Since 2000, there hasn't been a back-to-back Defense/Special Teams league-leader in fantasy scoring. Kansas City has led the way twice since 2013, but that's the most consistent D/ST leader during this century. Last year's leader, the Jacksonville Jaguars, ranked as the 30th "best" D/ST in 2016. There are a few teams that stay near the top consistently, but none that dominate in fantasy points from year to year. So, the question is, how do I deal with D/STs for this coming season?
My usual answer is to wait until the second-to-last pick if you must grab a kicker and the last pick if you don't need a kicker. Would I like to have the Jaguars this season as my D/ST? Sure, they are going to be a dominant defense, but there will be matchups in which a waiver-wire defense could be more useful. Scoring for team defenses and special teams is not conducive to consistency no matter the team. Last season, the Jaguars had seven defensive touchdowns, the Holy Grail of a D/ST, but no matter how good they were, and are, defensive touchdowns are fluky. The same is true with fumble recoveries and kick returns and so forth and so on. And inevitably some "jackwagon" will take the Jaguars with their ninth pick instead of getting a starting skill player with value upside. That's when you get to point, laugh and keep waiting to pick a D/ST.
Let's take a quick look at the top-five teams that gave up the most fantasy points to D/STs last season: Cleveland, Denver, Indianapolis, Arizona and Houston. Instead of typing out the teams, I should have typed: DeShone Kizer, Kevin Hogan, Cody Kessler, Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch, Jacoby Brissett, Blaine Gabbert, Drew Stanton, Tom Savage and T.J. Yates; as they were the quarterbacks for these teams and gave up those fantasy points due to their respective ineptitudes. We can't predict injuries to quarterbacks, but they will happen, and there will be plenty of rookies getting work at some point as well, so the matchups will be there.
To start the season, you'll need to find the teams with the worst signal-callers and see if you can find a cluster of good matchups. Not all of the quarterback battles are complete, but we have a pretty good idea who will be behind center Week 1.
We all have different evaluations of quarterbacks, but here is my list to target early in the season.
Josh Allen/AJ McCarron, QBs, Bills
at Baltimore, L.A. Chargers, at Minnesota, at Green Bay
There's nothing that comes out and punches you in the face here, but maybe we can cobble something together. My first hope will be to face the Bills when I can. They are depleted across the board offensively, and neither Allen or McCarron can take this group into the end zone that often. The trouble here is that Buffalo takes on three straight top defenses, which won't be easy to grab unless you get lucky. Baltimore is the sixth D/ST off the board, the L.A. Chargers are eighth, and Minnesota is third. I like all three of these defenses this season, and with an early game against the Bills, I'll have each on my radar.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Bucs
at New Orleans, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, at Chicago
Fitzpatrick is a hit-or-miss quarterback, but we've seen him turn into a pumpkin quite a few times in his career. He gets the first three starts of the season with Jameis Winston suspended, and with the Saints coming in as the 11th defense off the board, you could do worse with them as your Week 1 starter. Philadelphia is the fourth D/ST off the board and will be tougher to grab at value, while the Steelers do have some appeal, as they face Cleveland, Kansas City and the Tampa Bay to start.
Sam Darnold?, QB, Jets
at Detroit, Miami, at Cleveland, at Jacksonville
I'm expecting Darnold to be the Week 1 starter, and that should be good for opposing D/STs. And this time, we get some weaker defenses to choose from, i.e., easier defenses to draft or pick up off the waiver wire. Detroit is currently going off as the 22nd D/ST selected despite finishing sixth overall last season. And as I said before, there is little consistency from year to year, so that ADP makes sense after the Lions played above their heads when it came to turnovers and touchdowns, but they will be favored in the dome playing a rookie quarterback. I like them there. Miami isn't even in the top-30 D/STs in ADP, and last season, the Dolphins had just two games in double-digit points - both at home. I'll stream about any team defense, but I'll let Darnold have his debut in New York. The Browns should have a much better defense, especially with the turnover machine DeShone Kizer gone. I am not opposed to streaming them in good matchups like this one.
