NFL DFS – Building Your Lineup: Defenses
Defense isn’t a position that is standard at every site for DFS NFL, but it’s a spot in enough lineups across the industry that players need to have a robust strategy for selecting defenses. DraftKings and FanDuel are split on the inclusion of defense into lineups, with the former requiring players to choose a defense each week.
Rostering an NFL defense is unique in DFS lineup building as it’s pretty much the only time that players will be looking to target games that have low point totals instead of building lineups around games with high totals.
While both tight ends and receivers have plenty of volatility compared to quarterbacks and running backs, defenses take the cake when it comes to weekly variance. With that said, there is a “science” to picking defenses, and many players are going about it the wrong way.
The oddsmakers usually have things right when it comes to predicting outcomes of sporting events. Of course, they’re not always correct in their forecasts, but they’re still better than anyone else regarding prognostication of sports events.
When we look at selecting a defense for our lineup, the first thing to do is look at the Vegas lines and figure out which teams have the lowest implied team totals based on the sides and totals.
Figuring out which teams are going to score the least amount of points for the coming week isn’t going to give us the perfect defense to play, but it’s an excellent start. The fewer points a team scores, the more fantasy points that the opposing defense will earn, although, it’s not quite that black and white.
To get a better understanding of what type of defenses we want to target, we need to examine how defenses generate points in DFS and what kind of offenses and quarterbacks offer the best opportunity for fantasy point production.
Scoring varies across different sites, but the common denominator is that all sites reward players for points allowed, turnovers, sacks, interceptions, blocked kicks, safeties, and defensive touchdowns.
Points allowed scoring is one area where players should take a look at the scoring at their particular site. For instance, DraftKings gives players +10 points for 0 points allowed, +7 points for 1-6 points allowed. However, there’s not much of a penalty in scoring after that point.
From 7 to 27 points, players can only lose a total of 4 points based on defensive points given up. It’s quite rare that any NFL team scores less than 7 points in a game, so focusing on the number of points a defense might allow is a misguided way of evaluating defenses for DFS purposes.
Of course, a team that is projected to give up 30 points in a particular game isn’t one that is worth putting in your lineup, except perhaps as contrarian tournament play where you feel they are being undervalued.
Defensive Fantasy Goodness
If points allowed aren’t necessarily an indication of defensive scoring, the question becomes where we should look for our source of points on defense. The best way to achieve produce fantasy production in DFS is by focusing on passing game disruption.
Quarterback pressure usually forces turnovers and not stuffing the run. Of course, this makes sense. If a defender tackles a running back behind the line of scrimmage or for little or no gain, it’s an excellent real-life defensive play but offers us no immediate fantasy value.
On the flip side, if a quarterback is tackled behind the line of scrimmage, we’ll receive points for a sack. The potential for turnovers is also considerably better when we have a team that gets after the quarterback.
Aside from sacks, quarterback pressure can lead to more fumbles and interceptions. Hitting a quarterback in the pocket and forcing him to throw under pressure is far and away the best way to produce turnovers defensively.
For this reason, we want to target defenses that actively rush the passer and have a high number of sacks. Sacks, naturally, produce points on their own, but teams that rush the passer also usually have a high number of turnovers as well.
The ideal situation we look for when picking a defense is a team that is likely to be playing from behind, but one that has a quarterback that isn’t afraid to take shots downfield and has a tendency to commit turnovers. There are many quarterbacks in the league that aren’t particularly skilled but are shielded from turnovers by conservative play calling.
It’s one of the main reasons why certain offenses, while weak and inefficient, don’t necessarily make for good targets in fantasy. Teams that will often run, even when losing and quarterbacks that would rather check it down than take a shot downfield offer much less upside than offenses that cater to gunslingers.
It’s impossible to predict defensive touchdowns, but they are far more likely to come with quarterbacks who are eager to throw the ball downfield and take chances. We can give ourselves a much better chance of having a big game on defense when we target risk-taking, turnover prone quarterbacks.
Cash Games & Tournaments
For cash games, it makes sense to pay up for defenses so that we can assure a reliable floor of production. Depending on the pricing at your particular site, you may not have to “pay up” per say because the defenses may be close enough in pricing that there isn’t much of a difference between the cheapest and most expensive defense.
In tournaments, you can expand your pool of defenses a bit. This is where we can pick teams that are slight or moderate underdogs and hope for big performances from options that may go under-owned in large fields.
As mentioned above, defenses are an extremely volatile position. Big returns can come out of nowhere, and even the best units may come up with a complete dud or underwhelming performance.
One strategy that players often go with is “punting” their defense in tournament to fit in a better lineup. This strategy is certainly viable, particularly if you can find a cheap defense that you think has some upside. It allows you spend that extra money on your lineup, which most of your opponents may not be doing.
Punting defense has become a discussion in cash games as well. It’s tough to say if it’s a viable strategy weekly, but due to the substantial variance that comes with defense as a whole, it’s something to consider if you desperately want to fit in a player that you wouldn’t be able to fit in otherwise.
When we talk about stacking in DFS, we’re usually referring to a quarterback and his wide receiver or tight end. Another popular stack that many players new to DFS don’t consider is the defense and running back stack. It’s a strategy that makes sense for both cash games and tournaments.
The theory behind stacking a defense with a running back is that if the team has a lead, they will run the ball more, and the back will be rewarded with more touches. This is a correlation play and one that is likely to result in more fantasy points for both selections if the game plays out as expected.
There’s one other stack to consider with your defense. Kick returns and punt returns at most sites are recorded as points for both the defense and the player who has returned the kick. Pairing a kick returner with a defense is an excellent strategy for tournaments, as you can “double-dip” regarding fantasy points when a player runs back a kick.
We wouldn’t recommend that strategy in cash games unless the receiver were a relatively prominent part of the offense as well, but it is a usable approach in all formats provided that is the case.