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Team Defense by Committee
John U. Miller
August 2, 2010
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How many of you spend early picks on a defense?  Steelers, Giants, Chargers… gotta have a big name, right?  I know a lot of you start shaking that “D/ST” tree around the 8th or 9th round.  I’ve done it.  But I won’t do it again.  The last time I grabbed a defense early was in 2007.  Baltimore Ravens.  Why not?  They were coming off a big 2006 season where they led the NFL in pass defense (150.8 yards) and INTs (28).  It’s Ray-Ray, man.  Money in the bank.  Besides, someone just took the first defense off the board and I didn’t want to get caught empty-handed.

Wasted pick. The Ravens defense finished 20th in my league’s scoring system (and somewhere similarly in yours), and the worst part is, I kept starting them over and over even when the signs were there.  DT Trevor Pryce, CB Samari Rolle, and CB Chris McAlister all went down… and I ignored the effect each injury had on personnel.  It’s easy to brush aside a couple injuries when you’re starting a composite group of 11 players.  The team defense is never “questionable” or “doubtful” right?

Meanwhile, there were so many other good picks I could have made in the 8th round of August 2007. First, let’s see how that exact round went down.

2007 FF Draft -- 8th Round Snapshot
Pick Overall Team Player
1 85 Team A QB Vince Young, TN
2 86 Team B D/ST Chicago Bears
3 87 JUM D/ST Baltimore Ravens
4 88 Team D QB Ben Roethlisberger, PIT
5 89 Team E QB Brett Favre, GB
6 90 Team F WR Greg Jennings, GB
7 91 Team G TE Kellen Winslow, CLE
8 92 Team H WR Calvin Johnson, DET
9 93 Team I WR Bernard Berrian, CHI
10 94 Team J D/ST New England Patriots
11 95 Team K RB Lendale White, TN
12 96 Team L RB Tatum Bell, DEN

You probably don’t remember specifically how 2007 turned out for some of those players, but let me tell you this: a whopping 8 of the 9 picks made after I jumped on the Ravens defense had a damn good season. I passed on some very effective point-producers.  For the value, a few of them were fantasy trophy-makers.  Greg Jennings (8.6, Aaargh!) broke out like nobody’s business.  That could have been 12 TDs from my Flex spot! The worst part is my first-round pick, Ronnie Brown, got hurt in October and my team lost several games down the stretch.  Brown had been the #1 fantasy RB to that point too.  I didn’t have a sturdy reserve – like Lendale White above at 8.11, who ended up as the 15th best RB – so my team usually had a deficiency in RB points.

I might have had LenDale, or Jennings, or maybe Kellen Winslow (who went nuts in ’07) if I had held out for Team Defense By Committee.  TDBC for short.  In just a minute I’m going to serve up my 2010 TDBC platter to you, pre-cooked and ready to pop in the draft oven.

Look, people tend to overlook the fact that team defenses fluctuate from year to year, often wildly, and picking one too early can blow up in your face.  They can hold an overall level of superiority for years but there’s still hiccups in there somewhere. My 20th-ranked Ravens had been the #1 defense in 2006, the 18th ranked defense in 2005, and the 2nd ranked unit in 2004. That’s a 2-18-1-20 four-year stretch.  Rollercoaster.

Last year’s fantasy drafts had a run on defenses around the 8th round as usual, with the Steelers and Giants flying off the shelves.  They finished with #18 and #22 rankings, respectively. Two years ago the hot pick was the Chargers.  They ended up with a #16 ranking.  Even the so-called “sleeper” defense of 2008 – Seattle – finished 20th that year, and they were being drafted in what seemed like a reasonable 11th round. Still too soon.

Some other defenses will shoot up out of nowhere.  You have a combination of players and staff that can mix together and become combustible overnight. Schedules get easier.  Perhaps a new coach – like defensive guru Jim Schwartz in Detroit – lights a fire under their butt.  Maybe a couple unproven guys step up with Pro Bowl-type seasons, exciting the veterans, lifting everyone’s play. They could add a premier edge-rusher and switch to a 3-4 (doesn’t it seem like everyone switches to a 3-4 every year?).  Or simply, maybe everyone just stays healthy.

When the run on defenses starts in your league, just ignore it.  Wait about four more rounds for your first D/ST unit, instead building a thick bench full of RBs, WRs, and Flex candidates.  Don’t panic, there will be several quality defenses left.  And you’ll be stronger when the injury bug swarms the meat of your roster.  Then in the last couple rounds grab your second unit.

Team Defense By Committee is actually a set of three pre-screened defense pairings.  You can choose any one of the below three “menus” at your draft.  No matter which TDBC menu you go with, you’re using late-round picks and assuring yourself a near continuous string of good matchups where the defense 1) has a home game that week, and/or 2) faces a young or erratic quarterback.  It’s that simple…

Key: Opponents highlighted in yellow are the matchups you choose that week.  Playoff weeks 13-16 are in blue.  Week #17 has no selection because your league shouldn’t be active that week.

