2014 D/ST fantasy preview
There are plenty of factors to consider when deciding which fantasy defense/special teams unit (D/ST) to call your own. Below are the 2013 ranks in each of the six main categories that comprise D/ST points for last year's top-10 scorers based on the ESPN standard scoring system:
2013 Top-10 Fantasy D/STs
|Team||Pts Allowed||Yds Allowed||INT||FR||Sacks||TD|
|Total Rank Pts||75||112||86||90||70||110|
So as you can see, the closest correlation of aggregate statistical rank to fantasy scoring output was sacks (70), followed closely by points allowed (75), then interceptions (86) and fumble recoveries (90). Touchdowns (110) and yards allowed (112) have much less bearing on fantasy success than the first four categories, which is refreshing because of the difficulty in predicting which teams will score the most points and allow the most yards.
ESPN Stats & Information provides a different breakdown for D/ST fantasy points. Last season, the average D/ST scored 106 fantasy points, broken down like this:
40 points for Sacks
31 points for Interceptions
22 points for Touchdowns
19 points for Fumble Recoveries
3 points for Blocked Kicks
1 point for Safety
1 point for Points Allowed
-11 points for Yards Allowed
Both of these methods reveal that sacks are the most important statistic in determining value for fantasy defenses. This makes sense, since sacks (and pressuring the quarterback) are the greatest cause of turnovers, and pinning teams into second-and-long and third-and-long situations obviously diminishes their chances for opponents to gain yards and score points. So with an emphasis on the QB punishers, below is the breakdown of D/STs this season.
The next tier
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I don't expect the Buffalo Bills to finish anywhere close to the top eight in D/ST scoring again this season with the departure of defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who was replaced by Jim Schwartz. The Bills will switch to a 4-3 this season under the former Lions head coach, and I can't see the club racking up another 57 sacks in this system. The loss of FS Jairus Byrd will also hurt, and speaking of hurting, both starting CBs Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin are still not fully healed from offseason hip surgery. Consider Buffalo a backup D/ST at best. ... The Minnesota Vikings allowed the most points in the NFL last season (30.0 per game) and finished second worst in the league in total defense with 398 total yards per game allowed. The team could not keep stud DE Jared Allen (128.5 career sacks) from leaving town, providing very little for new coordinator George Edwards, who was the Dolphins' linebackers coach in 2013, to work with outside of star WLB Chad Greenway (134 tackles, 10th in NFL). The 31st-ranked passing defense (287 passing yards per game) did upgrade its secondary with CBs Captain Munnerlyn (74 tackles, 3.5 sacks) and Derek Cox (38 tackles), but this is far from a Pro Bowl duo. Avoid the Vikings on draft day. ... The San Diego Chargers play a pretty conservative defense that doesn't allow a lot of scoring, but doesn't pressure the quarterback enough to rack up sacks or turnovers. The club had no player record as many as six sacks last season, and it forced just 17 turnovers all season, which was the third-lowest number in the league. With no significant free-agent additions, this has all the makings of a bottom-five fantasy defense for the second straight year.
I don't usually champion taking a fantasy D/ST in a single-digit round in a standard redraft league, but I think an exception can be made for the Seahawks, who are clearly ahead of the rest of league. If you already have a QB, TE, three RBs and three WRs, go ahead and draft Seattle in the ninth round. The other D/STs in the "elite" group above should be taken about Round 12, and the rest of the lot can be saved until the final two rounds of the draft when you close out your roster with a D/ST followed by a kicker.
Depending on what your cap is, you could be justified spending up to $5 on the Seahawks and three bucks on the other top-five defenses. This is especially true for the rare leagues that start two D/STs. But for standard fantasy leagues that are drafting only one D/ST unit, spend your big money on securing skill positions and simply bid $1 on a team like the Rams, Patriots or Saints in the waning moments of the auction.
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