The defense vs. position rankings are here to give you a look into the top defenses in the league against each position last season, while also providing a look ahead at what to expect this year.
Be sure to check out the other parts in this series:
Defense vs. Position Rankings: 32 – 21
32. Oakland Raiders
The Raiders spent a lot of money to upgrade their defensive line last offseason but it didn’t pay off. Oakland allowed 107 rushing yards per game and 15 touchdowns in 2014. The Raiders’ linebackers and safeties were also to blame. Oakland gave up 4.9 receptions per game to running backs and seven receiving touchdowns, which ranked second worst in the NFL. New head coach Jack Del Rio wants his defense to be more athletic and it will need to be to cover the running backs on Oakland’s schedule. The Raiders will face Jeremy Hill, Matt Forte, C.J. Anderson, Le’Veon Bell, Adrian Peterson, Eddie Lacy and Jamaal Charles this season.
31. Tennessee Titans
The Titans’ defense got run over in 2014. Tennessee allowed an NFL worst 125 yards per game rushing to opposing running backs. Virtually every team on the Titans’ schedule last year had success running the ball. A lack of depth was a big problem for Tennessee, as its defensive line got worn down often in games. Tennessee did sign Brian Orakpo this offseason but he’s more of a pass rusher. Don’t expect much of a jump this year from the Titans’ defense when it comes to defending running backs, which is good news for daily fantasy players.
30. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons fielded one of the least effective defensive fronts in the NFL last season. Atlanta managed just 23 sacks and surrendered 99 rushing yards per game to running backs. The Falcons also gave up 19 touchdowns to running backs. Atlanta’s starting defensive line of Tyson Jackson, Paul Soliai and Jonathan Babineaux got pushed around all season but they weren’t the only ones to blame. Running backs also caught 5.5 passes per game against the Falcons, so new head coach Dan Quinn needs to upgrade the overall talent level on Atlanta’s defense. The Falcons’ defense will eventually improve under Quinn but daily fantasy players will still be rewarded when their running backs go up against Atlanta in 2015.
29. New Orleans Saints
The Saints’ defense was terrible pretty much everywhere last season and defending running backs was no exception. New Orleans gave up 113 yards and 4.5 receptions per game to opposing running backs in 2014. The Saints’ schedule wasn’t overloaded with stud running backs last year either, so the team really did have issues defending the position. Rob Ryan prides his units on being tough against the run, so the Saints should improve in that area but not to the point where daily fantasy players need to avoid their defense.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars allowed 109 yards rushing per game to running backs last year. What really hurt Jacksonville in terms of fantasy defense, however, was fiving up 6.1 receptions per game to opposing running backs. That was the second highest mark in the league. The Jaguars did face a lot of good pass-catching backs in LeSean McCoy, Le’Veon Bell, DeMarco Murray, Justin Forsett and Arian Foster (twice). The Jaguars see a lot of versatile running backs again this year that can exploit their defense, so daily fantasy players should take full advantage.
27. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals were tough against the pass in 2014 but running backs were able to exploit Cincinnati’s defense. The Bengals allowed 100 yards and 5.8 receptions per game to opposing running backs. The 94 receptions Cincinnati gave up were third most in the league. It’s not surprising the Bengals gave up a lot of receptions to running backs last year when you consider they had to go up against Shane Vereen, Justin Forsett, Arian Foster, Mark Ingram, C.J. Anderson and Le’Veon Bell (twice). Daily fantasy players will want to keep in mind Cincinnati’s defensive struggles to defend running backs in the passing game because the 2015 schedule is even more challenging.
26. New York Giants
The Giants gave up 108 yards per game on the ground and just under five receptions to opposing running backs. New York has been weak at linebacker for the past few seasons and running backs have taken advantage of that weakness, especially in the passing game. The Giants brought back defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo who helped the team win a Super Bowl and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins is an emerging star, so there’s a reason for optimism. However, daily fantasy players can feel comfortable paying for LeSean McCoy, Carlos Hyde, DeMarco Murray, Mark Ingram, Jonathan Stewart and Adrian Peterson when they face the Giants this year.
25. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles’ defense needs to improve in all areas this season and that includes defending opposing running backs better. Philadelphia gave up 92 rushing yards per game last year to running backs, which isn’t awful. One reason for that is because teams were too busy throwing against the Eagles to run the football. Philadelphia’s defense allowed 4.8 receptions per game to running backs and eight receiving touchdowns on the season. The Eagles brought in linebacker Kiko Alonzo to try to get more athletic but this defense still has a long ways to go.
24. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings’ defense made a lot of strides in Mike Zimmer’s first season but one area where it still needs to improve is defending running backs. Minnesota allowed 106 rushing yards per game to running backs but more importantly, the Vikings gave up 5.9 receptions per game. An interesting note is the Bengals (Zimmer’s former team) and Vikings run similar defensive schemes and they allowed virtually the exact same number of receptions per game to opposing running backs (5.8/5.9). Minnesota will need to improve in that area because it has Danny Woodhead, C.J. Anderson, Jamaal Charles, Eddie Lacy, Marshawn Lynch, Matt Forte (twice) and the Lions running backs (twice) on the schedule this season.
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers gave up 101 yards per game to running backs but it was the 5.6 receptions and five receiving touchdowns that really hurt their fantasy value. It’s not surprising that Tampa Bay allowed running backs to have strong receiving numbers. Lovie Smith favors a more conservative Tampa 2 scheme and that tends to encourage more dump-off passes to running backs. The Bucs have a couple of fast linebackers in Lavonte David and Bruce Carter but running backs will continue to rack up fantasy points against their defense because of the scheme they play.
22. Cleveland Browns
The Browns were terrible against the run in 2014, especially as the year went on. Cleveland allowed 119 yards rushing per game to running backs last year, that’s the bad news. The good news is if the Browns can get the yardage total down, their defense against running backs will improve significantly. Cleveland gave up just 10 rushing touchdowns and 3.8 receptions per game last season. The Browns’ main problem was they didn’t have a big run stopper in the middle of their 3-4 defense. The team is hoping they fixed that issue by selecting nose tackle Danny Shelton in Round 1 of the draft. If Shelton can plug up the middle of Cleveland’s defense, the Browns should be much tougher on running backs this year because they don’t allow many receptions.
21. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts allowed 97 yards rushing and 4.7 receptions per game to opposing running backs last year. Neither of those numbers is particularly great, which is why Indianapolis ranks in this spot. The Colts would likely rank even lower if they hadn’t played an easy schedule. Some teams had to abandon the run in games because they got behind early and were forced to throw. Look for more teams to try to run the ball against the Colts this year to attempt to keep their explosive offense off the field. However, teams will need to stay in the game to employ that strategy.
Defense vs. Position Rankings: 20 – 11
20. Chicago Bears
The Bears allowed 96 rushing yards per game to running backs but daily fantasy players were rewarded because Chicago’s defense also allowed backs to catch 88 passes for 740 yards last season. That comes out to 5.6 receptions per game. Lance Briggs has missed 15 games over the last two years and is no longer with the team. Chicago is trying to get younger and faster on defense to fix a unit that has been declining for the past two seasons. John Fox will need to turn it around fast because the Bears will face Marshawn Lynch, Jamaal Charles, C.J. Anderson, Eddie Lacy (twice) and Adrian Peterson (twice) in 2015.
19. Miami Dolphins
Miami’s defense had talent on its defensive front last season with Cameron Wake and Randy Starks but Starks left this offseason to sign with the Browns. With all due respect to Starks, the Dolphins believe they upgraded their defensive line by signing Ndamukong Suh. Suh’s presence in the middle should help Miami improve on a rush defense that allowed 96 yards per game to running backs in 2014. Miami’s rush defense should be better, considering Suh helped Detroit limit offenses to just 61 rushing yards per game. However, Miami also gave up close to five receptions per outing to running backs, so it’s not time for fantasy players to completely avoid them just yet.
18. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys were better than expected against the run in 2014, allowing 94.5 yards per game to running backs. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli used a rotation along the defensive front to keep guys fresh but tackle Tyrone Crawford and end Demarcus Lawrence are two emerging players. Marinelli’s scheme preaches not giving up the big play, so it’s not surprising Dallas gave up close to five receptions per game to opposing running backs last season. Daily fantasy players should expect similar production from running backs facing Dallas in 2015.
17. New England Patriots
The Patriots allowed 91 yards per game and just six rushing touchdowns to running backs in 2014. However, where running backs did the most damage against New England’s defense was in the passing game. The Patriots allowed 5.4 receptions per game and six receiving touchdowns last season. One reason New England gave up so many receptions to running backs is that the Patriots held big leads in a number of games; teams were playing from behind and throwing a lot. Another reason is the Patriots had one of the top secondaries in the NFL, so quarterbacks would often check down to their running back. New England’s secondary won’t be nearly as strong this season but LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore, C.J. Anderson, DeMarco Murray and Arian Foster should still see plenty of opportunities.
16. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers’ rush defense got off to a slow start last year but improved as the season went on. The Steelers and Ravens ripped Carolina’s rush defense for 391 yards in back-to-back weeks in September. The Panthers ended up allowing 97 yards rushing and 5.3 receptions per game to running backs in 2014. The 5.3 receptions are kind of surprising given Carolina’s speed on defense, especially at linebacker. Although, the Panthers did have one of the tougher running back schedules last year having to face Le’Veon Bell, Justin Forsett, Eddie Lacy, Marshawn Lynch, Matt Forte, LeSean McCoy, Joique Bell and Mark Ingram. The Panthers’ numbers versus running backs should improve this season.
