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Team D/ST Fantasy Rankings for 2021

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Choosing a fantasy team D/ST is not always the most exciting pick in your draft. However, if you hit, team D/ST can provide incredible returns. Here’s my 2021 team D/ST tiered rankings!


I prefer using tiers rather than numerical rankings, especially for team D/ST. I’ve marked my personal favorites/sleepers for 2021 with a (*) after the team name. Sacking and pressuring the quarterback usually correlates to top fantasy finishes for team D/ST.

It’s one of the few advantages defenses have left to combat the ever-changing and evolving NFL league rules that continue to favor and protect the offense. You’ll notice most of my top-tier ranked teams have strong pass-rushing units. Referenced stats/rankings courtesy of FantasyPros. Happy drafting!

Elite Team D/ST Tier

This tier is your locks to finish top-ten for fantasy team D/STs. Don’t overthink them. If you are a manager who likes to spend an earlier pick on team D/ST, these are your studs.

Los Angeles Rams

The Los Angeles Rams have consistently appeared as top-ten team D/ST finishers for the past few years. They are a wise investment, but often one of the first team D/STs drafted. Aaron Donald single-handily sets up the rest of the defense for success, wreaking havoc on the defensive line. He led the Rams to finish second in team sacks last year.

The disruption he provides to opposing offenses and quarterbacks allows plenty of opportunistic play from his counterparts in the secondary and linebacker corps.

The Rams lost a key player to the Cleveland Browns in safety John Johnson. However, last year’s free-agent signing, Leonard Floyd, proved he can actually get to the quarterback. They could provide sneaky upside in the special teams/return game also. Rookie Tutu Atwell and free-agent signing Desean Jackson are both speedsters who could chip in on punt/kick return duties.

Despite the seeming lack of star power behind Aaron Donald, the Los Angeles Rams’ team D/ST should still be a top fantasy defense.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Even with Devin Bush missing practically all of 2020, the Pittsburgh Steelers team D/ST still finished number one overall. Bush is now healthy, and they have traded for stud linebacker Joe Schobert from the Jacksonville Jaguars, immediately forming one of the best inside LB duos in the league.

Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt captain the defensive line, allowing edge-rushing specialist T.J. Watt to help the Steelers lead the league in sacks. The Steelers have playmakers at all levels of their defense, and they should be a lock to finish top-three in 2021. I’d rank them the #1 team D/ST overall for fantasy in 2021 if I weren’t using tiers.

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Washington Football Team (*)

I starred the Washington Football Team’s D/ST because they were my favorite sleeper last year. They surprised the league and most fantasy drafters alike by finishing number six in 2020. Chase Young immediately made an impact, alongside pass-rushing stud partner Montez Sweat. This defensive line is STACKED with pass rushers.

The Football Team lost superstar safety, Landon Collins, to injury last year. However, Kamren Curl, a rookie seventh-round draft pick, filled in admirably. He now joins forces with a healthy (healthier?) Collins, forming a formidable secondary. Jamin Davis is the rookie first-round linebacker who the Football Team drafted in 2021 to man the middle and quarterback this defense.

I think with an offense projected to improve, the Washington Football Team’s D/ST could finish even better than number six this year.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens are consistently one of those franchises who can identify and draft elite defensive talent at value. Second-year linebacker Patrick Queen mans the middle, and they have a mix of veterans and young, hungry pass rushers. I envision the Ravens defense being amongst the league leaders in the least points allowed, and they still have ball-hawking cornerbacks to provide turnovers and big scoring plays.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs’ defense showed they were elite, as they held the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes to only NINE points scored. Devin White and the entire defense terrorized Mahomes all game. The Bucs also retained practically their entire team and even added yet another elite pass-rushing talent in Joe Tryon from the first round of the 2021 draft.

This defense will be scary and can easily make the case to finish #1 overall in fantasy this year.

Buffalo Bills

Having the Buffalo Bills to round out my “elite” tier fantasy defenses might be surprising to some people. But again, the secret sauce lies in the pass rushers. Similar to Washington, the Bills have a deep stable of young first and second-round talent rotating through their defensive line.

Gregory Rousseau (2021 first-round pick), Carlos Basham Jr. (2021 second-round pick), A.J. Epenesa (2020 second-round pick), and Ed Oliver (2019 first-round pick) all have the potential to be star pass rushers.

