Fantasy Football Defenses: Who To Target In Your Drafts In 2022
Chances are you are in the final round of your draft and you Googled: fantasy football defenses for Week 1.
- Didn’t do your research?
- Spent so much time cramming for the test you forgot about the final section your teacher said was coming?
- Forgot your league had defenses?
- Maybe you’re just plain lazy…
If you are simply here at the end of your draft just for defense rankings, let me do you a favor: click here.
Defense Data for the Nerds
For those that care, I took a historical approach to compiling our defensive ranks as well as kicker rankings. We have data going back years but more importantly on our site, we also can use the stream finder tool in-season to look at matchups worth targeting.
Let’s go over a couple of simple principles needed for looking at defenses.
2021’s fantasy points don’t count for 2022. This goes for every position but especially DST where there is little year-to-year stickiness:
- The Chicago Bears finished as the DST1 in 2018 and were drafted that way in 2019. They scored 82 fewer fantasy points than they did in 2018 and finished 17th overall. Yuck.
- The New England Patriots were like having an extra fantasy RB on your roster in 2019. The next year? They finished as the DST12 in 2020 and scored 120 fewer fantasy points. Woof.
- The Indianapolis Colts finished #1 in 2020. While not quite the fall of the others, they finished 10th, more than 30 points fewer.
That means the Dallas Cowboys will get some cheers in your drafts after what they did last year. The turnovers and big plays got all the headlines but they are an easy fade heading into 2022. Let someone else in your league take them.
To illustrate this point even further, since 2002, no DST1 has repeated in back-to-back years. None. Zilch. Even more importantly, only five of those DST1 teams finished in the top-5 the next year. Over the last 20 years worth of data, you basically were shooting darts blindly. Ouch.
Instead, we should be following Vegas and their win totals. Friend of the show TJ Hernandez recently simplified this idea:
When drafting a fantasy DST, I usually look for Week 1 streamers but if you want a hopeful plug-and-play sleeper, look for wins
Wins vs DST FPs has a correlation of 0.63 over the last 10 seasons
Teams with a win total of 10.0 or higher @DKSportsbook vs their multi-site ADP: pic.twitter.com/hZcQOhwa7E
— TJ Hernandez (@TJHernandez) August 25, 2022
Here are a few top-ranked teams worth mentioning:
- Buffalo Bills– The consensus top-ranked fantasy defense this year is there because of what they accomplished last year: #1 in scoring allowed and #1 in DVOA. The turnovers were not as great as you might remember as they finished as the DST4. It was impressive but drafting them as the DST1 actually comes with a few question marks. The Bills open the season against the Super Bowl champion Rams (51.5 total) and while the revenge narrative with Von Miller is intriguing, this team has a target on its back. The Bills are the current Super Bowl favorites and play one of the harder schedules in the league. Let someone else take them first in your league.
- San Francisco 49ers– The 49ers create pressure as good as anyone in the league. Their opening matchups are juicy: CHI & SEA. In Week 1, they face Justin Fields who was sacked on 11.8 percent of his dropbacks, the highest in the NFL. They should get out to a hot start.
- Indianapolis Colts– The Colts are a bend-don’t-break crew who are elevated each year because of the division they play in. Jacksonville and Houston were historically bad, especially on the ground. Last time I checked, they still play in the same division. They also open up as 8-point road favorites against Houston. Yes, please! The guys collectively shared on Friday’s podcast that the Colts were their favorite DST to target:
- New Orleans Saints– The Saints were PFF’s 2nd highest-graded defense in 2021 and you could argue they got even deeper in 2022. It was impossible to run on them (#1 in rush DVOA) and they allowed the 4th fewest points in the NFL. In fantasy drafts, you can take them a round ahead IF you think they will destroy the Falcons on the road in Week 1. Marcus Mariota doesn’t necessarily strike fear in the hearts of many…
- Kansas City Chiefs– This is a complete stay away for me. Check out this opening schedule:
Chiefs are the first team in NFL history to start the season with eight straight games against teams that had a winning record in the previous season, per @EliasSports. pic.twitter.com/SAtoCQMrME
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) May 13, 2022
We recommend streaming the position anyways. Every week on Tuesday’s podcast during the regular season, we give streaming recommendations at the DST position.