15. Green Bay Packers
The Packers’ defense only allowed eight rushing touchdowns last season but the 97.5 yards per game they gave up to opposing running backs puts Green Bay in the middle of the rankings. The Packers faced some of the top rushing offenses in the Jets, Seahawks, Panthers, Eagles and Bills, so it’s impressive that Green Bay only allowed eight touchdowns on the year. Like most explosive offenses, the Packers have games where they get up early and their opponent is forced to abandon the run. Green Bay faces one of the toughest running back schedules in 2015. The Packers will see Marshawn Lynch, Jamaal Charles, C. J. Anderson, Carlos Hyde, Melvin Gordon, Jonathan Stewart, Andre Ellington, Matt Forte (twice) and Adrian Peterson (twice).
14. Houston Texans
When a defense has J.J. Watt it’s tough to do pretty much anything against them. Houston allowed just six rushing touchdowns in 2014, although the Texans did give up 93 yards and 4.8 receptions per game to opposing running backs. The 4.8 receptions really aren’t surprising for a team that had 38 sacks. Quarterbacks constantly under pressure are going to look to dump the ball off to their safety valve. If Houston gets a healthy Jadeveon Clowney back in the mix, it will be even tougher to run on this season. Daily fantasy players may want to look elsewhere for better value if the price on running backs gets too high versus the Texans’ defense.
13. San Diego Chargers
The Chargers’ defense gave up just six rushing touchdowns in 2014, despite facing the Seahawks, Jets, Bills, Ravens, 49ers, Patriots, Chiefs (twice) and Broncos (twice). San Diego did allow 94 rushing yards and 5.1 receptions per game to go along with five receiving touchdowns, so fantasy players still got points elsewhere. However, defenses like the Chargers that limit rushing touchdowns, especially in the red zone, can be the difference between a good fantasy week and a big one. It’s something daily players need to pay more attention to than traditional owners.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers’ defense isn’t as feared as it once was but Pittsburgh is still stout versus the run, allowing 84 yards per game last year and eight rushing touchdowns. Where the Steelers need to improve is limiting running backs in the passing game. Pittsburgh allowed 5.4 receptions per game to opposing running backs in 2014. The Steelers are traditionally stingy against the run, so fantasy players will continue to have to rely on receptions to bolster their running back’s point totals when facing Pittsburgh’s defense.
11. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have the most uneven stat line when it comes to any defense defending running backs. Kansas City allowed 115 rushing yards per game to running backs, which ranked third worst in the NFL. However, they’re just outside the Top 10 as a fantasy defense versus running backs because Kansas City allowed an NFL-low four rushing touchdowns and a league-best 3.5 receptions per game to opposing running backs. The Chiefs have one of the NFL’s most talented and athletic front sevens led by nose tackle Dontari Poe, outside linebacker Justin Houston, outside linebacker Tamba Hali and inside linebacker Derick Johnson, so look for Kansas City to once again be tough on running backs this season.
Defense vs. Position Rankings: 10 – 1
10. New York Jets
Rex Ryan always has a formidable rush defense and 2014 was no different. The Jets allowed just 82 yards per game on the ground. New York adds first-round pick Leonard Williams to arguably the best defensive line in the NFL. The unit will be without Sheldon Richardson for the first four games because of a suspension. The Jets will face Frank Gore, DeMarco Murray and Lamar Miller during Richardson’s suspension. The Jets are loaded on the defensive line and Todd Bowles’ defenses in Arizona were always tough on running backs. The Jets are a defense daily fantasy players will have to avoid if the price to own a running back against them is too high.
9. Denver Broncos
The Broncos’ defense ranked second in the NFL last season in allowing 65.1 rushing yards per game to running backs. A big reason for Denver’s success against the run was defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. Another reason was because Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ offense built so many big second half leads, opposing teams had to throw the ball to try to keep up. Teams only ran the ball an NFL-low 293 times against Denver. That also explains why the Broncos allowed an NFL-high 6.2 receptions per game to running backs. Knighton is now is Washington and Denver will face Justin Forsett, Adrian Peterson, Eddie Lacy, Frank Gore, Matt Forte, Le’Veon Bell, Jeremy Hill and Jamaal Charles (twice) this season, so look for the Broncos to be a bit more fantasy friendly to running backs in 2015.
8. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers allowed 90 yards rushing and 4.4 receptions per game to opposing running backs in 2014. They were led by one of the most talented group of linebackers in the NFL. However, if any defense is projected to take a step back this season, it’s San Francisco. Defensive end Justin Smith and linebackers Patrick Willis and Chris Borland retired, leaving the 49ers without three starters in their front seven. San Francisco will still have a good defense but fantasy players shouldn’t shy away from the 49ers when they face premier runners like Adrian Peterson, Eddie Lacy, Matt Forte and Jeremy Hill.
