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Guide to Streaming D/ST in 2020 (2020 Fantasy Football)

Jun 17, 2020

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Every year, there is a tendency among fantasy football novices to overdraft a defense that performed well in the prior year. Despite the majority of fantasy football writers and analysts like myself imploring the public to stream the position, there are always several people in every fantasy league who take a defense in the 10th or 11th round. Do not be these people.

Instead, you should take a defense late in the draft and then stream the position. Streaming means you will only roster a defense based on their potential matchup in the next week or two; you will continually add and drop at the position based on the next matchup, rarely holding one team’s defense for a long period of time. 

You should never draft a D/ST early. In most circumstances, a defense should be your second-to-last or last pick in your draft. It is perfectly acceptable to not even draft a defense and roster an additional player if you are able; this grants you a window of time until the season starts to see if that player’s stock is greatly affected by news that could vaunt them up the ranks. 

For example, if you elected to draft Darren Waller with your last pick instead of a during the Antonio Brown saga, you benefited greatly. You correctly speculated that he’d become the main target in the offense following Brown’s preseason departure, and you were then able to drop a different player and pick up a defense before kickoff.

Year D/ST1 D/ST2 D/ST3 D/ST4 D/ST5
2012 CHI D/ST SEA D/ST DEN D/ST NE D/ST LAC D/ST
2013 KC D/ST SEA D/ST CAR D/ST AZ D/ST SF D/ST
2014 PHI D/ST HOU D/ST BUF D/ST LAR D/ST NE D/ST
2015 AZ D/ST DEN D/ST KC D/ST CAR D/ST SEA D/ST
2016 PHI D/ST KC D/ST NE D/ST MIN D/ST DEN D/ST
2017 JAX D/ST BAL D/ST LAR D/ST PHI D/ST LAC D/ST
2018 CHI D/ST LAR D/ST HOU D/ST MIN D/ST BAL D/ST
2019 NE D/ST PIT D/ST SF D/ST MIN D/ST BAL D/ST

 
Fantasy defenses are also rarely predictable. Since 2012, the highest-scoring defense from the prior season has failed to finish among the top-three defenses in the following season. Less than 25 percent of defenses who finished in the top-five were able to repeat a top-five performance in the following year. The position is so unpredictable that you can’t draft a D/ST in the high rounds with the hopes of keeping them all season long. Instead, you must take a short-term view.

Drafting a defense based on their schedule in the first few weeks is the ideal strategy. Not only do you maximize your winning potential at the outset, but your low-capital investment gives you the freedom to drop them once they no longer become viable. You can then pick up another defense that has a better matchup the next week. So, let’s take a look at defenses who finished outside of the top-five last season that are worth drafting or streaming in the first few weeks of the 2020 season.

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Valuable Long-Term Stream Plays

Buffalo Bills (vs. NYJ, at MIA, vs. LAR, at LVR,  at TEN)
The 2019 Buffalo defense was great overall, as they finished fourth against the pass and tenth against the rush. However, from a fantasy standpoint, they didn’t measure up. They finished as the D/ST10, barely outscoring the leaky Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense. The biggest problem for their fantasy viability was their lack of sack and turnover potential — Buffalo only finished 12th in sacks, 20th in fumble recoveries, and 8th in interceptions.

To start the 2020 season, however, they have a great chance to inflate those numbers. The Bills begin the year by playing against the Jets and Dolphins, two teams who gave up over 50 sacks in 2019. While both AFC East rivals took measures to improve their offensive lines, neither will have success against a Bills pass rush that reloaded this offseason. 

The Rams also had protection issues last season, and they made few relevant additions during free agency and the draft. Lastly, the Raiders and Titans both look to be run-oriented, low-scoring teams. Buffalo won’t be able to accumulate many sacks or takeaways, but they’ll keep the points allowed to a minimum and be serviceable during those matchups. It’s doubtful that Buffalo will be highly drafted, so grab them for the first five weeks and send them to the waiver wire before their Week 6 matchup with Kansas City.