Week 1 Specials
Here’s a look at the early Vegas lines by DraftKings Sportsbook. Betz and I will tease this on The Fantasy Footballers DFS Podcast this next week if you want some initial gut reactions. It’s early but consider this the “syllabus”. Don’t throw it away but put it in a place you can refer to again.
- Bills (-2.5) at Rams, Thursday 8:20 p.m. ET
- Saints (-5.5) at Falcons, Sunday 1 p.m.
- Browns at Panthers (-1.5), 1 p.m.
- 49ers (-7) at Bears, 1 p.m.
- Steelers at Bengals (-6.6), 1 p.m.
- Eagles (-4) at Lions, 1 p.m.
- Colts (-8.5) at Texans, 1 p.m.
- Patriots at Dolphins (-2.5), 1 p.m.
- Ravens (-7) at Jets, 1 p.m.
- Jaguars at Commanders (-4), 1 p.m.
- Chiefs (-3.5) at Cardinals, 4:25 p.m.
- Raiders at Chargers (-3.5), 4:25 p.m.
- Packers (-1.5) at Vikings, 4:25 p.m.
- Giants at Titans (-5.5), 4:25 p.m.
- Bucs (-1) at Cowboys, 8:20 p.m.
- Broncos (-6) at Seahawks, Monday 8:15 p.m.
It can be easy to go look at defense rankings and just pick the next available defense. But if you are the last person drafting the position OR you plan on not taking a defense, here are a few you can take before Week 1 rolls around.
Baltimore Ravens @ NYJ
You’re probably not used to seeing the Ravens as a fringe DST. They are a bit lower on the Vegas totals threshold (9.5) but earlier this off-season, my colleague Matthew Betz detailed why the Ravens are primed for a major bounce back. In Week 1, they get the privilege of facing either Joe Flacco or Zach Wilson. Wilson completed just 55(!) percent of his passes and led all QBs in sacks where the “QB was responsible”, not the offensive line. Well, the best part of the offensive line (Mekhi Becton) is out for the year and there are so many unknowns about how the receiving options will mesh. The Ravens open as 7-point road favorites which bodes well.
Tennessee Titans vs NYG
The Titans are 6-point home favorites against Daniel Jones and the Giants. Enough said. Ok, I’ll say a bit more. The Titans ranked 8th in weighted DVOA a year ago and allowed the 6th fewest points in the league. They are at home and I can’t imagine the Giants will have much success running the ball. If I punt the position or don’t draft one, the Titans are one with upside in Week 1 you can pick up off the wire.
Miami Dolphins vs NE
Miami was a volatile defense a year ago with some absolute massive games and others that left you questioning if they were trying on the football field. They started 1-7 before finishing the year 8-1… Brian Flores was fired but the main defensive pieces (especially in the secondary) are still intact. Last year, these Dolphins did beat the Patriots 17-16 but its the turmoil at offensive coordinator in New England that has me interested. The duo Matt Patricia and Joe Judge should be allowed to run an NFL offense. There could be some growing pains and the game total is only at 45.
Denver’s 1st 2 games are @ Sea and hosting the Texan. Seems pretty manageable.
I did a study on fantasy defenses before last season. I play Dynasty & was curious how D/STs fared over the years, especially the #1 fantasy D/STs. I did a 10 year study on an Excel worksheet. Turned out no – none – zero #1 fantasy D/STs repeated the feat & the majority dropped out of the top 10 the following year. Fantasy D/STs fluctuate highly from year to year, and yes, it’s usually the best actual teams that have the best fantasy defenses, so good analysis. But there was some teams that were consistently in the Top 16 every year: usually New England, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Baltimore & Philadelphia made the top half every season – many bc of their consistently opportunistic style of playing D plus good pass rushes.