It’s about time for one of these articles to address the division that contains the best defense and by doing so let’s start with said defense.
What can be said about the Bears defense in 2018 other then they were the best. They were the only defense to average 10 points a week and by all standard measures of fantasy defenses, scored more than 36 points more on the season than the 2nd place defense, which averages to about 2 points a week. They should have and could have gone further in the playoffs as well with that defense if their offense didn’t fall flat the 3 times they had a drive with plays starting in the red zone against the Eagles, that’s a different topic though so, I digress. The Bears had the best defense last year and they are looking to have the best again this year and that was aided by the fact that they tried to keep personnel changes to a minimum and the changes that were made were upgrades.
Chicago lost some players in free agency, but luckily only 3 were defensive players. The players they lost were also all in the secondary, so that’s less lucky, but only 1 was a main starter, so I don’t know where that puts them on the lucky scale. Anyways, those they lost were Adrian Amos (signed with Green Bay), Bryce Callahan (signed with Denver), and Marcus Williams (unsigned free agent). Amos was that main starter that I mentioned before as he started all 16 games for Chicago at safety, but Callahan was also had starting role though it may not be a “main” starter. What I mean by that is that he was the 3rd CB/Nickel Corner, so he also played an integral part in pass defense packages. Thankfully for the Bears they have a fit replacement in Buster Skrine. In terms of seasons since Callahan’s rookie year, Skrine has been more productive as he’s racked over 80 more solo tackles than Callahan and has forced and recovered more funbles as well, though Callahan has 2 picks to Skrine’s 0 in that time. Though comparatively in Skrine’s first 4 seasons as compared to Callahan’s he was more productive across the board, but that can be attributed more to the bigger role Skrine played while with the Browns. He also has been a No.2 CB at times in his tenure with the Jets which makes it even better that they were able to get a player of his caliber to replace Callahan. Now let’s go back to Adrian Amos and how they made up for his departure.
Adrian Amos, as stated before, started all 16 games last year for the Bears and received high-praise for his play on the field, being considered as a top 10 safety. Which made it interesting how they let him go and sign with a division rival in the Green Bay Packers and even more so as the Bears signed a former Packers safety on the same day. The funniest name in football returns to the NFC North after a small hiatus in DC as Ha Ha Clinton-Dix signed with the Bears to make their secondary even better than last season. Ha Ha was simply better than Amos in every measurable statistical category last season, except he had 1 less assisted tackle, but he more than made up for that with the difference in solo tackles between both of them as he had 20 more of those than Amos.
In the draft they only had 5 picks total and used 3 of them on offensive players. The other 2 picks they used on cornerbacks as they got Duke Shelley in the 6th round and Stephen Denmark in the 7th. They probably won’t have a big impact on the defense this year because Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara will still hold the top cornerback positions for next season as well as Buster Skrine filling in the slot. So, the defense should have the same look as last year just with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at the FS position and Skrine taking up the slot cornerback spot. This means they’ll still have the menacing linebacker corps of Leonard Floyd, Danny Trevathan, Khalil Mack, and Roquan Smith, who had a great rookie year and was the top IDP for the Bears last season. In the end, they should be the first defensive taken off the board and so it mainly comes down to when it should be acceptable to pick a defense. Many sites suggest the 8th round, but you should really hold out until closer to the 10th round, maybe 9th round if you are feeling confident in your picks up to that point, but mostly just read the room and gauge how others are thinking because they will be the first off the board and will be the only ones worth taking in the single digit rounds.
There is not much to say about last season’s outfit of the Lions defense as they were mostly forgettable especially when compared to the defenses of their division rivals in the Bears and Vikings. Their secondary was decent with a trio of Quin, Diggs, and Slay, but I they definitely not a top flight pairing. It also won’t help that they released Glover Quin in the offseason and they also let go of a starting cornerback in Nevin Lawson. The rest of their defense was obviously also lackluster as the best IDP was Jarrad Davis, who barely cracked the top 20 linebackers in fantasy points last season. If there is hope for them, they were able to sign Trey Flowers away from the Patriots and him and Davis should make a decent EDGE & MLB pairing that they can build around with young players.
