For eleven straight years, Footballguys has promoted the defensive team by committee (DTBC) strategy to help fantasy players dominate their leagues. Fantasy defenses are inconsistent from year to year, making it difficult to predict which defenses and special teams (D/STs) will excel. And, at least in theory, the teams available at the ends of your drafts should provide less rewards. So how do you get great production out of the position while saving your most important draft picks?
We spend countless hours analyzing team offenses, and relatively few thinking about team defenses. But an average defense against a bad offense will do just as well as a great defense against an average offense. The key to the DTBC system is to find two teams available late in your draft whose combined schedule features predominantly weak offenses. By starting your defense based on matchups, your D/ST will generally face a weak offense, meaning your D/ST position will score lots of fantasy points.
Most years, following the DTBC advice will land you with a strong defense. I was really high on the Bills last year, and they were a total bust. But I suggested pairing them with the Chargers, and believe it or not, San Diego finished as the #6 fantasy defense last year. That's because they had two monster games against the Chiefs and a dominant performance in week 16 -- the fantasy championship -- against the Jets. Had you drafted both Buffalo and San Diego, chances are you were in good shape (and you dropped Buffalo early on).
When picking a D/ST committee, you should look for four factors:
- A very easy combined schedule
- Two teams with late average draft positions (ADPs)
- Elite pass rushers and defensive backs with good hands
- Reason to expect improvement in 2013
The first step in creating the DTBC system is to grade the offenses. I've used the Footballguys projections to rank the offenses, scoring them the following way: (0.3 x Points scored) + (0.03 x Total Yards) - 2 x (Interceptions thrown + Fumbles Lost). Each team's offensive projection is shown in the first column in the table, along with their projected rank and how they ranked under this scoring system in 2012. While most leagues award significant points for sacks, we don't project offensive sacks allowed data. But don’t worry: we’ll absolutely keep pass rushers in mind when we select the DTBC.
|13 Proj||Team||13 Rank||12 Rank|
|316||New England Patriots||1||1|
|278||Green Bay Packers||3||6|
|272||New Orleans Saints||4||2|
|249||San Francisco 49ers||7||8|
|236||New York Giants||13||9|
|217||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||19||13|
|210||Kansas City Chiefs||20||31|
|208||St. Louis Rams||21||22|
|200||San Diego Chargers||24||27|
|163||New York Jets||32||30|
Not surprisingly, Footballguys projects much better production out of the Chiefs this year, who vault from 31 to 20 thanks to the additions of head coach Andy Reid, quarterback Alex Smith, right tackle Eric Fisher, and tight end Anthony Fasano. The Eagles also jump quite a bit, as we project their terrible turnover luck to turn around in 2013 and think Chip Kelly's up-tempo offense will end up with lots of yards and points for the Eagles. On the other hand, we're still really down on the Jets and Cardinals, and the Bills with EJ Manuel or Kevin Kolb are now an even more tempting opponent.
After grading the offenses, I went through the NFL schedule and assigned each team the offensive rating of their opponent in each week. I also added three points to the offense's rating when they are at home and took away three points when the offense is on the road. For example, when Tampa Bay travels to New York to face the Jets in week 1, Tampa Bay’s D/ST receives 166 points. However, when the Jets travel to Foxboro in week two, New England's D/ST gets 160 points. Obviously, you want your committee to have the lowest possible number of combined points. Bye weeks are valued at 500 points to avoid combining D/STs that share the same bye week. After doing this for every game in every week, we can now rank each team’s schedule and pair up the defenses to form the best possible committee. One note: I'm ranking the committees through sixteen weeks, as most fantasy leagues don't play in week 17.
2013 Defensive Team By Committee
The Bills and the Steelers form the top combination, facing an average opponent roughly equal to the Raiders. But with the Steelers having an average draft position of the #7 defense, I'm not sure Pittsburgh works for our combination. The Steelers D/ST works well with the Bills, Dolphins, Browns, Patriots, and Ravens, and I'd advocate pairing up any of those defenses if they are available towards the end of your draft. But what if they're not?
Among defenses outside of the top ten, the Ravens and Browns pair up well. Baltimore has an ADP of DT 11, but it's hard to know what that means. The Ravens could go undrafted in some leagues but could be a top-eight pick in others. As always, you need to be flexible. That's why I've attached a table showing every possible combination at the end of this post.
One combination you can be confident will be available late is the Browns and the Bills. Buffalo's defense isn't as good as Baltimore's or Pittsburgh's, but they'll be available much later. Here's how a Buffalo/Cleveland combination would work.
