I never was a Cher fan until she started singing about turning back time. And then I thought about how great it would be if I could do that. I could hang with Marty McFly, Dr. Emmett Brown and Einstein, and wonder where on Earth we could find 1.21 gigawatts! I could hang with Bill and Ted and tell them it would be excellent to bring back Lyle Alzado so he could talk sense into particular baseball players.
But most of all, I could talk myself out of drafting the Ravens' defense in the seventh round of two of my drafts last year. Yeah, smart pick that turned out to be.
The Ravens were widely, if not unanimously, considered the top defense available for fantasy football owners. How can you say no to playmakers like Ray Lewis, Chris McAlister and Ed Reed, the 2004 defensive player of the year? I was sold and even touted this defense in our fantasy football yearbook. Take them early, I said - there's no other sure thing.
Let that be a lesson to you and to me that there are no sure things when it comes to defenses. Take a look at our top five ranked defenses heading into the 2005 season. We had the Ravens, Patriots, Bills, Steelers and Eagles in the top five spots. Four of those defenses largely disappointed. The Colts, meanwhile, were ranked 14th. The Bears were 18th. Who wouldn't have scrubbed 30 toilets for a chance to have them on their team? You could have if you had waited to pick your defense.
Look at the opportunity cost of drafting the Ravens in the seventh round. Guys like Tom Brady, Mike Anderson, Todd Heap and T.J. Houshmandzadeh likely were still available in drafts. All four of those players had excellent seasons, and I passed on them.
Where did it go wrong for the Ravens? Well, Lewis was rendered useless for half the season because of a thigh injury. Reed missed six games because of an ankle injury. Take away those two players, and the Ravens really became also-rans.
It wasn't until late in the season that the Ravens performed anything like they were expected to. And by then, it was too late for most owners who drafted them. However, they might have helped owners scavenging for good matchups in the final weeks. There's a good chance they were available on the wire by that point.
As much as I want to anoint the Bears as the only sure thing in 2006, you can see why I'm reluctant to do it. That's not to say I think they'll be bad. It's just that there are better risks to take early in the draft. Let someone else take the Bears, and take your chances on some of the defenses left in the later rounds. It really could pay off if you play the matchups during the season with defenses from the waiver wire.
So what are some sleeper defenses you'll want to target? Take a look at these four:
Dolphins. The Dolphins have improved their defensive depth with the additions of Kevin Carter, Vonnie Holliday, Sedrick Hodge, Renaldo Hill and Will Allen. Those players will help holdovers Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas and the emerging Channing Crowder get to the quarterback and take the pressure off the team's secondary. And with Nick Saban's coaching, this defense can be molded into a playmaking force.
Redskins. The Redskins were ninth in points allowed last year, but they didn't make enough big plays to be relevant for fantasy owners. The additions of Andre Carter and Adam Archuleta really should help Gregg Williams' defense in that department. Although Carter's numbers the past three years haven't been impressive, remember that he had 12.5 sacks as a rookie in 2002 with the 49ers. Archuleta was known for big plays with St. Louis, and he is very good on blitzes and against the run. Owners could do a lot worse than the Redskins as a starting unit.
Bengals. Cincinnati pretty much was the opposite of the Redskins -- they led the NFL in takeaways with 44, but they were fifth worst in the league in yards allowed. Odell Thurman proved his talent as a rookie, Deltha O'Neal had a league-high 10 interceptions, and Justin Smith pressured the quarterback. Let's not forget about David Pollack, who showed glimpses last year. This unit will continue to improve in 2006 under coach Marvin Lewis.
Cowboys. The Cowboys struggled to make enough big plays last year, and they really struggled to stop the run in the second half of the season. Shoring up the run defense is a must, and the maturation of some of the team's younger players (Marcus Spears, Chris Canty, DeMarcus Ware, Bradie James) should play a big part in that. Pressuring the QB is another must - Dallas had 37 sacks last year, good for 17th in the league. I'll be looking at them late for sure.
I have to admit I am afraid when a fantasy football article starts out with "I never was a Cher fan until..." Additionally, the "don't draft a defense early" is stuff most of us already know. But I do like the defensive picks.