In fantasy football, there are a few different strategies one could use when selecting a defense/special teams unit.
Usually, it's advised to wait until one of the final two rounds in your draft to pick a defense. If you're dead set on having an elite D/ST, however, you'll likely have to pull the trigger a round or two earlier.
Sometimes that decision can pay major dividends. For example, the New England Patriots D/ST scored a ridiculous 224 fantasy points in 2019. That would have made them the QB23, RB9, WR4, and TE1 that season.
If splurging for a top defense isn't your thing, you still can find success streaming D/ST on the waiver wire and playing matchups each week. This can be a smart strategy, but it can be a major headache to figure out which defense is worth a top waiver claim all season long.
So, which defenses will be "set it and forget it" units for your fantasy football team in 2021? Here's a look at the top 10 heading into the season.
1. Los Angeles Rams (Bye Week: 11)
The top scoring D/ST in 2020 earns the No. 1 spot heading into 2021. L.A. is positioned to rack up a ton of defensive points again with stars Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey leading the way. Regression is possible with defensive coordinator Brandon Staley departing for the Chargers head coaching gig, but we're confident the Rams will be among the safest D/ST picks in fantasy drafts this year.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (Bye Week: 7)
The Steelers placed second in D/ST scoring last year and have a solid shot to be No. 1 this time around. Devin Bush returning from a torn ACL will provide a big boost, and the rest of this unit remains scary with T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Cameron Hayward, Stephon Tuitt and Joe Haden each returning to make life difficult for opposing offenses.
3. Washington Football Team (Bye Week: 9)
Washington had the second-most sacks in the NFL last season and are poised to post even bigger numbers in 2021. Chase Young, Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen, and Daron Payne anchor a defensive line that once again is set to wreak havoc on the rest of the league. This should be one of the first D/ST units off the board.
4. Baltimore Ravens (Bye Week: 8)
The Ravens D/ST is ol' reliable and that should remain the same this year. Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters will continue to anchor the secondary while Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe hold down the defensive line. Losing Matthew Judon to the Patriots in free agency might hurt a bit, but not enough to take Baltimore out of your starting fantasy lineup.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Bye Week: 9)
The Bucs are running it back with all of their starters from last season's Super Bowl run, when they finished as the No. 7 D/ST unit in fantasy football. Expect them to rise in the rankings this year with one of the most fearsome front-sevens in the game and an underrated secondary.
6. San Francisco 49ers (Bye Week: 6)
Injuries hurt this unit last year, but we should expect a bounceback campaign in 2021 with star defensive end Nick Bosa among those set to return. This is a defense you can confidently draft and start Week 1 vs. the Detroit Lions.
7. Indianapolis Colts (Bye Week: 14)
The Colts quietly finished as the third-best D/ST unit in 2020. There likely will be some regression with Anthony Walker, Denico Autry, Justin Houston and Malik Hooker among their key offseason departures, but they should still finish as a top-10 defense this season.
8. Buffalo Bills (Bye Week: 7)
Another "set it and forget it" defense for fantasy football owners in recent years, the Bills D/ST is set up for success again in 2021. Tre'Davious White, Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde should once again put up big numbers in the secondary, and this front-seven is nothing to scoff at either.
9. Miami Dolphins (Bye Week: 14)
Miami's defense jumped to the No. 8 spot in total points last season, and it'll return most of its core for another run in 2021 including cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Byron Jones. The Dolphins lost Kyle Van Noy to New England during the offseason, but this D/ST is still in pretty solid shape. Especially with one of the best kick returners in the game, Jakeem Grant, still in the mix. He's a threat for a TD every single week.
10. New England Patriots (Bye Week: 14)
Even with several key defensive players opting out last season, the Patriots still managed to tie for the league lead in interceptions. Stephon Gilmore's future with the team remains up in the air, but if he returns this secondary is going to put up plenty of points again with Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Jalen Mills, and Devin McCourty leading the charge. The acquisitions of Kyle Van Noy, Matthew Judon, Henry Anderson, and Davon Godchaux should provide a significant boost as well, not to mention the return of Dont'a Hightower.
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