Fantasy Fact or Fiction: Draft Your Defense Last
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Fantasy Fact or Fiction: Draft Your Defense Last

Your fantasy draft is similar to a game of Poker, there are tells and tomfoolery worthy of paying attention to that help identify who's a seasoned vet or who's a greenhorn. Body language, the use of red herrings, deliberate instigation and comments are a few tricks used by serious competitors. Sabotaging someone else's draft can be an effective strategy in assembling the best players for your squad. I will save my guerilla draft strategies for another article, but there is one draft move that screams "Hey…over here…take advantage of me!!" and that's when a manager picks a Defense any round earlier than their last pick.

If you play in a league that drafts Individual Defensive Players (IDP), this commentary won't be relevant; but if you're in a league structured around starting 1 or 2 defensive teams each week then pay close attention. This data is out there and is no secret, but for some unexplainable reason each year a few managers jump the gun early and draft a Defense in the 7th or 8th round (essentially wasting a valuable pick that could be used on a backup or a sleeper). When the magazines and rankings start overflowing in a few months please, please take defensive rankings with a grain of salt and make it one of your last draft choices. By the end of this article you will understand that the only consistent thing about defensive rankings is their inconsistency.

It's clear that each league may use a different scoring format when it comes to Defenses, but for the purpose of this article I used the standard format to keep it very generic and easy to interpret. (Sack: 1 point, Interception: 2 points, Fumble Recovery: 2 points, TD: 6 points) I'm also making reference to each team's actual VBD (Value Based Drafting); if you're not familiar, let me quickly explain. VBD is typically used as a drafting technique to compare the difference in projected points between players and positions and their true fantasy value. In this scenario I'm calculating the actual VBD to show the difference between the top defense and the worst defense that would be started in a 12 man league.

Let's begin with 2011…

2011 Actual Fantasy Production

ESPN 2011 Ranking

Sk

Int

FR

TD

Fantasy Pts.

Actual

VBD

VBD P/G

1

Pittsburgh Steelers

1

Detroit Lions

41

21

13

7

151

41

3

2

Green Bay Packers

2

Chicago Bears

33

20

11

7

137

27

2

3

New York Jets

3

Green Bay Packers

29

31

7

5

135

25

2

4

Baltimore Ravens

4

Buffalo Bills

29

20

11

6

127

17

1

5

Philadelphia Eagles

5

New England Patriots

40

23

11

3

126

16

1

6

Chicago Bears

6

San Francisco 49ers

42

23

15

1

124

14

1

7

Atlanta Falcons

7

Baltimore Ravens

48

15

11

4

124

14

1

8

New Orleans Saints

8

Philadelphia Eagles

50

15

9

4

122

12

1

9

New England Patriots

9

Seattle Seahawks

33

22

9

4

119

9

1

10

San Diego Chargers

10

New York Giants

48

20

11

1

116

6

0

11

Kansas City Chiefs

11

New York Jets

35

19

12

3

115

5

0

12

Detroit Lions

12

Houston Texans

44

17

10

2

110

0

0

Predicating the production of a defensive unit is difficult because you're evaluating an entire group of players and the many variables that change that dynamic. Last year is a perfect example, ESPN ranked Pittsburgh as the #1 defense to draft yet they finished the season dead last in fantasy points (71). Detroit finished in 1st place with 151 points and was not even ranked in the Top 10. I pity the guy who drafted the Steelers early and I praise the guy who drafted Detroit at the end. Defensive rankings are inconsistent and subjective which is why I would never taint my draft by choosing one earlier than my 15th or 16th pick but besides that the real secret is that defensive teams are not that valuable to your fantasy team!!!

