A reminder that defenses are an important part of anyone’s fantasy football squad like any starting slot. So continuing on from last week, let’s look at the South divisions and start with the NFC.
Last year, Atlanta was on the lower end finishing as one of the bottom-5 defenses in the league. Much of the blame can be put on the fact that they were injury-riddled on both sides of the ball. Justin Bethel, Ricardo Allen, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Robert Alford, and Keanu Neal all missed at least one game and those were just the defensive backs. The defensive back who started and played in all 16 games for the Falcons was Desmond Trufant. Now, to be fair Alford only missed their week 8 game because of an ankle injury and Wreh-Wilson only missed week 1 so their cornerback injuries were limited. The safeties were the big injuries as Keanu Neal was injured early in their week 1 game versus Philadelphia with a knee injury and despite reentering the game later was placed on the injured reserve the next week. It’s hard to say whether he would’ve been able to return after a few weeks if he hadn’t come back in that game, but he probably shouldn’t have either way with that injury. They then lost their free safety, Ricardo Allen in week 3 with a torn Achilles which also placed him on the IR with the strong safety, Neal. Looking forward though, Neal and Allen have appeared to be recovering well and may be able to start the season which would give Atlanta their solid safety duo back and their backups, Damontae Kazee and Kemal Ishmael will have plenty of experience under their belt as well as a newly-acquired J.J. Wilcox to solidify the safety part of their depth chart. However going back to the cornerbacks, the outlook for them is not as hopeful as Brian Poole signed with the Jets and they released Robert Alford to free up cap space. This will now lead the Falcons to most likely turn to Isaiah Oliver to fill in the CB2 spot. Though it is not necessarily a bad move it does kind of shallow their depth a bit as other than Blidi Wreh-Wilson, the other CBs on their roster are rookies, including their draft picks Kendall Sheffield and Jordan Miller, and sophomores, including Oliver.
Kemal Ishmael is a safety, but has also been used as a pseudo-linebacker by Atlanta. That being said that makes a lot of linebackers, especially since that was the least-injury-affected position on the team. The only significant injury was Deion Jones’ foot that took him out for 10 weeks. Yeah that’s 10 weeks in the middle of the season that they didn’t have a starter, but compared to the DBs. That being said they did not do much during the offseason in terms of the position. They extended Bruce Carter in the offseason and the only changes in personnel have been the signing of some UFAs.
The defensive line also had a few injuries that took players out for a game or 2. The worst was for Derrick Shelby who missed 4 games near the beginning of the year as well as the last 5 games due to a nagging groin injury. Even so, the line was probably the Falcons strongest part on defense with Grady Jarrett, Takkarist McKinley, Vic Beasley, and Jack Crawford combining for 24 sacks on the season. I also believe it is the most improved area on the defense as they obviously did not do much in terms of the defensive backfield. They brought back defensive end, Adrian Clayborn after he spent a season winning the Super Bowl with the Patriots and look to add him back into the fold on the line. This probably will be interesting to see how they will utilize him as Beasley and McKinley put together a good pass-rush and whether they will force McKinley or Beasley to play more of a linebacker-role, or have him split-time, or just have Clayborn fill a backup role and be ready in case the injury bug reappears this season.
In the end, they will probably be more of what they were expected to be last year, a middle-of-the-road defense that will have some good weeks so they are an okay streaming candidate. You know as long as they keep injuries to a minimum.
The Panthers, like the Falcons, did not have the most stellar defense last year, ranking in the lower-tier of defenses and I don’t think they do better. Julius Peppers gave into father time in the offseason and retired taking up a job elsewhere in the organization. Thomas Davis also left to sign with the Chargers. So in response, the Panthers signed Bruce Irvin from Atlanta as well as drafting 2 edge rushers in the 1st round (Brian Burns) and 4th round (Christian Miller). This appears to have helped sure up their linebacking and end positions as they will join fine players in Mario Addison, Shaq Thompson, and the 2nd highest-scoring IDP LB last season in Luke Kuechly. The biggest signing this offseason for the Panthers in Gerald McCoy along with Dontari Poe and Kawann Short really give Carolina solid options for their front 7.
