FFPC Best-Ball Win Rates: Defense

Apr 23, 2020
FFPC Best-Ball Win Rates: Defense

Drafting a winning fantasy defense is more about when you draft them and less about who you draft. In this article, I will review the top-12 defensive win rates from 2019 FFPC best-ball leagues and discuss a few takeaways that could help you identify who—or better yet when—to draft a defense in your 2020 FFPC best-ball drafts.

Highest D/ST Win Rates

FFPC Top 12 D/ST Win Rates, 2019
Player ADP Fantasy Points Win %
Patriots 229.3 216 19.1%
Steelers 247.6 159 11.7%
49ers 271.8 161 11.6%
Buccaneers 301.8 125 10.8%
Ravens 207.1 128 10.6%
Chiefs 246.2 138 10.1%
Jets 270.7 129 9.9%
Colts 247.3 120 9.4%
Titans 267.4 116 9.4%
Saints 224.1 135 9.3%
Seahawks 253.1 117 9.3%
Panthers 271.0 115 9.1%
Eagles 224.5 105 9.1%

Three things stand out about the defenses on this list:

  • The defenses with the highest ADPs last year—the Bears, the Jaguars, and the Rams—are nowhere to be found. Maybe good defenses don’t win championships after all—at least not in best-ball.
  • None of the defenses on this list were drafted before the 17th round. There was only one early-round defense that cracked the top-12: the Ravens (17.3 ADP, 10.6% win rate). The only other early-round defense to produce an above-average win rate was the Vikings (17.2 ADP, 8.6% win rate).
  • Of the 12 defenses that yielded the highest win rates, eight were playoff teams. Only the Steelers, Colts, Buccaneers and Jets did not make the playoffs. It’s common sense that good teams generally yield good fantasy production on defense because they are often in positive or neutral game scripts more often than not.

4for4’s own TJ Hernandez tweeted his research on this very thought process for 2020.

If you want more on that topic, read this article by former 4for4 legend, Chris Raybon.

Early-Round Review

Highest D/ST Win Rates, 17th Round or Earlier
Player ADP Fantasy Points Win %
Ravens 17.3 128 10.6%

As previously mentioned, the Ravens and the Vikings were the only early-round defenses that provided a winning advantage. However, the Vikings didn’t crack the top-12 in win rate, while the Ravens finished with the fifth-highest win rate at 10.6%. It’s important to note the Ravens were tied for first in the NFL with five-defensive touchdowns, which accounted for over 27% of their fantasy points. If not buoyed by the touchdowns, they would have busted after barely cracking into the top-10 in interceptions (13) and finishing in the bottom third of the league in sacks (34). In context, the Ravens look more like an outlier than a success story, especially considering how poorly the rest of the early-round defense group fared.

The biggest takeaway is not the Ravens—instead, it’s important to note who didn’t crack the top-12. The Bears yielded by far the worst win rate among all 32 teams at 3.6%, mostly due to the fact they were being drafted before the 12th round. The Rams were the second-highest drafted defense in 2019—coming off the board at the end of the 14th round—and finished with a below-average win rate of 8%, fifth-worst among all defenses. The Jaguars were the third defense drafted last year—in the middle of the 15th round—and finished with a below-average win rate of 7.2%.

The Chargers had an ADP of mid-15th round and came in at an 8.0% win rate. While they performed better than the three defenses drafted before them, they still did not provide an edge early-round drafters were expecting. The Vikings were the fifth defense off the board in 2019 (16.02) and finished as the fifth-best fantasy defense thanks to a unit that finished in the top 10 in sacks and top three in interceptions. Unfortunately, drafting a top-five defense didn’t provide the desired edge Vikings drafters wanted as they finished with just the 15th-best win rate at 8.1%, slightly below the average win rate of 8.3%. The Texans also had an ADP of 16.02, but had a slightly lower win rate of 7.9%. Finally, neither the Broncos (16.04 ADP, 7.4% win rate) nor the Browns (16.7 ADP, 6.4%) helped the early-round drafters cause.

The takeaway should be fairly obvious—don’t reach for one of the first defenses. The risk is not worth the reward.

Top 2020 Early-Round Targets: None!

Mid-Round Review

Highest D/ST Win Rates, Rounds 18-21
Player ADP Fantasy Points Win %
Patriots 19.1 216 19.1%
Steelers 20.6 159 11.7%
Chiefs 20.5 138 10.1%
Colts 20.3 120 9.4%
Saints 18.7 135 9.3%
Seahawks 21.1 117 9.3%
Eagles 18.7 105 9.1%

This was the sweet spot. Of the top 12 defenses, seven were taken in the middle rounds.

The Patriots were the cream of the crop as they more than doubled the average win rate with 19.1% and were taken at the end of the 19th round. In hindsight, the Patriots were in the middle of a perfect storm: a team expected to compete for a Super Bowl, an elite secondary and facing some of the weakest quarterback play in the NFL (Jets, Bengals, Dolphins, Redskins, Giants, Bills)—while somehow available at the end of the 19th round. The Patriots suffocating defense only allowed an average of 14.1 points per game to opposing offenses—first in the NFL—including three shutouts which alone offers 12 fantasy points each in FFPC scoring. Their ball-hawking secondary was the backbone of their defense, finishing with 25 interceptions, five more than the Steelers who finished second. Their pass rush also accumulated a respectable 47 sacks, tied for seventh in the NFL. While the Patriots were excellent at preventing opposing teams from scoring, they were also elite at generating points of their own, finishing with five defensive touchdowns, tied for first in the NFL.

