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Faceoff: Defense and Kicker Strategy

August 28th

Clayton Gray: It seems that the generally accepted strategy is to wait on a defense and a kicker. However, is there ever a time where it's better to land a stud at either spot? At defense, do you prefer a drafting a committee? What are your thoughts on grabbing waiver wire defenses before they play weak offenses? Or do you simply prefer to go after a top-tier team and essentially plug them in every week regardless of their opponent?

Matt Waldman: If I'm pleased with my early and middle rounds of a draft, I'll target a top-tier defense to set it and forget it. Otherwise, I'll wait and play the rent-a-defense strategy if I don't hit on a unit in my draft. I think the rent-a-defense strategy is a sound one because strength of schedule really doesn't become a factor that anyone can get a strong read for at least a month. There are simply too many variables with injuries, new coaches, new schemes, and new player, to look at strength of schedule as more than a limited preseason guideline. After that, a waiver-savvy fantasy owner can do well with this strategy.

The downside of this strategy is in a league with a bunch of "waiver savvy" yahoos like Footballguys writers in their staff league. Might as well find a top defense and not risk battling for players with the likes of Sigmund Bloom, Jeff Haseley, Jason Wood, and other bargain shoppers lurking for Thursday night deals.

Steve Holloway: The size of the league definitely impacts the decision on when to select your kicker and defense. In smaller leagues (10 or 12 teams) I always wait till the last two or three rounds to draft them and only take one of each. I definitely agree with Mark that I value the later round bye weeks for both and especially the defenses. That gives you more time, like Matt said to evaluate their performance, watch for significant injuries and assess their upcoming strength of schedules.

With larger leagues, I am more willing to take a defense earlier, with the level of comfort usually based on how much trust I have in my corps players to that point. If I do not have any weaknesses at the four primary positions that will enable me to pull the trigger quicker to further strengthen the entire team.

Andy Hicks: I never go for a stud defense. I'm always drafting depth or plugging in gaps on my roster by the time these are taken. It is very difficult for defensive units to repeat and common for defensive units to be picked late and outscore the so called studs. An obvious example of that last year San Francisco were drafted very late and were dominant. Those that drafted Pittsburgh or Green Bay as studs last year, got acceptable production, but could have got higher scoring units much later. In 2010, the Jets and the Vikings were the supposed studs and the Vikings in particular were horrible. The Chase Stuart article on Defensive committee's is one I rate very highly and gives me lots of good ideas of one or 2 defenses I can take late and I've used that to solid success in the past.

As for kickers, I try to find indoor kickers or ones that avoid the cold weather in winter, but on the whole I just look for experienced kickers on productive offenses. Again for this position I find that the stud turnover every year to be too unpredictable for my nature to take a kicker too early.

Will Grant: Holloway has a point about league size. In and eight or ten team league, even if you draft the WORST defense possible, you'll still have pretty solid waiver wire picks and your PPG difference won't be enough for you to worry about it.

In a normal 12 team draft, where scoring is adjusted to make defenses a little relevant, I might grab a defense somewhere around round 12-13, depending on if someone has taken one or not. IF most guys are holding off, and I've loaded my roster with 12 solid picks, why not "set it and forget it" like Matt said. Grab a top defense and then not have to worry about it except on a bye week.

For kickers, I wait a little longer, but still probably take one earlier than most. In a 22 round draft, I'll look at round 18-19 to get a kicker. Same idea as defense - with a solid roster of players, I'll take my top rated kicker and not worry about it after that.

I never draft more than one of each - even with an early bye. The more skills position sleepers you can have on your roster, the better your chances are of landing a surprise player. If everyone lays off Boldin and he goes off in week 1, the waiver wire explodes to grab him. If everyone lays off Cleveland's defense week 1 and they have a great week, most teams won't even give it a second look.

Jeff Haseley: I absolutely think there is a time when it's OK to select a premier kicker or defense, but it all has to do with the way the draft is going. If several, if not all members in the draft have decided to wait on kicker and/or Defense/ST, there comes a time when a top kicker or defense is the right pick. Some people will say, wait until "x" number of defenses or kickers have been selected before pulling the trigger. While that's not bad advice, if a draft lasts 22 rounds and by round 20, nobody has selected a kicker, why not pull the trigger on Stephen Gostkowski or David Akers? The same goes for Defense/ST. If it's the 15th round and the #1 defense is still on the board, I see no harm in making that your selection, especially if the scoring format gives adequate value for Defense/ST.

Sigmund Bloom: With the exception of scoring systems that heavily weight defenses by having systems that give points/deduct points based on yards and points allowed, defense and kicker should always be the last two picks. I advocate using a WW defense every week, and I write the "rent-a-defense" weekly column to highlight the likely WW defenses that I see having the best matchups each week. With the number of teams that have to turn to backup quarterbacks or otherwise fizzle out and make for easy matchups during the season, it is easier to find top plays on the WW than it is by leaving one team in every week.

Jeff Pasquino: I would only draft a "stud" defense if I knew that they would be studly - and that means sacks, turnover generation, ability to score (off turnovers and kick returns) and lastly keeping the other team off of the scoreboard. When Baltimore was at their peak, they fit this description to a tee.

Now I tend to look for teams with good personnel / playmakers on defense and a favorable schedule (and bye week). Grabbing a strong defense and holding on to them all year long can be tough in shallow leagues as it is very difficult to justify holding a defense on their bye week with roster spots at a premium. Deeper leagues affords that luxury. In deeper leagues I also may peek ahead at playoff schedules, grabbing teams with upside for December matchups.

As for a defense by committee approach, again you need roster space for two teams and even then it is hard to justify that even in the deepest of leagues. The two cases where I would do this for sure however are best ball leagues and draftmasters leagues where you have to have bye weeks covered for the entire season when you draft.

Mark Wimer: I agree with Matt here - if you are in a league with fairly casual fantasy football players, doing the defense-by-committee-and-waiver-wire can work fine. However, in a league where the waiver wire is employed by savvy, committed fantasy football fanatics then you are best off grabbing a fire-and-forget team defense that you plug in every week.

The appropriate strategy depends on the level of your opposition in any given league.

On kickers - I wait until the last two rounds (or one round, if I can get away with just one kicker on my roster) to pick my kicker, and then I select the guy I like best out of whoever is left.