Drafting a Defense

Drafting a Defense

By John Paulsen (Director of Forecasting), last update Aug 23, 2013

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John was named the Most Accurate Fantasy Football Expert by FantasyPros for the 2010 and 2014 seasons, and has finished in the Top 6 in seven of the last eight years. Cumulatively, John has been the most accurate expert from 2010-17 while also winning the 2011 Fantasy Sports Trade Association award for the most accurate draft rankings. 

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Heading into the 2013 season, the Seattle Seahawks own the top-drafted fantasy defense. They finished 3rd in fantasy scoring in 2012 and allowed the fewest points to opposing offenses. In the offseason, they added free agent pass-rushers Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett to complement one of the best secondaries in the league.

They also added Percy Harvin to their return game, giving the the Seahawks one of the best special teams units in the league, assuming his hip will be all right.

But you should not pick the Seahawks at their current price (in the 8th round) on draft day. They're just too expensive given the instability at the position.

The table below shows how the top two drafted DTs have fared in the last six seasons.

Year DT1 Final Rank DT2 Final Rank
2012 SF 8 BAL 12
2011 PIT 10 GB 6
2010 NYJ 5 MIN 24
2009 PIT 18 BAL 6
2008 SD 19 MIN 7
2007 BAL 24 CHI 5
  Average 14.0   10.0

Interestingly, recent history has shown that it's better to draft the 2nd-ranked defense -- which is the 49ers this year -- than it is to draft the consensus top defense. Regardless, the average rankings for the top two drafted defenses (14.0 and 10.0, respectively) are not impressive.

I have been writing a Defensive Team By Waiver Wire (DTBWW) feature for four years -- offering readers several available-on-the-waiver-wire DT picks each week -- and they averaged DT5, DT6, DT7 and DT10 numbers from 2009 to 2012. DT10 may not sound impressive, but I have been offering more picks each week which may account for the decline. Still, generating top 10 DT numbers off the waiver wire allows fantasy owners to basically ignore the position on draft day, instead focusing on more important areas, like kicker. (Kidding.)

When I make my DTBWW recommendations, I am typically looking for decent-to-good defenses playing at home against bad quarterbacks and/or sack-happy offensive lines. Sacks drive defensive scoring, and QB pressure leads to bad decisions (i.e. interceptions) and fumbles. And turnovers lead to defensive touchdowns. The nice thing about this strategy is that if you stumble into a top-producing defense, you can simply stick with it for the rest of the year.


So who should you be targeting on draft day?

My top semi-cheap pick is the Patriots, who are on average the 7th DT off the board. They open the season about as well as can be expected, facing off against the Bills (Kevin Kolb/E.J. Manuel) in Week 1 and the Jets (Mark Sanchez/Geno Smith) in Week 2. These are two premium matchups to start the season. They have a serviceable matchup in Week 3 at home against the Buccaneers. (Tampa Bay QB Josh Freeman finished the season with nine interceptions in his last three games.) 

The Texans are generally too expensive for my taste (ADP: 10.03), but if they are still available in the later rounds, they also have two nice matchups (@SD, TEN) to start the season since Philip Rivers and Jake Locker were turnover prone last season.

Pittsburgh usually has a solid defense and they face Locker and the Titans at home in Week 1.

Tampa Bay added Darrelle Revis to help a strugging secondary so they should be much improved as they travel to face the Jets in Week 1.

St. Louis faces the Cardinals at home. Arizona should not be as turnover-prone with improved QB play, but the O-line is still a concern and the Rams were decent defensively in 2012.

Indianapolis is not typically very good on the defensive side of the ball, but with the Raiders breaking in a new starting QB, there is the potential for a good game from the Colts DT, especially since they're playing at home.

Kansas City didn't generate much pass rush last season, finishing 29th in sacks. But with a Week 1 matchup agains the Jaguars, they're a sleeper DT that should be available in the final rounds.

Once the season starts, we'll continue with a streaming strategy by targeting defenses with favorable matchups on a weekly basis. For owners who are willing to use an extra roster spot on a DT to plan for Week 3 and Week 4, the Jets (BUF, @TEN), Titans (SD, NYJ), Redskins (DET, @OAK) and Saints (ARI, MIA) look like good options for that span.

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