Menu 1 Your 1st DEF pick Your 2nd DEF pick
Week Tennessee Titans Carolina Panthers
1 vs Oakland at NY Giants
2 vs Pittsburgh (Leftwich) vs Tampa Bay
3 at NY Giants vs Cincinnati
4 vs Denver at New Orleans
5 at Dallas vs Chicago
6 at Jacksonville BYE
7 vs Philadelphia vs San Francisco
8 at San Diego at St. Louis
9 BYE vs New Orleans
10 at Miami at Tampa Bay
11 Washington vs Baltimore
12 at Houston at Cleveland
13 vs Jacksonville at Seattle
14 vs Indianapolis vs Atlanta
15 vs Houston vs Arizona
16 at Kansas City at Pittsburgh
17 at Indianapolis at Atlanta

Menu 1 summary: Tennessee is maybe a 14th round pick, probably the 15th, and they have two nice matchups out of the gate – at home vs. the Raiders and at home vs. the Ben-less Steelers.  Carolina will be there after the 15th round.  No one expects much because Julius Peppers left.  At midseason you’ll use Carolina for a stretch, ball-hawking against Jay Cutler, Alex Smith, and A.J. Feeley/Sam Bradford.  It’s actually kind of silly to project TDBC matchups into November – circumstances change, maybe you snagged another D/ST off waivers – but the Titans’ week #16 game at Kansas City looks good.  They beat KC 34-10 in Arrowhead two years ago.

Menu 2 Your 1st DEF pick Your 2nd DEF pick
Week Arizona Cardinals Washington Redskins
1 at St. Louis vs Dallas
2 at Atlanta vs Houston
3 vs Oakland at St. Louis
4 at San Diego at Philadelphia
5 vs New Orleans vs Green Bay
6 BYE vs Indianapolis
7 at Seattle at Chicago
8 vs Tampa Bay at Detroit
9 at Minnesota BYE
10 vs Seattle vs Philadelphia
11 at Kansas City at Tennessee
12 vs San Francisco vs Minnesota
13 vs St. Louis at NY Giants
14 vs Denver vs Tampa Bay
15 at Carolina at Dallas
16 vs Dallas at Jacksonville
17 at San Francisco vs NY Giants

Menu 2 summary: Arizona and Washington should both float back to at least the 14th round.  Nice combo.  You get the Rams twice in the first three weeks.  You are stuck with Washington’s defense vs. Indianapolis during Arizona’s bye, but at least the ‘Skins are at home.  Arizona gets Seattle in weeks #7 and #10, an offense who already had the most fumbles (33) last year, and now they’re learning a new system.  The Redskins draw 22-year old Bucs QB Josh Freeman at home in week #14, six weeks after your Cardinals defense bullied him in week #8.   

Menu 3 Your 1st DEF pick Your 2nd DEF pick
Week Denver Broncos Buffalo Bills
1 at Jacksonville vs Miami
2 vs Seattle at Green Bay
3 vs Indianapolis at New England
4 at Tennessee vs NY Jets
5 at Baltimore vs Jacksonville
6 vs NY Jets BYE
7 vs Oakland at Baltimore
8 at San Francisco at Kansas City
9 BYE vs Chicago
10 vs Kansas City vs Detroit
11 at San Diego at Cincinnati
12 vs St. Louis vs Pittsburgh
13 at Kansas City at Minnesota
14 at Arizona vs Cleveland
15 at Oakland at Miami
16 vs Houston vs New England
17 vs San Diego at NY Jets

Menu 3 summary: Even though Denver was a top-7 defense in 2009, they got gashed down the stretch and DC Mike Nolan was fired.  They aren’t too popular in 2010 mock drafts, often falling to the 13th or 14th round. The Broncos still have maniacal pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil and established vets at 10 of 11 spots+ rookie 1st-round pick LB Robert Ayers.  Their schedule looks good.  Buffalo is available with your very last pick. You’ll be using them at home vs. Jacksonville, Chicago and Cleveland – plus a road game at Kansas City.  That gives you three games against the Chiefs. 

None of these units are real sexy fantasy picks but that’s the idea.  Play consistent matchup ball with lots of home games or against perceived mistake-prone QBs. Trust me.  A few of those defenses will rock and roll in 2010.  

Trust Me
New Orleans went from 25th in 2008 to 1st in 2009
San Francisco went from 17th in 2008 to 4th in 2009
Denver went from 29th in 2008 to 5th in 2009
Arizona went from 23rd in 2008 to 9th in 2009
New York Jets went from 22nd in 2007 to 4th in 2008
Tampa Bay went from 15th in 2007 to 5th in 2008
Miami went from 26th in 2007 to 11th in 2008

Heck, the Saints were totally undrafted in 2009, unless someone in your league grew up off Prytania Street in the Garden District… but wait, yours truly took the Saints (and the Bills) at the end of my draft using a TDBC menu.  Their sinister new coordinator Gregg Williams had them bustin’ heads, while safety Darren Sharper guzzled a voodoo age-reversal potion on Bourbon St.  The best part was, I didn’t even need TDBC.  Catch lightning in a bottle like I did with New Orleans and you just scrap it and ride that rocket every week.

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