Indianapolis Colts (at JAC, vs. MIN, vs. NYJ, at CHI, at CLE, vs. CIN)
When you think of the Indianapolis Colts, defense certainly isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. However, they were more than decent last season, finishing in the top-10 in rush yards allowed and interceptions. Yet their inability to stop the pass and sack the quarterback hurt their fantasy relevance, as they only finished as the D/ST14 on the season.

Nonetheless, their offseason additions of DeForest Buckner, Xavier Rhodes, T.J. Carrie, and Julian Blackmon should help improve their unit overall. The Colts’ schedule will also present a great opportunity for early season points, as three of their first four games are against teams who ranked in the bottom-seven in scoring in 2019. The Jacksonville, New York, Cleveland, and Cincinnati offensive lines are all expected to be shaky to start the season, which should open up opportunities for sacks and turnovers. Meanwhile, the Vikings and Bears are run-heavy teams that bleed the clock, so the Colts defense should be serviceable during those matchups.

The Indianapolis defense is a dark horse for fantasy viability over the first month and a half of the season, so grabbing them with your last pick could prevent you from streaming until October. Since their offense is much improved and more likely to eat up the clock, scoring should be kept at a minimum for opposing offenses. The Colts will face much tougher competition after their Week 7 bye, so you can drop them after their game against Cincinnati.

Short-term Stream Plays

Philadelphia Eagles (at WSH, vs. LAR, vs. CIN)
Philadelphia has a nice three-week stretch to begin the season. First, they’ll play against a Washington team that gave up 50 sacks last year and sent two of their best linemen packing this offseason. Given the state of the Eagles’ pass rush, Dwayne Haskins could hit the floor early and often. The L.A. Rams are next on the docket, and the Eagles’ pass rush will once again have the opportunity to pressure Jared Goff and his weak offensive line. While this game could be high-scoring, the Rams traveling to the East Coast for a 1:00 EST game could get their offense out of rhythm. 

Lastly, the Eagles will get to feast on a Cincinnati offensive line that made no notable improvements to protect their rookie quarterback. After Philadelphia’s porous secondary caused them to finish as the D/ST16 last season, the Eagles could have a great start to the season given their schedule.

Tennessee Titans (at DEN, vs. JAC, at MIN)
After a strong finish to the 2019 season, the Tennessee Titans’ defense is being overlooked by many. They lost some talent on the back-end of the secondary, but they are still an overall solid unit that held three of their last four opponents to 14 points or less. This season, they start out their schedule versus teams with young, low-volume passers.

Denver’s Drew Lock is unlikely to come out firing in Week 1, especially since he’ll have little time to build a rapport with his new weapons. As a result, this could end up being a low-scoring game that benefits Tennessee. Gardner Minshew and the Jaguars don’t inspire much fear, either, as Jacksonville only scored 29 touchdowns last season, ranking them 28th among NFL teams. Minnesota is a tough opponent, but they’ll also employ a run-heavy offense that will eat up the clock. It may not look great, but the Titans can start out the year with a solid stretch of serviceable fantasy performances.

One-Game Wonders

Los Angeles Chargers (at CIN)
The Chargers open the season against the Cincinnati Bengals. With rookie quarterback Joe Burrow playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in football, I expect the Cincinnati offense to do very little versus an above-average Chargers defensive line. Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa could easily combine for double-digit sacks in this game and make Los Angeles the highest fantasy-scoring defense in Week 1.

Detroit Lions (vs. CHI)
The Lions’ defense was abysmal last season, but oftentimes it’s okay to employ a bad defense if they face an even worse offense. That exception applies here, as I have very little faith that the Nick Foles/Mitch Trubisky offense will function, let alone compete in Week 1. You could elect not to draft a defense in order to grab a speculative player, and then you can pick up Detroit before game time on Sunday.

Kansas City Chiefs (vs. HOU)
Deshaun Watson is a fantastic quarterback, but we all remember what happened the last time he faced the Chiefs in Arrowhead. The Texans only managed 10 points in the final three quarters of their Divisional Round game, and they looked like a shell of themselves to end the season. Since the Texans lost their best offensive weapon this offseason, I like Kansas City’s chances to limit Houston’s offense in the season opener.

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Dan Ambrosino is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Dan, check out his archive and follow him @AmbrosinoNFL.

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