Fantasy Football: 2015 defense sleepers and busts


Fantasy Football: 2015 defense sleepers and busts

Defenses can be so frustrating some times. 

You can watch your opponent's defense give up 500 total yards and only 13 points and post a solid score, while your defense gives up more points and less yards because of a few pick-sixes. 


Right, Napoleon?

[RELATED - Fantasy Football: 2015 tight end sleepers and busts]

But while most defenses are necessarily worth targeting until the later rounds, there are a few that are worthy of a slightly earlier draft pick. And there are also some defenses that could really hurt you this year. There's also a way to win leagues by streaming your defense every week. We throw the book at you (top targets, sleepers and busts) with our defense primer in 2015.

Top Targets

Dolphins: I love everything about the Dolphins this season. Ryan Tannehill is going to return QB1 numbers, Lamar Miller is a steal in the third round, Jarvis Landry is going to make “the jump” in Year 2 and Jordan Cameron is woefully underrated. So it’s no surprise that I love this defense as well. Yes, they had four negative-point outings in the last six games of the year, but bringing in a future Hall of Famer in his prime (Ndamukong Suh) to anchor an ugly run defense a year ago, combined with Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon on the edge make this one of the most fantasy-friendly defensive lines in football. That pressure will help them add to their numbers from a year ago (14 INTs, 39 sacks) which were middle of the pack. The only hesitation I have is their brutally tough schedule down the stretch - they’ll play the Giants, Chargers and Colts in the fantasy playoffs - but I’m all in on them and have no problem making them the fourth defense off the board (after Seattle, Buffalo and Houston). - Mark Strotman

Texans: The foundation of any D/ST unit that you want to target is a defensive line. That's where it all starts, from turnovers to getting the defense off the field quickly to accumulating points with sacks and forced fumbles. Is there a better defensive line in the game right now than the Texans? J.J. Watt is the best defensive player in the game without any comparison, and then you also have Vince Wilfork eating up space in the middle and the huge upside of both Whitney Mercilus and Jadevon Clowney. That's a great gamble to take. - Tony Andracki

Vikings: Mike Zimmer’s crew is flying so far under the radar it’s not funny. Their linebackers are outstanding with Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Chad Greenway. The defensive line has its “sack guy” in Everson Griffen (12 last year). Xavier Rhodes is one of the more underrated corners in the game and Harrison Smith is great at patrolling the middle. The Vikings have the right pieces to take the next step as a team toward the playoffs and should be able to rack up some points in fantasy this year. They’re also in the middle of most rankings, allowing you to focus in the mid-to-late rounds on drafting quality backups. - John "The Professor" Paschall


Chiefs: What do you need to be a successful fantasy defense? Sacks and turnovers. The Chiefs have two of the best pass rushers in the NFL with Justin Houston and Tamba Hali (maybe even Dee Ford can improve?). Sean Smith and rookie stud Marcus Peters will hold down the edge while Eric Berry makes his emotional return to the middle of the field. Also, don’t forget that you get special teams points with these units and the Chiefs have to electric returners in De’Anthony Thomas and Knile Davis. - JP

Eagles: Everybody thinks they can't do it again, and you know what? They probably can't. But it's worth a shot to draft them and see how it plays out. The Eagles have most of the same playmakers in place as last season, plus they traded for Kiko Alonso, one of the best middle linebackers in the league coming off injury. With Darren Sproles still in the return game, there are a lot worse bets you can make than drafting the Eagles D/ST with one of your last two picks. - TA

[MORE: Top targets, sleepers and busts at wide receiver]

Packers: Dom Capers’ group finished eighth in fantasy points a year ago, but I’ve got them in the sleeper category because of what they added this season. They spent their first two draft picks on secondary playmakers in Demarious Randall and Quentin Rollins to replace Tramon Williams and Devon House. Casey Hayward is healthy and Morgan Burnett, Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix and Micah Hyde make this a secondary that could improve on their 18 interceptions from a year ago. A lot will depend on Clay Matthews’ health and Julius Peppers’ performance at age 35, but I’ll call them a sleeper as a team that flirt with a top-5 finish that won’t cost you more than a second-to-last round pick. - MS


