Tre'Davious White #27 of the Buffalo Bills reacts during the second half of a game against the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt (90) looks on during the game against the Cleveland Browns
Left: Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images, Right: Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Fantasy Football Studs & Duds: 3 Defenses that Can Win a Championship, 2 That Look like Swiss Cheese


The defense on your team, or "DST," is one of the more interesting positions in fantasy football. Every year we see that one player in your league that takes the projected top defense in a far earlier round than necessary. Some players don't even bother to draft one at all.

The disparity in approach is unlike anything else. We'd recommend either taking one in the last round of your draft or perhaps not taking one at all and waiting closer to the start of the season to stream one if some of the more solidified options were taken earlier. 

This is definitely an oversimplification, but one of the key stats to look for when grading a defense overall and on a week-to-week basis is total pressures. Pressures include sacks, hurries, and quarterback hits. This is an essential statistic because what do pressures eventually lead to? Fumbles. What can fumbles lead to? Returns for touchdowns. 

Here, we'll highlight some studs and duds at the DST position. Remember that this position isn't something you'll draft at the beginning of the year and never drop. Be ready to move on from a DST any given week. 


Stud: Cleveland Browns

Myles Garrett #95 of the Cleveland Browns celebrates after running the ball in for a touchdown after a fumble recovery

Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

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According to FantasyPros, the Cleveland Browns rank as the DST16. This may be a good ranking for the season, but this should be a DST unit you're targeting in drafts for at least the first month of the season. 

Yes, we also want to target defenses on a team that will be leading, and the Browns, at least under quarterback Jacoby Brissett until Deshaun Watson returns in Week 11, may result in the team being closer in score or losing. 

However, Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney each had over 50 pressures last year, and the back-end of the defense is well-equipped with Denzel Ward, Anthony Walker, and M.J. Stewart.  Solid pass coverage can lead to coverage sacks, for which the Browns are a good candidate. 


To kick off the season, the Browns get a run of entirely winnable matchups against what we project as not-so-good teams:

  • Carolina Panthers
  • New York Jets
  • Pittsburgh Steelers
  • Atlanta Falcons

After these first four games, the schedule does get more challenging, so you may want to cut bait with them after this. The Panthers should be better, but they have a new quarterback in Baker Mayfield, who will be in his first real game with a new team and also going against his old team. Even if that performance isn't otherworldly by the Browns DST, the following three matchups are golden. 

Dud: Denver Broncos

Safety J.R. Reed #20 of the Denver Broncos celebrates with cornerback Damarri Mathis #27, linebacker Justin Strnad #40, and cornerback Ja'Quan McMillian #35 after a defensive play in a preseason NFL game

Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Ranking inside the top seven, the Broncos are going to be a fine unit to the roster, but like almost any DST unit, you can't be afraid to cut bait with them. The Broncos season starts great against the Seattle Seahawks and Houston Texans but then has four straight bad matchups, followed by the New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars. 

Your league mates may perceive the Broncos in much higher regard, so if you draft them and drop them after the first two weeks, don't expect to get them back -- again, this is fine. The Broncos secondary is solid enough but wasn't the unit you'd hope for with Ronald Darby, Patrick Surtain II, Bryce Callahan, and Justin Simmons in 2021. A lot of that could do with the subpar quarterback play, which should be resolved this season with Russell Wilson.


The main concern is pressures.  Last season, Dre'Mont Jones led the team in pressures with 40. Von Miller had 28. However, Miller was traded before the trade deadline and played just seven games with the team. Losing Miller resulted in losing a lot of potential pressures.

It'll be interesting to see if the improved quarterback play and offense can help offset the lack of pressure. 

Stud: Buffalo Bills

Levi Wallace #39 of the Buffalo Bills celebrates his interception with teammates Tre'Davious White #27 and Taron Johnson #24

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

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This team is loaded from top to bottom on defense. The Bills are a prime candidate for someone in your league to take a DST in the ninth round. If you use our strategy, you may never get the opportunity to draft them, but if you do, you absolutely should.


If anything, the Bills may be the lone exception to reach for in the second-to-last round due to how dominant they are overall. They also added Von Miller to a unit with four guys with 30 or more pressures last season.

Dud: Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh linebacker T.J. Watt (90) celebrates after a first quarter sack during the Pittsburgh Steelers versus Baltimore Ravens National Football League game

Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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This is a rather unfortunate dud pick.  The Steelers possess all the tools to be a dominant fantasy defense, with two players in 2021, Cameron Heyward and T.J., posting over 60 pressures eachHowever, these guys can't do it alone. The secondary was underwhelming outside of safety Terrell Edmunds, and the team arguably got a bit worse. 

Sure, Ben Roethlisberger was a shell of himself, but he understood what he needed to do to get by. Heading into 2022, that same confidence isn't there with Mitchell Trubisky yet, and this offense could be rather pedestrian.


Just look at the first eight opponents on the Steelers schedule:

  • Cincinnati Bengals
  • New England Patriots
  • Cleveland Browns
  • New York Jets
  • Buffalo Bills
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Miami Dolphins
  • Philadelphia Eagles

From there, there are even more difficult opponents. 

The difference in this Steelers offense against most of those defenses on paper doesn't project well, which leads to the DST being on the field more, which can only get worse from there.

Watt and Heyward are mega-stars, but they can't do it alone. 


Stud: Miami Dolphins

Hunter Henry of the New England Patriots is tackled by the defense of the Miami Dolphins

Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

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The Dolphins may not strike you as a top DST unit in fantasy football, but don't be surprised if they finish well inside the top 10 this season. Right now, FantasyPros ranks them at No. 12.

The Dolphins and head coach Mike McDaniel made an excellent decision by keeping defensive coordinator Josh Boyer.  Last season, the team had five guys over 30 pressures, with Emmanuel Ogbah leading the way with 61 -- that's up there with Heyward and Watt. With the new head coach and the addition of wide receiver Tyreek Hill and offensive tackle Terron Armstead, this offense should also be much better.

There's so much trending in a positive direction for the Dolphins, who also have a good secondary.


Guys like Byron Jones didn't quite play up to their known status. Still, if they improve due to a better offense, that'll only create more coverage-based pressures and sacks, which will lead to more fumble opportunities.

The Dolphins are one of our favorite units heading into 2022. 

Statistics are courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

Fantasy rankings courtesy of FantasyPros.


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