The Steelers were another prime example for an overachieving mid-round defense, finishing with the second-highest win rate at 11.7% and you didn’t need to draft them until the mid-20th round (20.6 ADP). In Weeks 1-16, the Steelers compiled the third-highest total fantasy points, thanks to finishing second in total sacks (51) and second in interceptions (19), first in fumble recoveries (17), and four total touchdowns.

Another success story was the Chiefs, who finished with the sixth-highest win rate at 10.1% with an ADP of 20.5. They finished 11th in sacks (42) and tied for sixth in interceptions (14) and generated three defensive touchdowns. While those numbers are certainly respectable, the real advantage came from being drafted in the 20th round, far too late for a winning team like the Chiefs, even if they are mostly known for their offense.

The Colts finished with the eighth-highest win rate at 9.4% and were drafted in the middle of the 20th round (20.6 ADP). They finished with a mediocre 38 sacks (tied for 16th), although they fared better in interceptions—seventh overall with 14. Like many of the other top fantasy defenses, they were able to generate three touchdowns.

The Saints defense had the most expensive draft day cost (18.7 ADP) of the mid-round group but were able to finish with a 9.3% win rate thanks to a top-seven finish in fantasy points led by a strong pass rush with 49 sacks—third-most in the NFL—and generating three touchdowns for their team. Like the Saints, the Seahawks also finished with a 9.3% win rate but were available at least two rounds later (21.1 ADP). The Seahawks didn’t earn fantasy points via the pass rush, as they finished 30th in the NFL with 26 sacks. However, they were much more fortunate with fumble recoveries and interceptions, finishing with 16 of each, good enough for second and tied for fourth respectively. They also finished with three defensive touchdowns. The Eagles just snuck into the top-12 with a 9.1% win rate and were drafted in the same range as the Saints (18.7 ADP). They were middle of the pack in most defensive categories, however, they also reached lucky number three in total touchdowns.

Top 2020 Mid-Round Targets: Colts (19.9), Eagles (20.1), Browns (20.5), Packers (21.1), Cowboys (21.1), Seahawks (21.6)

Late-Round Review

Highest D/ST Win Rates, Rounds 22+
Player ADP Fantasy Points Win %
49ers 22.7 161 11.6%
Buccaneers 25.2 125 10.8%
Jets 22.6 129 9.9%
Titans 22.3 116 9.4%
Panthers 22.6 115 9.1%
Giants 25.2 98 9.0%
Falcons 23.2 86 8.8%
Packers 22.1 99 8.6%

The 49ers were the poster child for the late-round defenses, finishing with an 11.6% win rate and weren’t drafted until the middle of the 22nd round (22.7 ADP). Judging by their cheap ADP, drafters clearly weren’t anticipating the 49ers rebounding from a 4-12 season in 2018 to a 13-3 Super Bowl appearance in 2019. However, in hindsight, their ADP was probably too low due to recency bias, despite an improving offense and adding several key pieces to their defense, namely, second-overall-pick, Nick Bosa. Their defense generated the second-most fantasy points due to generating the fifth-most sacks (47), recovering the third-most fumble recoveries (15), and even more importantly, accumulating five defensive touchdowns, tied for first in the NFL.

The Buccaneers had the second-highest win rate of the late-round group with 10.8% but were much cheaper than the 49ers with an ADP of 25.2. They finished with a respectable 41 sacks (12th overall) and were top-three fumble recoveries with 15 (tied with the 49ers). However, the reason they crushed their 25th round ADP was due to creating five defensive touchdowns of their own.

The Jets finished with a win rate of 9.9% and had an ADP of 22.6, typically drafted right before the 49ers. The Jets defense was mediocre at best. They finished in the bottom third in sacks, fumble recoveries, and interceptions. However, they too, finished with five defensive touchdowns, tied with the Patriots, Ravens, Buccaneers, and 49ers.

The Titans had a win rate of 9.4% and an ADP of 22.3, just a few picks before the 49ers. Their defense finished mostly in the middle of the pack statistically, but they did have three touchdowns.

The Panthers were technically tied with the Eagles for the 12th highest win rate at 9.1% but were drafted much later in the middle of the 22nd-round (22.6 ADP). They somewhat surprisingly led the NFL in sacks with 52 and were tied for sixth with 14 interceptions. However, they only managed to turn one of those turnovers into a touchdown.

The following late-round defenses failed to generate a top-12 win rate, however, they did still register an above-average win rate: Giants (9.0%, 25.1) Falcons (8.8%, 23.2), and the Packers (8.6%, 22.1). This is more evidence to continue drafting defenses later rather than sooner.

Top Late-Round Targets: Texans (22.3), Dolphins (22.5), Raiders (23.4), Falcons (23.3), Lions (24.1), Bengals (24.8)

Final Takeaways

Do not be one of the first teams to draft a defense. Judging by the results from early-round defenses, there is much more risk than reward by taking a defense before round 17 in the 28-round FFPC leagues. Additionally, defensive and special teams touchdowns play a major role in a teams’ fantasy success, which is a stark reminder of how volatile the position can be. Since defensive fantasy production is difficult to predict, you’re better off targeting defenses in the middle-to-late rounds to insulate you from risk. Also, target teams that Vegas projects to finish above .500 as they are more likely to face neutral-to-positive game scripts, increasing their chances to produce turnovers. Lastly, remember drafting a winning fantasy defense is more about when you draft them and less about who you draft.

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