Nick Foles?, QB, Eagles
Atlanta, at Tampa Bay
If Carson Wentz plays, I will scrap this idea, but if he doesn't, I would be fine streaming against the Super Bowl hero Foles, especially after he has been hurt and looked awful in preseason. Both Atlanta and Tampa Bay can be had relatively easily, but Atlanta would be my choice out of the two.
Mitchell Trubisky, QB, Bears
at Green Bay, Seattle, at Arizona, Tampa Bay
Trubisky has good upside, but reportedly has yet to put it together under Matt Nagy's new offense, and I expect him to be a better streaming target early in the season rather than late. Green Bay has improved its pass defense through the draft enough for me not to shun the defense and with Aaron Rodgers at the helm, the Packers won't be giving up field position like they did last year under Brett Hundley. Seattle still has some play-makers, but the Seahawks are a shell of who they once were as a defense. They did play well on the road last year defensively, and if Trubisky looks lost in Green Bay, I can see running Seattle out there.
Josh Rosen?, QB, Cardinals
Washington, at L.A. Rams, Chicago, Seattle
Rosen isn't a rookie I'm champing at the bit to face, but he is a rookie, and if he gets the start, I'll be keeping him in mind. Washington is a middle of the road defense, and I'd rather use the Redskins at home, but if Rosen gets the nod, I could see risking them.
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs
at L.A. Chargers, at Pittsburgh, San Francisco, at Denver
Mahomes can throw the ball to Detroit, but he's going to be inconsistent, while Kansas City's defense will be weak overall. That should push Mahomes to chuck the ball often and likely turn it over plenty. Additionally, he'll start the season on the road in not-so-hostile L.A. and then much more hostile Pittsburgh. Both teams can get to the quarterback, and the Chargers have the added ability to shut down opposing receivers. Both are on my list.
Marcus Mariota, QB, Titans
at Miami, Houston, at Jacksonville, Philadelphia
Mariota was pretty awful last season, and a new head coach and offensive coordinator were brought in to fix him and everything else wrong in Tennessee. Mariota hasn't looked good in preseason so far though, and this might be the time to capitalize on his struggles. Unfortunately, he gets a weak Miami defense and then three of the top D/STs according to ADP. I could see gambling on the Dolphins at home to start the season if worst comes to worst.
I prefer streaming defenses, which sometimes means I'll carry two at a time if one has a great matchup the week after a terrible matchup. In many leagues, carrying two defenses is heresy, and if I must drop a player, I want for that second defense, I won't do it. I have many leagues with deep benches, however, and don't mind taking on an extra D/ST if it's going to face Matt Schaub the following week.
To start the season - I'm looking mainly at the first two games -, and that pushes New Orleans and the L.A. Chargers to the top of my list. Yes, both will be drafted, but they aren't top-seven D/ST picks, with the Saints coming in at the 11th D/ST taken. The Saints will start the season with two home-dome games against Tampa Bay and Cleveland. I didn't have Cleveland on my streaming list, but after an opening home game against rival Pittsburgh, I expect a letdown the following week in New Orleans. For the Chargers, they are a strong enough defense to play anyone well. To start, they'll get the green Mahomes at home and then go to Buffalo to take on what could be one of the worst teams we've seen since the Browns.
If we are looking to start streaming from the very start, I like Detroit at home against the rookie Darnold. I doubt I'd keep the Lions around to travel to San Francisco and then come back home to take on the Patriots, so I'd need to be ready for Week 2, which I'll be looking at Pittsburgh against Kansas City at home. The Steelers have Kansas City's number, and the first-year starter could have trouble in Pittsburgh for Pittsburgh's home opener.
I could also see going after the Steelers for the first two games, in Cleveland and then at home against Kansas City, but I'm not in love with the upside. I hope to grab the Chargers with my second-to-last pick and then play matchups, with the Chargers hopefully sticking to my roster for as long as possible. And yes, these "plans" aren't set in stone, as the beginning of the season is the toughest to stream D/STs. We don't yet know just how bad an offense might turn out to be or how quickly a starting quarterback will be injured, but if we can get off to an okay start, it will get easier to come up with strong matchup plays off of free agency.