The Seattle Seahawks are likely still the best defense in the NFL and is probably the best shot at predicting a top-five defense in points and yards allowed. But that does not necessarily mean that we are best off having the Seattle DST in our fantasy lineups for daily fantasy leagues or even our season-long leagues because DST value is more dependent on whom the defense is playing and much less about the strength of the DST itself.
Sure, J.J. Watt is a one-man wrecking crew, Chip Kelly is a blitzing machine, Rex Ryan can make a good defense great, Dom Capers has a knack for forcing INTs, and the Seahawks are a fantasy team unto itself. The Texans, Bills, Eagles, and Packers will be strong options throughout the season. The Seattle DST totaled 147 points, according to Yahoo! standard scoring, to finish tied for 6th in an unrecognizable jumble of the 3rd through 9th spots:
|Rk||DST||Fan Pts||Sacks||Safeties||INTs||Fum Recs||Def TD||Blk Kick||Ret TD|
Our DST plays largely profit from the accumulation of sacks and forcing turnovers, though, so listing the top scoring DSTs tells us what happened, but is not entirely predictive. The blocked kicks and TDs are unpredictably fluky, the 'points allowed' category translates to minimal fantasy points, and the shutouts are too rare on which to bank. (To be fair to the Eagles, Kelly is such an aggressive tactician on special teams that higher rates of blocked kicks and TDs actually can be expected.) So, when modifying fantasy points for the numbers which we can better predict, by taking away every teams' points for TDs and blocked kicks, Seattle's elite-ness shines through:
Now, the Colts defense looks like a respectable weekly team to use and the Eagles go from alone at the top to, basically, a high-end streaming option. Indianapolis is probably the #1 sleeper DST coming into the season; and that has nothing to do with Indy and all to do with being in the AFC South with Jacksonville, Tennessee, and Houston. But why hold one or two DSTs all season when so many more points can be had by playing the position week-to-week? It all just feels like leaving points on the waiver wire on purpose.
DSTs are swingy and schedule-dependent. Seattle had to face extra division winners, a Bruce Arians offense twice, potentially explosive offenses in the NFC East and a highly competitive NFC West. In fact, we would have been much better off streaming DSTs in 2014 by trolling terrible offenses than plugging Seattle into our lineups every week and ignoring the position.
If you started Seattle for 16 weeks and some random DST which scored eight points for you on their bye, you would have accumulated 156 fantasy points over 17 weeks for roughly 9.18 points per week from that position. According to Yahoo!, eight offenses--the Jaguars (13.31), Washington (12.25), Rams (12.00), Buccaneers (11.06), Titans (10.06), Raiders (9.75), Jets (9.69), and 49ers (9.25)--surrendered greater than that per week. Seattle did not play the Jags, Bucs, Titans, or Jets last season, so if you just trolled one of those teams all season you would have outscored the person who played Seattle every week.
Seattle is predictably safe and that is why they are drafted in high rounds over a fantasy owner's handcuffs, RB4, WR4, QB, or TE. But these targets are easier to identify than pre-season noise indictates. The correlation between all of those teams is actually rather simple to identify: all eight of those teams which surrendered more points to DSTs than Seattle achieved had serious-to-severe QB problems throughout the season.
The Jags went to a rookie. Washington started a third stringer and it is arguable if Robert Griffin III is a legitimate starting NFL QB. The Rams lost Sam Bradford before the season began and trotted out bums like Austin Davis and Shaun Hill all year. The Bucs were a total mess with Josh McCown and Mike Glennon at the helm. The Titans were depending on a third stringer from LSU after the Jake Locker experiment definitively proved to be a failure. The Raiders were dependent on a rookie. The Jets were dependent on a terrible second-year QB. And the 49ers were dependent on a failing project in Colin Kaepernick.
All of these QBs: (a) hold the ball too long; and/or (b) throw to the wrong team at very high rates. (a) produces sacks and (b) produces turnovers. In Derek Carr's case, his volume was low, the WR corps was not strong, the offensive line and running game were a big mess.
