Here are my latest, post-NFL draft defense/special-teams rankings for the upcoming season, based on standard ESPN performance scoring for the 2007 season.
1. Baltimore: Rookie Yamon Figurs can make an instant impact as a return specialist, and the team should survive the loss of linebacker Adalius Thomas. Defensive end Haloti Ngata will continue to improve, further strengthening the team up front, and the secondary will remain solid overall.
2. Chicago: The Lance Briggs situation is still not resolved, and there are issues on the defensive line as well. Trade rumors have surrounded defensive end Alex Brown and defensive tackle Tank Johnson is facing disciplinary action. The unit, overall, still has a lot of playmakers, though, and of course, Devin Hester as a returner.
3. New England: Rookie free safety Brandon Meriweather will contribute in the secondary right away, easing some concerns. The addition of Adalius Thomas certainly helps, and this unit will remain resilient and opportunistic.
4. San Diego: Outside linebacker Shawne Merriman and nose tackle Jamal Williams will continue to keep this unit among the best in fantasy football. Rookie Eric Weddle fills a need at strong safety, but there are some questions to be addressed at the inside linebacker spots.
5. Miami: If the Dolphins acquire Trent Green, this unit will spend less time on the field and play up to its overall potential. Joey Porter adds an edge rushing presence and more fire emotionally. If Ted Ginn Jr. is healthy, he will be another upgrade on special teams as an explosive returner.
6. Jacksonville: Rookie safety Reggie Nelson is a playmaker who could help this unit force more turnovers in 2007. Defensive tackles Marcus Stroud and John Henderson anchor one of the most underrated units on this list.
7. Denver: The Broncos are sturdy at linebacker and added a great influx of youth on the defensive line in the draft. The outstanding cornerback combination of Champ Bailey and Dre' Bly makes the pass defense look very formidable overall.
8, Carolina: Defensive end Julius Peppers keys a strong defensive line, and the secondary is quite solid overall. Rookie Ryne Robinson can certainly upgrade the return game.
9. Dallas: Rookie outside linebacker Anthony Spencer will combine with DeMarcus Ware to generate much heat on opposing quarterbacks. The unit now has a fine mix of veterans and young stars on the rise.
10. Minnesota: Defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams anchor the defensive line well, and the secondary can certainly make plays. The offense, however, could force them to spend too much time on the field in 2007.
11. Philadelphia: The secondary will continue to make plays, especially against the young quarterbacks in the NFC East. There have been notable improvements up front, especially the addition of outside linebacker Takeo Spikes.
12. Pittsburgh: Rookie linebackers Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley will certainly help the Steelers generate more pass pressure this season. There are still concerns about the depth in the secondary.
13. Buffalo: There's some fine young talent in the secondary, although a key injury or two could really bring this unit down. Roscoe Parrish certainly adds another key dimension in the return game.
14. Seattle: The linebacking crew is very good, and a healthy Patrick Kerney further stabilizes the defensive line. The secondary will continue to be inconsistent, though.
15. N.Y. Jets: There are some fine young talents here, such as Jonathan Vilma and Bryan Thomas, but cornerback Darrelle Revis and inside linebacker Dave Harris may be needed to start as rookies, indicating this unit still has a ways to go before it can be started regularly.
16. Green Bay: Rookie defensive tackle Justin Harrell won't be able to fix the run defense by himself right away, but the front seven is getting better and this unit is improving overall.
17. Oakland: This unit could be one of the best if the offense didn't make it spend so much time on the field. You should see signs of hope in 2007.
18. N.Y. Giants: The defensive ends can certainly spur a furious pass rush at times, and there is now hope that the secondary will improve, as rookie cornerback Aaron Ross can at least help in nickel packages right away.
19. Cincinnati: They will continue to surrender some big plays, but the guys in the secondary will also gamble and win quite often when tested.
20. Kansas City: The return game isn't what it used to be, but there are some good young players here who will soon provide the foundation of a quality fantasy unit down the line.
21. Tampa Bay
24. New Orleans
26. St. Louis
28. San Francisco