Janoris Jenkins), but they”re still stacked in the front seven and have Trumaine Johnson (seven INTs) roaming the defensive backfield. The talent is there for fantasy success.

8. Minnesota Vikings. Minnesota returns virtually everyone from last year”s No. 8 fantasy D/ST and No. 5 scoring defense. Solid at every level, the Vikings should provide consistent production all season. Moving indoors in front of bigger crowds will likely give the defense a little more home-field advantage, as well.

9. Pittsburgh Steelers. Like Minnesota, Pittsburgh racked up good stats across the board last year and return almost all of their key contributors. And, in true Steelers” fashion, they used their first three draft picks this year on defensive players. Between talent and depth, Pittsburgh is loaded for another solid fantasy season.

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10. New England Patriots. Somehow, the Pats always seem to wind up in the top 10 among fantasy D/STs at the end of the year. Was getting rid of Chandler Jones a mistake? Maybe, but the Pats will see if they can reignite Chris Long”s career. Chances are, they”ll be just fine.

11. New York Jets. The Jets are a classic “good-but-not-great” fantasy defense, but with one or two defensive TDs (they were one of two teams with zero last season), suddenly they look a lot better. Last season, they stuffed the run and did a good job limiting points, so the foundation is clearly there for a starting-caliber fantasy unit.

12. Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals said good-bye to several well-known defensive players (S Reggie Nelson, CB Leon Hall, LB A.J. Hawk), but their dominant front-four is back, along with several playmakers in the secondary. One thing to note is that LB Vontaze Burfict is suspended for the first three games of the season for player safety violations.

MORE 2016 RANKINGS: Quarterbacks | Running backs | Wide receivers | Tight ends | Kickers

13. Green Bay Packers. The Packers are usually a borderline top-12 unit most years, largely because of consistent sack totals, and this year will likely be no different. Week-to-week consistency is an issue, but as long as Clay Matthews and the stellar secondary are healthy, this unit will be worth owning all season.

14. Jacksonville Jaguars. Here”s this year”s sleeper pick. The Jags have revamped their defense with several potential impact players (DE Malik Jackson, DE Dante Fowler Jr., LB Myles Jack, CB Jalen Ramsey, S Tashaun Gipson) and have the potential to make big strides in sacks (where they were already middle of the pack) and takeaways. It doesn”t hurt that they play six games (five that count for fantasy purposes, with the second Colts game in Week 17) against potentially lackluster/turnover-prone offenses. 

15. New York Giants. The Giants added DE Olivier Vernon and CB Janoris Jenkins this offseason, but perhaps just as big, they”ll be hoping for 16 games from DE Jason Pierre-Paul. That”s 2.5 impact players (not a Pierre-Paul hand joke — he only played eight games last year) to help rack up sacks, INTs and defensive TDs. There are still holes on this defense, but fantasy owners can live with a team giving up yards and even some TDs if they get big plays.

16. Oakland Raiders. Fantasy owners don”t normally think of the Raiders for defense, but this might be the year. Oakland added LB Bruce Irvin, CB Sean Smith and S Reggie Nelson, as well as first-round S Karl Joseph. That influx of talent around All-World LB Khalil Mack will allow him to cause even more problems for opposing offenses. 

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17. Washington Redskins. Last year, the Redskins quietly finished 15th among fantasy D/STs, and they added CB Josh Norman this offseason. Washington had a fluky number of fumble recoveries (15) and defensive TDs (5) last year, but with DeAngelo Hall at safety full time and Norman on board to theoretically lock down one side of the field, the “Skins should be able to get more than 11 INTs.

18. Detroit Lions. The Lions seem to be inconsistent from year-to-year, but it”s important to remember that they were without LB DeAndre Levy (hip) for almost all of last season. Despite losing LB Stephen Tulloch, Detroit will see an overall bump from Levy”s return, and the improved pass defense will also benefit. Detroit”s biggest strength is up front, where DEs Ziggy Ansah (14.5 sacks last year) and Devin Taylor (7) will pressure quarterbacks. Like most defenses found in the 13-20 range, consistency will be an issue, but the Lions have plenty of talent.

19. Baltimore Ravens. It”s almost amazing the Ravens managed just six INTs and eight fumble recoveries while giving up just over 25 points per game last season. Those numbers, at least the latter, doesn”t jibe with the Ravens ranking eighth in yards allowed per game. These might not be the Ravens of old, but there”s still a lot of talent — particularly pass-rushing and secondary talent — all over the field for Baltimore.

20. Buffalo Bills.

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 Buffalo was a major fantasy disappointment last year, but it”s cleared out some of the biggest underachievers and is hoping that using its top three draft picks on defense will help Rex Ryan”s defensive vision become reality. Unfortunately, first-round pick Shaq Lawson (shoulder) will miss a good portion of the season, so you can only expect so much of a boost. Still, there”s talent here, and Ryan is known as someone who can maximize his defensive assets. It”s tough to count on the Bills as an every-week starting unit at the beginning of the season, but the potential is there.

The rest

21. Dolphins22. Chargers23. Eagles24. Bears25. Buccaneers26. Colts27. Falcons28. Cowboys29. Titans30. 49ers31. Saints32. Browns

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