In this offense-focused era, paying a premium for fantasy football defense makes no sense.
It’s an argument I’ve made many times on these pages, but the advice gets louder each year as week-on-week defenses become more volatile and produce weaker seasonal totals. To summarize briefly:
Top fantasy defense/special teams (D/ST) scored 173 points last season, a total of 85 skill position players.
The difference in fantasy points between the #1 and #11 defenses last season was 68. That’s smaller than the difference between the #1 and #5 quarterbacks, running backs, or wide receivers, and the #1 and #2 difference tight ends.
Only the defenses of the New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles, and San Francisco 49ers managed a positional fantasy score in the top 10 in at least half of their games last season. None had a top-five position at the start of the season average draft (ADP).
While all of this is instructive, the question naturally arises: What are we supposed to do at the D/ST position if we don’t focus on it in the design?
The answer is to put the position together wherever you can at minimal cost, whether that’s spending a late or last-round draft pick on a favored team, or picking a defense with a cheap week 1 matchup and by stream from matches there.
But let’s get one thing straight when it comes to D/STs: “Don’t pay a premium” shouldn’t be confused with “It doesn’t matter the position – ignore it all year round”. Getting the most out of this position is important to fantasy success.
D/ST road map
Welcome to the D/ST roadmap, which will guide you through both the draft and the first few weeks of the season. Below are the preferred draft day picks due to the soft September schedules, as well as the recommended streaming options for each of the first four weeks of the season.
Why only four weeks? It’s simple: This game is changing so rapidly and so dramatically that predicting an entire season so far in advance would be a silly task. After all, numerous factors influence a team’s defense: the head coach, the defense coordinator, the defense system, the staff, the schedule, and so on. We tend to have one far It’s better to find out about a team’s true talent when four weeks of the new season are in the books.
The statistics prove that:
Of the 25 D/STs ranked in the top five at the position from 2018-2022, only seven finished the season in the top five in fantasy points, with 14 finishing in the top ten.
For comparison, of the 25 D/STs who have ranked in the top five at the Fantasy Points position for four weeks over the past five seasons, 12 finished the season in the top five and 17 finished in the top ten.
In other words, do your best to lead your team into October successfully. You might land a D/ST before that, which catches fire and gets stuck. Otherwise, you can rate the upcoming encounters again and continue streaming successfully.
Let’s get to the roadmap and get off to a good start.
Currently, the Saints are #5 in D/ST in our rankings and #6 in terms of ADP, but they’re not universally considered one of them The The best fantasy defense teams for 2023, but they’re definitely talented enough to get drafted almost everywhere. They also have the smoothest September/October schedule which is a great combination especially for those of you who are not yet comfortable with the D/ST piecemeal strategy.
Through Week 6, the Saints are set to play six of their seven worst-projected offenses (their schedule starts with TEN, @CAR, @GB, TB, @NE, @HOU), and it will be Week 10 (@MIN) before they stand ahead of a prospective top 10 attack. This could be the D/ST that you subscribe cheaply and are most likely to stay for the long term.
Sleep Options: Denver Broncos (schedule starts with LV, WAS, @MIA, @CHI, NYJ), Seattle Seahawks (schedule starts with LAR, @DET, CAR, @NYG).
D/ST schedule for each week
Week 1: Among the defenses likely to be available, the strongest streaming options are the Baltimore Ravens (HOU), Washington Commanders (ARI), and Atlanta Falcons (CAR). If your league is drafting strongly in this position and you have less attractive D/ST options or ones with spooky opening week encounters like the New York Jets (BUF) or Patriots (PHI), decide for week 1 A strategy where you can then find out makes sense with one of these three.
Among defensives that are sure to get drafted, the Saints (TEN) and Eagles (@NE) are ideal draft day targets if priced appropriately.
Avoid: Jets (BUF), Patriots (PHI).
week 2: The roadmap will certainly shift by the start of week two, although not significantly as a single week’s yields are not conclusive for a season. As of preseason, the Broncos (WAS) are the top streaming choices for Week 2 of the likely available D/STs. The Los Angeles Chargers (@TEN) and Green Bay Packers (@ATL) are also likely to top the list of weekly signings, especially after both teams endured an underperforming duel in week 1.
Looking ahead: This could be a good week to add the Cleveland Browns as they will have @PIT and TEN as matchups in Weeks 2-3.
Avoid: Jets (@DAL), another reason the Jets D/ST is one of the scariest units to pick on draft day for sure.
Week 3: So far ahead, the aforementioned Browns (TEN) and Seahawks (CAR) have the two most compelling games of Week 3 among streaming offerings. The Ravens (IND) also stand out, especially when you follow them through their tougher week 2 match (@CIN). As an additional note, while four weeks was a greater correlation to full-year success than three in recent seasons, it’s still best to reassess your defense after the third third of the season and examine which teams have good and bad matchups for D/ STs represent week.
Avoid: Patriots (@NE), Broncos (@MIA).
Week 4: The Detroit Lions (@GB), the Minnesota Vikings (@CAR), and the Los Angeles Rams (LV) are the furthest away players we can predict in terms of draft-relevant D/ST advice, at least for the best streaming options . Keep in mind that the deeper we get into the season, the greater the likelihood that certain defenses started the season well and have therefore already been added. As such, it might be worth adding a defense like the Lions, who also had an Above Average Matchup (ATL) in Week 3, the week before to capitalize on back-to-back plus matches.
Avoid: Jets (KC), Patriots (@DAL), Dolphins (@BUF).