CBSSports.com Player Ratings
Position: Quarterbacks · Running Backs · Wide Receivers · Tight Ends · Kickers · Defense/STs
Range: 1-15 · 16-30 · 31-32
The Seahawks DST turned out to be among the best units in 2012, and they should continue to produce at a high level this season. The Seahawks were No. 3 in Fantasy points in standard leagues last year with 36 sacks, 13 fumble recoveries, 18 interceptions and six defensive touchdowns. They scored at least 16 Fantasy points seven times, including 45 points in Week 14 against the Cardinals. The Seahawks reached double digits in Fantasy points in all but four games, and they should be dominant again. We consider the Seahawks DST a No. 1 option in all leagues, and they are worth drafting with a late-round pick.
Projected Fantasy Points: 229.1
The Bears continue to field one of the toughest defenses around, so much so that the unit has overshadowed the special-teams game that used to produce big numbers. Last year the defense was responsible for an NFL-record nine touchdowns with a special-teams score added on. The unit also picked up 41 sacks and 21 interceptions. The run defense ranked eighth (101.7 rush yards per game and six rush touchdowns allowed all season) and the pass defense pitched in, ranking eighth (213.9 yards per game). Now, can they do it again? The team made some changes at linebacker, passing on re-signing Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach and replacing them with veterans D.J. Williams and James Anderson as well as rookies Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene. That's considered an upgrade. There are some questions about the shape of the secondary, particularly in terms of their age. On the plus side, the pass rush should remain aggressive and even though there's a new coaching staff in place, the core fundamentals of the defense aren't expected to change. Any bonus you can get from Devin Hester returning to full-time kick-return duties will help too. The Bears DST is worth one of your last four picks.
Projected Fantasy Points: 214.7
The 49ers DST benefits from several things, mainly some talented players (Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith, NaVorro Bowman, Justin Smith and Carlos Rogers), and they were a top-10 DST in standard leagues in 2012 for the second year in a row. The 49ers had three defensive touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 38 sacks and 11 fumble recoveries, and they should remain an elite Fantasy option this year. Plan on drafting the 49ers DST as a No. 1 unit, and they should be selected with a late-round pick in all formats on Draft Day, as early as Round 12.
Projected Fantasy Points: 214
One of the best kept secrets in the NFL is the incredible play of the Bengals’ defense. Last year the team had the delightful combination of good health and talent to tally 52 sacks, 15 interceptions, 16 forced fumbles and five touchdowns while holding opponents to a modest average of 21.2 points per game. It's the first time in a while the Cincinnati DST has played well in consecutive years. With the amount of talent they have, there's no reason to believe it won't continue, especially as the Steelers, Ravens and Browns go through varying growing pains offensively. Expect the Bengals DST to be picked in the second-to-last round of drafts this summer.
Projected Fantasy Points: 208.2
The Broncos DST was among the best in all leagues in 2012, and the unit should continue to dominate this year. The Broncos have a standout pass rusher in Von Miller and a ballhawking secondary that accounted for 16 interceptions. The Broncos DST also scored eight touchdowns, with two coming on special teams from Trindon Holliday, and they were among the league leaders at just 18 points per game on average. The best thing about the Broncos DST is their schedule since they get six games against rebuilding offenses in Kansas City, San Diego and Oakland. We consider the Broncos DST a No. 1 option, and they are worth drafting as the top unit in all leagues with a pick beginning in Round 11 or 12.
Projected Fantasy Points: 188.5
The Falcons DST was a Top 10 Fantasy option in 2012, and they have the chance to be a starting option again this season. They have a revamped secondary, and they tried to upgrade their pass rush with the addition of ex-Giant defensive end Osi Umenyiora. There are stats you'd like to see the Falcons improve on -- scoring on special teams and getting more than two defensive touchdowns -- but they were among the leaders in interceptions (No. 6) with 20 and points allowed (No. 5) with 299. If they can create more sacks (just 29) and find the end zone a couple more times they could emerge as an elite option. Consider the Falcons a late-round flier if you miss on the top DST units or grab them as a bye-week replacement during the year.
Projected Fantasy Points: 181.7
The Patriots DST has the potential to be great in 2013, but they need to be more consistent. The Patriots DST had some big games in 2012 with at least 20 Fantasy points in a standard league in four games, but they also had single digits in five other outings. The good thing for the Patriots is they create plenty of turnovers with 20 interceptions and 21 fumble recoveries. This is now the third year in a row with at least 34 turnovers. A more consistent pass rush would help since they had just 36 sacks in 2012, which is the third year in a row they’ve been at 40 or fewer. But with Bill Belichick at the helm, the Patriots defense will always be among the best in the NFL. They are worth drafting as a Top 10 option in all leagues and should be taken with a late-round pick.
Projected Fantasy Points: 176.7
The turnover on the Ravens defense following the Super Bowl was alarming but the team did a very nice job picking up veteran and rookie talent to fix the holes. The most notable signing is linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who should replace Paul Kruger effectively as a pass rusher. Dumervil had his best career stats as a 3-4 outside linebacker with the Broncos. Michael Huff will replace Ed Reed and rookie Matt Elam will replace Bernard Pollard. Arthur Brown should begin his NFL career following in Ray Lewis' foot steps and Chris Canty and Marcus Spears add quality veteran depth to the Ravens' defensive line. Throw in Jacoby Jones returning kicks and punts and suddenly the Ravens DST is back on the map as a legit Fantasy option. It's worth one of your last two picks on Draft Day. Just be warned that they get off to a tough start at Denver in Week 1.
