A Defense can be one of the biggest conundrums in fantasy year in and year out. People tend to go with popular Defensive choices like the Seattle Seahawks or Carolina Panthers rather early in drafts. Just because it’s Round 10 doesn’t mean choose a defense. There are still valuable players and handcuffs to acquire during the latter rounds of a draft.
Going by the finishing statistics of 2016, only one defense finished in the top five as their projection at the beginning of the season. According to ESPN Scoring, Denver Broncos D/ST had an average ADP of pick 67 which is asinine and only scored 152 points in 2016. That’s mid-fifth round in 12-team leagues and mid-sixth round in 10-team leagues. Let me ask you a question would you rather have Broncos Defense or future 2016-17 MVP Matt Ryan whose ADP was pick 114.
Think smart on average defenses can score you 150 to 180 points in a good year depending on your league scoring. Every other position eclipses those numbers by mid-season. Kickers score more than Defenses do on average per year, and they get chosen as flier picks in the last round of every draft. Last season, the Atlanta Falcons Kicker Matt Bryant scored a whopping 212 points outscoring the highest Defense by 46 points, that’s astonishing for a position we thought was worthless.
It’s time to implore a new philosophy of choosing Defenses last in drafts instead of Kickers. Don’t panic when you see four or five Defenses already off the board here a few tips to finding the Defensive Gems of 2017. Choose a Defensive Unit with one of these qualities:
· D/ST VS Consistent Bad QB Play
o Look for a D/ST that goes up against a lot of inexperienced QBs like Brock Osweiler, any Cleveland Browns QB, or Blake Borltes. Zeroing in on a defenses schedule will help you find the gems you need that will help you succeed during the regular season.
o Bad QB Play turns into natural points either sacks or turnovers. Rookie QB’s have a tendency of struggling against any defense, so look for those type of matchups as well.
o For instance, the Chiefs was the No. 1 D/ST of 2016. They took advantage of games where they faced QBs like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Trevor Semian (twice), Jameis Winston, Brock Osweiler, and Blake Bortles. All of which are either young or turnover prone.
· D/ST That Creates Turnovers
o Teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or San Diego Chargers were barely drafted but were some of the top turnover leaders. Tampa Bay led the league with four interceptions returned for touchdowns, which is a huge boost to any roster.
o Overall Arizona Cardinals high ranked defense lived up to expectation by creating a league-high 25 forced fumbles and 48 sacks.
· D/ST With a Lethal Special Teams Unit
o Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings, and Philadelphia Eagles are teams that boast lethal Special Team units. Cordarrelle Patterson, Ty ”Freak” Hill and Darren Sproles are one of a kind talents that can take any kickoff return to the house.
All of these qualities are pertinent to selecting a Defense that will be beneficial to your team and draft position. I learned to wait on this position and collect value at others in 2016. So, try philosophy in 2017 and see if you can come out more dominant rosters from top to bottom. It always feels good to get bailed out from somewhere you least expected it.
Editor's note: This is Part 3 in a several part series where we dissect each offensive fantasy position and tell you what happened this season (2016) and how you can apply those lessons into your draft for next season (2017). You can check out all the lessons learned from quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends throughout the offseason.
Coming out of the 2015 season, the 2016 quarterback landscape was looking good. In 2015 all of the top 13 QBs threw for 30+ touchdowns and the top 6 all had over 300 fantasy points. In 2016 however, only five players threw 30+ touchdowns and only three QBs topped the 300 fantasy point bar. So, what did we learn about the quarterback position this fantasy season? Did anything go right or was this just simply a down year for quarterbacks?
We learned that…mechanics make the wheel go round
2016 was the year the general football consensus learned the importance of QB mechanics. Many quarterbacks have managed to skate by on arm talent alone and that makes them good fantasy options for one season. But inconsistent mechanics means inconsistent quarterback play and this means inconsistent fantasy production in the long run, explaining the huge drop off in quarterback production from 2015 to 2016.
Brock Osweiler was at the helm of arguably the most talented offense in the NFL. Surrounded by DeAndre Hopkins, Lamar Miller and Will Fuller, Osweiler’s lethargic wind-up and sluggish release resulted in batted balls and many uncatchable targets due to his side-arm release.
