Fantasy Football Draft Day Dilemmas: Defense/Special Teams

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 19: Running back Rashard Mendenhall #34 of the Pittsburgh Steelers looses his helmet as he is tackled by Ahmad Brooks #55 and other 49ers defensive players in the first half at Candlestick Park on December 19, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Most fantasy football leagues drafted over the weekend, but there is still a week before the first game. After a six hour auction draft on Saturday I'm ready to get things going. I've covered the most important positions in previous posts, but we still have two more to address.

Team defenses and kickers are usually saved for the final rounds of the draft. Some even ignore the positions and rely on the waiver wire to play the best match-ups. Those in leagues with individual defensive players (IDP) will want to start considering drafting defense a little earlier, but only after setting up your starting offense and perhaps even after adding a few backups.

You can rely on 2011 rankings to draft defense so there is no need to go into great detail. Therefore, this final Draft Day Dilemma post is all about the San Francisco defense and special teams. I'll take a look at why the Niners are such a great team defense to own and look at some of the team's attractive IDP options.

San Francisco Team Defense

"Donte Whitner, what is best in life?"

"To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of the offensive coordinator."

San Francisco is a top option for leagues that feature a team defense format. Vic "Von Doom" Fangio and the squad delivered a brilliant 2011 campaign. Turnovers were created, quarterbacks were rendered into mulch and only one running back crossed the goal line.

Many expect some degree of regression this year. San Francisco’s 2012 schedule is loaded with powerful offenses. Also, the injury gods were awful kind to the Niners last year. Patrick Willis missed some time, but Larry Grant and Navorro Bowman did an admirable job in his absence. The 2012 preseason hasn't eased worries of the defense taking a step back, but preseason performances aren't the best indicator of regular season success.

These guys are still a safe bet in 2012. Yards and points allowed may slightly increase, but they will still finish in the top 5 total defenses in the league. Such stellar turnover production is hard to duplicate, but I expect the sack totals to increase. You can also count on Ted Ginn for a few return touchdowns here and there.

Individual Defensive Players IDP

I’m a huge fan of IDP fantasy leagues. Team defenses are easier, but I don’t mind the extra challenge. Thankfully, the Niners have several players who are worthy options.

Patrick Willis’ tackle total has decreased as the defense around him has improved. 2011 was the first year he finished with less than 100 tackles. If you add the four games he missed he may have hit the century mark in tackles for a fifth consecutive year. Currently, there are a few other linebackers who I would take before him (Curtis Lofton, D’Qwell Jackson, James Anderson etc.), but Willis is still one of the top options at linebacker.

Navorro Bowman quietly became one of the best IDP options last year. I'm higher on Bowman than most. He saved my defense last season after early injuries took their toll. The competition between Bowman and Willis to lead the team in tackles should be interesting and fruitful for fantasy purposes. His talents are no longer a secret, so you may have to reach up a round to grab him.

Aldon Smith finished tied for 5th in the league in sacks last season and will be on the field more this year. He won’t generate a ton of tackles, but if your league heavily awards sacks he is one to keep in each week. The 6 games against St. Louis, Seattle and Arizona (3 of the top 4 teams who allowed the most sacks in 2011) only improve his stock.

The Niner defensive backs are a strong group, but I wouldn’t recommend any for IDP purposes. Carlos Rogers and Dashon Goldson both registered career highs in interceptions last year, but turnovers are too tricky to predict.

David Akers

Kickers aren’t often considered fantasy heros. There will be weeks where they score in the double digits or connect on a 50+ yard field goal, but they are generally an afterthought. Akers was a top 3 kicker last year and if you started him you probably picked him up off of waivers.

Hopefully, the Niners won’t have to lean on him so heavily this year. If the third down conversation and red zone touchdown rates go up there will be less opportunities for the Golden Oldie. He will still be one of the better kickers in the league so feel free to add him to your team in the final rounds of the draft.

Other Kickers I like

Rob Bironas

Stephen Gostkowski

Sebastian Janikowski

Jason Hanson

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