The Truth About Defensive Backs

If there is one universally accepted truth in fantasy football, it’s that kickers are the most useless player on any team’s roster, bar none.

Well I have news for you, IDPers - Mr. Irrelevant should not be someone kicking it through the uprights.

For decades kickers have solidified themselves as the longest running joke in the NFL; from their scrawny stature to their very specific skill set, players, coaches and fans alike love to minimize their importance to the game of football.

Fantasy football built itself on the same foundation – kicker is the last position most consider drafting, and other than bye weeks or injuries they rarely move out of a lineup. For a solid performance you’ll get a few field goals and a few PATs from them, often times netting you fewer points than your worst wide receiver could get you on a bad day. And trying to predict how many field goal opportunities a kicker will get is a crapshoot – you’re guessing how many times the opposing team’s defense will stop the offense within about forty yards of the endzone.

Based on reputation, minimal scoring and unpredictability alone – kickers have earned themselves the role of “least important position” on any fantasy squad, just like in the NFL.

But not for you.

When it comes to playing IDP fantasy football, there is one roster position that is far less important than all the rest – your defensive backs.

The fact of the matter is defensive backs are a dime a dozen in fantasy football; it is the absolute easiest position to fill from week to week and still maintain a competitive roster.

So now that the one constant in fantasy football has been turned upside down for you, it’s time to understand why:

There are more starting defensive backs than any other position in the NFL.

While teams might start two running backs or three wide receivers, almost every team has a minimum of four defensive backs on the field at any given time – two corners and two safeties. That’s 128 starting DBs each week. If you’re playing in a 12-team league that starts three DBs, that’s 3.5 NFL starters for every 1 fantasy lineup position.

The NFL’s starting 32 kickers have a lower 2.6:1 starters to lineup ratio if your league is starting one kicker. Meaning that come Sunday morning when you’re scrambling to fill your bye weeks, you’ll have fewer free agent options to help field a formidable lineup.

Defensive back scoring is just as unpredictable as kickers’.

After looking at the top twenty defensive backs in fifteen different IDP leagues from the 2011 season, on average six of them were free agents during Week 1 play – meaning ~30% of the top twenty DBs went undrafted last season.

While this doesn’t mean preseason rankings have no merit, it does mean that of the 128 starters, and the other several hundred DBs who fight for a starting job during the preseason, a handful of them come from off the radar and find themselves in very productive situations.

Last season big name DBs like Jarius Byrd, Jason McCourty, Reggie Nelson, Sean Jones, Jordan Babineaux, Charlie Peprah and Kyle Arrington could have easily been found in free agency before the season, meaning if you watch the free agent pool after the first week or two of league play, you could land yourself a handful of elite starters at the DB position without ever wasting a draft pick.

Your worst DB will almost be as good as your best.

  QB RB WR TE K DL LB DB
1st Place 409.5 342 324 300 156 209 281 217
100th Place -0.5 19.3 59.8 1.4 26 56 88.5 105
Difference 409.5 322.7 264.2 298.6 130 153 192.5 112

Because there are so many starters each week, the point distribution from first to worst is much more minimal than any other position. With only a few guaranteed “studs” at the top of the pack, there isn’t much that separates the 10th best scoring DB from the 30th (~28 points, if you were curious).

Look at the following point breakdown using The Huddle’s standard scoring. The points of the 1st and 100th place scorers from Weeks 1-16 at each position were compared, and the difference taken (With the exception of QB, which only goes through 75, and K which only goes through 34):

Take a position like WR for example where many fantasy leagues will often start three each week, similar to defensive backs: Wes Welker finished the year as the leading WR with 324 points, while Ted Ginn Jr. was the 100th best wide receiver at 59.8 points – the difference between the two being 264.2 points. Meanwhile, Antoine Bethae posted 217 points to finish as the top scoring DB, while Chicago’s Major Wright finished with 105, leaving a difference of 112 points.

If you’re conscious of this narrow margin at the DB position, you can worry less about your team’s DB situation and focus more on trying to close other positions’ much wider point gaps. While 112 points is the space between 1 and 100 for defensive backs, it’s only the margin between 1 and 15 for WRs (Dwayne Bowe finished with 212 points).

So how does your league fix this problem and restore balance to the fantasy football universe? How do you put kickers back in their place as last round picks and insulting trade throw-ins?

First and foremost, IDP leagues need to start distinguishing the two separate positions within their starting lineups. Moving away from starting DBs and towards starting cornerbacks and safeties will split the pool of 128 starters into two separate pools, decreasing the number of free agents for each position, and ultimately increasing the value of productive defensive backs. Like the “receiver” position that was split into WR and TE long ago, it can only mean good things for fantasy football as a whole.

Similarly, scoring needs to be adjusted to help improve the value of DBs. It’s not enough to establish standard scoring for the defense as a whole, and not take the different positions into account. If more and more leagues are beginning to adjust their points per reception for each position in an attempt to help balance the playing field, surely the same can be done for DBs. Solo tackles are the bread and butter of defensive scoring, but there’s no way a top DB or DL could ever keep up with a LB based on tackles alone; like receptions the value of tackles, sacks, interceptions and pass deflections should be different for each position to help balance the relevance of every spot in the starting lineup.

So whether you’re tired of being beat by FA DBs, or you just want to restore balance to the fantasy football universe, the truth about defensive backs is all the same: until we make changes to “standard” IDP play, DBs will continue to make kickers look good by being the least valuable position on any roster.