Fantasy Football Basics: How to Draft a Defense
You cannot get through a fantasy preview show, podcast or article without a mocking reference toward the irrelevance of fantasy defenses. Typically, kickers get abused in the same conversation, but this is an article about defenses, so we'll dismiss kickers again. Sorry, Justin Tucker. Much respect.
The optimal strategy is well documented: Wait on defense as long as possible. Never deviate from the plan. Yet in nearly every draft, there will be one owner who pulls the trigger significantly earlier than necessary. Don't be that guy.
If you are that guy, consider this your intervention. Drafting a defense two, three or, dare I say it, four rounds ahead of your league mates gives all of your opponents a distinct advantage in taking more speculative shots at positional players. Some evolve into consistent producers. If it's any consolation, your buddy who took a kicker early messed up even worse.
The variance in average weekly points between the top fantasy defense and the 12th-ranked defense will fluctuate based on scoring rules specific to your league. With standard scoring, the difference is 50 points in an entire season or approximately three points per week.
You may be saying to yourself, "Hey, that's a serious total. Why don't we want to aggressively draft a defense early and get those points?"
The obstacle in staking claim to the surplus of points is a big one. As Dr. Roto pointed out, "the best defenses from one year rarely are the best defenses the following year." Projecting defenses is a difficult task. If you aren't convinced yet, consider that a plethora of defenses are always waiting for you on the waiver wire. It's not unheard of to spend one bidding dollar on an acquisition and come out with the highest scoring defense of the week. Given that assumption, why ever make a pick earlier than need be?
Mind you, the point is not to dismiss the importance of drafting a defense that will help you; it's just less predictable than positional scoring. You want to put effort into researching your options. Here's a list of items to consider for when it comes time to select your defense.
Wait and Keep Waiting
If there's one tip to follow, it's this: Wait on your defense. Remember, this is your intervention. Don't even think about pulling out that defense cheat sheet until you hear a handful of teams come off the board. It's not worth it.
Ride Solo or Mix and Match
The number of defenses that you carry on your re-draft roster is a matter of personal preference as long as it's within reason. One or two is fine. Three is excessive. Some owners prefer to carry one as it frees up extra room for depth at key positions. Others prefer to carry multiple defenses and alternate based on matchups. The latter can pay dividends or lead to frustration if you leave the more productive defense on the bench. You should have a general idea pre-draft of which direction you are going in so you can efficiently draft in the surrounding rounds.
Note: If you are playing a "best-ball" league such as a Draft-N-Go, which has 24 or more rounds, draft three defenses to offset the weekly variance.
It's in the Numbers
Get familiar with your league's rules, and know your scoring system. Are points awarded for holding opponents to a low-scoring output or are turnovers and sacks emphasized? Defensive touchdowns are often a product of right place, right time than anything else, so take past performances there with a grain of salt. Instead, hone in on forced turnovers and sacks as those numbers more accurately describe the personality of a defense.
Seek Out Winning Teams
Winning teams generally have stronger offenses and maintain an above-average time of possession, allowing their defenses ample breathers off the field. Even the strongest defenses will struggle to make plays if they are constantly on the field and worn down. Seems obvious, but it's a simple way to thin out the options.
Continuity is Key
Head coaches and defensive coordinators move in and out of organizations seemingly more often than the players themselves. But familiarity with the coaches and their scheme can present a certain level of comfort to a defense. Seek out teams that have their coaching staff intact from the previous year.
Strength of Schedule
Putting much stock into a team's schedule is a slippery slope. A lot can change during a season. However, you can find gold sometimes. If a team is scheduled to face multiple rookie quarterbacks or teams in apparent turmoil, you've found a winner. Nothing says pick-six more than a struggling, inexperienced quarterback.
Root, Root, Root for the Home Team
Defenses are difficult to predict from year to year, let alone week to week. Don't be afraid to draft your favorite team. Drafting offensive players from your team is often frustrating and ill-advised. As fans, special teams returns, sacks and turnovers fire us up; may as well get some fantasy benefits from them, too.
And here's more of an in-season tip: When faced with a choice between two equal defenses, lean toward the team playing at home. Home crowds are often loud, can energize their defense and make it difficult for the visitor to communicate. When that happens, breakdowns and turnovers result.
There is no way around the unpredictability that comes with a fantasy defense. But implementing these small steps will give you an edge over your competition - as long as you wait.