2016 Defense-Special Teams Rankings

Over the next two weeks, the Fantasy Assembly’s greatest fantasy football minds will be coming together to wrap up our 2016 consolidated rankings. Join Andy Germani, Tommy Landseadel and Joe Mica as they help you prepare for your rapidly approaching football drafts. Today we cover Defense/Special Teams units and next week we will finish up with the kickers.

The traditional expert advice you will receive is to stock up at WR and RB throughout the draft and wait until the final 2 rounds to select your defense and kicker. The logic behind that advice is that defensive fantasy points can be difficult to project and weekly scoring is mostly about matchups. There are always highly ranked units that disappoint and unheralded ones that produce top scores. For those reasons, it may not be wise to heavily invest in a DST unit on draft day.

The trouble is, however, more and more owners are being turned on to streaming, making those ideal defensive matchups tougher to find. Often you will have to roster that perfect matchup at least a week ahead of time, making it impossible to use only 1 roster spot on your defense. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Defenses can accumulate a ton of points for your team. Don’t make the mistake of treating them like an afterthought!

Whether or not it makes sense to reach a little for a top unit depends on the specifics of your league and its members, but don’t be afraid to get creative. While defense won’t necessarily win you a championship like they do in real football, they are more important than many will have you believe.

2016 Football Rankings LogoAll of our rankings assume standard scoring:

  • 1 point for each sack
  • 2 points for fumble recovery and interceptions
  • 6 points for TD
  • 10 points for a shutout
  • 7 points for 1-6 points allowed
  • 4 points for 7-13 points allowed
  • 1 point for 14-20 points allowed
  • -1 point for 28-34 points allowed
  • -4 points for 35+ points allowed

If you use IDP check out Joe’s article from last week, available on The OCHO.
Without further ado, let’s check out the ranks!

Rank Team Defense Tommy Joe Andy
1 Seattle 1 1 1
2 Arizona 3 3 2
3 Carolina 4 2 4
4 Denver 2 6 5
5 Houston 6 5 3
6 Kansas City 5 4 8
7 New England 9 7 7
8 Los Angeles 7 16 6
9 New York Jets 12 8 10
10 Minnesota 8 9 14
11 Cincinnati 11 10 11
12 Buffalo 14 13 9
13 Oakland 13 12 12
14 Pittsburgh 10 11 17
15 Green Bay 15 15 13
16 Philadelphia 19 17 15
17 Jacksonville 17 18 18
18 New York Giants 20 NR 16
18 Miami 16 NR 20
20 Washington 18 19 NR
NR denotes a non ranking of that player

1. What is the earliest round you would reach for a defense, and who would it be?

Andy: I refuse to take a defense before about the 13th round, and even then that is early for me. If I am grabbing someone late I will take a shot on the Bills. I think their ADP is way too low for the potential that they have on defense.

Joe: Because I’m a numbers guy, I don’t subscribe to the theory of grabbing a top-notch defense early. The difference between the best D/ST in 2015 and the twelfth ranked D/ST is rather negligible. In one standard league the difference between the #1 D/ST and the #12 D/ST was only 4.8 points. In another standard league, the difference was a meager 2.7 points. Hardly a quintessential reason to reach for a top defense sooner than round 8 or 9, if even that early. It would be best to use these rounds to build offensive depth. That said, if the defensive pickings started to thin out, I’d probably target the New England Patriots. Perhaps they aren’t flashy or hyped, but their D/ST stealthily and consistently does well because of their offense coupled with the division that they play in. They’re a safe defense that won’t hurt your squad.

TommyThis one totally depends on format. In standard leagues, I will almost never draft a defense before the last 3 rounds. However, in specialized leagues sometimes you have to make an exception. For example, I play in one league where we draft in May and are allowed zero roster moves the entire season (5 bench spots). In that league, I can’t afford to use more than 1 roster spot on a defense, but I also can’t replace a struggling unit midway through the season. For that reason, I always reach for a top unit far earlier than I would otherwise.

Lastly, and most importantly though, never say never. If your league mates all adhere to the never draft a defense before the last 3 rounds, then be ready to pounce a round or two before they do. There is value in the elite units if you find the right price.  

2. Which top-5 defense from last year is most likely to regress this season?

Andy: I think it’s the Broncos. They had some key defensive losses and their season was mostly built around a great first half. In ESPN standard scoring they scored 117 of their 182 points (64%) in the first seven games of the season. From week 9 through the end of the season they only scored double digits once.

Joe: I’m picking the Denver Broncos. The loss of DL Malik Jackson and LB Danny Trevathan may not seem as severe since the defensive force Von Miller remains, along with the rest of the defensive starters from 2015. Yet to me this is huge. The situation to me seems eerily familiar to the Chicago Bears in their Lovie Smith-coached heyday. Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher were the cornerstones of that defense. Yet if just one of them was not playing, the defense was not as dominant. Consider that the Broncos lost 2 starting difference-makers that aren’t easily replaced by just anybody.

TommyI am picking the Panthers. Losing Josh Norman will really hurt their ability to slow down opposing passing attacks. I think they will still be good, but there will certainly be weeks that you won’t want them active.

3. Which late round DST is most likely to be the breakout unit this season?

Andy: I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Ravens have a really good year as long as the offense stays in check. Like I mentioned earlier, the Bills are a later defense I find myself grabbing a lot.

Joe: Call me crazy, but it could just be the Philadelphia Eagles. Hear me out. In Chip Kelly’s regime, when the fast-paced offense failed to sustain a drive, they were off the field in almost less time than a commercial break. Consequently, the Eagles defense had to take the field for a league high 34 minutes 9 seconds per game (on average). They were gassed. Despite this, in many standard leagues the Eagles finished 12th in D/ST scoring! Imagine what they might accomplish if they aren’t as exhausted when their offense isn’t off the field in 60 seconds.

TommyJacksonville added a ton of talent this offseason and could be on the verge of being a quality defense. I am not sure they are quite ready to be a difference maker in fantasy, but at the very least I expect them to emerge as a solid streaming option.

4. What are your thoughts on streaming defenses as a viable strategy?

Andy: I love it and do it every season. The only times I haven’t are when it’s week six or so and I have stumbled onto a truly top-notch defense. 

Joe: If you are the only owner streaming defenses then it could be a workable, strategic option. The fly in the ointment may be as soon as some of the juggernaut offenses begin to take shape for 2016. Some owners with average or shaky D/ST may decide that benching their team defense for whoever plays the Browns, Rams or Titans (based on 2015 scoring) is a better alternative than putting your D/ST against the Patriots, Steelers, Cardinals or Panthers (again, based on 2015 scoring).

TommyStreaming defenses is a fantastic strategy, but it is most effective when the majority of your league mates are holding their DST unit. The more owners that take to the streaming strategy, the tougher it becomes to find the ideal matchups and the less attractive the strategy is. The flip side, however, is that if many owners in your league stream, it is more likely that a high-end unit will get dropped during a bye week or in advance of a difficult matchup. Essentially, the best play is to figure out what the majority of your league mates are doing and go the opposite direction.


Up Next: the top 20 Kickers for 2016

2016 Fantasy Football Rankings
QuarterbackRunning BackWide ReceiverTight EndKickerTop 150


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The Fantasy Assembly Team

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A combined effort of the greatest fantasy sports minds money can buy. Maybe that is an exaggeration..... but it sounds good.