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Team Defense Overview

A detailed overview of picking team defenses

There's a growing trend of advanced fantasy leagues moving to an IDP (individual defensive players) roster format, however the standard Defense and Special Teams position is still very much the majority of most league's lineup format. The goal of fantasy leagues is to score more points than your opponent on a weekly basis or the most points in your league over the course of the season. It is a good idea to produce solid numbers from all positions in your starting lineup, which includes a Defense/ST. You don't have to have the best fantasy defense to win your league title, but consistency is important.

2013 Top 10 Defense/ST - Consensus Ranking

  • Seattle - early-June ADP 96
  • San Francisco - early-June ADP 99
  • Denver - early-June ADP 114
  • Chicago- early-June ADP 115
  • Houston - early-June ADP 119
  • Cincinnati - early-June ADP 132
  • New England - early-June ADP 139
  • Green Bay - early-June ADP 161
  • Pittsburgh - early-June ADP 167
  • Baltimore - early-June ADP 169

What statistics are important when choosing a Defense/ST?

Most leagues reward points for the following defensive statistics:

  • 1 point per sack
  • 1 point per turnover (interception or fumble recovery)
  • 2 points per safety
  • 6 points per defensive touchdown
  • 6 points per special teams touchdown (punt/kick return, blocked FG return for touchdown)

Some leagues, give a higher weight to turnovers, offering two points instead of one for a defensive turnover. It is also common to see a scale of points awarded for yards allowed and/or points allowed. Some defenses may force a lot of turnovers, but are in the bottom ten in points allowed plus yards allowed and may not be the best option for your scoring format. Some Defense/ST formats reward points for two-point conversions. It is definitely wise to know your league's scoring format, before you make your draft selection. For example, San Francisco is considered to be a strong Defense/ST option this year, but if your league does not reward for points allowed and/or yards allowed they should be dropped down in the rankings. After all, that leaves just sacks, turnovers and defensive/ST touchdowns to earn points. Last year San Francisco was 14th in the league in takeaways and they had zero kick/punt returns for a touchdown. They did manage four touchdown returns via interception or fumble. In leagues that did not reward for points and yards allowed, the 49ers finshed as the 18th best fantasy defense. Again, it's important to know your league's scoring format when it comes to Defense/ST point metrics. 

Strategies for Drafting a Defense/ST (12-team redraft)

  • Choose a Top 5 Defense/ST - These picks can go anywhere from round 8 to round 14, depending on how many rounds your league drafts. If you elect to use this strategy, picking the best available defense in round 14 or later is probably the best angle. Choosing a top rated defense comes at a huge premium. We don't advocate taking the consensus #1 defense, because it's too easy to find undrafted gems later on the waiver wire.
  • Defense by committee approach - This strategy involves selecting two defenses outside of the Top 10 that have favorable match ups against bad offenses. The strategy involves playing the defense with the better match up each week. This is explained much further in detail in our annual Defense By Committee article.
  • Wait until the later rounds to select the best Defense/ST available - Often a good Defense/ST emerges and can be claimed on the waiver wire in week 2 or 3, if you are not pleased with your draft selection. It is not that difficult to strike gold with a waiver wire defense. In a typical 12 team league, 16-18 defenses might get drafted. That leaves 14-16 that are available on the waiver wire. One of those teams is bound to be a diamond in the rough.
  • Rotating Defense/ST - Draft a defense that plays bad teams for the first few weeks of the season, then switch them out for a defense on the waiver wire, based on who the bad teams coming up will be playing. Both Dallas and Philadelphia play two sketchy teams in their first three games this year and therefore warrant a late round draft selection in this strategy.

Myth or Fact - Teams with better offenses have better fantasy defenses

It's not a fact; however there is some advantage to choosing a defense based on the success of the offense. A good offensive team will tend to have a higher point margin, which causes the opposing team to pass more often. An increase in passing plays gives a better chance for sacks, as well as turnovers. A team trailing will tend to take more risks, which often results in an errant or rushed throw that could yield more turnovers. New England is a prime example. Last year, the Patriots put up a league high 557 points and finished 2nd in many leagues in team defense/ST. Denver is another. The Broncos had a point differential of 192 and finished with 52 sacks and six defensive scores. In most league formats, Denver finished in the Top 5. When in doubt, choose a team that will put up points on offense, because chances are their defense will follow suit with takeaways. Teams on the rise in this category in 2013 include Arizona, Detroit, Dallas and Buffalo.