The same goes for Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles. The Jags offensive performance in 2015 garnered questions as to whether they were home to the best wide receiver tandem in the league in Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Bortles’ terrible 2016 mechanics resulted in Allen Robinson, a borderline 1st/2nd round pick in August, becoming effectively unusable this season as Bortles began to drop the ball below his elbow in his wind up leading to an unnecessarily long release and producing overthrown passes.
Even last year’s MVP Cam Newton along with rookie prospect Carson Wentz had their mechanical flaws expose them this season. Relying on arm strength alone leads to inaccuracy and produces passes often too low for receivers to catch. Forced passes and backfoot throws are all traits of a quarterback’s reliance on their arm strength and often result in passes being too far behind receivers. Using your arm instead of your body is a quick recipe for an interception. Neither player steps into their throws and so they struggle to throw with touch and anticipation.
Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees on the other hand have perfect mechanics and it comes as no surprise that both of them are consistently top 5 fantasy quarterbacks, with the odd SuperBowl thrown in too.
We learned that…mojo doesn’t last
Momentum is a term we hear a lot regarding NFL offenses and it is often why fantasy owners worry when their players return from their bye-weeks as offense is all about practice, repetition and chemistry. Offenses that can keep their momentum going throughout the season are both NFL gold and fantasy gold.
In 2015 we saw that a few offenses certainly were feeling their mojo and this lead to stellar quarterback play. Cam Newton, Blake Bortles and Carson Palmer were all part of high-flying offenses last year and all finished as top 5 fantasy quarterbacks.
However, without relatively much changing, all three of those quarterbacks failed to repeat this in 2016, with Newton following his QB1 season finishing as the QB18 and Palmer slotting in right behind him. Strangely enough, the much maligned Blake Bortles finished as the best of the bad bunch with a confusing QB8 ranking.
As we all accept Bortles is a fantasy anomaly year on year, the rankings clearly show that momentum doesn’t carry over through the offseason. With this in mind, beware of drafting the wildly inform quarterbacks from this season again in 2017. I’m looking at you Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford.
We learned about…the new kids on the fantasy block
2016 however, wasn’t all bad. With Peyton Manning retiring and Tom Brady and Drew Brees getting up there in years, 2016 saw the birth of the new crop of fantasy studs. Derek Carr (QB9), Marcus Mariota (QB15) and of course Dak Prescott (QB6) had a coming out party this year.
Carr was an MVP candidate this season and probably would’ve finished as a top 5 QB without his injury in week 16. Mariota, who was also similarly injured to Carr in week 16, was complete gold-dust early in the season with three top 5 finishes in quick succession and threw for two or more touchdowns in two thirds of the games he played in in 2016.
And we couldn’t discuss young quarterbacks without talking about the man of the moment, Dak Prescott. Prescott finished 2016 tied 5th for total touchdowns with 29 but the true measure of Prescott’s greatness this year has been in his ability to limit his interception total with only 4 INTs. Not only does that result in less negative points but it also keeps drives alive and results in more scoring opportunities for Prescott, who has also demonstrated legitimate rushing capability too.
We learned to…please wait on QB
If 2016 has taught us anything, it is that you please, PLEASE wait on a quarterback when you draft next season. Unless you’re drafting Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, there is no need to take a quarterback in the first 6 rounds. Top RBs and WRs are so few and far between and with injuries too, the need to stockpile your skill position players is greater than ever before. Fantasy is usually uses only one quarterback per line-up and as quarterback is so deep there is no need to waste a high pick on a brand name quarterback. Instead take a RB/WR and wait for a sensible upside QB.
For example, Ben Roethlisberger had a 6th round ADP and finished as the QB16 whereas Dak Prescott for instance had a 12th round ADP and finished as the QB6. It doesn’t stop there either; Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford and Derek Carr were all available in rounds 10-12 and all finished as top 10 QBs this season. But the craziest thing of all…Matt Ryan was undrafted this year in the majority of leagues. Wait and bet on upside, you might just wind up picking up the QB2 off the waiver wire.
Thank you for reading, you can follow Will Pendleton on twitter @willpendosports