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Fantasy football rankings 2015: Draft your defense at the end, and not a minute before

The 2015 season features plenty of quality team defenses for your fantasy football squad. Once again, the Seattle Seahawks top our fantasy defense rankings.

There are ceilings and floors to every position in fantasy. Sure, you could draft Matt Moore as your quarterback and have a floor of zero (and a ceiling of the same), but among likely draftees, you have a rough idea of your range of outcomes, and you're just trying to maximize your return.

By now, most everyone knows to take a kicker in the last round. Heck, there are more and more game providers that have excised the kicker from the game altogether, because there's no real skill there. Stephen Gostkowski will get you points, but can you with any real confidence rank Sebastian Janikowski, Matt Bryant and Dan Bailey over the course of a season? Heck, over the course of a week? A bad offense might kill a kicker's value by never giving him a chance, or it might maximize that value by only ever reaching field goal range.

Your job as a fantasy player is, as I said, to maximize return. It's why people go running back first -- Aaron Rodgers will get more points than Eddie Lacy, but Philip Rivers will outscore Jonathan Stewart by a lot, and you can get Rivers way later than you can get Stewart.

You know all this already. Just consider it a quick review. Because despite all this knowledge, many fantasy players completely drop the ball in maximizing return at one position in particular: Defense/special teams.

Most fantasy players use one of two strategies to pick a fantasy defense. The first is to draft one of the elite defenses (this is code for "Seattle") in, say, Round 10. The other is to draft one of the remaining defenses ("someone else in the NFC West") in the second-to-last round, leaving kicker for the end. You'll find some variance to that, but by and large that's how it goes more often than not.

The latter method is fine, if lazy and perhaps not targeting full potential. The former is downright criminal.

The Seattle Seahawks were the first defense off the board in fantasy drafts last year, and not by a little; according to the average draft position on The Huddle, the Seahawks went off the board in the middle of the eighth round last year, with the San Francisco 49ers going about 30 picks later.

Speaking as someone who had to answer chat questions throughout the Seahawks' underwhelming first half of the season, "Is it time to drop the Seattle D?" still haunts my dreams. While it's true that they got the kinks worked out as the schedule eased up, the Seattle defense finished the season as only the No. 3 unit, scoring 150 fantasy points. It certainly could have been worse, but those who drafted Seattle's defense and stuck with them survived and did okay.

"Okay." Is that really what you're looking for out of a draft pick, out of a starting position? Because while the Seahawks defense scored 150 fantasy points a year ago, The Buffalo Bills (170 points) and Philadelphia Eagles (153) bested them at Nos. 1 and 2. Funny thing is, I could've gotten you 230 fantasy points at defense in the same season.

Wait, what? Beating the top defense by 60 points? If I'm being totally up front, that total would have been difficult to achieve (though possible, sure). But equaling the Seattle defense's production on the foundations of a pick in the second-to-last round is certainly on the table. All it requires is about five minutes more work than it took you to click "St. Louis Rams defense" at your draft.

To prove it, I dove into last year's results, identifying the three worst offenses entering each week (where "worst" was defined as "lowest three-week point total entering a given week" -- one- and two-week totals were used for Weeks 2 and 3, and for Week 1 I just used league-wide fantasy scoring) and seeing how fantasy defenses fared against them. Notice there that which defense it was was irrelevant -- it could've been Buffalo, it could've been Oakland. In fact, it was both of those -- Buffalo faced Cleveland in Week 13, Oakland in Week 16 and the New York Jets in Week 8, while Oakland faced San Francisco Week 14. Over the course of the season, every defense except Cincinnati, Green Bay, New Orleans and the Jets was included at some point.

Best possible outcome: 230 fantasy points

Like I said, this would have been difficult. This would have involved not only identifying the worst offenses entering each week, but picking out the single best choice in each of those weeks. That's difficult, and you probably wouldn't have gotten there. Still ... 230 points? Beating the actual best fantasy defense by more than 35 percent? That's striking, and it underscores why drafting a single unit early is dumb.

Average outcome: 137 fantasy points

Still not using any strategy at all, just taking the average defense against the worst offenses each week, you'd have been the No. 5 fantasy defense, and less than a point a game worse than the theoretically best defense Seattle.

And like I said, that's without any strategy or thought. Identify the worst offenses and see that one of them has just gotten its quarterback back from injury? Well, cross that one off. The defense in question is better at home than on the road and gets a cushy home matchup? Yeah, we'll leave it alone. Virtually any small bit of thought you attempt in this exercise is likely to help you maximize scoring.

Which brings us back around. Sure, you could draft Seattle's defense in the middle rounds again this year. It's likely, once again, to be good. It'll require you to think less, research less. It's a draft-and-forget situation, and there's something to be said for that. On the other hand, you could wait until the second-to-last round to take a defense and use that earlier pick on, you know, anyone.

Check back to last year's drafts. Remember, Seattle went in the middle of the eighth round. Behind Seattle's defense: Sammy Watkins, Eric Decker, Russell Wilson, Greg Olsen. Sure, relative disappointments Kendall Wright, Jordan Reed and Jay Cutler are also in that group. You aren't guaranteed a winning lottery ticket in the eighth round.

But that's the point. Winning the lottery is hard. The only way to help your chances is to buy as many tickets as possible. Don't waste your time getting a ticket for the $1,000 lottery when there's a Powerball jackpot out there. Wait on the defense, and just plan to think a little.

(DK: Daniel Kelley; DC: Dan Ciarrocchi; AW: Alex Welch; JD: John Daigle; KA: Kenneth Arthur; SK: Scott Kaliska; MG: Michael Gallagher)

Rank Consensus DK DC AW JD KA SK MG
1 Seattle Seahawks 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
2 Buffalo Bills 2 2 2 2 2 2 3
3 Houston Texans 3 5 4 6 3 4 2
4 St. Louis Rams 5 3 3 4 8 3 5
5 Denver Broncos 4 4 6 3 5 6 9
6 Arizona Cardinals 9 6 7 11 4 5 6
7 New York Jets 8 12 5 5 7 8 4
8 Miami Dolphins 6 11 9 9 9 11 10
9 Baltimore Ravens 10 10 10 8 11 9 7
10 New England Patriots 13 7 8 14 13 7 8
11 Green Bay Packers 7 9 12 13 12 12 11
12 Carolina Panthers -- 8 11 15 10 10 12
13 Kansas City Chiefs 14 13 -- 10 6 13 --
14 Philadelphia Eagles 12 -- 13 7 15 16 13
15 Cincinnati Bengals -- 14 14 12 14 14 16
16 Dallas Cowboys 11 -- -- -- -- -- --
-- San Francisco 49ers 15 15 -- -- -- -- 15
-- Detroit Lions -- -- 15 -- -- 15 --
-- Pittsburgh Steelers -- -- -- -- -- -- 14
-- Atlanta Falcons 16 -- -- -- 16 -- --
-- Minnesota Vikings -- 16 16 -- -- -- --
-- Cleveland Browns -- -- -- 16 -- -- --

SB Nation archives: Rules to follow in your fantasy football league (2014)