If you must disregard my advice, at least wait until the last round of your draft. You are absolutely wasting a pick if you take a defense before the final round. Nothing shows a fantasy owner’s weakness more than taking a defense in the tenth round. I don’t care how much you like the Seahawks; you shouldn’t be taking them that early.
Team defenses are notoriously difficult to predict preseason, and you’re just as likely to waste your pick as to hit on a consistent defense. So don’t draft a defense!
Math to Prove My Point
Let’s say you don’t believe me and you want more proof. We’ll take a look at defenses from the last two years.
Last year, the top five defenses taken were, in order: Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, and Cincinnati, according to FantasyFootballCalculator. Combined, they had an average finish of 13th. The Texans managed to finish dead last, and the Bears were the 23rd-ranked defense.
According to the ADP data, you would have needed to spend a 9th-round pick to get the Seahawks, or a 10th to get the 49ers. (For reference, you could have gotten Knowshon Moreno, Greg Olsen, DeAndre Hopkins, Michael Floyd, Alshon Jeffery, Andy Dalton, and Joique Bell after those two defenses.) Concerningly, you could have instead spent an 11th to get the Bears or Texans, who finished 23rd and 32nd, respectively.
Going further back: In 2012, the top five defenses taken were, in order, San Francisco, Baltimore, Philadelphia, the Giants, and the Jets. Here’s the fascinating thing: those top five ADP defenses had an average finish of 17th. That means the top-five drafted defenses averaged a season score worse than half the league. If you wasted an early draft pick to take a defense in 2012, not only did you likely not get a starter-quality defense, you didn’t even get a defense in the top half of the league.
In 2012, you would have spent somewhere between a 10th- and 12th-round pick to get the 49ers, who finished as the 6th-best defense that year. As the highest-drafted defense the 49ers weren’t worth their draft value. Look at their first three weeks last year: five points, five points, and four points. At that point, many owners would have considered other options. Then take a look at the end of the year, the 49ers finished with three, eight, nine, and minus two points in Weeks 13-16, the fantasy playoffs.
Clearly, you can’t just look at someone’s predraft rankings and stick to them for defenses. Instead, don’t draft a defense!
Don’t Draft a Defense … Then What?
This year, like every year, I won’t be drafting a defense in almost any league. Instead, I’ll take all position players and wait until just before Week 1 to drop someone for a defense. I want to fill my bench with sleepers and wait through all of preseason to see if they turn out big. Right before Week 1 I’ll drop a sleeper that didn’t pan out by that point, and I’ll pick up one of the waiver wire defenses.
But of course, you have questions. Alright, so say you’ve decided to take my advice. You are going to wait until the final round or the waiver wire to pick up a defense. How do you pick one? One word: matchups.
For several years now I have played defense by committee, swapping out defenses nearly every week. And it works.
When selecting a defense, focus on a couple things: the opposing team’s offensive numbers (turnovers and points-scored are the big two), whether the defense is at home or on the road, and any inclement weather that would reduce overall scoring.
So for Week One, what defenses might be worth looking at this year? The Jets are at home against the Raiders, with Matt Schaub in a new offense. Chicago hosts Buffalo, where you can expect a few struggles from E. J. Manuel and the offense. Pittsburgh plays at home against Cleveland, who is likely to be without Josh Gordon and potentially starting a rookie quarterback. Those would be my top three picks for a one-week start. So try it with me: Don’t draft a defense!