Defense wins championship and sometimes NFL fantasy leagues too. What are some sleepers for owners to keep an eye out for?
New England Patriots
It hasn’t been the case for a long time but things may finally be looking up for the New England Patriots defense. Thanks to some savvy free agent maneuvering that landed them Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, their Belichick-coached unit suddenly looks pretty good heading into 2014. Together with a strong linebacking corps built with Jerod Mayo and the emerging Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones on the pass rush, NFL fantasy owners can feel much safer taking a risk on this group.
Gus Bradley wanted to show fans of the Jacksonville Jaguars and indeed the rest of the league that he knows what he’s doing, and it surrounds the idea of following the blueprint he helped devise in Seattle. That means establishing a strong defense. Things did not start out well in 2013, but towards the second half of last season one began to see progress in Bradley’s young group. Now, thanks to the additions of some quality veteran experience such as Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and Ziggy Hood the Jags are in prime position to surprise this year.
Green Bay Packers
Dom Capers is a prove defensive coordinator and helped the Green Bay Packers win a Super Bowl but he’s been under the gun lately for his unit’s struggles the past two seasons. Part of the problem is injuries but also lacking pass rush and inconsistency at safety. Hopes are high that a couple of key off-season moves by GM Ted Thompson have changed that. Veteran pass rusher Julius Peppers in from free agency while 1st round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is expected to take over at free safety. Together with a healthy Clay Matthews and strong group of corners the Pack a primed for a turnaround in NFL fantasy circles.
The same plan is on the minds of their biggest rival, the Chicago Bears. Their fall from grace was even further last season as they finished 30th overall and worst in the league in run defense and sacks. In order to turn things around head coach Marc Trestman and GM Phil Emery set about making some changes, both to the roster and the coaching staff. They added more experience to their defensive line and linebacker coaching positions and then set about using free agency and the draft to infuse the depth chart with some life. Among their haul include All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen, solid former starters Lamarr Houston and Willie Young and 1st round corner Kyle Fuller. They also retained Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings. Provided they can avoid the catastrophic injuries they suffered last year, this defense should rebound.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If there is one thing Lovie Smith knows, it’s defense. He built some of the best of the past decade when he was head coach in Chicago, especially in NFL fantasy leagues. Now he has a chance to add to his growing reputation with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He inherits a strong core of solid players like Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David and his front office quickly added Pro Bowl corner Alterraun Verner and defensive end Michael Johnson. It’s an understated but very strong group that has a chance to turn some heads in 2014.