Let's assume that every one of 2011's Top 12 Defenses was owned by a team in your league. The team with Detroit earned a substantial 151 points and the team with Houston had 110 points. (By the way ESPN ranked the Texans at 24 going into the 2011 season.) Anyway, the difference between Detroit and Houston was 41 points (Actual VBD) which means that through 16 weeks of football 41 points separated the best defense from the worst defense that would be started in a 12 man league. This breaks down to only 3 points per game. Compare the 49ers to the Texans and the VBD between them is 14 points (1 point per game). By looking at the chart you can see that the true difference between Defenses is laughable and that 5 of those teams were ranked outside the Top 12 before the season began and 2 were probably not even drafted (Bills and Seahawks).

Here's a snapshot of 2010…

2010 Actual Fantasy Production

ESPN 2010 Ranking

Sk

Int

FR

TD

Fantasy Pts.

Actual VBD

VBD P/G

1

New York Jets

1

Arizona Cardinals

33

17

13

10

153

42

3

2

Philadelphia Eagles

2

New England Patriots

36

25

13

5

142

31

2

3

Green Bay Packers

3

Pittsburgh Steelers

48

21

14

3

136

25

2

4

Baltimore Ravens

4

Green Bay Packers

47

24

8

4

135

24

2

5

Dallas Cowboys

5

New York Giants

46

16

23

0

124

13

1

6

San Francisco 49ers

6

Detroit Lions

44

14

15

3

120

9

1

7

Minnesota Vikings

7

Dallas Cowboys

35

20

10

4

119

8

1

8

Pittsburgh Steelers

8

Philadelphia Eagles

39

23

11

2

119

8

1

9

Cincinnati Bengals

9

New York Jets

40

12

18

3

118

7

0

10

New Orleans Saints

10

Oakland Raiders

47

12

12

3

113

2

0

11

Denver Broncos

11

Atlanta Falcons

31

22

9

3

111

0

0

12

New York Giants

12

San Diego Chargers

47

16

7

3

111

0

0

Different numbers but same results. Pre-season rankings had Arizona at the 23rd spot yet they finished as the top fantasy football defense in 2010. While the Jets were highly touted by almost every expert as the best Defense they finished the season 35 points behind the Cardinals, a team not even drafted outside of Phoenix. Any manager that reached early for the Jets or Ravens (17th in fantasy points) were very disappointed with the ROI they received in exchange for those early round draft picks.

Finally 2009…

2009 Actual Fantasy Production

ESPN 2009 Ranking

Sk

Int

FR

TD

Fantasy Pts.

Actual VBD

VBD P/G

1

Pittsburgh Steelers

1

New Orleans Saints

35

26

13

8

161

55

3

2

New York Giants

2

Philadelphia Eagles

44

25

13

4

144

38

2

3

Tennessee Titans

3

Green Bay Packers

37

30

10

4

141

35

2

4

Baltimore Ravens

4

San Francisco 49ers

44

18

15

3

128

22

1

5

Minnesota Vikings

5

Baltimore Ravens

32

22

10

3

114

8

1

6

Philadelphia Eagles

6

Carolina Panthers

31

22

15

1

111

5

0

7

New York Jets

7

Denver Broncos

39

17

13

2

111

5

0

8

Miami Dolphins

8

Buffalo Bills

32

28

5

2

110

4

0

9

Carolina Panthers

9

Tennessee Titans

32

20

7

4

110

4

0

10

Chicago Bears

10

Pittsburgh Steelers

47

12

10

3

109

3

0

11

Green Bay Packers

11

Arizona Cardinals

43

21

8

1

107

1

0

12

New England Patriots

12

New York Jets

32

17

14

2

106

0

0

The Saints were ranked as the 27th best defense or the 6th worst defense going into 2009 but surprised everyone by earning the top spot. The Cardinals, Titans, Bills, Broncos, 49ers and Saints were picked appropriately toward the end of the draft or in some cases picked up as free agents but all finished in the Top 12. Some managers looked at Pittsburgh as the best defense that year and went for it early but in the end 9 other defenses finished ahead of them and at most was only a difference of about 3 points per game. This is just another blaring example of the randomness surrounding Defenses every year.