Week 1: Cleveland vs. Miami (200 points)
Week 2: Buffalo vs. Carolina (220)
Week 3: Buffalo @ New York Jets (166)
Week 4: Cleveland vs. Cincinnati (215)
Week 5: Cleveland vs. Buffalo (185)
Week 6: Buffalo vs. Cincinnati (215)
Week 7: Buffalo @ Miami (206)
Week 8: Cleveland @ Kansas City (213)
Week 9: Buffalo vs. Kansas City (207)
Week 10: Buffalo @ Pittsburgh (220)
Week 11: Buffalo vs. New York Jets (160)
Week 12: Cleveland vs. Pittsburgh (214)
Week 13: Cleveland vs. Jacksonville (191)
Week 14: Buffalo @ Tampa Bay (220)
Week 15: Cleveland vs. Chicago (194)
Week 16: Cleveland @ New York Jets (166)
In ten of those weeks, your D/ST will be at home. The schedule has three games against the Jets -- projected to be the easiest opponent -- including a tasty matchup in your fantasy championship.
There are reasons to like Cleveland and Buffalo outside of their schedule this year, too. Let's take a look at the Cleveland Browns defense.
DL: Ahtyba Rubin, Phil Taylor, Desmond Bryant
LB: Paul Kruger, Craig Robertson, D'Qwell Jackson, Barkevious Mingo
DB: Joe Haden, Leon McFadden, T.J. Ward, Tashaun Gipson
Cleveland overhauled their front seven this off-season, signing Desmond Bryant from Oakland, Quentin Groves from the Cardinals, and Paul Kruger from Baltimore. Then, the Browns drafted Barkevious Mingo with the sixth overall pick. Kruger, Mingo, Groves, and Jabaal Sheard give Cleveland one of the deepest sets of outside linebackers in the league, so expect a much better pass rush from Cleveland in 2013. Having a healthy Phil Taylor at nose tackle will make a huge difference, and Bryant projects to be a very disruptive 3-4 defensive end in the passing game (he played well as a pass rusher in Oakland as a 4-3 defensive tackle in 2012).
Haden remains one of the game's top cornerbacks, while McFadden was selected with the Browns' 3rd round pick. Cleveland didn't have a bad pass defense in 2012, but should be much more successful at getting to the quarterback in 2013. New defensive coordinator Ray Horton ran one of the most aggressive 3-4 defenses in the league in Arizona, and he arguably has better personnel up front in Cleveland. If Norv Turner can improve the offense, that should result in more sacks and interceptions for the defense, too.
DL: Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams
LB: Mark Anderson, Nigel Bradham, Kiko Alonso, Manny Lawson
DB: Leodis McKelvin, Stephon Gilmore, Jairus Byrd, Da'Norris Searcy
Less stubborn writers would not go back to the Buffalo well again this year, but I'm willing to bet on their defense in 2013. The Bills are moving back to a 3-4 defense after bringing in defensive coordinator Mike Pettine from the Jets, but it's hard to typecast a Pettine/Rex Ryan defense. The strength of the Bills is up front, and expect Pettine to line up both Williamses and Dareus at multiple spots on the field. At their best, all three are Pro Bowl caliber players, and should be effective in a 3-4, a 4-3, a 4-2-5, or whatever other combinations Pettine cooks up.
The linebacker position has thankfully been overhauled. Mark Anderson will compete with former Colt Jerry Hughes at one spot, while former 49er and Bengal Manny Lawson will lock down the other position. Buffalo drafted Kiko Alonso, a very athletic inside linebacker from Oregon, and he seems likely to be an immediate starter. While linebacker has been a weak spot for years, Pettine was able to get strong production from a Jets defense that also had struggles at that position.
The secondary has question marks, but Jairus Byrd is one of the best safeties in the league. Searcy played well in spots last year, and moves into the starting lineup now that George Wilson is in Tennessee, while McKelvin and Gilmore are both former first round picks. An added bonus: McKelvin returned two punts for touchdowns last year and led the NFL in average gain on punt returns. If you play in a league that gives bonuses for special teams, Buffalo's return units provide another reason to like the Bills.
Drafting Only One Defense?
In some leagues, it's just too costly to spend two rosters spots on defenses. If that's your plan, it still pays to know the ability level of the offenses that each team will face. The Bills have the easiest schedule in the league, while the Falcons, Cowboys, and Cardinals have the three toughest schedules (i.e., they face the best offenses). The full list is presented below: Note that both the bye week (which was considered a 500 point week earlier in the article) and Week 17 have been removed.
Finally, here are all 496 combinations, presented in the table below.
More from Chase Stuart:
Running Back Workload Part II - July 18
Running Back Workload - July 11
Running Back Fantasy Production in Wins and Losses - July 7
Quarterback By Committee 2014 - June 19
Rearview QB - June 5
A Starting Point for 2014 Running Back Projections - May 27
How to Project Receiving Yards In 2014 - May 14
Cross-Team Running Back Handcuffs - August 28
Search our Stats: A Guide to the Data Dominator, Historical Data Dominator, and Game Log Dominator - August 14
Running Back Production By Quarter - August 14