In fantasy football, defenses are a tricky thing to gauge. Based on you league’s scoring, there are a number of different statistics on which you could focus. Should you get a defense that gives up fewer points or one that gets more sacks? Maybe a higher interception rate is the way to go? Maybe a defense with an elite player like Aaron Donald or J.J. Watt is what you want? There are a lot of variables.
For the sake of simplicity, we’ll break it down with the following scoring:
|Sacks = 1 point
Interceptions = 2 points
Fumble Recovery = 2 points
Safety = 2 points
Blocked Kick = 3 points
Touchdown = 6
|0 points allowed = 10
1-6 points allowed = 7
7-13 points allowed = 4
14-20 points allowed = 1
21-27 points allowed = 0
28-34 points allowed = -1
35+ points allowed = -5
The first thing to know about defenses is that they all change every year. Some a little, like Minnesota. Some a lot, like Green Bay. Some teams get a new coaching staff which can entirely change the way a defense operates. Schedules also change every season, aside from divisional opponents. Ultimately, the teams that have been great in the last couple years might not be worth acquiring as highly as you might think.
Based off of 2018 average draft position (ADP) and the scoring system above, six of the first 12 defenses taken in fantasy drafts did not finish in the Top 12 in scoring, and three of the rest performed at or below their ADP. So you basically have a 75 percent chance of drafting a defense that will not be worth having on a week-to-week basis. So if you’re not drafting a “sure thing” defense in the earlier rounds like eighth, ninth or 10th – and you shouldn’t be – what can you do to get the most out of the position all season? You should wait until the last three rounds of the draft to make your move on defense and play the match up game all year.
Buffalo is a great team defense to start the year with and you should have little trouble taking them very late in your draft. They start the season with a set of very favorable matchups (at New York Jets, at New York Giants, vs. Cincinnati). Buffalo brought back E.J. Gaines – after one year in Cleveland – which will give the team more support in the secondary. Buffalo will be a team that controls the clock more this year, increasing the pace of play and giving the defense more rest on the sideline. Buffalo is the No. 1 defense I am targeting late in drafts this year and will be a solid contributor for the first three weeks of the season.
Everyone wrote off Seattle defense last year after it seemed like it was rebuilding. But Seattle kept its opponents under 20 points in seven games last season and the team won six of their last seven games to earn a playoff berth. Seattle has a juicy Week 1 matchup with Cincinnati – who will be without star wide receiver A.J. Green. After that, the schedule is a little more intimidating and it’ll likely be more beneficial to drop Seattle for a more favorable matchup. You could always pick Seattle up again for Week 4 against Arizona – which also should be available to anyone who drafted Buffalo (Buffalo plays New England in Week 4).
If you want to a throw caution to the wind for a week, New England is another defense to go with late in the draft. After facing Pittsburgh in Week 1, New England feasts on a buffet of below-average offenses (at Miami, vs. New York Jets, at Buffalo, at Washington, vs. New York Giants, at New York Jets). Since New England is in arguably the weakest division in the NFL, you probably won’t get them in the last round of you draft – even though current ADP has them as the 13th defense selected – but New England will be worth the grab a round or two earlier.
If after a few weeks you’re not happy with your defense, or you’re solely playing matchups, here are some defenses to look at as the season progresses:
Week 3: Tampa Bay vs. New York Giants
Week 4: Washington at New York Giants
Week 5: Arizona at Cincinnati
Week 6: Green Bay vs. Detroit
Week 6: Atlanta at Arizona
Finally, the key to successfully managing your fantasy defense is to not become attached. If they’re not cutting it, drop them and add another. Repeat as necessary.