All of this can be related to how opportunity costs are defined in Economics. Opportunity costs are the basic relationship between scarcity and choice and are defined as the cost of the next best alternative forgone. Simply put, what am I losing by making one decision over another? In terms of fantasy football, each player drafted has a projected value based on what he adds to your team so when making a draft choice you need to evaluate what you're giving up with each decision. The whole concept of tiering is proof there isn't much parity among players and the importance of identifying which ones give you the best opportunity to win. With that said, the data above proves there is no significant difference between defensive teams in terms of fantasy points. There is better value in using the 8th or 9th round pick on a sleeper or backup player then drafting a defense that might only produce about 3 more points every week than the guy you're playing.

I encourage you to explore this further and look back at previous drafts. See when the highly ranked defenses were drafted and then the players that were drafted after them. I guarantee there were managers last year that drafted the Steeler and Ravens before Demarco Murray, Gronkowski and Can Newton were off the board. That decision could be the difference between winning a Championship and writing a check.

RDM

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    6 Comments

    I'm not sure I necessarily agree with taking defense absolutely last, but I did wait until the next-to-last round in 2011 to take mine, and got San Francisco, then picked up Cam Newton as an undrafted free agent the following week. I'd look not so much at the average, but at a D that is likely to be consistent. That's one area you don't want to bounce from 20 points one week to 1 the next, you just want to plug them in and focus on your individual players.

    Posted by:
    Report Abuse
    Warhaft 03/26/12 09:45 AM

    Ryan, it's Thayse one of the other writers from the Quick Snaps series. I like where your heads at and I'll even add this flavor to the theory: If you journeyman a defense playing against one of the worst offensive teams you will outscore the best defense. Last year based on our scoring San Fran was the best defense, but I outscored them by playing multiple defenses throughout the year focused on strength of match up. People will be surprised at how often they can find a viable defense available. Well done sir.

    Posted by:
    Jordan Thayse 03/28/12 08:10 AM

    Thank you...I find what you did last year the most effective strategy and I refer to it as "Going Merc". Last year alone I looked every week for any available defenses (and there were plenty) that were playing Jax, Indy or St. Louis and I can't say I was disappointed at all.

    Posted by:
    Ryan McKenzie 03/29/12 08:22 AM

    Can you write a similar article with statistics dating back a few years on tight ends? Thanks!

    Posted by:
    Report Abuse
    Booomer 08/30/12 04:31 PM

    I tend to disagree, but I'm in a league that also awards points based on how few points the defense allows in a game (i.e. 0-7 points allowed is worth 10 fantasy points, 8-14 = 7 and so on), so I take defenses very seriously. A defense that gives up a lot of points actually loses points in our system, which can negate INTs, fumble recoveries and sacks. I should also mention that I'm in a QB, TD-oriented league that only awards 1 point for every 20 yards rushing, receiving, so RBs and WRs are slightly devalued. I usually target 3-4 defenses that I predict will get me about 10 points a game and tend to grab one after I've filled out my starters, backup QB and any handcuffs, reserves, sleepers, or rookies I think might be productive. I think it's a bad idea to let a probably productive defense sit on the board while picking up a WR4 who likely won't get in my lineup. This also tends to start a run on DSTs, leaving some deep sleepers available in later rounds when most of my opponents have used up their magazine lists. Last year I took Chicago D in the 9th or 10th round, and under our scoring system they averaged about 16 pts a game. I won my league.

    Posted by:
    Report Abuse
    lobo9120 08/16/13 02:34 PM

    I don't and do agree for several reasons.The main and IMO most important reason is that the last spot in the draft is always reserved for my kicker, always will be.

    I also agree with Lobo9120. If your scoring system places more value on the defense they should be drafted appropriately.

    In the scoring system you outlined I can readily agree with your reasoning. However the defense in that scenario would be my second to last pick : )

    Posted by:
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    sealman 09/05/13 05:49 PM

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