The 2018 NFL draft is less than a month away as teams continue to bolster their rosters via free agency, altering the defense/special team landscape. After covering some sleeper options earlier this week, it’s time to take a look at some bust candidates. These are teams that finished in the top-12 in 2017 that are unlikely to do so again this season.
Simply looking at a team’s finish in the previous season is not going to help fantasy owners land a top DST, as there is a big variance from season to season. A look at the last three years reveals that in most standard scoring formats only three teams have finished in the top-12 in each season — Carolina, Kansas City, and Philadelphia. There hasn’t been a single team that has finished in the top-five for all three years. Success in the previous season does not guarantee a repeat performance.
Keeping abreast of injuries as well as personnel and coaching changes is vital to staying ahead of the curve. An example of this is the 2017 Arizona Cardinals. After posting top-three DST numbers in 2015-2016, they lost Calais Campbell, Tony Jefferson, D.J. Swearinger, and Kevin Minter. The holes left in the defense were too much to overcome as the Cardinals failed to bring in suitable replacements. Arizona finished outside the top-15 in scoring after entering the season with an average draft position as the fifth defense off the board, per My Fantasy League.
Needless to say, the savvy fantasy owner did not buy the hype and avoided the Cardinals last season. These are some of the DSTs to avoid entering the 2018 season.
This selection was pretty obvious as the offseason began to play out. After posting a top-10 fantasy finish last season the Seattle defense has undergone major personnel changes. The 2017 team leader in sacks — defensive end Michael Bennett — has been traded to the Eagles, and that’s just one of the big shakeups that will make things difficult for this unit entering 2018. Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson played just one season for the Seahawks before signing with the Vikings, while longtime shutdown cornerback Richard Sherman has moved to division rival San Francisco.
There are also major injury concerns regarding two major contributors on the defense, as defensive end Cliff Avril and safety Kam Chancellor are dealing with neck issues. Neither is a lock to play in 2018; either would be a huge loss. Seattle may be forced to rely on fringe players such as the newly signed Barkevious Mingo and Tom Johnson to create pressure alongside Frank Clark. Reclamation project Dion Jordan did manage four sacks in five games last season, but this defense has way too many question marks to be trusted for fantasy purposes in 2018.
This one hurts as a lifelong Michigander. Sometimes we just have to face the fact that the fantasy stars align for a given team/player and that’s the case with the 2017 Detroit defense/special teams. The Lions finished as a top-five fantasy DST for the first time since 2011 and managed to do so based mainly on turnovers and touchdowns. Their 35 sacks were the 20th-most in the league while the seven combined DST scores tied for the second-highest total in the league.
Therein lies the problem with trusting that this unit will not see a dropoff in fantasy production in 2018. Chasing turnovers as well as DST touchdowns is not an advisable strategy, as those numbers can vary significantly from season to season. A closer look at the Lions defense shows that last season they put up 13 fumble recoveries, 19 interceptions, and 5 defensive and 2 kick return touchdowns. In the 2015-2106 seasons combined this unit had 14 fumble recoveries, 19 interceptions, and 3 defensive and 2 kick return scores. Under new head coach Matt Patricia, the Lions will be running a hybrid 3-4 scheme (with some 4-3 looks) with Ezekiel Ansah as basically their only edge rush threat at this time. The sack totals are unlikely to rise and the turnover numbers will not reach the lofty 2017 totals.
The Steelers managed to sneak into the top 12 in fantasy scoring last season mainly based on their league-leading 56 sacks and the 16 interceptions they posted. It’s already been reported that linebacker Ryan Shazier will not play in 2018 due to the spinal injury he suffered last season. This is a blow to the big-play production as Shazier tied with safety Sean Davis for a team leading three interceptions despite missing four games. Former Colts, Lions, Patriots, and Bears linebacker Jon Bostic has been signed to potentially replace Shazier and has one career interception. Veteran safety Morgan Burnett has also been signed but has just three interceptions over the last five seasons. It’s going to be tough for this DST to match its 2017 interception total.
The Steelers did manage to lead the league in sacks, beating out Jacksonville by one, but it took some career-high performances to accomplish this feat. Defensive end Cameron Heyward had a career-high 12 while linebacker Vince Williams also racked up a career-high eight (his previous high was just two). Defensive tackle Tyson Alualu also posted a career high with four sacks in his first season as a Steeler and Bud Dupree’s 5.5 sacks are his career best. Two rookies also chipped in with T.J. Watt putting up seven sacks and cornerback Mike Hilton had four. While Watt can likely be counted on to post solid sack totals it’s not as easy to trust that Hilton will match his 2017 totals. It took career highs from four different players to reach 56 and it’s unlikely they will see repeat performances across the board.
The Ravens were a top-three fantasy DST and tied with the aforementioned Lions with five defensive touchdowns and two kick return scores. Once again it’s important to realize just how difficult it is to trust that a team can repeat those type of numbers. In the past five years only once has a team put up five defensive touchdowns in back-to-back seasons and was the 2015-2016 Kansas City Chiefs. A closer look at the Ravens shows that the last time they put up five defensive touchdowns prior to last season was back in 2008. From 2013 to 2016, Baltimore had a combined total of five defensive scores. You get the point.
Another reason this defense will struggle to reach the totals it amassed last season is that much of its big-play production came from older players. Safety Eric Weddle led the team in interceptions with six (one defensive touchdown) and is 33 years old. Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr combined for seven interceptions and two defensive scores — Smith will be 30 this season and is coming off an Achilles injury while Carr will turn 32 in May. Finally, Terrell Suggs led the team with 11 sacks and will be 36 in October. Father Time is undefeated.