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Fantasy football advice: Don't draft the Seattle defense

Sure, we all think the Seahawks' D/ST will be No. 1, but there are far better ways to use your resources.


I agree with you. I think the Seattle Seahawks' defense/special teams will be the best in the league in 2014. If I were to get my pick of any defense in fantasy, that's the one I'd take.

But I wouldn't draft them.

Heading into last season, most everyone thought the Seahawks' D/ST would be the best in fantasy, and then they were. That bucks a trend of units projected to be the best finishing second, third, 12th, whatever. I'm a sucker for trends and ignoring outliers, so, while I would rank Seattle No. 1, a big chunk of me expects them to slide back.

Meanwhile, this is fantasy football. To draft Seattle there, you're passing up on Russell Wilson, Hakeem Nicks, Darren McFadden - all guys I've seen ranked just below Seattle. They're a 10th-, 11th-round pick in fantasy leagues, and taking them there means they have to provide a best-unit-in-the-league return to be worth it. At the same time, you're missing out on other guys, the lottery-ticket picks that can win you the league if they hit. Wilson, Nicks, and McFadden might not be the ones that click, but some will, and you need to shoot for them.

So what defense to draft then? For starters, here were the top-10 fantasy defenses from last year. There was a tie at 10th, so I'm listing 12:

Rank D/ST unit 2013 fantasy points
1 Seattle Seahawks 195
2 Carolina Panthers 185
3 Kansas City Chiefs 179
4 Cincinnati Bengals 176
5 Arizona Cardinals 164
6 San Francisco 49ers 154
7 St. Louis Rams 145
8 Buffalo Bills 123
9 New England Patriots 114
T10 Indianapolis Colts 110
T10 New Orleans Saints 110
T10 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 110

Carolina's defense was 23rd off the board a year ago. Kansas City's was 27th. Buffalo's, 26th; Indianapolis', 25th; New Orleans', 24th. Meanwhile, presumptive preseason top-10 defenses Chicago, Houston, Denver, Green Bay, and Baltimore were nowhere to be found.

Basically, you had the exact same chance of having an end-of-season top-10 defense last season by picking a unit ranked in the 20s as you did one ranked in that top 10. We study, we read, we rank, but if you think we know with any real certainty what defense slots where, you have more trust in the system than I do. We have good estimates, but there is so much variability in defensive performance that picking a single unit to ride with all season can be a fool's errand.

I wrote this same basic piece last year, and the numbers are basically identical: Follow my lead, and you could have bested the best-in-the-league Seahawks' unit. And you could have bested that unit by thirty-three percent.

It takes a little more research than "expert ranked them here," but not much more. I went through the 2013 season week-by-week and identified the three lowest-scoring offenses entering each week (as judged by the lowest three-game average entering that week). For Weeks 2 and 3, of course, I couldn't use three weeks, so I used what I could. For Week 1, I merely took an average defense's score. Then I simply saw how those teams' opposing defenses fared in fantasy.

This is a very simplistic method. Anything that says "Hey, starting the 2013 Minnesota D/ST three different times is smart" would have to be. Literally, it's just "start a D/ST facing a struggling offense." In reality, you should (and I would) look deeper. Higher-scoring teams that allow turnovers. Middling teams that face good punt returners. Someone who gets to play against Brandon Weeden. But this is good enough to make my point.

Best outcome: 259 fantasy points

Sure, this would have been nigh-on impossible. In addition to identifying the three poorest-performing offenses, you'd have had to pick the right one of the three each week. Still, though, that's a full 64 points better than the vaunted Seattle unit, and that's something special.

Average outcome: 156 fantasy points

This is the average of those defensive units facing those poor-scoring offenses. And, heck, it includes Week 9, in which those three offenses (Philadelphia, the Jets, Houston) held the three opposing defenses (Oakland, New Orleans, Indianapolis) to an average in the negatives. Still, the average score was nearly 10 points a week, and included eight different weeks of double-digit fantasy scoring.

This "unit," which didn't even require you to use a draft pick on a defense, would have been the No. 6 fantasy defense in 2013.

"Ah," you say, "but surely Seattle's defense was included in that list somewhere. And San Francisco's, and Kansas City's. I couldn't have picked them up."

Sure, I say in response to an imaginary question. Maybe not every D/ST in this little game would be available. So, let's go just a little deeper.

Average available outcome: 111 fantasy points

I removed every D/ST from the list that was owned in more than half of fantasy leagues by the end of the year. I don't have the wherewithal to go week-by-week on the ownership percentages, but if anything, I think that would have made the results look better, not worse.

This mythical D/ST amalgamation? It would have been a top-10 fantasy defense in 2013, using nothing but units owned in fewer than half of fantasy leagues.

There are a lot of different ways to break this down, and virtually every single one says that picking and choosing your defense on a week-by-week basis gives you a top-10 collective unit by season's end.

This is how fantasy defenses should be selected. Draft one in the second-to-last round (because, for the love of god, take your kicker last) if your league requires a full starting lineup coming out of the draft. And sure, pick the best one available to you. But if the defense you end the season with is the same one you started the season with, you've screwed up. Heck, if your defense at midseason is the one you started with, that's too long.

Pick a defense to start the season. Pick a defense for Week 3, Week 5, Week 16. Switch it up whenever you can. Seattle's defense was No. 1 in the league last year, just like we guessed. It's certainly possible the same could happen this year. But you have to be positive of that to justify taking Seattle where Seattle is going. The team lost two cornerbacks and three defensive linemen in the offseason. I believe they'll be the best, but I don't super-believe that.

And then there's this. The Seahawks went 85th in ADP a year ago. If you took them there, frankly, you're probably not devastated by their performance. That is, until you go down three spots, to 88th. For the cost of only a few fantasy points out of your defense/special teams, you could have passed on the Seahawks.

And drafted Josh Gordon.