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Dr. Z's Fantasy Football Rule #3

September 2, 2010

Ari Zyskind
Dr. Z's Fantasy Football Rule #3

Editor's note: This is the third part of a series of recommendations for your Fantasy Football 2010 draft. The series will run until the NFL kicks off on September 9th.

So now you’ve taken your first few picks (after reading the previous rules #1 and #2) and you’re feeling pretty confident. But you realize you don’t know what to do now that you are in the middle of the draft. You see that Yahoo! has the unstoppable New York Jets Defense and Special Teams Unit ranked as the next best pick. Should you choose a D/ST in the 6th round? Or should you pad your bench? But the bench doesn’t contribute. There’s only 10 seconds left! What do you do? Breathe. Relax. Take a sip of Matty Ice. Don’t worry. I’m here for you.

Rule #3: Wait on drafting a Defense/Special Teams (D/ST). This is probably one of the biggest mistakes most fantasy managers make. D/ST don’t need to be drafted until the last few rounds. Personally, I tend to wait until the last two rounds to take my kicker and D/ST (more on the kicker in upcoming Rule #5). The New York Jets Defense/Special Teams is pretty much the consensus number one pick among D/ST even though arguably the best cornerback in the league, Darrelle Revis, who is so vital to the Jets' shutdown defense, is holding out with no end in sight. Regardless of the Revis holdout, the Jets D/ST is being picked in Yahoo! leagues with the 56.4 selection, on average, roughly in the middle of the 6th round of an 8-10 team league. The Jets pick sounds fine and dandy until I tell you that, according to ESPN Fantasy Football expert Chris Harris, “Of the five pre-draft consensus No. 1 fantasy defenses in the past five seasons, exactly one finished among the top 10 defenses by season's end.” Only one has finished among the top 10!

That one team would the 2006 Chicago Bears, which finished 2nd in ESPN leagues. The Bears had dominated on defense the year before, but were immensely helped in 2006 by the 3 punt return TDs, and 2 kickoff return TDs, of Devin Hester. These 5 TDs added an additional 50 fantasy points (standard leagues award 10 points per special teams TD), or FP. Special Teams TDs are very difficult to predict, especially when the returner is a rookie (like Hester was). Do you know how many return TDs Hester has had in the past two seasons?  None. This isn’t entirely surprising as teams have been kicking away from Hester for the past two seasons. But why didn’t they do that in his second season, when he racked up an additional 6 return TDs?

Now, if are in your standard ten team league, you could be wasting a sixth round pick on the worst starting defense and special teams unit in the fantasy league! If you are taking a D/ST in the 6th or7thround, assuming that the league plays with two RBs, two WRs, and 1 Flex, you have not yet finished filling your starting skill position slots before drafting a D/ST! This is absurd. Last season, according to ESPN, the difference between the best D/ST unit, the San Francisco 49ers, and the last starting unit (which would be the tenth best starting unit), the Minnesota Vikings, was a measly 41 points (167 to 126). The 16th best, or the middle of the pack, D/ST, claimed 111 FP, a difference of 66 points. This may sound like a lot of points, but the difference between the best running back, Chris Johnson, and the 20th running back, or the last starter, if everyone were to only draft running backs, was 186 FP, more than quadruple that of the point differential of the best and worst starting D/ST. While the difference for the other positions is smaller, it is still much greater than that of the D/ST. I will elaborate on this idea in a coming piece.

In the worst case, you will have to go to the free agency pool and stream defenses against terrible offenses. There are always very bad offenses that don’t score points and turn the ball over a lot. Last year’s four teams that scored fewer than 16.0 points per game were the Tampa Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns (15.3),  Oakland Raiders (12.3), and St. Louis Rams (10.9). In the past ten seasons, only twice have there been only two teams that scored under 16 points per game. So this seems like a trend that will continue. With this stat in mind, there are roughly ten to fifteen teams that can be picked up from free agency in a given week that will perform average-to-great in a given week  Drafting a defense and special teams unit in the mid-level rounds is just crazy.

Still not convinced? Let’s take a look at some of the players being drafted with later picks: From a quick glance at a list of the top 200 players’ average draft position (ADP), I saw 7 RBs including Lions RB Jahvid Best (a “stud” rookie taking over the starting role from, successful fantasy sleeper, Kevin Smith. Last season, Smith scored 131 FP in only 13.5 games), LeSean McCoy (a younger version of Brian Westbrook, in the same west-coast offense. Westbrook used to average among the top-ten RBs in), and Ronnie Brown (118 FP in only 9 games and one of the leagues most dominant RBs when healthy); 9 WRs, two of which are guys I am very, very high on: Donald Driver (135 FP last season) and Wes Welker (155 FP last season); 6 TEs including one of the most consistent ends in the past decade in Tony Gonzalez; and 7 QBs I wouldn’t mind taking with a late pick, my favorites being Matt Ryan (217 FP in 13 games. A healthy season should see his numbers back up around 265)  and Joe Flacco (240 FP last season and 2 great receiving corps additions in Anquan Boldin and the just injured Donte’ Stallworth to increase Flacco’s production). This comes to a total of 29 players! And that was from just a quick glance. There are so many more players I would rather take a flier on than a D/ST.

The problem with these defenses is the high-risk and low-reward of using a top-10 round pick. ESPN Fantasy Football’s Christopher Harris’ analysis of last year’s D/ST draft results indicates the difficulty in predicting even a top-ten D/ST unit. Four of the top ten D/ST from last season’s ESPN leagues were either drafted outside of the top ten, or not drafted at all. So the chance of snagging a starting unit after everyone else has theirs is almost 50%!

Clearly, from my list, there is a plethora of talented players, who are more likely to succeed but would be passed up if a D/ST is taken so high. As tempting as Patrick Willis makes the 49ers defense look, give your team a chance. Pass on the defense and draft a player with plenty of upside that could separate your team from the next.

Contact: If you have a fantasy football question, comment, insult, or compliment for Dr. Z, send it to or call in to The Nightcap on KSPC Mondays 8-10 PM at (909) 626-KSPC. No inquiry is too big or small. It might even be featured in Dr. Z’s next column! Please include your first name and from which city you are writing.

Editor’s Note: This sports column is a regular feature from “The Nightcap” crew, a group of 5Cers who air a weekly radio sports talk show on KSPC. You can listen in online at or (click “Hear us Online via Live365”) every Monday from 8-10 PM. Want to join the radio show this year? We are looking for new people! Email us at!

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