Rethink Your Strategy: Don’t Draft a Defense

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Like most of you, I was recently listening to the FAFQ #2 pod. During the show, the guys talk about roster construction at the draft and made it clear that they do not draft back-ups at 1 starter positions. This practice got me to thinking: “Why draft a defense at all?” So I dug into DEF ADP vs the guys that are being left on the board and the findings knocked me right off of my socks. Now, I should note that some leagues require you to fill your roster on draft day and best ball leagues give you no waiver capabilities, so this is not a universal strategy. However, if you play in a typical redraft league, it is time to consider leaving these spots off of your draft board altogether and using your draft capital more wisely.

2016 Fantasy Drafts

Hindsight is 20/20 so let’s take a look at what happened last year to prove my point. For starters here are the top 12 drafted defenses and how they finished the year:

[lptw_table id=”38139″ style=”default”] Thank you to Kyle Borgognoni for compiling the weekly finish data used in this chart.

Three things jumped out at me from this table:

  1. Only 7 of these teams finished the year as a top 12 DEF
  2. 3 teams being drafted finished in the bottom 12 of the position overall.
  3. These highest drafted teams only accounted for 46% of the weekly top 12 finishes.

You’ve heard it time and time again, drafting is about minimizing risk. Drafting any DEF is literally the opposite of that. Predicting fantasy DEF is hard, I know this because I try to do it weekly for the site and the stats above illustrate that there is a 50/50 chance that any defense can finish outside of the top 12. So why waste that draft pick? Last season, 4 of the top 12 DEF didn’t even get drafted enough to have an ADP. They were sitting on the waiver wire for you when Week 1 rolled around.

The real slap in the face is when you look into what drafting a defense actually got you. The #1 DEF (Vikings) only outscored the #12 (Panthers) by 3 points-per-game. That margin is the same or worse as 5 other undrafted defenses. Over the scope of an entire season, you are getting a team that at it’s best is beating your opponent by about 3 points and at it’s worst misses the top 12. The Vikings were only a top 12 defense for 10 of 17 weeks last year and they were taken almost 4 rounds after the Broncos. The return on investment just is not there for fantasy DEF.

What Should You Do?

To answer this question in it’s simplest terms, draft another RB or WR instead. Using that same 2016 data, some of the guys being left on the board while these defenses were selected were Jay Ajayi (RB11), Spencer Ware (RB16), Tevin Coleman (RB19), Michael Thomas (WR7), and Terrelle Pryor (WR21). Those ranks in parentheses are how they finished last year in PPR. Let that sink in, as a group we’re leaving potential RB1s and WR1s on the board for our competitors while we draft a defense. And how did those defenses pay you back? By missing the top 12 weekly rankings 54% of the time.

Looking at early 2017 ADP, you have guys like Rob Kelley, Rex Burkhead, John Brown, Willie Snead, Cam Meredith, and Adam Thielen all going after defenses start coming off the board. These are guys with the kind of potential to win you your league next season but instead, you want to take the Green Bay defense? While I doubt that these exact trends will hold, the underlying fact remains the same: we are making our teams worse and our opponents better by taking a defense in the draft.

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Now let me be clear, when Week 1 rolls around you will need to sign a defense, and for that matter a kicker (if your league allows, you should employ this same strategy around kickers too). By avoiding these wasted draft picks you will not only have more options at key positions but you will have time wait out the preseason for injuries. Worst case scenario is that you have too many good players and then you can trade someone away rather than cut them. This strategy will leave you with the roster you desire when the regular season kicks off.

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