Cardinals: Lose Todd Bowles. Lose Antonio Cromartie. Lose Darnell Dockett. Yikes. There are still some nice pieces on that unit but they are going to go through some rough patches this year for sure. They don’t have an elite pass rusher (Alex Okafor led the team with eight sacks) and don’t offer much on special teams returns. Count me as one who expects some regression from the Cardinals’ D/ST. - JP

Jets: On paper New York’s defense is certainly start-worthy on a weekly basis. They’ll probably return top-10 results, especially adding Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie in the offseason. But the reason I’ve got them in the bust department is because their playoff schedule pits them on the road against the Cowboys in Week 15 and against the Patriots in Week 16. With an offense that could struggle to move the ball, it’d be a shame to roll with a unit that’s going to be on the field plenty all year and then have to stream elsewhere in the playoffs. Defenses are hit-and-miss past the top-3 units, so if you select the Jets be aware that you’ll probably drop them once you hit the fantasy postseason. - MS

Seahawks: The only number you need to know here is 61.8. That's where the Seattle defense/special teams unit is going. That's in the sixth round in 10-team leagues and the fifth round in 12-team leagues. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? For a defense?!!??! I feel like I've lost all faith in fantasy owners seeing that. Seattle wasn't even the best defense last year! They scored 150 points in standard leagues, third behind the Eagles and Bills. They are a fantastic real-life defense, but fantasy is not real life. Far from it, actually. I can't believe anybody would take a defense over a second/third WR or RB or even a starting TE or QB. Get your heads in the game, people. Take your D/ST with one of your last two picks and monitor the waiver wire early in the season to find the next 2014 Eagles defense that relies on opportunity and special teams tuddies. - TA

*Stream D/ST*

You know that one person in your fantasy league that pulls the trigger on a defense way too early and everybody laughs at them? Yeah, there's a good reason for that. If 2014 was any indication, there is absolutely no reason to draft a defense any earlier than your second to last pick — your final selection better be a kicker. The Buffalo Bills led the NFL with 170 total fantasy points, which was the worst number in any non-strike year since 1959 as ESPN's Tristan H. Cockcroft pointed out.  Year in and year out the NFL has shown that it's turning into a quarterback-driven league, with point totals going up each season. And In today's NFL, at least from a fantasy standpoint, it's nearly impossible for a defense to dominate for an entire 16-game stretch of the season. The consensus No. 1 D/ST this season is the Seattle Seahawks with an ADP of 54th overall. That same point in the draft is when you should be searching for your flex player, starting QB or shoring up your bench depth — not reaching for a D/ST that's going to average less than 10 points per game. Play the matchup each week with your D/ST and look for a defense to feast on a week opponent à la any team that's playing either the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars or Tennessee Titans. You'll reap the benefits with this strategy. - Scott Krinch

Why coming to the Bears was the right opportunity for Harry Hiestand to leave Notre Dame


Why coming to the Bears was the right opportunity for Harry Hiestand to leave Notre Dame

There wasn’t a single game Harry Hiestand coached while at Notre Dame — 77 in total — in which he didn’t have a future top-20 pick starting at left tackle. 

Zack Martin (16th overall, 2014) was followed by Ronnie Stanley (6th overall, 2016), who gave way to Mike McGlinchey (9th overall, 2018). Hiestand also developed Quenton Nelson, who went on to be the highest interior offensive lineman drafted (6th overall, 2018) since 1986. Nelson and McGlinchey became the first pair of college offensive line teammates to be drafted in the first 10 picks since 1991, when Tennessee had tackles Charles McRae and Antone Davis go seventh and eighth. 

“It wasn’t surprising because the kind of guys they are, they absolutely did everything the right way, the way they took care of themselves, the way they trained, the teammates that they are and were,” Hiestand said. “They just did it all the way you wanted them to do it. So it was. It was a good moment.”

