Defensive Streaming in Fantasy Football: 2014 in Review

For those fantasy owners willing to peruse the waiver wire each week in search of a defense with a favorable matchup, hopefully my weekly recommendations helped you last season. Here are the results.

If you’re reading this article or really any article here at numberFire, you’re probably already aware of what it means to “stream” positions for fantasy football purposes. Using the waiver wire in you re-draft league along with other key informational indicators, it’s possible to find useable options at both the tight end and team defense positions on a week-to-week basis.

Earlier this week I profiled my streaming tight end recommendations from last season, in an attempt to review my general process, as well as be forthcoming to those who may have relied on my picks. 

In addition, I also delved into streaming DST’s during the 2014 season, which I want to review here.

By nature, the DST position in fantasy football is highly volatile (although not as volatile as the tight end position), depending largely on touchdowns and sacks for fantasy production. Predicting defensive touchdowns is nearly impossible, but identifying defensive squads that should find themselves in positive situations can be done. 

The Results

The ideal situation is to find a top-12 weekly finisher -- labeled a “startable” option in 12-team leagues -- on the waiver wire that you can plug in to your lineup. For the purposes of my articles last season, I placed the caveat that all options must be below 50 percent ownership in ESPN and Yahoo leagues. It’s easy to recommend Seattle’s defense, but that does no good when they are already owned.

 Each week I profiled three streaming options with two “deeper streamer” options, as well. The table below shows the how many of my picks resulted in weekly top-12 finishes.

Top-6 FinishesTop-12 Finishes
Week 1 21
Week 2 1
Week 322
Week 422
Week 53 
Week 6 2
Week 711
Week 83 
Week 911
Week 1021
Week 1111
Week 123 
Week 132 
Week 142 
Week 15 2
Week 1612
Week 17 2

These results were encouraging, as we uncovered at least two top-12 streaming options in every regular season week with the exception of Week 2. Along the way there were a few bombs -- a few negative-point finishes -- but overall, streaming defenses from the waiver wire did not totally sink your weekly head-to-head matchups.

Unlike tight end streaming, the likelihood of latching on to one singular defense and playing them every week without hesitation is small. In fact, I’d argue that falling in love with a streamer that did well for you one week is extremely risky.

While tight ends obviously rely on their respective quarterbacks for a large portion of their production, their individual skills and athleticism can separate them from others at the positions. Defenses, however, are reliant on 11 individual players to perform on each snap, making it much more likely that a weak link will be exposed, especially if an individual matchup warrants it.

Therefore, when streaming defenses it’s important to follow the old defensive back cliché, "Have a short memory." Approach each week as if last week’s results were neutral.

Now obviously don’t ignore real, tangible factors which could make a particular defense better or worse (i.e. injuries), but pay more attention to weekly matchups and Vegas lines than anything else.

Looking Forward

The approach, much like that of finding streaming tight ends will remain largely untouched for 2015: use Vegas projections to our advantage, identify exploitable weekly matchups, and keep an eye on impactful injuries if they occur.

Looking at current average draft positions (ADP), a few potential early-season streaming candidates include Green Bay and Indianapolis. The Packers are currently being drafted as the 13th defense in 12-team drafts while the Colts are going un-drafted. Both teams are also ranked in the top 16 in terms of Adjusted Defensive Net Expected Points per play, which indicates how many points above or below expectation level they allowed to opposing defenses.

Green Bay's first four games (at Chicago, versus Seattle, versus Kansas City, and at San Francisco) seem manageable, with a good chance they will be favored in three of the four games. On paper, Indianapolis’ early slate (at Buffalo, versus the New York Jets, at Tennessee, and versus Jacksonville) appears to be a cakewalk during which they could be heavy favorites in every game. 

Neither defense should be considered dominant, but to be a useful fantasy football streaming defense, that’s not always necessary.