Drafting a top defense/special teams unit shouldn't be a priority. Usually, it's wise to wait until the final two rounds to shift your focus to a D/ST.
That said, a consistent D/ST can be the difference between a win and a loss on a week-to-week basis. If you don't have one of the top options, you may want to stream D/ST units on the waiver wire and play the best matchups. This is a common strategy for fantasy football, and arguably better than reaching for one of the top D/ST a few rounds earlier than you probably should.
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If you'd rather have a "set it and forget it" D/ST than spend your valuable time scouring the waiver wire each week, we won't hold it against you. Here are the top 15 D/ST to select in fantasy football drafts for 2023.
1. San Francisco 49ers (Bye Week: 9)
The Niners' fearsome defense only improved this offseason with the addition of star defensive tackle Javon Hargrave. Plus, Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead should be healthy after playing banged up for most of 2022. San Francisco should be the first defense off the board in drafts this year.
2. Dallas Cowboys (Bye Week: 7)
Dallas is one of the safer D/ST picks after finishing as the No. 2 ranked unit in 2022. Micah Parsons racks up the sacks, and Trevon Diggs and Stephon Gilmore can earn plenty of fantasy points with their interceptions. Dan Quinn's group should make fantasy managers happy again in 2023.
3. Buffalo Bills (Bye Week: 13)
The Bills finished fifth among fantasy football D/ST units last year and are set up for another strong season. Their outlook only improves if Von Miller returns early in the season from his ACL tear, and he expects to be back on the field in Week 1.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (Bye Week: 10)
Despite losing Hargrave and several other key players in free agency, Philly still boasts one of the better defenses in the league. It's anchored by a solid secondary with Darius Slay and James Bradberry returning as the starting cornerbacks. This should be a strong group again in 2023, just don't expect the same dominance we saw last season.
5. New England Patriots (Bye Week: 11)
The Patriots finished as the No. 1 fantasy football defense in 2022. It could be even better in 2023 with promising rookie Christian Gonzalez in the fold and Jack Jones set to take a step forward in Year 2. Matt Judon makes this D/ST an automatic start each week by racking up the sacks.
6. New York Jets (Bye Week: 7)
D.J. Reed and Sauce Gardner will make Jets D/ST fantasy managers happy again this season. Plus, now that Aaron Rodgers is under center, the Jets defense shouldn't be in a position to give up as many points this time around. It wouldn't be a shock if the Jets D/ST finished as a top-three unit.
7. Baltimore Ravens (Bye Week: 13)
Baltimore's Week 1 matchup gives it a boost in these rankings as it will take on the lowly Houston Texans. The Ravens aren't expected to have one of the elite NFL defenses throughout 2023, but fantasy managers interested in streaming D/ST this season should have Baltimore circled on their draft board.
8. Denver Broncos (Bye Week: 9)
The Broncos had a great defense in 2022, but the unit's fantasy value plummeted due to the team's offensive woes. If Denver takes a step forward this season, its D/ST should follow suit.
9. Miami Dolphins (Bye Week: 10)
Miami added All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey to an already-loaded talented defense in 2023. This wasn't a strong fantasy D/ST last season, but there are enough impact players on that side of the ball to warrant a selection in drafts this year.
10. Cincinnati Bengals (Bye Week: 7)
Even after losing Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell, the Bengals should still be one of the more consistent D/ST in fantasy football this season. Trey Hendrickson is a one-man wrecking crew on the edge and will help fantasy managers out with a bunch of sacks.
11. New Orleans Saints (Bye Week: 11)
The Saints have one of the league's easiest schedules through the first six weeks of the season. You won't wow anyone in your draft by picking New Orleans as your D/ST, but it could prove to be a savvy selection.
12. Kansas City Chiefs (Bye Week: 10)
One of the keys to a great fantasy football defense is an elite offense, and no offense is better than Kansas City's. This unit finished eighth in fantasy points last year and is capable of back-to-back top-10 seasons.
13. Pittsburgh Steelers (Bye Week: 6)
The Steelers D/ST struggled last year, but that was largely due to T.J. Watt missing time due to injury. With the former Defensive Player of the Year back and healthy, this unit is poised for a bounce-back fantasy campaign.
14. Washington Commanders (Bye Week: 14)
The Commanders should rack up points with their strong pass rush and improved secondary. The problem is the lackluster offense, which likely will leave the defense on the field more than fantasy managers would like.
15. Cleveland Browns (Bye Week: 5)
Two words: Myles. Garrett. As long as he's on the edge, you can do much worse than the Browns D/ST.