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Defensive Indifference?

Defenses. Historically the defense / special team has been the next to last draft selection, save a few standouts, getting less respect than any other fantasy position except kicker. But whether you take a defense with your last pick, next to last pick, or in round 10 for some reason, the points the defense position contributes to your final score is usually taken for granted. But should it be?

Do you know how many fantasy points the top team scored in a basic scoring league in 2009? 239. What about the difference between the top fantasy defense and the worst, or #12 fantasy defense (assuming a 12-team league)? 198. That's a 41-point difference, or 2.7 points per game in a 15 game fantasy season or 2.9 points per game in a 14 game fantasy season. Is that three points per game worth the expense of a needed backup, a potential WR starter, a rookie gamble or that RB sleeper you were eying?

My answer has been, is, and likely will always be no. My advice is to take your defense in the last couple of rounds and then be willing to swap defenses weekly based on match-ups. The Detroit Lions may be the worst defense in the league but if they play the St. Louis Rams this week they are a good option to start. Match-ups like this occur all year long, you just need to pay attention and plan ahead to make sure you get them.

Of course there is a chance you could get burned, and burned more than once. But the odds are that your defense's score will not cost you a win, a playoff berth or a championship, and the upside to the player or players you take before finally getting your defense is much higher than gambling on the #1 ranked defensive unit for a measly three points a game.

Regardless of where you decide to draft your defense you obviously want to take the best team available. With that in mind here are the top five defenses you should be looking at for re-draft leagues:

1. Green Bay Packers
The only team to be in the top five in pass defense (#5), run defense (#1) and overall defense (#2) in yards allowed last year. They led the league in INTs and total takeaways, and were tied for second in defensive TDs. They were 11th in sacks but that ranking should improve with OLB Brad Jones (4 sacks in 7 starts last year) getting more playing time. With a beefed-up DL thanks to some positional changes, some added depth with rookies Morgan Burnett (DB) and Mike Neal (DL) and a season under their belt in Dom Capers' 3-4 system, the Packers should be even better this year.

2. New York Jets
Last year's #1 pass defense and #1 overall defense in yards allowed per game and the #1 scoring defense giving up just under 15 points per game – the only NFL team that can make that claim. They were also fourth in fumble recoveries. They should pick up right where they left off and provide a solid play for you week in and week out especially with an expected increase in INTs with the addition of DBs Antonio Cromartie and rookie Kyle Wilson, and sacks thanks to the signing of veteran Jason Taylor and the return of DL Kris Jenkins who missed most of last year with a knee injury.

3. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens have perennially been a top fantasy defense but their sack totals slipped in 2009 causing them to finish in the bottom half of the top ten in most leagues (depending on your scoring system). Though not in the top five in pass defense last year, they were #5 in run defense and #3 overall in yards allowed per game, as well as #3 in points allowed. Rookie Terrence Cody should give this old group a burst of energy and if Terrell Suggs can return to form, terrorizing the quarterback like we know he can, the Ravens will increase their sacks and turnover totals and could easily be the #1 fantasy defense this year.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers finished last year second in sacks, #3 in run defense and #5 overall in yards allowed and that was with injury problems in the secondary that if resolved should result in an even better showing this year. A lack of turnovers (22) plagued their fantasy rank in 2009 and you can’t dismiss the loss of Troy Polamalu who is responsible for numerous big plays in the secondary. Having him back on the field should vault the Steelers back into the top five where they belong.

5. Dallas Cowboys
They were #2 in scoring defense giving up just 15.6 points per game to go along with the #4 run defense in yards allowed last year as well as finishing seventh in sacks. Look for third-year DB Mike Jenkins to have a big year and for departed DB Ken Hamlin's replacement (Alan Ball, Michael Hamlin and/or rookie Akwasi Owusu-Ansah) to help the Dallas secondary generate more than the 11 INTs they had last year (26th in the league), which keeps them ranked ahead of the Vikings and Bengals.