Hiestand said he had a sense of pride after seeing his two former players be drafted so high, even if he wasn't able to re-unite with either of them. The Bears, of course, didn’t have a chance to draft Nelson, and had conviction on using the eighth overall pick on linebacker Roquan Smith (as well as having tackles Charles Leno and Bobby Massie in place for the 2018 season). 

Anecdotally, one former Notre Dame player said (maybe half-jokingly) that Nelson and McGlinchey were fighting each other to see who could get drafted by the Bears to play with Hiestand again.

“There’s nobody that I’ve been around in this game that’s more passionate about what he does,” McGlinchey, now with the San Francisco 49ers, said of Hiestand at Notre Dame’s pro day in March. “There’s really only two things that are important to him, and that’s his family and then his offensive linemen. There’s a lot to be said for that. 

“In this game, everybody’s always trying to work an angle to up their own career — he doesn’t want to do anything but coach O-line, and that’s what really sticks out to us as players. He cares for us like we’re his own. Obviously he coaches extremely hard and is very demanding of his players, which I loved — he pushed me to be the player that I am.

“I’m standing in front of all you guys because of Harry Hiestand. But the amount of passion and care that he has not only for his job but his teaching abilities and his players is what sets him apart.”

Hiestand could’ve stayed as long as he wanted at Notre Dame, presumably, given how much success he had recruiting and developing players there. But six years at one spot is a long time for a position coach, especially at the college level, where the grind of recruiting is so vital to the success of a program. It’s also not like every one of the blue-chip prospects Hiestand recruited to South Bend panned out, either. 

So Hiestand knew he wanted to get back to the NFL after coaching with the Bears under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. It’s a new challenge for him now, not only to develop second-round pick James Daniels but to continue the growth of Cody Whitehair and Leno while getting the most out of Kyle Long, Massie and the rest of the group (back during his first stint with the Bears, Hiestand had the luxury of coaching experienced, more ready-made offensive lines). 

As one of the more highly-regarded offensive line coaches in the country, though, Hiestand could’ve jumped back into the NFL whenever, and nearly wherever, he wanted. And for him, coming back to the Bears was the perfect fit. 

“That’s an awesome, awesome place, a great franchise,” Hiestand said. “It was something, I always wanted to go back, I didn’t know where I would get the opportunity. So I’m just very fortunate it just happened to be back at the same place that I was before. There are a lot of things that are different but there’s also a lot that’s the same. 

“But it’s one of the — it is the greatest organization. Historically, this is where it all began, and being part of it — and the other thing, and I told those guys when I got here, when we get it done here, you guys are going to see this city like you’ve never seen it. And I remember that. That’s what we’re after.” 

On a scale of 1-10, Tarik Cohen says his dangerous level is 12

On a scale of 1-10, Tarik Cohen says his dangerous level is 12

Don't be fooled by Tarik Cohen's height. He has towering confidence and he's setting up to have a big role in coach Matt Nagy's offense in 2018.

“On a scale of 1-10, the dangerous level is probably 12,” Cohen said Wednesday at Halas Hall about the impact he can have in the Bears' new system. “Because in backyard football, it’s really anything goes, and it’s really whoever gets tired first, that’s who’s going to lose. I’m running around pretty good out here, so I feel like I’m doing a good job.”

Cohen proved last season he can thrive in space. He made an impact as a runner, receiver and return man and will have a chance at an even bigger workload this fall, assuming he can handle it.

With Jordan Howard established as the starting running back, Cohen knows his touches will come in a variety of ways.

“It might not necessarily be rushes,” he said. “But it’s going to be all over the field, and that’s what I like to do. Any way I can get the ball or make a play for my team, that’s what I’m looking forward to doing.”

Cohen averaged 4.3 yards-per-carry as a rookie and led all NFL running backs in the percentage of carries that went for at least 15 yards. He's a big play waiting to happen.