7. St. Louis Rams
The Rams field one of the best front sevens in the NFL led by their defensive front of Michael Brockers, Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn and Chris Long. That unit held running backs to just 88.6 yards per game and eight touchdowns in 2014. Daily fantasy players will have to keep in mind the Rams rush defense will likely be even better this season. The addition of defensive tackle Nick Fairly gives St Louis’ defensive front more versatility and allows the group to stay fresh throughout games. The Rams face Eddie Lacy, Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, Justin Forsett, Jeremy Hill and Marshawn Lynch (twice) this season. However, daily fantasy players will have to decide if they want to pay or pass on top running backs going up against a unit that has emerged as one of the NFL’s best defenses, and is only getting better.
6. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals only allowed 83 rushing yards and 4.3 receptions per game last season. That really says a lot about Arizona’s defense because the team overcame a number of injuries and a completely inept offense to still rank this high. After Carson Palmer was lost for the season in Week 10, the Cardinals’ offense struggled mightily, forcing Arizona’s already thin defense to spend too much time on the field. Todd Bowles did an excellent job as coordinator, which is why he’s now the head coach of the New York Jets. Arizona still has a lot of talent on defense led by end Calais Campbell, so they should once again be tough on running backs, even without Bowles calling the shots.
5. Buffalo Bills
The Bills’ defensive front of Manny Larson, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Mario Williams held opposing running backs to 86 rushing yards per game and eight touchdowns last season. Buffalo was one of the better defenses at limiting running backs in the passing game as well, holding them to 4.4 receptions per game. The Bills are a strong contender to lead this category in 2015. They possess one of the most talented defenses in the league and now Rex Ryan takes over as head coach. That’s a scary combination. Daily fantasy players will have to think twice before inserting Frank Gore, Jeremy Hill, Jamaal Charles, Arian Foster or DeMarco Murray against Buffalo’s defense.
4. Washington Redskins
The Redskins’ defense was absolutely miserable versus quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends last season but one area it did well in was against running backs. Washington gave up just 87.8 yards per game rushing and 4.2 receptions in 2014. It’s pretty impressive Washington finished ranked so high considering the Redskins’ defense did face Arin Foster, Marshawn Lynch, LeSean McCoy (twice) and DeMarco Murray (twice). Teams did throw a lot on Washington but they also ran the ball 354 times and only averaged 3.9 yards per rush, so the Redskins’ defensive front did its job. Washington will likely be stout versus the run again in 2015 with the addition of tackle Terrance Knighton, so it’s something for daily fantasy players to think about when selecting lineups.
3. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks were almost as tough versus running backs as they were against quarterbacks and receivers. Seattle allowed just 70.8 yards per game rushing and eight touchdowns to running backs in 2014. If Seattle’s defense had one weakness if was guarding running backs out of the backfield. The Seahawks gave up 89 receptions for 720 yards, which averaged out to 5.6 receptions and 45 yards per game. It’s not really surprising given the Seahawks feared secondary that teams would try to attack them by using running backs and tight ends. Expect more of the same this season with backs struggling to run the ball on Seattle’s defense but racking up a few receptions per game. The Seahawks won’t be a defense daily fantasy players will want to target often.
2. Detroit Lions
Led by the most dominant defensive tackle in the game, Ndamukong Suh, and Nick Fairley, the Lions shut the door on opposing running backs last year. Detroit allowed an NFL-low 61.1 yards per game and just seven touchdowns to running backs in 2014. The Lions did give up 5.8 receptions and 47.9 receiving yards to running backs but a lot of that was gameplan dictated. It was so difficult for running backs to find room in the middle of the Lions’ defensive front that offensive coordinators tried to get them in space with swing passes. Suh and Fairley are gone. Haloti Ngata was signed to replace them but Detroit’s rushing yards allowed are almost certain to go up in 2015. When you factor in the receiving numbers the Lions’ defense allowed to running backs last season, a decline in this category is to be expected.
1. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens were the toughest fantasy defense versus running backs thanks to a combination of allowing just 71.8 rushing yards, 31.6 receiving yards and fewer than five receptions per game. Baltimore also allowed just five rushing touchdowns on the season. The Ravens’ defense was anchored by Haloti Ngata in the middle of its line, along with linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. Ngata is gone but the team is high on his replacement; Brandon Williams. Baltimore faces C.J. Anderson, Marshawn Lynch, Jamaal Charles, Le’Veon Bell (twice) and Jeremy Hill (twice) but daily fantasy players should expect the Ravens’ defense to still be among the NFL’s best at defending running backs this season.