This is an "un-sexy" position to discuss because fantasy owners are general pretty savvy and we all know not to pay up big-time in this spot. But we are going to take a look at defenses anyway, to see what we can glean.
The Seattle Seahawks are being drafted 29 picks ahead of the second defense. Or, they should be, according to consensus ranks at FantasyPros. These rankings put the Seahawks at pick 137 overall, while the second-place Bills begin the true run on defenses at 166 overall. However, I recently participated in a mock draft with some of the Walterfootball community a few days ago, and the Bills were the first defense selected at 98th overall. That is way early for a defense but illustrates that the Bills might be a trendy pick for some heading into this season. That was also a Round 9 selection, and I imagine that is when the first defense will fly off the boards in a typical redraft league. This is not an advisable strategy, however.
Sticking with FantasyPros ranks, the Rams (173), Texans (177) and Cardinals (190) round out the top five after the Seahawks and Bills. All of these defenses have elite pass-rushers/playmakers, so these rankings make sense. But does it make sense to draft a defense early? What I see from scanning the ranks is that you have to pass up on some potentially elite fantasy football players in order to do so.
These are some of the guys ranked within ten spots of Seattle over at FantasyPros: Davante Adams, Owen Daniels, Rueben Randle, Tyler Eifert, Larry Donnell, David Johnson, Brian Quick, Danny Woodhead, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Cody Latimer, and Dwayne Bowe. And those are just the guys I like.
When the Bills, Rams, and Texans begin to fly off of the boards, these guys might still be available: Roy Helu (158), Donte Moncrief (162), Dorial Green-Beckham (165), Devin Funchess (168), Marqise Lee (172), Nick Foles (179), and Ladarius Green (180). Those are some useful names, especially Helu and Green--both of whom could be in line for starting roles this season.
If you ask me--and in some small way you are if you are still reading--I am chasing the upside of guys like Helu and Green before I ever consider drafting a team defense. I do not mind waiting until my very last pick to select a team. In the past two mocks I have completed I selected the Philadelphia Eagles with a late pick. The Eagles were the top-ranked fantasy defense in 2014, by the way. Philly may not be a suffocating defense in real life, but they dominated the fake game last year with 49 sacks (tied for 2nd), 16 fumbles (1st), seven defensive touchdowns (1st), and four kick return touchdowns (1st). It isn't reasonable to expect the Eagles to repeat that level of scoring this season. But the idea is sound--wait on a defense, stream defenses, and select the "hot" defense early on in the season. Two years ago you could have added the Kansas City Chiefs from waivers. The Chiefs were the number one unit that year, one spot ahead of the Seahawks. Last season you could have added the Eagles. Both of those units came free, even after your entire fake draft was completed.
So who might be this year's version of the Chiefs or Eagles? For my part, I am interested in the Miami Dolphins. Miami opens up at Washington, at Jacksonville, home against Buffalo, and home against the Jets. After the bye week they travel to the Titans and then host the Texans. It isn't until Week 8 of the season that the Fins face an elite offense in the New England Patriots. And Miami comes cheap this year as the 11th-ranked unit. This team finished 13th among fake defenses in 2014, so projecting them as the 11th-best unit seems safe considering the addition of Ndamukong Suh. Pairing Suh with Cameron Wake may help vault this defense into an elite tier. I'll take a chance on the Dolphins to start my 2015 off with some fireworks and see how long they can keep it going. And if they don't pan out, well, there's always another team on the waiver wire. Or another bad team facing the Cleveland Browns. I can't believe I wrote 750 words on defenses. I'm sorry.