The Bills “only” had 38 total sacks last year, good for 15th in the league. I believe they catapult into the top ten, maybe even top five, of total sacks this year. The linebacker corps is just OK, but the Bills’ secondary is stout at both safety and corner, manned by Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde, and Tre’Davious White.

Tier Two

These teams either finished in this same realm last year, and their core players remain intact. Or, they have improved and added players, or have a young core who I expect to take a step up in improvement. It’s the largest tier because they all have cases to easily finish top-ten, with top-six upside.

Miami Dolphins

I really like how the Miami Dolphins are building out their defense. It should translate to fantasy success as well. They added a potential superstar pass rusher, Jaelan Phillips, as one of their first-round picks in the 2021 draft. We know Xavien Howard is a shut-down cornerback who helped Miami to lead the league in interceptions, tied with the Steelers last year. This group’s arrow is pointing up.

Indianapolis Colts

Surprisingly, the Indianapolis Colts finished as the third-best fantasy team D/ST in 2020. I have them in my second tier because that finish was propped up by a league-leading 6 total team D/ST touchdowns and THREE safeties (tied with Seattle). There is obviously still plenty of talent at all levels of the Colts’ defense, and they even were missing a handful of impact players due to injury throughout the season.

Cornerback Kenny Moore has a nose for the ball, helping keep the Colts’ D/ST fantasy relevant in 2021. I believe people will see their high finish from last year, however, and overdraft this unit. Don’t reach for them.

New England Patriots

Bill Belichick-run defenses always have the potential to be a top fantasy unit. We are just two years removed from their insane 2019 season which led many fantasy managers to championships. It is rare that your fantasy D/ST can carry you to a ‘chip! Coach Belichick always gets the best out of his defensive unit, despite the lack of star power names.

The Patriots are all-around solid at all three levels of the defense. They will likely be among the best fantasy D/ST values this year.

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs’ defense makes it to this tier primarily because of their offense. When the offense is as good as the Chiefs, who always score early and often, opposing teams frequently need to play catch up. This means more risky play-calling and more opportunity for the Chiefs’ D/ST to make impact fantasy plays.

We know that the linebackers are the weak point of the Chiefs’ defense, but they are stout in the secondary and have built a formidable defensive line over the past couple of years. L’Jarius Sneed is a young cornerback to watch. He is shaping up to be one of the next big playmaking corners in the league who will keep the Chiefs’ D/ST as a favorite streaming option all year.

San Francisco 49ers

The Niners disappointed fantasy managers in 2020, coming off of a third overall fantasy finish in 2019. They lost Nick Bosa early and things just went south for the entire defense. But now Bosa is healthy, and although I’m tempering expectations a bit placing the San Francisco 49ers’ team D/ST in this second tier, we know what they are capable of and could be an incredible fantasy value this year.

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Carolina Panthers (*)

My first “sleeper” team D/ST for 2021, the Carolina Panthers! They were pitiful in the sack department in 2020, finishing in the bottom ten with only 29 sacks. Brian Burns is going to be a star and should help bolster those numbers this year. My personal favorite IDP player, Jeremy Chinn, is a hybrid safety/linebacker who I believe will anchor this defense with fantasy-relevant plays all year long.

You should absolutely be able to grab the Panthers in the last round, as they have a favorable week 1 matchup against rookie quarterback Zach Wilson and the New York Jets.

Denver Broncos (*)

The Denver Broncos are another sleeper team D/ST I will be targeting this year. They are chock full of lesser-known names who are incredibly talented. Justin Simmons is a top safety in the league and provides a solid floor for this team’s fantasy potential. Bradley Chubb and Von Miller project to return in 2021 healthy, after both missing significant time in 2020, hence the Broncos’ disappointing fantasy finish of 22nd last year.

Like the Panthers, the Denver Broncos’ team D/ST should be free and easy to grab in the very last round of your drafts.

Arizona Cardinals

I have placed the Arizona Cardinals’ team D/ST in this tier under the same mindset as the Chiefs. The Cardinals’ offense projects to be among the highest-scoring in the league, and their pace of play is FAST. This should leave opponents playing catch up, allowing the Cardinals’ defense to be a strong fantasy asset this year.

The Cardinals signed J.J. Watt in free agency to form a feared duo with a returning, healthy Chandler Jones. Budda Baker is a top IDP safety and his skills will translate to the Cardinals’ team D/ST being a top option.

