Fantasy football defense rankings: Who makes up the top 12?

Deciding which defense to draft for fantasy football can be tough. While the position can prove to be extremely volatile, striking gold can make a huge difference come the end of the season. Let’s take a look at who makes up the top 12 in our fantasy football defense rankings for 2022.

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The key when looking at fantasy football defense rankings is trying to strike the balance between upside and ADP. Take last year, for example, where the Pittsburgh Steelers were the top team off the board in terms of ADP. They went on to finish rank 16th at the position. If you paid a late ninth-round pick for them, that essentially proved to be a wasted selection.

The only team drafted in the top five at the position last season to finish in the top five was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. All of the other four finished outside the top 10. Meanwhile, the top three teams — the Cowboys, Patriots, and Dolphins — were all taken as the eighth team off the board or later on average.

With that in mind, let’s look at the top 12 in our fantasy football defense rankings and whether they can return value at their current ADP.

1. Buffalo Bills

The Bills finished as the fourth-ranked defense for fantasy last year. An intriguing element of that was it came despite just one defensive or return touchdown. All of the other teams ahead of them scored at least three, with the Dolphins and Cowboys scoring six and nine, respectively.

Only the Patriots allowed fewer points than the Bills last year, and in the past offseason, the Bills’ defense only got better. They added Von Miller to an already talented pass-rush rotation and drafted Kaiir Elam into a strong CB group. If there is a candidate to repeat as a top-five defense, the Bills would be it. However, Buffalo’s ADP is inside the top-10 rounds on some sites. No matter how good you think they will be, that is not good value for any defense.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers were a top-six defense in both fantasy points accumulated and actual points allowed on the field. They did it thanks to relentless pressure on the opposing offense, resulting in 47 sacks and 82 tackles for loss.

They are currently the consensus second defense off the board, but Tampa Bay’s ADP sits two or three rounds below the Bills on average. That is a significantly better value for a defense that added some solid pieces this offseason. However, they are still being selected inside the top 10 rounds on some formats, which is too high of a price to pay.

3. San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers are an intriguing defense this season. They finished 14th overall in terms of fantasy points but made significant offseason upgrades. Samson Ebukam and Drake Jackson provide an improved pass rush opposite Nick Bosa. Charvarius Ward is also a huge upgrade as a starting corner. After finishing in the middle of the pack in points allowed last year, they will look to improve.

Turnovers were the issue in 2021, but an improved pass rush and upgrades at cornerback should help them bounce back somewhat. With a consensus ADP of sixth at the position, San Francisco could present a slight value. Yet, on some sites, that upside is baked in, as they are being selected as the third or fourth defense off the board.

4. Denver Broncos

The Denver Broncos’ defense might very well be the best value at the position. Their current ADP is outside of the top 12, partly because they could only finish 15th in terms of total points last year. However, when it came to points allowed, only two defenses were stingier than the Broncos.

They made intriguing additions upfront in D.J. Jones and Randy Gregory, both of whom should help Denver finish above the middle of the pack in sacks. They have an incredible secondary and, with an improved offense, could generate an increase in turnovers as teams have to try and throw to keep up.

5. Indianapolis Colts

The Colts were a solid group last year, finishing seventh at the position. However, that has been reflected in their ADP, which is sitting between fourth and fifth at the position. They have some good pieces on their defense, but their current price in drafts is a touch on the high side on some sites. Indianapolis sits fifth in our fantasy football defense rankings, but that is only a value if they fall to the final couple of rounds.

6. New England Patriots

The Patriots’ defense just ticks away under the tutelage of Bill Belichick. They allowed the fewest points of any unit last year and finished second to the Cowboys overall. They made some solid depth additions to their roster this offseason. However, in a division with the Bills and Dolphins offenses, their secondary could be something that gets exploited.

As the eighth D/ST off the board in drafts, they are only a solid value if they drop into the final two rounds of drafts.

7. New Orleans Saints

The Saints made some headline-grabbing additions this offseason. Adding Marcus Maye and Tyrann Mathieu to that secondary gives it a look of extreme strength. Unfortunately, those additions have meant they are being selected as the fourth-highest defense in terms of ADP. On some sites, they are going inside the top 10 rounds. Overall, their ADP is simply too high.

8. Los Angeles Rams

The Rams’ 12th-placed finish at the position last year appears to have dented their value a little entering 2022. They also lost some intriguing players this offseason, which is to be expected after winning a Super Bowl. However, the addition of Bobby Wagner is intriguing. They present a solid value inside the top 10 teams off the board at the position.

9. Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens were generally the ol’ reliable of fantasy defenses in the past five years. They have finished inside the top five virtually every year until last year. Then injuries ravaged them, and they finished 26th at the position. That has resulted in the Ravens’ ADP dropping outside the top 12. They have good pieces on this defense, and unless bad luck bites at injury again, Baltimore should be a solid bet for a top-10 finish. They are one of the best values out there right now.

10. Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys topped the table at the position, averaging nearly 1.5 points more per game than the next best defense. That was largely built on an incredibly opportunistic defense. They forced 35 turnovers and scored nine D/ST touchdowns. Only the Colts had as many turnovers, and no team was within three of their touchdown total.

Dallas’ ADP as the third defense off the board is far too high. If they do fall into the last two rounds, their opportunistic nature makes them intriguing. However, reaching for them ahead of that is full of risk, given where the majority of their points came from last year. They round out the top 10 of our fantasy football defense rankings, demonstrating the risk of taking them at their current ADP.

11. Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers finished as one of the worst defenses in fantasy points last year. They really just struggled to do anything of significance for fantasy managers. Still, they made some incredible additions. The trade for Khalil Mack and the signing of J.C. Jackson drew the biggest intrigue. Yet, adding the likes of Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson up front provides stability in the middle.

The injury to Jackson hurts them to open the season, but they should still make some splash plays. LA might be a better team to look for on waivers after three or four weeks when Jackson is ready to return, but as a late-round gamble, they have the pieces to provide intriguing returns.

12. Kansas City Chiefs

You do not always think of the Chiefs in terms of their defense, but they are a strong all-around unit. The only concern with this team to open the season is a tough schedule. Games with the Cardinals, Chargers, Colts, Buccaneers, Raiders, and Bills make up the first six weeks. They have some soft stretches in their schedule, so they might be a better streaming unit than one you draft and ride through the season.

As fantasy football drafts pick up this weekend, we’ve published detailed fantasy outlooks for more than 250 players, with more to follow this weekend. Search the table below or filter by position and team for more advice so you can win your fantasy football draft! Don’t forget about our Fantasy Football Draft Kit, which is packed with more information and proprietary research.

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