Fantasy owners fall into three main camps when it comes to drafting defenses.
First are the “reachers.” Reachers laugh at conventional wisdom that says that defenses are too unpredictable from year-to-year to warrant a high pick. They are all too eager to “steal” the Seattle defense in the sixth round, bypassing a potential flex option for the defense that in their mind will be the difference between missing the playoffs and hoisting the league trophy.
Then there are “supposed tos.” Supposed tos grab their defense with the second-to-last pick, just as they are “supposed to.” If they’re really high on a defense and feeling particularly rebellious on draft day, they may go one round earlier with their choice, but never any higher.
Finally there are the “streamers.” They are the ones who defiantly refuse to draft a defense in order to grab another sleeper, with the intention of grabbing their defense off the waiver wire shortly before the opening kickoff then replacing it throughout the season based on which available defense has the best matchup.
As a rule, streamers tend to be more into fantasy and more proud of their fantasy sport skills than those from the other two mindsets. They are happy to put in the extra time each week researching the approaching matchups for the defenses on the waiver wire. They pride themselves on staying a step ahead of the other streamers in the league. Streaming defenses is a game within the game that for many a streamer adds to the enjoyment of managing a fantasy team.
If you are a streamer, then this might be your lucky year. Thanks to the explosion of prolific, pass-heavy offenses so complex and innovative that they make Don Coryell’s San Diego Chargers look like Coach Herman Boone’s T.C. Williams Titans (
I run six plays, split veer, like Novocain), we know that every time we watch an NFL game, there is a good chance that at least one of the quarterbacks will top 300 yards and/or account for three touchdowns. Depending on the matchup, any starting quarterback not named Mark Sanchez or Blaine Gabbert has the potential to go off on any given Sunday.
The refrain “quarterback is deep this year” has been repeated so much that it has already become a fantasy cliche. This year’s most popular strategy when drafting a quarterback calls for waiting until the middle rounds to fill your quarterback slot. The idea being that there are enough high-end passers available to ensure everyone in a 12-team league will find a quality option, so there is no reason to have to draft one in any of the first three rounds.
While I agree with the idea of waiting for your quarterback, I don’t believe that most experts take it far enough. Taking a quarterback in the fifth round is not waiting. Not when nearly every starting quarterback has potential to put up points. Many a starting quarterback will be taken in the late rounds this year. Savvy owners will grab a quarterback or two at the end of their drafts, loading up at other positions in the early rounds, and with an eye on the waiver wire they will find a quarterback to plug-and-play each week.
Yes, quarterback is the new defense.
Now before you go and accuse me of being way too cute with a critical fantasy position, take a moment to think about why streaming is such an accepted and proven method for choosing a defense.
The consensus favorite to be the top fantasy defense this year is Seattle. With an excellent secondary, strong pass rush and one of the best home field advantages in football, the Seahawks defense should be a force.
On the other side you have Cleveland. With Clevelands overall lack of playmakers, no one in their right mind will argue that the Browns will be a better defense than the Seahawks. But when Cleveland hosts Jacksonville the same week Seattle could find itself in a shootout against New Orleans, it would not be a surprise to anyone if Cleveland were to produce more fantasy points for their owners, for that one week, than Seattle. That is the beauty behind streaming defenses and why so many refuse to spend a high pick on the position.
This season the same idea will apply to quarterbacks.
Maybe not, especially if the team that spent their 12th rounder on Bradford also picked Joe Flacco and Ryan Tannehill in the late rounds. If you were to combine Bradford, Flacco and Tannehill, you’d find that you would have three quarterbacks on your roster with good weapons, who’ll be asked to throw a lot. Each week you would start whoever faces the weakest secondary, has the best chance of getting into a shootout, or will likely be piling up garbage time yards at the end of the game. Make the correct call and you could find yourself getting similar points from your quarterback slot as the guy who spent his late second-rounder on Rodgers.
There is one big difference between you enjoying similar starts from your stable of late-rounders than the Rodger’s owner — you get the benefit of teaming your quarterback with that stud you were able to draft in the second round when you didn’t spend that pick on a quarterback.
Before you argue that you prefer the consistency of the top-tier passers over the late-round guys, examine the numbers.
Below are four quarterbacks from last season and the number of times that each one threw for more than 300 yards and/or scored three or more touchdowns (passing or running) from Weeks 1-16 of the 2012 season.
Quarterback A — 8
Quarterback B — 7
Quarterback C — 7
Quarterback D — 6
Quarterback A led the way, producing excellent numbers half of the time (8-of-16 games). The other passer’s totals were not too far removed from Quarterback A, with Quarterbacks B and C having just one less monster outing. The difference is Quarterback A likely would have cost you a late first-rounder last year on draft day, while there was a chance that each of the other three went undrafted in your league.
Their names —
Quarterback A — Aaron Rodgers
Quarterback B — Andy Dalton
Quarterback C — Carson Palmer
Quarterback D — Joe Flacco
Anyone else thinking that they would have preferred to have streamed those three and used that first rounder on another lead back rather than have had the “consistency” of Rodgers?
Dalton, Palmer and Flacco will likely be available at the tail end of drafts again this year, along with young developing quarterbacks with upside such as Bradford, Tannehill and Alex Smith. You will also find aging passers who have fallen out of favor but are still capable of putting up strong numbers in the right matchups such as Michael Vick, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger.
With a little work throughout the season, you may find that the quarterback stream is deeper and wider than the defensive waters that you are used to wading through each week.
In Week 16, Sam Bradford, along with possibly the fastest group of receivers on any roster, will take part in a track meet on turf against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who had the NFL’s worse pass defense in 2012. Even with the Buccaneers making moves to improve their defense this offseason, would it surprise anyone if Bradford were to put up 300-plus yards in what promises to be a high-scoring affair?
If Bradford was one of the quarterbacks you streamed all year, you’ll be able to smirk at all of the “supposed tos” that spend their fifth rounder on a quarterback. That is if you’re not too busy laughing at the “reachers” who took Rodgers in the second round. Just be sure not to laugh so hard that you drop your trophy.