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5 Year Fantasy Analysis - Defenses
by David M. Dorey
July 11, 2003
 
Quarterback Running Back Wide Receiver Tight End Kickers Defenses

  1998 Pts 1999 Pts 2000 Pts 2001 Pts 2002 Pts
1 SEA 173 STL 158 DEN 144 CLE 118 TB 122
2 NO 140 KC 150 TB 140 NE 117 PHI 119
3 ATL 124 JAX 129 NO 131 CHI 117 GB 113
4 OAK 112 TEN 127 OAK 127 GB 115 NO 113
5 GB 112 PHI 122 TEN 121 PIT 114 CAR 112
6 MIN 109 DET 114 MIA 109 STL 113 OAK 110
7 MIA 105 BAL 109 PHI 105 SD 109 ATL 105
8 NYG 104 WAS 108 BAL 103 NYJ 108 BAL 101
9 TB 103 DAL 107 STL 100 PHI 107 PIT 99
10 PIT 101 MIN 101 PIT 100 TB 103 NE 99
11 BAL 98 DEN 98 KC 98 MIA 102 DET 94
12 SF 96 NE 97 CAR 96 OAK 95 SD 93
13 DAL 95 GB 96 SEA 95 CAR 92 TEN 93
14 CAR 95 SEA 93 SD 93 SEA 92 HOU 92
15 DEN 95 NO 91 DET 88 NO 91 MIA 88
16 CHI 92 OAK 90 NYJ 87 IND 89 KC 88
17 STL 90 NYJ 87 ATL 87 JAX 89 SEA 87
18 NYJ 89 IND 86 IND 87 CIN 88 DAL 85
19 BUF 86 TB 86 BUF 83 DEN 88 WAS 85
20 NE 84 CIN 86 NYG 82 BAL 87 DEN 83
21 ARI 84 SF 84 CHI 80 NYG 87 CLE 76
22 JAX 84 SD 82 GB 80 SF 85 STL 76
23 DET 82 CHI 82 WAS 80 TEN 81 NYJ 76
24 KC 81 PIT 81 CLE 74 DET 77 NYG 74

Rank 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002
1 173 158 144 118 122
2 140 150 140 117 119
3 124 129 131 117 113
4 112 127 127 115 113
5 112 122 121 114 112
6 109 114 109 113 110
Top 6 770 800 772 694 689
7 105 109 105 109 105
8 104 108 103 108 101
9 103 107 100 107 99
10 101 101 100 103 99
11 98 98 98 102 94
12 96 97 96 95 93
7 - 12 607 620 602 624 591
13 95 96 95 92 93
14 95 93 93 92 92
15 95 91 88 91 88
16 92 90 87 89 88
17 90 87 87 89 87
18 89 86 87 88 85
19 86 86 83 88 85
20 84 86 82 87 83
21 84 84 80 87 76
22 84 82 80 85 76
23 82 82 80 81 76
24 81 81 74 77 74
13-24 1057 1044 1016 1046 1003
Total 2338 2464 2390 2364 2283

Defenses are scored differently in most fantasy leagues and those differences in scoring can be very significant. Unlike offensive players which vary on yardage and touchdown points, defensive scoring in your league can include many things besides the safeties, touchdowns, sacks and turnovers the above list considered. Negative points for yardage allowed or touchdowns allowed tremendously impacts how defenses fall into rankings and is becoming more popular.

Still, this level of analysis does offer a valuable insight into the nature of fantasy defenses. Over the past five seasons, defenses have scored less though most of that is attributable to the top two or three teams from the earlier years not being matched in recent years. After the top three or four defenses, each season has been fairly similar overall.

After those top six defenses, there is less than a five percent difference from year to year in the next best 18 defenses. The trend line for each season almost mirrors each other after the top six defenses. Simply said, defenses wait until the later rounds in most drafts because the reality is that getting the #5 defense or the #12 defense usually ends up about one point per game difference. Makes a good case for changing standard performance for defenses to make bigger point awards or include negative points.

But how well can the past season predict the future one for defenses? It is an entire squad of players, much more likely to maintain their level from season to season than an individual player. Or so it would seem.

The reality is actually rather different than theory. The theory that defenses repeat their performances is as reasonable as the childhood theory that bed sheets make good parachutes. However, in application both tend to leave you smarting for the experience.

The Next Year a Top 6 became:
  98 99 00 01 Avg
Top 6 0 1 0 1 0.5
7 - 12 1 3 3 2 2.3
13 - 24 4 1 3 1 2.3
Duds 1 1 0 2 1

Remember that the last five years has seen only the very top defenses yield any competitive advantage. And yet relying on a historical view that uses just the last season has resulted in some disappointing draft picks. The best six defenses of the prior year have only repeated as a top six defense the next year twice in the past four years! Not one of the top three defenses has repeated as a top three the next year! And I hate using exclamation points!

Selecting a Top six defense from the prior season has resulted in only about a third of them even making it back to being a Top 12 defense (AKA starting fantasy defense). The only consistency in a defense from one year to the next is that the best ones are almost locks not to repeat. Their biggest advantage is looking like you scored some coup in your draft when you take the hot defense from the prior season.

This would indicate that the group of TB, PHI, GB, NO, CAR and OAK are very likely to fall this season in fantasy points and the trend says they all will fall.

The Next Year 7th to 12th became:
  98 99 00 01 Avg
Top 6 0 1 2 1 1
7 - 12 1 1 2 2 1.5
13 - 24 2 1 1 2 1.5
Duds 3 3 1 1 2

Taking a defense that was ranked 7th to 12th best the prior season has been actually better than a previous Top 6 defense for getting a top spot, but normally only one of the six actually rises, the majority of them will fall. Do you feel lucky, punk? Well? Do you? Out of ATL, BAL, PIT, NE, DET and SD, which one can rise up higher into the Top 6?

The bottom line to defenses as shown by the past five years is that not only is there no such thing as a "lock" the next year, but that your chances actually improve by not taking a top defense the previous season. Under the scoring used, there is not a lot of difference between defensive scoring for a season anyway, and predicting who will be on top the next season is made even harder by the absence of past history as a key. In short, normal scoring for defenses that only uses sacks, safeties, turnovers and touchdowns results in wildly fluctuating performances from season to season.

Let me repeat again the most important fact - overall, defenses do not tend to separate themselves enough to make them worthy of an early pick (using standard defensive scoring). Scoring taken at a season level is very smoothly descending in a gentle curve. Having the best defense each season versus the worst starting defense (ranked 12th) has not meant more than one or two extra points a week. Compare that to the ten to fifteen point difference between first and twelfth ranked runningbacks for example.

This suggests one main theory for defenses that can be considered reasonable. Don't squander a high pick on a defense when there are still sleeper receivers, tight ends or runningbacks to take. Try to get two "middle of the pack" defenses instead of grabbing an early "hot team" and then waiting until the end to back them up. Chances are very good that your second defenses will be needed for more than a bye week filler and two middle of the road defenses can be mixed and matched against the most attractive weekly opponent.

Quarterback Running Back Wide Receiver Tight End Kickers Defenses