Here are your best bets to be on this list at the end of this season, in alphabetical order:
Bears: After a strong 2013, Jay Cutler led the NFL once again with 18 INTs and was the eighth-most sacked QB in 2014. There is still an offensive guru on the sidelines in Adam Gase, but Alshon Jeffery's health is in question, the offensive weapons are binary, and if there's a Jay, there's a way. (Week 1 opposing DST: Packers)
Bills: Rex Ryan is the head coach and Matt Cassell has the legitimate opportunity to start many games this year. 'Nuff said. (Week 1 opposing DST: Colts)
Browns: Josh McCown is bad. Even if Johnny Manziel is a good fantasy QB, he will hold on the ball for a long time and throw it to the wrong team instead of throwing the ball away. Moreover, there are no strong receiving options in the offense. (Week 1 opposing DST: Jets)
Bucs: Even if Jameis Winston is really, really good and gets a lot of help from Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson, and Doug Martin; and even if Austin Sefarian-Jenkins breaks out to a be a legit fantasy TE on a strong offensive line, Winston is still a rookie. And even the best QBs in the history of the game throw a lot of picks as rookies. Add in the mobility and we can profit from him holding onto the ball for too long. Winston can have 25-point weeks where the opposing DST still scores double digits. (Week 1 opposing DST: Titans)
49ers: Kaepernick can breakout and throw for 3,800 yards and 25 TDs, while rushing for 800 yards and eight TDs on the ground. He doesn't really throw picks, but volume of ball handling makes for sacks and fumbles to be inevitable. Despite one of the lower sack rates in the league, only Ryan Tannehill has been sacked more times than Kaepernick in the last two seasons. Most important, the Niners line is in disarray, as is the whole organization. Not the best bet on this list, but they are worth mentioning. (Week 1 opposing DST: Vikings)
Jaguars: Jags gonna Jag until proven otherwise. (Week 1 opposing DST: Panthers)
Jets: Ryan Fitzpatrick is a lot better for Brandon Marshall than Geno Smith and can sling the rock for his own fantasy points. But Fitzpatrick can be an INT machine. He led the NFL with 23 picks thrown in 2011. Since 2012, Josh Freeman, Chad Henne, and E.J. Manuel are among the QBs who have started at least 12 games with better INT rates. More important, Smith may get his job back after returning from injury; and the injury is from getting slugged by a teammate, so that will go well for opposing DSTs. (Week 1 opposing DST: Browns)
Panthers: Cam Newton is a threat for 30 fantasy points no matter who suits up with him, but he holds the ball for a long time and has one of the worst sack rate in the NFL over his career on top of an average INT rate. The biggest plus for opposing DSTs is the supporting cast, though. Greg Olsen has a glass ceiling and the WR corps is awful with Kelvin Benjamin out for the season. If (or when) Devin Funchess emerges are a legit NFL WR, the Panthers may be removed from this list. (Week 1 opposing DST: Jaguars)
Texans: Brian Hoyer is not the best QB against whom you would start your DST, but he still is not very good. If Hoyer fails, Ryan Mallett is the guy who couldn't take the job and really struggled against many second-string defenses this preseason. Houston QBs have a great weapon in DeAndre Hopkins, but as long as Arian Foster is inactive, they should sputter and there is potential for them forcing the issue in bad ways. (Week 1 opposing DST: Chiefs)
Titans: Marcus Mariota, like Winston, has phenomenal NFL upside, but he should be even more mobile than Winston due to his tendencies and bad weapons to use. This is a great formula for sacks and turnovers for a rookie QB. And there is no legitimate starting option behind him. (Week 1 opposing DST: Bucs)
Washington: Do I really need to elaborate here? (Week 1 opposing DST: Dolphins)
As the season rolls along, we will identify the defenses which are the best opponents for streaming all positions but there is still too much guessing and our lineups are fairly solidified right now. We will look at which coverages have weak sides, which defenses force the ball to TEs and RBs most, which defenses struggle most against running QBs, and the like.