Despite the additions and improvements they’ve made to the front 7, the secondary saw no such change. They resigned players like Eric Reid and Colin Jones to maintain a secondary that was near average in every stat, except for allowing the 5th most passing touchdowns in the league with 32. The Raiders, Falcons, Niners, and Buccaneers were the only other teams to allow more passing TDs, the Raiders and Falcons both had more interceptions than Carolina. This is my only gripe about them however as I feel the front 7 is still pretty decent. I would maybe consider them a streaming candidate during week they’re going up against a run heavy offense as they may be able to break into the top-10 in rushing defenses next season.
New Orleans Saints
The most noteworthy move this offseason for the Saints was on offense in the loss of Mark Ingram, not their No.1 back, but a solid contributor to the offense. The same can be said about Alex Okafor on their defense, Demario Davis and Cameron Jordan may lead the team in terms of IDP fantasy points, but Okafor was still able to contribute to the defense. So it would have been a big loss to the team when they declined his option, except they were able to sign Mario Edwards Jr. during free agency. Edwards will probably take over Okafor’s role in the defense and while he might seem like a downgrade, the Saints have seemed to be able to use their line well and with other threats to the opposing teams like Jordan, Sheldon Rankins, and David Onyemata garnering attention, Edwards may be able to have the best season of his career. The fellow newly-acquired free agent, Malcom Brown should also add to the fold of scary linemen. Despite having a subpar season for himself last year, recording a career-low in tackles and not recording a sack for the first time, Brown should be able to return to form in his new defense.
In terms of the other positions, nothing has really changed. Demario Davis is still there with their decently-good linebacking corps and despite his mishap in the playoffs in 2017, Marcus Williams is still with their secondary. A secondary who has been able to make Eli Apple a solid No.2 for Marshon Lattimore and has solid options backing them both. So, they will probably finish around the same place they were last season, possibly warranting a pick in the last round if you’re looking for one there, if not they’d make a good week-to-week streamer candidate.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs last season had the worst defense in their division, almost comparable to that of the Raiders and 49ers. In response, they added defensive players with their first 5 picks in the draft, along with another in the 7th round. These picks were Devin White, Sean Bunting, Jamel Dean, Mike Edwards, Anthony Nelson, and Terry Buckner Jr. who were very fine picks for the Bucs. Devin White was a no-brainer for them especially, because they lost maybe their best defensive player in Kwon Alexander during free agency. Now Alexander was hurt most of last year because of an injury, but it cannot be denied that they were a better team with him than without. That is probably why they seemed to make it a priority to get linebackers in the offseason as they also picked up free agents Shaq Barrett and Deone Bucannon. While Barrett and Bucannon are fine LBs, it really is up to White to fill in the spot opened by Alexander. Although he won’t need to bear the burden for the linebacker corps’ success, as Lavonte David did have a top 10 IDP year last season. As for the line, Nelson will join a solid group of edge-rushers in Jason Pierre-Paul and Carl Nassib who combined for 19 sacks last year. JPP was the main producer of those sacks as well as tackles between Nassib and him and so it will be interesting to see how the line forms this season as JPP is still getting up there in age and while Nelson may not be get a starting spot he will probably get decent snaps subbing in for both. As for the interior line, Buckner will join a Vita Vea coming off a decent rookie year, as well as Tampa’s biggest acquisition this offseason. The Gerald McCoy release may have been odd at the time, but after Ndamukong Suh was signed 3 days later it turned out to be the right move. Suh was an upgrade for them, though it would have been bigger if he wasn’t, in essence, replacing McCoy.
The only problem is that, like most of the NFC south last season, the Bucs’ had a bad pass defense. Other than the draft picks, the only free agent signing that was made to address this problem was Kentrell Brice. Well Deone Bucannon is kind of a safety/linebacker flex, but he mostly played LB the past few seasons in Arizona. So, unless each of the draft picks pan out as rookies, the secondary is not really improving, not yet. Therefore, they will probably end up in the bottom-tier of defenses again and I recommend staying away from them.