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Looking Back - Defenses
by David M. Dorey
July 21, 2003
 
Quarterback Running Back Wide Receiver Tight End Kicker Defense

Last season was little different than most seasons. The defense considered the best (Pittsburgh) failed to deliver the goods and the next two hot defenses went plunging down the standings.
Drafted Actual Team PPG
1 9 Pittsburgh 6.2
2 26 Chicago 4.4
3 22 St. Louis 4.8
4 2 Philadelphia 7.4
5 1 Tampa Bay 7.6
6 3 Green Bay 7.1
7 15 Miami 5.5
8 21 Cleveland 4.8
9 19 Washington 5.3
10 10 New England 6.2
11 18 Dallas 5.3
12 27 San Fran 4.4
13 13 Tennessee 5.8
14 12 San Diego 5.8
15 4 New Orleans 7.1
16 20 Denver 5.2
17 6 Oakland 6.9
18 23 Ny Jets 4.8
Actual Drafted Team PPG
1 5 Tampa Bay 7.6
2 4 Philadelphia 7.4
3 6 Green Bay 7.1
4 15 New Orleans 7.1
5 ND Carolina 7.0
6 17 Oakland 6.9
7 ND Atlanta 6.6
8 ND Baltimore 6.3
9 1 Pittsburgh 6.2
10 10 New England 6.2
11 ND Detroit 5.9
12 14 San Diego 5.8
13 13 Tennessee 5.8
14 ND Houston 5.8
15 7 Miami 5.5
16 ND Kansas City 5.5
17 ND Seattle 5.4
18 11 Dallas 5.3

Of the first dozen starting defenses taken in most drafts, only Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Green Bay were picks that were rewarding. Half of the defenses did not perform to the level of a starting fantasy defense.

Once the starting defenses were taken and those bye week fillers were selected, the average draft actually got better at picking defenses since two of the them (New Orleans and Oakland) actually played to the level of a Top 6 defense and the first two backups taken - San Diego and Tennessee - ended up appropriately slotted. The most painful fact here is that the top three defenses selected were a certain disappointment, if not disaster. Both Chicago and St. Louis incurred significant injuries which was largely to blame.

As discussed, waiting for the defensive run to begin paid off for the fourth, fifth and sixth defenses taken, but after those you were better off waiting all together.

By the end of the year, five of the top twelve defenses were taken after the 16th pick on the position. The best values easily were New Orleans, Carolina, Oakland, Atlanta and Baltimore. Only Oakland and Atlanta made a playoff splash, so the best fantasy defenses are not always, or even often, related to the best fantasy offenses.

This can change some with scoring changes, but considering the most common one here, again we see why waiting on defenses is a prudent move so long as a more valuable, or predictable, player is taken in their place earlier.

There is a diverse scoring used on defenses from league to league, so take all this largely as an overall view of the position - not the actual teams since they will rise and fall depending on how screwy your commissioner has made your scoring.

For a deeper reality check, lets compare the last three averaged drafts for defenses and see how they compare to one another for the top 18 fantasy defenses.

Draft Actual 2000 PPG Draft Actual 2001 PPG Draft Actual 2002 PPG
1 2 Tampa Bay 1 20 Baltimore 1 9 Pittsburgh
2 9 St. Louis 2 10 Tampa Bay 2 26 Chicago
3 25 Jacksonville 3 23 Tennessee 3 22 St. Louis
4 23 Washington 4 15 New Orleans 4 2 Philadelphia
5 5 Tennessee 5 11 Miami 5 1 Tampa Bay
6 8 Baltimore 6 9 Philadelphia 6 3 Green Bay
7 11 Kansas City 7 12 Oakland 7 15 Miami
8 13 Seattle 8 19 Denver 8 21 Cleveland
9 4 Oakland 9 21 NY Giants 9 19 Washington
10 6 Miami 10 6 St. Louis 10 10 New England
11 7 Philadelphia 11 5 Pittsburgh 11 18 Dallas
12 1 Denver 12 26 Washington 12 27 San Fran
13 19 Buffalo 13 30 Kansas City 13 13 Tennessee
14 18 Indianapolis 14 8 NY Jets 14 12 San Diego
15 15 Detroit 15 14 Seattle 15 4 New Orleans
16 12 Carolina 16 7 San Diego 16 20 Denver
17 20 NY Giants 17 25 Buffalo 17 6 Oakland
18 29 New England 18 24 Detroit 18 23 Ny Jets

It has been fairly unusual for a top three drafted defense to turn in a great year. Only Tampa Bay has done it before and fresh from the defensive mauling of the NFL last year, they are almost locks as the first defense taken again this season.

For whatever reason, the tenth selection in the draft for a defense has never disappointed. The eleventh has done well too but those have all been sound defenses and not just fantasy-specific good defenses. When you are drafting defenses, just remember - their scoring does not change much from team to team unless your league is incorporating factors like yardage or scoring-allowed by a defense. The drafts and actual scoring using just sacks, turnovers and touchdowns is shown to be fairly unpredictable and entirely unexciting since the best starting defense only nets about 2 points per game more than the 12th starting defense.

The older drafts dictate that grabbing an early defense normally does not make a difference for your team. It may feel great getting a hot defense from the prior season, but when do you want to feel the best? After your draft or after your season?

Quarterback Running Back Wide Receiver Tight End Kicker Defense