Guide to Streaming Defenses and Special Teams (2021 Fantasy Football)
It’s not a fantasy football draft if this doesn’t happen.
Your draft is moving along, heading toward the eighth or ninth round. Pickings are getting slim at the core positions. For the more casual fantasy football player, that means it’s time to fill out the starting lineup. Just like that, last season’s top defense is off the board way too early.
I laugh every time this happens. The best defense from the previous year usually doesn’t repeat the following season. Those who drafted the New England Patriots Defense and Special Teams following their historic performance in 2019 were sorely disappointed when they finished 11th in 2020.
Defense simply doesn’t need to be a priority during your drafts, because it’s a position you can stream week-to-week. However, you need a good plan to make this strategy work.
Below, I’ve outlined my plan of attack for streaming defenses in 2021. We’ll start by discussing which offenses I’ll look to fade this season.
For the sake of this article, I’m only considering defenses and special teams outside the top 12 in FantasyPros’ consensus ADP.
Offenses to Fade in 2021
Matchups are perhaps the most important factor when streaming D/ST. Streaming defenses can be trickier at the beginning of the year when we are less certain of which offenses to attack.
However, that shouldn’t stop us from trying. Here are some offenses I’ll target when streaming defenses:
- Detroit Lions – The Lions downgraded at QB, swapping Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff. D’Andre Swift and T.J. Hockenson could be great players, but have you seen their depth chart at wide receiver?
- New York Jets – The Jets scored the fewest points in 2020 and averaged only 4.7 yards per play. Adam Gase is gone, which makes this unit instantly better. However, there are still tons of questions, starting with rookie QB Zach Wilson. Although the Jets have equipped him with better protection and weapons, nobody on this unit is a proven threat.
- Houston Texans – The Texans are a tough team to gauge right now because nobody knows what’s going on with Deshaun Watson. If Watson is suspended, this will be the frontrunner for the NFL’s worst offense. Houston’s backup, Tyrod Taylor, doesn’t strike fear in anybody. The running back group is a total mess of mediocrity, and the starting receivers are Brandin Cooks, Randall Cobb, and either Andre Roberts or Keke Coutee. Barf.
- New England Patriots – The Pats will either start a washed-up Cam Newton or rookie Mac Jones under center. Their best receiver is … Nelson Agholor. And I’m not a believer in the two-headed “monster” at tight end featuring Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith.
- Chicago Bears – The Bears will likely start the season with Andy Dalton under center. We all saw how he performed in relief of Dak Prescott last season. Even if Justin Fields gets the Week 1 nod, he’s still a rookie getting thrown into the fire. The Bears don’t have any scary pass-catchers outside of Allen Robinson, and the offensive line is still rebuilding.
- Philadelphia Eagles – This depends on whether you’re a Jalen Hurts believer, which I am not. This offensive line is a disaster. While I love DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert, this offense still needs a lot of work.
- New York Giants – Saquon Barkley will be back. Kenny Golladay will give the Giants a legit threat on the outside. But I still don’t think Daniel Jones is any good, and there are still questions about his offensive line.
- Jacksonville Jaguars – This unit has some upside with Trevor Lawrence and Urban Meyer running the show, but there are still too many unknowns.
So now that we know which offenses to fade, let’s look at some defenses that should be appealing streaming options in 2021. Remember, I’m only looking at units being drafted outside the top 12.
Top D/ST Units to Stream
- New York Giants (ADP D/ST 22) – The Giants were a steady fantasy defense in 2020. They forced 22 takeaways and ranked 13th in fantasy points. The unit remains mostly intact and could benefit from drafting edge rusher Azeez Ojulari and signing cornerback Adoree’ Jackson. Plus, they are really well-coached. With some better turnover luck, the Giants could crack the top 10.
- Cleveland Browns (ADP D/ST 13) – The Browns finished 17th in fantasy scoring this season, but they could ascend in 2021. Cleveland fortified its weak secondary by signing safety John Johnson III and drafting cornerback Greg Newsome. Combine that with Myles Garrett rushing the passer, and teams could struggle mightily against the Browns’ defense. If free-agent addition Jadeveon Clowney can add anything to the pass rush, this defense could be legit.
- Denver Broncos (ADP D/ST 14) – Denver could have a fearsome defense if Von Miller and Bradley Chubb remain healthy. They bolstered their secondary by trading for Pro Bowl cornerback Kyle Fuller and drafting Patrick Surtain II in the first round. Safety Justin Simmons is also back.
- Arizona Cardinals (ADP D/ST 17) – The addition of J.J. Watt alongside Chandler Jones gives Arizona a fierce pass rush. The Cardinals’ secondary has some questions, as Patrick Peterson has moved on, but the starting cornerback tandem of Malcolm Butler and Robert Alford should be good enough to make this unit respectable. Arizona also has a dynamic linebacker duo with Isaiah Simmons and rookie Zaven Collins. The Cardinals finished 10th in fantasy last season and could take another step in 2021.
Week-by-Week Streaming Strategy
Now that we have our defenses to ride and our offenses to fade, here are my streaming recommendations each week of the season.
Week 1: Broncos vs. Giants, Giants vs. Broncos
Week 2: Browns vs. Texans, Packers vs. Lions
Week 3: Broncos vs. New York Jets, Browns vs. Bears
Week 4: Titans vs. Jets, Bengals vs. Jaguars
Week 5: Vikings vs. Lions, Falcons vs. Jets, Patriots at Texans
Week 6: Bengals at Lions, Broncos vs. Raiders
Week 7: Cardinals vs. Texans, Patriots vs. Jets
Week 8: Eagles at Lions, Bengals at Jets
Week 9: Giants vs. Raiders, Panthers vs. Patriots
Week 10: Browns at Patriots, Broncos vs. Eagles, Cardinals vs. Panthers
Week 11: Browns vs. Lions, Falcons vs. Patriots, Titans vs. Texans, Bengals at Raiders
Week 12: Bears at Lions, Cowboys vs. Raiders, Titans at Patriots, Giants vs. Eagles, Jets at Texans, Texans vs. Jets
Week 13: Vikings at Lions, Cardinals at Bears, Jets vs. Eagles, Eagles at Jets
Week 14: Broncos vs. Lions, Seahawks at Texans
Week 15: Browns vs. Raiders, Cardinals at Lions, Jaguars vs. Texans, Texans at Jaguars
Week 16: Atlanta vs. Lions, Jaguars at Jets, Jets vs. Jaguars, Chargers at Texans, Seahawks vs. Bears, Broncos at Raiders
Week 17: Giants at Bears, Bears vs. Giants, Seahawks vs. Lions, Titans vs. Dolphins
Week 18: Packers at Lions, Titans at Texans, Chargers at Raiders
Whether you’re new to fantasy football or a seasoned pro, our Fantasy Football 101: Strategy Tips & Advice page is for you. You can get started with Starting Your Own Fantasy Football League or head to a more advanced strategy – like What is the Right Amount of Risk to Absorb on Draft Day? – to learn more.