Projected Fantasy Points: 170.7
The Texans DST has become one of the top options in Fantasy, but they're not at the top like they were last season. True, the unit had 48 sacks with 16 interceptions, 17 forced fumbles (14 recovered) and five touchdowns, but they lost a couple of key starters in free agency (Glover Quin, Connor Barwin) and might have a hard time replacing them. Then again, they'll get Brian Cushing back from injury and if he's working alongside Brooks Reed, J.J. Watt and second-year man Whitney Mercilus then they'll have one of the most dangerous front sevens in the league. The Texans are still worth a late-round pick as a quality Fantasy option.
Projected Fantasy Points: 168.9
The Packers defense was flimsy in 2012, but their DST was fine for Fantasy for the second year in a row. Scoring only two touchdowns (Randall Cobb contributed another on a punt return), the Packers defense racked up a whopping 47 sacks, a huge turn around from last year. They faltered against the pass, getting just 18 interceptions after landing 31 of them in 2011 but did hold opponents to 218.3 pass yards per game. Steps in pass defense will only help the unit improve although the offense plays at such a pace that the defense can't help but yield passing yardage. The team cut Charles Woodson this offseason but added a nice group of rookies headlined by defensive end Datone Jones. With nice young talent in Clay Mathews, Morgan Burnett, Casey Hayward and B.J. Raji, they should remain potent. Even with a fairly tough schedule to begin the season and an early bye in Week 5, the Packers DST is worth a final round pick in drafts.
Projected Fantasy Points: 165.1
Tampa Bay's run defense was excellent in 2012, but its pass defense left a lot to be desired. The Bucs allowed just 1,320 rush yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground over 16 games but yielded over 4,700 passing yards and 30 scores through the air. Hence why the team acquired cornerback Darrelle Revis from the Jets and drafted Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks while bringing back corner Eric Wright, in addition to signing Dashon Goldson to play safety. The secondary, at least on paper, is one of the best in the league (don't forget safety Mark Barron) but questions persist about how much work they'll deal with given the lack of an established pass rush. The Bucs will welcome back pass rusher Adrian Clayborn, who missed most of the 2012 campaign with a knee injury and have Da'Quan Bowers in the fold there too. If both players play to their potential then this defense, complete with a quality defensive line including Gerald McCoy and a great pair of linebackers in Lavonte David and Mason Foster, then this defense could be among the best in the league. A great Week 1 matchup at the Jets also gives some appeal but matchups against the Saints and Patriots in Weeks 2 and 3 will make them difficult to start. They also play several other tough offenses along the way. If you're the kind of Fantasy owner to draft multiple DSTs then the Bucs should make your list. If you prefer to take one DST, which is typical, the Bucs will be the team you draft for Week 1 and either bench or cut because of tough matchups thereafter.
The Giants DST will have to replace plenty of talent as Osi Umenyiora, Michael Boley and Chase Blackburn will play for new teams this season. But based on who's left, the Giants are pretty good. Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka will handle the pass rush, and Antrelle Rolle will lead the secondary. The Giants should be considered a low-end starting DST option, and hopefully they can rebound from a poor 2012 season when they had just 21 interceptions, 33 sacks and 14 fumble recoveries. Plan on drafting the Giants DST with a late-round pick in all leagues.
Projected Fantasy Points: 160.2
The Rams DST is hoping to build off its performance in 2012 when it was actually a top-10 Fantasy option. The reason was St. Louis' ability to rush the passer. The Rams tied Denver and Cincinnati for the most sacks in the NFL with 52. Leading the way were Chris Long (11.5 sacks) and Robert Quinn (10.5). Janoris Jenkins and Cortland Finnegan also combined for seven interceptions, with Jenkins returning three for touchdowns. The Rams also have a standout linebacker in James Laurinaitis, and this unit should continue to do well this season. They might not get drafted in the majority of leagues, but the Rams DST will be a great bye-week replacement during the season if they remain on your waiver wire following Draft Day.
Projected Fantasy Points: 157.7
It's been a long time since the Browns DST was great for Fantasy Football but the new coaching staff is hoping to change things. The Browns hired Ray Horton to coordinate the defense after he and the Cardinals parted ways. The Browns will move to a 3-4 front and spent a lot of money in free agency to make the unit look good. Paul Kruger and first-round pick Barkevious Mingo will join Jabaal Sheard and Quentin Groves as pass rushers and the defensive line was fortified with the addition of end Desmond Bryant. The Browns will have big men up front, D'Qwell Jackson in the middle and a young secondary headlined by Joe Haden and T.J. Ward. With Horton calling the shots the team should improve on the 38 sacks and 17 interceptions they had last year while finishing 19th against the run and 25th against the pass. Save for some big moves we'd look for the Browns DST off waivers as a one-week replacement.
Projected Fantasy Points: 156.1
The Cardinals defense has quality players and continues to produce on a high level. In 2012, the Cardinals were the No. 11 DST in standard leagues. They had 22 interceptions, 38 sacks, 11 fumble recoveries and four defensive touchdowns. Daryl Washington and Paris Lenon had more than 100 total tackles, Washington and Calais Campbell had more than 6.5 sacks and Patrick Peterson led the way with seven interceptions. Peterson is also a tremendous threat on punt returns, and the Cardinals DST shapes up as a potential starting unit in the majority of leagues. They might not get drafted in most standard formats, but consider the Cardinals DST a strong bye-week replacement or consider adding them if they start off the season playing well.
Projected Fantasy Points: 155.3