New Orleans Saints

The New Orleans Saints’ team D/ST finished seventh overall last year. They were propped up by holding opposing offenses to only 337 points scored. Good for fifth overall in 2020. The Saints were also strong in the sack department, finishing eighth with 45 last year. Led by veteran stud, Cameron Jordan, and breakout player, Trey Hendrickson.

Hendrickson found greener pastures with the Cincinnati Bengals in free agency, so there will be a hole to fill. There are question marks surrounding the new-look Saints’ offense with the retirement of Drew Brees. I could see this having an effect on the Saints team D/ST fantasy outlook. They just barely made it into this tier two. I probably won’t be rostering them much in 2021.

Tier Three

This tier I project to regress from their performance in 2020. This tier is also comprised of some teams with weak offenses — meaning the team D/ST will be on the field a lot, but they don’t quite have the individual talent to deliver big play returns or keep opposing offenses from running up the score. This is also a larger tier. Luck will decide who hits from these team D/STs.

Tennessee Titans

The Tennessee Titans are not one of those teams with a bad offense. In fact, quite the contrary. But their defense gives up a lot of points and doesn’t sack the quarterback. They are going to be one of those week-to-week boom/bust fantasy defenses, and you’ll likely never guess correctly when to start them.

Jayon Brown returning healthy to lead the linebackers provides optimism. The Titans also signed pass-rushing specialist Bud Dupree away from the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Cleveland Browns

I’ve seen the Cleveland Browns being touted as a sleeper team D/ST for this year. I liked them as a sleeper in 2020, where they finished 17th. Myles Garrett is a monster on the defensive line, but the Browns lack playmakers anywhere else. The addition of John Johnson signed away from the Los Angeles Rams will help from an NFL standpoint.

For fantasy purposes, I don’t believe this unit will make a significant jump from their 2020 finish.

New York Jets

Normally, the New York Jets’ team D/ST is sitting in the basement tier, going undrafted and not rostered for the past few years. However, Adam Gase is FINALLY gone, and the Jets hired the defensive-minded Robert Saleh away from the San Francisco 49ers.

Linebacker C.J. Mosley will return from opting out of 2020 and this unit has sleeper potential written all over them. If they hadn’t just lost pass rusher Carl Lawson for the season, they’d be moved up one tier and marked with a sleeper (*) designation.

New York Giants (*)

The New York Giants have a ton of talent across all levels of their defense. Leonard Williams finally came into his own as the pass rusher he was drafted to be in the first round. Jabrill Peppers and Blake Martinez proved to be slam-dunk free agent signings, and are IDP favorites at safety and linebacker.

The only reason I have the Giants’ team D/ST in this third tier is that putrid offense. If Daniel Jones can figure it out, and the Giants stay healthy on both sides of the ball, this fantasy defensive unit could provide some serious ROI (return on investment).

Seattle Seahawks

Long gone are the days of the Legion of Boom and the Seattle Seahawks’ team D/ST being a lock to finish in the top-five year in and year out. They still have good players, but they are aging. Bobby Wagner and Carlos Dunlap still have juice, I just don’t know how effective they will be at propelling the Seahawks into being a reliable fantasy defense.

Jamal Adams remains a weekly home-run candidate and will be the pillar of this team’s unit.

Green Bay Packers

I very much might have the Green Bay Packers’ team D/ST too low here. They are a youthful unit, but that may also lead to inconsistency. Obviously, an Aaron Rodgers-led offense opens up for the Packers’ defense to have opportunities for impact plays. Chalk this up to more of a gut feeling that this unit will be just OK for fantasy purposes in 2021.

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Dallas Cowboys

Every year, on paper, the Dallas Cowboys have an impressive roster on both sides of the ball. That remains true for 2021. I really liked the draft pick of Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons in the first round. Both Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith have holes in their game. Parsons and cornerback Trevon Diggs are the playmakers on this defense.

The signing of safety/linebacker Keanu Neal from the Atlanta Falcons should prove to be a smart move. If the offense comes back healthy, this is another fantasy defensive unit that might deserve a bump up to tier-two.

Minnesota Vikings

Losing stud pass rusher Danielle Hunter in 2020 was a huge blow to the Vikings’ team D/ST unit. They gave up the fourth-most points in the league, finishing as the 27th overall fantasy defense. I do think that was a bit of an anomaly and predict a slight bounce back for the Vikings to finish closer to the middle of the pack in 2021. However, they remain an unexciting team for fantasy.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Similar to the New York Jets, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ team D/ST is often an afterthought to fantasy managers. However, they return pass rusher, Josh Allen, from injury and improved their secondary with free-agent signing Rayshawn Jenkins from the Los Angeles Chargers. I’m bumping this defense up into tier three due to the perceived improvement on offense and a healthy, improved defensive roster.

