Fantasy Strategy: Drafting Defenses
Savvy fantasy players are well aware of the optimal strategies for playing D/STs. Most owners will watch with glee as top defenses go in the sixth and seventh rounds while they stock up on quality starters then grab a defense in the final round or two with the intent to stream defenses over the course of the season.
That’s all well and good, but is it really the best strategy? In a league of casual players, yes. However, there are some pitfalls that come with streaming defenses that most fantasy owners fail to consider.
Mistake #1: “Everybody’s Doing It”
If you happen to be in a league of experienced owners, chances are you aren’t the only player intending to play a different defense week to week. In fact, in leagues full of veterans, nearly everyone understands not to overvalue defenses and drafts accordingly. This frequently results in a run of defenses at the end of the draft and more importantly, a barren waiver wire during the year as owners scramble for that next juicy match-up.
If you’re in a league like this, there’s another piece of draft advice that should trump taking defense last: when others zig, you zag. Find value where others do not and take a good defense before the end of the draft.
Obviously, this doesn’t mean you need to take Seattle Defense in the third round. However, if it’s the 11th round, only one defense has come off the board and you’re trying to decide between two long shots, it might be time to consider the ever-panned early defensive pick.
People tend to think of defenses as enigmas in fantasy, but they’re not. They can be sleepers just like any other player and they can be busts too. Nothing changes just because your draft choice doesn’t have a first and last name. Last season, would you rather have spent that 12th rounder on the Arizona D/ST, which finished fourth in total points, or LaMichael James, Isaiah Pead, or another valueless pick?
Any example can be cherry-picked, of course. Which leads us to our next point…
Mistake #2: “I Picked the Wrong Horse!”
It won’t matter if you do the smart thing and take your defense at the correct value if you take a bust. Experts often point out one of the flaws in drafting defense early is drafting a highly-touted defense that finishes the season as a less-than-stellar choice (see 2013 Houston Texans).
It’s easy to cherry-pick examples like Arizona as being a good value selection. You could argue that pick might have been spent on Pittsburgh D/ST or Baltimore D/ST, both of whom would have been terrible values. You could also point out that pick would have been a great place to take Julius Thomas or Jordan Cameron and you would be right.
All of this boils down to doing your research before the draft and knowing which players and defenses you value most highly. Maybe the sleeper guy you want will be available in the 15th round, but the defense you love isn’t going to make it back to you. Pull the trigger and believe in your research.
Gridiron Experts will provide you some helpful rankings and analysis of defenses to watch for 2014. Use those rankings and your own analysis to make informed decisions in your draft and find the value where others don’t
Mistake #3: Taking the Best of the Rest
For people who intend to stream defenses all season and want to take one late, this is the best strategy. When you’re one of the few who will be employing it and you know there will be decent selections available on the waiver wire it works very well.
When that last or second-to-last round rolls around and everyone else has had a defense for five picks already, you’re in prime position to take the highest-rated defense left on your board. Right?
Wrong. You just left points on the board.
If you intend to stream, your Defense pick needs to be based on match-up, not ability. Let me say this again: when you draft a defense to stream, you’re not really drafting; you are setting your lineup for Week one!
Too many avid fantasy players will do diligent research and come up with rankings for defenses they like, only to pick a team that plays the Broncos, Bears, Eagles or Cowboys in the first week. Once you realize this, you have to drop your defense and find another on the waiver wire, meaning you’ve wasted a roster spot or worse and allowed someone else in the draft to get the defense you should have taken with your pick.
No one can know which teams are going to be the best to play D/STs against this season, but common sense dictates giving Bill Belichick and Tom Brady several weeks to prepare for an opponent and then trusting in the defense they’re going up against isn’t a smart strategy. Similarly, you might love the Bills’ defensive line and think they’re a great value late, but playing the Buffalo defense at Chicago in Week 1 sounds less than ideal.
Bottom line: When you’re on the clock to grab a defense, make sure you have the Week 1 match-up in mind and not just the skill of the team you’re choosing.
Preston has lived all around Texas, and his loyalties always lie with his Texas Tech Red Raiders and Dallas Cowboys. He lives with his fiancée, Cheyenne. When he’s not busy winning fantasy football championships, he enjoys reading detective novels and taking naps.