Photo by Vernon Bryant, Dallas Morning News
By: David Connors @DConBlitz
Overview: Defense and special teams is one of the most forgotten positions in fantasy football. In 2018, the difference between the 2nd best scoring defense and the 17th best was approximately 2.5 points a game. That seems insignificant, but week to week there is a huge positional advantage to be gained by playing a good defense. Usually, the defense and special teams are overlooked at the end of drafts, but there are ways to manipulate the draft into giving yourself a key advantage. Instead of only listing the defenses that I am after, this article will focus more on the strategy behind my targets.
Defensive/Special Teams History
If there is only one thing to retain from this article it is this: NEVER be that guy who jumps early on a defense. Last year the Jacksonville Jaguars defense ADP was in the back of the 7th round. They were being picked over players like Robert Woods, Mike Willaims, and Patrick Mahomes. If you drafted the Jaguars defense, you had the 19th ranked defense in 2018. There is indisputable evidence that the top defense from the prior year will not repeat their performance. In fact, rarely does a top 5 defense even remain a top 5 defense year after year. The reason for the volatility is that we are not drafting just one player, but 11+ players. We are not worried about just one player getting injured, but an entire starting unit of players. In the past 3 years, only 2 teams were able to have two top 5 finishes, the Rams (2018/2017) and the Chiefs (2018/2016). A team’s defense went from a top 5 to below 20th eight times in the last 3 years. Even in a single year, the defense that is top 5 for the season are not the defenses who are top 5 the last five weeks. The Falcons were the number 1 defense for that last five weeks of 2018 and the Giants were 3rd. Both were widely considered really bad defenses. So what do you do?
How to handle Defenses and Special Team This answer is simple. Stream your defense week to week. Defenses that were on 70% of free agencies in 12 team leagues could have been streamed for the 2nd highest scoring defense in 2018. The offense that the defense is playing matters just as much as the defense itself. However, do not fall for “strength of schedule” charts either. To quote the fantasy footballers, “stay water.” Strength of schedule is a huge trap. Teams rise and fall a lot in the course of one season. The Dallas Cowboys started the season 3-5 and ended NFC East Champions. The Saints looked like the best team for the first 10 weeks then took a small dive in week 11. Do not rely on the strength of schedule for an entire year. Stay up to date and key in on trends. That’s how you spot the Falcons defense go from a bottom 3rd in the league to highest scoring in the last 5 weeks.
This was mentioned before but it cannot be repeated enough. Do not be the person in your league who jumps on the Bears defense in round 7! There is too much value to be given up for a defense that will not repeat what it did in 2018. To the same effect, expect a run on defenses in the second to last round of your league. When drafting late in that particular round, consider taking a defense a round early, to avoid being at the butt end of that run. Now, who to pick there? Simply look one week ahead, maybe two. Pick a defense that has a favorable week one matchup and stream from there.
Do not give up value in the single digit rounds for the Bears
There will be a run of defense in the second to last round, do not be at the end of the run. Snag a defense a round early if you are.
Keen in on who a team is playing week 1&2 and no further
Defenses I am interested in:
Dallas Cowboys Ideally, a defense that has multiple weeks of value is advantageous. The Dallas Cowboys get the Giants and Redskins weeks 1&2. The Cowboys defense was considered a top defense in 2018 and it is no surprise, with Defensive Coordinators Rob Marinelli and Co-Defensive Coordinator/Coverage Specials Kris Richard running them. The Cowboys have stars at all three levels including two Interior Linebackers who should be able to keep Saquon Barkley at bay (or at least as much as physically possible). With Odell Beckham gone, the passing game will be easier to defend. Then week 2, the Cowboys get rookie QB Dwayne Haskins and the Redskins.
The Ravens are widely considered the most consistent defense over the past decade. There are many concerns going into 2018 with the Ravens losing Za’Darius Smith, CJ Mosley, and Terrell Suggs that they will drop off. That is a legitimate concern. Smith and Suggs were the two best pass rusher on their 2018 roster. They combined for 15.5 sacks. The rest of the team only had 27 sacks. They did not address these losses in the draft or free agency either. However, they have an opening game against the Dolphins and that offensive line is still too appealing to pass up. Ryan Fitzpatrick projects to be the week 1 starter which makes even more enticing. According to the football outsider QB consistency stat, the only QB who has been more inconsistent over the last 10 years than Fitzpatrick is Eli Manning. They follow up the Dolphins matchup with a game against the Cardinals. The Cardinals offense will probably be better with Kliff Kingsbury coaching and Kyler Murray behind the helm, but it is still a below average offensive line and a rookie QB. Ravens HC John Harbaugh will be ready to take advantage of the young man. If the Ravens DST has two solid weeks to start the season, they could be a trade piece to add onto the back end of a trade to push a deal through for a good player with their name value.
The Eagles front 7 rotation is one of the best in the league when they are healthy. Poor cornerback play was their Achilles Heel in 2018, but we saw an emergence of Avonte Maddox and Mountaineer Great Rasul Douglas towards the end of last season. Those two plus Jalen Mills coming back should take them to just below average, which will be a huge upgrade to where they were last season. The Eagles defense is designed to ask little of the Corners, so if they are a little better, the pass rush should make them look solid. The Eagles take on either rookie QB Dwayne Haskins in his first regular season game or Case Keenum from the Redskins in week 1. Either way, I am feeling pretty good about that matchup. The Eagles week 2 matchup is less than favorable, but just pivot. The Bills play the Giants week 2 which could be a solid streaming option.
Every year a few defenses emerge from mediocre to top 5 every season, and they are worth a flyer if you miss out on one of the defenses I mentioned before. The Jaguars in 2017 are a great example. They were historically great in 2017, but 30th overall in 2016. So which defenses could be draft steals or maybe even a week 2 or 3 as a waiver wire pick up that turn into a sit ‘em and forget ‘em defense?
The Redskins defense was actually very good at the beginning of 2018. They looked like playoff contenders before the wheels fell off for the entire team after Alex Smith got hurt. The reason I am laying in on the Redskins defense is their D-Line. HOT TAKE ALERT: I think the Redskins defensive line will be the best defensive line in the NFC East, and top 5 in the league. They have the two studs from Alabama, Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne playing inside and outside. If you do not know who these two are, you will. Ryan Kerrigan is the most underrated player in football with 84.5 career sacks. Most may not realize how impressive that is. He has at least 9 sacks every year since he came into the league with the exception of his rookie season. He is already 55th in all-time sacks. If he can just average 7 sacks over the next five year (a conservative projection for Kerrigan) he would be at 120 sacks and just 3 away from the top 20 of all-time. Add those three plus the addition of a sick athlete like Montez Sweat, who can play a rotational role while he develops, and you have the makings of a top defensive line. The Redskins also added 3-time Pro-Bowler Landon Collins to their defensive back room. The Redskins could have a scary defense in 2019. Carolina Panthers The Panthers are a good defense every year, but they just got a lot quicker on their defensive line. They added two fast edge rushers in the draft, Brian Burns and Christian Miller. Their transition to the NFL should be eased with some of the best interior linemen in the game on their roster. The only set back is that they will be playing in the same division as the Saints, Falcons, and a Buccaneers team that is lead by Bruce Arians, who averages 10-yard depth per pass no matter who he is coaching. The Panthers certainly come with risk, but that front 7 can cause some havoc for QBs and will force mistakes for their secondary.
DO NOT REACH ON A DEFENSE, STREAM AGAINST BAD OFFENSES!! Good luck and may all your top draft picks stay healthy.