Don't overlook Special Teams

Kick and punt returns for touchdowns play an important role in the scoring format, so they should also play an important role in deciding which Defense/ST to target in the draft. Last year, Tennessee led the league with 4 touchdowns on returns (3 punts, 1 kickoff). Darius Reynaud scored three of the four return touchdowns for Tennessee and remains an underrated threat to dominate in special teams again this year. Baltimore scored three special teams touchdowns in 2012, all by rising wide receiver and return ace, Jacoby Jones. Another team to watch out for from a special teams angle is Buffalo. The Bills had 3 return touchdowns in 2012, two by CB Leodis McKelvin.

2012 Leaders in Special Teams Touchdowns

  • 4 Tennessee (3 punt, 1 kickoff)
  • 3 Buffalo (2 punt, 1 kickoff)
  • 3 Baltimore (1 punt, 2 kickoff)
  • 3 Miami (1 punt, 1 kickoff, 1 block)
  • 3 Seattle (1 kickoff, 2 blocks)
  • 2 Green Bay (1 punt, 1 block)
  • 2 Denver (1 punt, 1 kickoff)
  • 2 Minnesota (1 punt, 1 kickoff)
  • 2 Indianapolis (1 punt, 1 kickoff)
  • 2 New England (1 punt, 1 kickoff)
  • 2 San Diego (1 punt, 1 kickoff)
  • 2 NY Jets (1 punt, 1 kickoff)
  • several with 1

Takeaways and sacks

Only three teams finished in the Top 10 in both sacks and takeaways in 2012 - Chicago, Cincinnati and Houston. Over the last three years, three teams averaged a Top 10 finish in those categories - New York Giants, Green Bay and surprisingly, Detroit.

Takeaways

Rank
Team
3 yr Avg
Takeaways 2012
Takeaways 2011
Takeaways 2010
1
New England Patriots
37.7
41
34
38
2
Chicago Bears
36.7
44
31
35
3
New York Giants
35.0
35
31
39
4
Green Bay Packers
31.0
23
38
32
5
Atlanta Falcons
30.3
31
29
31
6
San Francisco 49ers
28.3
25
38
22
7
New York Jets
28.0
23
31
30
8
Seattle Seahawks
28.0
31
31
22
9
Arizona Cardinals
27.3
33
19
30
10
Detroit Lions
26.7
17
34
29
11
Washington Redskins
26.3
31
21
27
12
Baltimore Ravens
26.0
25
26
27
13
Cincinnati Bengals
26.0
30
22
26
14
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
26.0
26
24
28
15
Cleveland Browns
25.7
29
20
28
16
Carolina Panthers
25.3
23
24
29
17
Buffalo Bills
24.7
21
31
22
18
Houston Texans
24.7
29
27
18
19
San Diego Chargers
24.0
28
21
23
20
Tennessee Titans
24.0
24
23
25
21
Dallas Cowboys
23.7
16
25
30
22
Minnesota Vikings
23.7
22
23
26
23
Philadelphia Eagles
23.7
13
24
34
24
Pittsburgh Steelers
23.3
20
15
35
25
Jacksonville Jaguars
23.0
23
28
18
26
Oakland Raiders
23.0
19
26
24
27
New Orleans Saints
22.3
26
16
25
28
St. Louis Rams
21.7
21
18
26
29
Kansasy City Chiefs
20.7
13
26
23
30
Denver Broncos
20.0
24
18
18
31
Miami Dolphins
18.0
16
19
19
32
Indianapolis Colts
17.7
15
17
21

