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Key Defensive Changes to Impact Fantasy Football Outlooks

Key Defensive Changes to Impact Fantasy Football Outlooks
Austin Webster May 18, 2018 9:47PM EDT

Analyzing Important Personnel Changes That Will Impact Fantasy Football Units

There were some NFL defenses that saw a lot of turnover this offseason. The Kansas City Chiefs were one of them, and are now without four of their starters from last year. One of the biggest names moving was Richard Sherman, who will take a few weeks to digest once we see him on the field in a new uniform. After all the changes, there were clear winners and losers this offseason. What Fantasy defenses will jump up in the ranks, and who is taking a fall?

New Era For Seahawks Defense

 A defensive juggernaut for nearly the last decade has major question marks heading into the 2018 season. They will have to replace key players on their defense in Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, and Sheldon Richardson. It could wind up even being more as Earl Thomas is holding out from voluntary workouts looking for a contract extension and Kam Chancellor’s status for 2018 is up in the air. Chancellor suffered a neck injury in Week 10 last year that ended his season and is going under a scan in late June or July to figure out his playing future. With the turnover of such impactful players on their defense, the Seahawks will have some growing pains. The secondary featuring Shaquill Griffin, Byron Maxwell, Justin Coleman, and others will be much more appealing for opposing offenses to test. Any defense would struggle to replace Sherman, who would consistently lock down his side of the field. The pass rush is a big question mark as well, with their current right defensive end Dion Jordan being a bust in his NFL career to this point. He was the third overall pick in 2013, but yet to have a season with over four sacks. With the worse secondary and suspect defensive end play outside of Frank Clark, you can expect more passing yards allowed and less sacks. After being a constant Top 10 Fantasy defense in the past, do not expect the same this season.

Minnesota Vikings May Generate Better Results

The best defense on a point per game basis in 2017 has gotten even better. They didn’t have many holes, but two of the weaker links were defensive tackle Tom Johnson and cornerback Trae Waynes. It remains to be seen if Waynes will be replaced immediately, but the Vikings first round draft pick Mike Hughes can be an upgrade if he earns the job. The replacement for Johnson is Sheldon Richardson, who has been a productive player throughout his career. Also, left defensive end Danielle Hunter has the potential to take another step forward entering his fourth season. In 2016, Hunter flashed his ability, finishing with the third most sacks in the NFL at the age of 22. Hunter and Everson Griffen are a lethal pass rushing duo with the upside of 25 sacks between them. With how loaded they are on defense, they are capable of improving on the one defensive touchdown they scored last season, as 24 defenses scored more than one. Defensive touchdowns are tough to predict, but you can expect them to not allow many points and get after the quarterback leading to turnovers. The Vikings Fantasy defense looks poised to have a Top 5 finish this year.

Steelers Without Their Key Player

 In the Steelers zone defense, the position that holds everything together is the middle linebacker. In 2018, they are going to be without their star MLB Ryan Shazier, and last year the defense did not look the same without him. After he was out for the year, they surrendered 38 points to the low-scoring Ravens offense, and then got beat up by the Jaguars to the tune of 45 points in the playoffs. They will try to replace Shazier with newly-signed Jon Bostic, who has proved capable as a run stopper in his career. However, the big concern is that he has struggled in pass coverage, and Shazier was one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL. What made the Steelers a good Fantasy defense last year was their league-leading 56 sacks, but having a worse coverage over the middle could lower their sack totals. Offenses will now have the opportunities to throw quicker passes over the middle of the field. Another acquisition that could help minimize the loss of Shazier is first round safety Terrell Edmunds. Mel Kiper had him ranked as the eighth best safety in the draft, and Luke Easterling of Draft Wire considered him more of a project. Nevertheless, the loss of Shazier will be noticeable all season long, and the Steelers are not a Fantasy defense I would target in drafts.

Texans Back To Full Strength

A pass rush unit that was decimated by injuries in 2017 will be back to full force this year. Without J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus, the Texans struggled getting pressure on quarterbacks, and finished with the 10th fewest sacks. Now, with those key players coming back, and being paired with Jadeveon Clowney they should be one of the best pass rush units in the NFL. They also made some improvements to the secondary, bringing in Tyrann Mathieu, Aaron Colvin, Johnson Bademosi, and third round pick Justin Reid. Texans’ cornerback Kevin Johnson was graded as PFF’s worst cornerback last season so Colvin and Bademosi should prove as an upgrade over him. Also, we have seen how impactful Mathieu can be for a defense, and he will be out to prove himself even more this year on a one-year, seven-million-dollar contract. Third round pick Reid is expected to NFL ready and was praised for his “exceptional football IQ coming out of Stanford’s defense” by NFL Draft analyst Matt Miller. The new and improved Texans’ secondary and returns of Watt and Mercilus give the Texans’ Fantasy defense Top 10 upside.

Titans’ Underrated Defense

A defense that will fly under the radar this season is the Tennessee Titans. They finished as the 15th best Fantasy defense and might have improved in multiple areas. The big acquisitions for their unit were Malcolm Butler, Bennie Logan, first round pick Rashaan Evans, and second round pick Harold Landry. Butler will be reunited with his old teammate Logan Ryan, and paired with second year corner Adoree’ Jackson. The trio has great versatility with speed from Jackson, good sound technique and toughness from Butler, and Ryan has lockdown capability in the slot. At linebacker, first round pick Evans will replace Avery Williamson, who signed with the Jets this offseason. Williamson was great in run defense last year, so it will be big shoes to fill for Evans, but he is a great fit in their 3-4 scheme and has the upside to be better than Williamson down the line. At nose tackle, Bennie Logan will replace Sylvester Williams, and should be a slight upgrade to their run defense. The final addition was Landry, who has good pass rushing ability, and could get around six to eight sacks for the Titans in his rookie season. The influx of talent and a new fresh defensive scheme from Mike Vrabel should be great for their Fantasy production. The Titans defense can reach new heights in 2018 with great athleticism and playmakers all over the field.

Chiefs’ Busy Offseason

The Kansas City Chiefs had some significant changes on defense. Notable players from 2017 that are now gone are Marcus Peters, Derrick Johnson, Bennie Logan, and Ron Parker. Peters was the biggest loss and was a big contributor for Fantasy points with 19 interceptions in his first three seasons. The cornerback replacing Peters is David Amerson, which is a big downgrade. However, the addition of Kendall Fuller can help, as he was a great slot cornerback for the Redskins last year. Also, Eric Berry is expected back from his torn Achilles’ that ended his season last year. Fuller will be a boost at slot corner, and Berry’s return is a plus, but concerns still remain over the outside cornerbacks for the Chiefs. With Amerson and Steven Nelson as the likely starters, the Chiefs will have one of the worst cornerback duos in the NFL.

At nose tackle they lost Logan, who was a good run stopper, and that could haunt them this season. Currently there is no clear replacement, but it could wind up being third round pick Derrick Nnadi. Whoever ends up assuming Logan’s role will likely be a downgrade. Finally, Johnson, who was a staple for at middle linebacker for 14 years. has been replaced by Anthony Hitchens. Hitchens was a very inconsistent player for the Cowboys, but had good moments and the Chiefs really fell in love with him. He will add some more youth to the defense and should help more in the run game. With everything considered, I expect it to all come back to the outside cornerbacks. I struggle to see them holding up, and makes me unwilling to draft the Chiefs Fanta

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