Draft Day Defenses: Grab the Advantage
The Quickest and Easiest Draft Day Advantage
Looking for a draft day edge? Look no further. This strategy I’m about to explain is not complicated, and takes only a few minutes of research. This will not win you your league, but it will give you a pointed advantage in the first few weeks. Ready for it? Here it is.
Look at defensive matchups before your draft.
Any expert will tell you to wait ‘til the last two rounds to draft your defense, and I agree. However, do not misunderstand that advice and come to the conclusion that drafting defense isn’t important. Having a great defensive week relies largely on match ups. Getting lucky is nice too, but as fantasy owners, we must do the research and make the decision that makes the most logical sense as we live with the consequences.
It is rare to find a defense you feel comfortable starting every week throughout the season. The great offenses in the NFL are largely bulletproof. Think about the Packers, Eagles and Broncos. Besides a very select few, most defenses will be unable to slow them down, let alone put together a good fantasy week against them. Streaming defenses is the best option for the majority of teams, and this strategy starts before draft day. Streaming simply means that every week you select the best option from the free agent pool, and decide whether or not they are better than the option you already have.
Last year, the Browns defense was a popular choice in drafts. I drafted Cleveland with the belief that their offseason additions would make them a great option. In Week 1, they gave up 30 points to the Steelers, and were facing the Saints in Week 2. I wanted no part of that, and quickly dropped them for the top available defense. Had I actually done my research, I probably wouldn’t have drafted the Browns considering the matchups against the Steelers and Saints in the first two weeks.
So, how exactly should you go about solving this problem? It’s simple. Just check the schedule… before the season! Look at each team independently, and decide whether or not their roster and matchups are good enough to have a productive fantasy defense for the first couple weeks. For example, you may really like the Ravens defense this season, but would you like to start them Week 1 against the Broncos? Personally, I would shy away from that decision.
It sounds simple. Why? Because it is! If you are anything like I used to be, thinking about a defense goes on the back burner until round 14. In that moment, there is usually not enough time available to make a wise and calculated decision. So, I ask you, why not do the research now? Spend 5 minutes checking matchups, and determine 4 or 5 teams that you would feel comfortable drafting. Choose a couple high end options, and a few lower end options that you know will be available in the last round or
two. Instead of drafting a defense blindly, it makes far more sense to pick out the best defenses that are playing the worst offenses in the first few weeks.
I have gone through this process myself and explained my approach with each of the top 10 defenses in terms of ADP. From there, I gave each a matchup rating depending on their level of competition. Some teams took more games than others to get an informed opinion on the level of their early season matchups.
A look inside this strategy:
Week 1 vs. Cleveland
Week 2 at Indianapolis
Week 3 vs. Eagles
Matchup Rating: 5
The Jets roster is fantastic, and their Week 1 matchup at home against the Browns looks very juicy. With that said, I would shy away from the Jets in Weeks 2 and 3. Both the Colts and Eagles have the ability to throw up a 30-spot on the Jets. I would feel fine drafting the Jets and using them in Week 1, but they will likely be drafted too early. If they are available at the end, grab them and use them Week 1. Just know that you may need to find a replacement in the following weeks.
Week 1 vs. New Orleans
Week 2 at Chicago
Week 3 vs. San Francisco
Matchup Rating: 6
I am not a huge fan of the Week 1 matchup. New Orleans will not be what they used to be, but still good enough to make me think twice. Nonetheless, I love the Week 2 and 3 matchups, and would be happy grabbing the Cardinals in the last two rounds.
Week 1 vs. Kansas City
Week 2 at Carolina
Week 3 vs. Tampa Bay
Matchup Rating: 7
Much like the Cardinals, I don’t love the Texans Week 1 against a pretty good Chiefs offense. However, Weeks 2 and 3 are fantastic, with games against the lowly Panthers and Bucs. The Texans are worth a top 5 defensive selection.
Week 1 at St. Louis
Week 2 at Packers
Week 3 vs. Bears
Week 4 vs. Lions
Week 5 at Bengals
Week 6 vs. Panthers
Week 7 at 49ers
Matchup Rating: 7
I love the Seahawks in Week 1 against STL and hate them Week 2 in Green Bay. From Weeks 3-7, they have fantastic matchups with the potential for a ton of interceptions (Cutler, Stafford, Dalton, Newton, Kaepernick). I think the Seahawks are still the top defensive option, but they will undoubtedly be drafted higher than they should be. I would feel comfortable drafting them in round 13 of a 15 round draft.