Sack Totals

Rank
Team
3 yr Avg
Sacks 2012
Sacks 2011
Sacks 2010
1
St. Louis Rams
44.7
52
39
43
2
New York Giants
42.3
33
48
46
3
Minnesota Vikings
41.7
44
50
31
4
Cincinnati Bengals
41.0
51
45
27
5
Green Bay Packers
41.0
47
29
47
6
Miami Dolphins
40.7
42
41
39
7
Pittsburgh Steelers
40.0
37
35
48
8
Detroit Lions
39.7
34
41
44
9
Philadelphia Eagles
39.7
30
50
39
10
Houston Texans
39.3
44
44
30
11
San Diego Chargers
39.0
38
32
47
12
Denver Broncos
38.7
52
41
23
13
San Francisco 49ers
38.7
38
42
36
14
Arizona Cardinals
37.7
38
42
33
15
New England Patriots
37.7
37
40
36
16
Baltimore Ravens
37.3
37
48
27
17
Dallas Cowboys
37.0
34
42
35
18
Oakland Raiders
37.0
25
39
47
19
Chicago Bears
36.0
41
33
34
20
Tennessee Titans
35.7
39
28
40
21
Seattle Seahawks
35.3
36
33
37
22
New York Jets
35.0
30
35
40
23
Washington Redskins
34.0
32
41
29
24
Carolina Panthers
33.7
39
31
31
25
Cleveland Browns
33.0
38
23
29
26
New Orleans Saints
32.0
30
33
33
27
Kansas City Chiefs
31.7
27
29
39
28
Atlanta Falcons
31.0
29
33
31
29
Buffalo Bills
30.7
36
29
27
30
Indianapolis Colts
30.3
32
29
30
31
Jacksonville Jaguars
25.7
20
31
26
32
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
25.3
27
23
26

Points Allowed and Yards Allowed

Some leagues reward a scale of points for fewest points and total yards allowed. The trend shows most teams in the Top 10 tend to have good longevity when it comes to points allowed. Seven teams, PIT, SF, SEA, NE, ATL, CHI and MIA finished in the Top 10 in points allowed last year and over the last three years. Eight teams, PIT, SF, SEA, HOU, NYJ, CIN, SD and CHI finished in the Top 10 in yards allowed last year as well as over the last three years.

Points Allowed

Rank
Team
3 yr Avg
PA/G 2012
PA/G 2011
PA/G 2010
1
Pittsburgh Steelers
16.1
19.6
14.2
14.5
2
San Francisco 49ers
17.7
17.1
14.3
21.6
3
Baltimore Ravens
18.3
21.5
16.6
16.9
4
Chicago Bears
18.8
17.3
21.3
17.9
5
Green Bay Packers
19.5
21.0
22.4
15.0
6
Atlanta Falcons
19.5
18.7
21.9
18.0
7
Miami Dolphins
20.1
19.8
19.6
20.8
8
Seattle Seahawks
20.1
15.3
19.7
25.4
9
New England Patriots
20.6
20.7
21.4
19.6
10
Cleveland Browns
21.0
23.0
19.2
20.8
11
Houston Texans
21.6
20.7
17.4
26.7
12
Cincinnati Bengals
21.6
20.0
20.2
24.7
13
New York Jets
21.7
23.4
22.7
19.0
14
San Diego Chargers
21.9
21.9
23.6
20.1
15
St. Louis Rams
22.6
21.8
25.4
20.5
16
Kansas City Chiefs
22.7
26.6
21.1
20.4
17
New York Giants
22.7
21.5
25.0
21.7
18
New Orleans Saints
22.9
28.4
21.2
19.2
19
Tennessee Titans
23.5
29.4
19.8
21.2
20
Washington Redskins
23.6
24.3
22.9
23.6
21
Arizona Cardinals
23.7
22.3
21.8
27.1
22
Minnesota Vikings
23.9
21.8
28.1
21.8
23
Denver Broncos
24.0
18.1
24.4
29.4
24
Philadelphia Eagles
24.0
27.8
20.5
23.6
25
Dallas Cowboys
24.7
25.0
21.7
27.3
26
Detroit Lions
24.9
27.3
24.2
23.1
27
Jacksonville Jaguars
24.9
27.8
20.6
26.2
28
Carolina Panthers
25.0
22.7
26.8
25.5
29
Indianapolis Colts
25.1
24.2
26.9
24.3
30
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
25.1
24.6
30.9
19.9
31
Oakland Raiders
26.0
27.7
27.1
23.2
32
Buffalo Bills
27.0
27.2
27.1
26.6

