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Fantasy 101: How To Draft Kickers & Defenses

Matt Brandon Aug 27th 3:49 PM EDT.

In almost every single format of fantasy football, you should wait until the final two rounds of your draft to pick your team defense and kicker — not necessarily in that order. Some argue that team defenses are easier to predict while others argue that kickers are more consistent. It doesn’t really matter. Neither position is going to win you your league. Those are the least predictable and, quite frankly, the least important positions in fantasy.

Even if owners in your league begin drafting kickers or defenses in the 10th round of a 16-round draft, DO NOT follow in their footsteps. Take more valuable players while your competitors waste picks on those two rather insignificant positions.

In 2020, the differential between fantasy’s No. 1 kicker and the No. 12 kicker was 24 fantasy points. That equates to just 1.5 FPPG in a 16-week league. Is it worth drafting the top kicker to gain that minimal edge over your opponent? Clearly, the answer is no. Instead of drafting a kicker, you could snag a sleeper who finishes the season as a top-10 wide receiver or your stud RB’s backup so that you have something to fall back on in the event of an injury. Even if you do draft the first kicker off the board, there is no guarantee that he will finish with the most fantasy points at his position.

While predicting the top kicker in any given year is no easy task, it is far easier than predicting the top defense. The top projected defense seldom finishes the season with the most fantasy points. Over the past 15 years, no defense has ever finished first in fantasy scoring two years in a row. Oftentimes, fluke touchdowns, injuries, and/or surprising play can result in a projected middle-of-the-pack defense finishing on top of the fantasy world.

After producing 39 takeaways, 44 sacks, two safeties, and four touchdowns during the 2013 regular season, the Seattle Seahawks manhandled Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. They headed into the 2014 season as the consensus top fantasy defense. So, where did they finish? Richard Sherman and Co. were still solid, but they did not tally as many fantasy points as the Green Bay Packers, St. Louis Rams, Buffalo Bills, Houston Texans, or Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles, who finished the 2014 fantasy season as the top defense, were widely considered during the preseason to have a mediocre defense. However, their 11 defensive/special teams touchdowns proved to be the difference even though they allowed the 10th-most points of any team.

So what does this all mean? Do not spend an early draft pick on a defense or a kicker! Kickers provide the thinnest margin of points between each other while defenses are very unpredictable.

What happens if you select a defense later than everyone else in your league and it struggles immensely through the first few weeks of the season? Well, there is a solution to this problem and that solution is called streaming. Streaming defenses is a fairly common practice for intermediate-to-advanced fantasy owners. This strategy involves targeting a defense each week that is facing an inept offense. For example, in 2014, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ offense featured a rookie quarterback, a poor offensive line, and no dominant threats at the skill positions. They allowed a league-high 71 sacks and the most fantasy points per game to opposing defenses, including six defensive touchdowns. So, if you were unhappy with the way your defense was performing, you would just check the waiver wire to see if the defense facing the Jaguars that week was available.

Every year, there are always a few NFL teams that are so bad on offense that adding the mediocre defense opposing them is a worthwhile transaction. Oftentimes, the point differential between the defense you drafted and the defense you added off the wire is barely noticeable by the end of the season anyway. You can stream defenses all year long and still find yourself in the fantasy playoffs.

Streaming kickers also works. If the team your kicker plays for is failing to put up points, target a kicker in a serviceable offense with a matchup looming against a dreadful defense.

This strategy really works! Don’t go drafting the top projected defense in the fifth round and the top projected kicker in the ninth round. Not only are you throwing your season away, but you are also putting a huge target on your back. You are basically telling your fellow owners that you do not know what you are doing, and they will take advantage of that by sending lopsided trade proposals your way. Instead of drafting a kicker and a defense early, be patient. Wait until the last two rounds. Do that, manage the rest of the draft with intelligence, and stay active during the season, and you could be holding that championship trophy very soon.

#fantasy101

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