The best way to acquire said young players then is through the draft and they made an effort to use 4 of their first 5 picks to get defensive talent. Obviously they used their 1st round pick on a TE, but their next 4 picks were used to get players from different defensive spots. Their second rounder was used on Jahlani Tavai from Hawaii who should turn out to be a good pick for them and he and Davis should be able to combine for a sneaky good linebacker duo. I say sneaky good because I doubt they’ll be lighting up stats sheets and producing a plethora of fantasy points, but they could be one of those where you hear their names and be like “oh, yeah they’ve done pretty good” and just put up solid performances. The 3rd round pick was used on the Boston College safety, Will Harris who will probably be an okay safety, but I don’t think he’ll be comparable to Quin at least as a rookie. Also as a little fun fact about those two, Harris had as many interceptions over his college career as Quin had in his senior year at New Mexico. The 4th round saw the 4th Clemson lineman go off the boards as Detroit took Austin Bryant. I don’t know what to think about Bryant as he was outshined by his linemates in Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, and Dexter Lawrence and it will be interesting to see how he does in the NFL because of he won’t have the guys with him anymore. I feel Trey Flowers, Damon Harrison, and Romeo Okwara will be an integral part in his development, maybe keep Bryant on the bench for a while so he can learn or use him with patience as he probably can’t be a key contributor because he is coming from such an amazing line where he probably benefitted from not be targeted as a guy to watch out for as compared to the other 3. As for their 5th round pick, Amani Oruwariye, he will probably fit in more as a depth piece at cornerback as the Detroit will probably look for in house options like Mike Ford or Teez Tabor or their recently signed free agents in Justin Coleman and Rashaan Melvin as guys to line up opposite of Darius Slay.
However the lineup shakes out with the guys they have they will probably take a step back this year with the new players being brought in and the young guys learning the system under Matt Patricia. So, they definitely won’t be worthy of a regular starting spot on your fantasy roster and probably shouldn’t be picked up as a streamer either. They don’t have much defined talent as even though Jarrad Davis was their best IDP he still hasn’t been that first round talent that Lions fans hoped for and with their new acquisition, Trey Flowers will probably lead the team next year.
Green Bay Packers
The division seems to have two defensive tiers, Chicago and Minnesota occupy the top-tier and Detroit and Green Bay occupy the bad/mediocre-tier. We touched on how they traded Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to Washington and now replaced him with Adrian Amos and despite what was said about Amos in their comparison, Amos is a good safety and is still a big upgrade for Green Bay when you compare him to the options they had at safety at the end of the season. However they not only had to address the safety position in the offseason after trading away their best defensive back in the middle of the season to Washington, they also had to address the linebackers after Green bay also lost the most marketable player on their team as Clay Matthews signed with the Rams. To counter that, they acquired the services of Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith in free agency. They will create a pretty good tandem and at least better OLB duo than the Packers had last season. Despite Matthews being well known, he hasn’t been as dynamic in recent seasons as his popularity would suggest. Also, with Nick Perry having noticeably worse seasons since his best in 2016, Packers fans will welcome the Smiths with open arms. They also made the Packers draft a little more interesting.