The Jags will be a matchup-dependent streaming option in 2021.

Atlanta Falcons

The Atlanta Falcons are stupendously average at all levels of their defense. They teetered on the edge of this tier and the bottom. Deion Jones is one of their few playmakers. He and fellow linebacker, Foyesade Oluokun who broke out in 2020, won’t be enough to make this unit a relevant or reliable fantasy defense. Maybe they get hot and are streamable with some good matchups, but they shouldn’t be drafted.

Los Angeles Chargers

Having the Los Angeles Chargers in this lower tier might surprise some. The offense is explosive and young, accompanied by talented names across the defense. Joey Bosa and Derwin James continue to fight injuries seemingly every year. They’ll have to prove they can stay healthy in order for the Chargers’ team D/ST to be worthy of rostering or streaming.

Las Vegas Raiders

I secretly like the Las Vegas Raiders’ team D/ST unit this year to exceed presumably low expectations. They finished 30th in fantasy defense last year. They can only go up! Right? Maxx Crosby is sober and healthy and should provide a much-needed spark to the defensive line. I think you’ll find the Raiders streamable this year with the right matchup.

Tier Four (STAY AWAY!!!)

Detroit Lions

Not much to dive into for the Detroit Lions’ team D/ST unit. They finished dead last in fantasy last year and didn’t get a whole lot better through the draft or free-agent signings. No thanks.

Chicago Bears

The Chicago Bears’ team D/ST should probably be in tier three, but this is another gut feeling that this unit will disappoint. Sure, they’ll probably finish middle of the pack, but there are so many other more attractive options that I sunk them here in the bottom tier.

They are an older unit (I think Khalil Mack is washed) and, despite being an elite IDP asset, Roquan Smith won’t single handily be able to make this unit worth starting or rostering.

Philadelphia Eagles

This hurts to put my Birds down in the dumpster tier, but they are simply not talented enough. There are major questions as to the effectiveness of a new offense led by Jalen Hurts. The Philadelphia Eagles have a few attractive IDP targets, but the unit as a whole is going to give up a ton of points and will be a frustrating fantasy defense to own in 2021. Save yourself the headache.

Houston Texans

The worst-run franchise in the NFL shockingly has a horrible fantasy team D/ST. The Houston Texans let J.J. Watt go in free agency, which won’t help this unit get any better in the sack department. With serious questions still surrounding Deshaun Watson and the offense, the Houston Texans’ team D/ST is an easy fade.

Cincinnati Bengals (*)

I flip-flopped on putting the Bengals here in the basement versus in tier three. Weirdly enough, I’ll give them the sleeper/favorite tag despite landing here at the bottom. They do have talent scattered across the defense. Jessie Bates is a top-tier IDP safety. Trey Hendrickson joins Sam Hubbard on the defensive line to get to the quarterback.

Youth is ultimately what hurts this unit, as cohesion seems to still be lacking. That and one of the worst linebacker corps in the league. However, the “Bungals” might surprise the league this year. Or, more likely, they’ll just continue to be the same old Bungals.


Follow me on Twitter at @DYNASTYSANTA for lots of spicy fantasy football takes (and taeks). Follow the @IDPGUYS main account for the best articles and fun IDP + offensive fantasy football banter, and check out our rookie draft magazines for that nostalgic aroma of using a book to help win your drafts!

Steve Tomasin

After being introduced to fantasy football in 1999 as a wee lad still in middle school, I was hooked. I then began commishing my own keeper league 2 years later as a sophomore in high school, which has been running since. I used a computer program that required me to manually input weekly stats and had to print out summary packets each week to deliver to league owners at the bowling alley. I loved it. Stats and numbers and the competitiveness of being "right" about players was just an incredible high that not many other activities or hobbies have ever provided me. Around 2005 we migrated to the CBS sports site. I found a new love then, writing about our league. Each year after the draft I would "grade" each owner's team. It became almost as anticipated as the draft itself. Also, most weeks I'd recap the league's games and criticize start/sits while boasting my own accolades as long as I won that week. Dynasty, IDP & Superflex are the next evolutions in my fantasy football journey. I'm a Philly suburbs guy, GO BIRDS. Follow me on Twitter @dynastysanta

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