There’s a good chance you’re going to overdraft your fantasy D/ST this year. Even if you wait until the last pick of the draft, it’s probably going to be too early. In many ways, defenses are worse than kickers. At least with kickers you know you don’t know anything, but we talk ourselves into all sorts of crazy stuff with defenses. Of course, once the season starts, the rankings don’t matter — only matchups do, which makes week-to-week sleepers much more important than season-long breakout candidates.
But that’s not going to stop fantasy owners from trying to find an undervalued unit that looks good on paper heading into the season. Again, it’s a bit of a red herring, as you might be benching your drafted D/ST in Week 1 because they’re facing the Saints (Texans) or Patriots (Steelers), but it sure looks good when you get your draft grade, doesn’t it?
DOMINATE YOUR DRAFT: Ultimate 2019 Fantasy Cheat Sheet
Several of the units listed below were solid last year and appear undervalued in consensus rankings heading into this season. Again, that doesn’t mean they’re every-week plays, but you can still get pretty good value on them during your draft. We also highlight several teams likely to go undrafted who can have value in Weeks 1 and 2. Whatever your D/ST strategy is, we have you covered.
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2019 Fantasy Sleepers: Defense
Kansas City Chiefs
Don’t let the yardage/scoring numbers scare you away from the Chiefs. They finished as the No. 7 fantasy D/ST thanks to a league-leading 53 sacks, 27 takeaways (tied for seventh), and five D/ST TDs (tied for second). This is a big-play unit that made some wholesale changes in the offseason, sending out studs like Justin Houston and Dee Ford and bringing in guys like Frank Clark and Tyrann Mathieu. In the end, the biggest change might be new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. A better scheme will help Kansas City as a whole, and given its ability to pressure the quarterback and create turnovers, chances are they’ll be a top-10 fantasy D/ST again.
Indianapolis took major steps last season, most notably with 26 takeaways. There’s still plenty of room for improvement considering it didn’t score a D/ST touchdown and managed a relatively mediocre 38 sacks. Justin Houston has been added to help beef up the pass rush and several talented rookies have been added to the depth chart, giving the Colts major upside.
There’s no doubt Cleveland is this season’s “it” team, and that extends to the defense. After tying for second with 31 takeaways last season, fantasy owners are expecting continued improvement. The additions of Sheldon Richardson and Olivier Vernon should help Cleveland’s pass rush and hopefully limit points. Last season’s 14 fumble recoveries figure to regress, but Cleveland should score a touchdown or two to make up for that.
You might not have noticed, but Washington posted an impressive 46 sacks and 26 takeaways last season. Key players Zach Brown, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and D.J. Swearinger are gone, but first-round pick Montez Sweat and veterans Jon Bostic and Landon Collins have arrived. As with most fantasy defenses, you probably can’t count on the ‘Skins in tough matchups, but the talent and proven production is there to make them worthy of a roster spot.
The Panthers made some solid offseason acquisitions with Gerald McCoy, Bruce Irvin, and first-round pick Brian Burns, but they really stand out as potential sleepers because of their early-season schedule. Four of Carolina’s first six games are against the Bucs, Cardinals, Jags and Bucs again. We can’t say for sure those are going to be favorable matchups, but they look good on paper right now. The back-half of the schedule is tough, but Carolina has a chance to carry you early.
New York Giants
This is all about Weeks 2-4 when the Giants face the Bills, Bucs and Redskins. We don’t think New York will have a particularly strong defense this year (though they certainly made some positive moves in the offseason), but all three of those teams ranked in the top nine in INTs and allowed over 40 sacks last season, so the Giants could come through early on.
Early-Season Fantasy Football D/ST Sleepers
If you like playing the matchup game with your D/ST, then early-season showdowns are all that matter. Unfortunately, there aren’t many D/STs that project to have favorable matchups in both Weeks 1 and 2 — at least among defenses that are unlikely to be drafted. The Ravens (@ MIA, vs. ARI) have a great set of matchups, and Browns (vs. TEN, @ NYJ) and Chiefs (@ JAX, @ OAK) should be decent enough to merit grabbing a few spots earlier in your draft than projections might suggest.
The best borderline two-week holds are the Bills (@ NYJ, @ NYG) and Cowboys (vs. NYG, @ WAS). If you’re really bold, you can even take a chance with the 49ers (@ TB, @ CIN), though that’s not recommended.
If all you care about is Week 1, then the aforementioned teams work, as well as the Lions (@ ARI), Jets (vs. BUF), and Eagles (vs. WAS).