Usually passed over until the final rounds of the draft, team defenses are usually an afterthought for fantasy owners. A good team defense can be the difference between taking home the victory and wallowing all week over your loss. Where do the St. Louis Rams rank for 2013?
Head coach Jeff Fisher is about as respected as they come in the NFL, and after interviewing several big-name candidates, he hired Tim Walton as the defensive coordinator this season. While this will be Walton’s first DC job, he has nearly 20 years coaching experience, including four years in the NFL. He worked his way up with the Detroit Lions from secondary coach, and was successful enough to earn third-down responsibilities in 2011.
He improved the offense to eighth in the league on third-down conversion rates (42.5 percent) up from 24th (35.9 percent) when he took over in 2010. While Detroit’s secondary units have been average at best, Walton was able to do well with questionable talent. He should be able to progress with a more talented defensive unit in 2013.
Chris Long is coming off an 11.5-sack season, and has now posted double-digit sacks in back-to-back seasons. Robert Quinn doubled his sack total from 2012 and had 10.5 sacks last season. Going into his third season, Quinn has sleeper potential as an LB2 for you IDP’ers out there. Both Long and Quinn won’t record a ton of tackles, but the sacks will come.
The Rams have one of the best linebackers in the game in James Laurinaitis, who is coming off a career-best 142 tackles, four passes defended and two interceptions. Laurinaitis is a tackle machine, and ranks with Chad Greenway (IDP Profile here), Luke Kuechly and Navorro Bowman in terms of both value and production.
Playing alongside Laurinaitis is 2013 first-round pick Alec Ogletree, who is already being compared to Tennessee Titans All-Pro Keith Bulluck by Fisher. While rookie Tavon Austin is getting all the hype from the draft, Ogletree could end up being a better pick at the end of their careers. Ogletree is strong and fast enough to cover any tight end in the league.
The addition of Jo-Lonn Dunbar brings another solid linebacker who has increased his tackle production each season.
On the secondary, Janoris Jenkins is emerging as a true shutdown corner with 73 tackles, 14 passes defended, four interceptions and three touchdowns in his rookie season. Jenkins will benefit from playing alongside Cortland Finnegan, who is coming off a 101-tackle season and is certainly able to defend around 10 passes and grab 2-5 interceptions each season.
Finnegan is a very reliable defensive back, and was a top-five point-getter in some IDP leagues last season.
Chris Givens at kick returner has to be exciting for Rams fans. Givens has breakaway speed, racking up 539 yards on kick returns last season as a rookie. He has the potential to crack the top 10 in yards per kick return this season. Givens is a great add for any team or league, as he collected 1,249 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns, and will benefit at wide receiver from the attention likely directed at Austin.
Overall, this is a unit that is capable of stopping the opposition, evidenced by their eighth-place finish in scoring against last season. The schedule is evenly split this season between teams that can light it up and teams that struggle to put points on the board.
I think they are still a few years away from really reaching their potential with this young group, and may be best suited for matchup play this season in fantasy. I currently have the Rams D/ST as a top-10 team with potential to finish in the 6-10 range.