They had two first round picks which they used to draft players at the positions that their biggest free agents also played. First they drafted Rashan Gary, an edge rusher at Michigan at 12th overall and then came back and got Darnell Savage, a safety from Maryland at 21st overall. The Savage pick makes sense as even though they got Amos, they needed someone else for the other side of the field and also with a player like Amos also at safety, he can take more of the burden for a little bit as Savage gets accustomed to play in the NFL and even learn from Amos to growing into a solid player. Whether he’ll become one this season or down-the-road is TBD, but Gary is more perplexing. The Smiths will probably take up the edge-rushing positions and Gary will have to work behind them and while that is good for rookies to sit and wait, defensive 1st rounders are usually expected to start and contribute immediately. So, this is an odd change of play and seems to be more beneficial moving forward than it will this season. Their other defensive picks of Kingley Keke, a lineman from Texas A&M, and Ka’Dar Hollman, a cornerback from Toledo, probably won’t see much playing time either. The line will probably stay the same as Kenny Clark had an okay year last season, but they’ll really need Mike Daniels to come back strong from his injury. As for the CBs, they’ll probably look more towards Kevin King and Josh Jackson to make up for the departure of Bashaud Breeland rather than Hollman.
It’s a lot harder for an MLB to carry a defense than it is for a QB to carry an offense, so unless you believe Blake Martinez can be the Packers’ defensive Aaron Rodgers, don’t draft this team. They’ll do better than Detroit, but still probably not good enough to stream unless maybe you’re in a 12-man league.
We’ve put Minnesota in the same vein as Chicago so far when talking about the North, but this is where it ends. To Minnesota’s chagrin, Chicago is just better than them. Even though they had the most fantasy points of any defense in 2016, that was 2 years ago and the Bears now have that distinction. The Vikings have still been admirable in both seasons since they were at the top, putting up around 120 points in both, however those were two comparatively different seasons. According to FantasyPros in 2017, 5 defenses averaged 10 points a game while only Bears did so last season. So, while they finished 6th last year, they were 14th the year before. There consistency against the leagues year-to-year defensive output makes it hard to gauge their trajectory, but they probably won’t keep that consistency for the 3rd season in a row. They lost some key pieces to free agency. Sheldon Richardson signed with the Browns and his backup, Tom Johnson is still a free agent leaving a space at DT and George Iloka and Andrew Sendejo signed with new teams during free agency. Iloka and Sendejo won’t hurt as much as they fought for time last season at strong safety along with Anthony Harris. All of them were free agents this offseason, but the Vikings only re-signed Harris so he will in all likelihood take over the position full-time. As for the DT spot, that isn’t as cut and clear.
They have an option in Jaleel Johnson, who played in all 16 games last season. However Johnson has never really played a starting role, so the probable replacement will be Shamar Stephen. Stephen resigned with the Vikings after spending a season in Seattle. He had started all 16 games for Minnesota in 2016, before being used more sparingly off the bench in 2017, which might have been a reason for why he left for Seattle. At any rate he will be the probable starter as they didn’t get any other interior linemen during free agency and didn’t draft one until the 6th round. In fact, they didn’t draft any defensive players until the 5th round, voting to focus more on offense in the early part of the draft. With all of the defensive players being drafted so late they probably won’t see much field-time. They didn’t do much defensive-wise in free agency either, after Stephen the rest of the defensive free agents are there to add depth with most of them being from the AAF. Linebacker Greer Martini, safety Derron Smith, cornerback Duke Thomas, and defensive end Karter Schult all had great, though short, AAF careers. Smith spent his time with San Antonio, tying for 4th in the league in interceptions with 3 and Schult racked up 7 sacks while playing for Salt Lake which was good enough for 2nd place, just a half sack behind the leader. Despite their spring football achievements, the rest of the Vikings defense is pretty much locked up Danielle Hunter & Everson Griffin still make up one of the NFL’s elite pass rush duos, Harrison Smith is a top-rated safety, Trae Waynes and Xavier Rhodes make up dare say the NFC North’s strongest cornerback tandem, and any linebacker corps with Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr doesn’t need to do much adjusting.
While they may have lost some guys on the interior d-line and at the strong safety position. They still look to be a strong defense this season and they did make more moves to help their offense and so if their offense can score more and put pressure on the other team, this defense will make the other team crack under that pressure. They will probably make an decent regular starter on any fantasy team and a definite grab as a streaming candidate, though I doubt they’ll be available on waivers in many leagues.