Yards Allowed

Rank
Team
3 yr Avg
YA/G 2012
YA/G 2011
YA/G 2010
1
Pittsburgh Steelers
274.8
275.8
271.8
276.8
2
New York Jets
309.0
323.4
312.1
291.5
3
San Francisco 49ers
310.1
294.4
308.2
327.8
4
San Diego Chargers
314.9
326.4
346.6
271.6
5
Baltimore Ravens
319.6
350.9
288.9
318.9
6
Cincinnati Bengals
322.7
319.7
316.3
332.0
7
Chicago Bears
326.8
315.6
350.4
314.3
8
Houston Texans
328.6
323.3
285.7
376.9
9
Philadelphia Eagles
331.8
343.2
324.9
327.2
10
Seattle Seahawks
335.7
306.2
332.2
368.6
11
Miami Dolphins
337.1
356.8
345.1
309.3
12
Kansas City Chiefs
340.0
356.5
333.3
330.2
13
Minnesota Vikings
340.3
350.0
358.2
312.6
14
Atlanta Falcons
343.9
365.6
333.6
332.4
15
St. Louis Rams
345.9
342.6
358.4
336.8
16
Denver Broncos
346.5
290.8
357.8
390.8
17
Cleveland Browns
348.8
363.8
332.4
350.1
18
Carolina Panthers
348.9
333.1
377.6
335.9
19
Dallas Cowboys
350.1
355.4
343.2
351.8
20
Detroit Lions
350.8
341.1
367.6
343.6
21
Green Bay Packers
352.5
336.8
411.6
309.1
22
Oakland Raiders
355.0
354.5
387.6
322.8
23
Jacksonville Jaguars
355.1
380.5
313.0
371.8
24
Arizona Cardinals
355.5
337.8
355.1
373.6
25
New York Giants
357.2
383.4
376.4
311.9
26
Indianapolis Colts
362.3
374.3
370.9
341.6
27
Buffalo Bills
365.2
362.9
371.1
361.6
28
Tennessee Titans
365.9
374.9
355.1
367.7
29
Washington Redskins
368.9
377.7
339.8
389.3
30
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
369.0
379.9
394.4
332.7
31
New Orleans Saints
371.6
440.1
368.4
306.3
32
New England Patriots
383.6
373.3
411.1
366.5

2013 Defense/ST - Best Values

Arizona - The Cardinals already have a very strong special teams unit thanks to Patrick Peterson, but they also are among the Top 10 in takeaways over the last three years and finished tied for fourth in takeaways last year. They are currently the 12th Defense/ST off the board and possess two key factors that are vital in choosing a defense (return skills and takeaways). Arizona is an excellent Defense/ST target that you can obtain several rounds after the first one is selected.

Cleveland - The Browns impending success is more of a hunch than a direct result of analyzing numbers and data. They made major strides on the defensive side of the ball over the offseason, adding pass rushers Paul Kruger, Desmond Bryant, Quinton Groves and selecting Barkevius Mingo in the draft. Not only that, but Phil Taylor (pectoral) will be fully healthy at nose tackle not to mention the presence of Jabaal Sheard and D'QWell Jackson. The offseason additions, including defensive coordinator Ray Horton (formerly defensive coordinator of the Cardinals), make them a team to watch on defense. The changes made should bolster the pass rush, which will have a positive effect on sack totals and turnovers. Cleveland also has a decent schedule that can yield positive match ups in certain weeks. They currently have an ADP of 240 as the 16th defensive unit selected off the board.

San Diego - Consider the Chargers a sleeper defense in 2013. They very quietly had seven defensive touchdowns in 2012 (five via interception, two via fumble) with 28 takeaways and 38 sacks. It's possible that it was just a fluke year, but they are nearly a forgotten option when it comes to selecting a Defense/ST unit. In many leagues, they finished in the Top 6 among team defensive squads. Their ADP is currently 259 as the 20th defense off the board.

Conclusion

Choosing a Defense/ST for your fantasy team is not a perfect science, because teams and personnel change year to year. Every seaqson one or two teams will rise up the ranks and become a consistent weekly start. If you don't like the team you drafted, you can go with the waiver wire darling and hope the success lasts all year. It's possible to draft a strong unit early, however doing so will keep you from drafting talent at other important positions. The increasingly popular defense by committee approach is another strategy that uses strength of schedule as your guide to choose which defense to start any given week. Whatever strategy you use, be sure you understand your league's scoring format. When in doubt, choose a team that is strong in at least two important facets of the game - takeaways, sacks, special teams and offensive points scored. If all else fails, use the waiver wire and target defenses with good match ups for the next few games and then switch them out in a few weeks for a different team with good match ups against poor teams. Incorporating one of these strategies is a good way to find success when it comes to choosing the right Defense/ST unit. 


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