New Eagles Defense: A Fantasy Squad Worth Reaching For
New “Gym Shorts” (Jim Swartz) Defensive Impact
Conventional wisdom tells us not to put too much thought into Defense / Special Teams when it comes to fantasy football. But this conventional wisdom could leave an untapped gem for you this fantasy season.“The last two picks of your draft should be a kicker and DST” is advice frequently handed out when it comes to redraft fantasy football. These two positions are deemed so insignificant, and likely to replaced frequently during a campaign, that they are merely ignored until it is felt that we must go through the motions and take one. But when one considers that the 10th highest scoring DST in 2015 scored 131.00 points, while Zach Ertz’s 95.30 points were good for 10th among tight ends, it may be deemed prudent to identify a unit that you would be prepared to stick with throughout the whole campaign, and even keep on your bench during the team bye week. Such a unit could even be worth shooting for a tad earlier than the 14th or 15th rounds.
There will be some owners in your draft who will overdraft the Broncos, Panthers or Seahawks, maybe as early as round 10. I say let them, they are missing out on the chance to grab serious value there. Instead of using your 12th or 13th round pick on another wide receiver who has been due to break out since 2012, or a tight end who might catch the odd touchdown, you should invest in the Philadelphia Eagles DST.
After finishing at the 13th top scoring unit last season with Billy Davis running the defense, new Eagles head coach Doug Pederson brought in Jim Schwartz to oversee the unit.
Schwartz enjoyed mixed results as the head coach of the Detroit Lions between 2009-13, but his pedigree as a defensive coach is well established, after eight seasons with the Titans and the 2014 campaign with the Bills. In Schwartz 14 seasons as either a head coach or DC, his defenses have averaged 37 sacks a season, including 54 during his sole go around in Buffalo. Only twice have his charges delivered less 32, the 2006 Titans managing just 26 and his freshman year with the Lions in 2009 seeing only 25. After playing in a two gap 3-4 scheme under Davis, the Eagles defenders have been shown the early glimpses of Schwartz 4-3 “Attack” defense, a system that positively encourages pass rushers to shoot through the offensive gaps on their way to the quarterback.
The Eagles amassed 37 sacks last year in the “keep the linebackers clean” Davis scheme, and freed off their blocking and occupying duties the potential for Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan to pad their own sack statistics is tantalising. Schwartz also is an advocate of not giving up the big play, whether on the ground or through the air. The Eagles DST under Davis had a penchant for allowing “explosive” plays (pass plays over 20 yards), and this will be an area that Schwartz will expect and demand improvement. With an effective pass rush, the Eagles will hope to rush more quarterback throws, giving them a chance to match the 15 interceptions they recorded last year and challenge the 16 that Schwartz led teams have averaged over his career. Sacks and takeaways are big point scorers in standard fantasy football, so even if a team is unable to shut opponents out, they still offer value if they are able to get to the quarterback and take the ball away.
The Eagles have the players to do this, and the coach who can point them in a position to get better at it. In 2014 and 15, the Eagles defense scored on five picks sixes, and added another three touchdowns on fumble recoveries.
In most mock drafts, the Eagles DST are still available in the 15th round, so if you are wedded to the “take them last” philosophy you can still select them without compromising your integrity. But if you have taken the above advice to heart, and you want to make sure that you snare them, I would seriously endorse taking them in the tenth round. Your other options at this stage include the likes of Stephen Gostkowski, a tight end coming off a major patellar injury in Jimmy Graham, a 30 year old running back without a team and with a long history of soft tissue injuries in Arian Foster, or a running back stuck behind the workhorse back on his own team in Tevin Coleman. Given a choice of those dart throws or a unit that can deliver points week in, week out, it seems logical to take the surer thing.