For inexperienced fantasy football players, picking a team defense is often an afterthought. After the excitement of choosing wide receivers and running backs, they mail in their selection. That’s an opportunity for more knowledgeable fantasy football players, who gain an edge by making a great team defense pick. Sure, the overall difference in points among the top ten defenses might be minimal, but it’s an edge you still want. Here’s how to pick a fantasy football defense.
Pick your defense at the right time in the draft.
As important as it is to make a good pick for team defense, it’s also critical that you pick it at the right time during the draft. Even if you’ve done your research and found two or three defenses floating under the radar that are good picks, don’t let that excitement drive you on draft day. Conventional wisdom suggests using one of your last two picks to choose a team defense.
Before you draft a team defense, take a good look at all the players still left on the board. Even an average tight end or mediocre running back can produce far more points than the top defense. That doesn’t mean you should always pick your team defense last, but you should make sure you don’t overlook other, better opportunities first.
Or when it comes to drafting a team defense, punt.
We already covered the best time to pick a defense. But what if your fantasy football league doesn’t require you to draft a team defense at all? If that’s the case, the best option is probably to avoid a draft day decision altogether.
In this scenario, you can choose another position player in the draft and “stream” your defenses each week. That means you can review matchups each week and pick the defense most likely to do well because they’re facing a subpar offense.
Look for a defense that’s playing against a team that is often behind in the second half. What does that mean? They’ll be forced to take more chances, and the defense is likely to garner more interceptions because their opponent is passing more. Often risky passes, as a quarterback looks for a big play to get his team back in the game.
Streaming defenses keeps you from getting locked into one unit, and finding the team that will feast on a weaker opponent. You might not have the best defense each week, but you can wind up with the one that’s actually the “best available.”
Study the season matchups.
This shouldn’t surprise anyone but the best counter to a great defense is, yes, a great offense.
Just because a team had the highest ranked defense in the prior season, there are no guarantees they will produce at the same rate in this one. After all, the NFL works to create equity by making successful teams face tougher opponents the following season.
What does that mean for a team defense selection? Well, imagine that in the previous season you find a defense that produced a ton of turnovers and Pick Six interceptions. Dig a little deeper and find out which teams they played. Did they face a quarterback who set a franchise record for throwing interceptions? Heck, if it’s a division rival, they probably played him twice. Chances are, that quarterback will be out of the picture this season. What’s more, if you’re looking at a team defense that’s coming off a great season, it’s likely their overall record was good as well. That means the team will have to weather a tougher schedule this year. It’s one thing to get a lot of interceptions and fumble recoveries against Turd Ferguson, but not so easy when it’s against teams led by top quarterbacks and sure-handed running backs.
Schedule, schedule, schedule. Don’t overlook it with any pick, including your team defense. Who all the members of your team are playing each week is a huge difference maker, but it’s even more important with your team defense.
Review team defense rankings. To a point.
When choosing a team defense, it might be more important than ever to have some trusted resources to guide you.
Why? There are more metrics involved. Schedule versus last year, upcoming game, changes in players, movement among the coaching staff. The importance of individual talent is lessened, and it’s all about how well a system operates.
Maybe a pass rusher left in the off season so there’s a defensive scheme that won’t be as effective this year. Was that a scheme that produced interceptions? If the defensive coordinator doesn’t think he has the pieces on the field to make it work, it might not even be used this year.
And, of course, there’s always injuries and age. Is this year the speedy cornerback loses a step? Can that free safety bounce back from off-season surgery? Find some online sources that will help you sort through it all. Rankings for team defenses need to go beyond pure analytics, because past success doesn’t predict future results nearly as well as your picks at other positions. A straight-up ranking by the numbers can be unproductive.
Choose a team defense based on the team offense.
Here’s an idea that works for many fantasy pros. Don’t worry too much about the defensive talent when choosing a team defense—focus on the teams with great offense and avoid ones that may have lost key players.
Does it seem counterintuitive? Sure, but here’s why it makes sense.
It’s a great way to find a team defense that’s undervalued on draft day because their turnover or pass rushing stats don’t pop off the page. But guess what? If your team defense is paired with an offensive juggernaut, they are going to be involved in more than a few blowouts. Or high-scoring affairs that force both teams to chase points every time they have the ball.
That translates into more risk. If Patrick Mahomes is running up the score, the team the Chiefs are facing will be forced to go for it when they have the ball. They’ll find themselves looking for big gains, and those can turn into interceptions and fumbles after a catch.
If your team defense is great against the run, the odds go up even more when it comes to point production. More third-and-longs mean more passes over the middle and more deep balls—and more interceptions.
Bottom line: an average team defense paired with a high-octane offense can be the best pick for fantasy football players.
Successful fantasy football players don’t overanalyze their team defense selection. But they do put some thought into, employ some research, and commit to a strategy. Do the same. You never know when a few points from a team defense in a particular week. will produce a big win.