Week 1 at Denver
Matchup Rating: 1
That’s all you need to know. I do not recommend drafting a non-elite defense playing in Denver in Week 1.
Week 1 vs. Baltimore
Week 2 at Kansas City
Week 3 at Detroit
Week 4 vs. Minnesota
Week 5 at Oakland
Week 6 at Cleveland
Matchup Rating: 6
Weeks 1-4 don’t include any great matchups, but Weeks 5 and 6 are unbelievable against Oakland and Cleveland. The Broncos have a talented defense, and the matchups are just good enough to grab them late.
Week 1 vs. Indianapolis
Week 2 vs. New England
Week 3 at Miami
Week 4 vs. New York Giants
Week 5 at Tennessee
Week 6 vs. Cincinnati
Week 7 at Jacksonville
Matchup Rating: 6
If you trust the Bills enough to endure the tough matchups the first few weeks (Colts, Pats, Dolphins, Giants), then you will be rewarded with fantastic matchups later on with Tennessee and Jacksonville. They are one of the few teams that might be somewhat matchup proof, as their defensive roster along with the addition of Rex Ryan, should produce some fairly low scoring games. Despite a less than perfect schedule, they are still worthy of a top 5 choice.
Week 1 vs. Seattle
Week 2 at Washington
Week 3 vs. Pittsburgh
Week 4 at Arizona
Week 5 vs. Green Bay
Week 6 BYE
Week 7 vs. Cleveland
Week 8 vs. San Francisco
Matchup Rating: 4
The Rams are in a similar situation as the Bills. Their defense is extremely talented, but they have a few tough matchups early in the year, between Seattle, Pittsburgh, Arizona and Green Bay. Their skill on the defensive side should keep scores relatively low, but don’t be shocked if a team like the Packers or Steelers drop 40 points when they play. To me, they are the DeSean Jackson of defenses as the ultimate boom or bust option. When they play well, they can put up 20 points, but there will be the occasional goose egg mixed in. If you want consistency, stray away from the Rams. If you want to be risky and grab a defense that can occasionally win you your week, draft ‘em.
Week 1 at San Diego
Week 2 at Minnesota
Week 3 vs. Denver
Week 4 at Seattle
Week 5 vs. Cardinals
Matchup Rating: 2
I want nothing to do with the Lions for the first 5 weeks. They play 5 great QBs, and in my estimation, will be largely disappointing as a defensive option. They are still very talented even with the loss of Suh, but face great offenses all season long. Simply stay away from the Detroit defense on draft day.
Week 1 at Washington
Week 2 at Jacksonville
Week 3 vs. Buffalo
Week 4 vs. New York Jets
Week 5 BYE
Week 6 at Tennessee Week 7 vs. Houston
Matchup Rating: 10
With the exception of the bye week, those matchups are absolutely exceptional. The schedule is near perfect, and the Dolphins are a great defense in and of themselves. Personally, the Dolphins are my number 1 target in all of my drafts. They will be very valuable over the first half of the season, and should be available in the second to last round in most every draft.
I hope this exercise has shown that checking defensive matchups will determine the teams with the best chance of success in the first few weeks. Of the ten on this list, there are 6 that really stand out to me; the Dolphins, Seahawks and Texans as the clear top 3, with the Bills, Broncos and Cardinals filling out the teams I would be comfortable with. Each of these 6 have great defensive rosters, paired with a good to great schedule. Of the group, Miami has the best matchups by far, which is why the Dolphins will be my #1 targeted defense when I draft.
The Seahawks went in the 5th round in my draft. Granted my league isn’t the brightest of fantasy drafters; this is the same league where Russel Wilson and Tom Brady went in the 1st and 2nd rounds.
Love this article, thanks, definitely going to target the Dolphins.
“Choose a couple high end options, and a few lower end options that you know will be available in the last round or two.”
If the Dolphins are gone: maybe you got burnt on the Browns D last year, but they start at the Jets (backup QB), then the Titans, then the Raiders, and almost nobody seems to be interested in them. Sounds good to me.
Keep ringing that consensus bell
Real solid article. I have noticed the Dolphins are always there when I’m going to pick a defense the second to last round, so I love that I am always ending up with them after looking at that early schedule.
Love what you guys are doing, keep doin you