Guide to Drafting D/ST (2022 Fantasy Football)
The first step to being successful in fantasy football is to know your league rules and settings like the back of your hand. That’s especially true when it comes to Defense/Special Teams (D/ST), where scoring varies wildly depending on the website you happen to play on and the whims of your league commissioner.
Believe me, I speak from experience. I am the commish of a Yahoo! home league that has been going strong since 2005. Way back then, I made the decision that the default Yahoo! settings for D/ST were silly because they overvalued turnovers and undervalued points allowed.
Sure, fantasy football is never going to perfectly match real football — just look at how NFL teams value running backs compared to fantasy managers — but I felt like there should be at least some correlation over what makes for a “good” defense. Under the default settings, defenses that gave up 35+ points could still score a lot of fantasy points if they got enough picks and fumble recoveries, particularly if they took one of them to the house. That didn’t seem right, so I reduced the points awarded for turnovers and bumped up the points for keeping the opponent off the scoreboard.
Now, 17 years later, this is still a hill that I am willing to die on, but that is beside the point. You may vehemently disagree with me on this, but if you play in my league, it doesn’t matter (unless you persuade me to bring a proposed rule change up for a league vote). We’ve had lively disagreements in my league about how to score defensive touchdowns vs. special teams touchdowns, too.
At the end of the day, the rules will be in place prior to the draft, and they won’t be changing in-season. Once the rules are set, it’s up to everyone in the league to familiarize themselves with them and to draft and manage their teams accordingly.
Look at Past Performance
Be careful about trusting any one set of D/ST rankings, even if they were produced by someone with a history of accuracy at the position. First, you need to confirm that those rankings are based on the same — or at least similar — scoring settings to the ones you’ll be using.
Often, the best way to get your head around how your league settings affect D/STs is to look at prior seasons, using your league website. Since my home league is through Yahoo!, I always make sure to go to the Yahoo! website and look at the top-performing defenses in my league from the previous season. I’ll then compare that to other sites that show how those defenses scored in other scoring formats and try to identify a few defenses that were more valuable in my league.
The best defenses fluctuate a lot from year to year, so the fact a defense was good in your format last year is no guarantee it will be this season. You still need to factor in offseason moves, such as a team losing or adding an impact defensive player or undergoing changes to its coaching staff. But there are certain defenses that specialize in specific areas, such as sacks, interceptions, fumbles, or point prevention, so it’s important to know which types of defenses are more valuable in your league.
Look at Early-Season Schedule
The weekly value of fantasy defenses is highly dependent on matchups, even more so than other positions. There is no defense that I will trust against a high-powered offense like Buffalo, Dallas, Tampa Bay, or Kansas City. That’s especially true in a league like mine that prioritizes points allowed, but it also applies to more turnover-focused formats.
That’s why, prior to your draft, make sure to take a look at the early-season schedule for any defense that you might consider drafting. You shouldn’t waste two roster spots on D/STs, so you ideally want to come out of your draft with a defense that you can feel comfortable starting for at least the first month, if not longer. Prioritize defenses that start the season playing against weaker offenses with questionable QBs like Carolina, Seattle, Chicago, Houston, and Atlanta. You might also gravitate towards defenses with more favorable divisional opponents, such as the Buccaneers, Bills, Colts, or Packers.
No team is going to go the entire season without some tough matchups, but that’s something you can plan around. Try to find some other defenses that have soft spots in their schedule around the time that the schedule worsens for the defense you drafted, game out exactly when you’ll want to make the switch, and don’t be afraid to spend a little FAAB to make sure you get it done.
Don’t Reach for a D/ST Too Early
I like to use tier-based rankings to help guide me on which positions to draft and when. I recommend sticking with that approach to drafting D/STs, too, but that doesn’t mean you need to take one early in your draft. The inclination among most fantasy managers is to grab a defense once they’ve filled out the rest of their starting lineup (other than kicker), but that really isn’t necessary.
Once you know what to look for in your D/ST, you’ll likely find that your draft rankings are quite different from the default rankings of your league provider. That means you’ll go into your draft targeting some defenses that are not on the radar of the rest of your league, which is great news. You can use your mid-round picks on building up your running back and wide receiver depth and still get one of your preferred defenses in the later rounds.
Defenses to Consider
I’d be going against my own advice if I provided a definitive list of D/ST rankings without knowing your league format, but I can at least help you identify some defenses with favorable early-season schedules:
Broncos: @SEA, HOU, SF, @LV, IND, @LAC, NYJ, JAC, @TEN, LV, @CAR
Packers: @MIN, CHI, @TB, NE, NYG, NYJ, @WAS
Patriots: @MIA, @PIT, BAL, @GB, DET, @CLE, CHI, @NYJ, IND
Browns: @CAR, NYJ, PIT, @ATL
Ravens: @NYJ, MIA, @NE
Colts: @HOU, @JAC, KC, TEN, @DEN, JAC, @TEN, WAS, @NE
Saints: @ATL, TB, @CAR, MIN, SEA
Vikings: GB, @PHI, DET, NO, CHI, @MIA
Bears: SF, @GB, HOU, @NYG, @MIN, WAS, @NE
Eagles: @DET, MIN, @WAS, JAC
Commanders: JAC, @DET, PHI, @DAL, TEN, CHI
49ers: @CHI, SEA, @DEN, LAR, @CAR, @ATL
Giants: @TEN, CAR, DAL, CHI
Bengals: PIT, @DAL, @NYJ, MIA
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