Fantasy Football: How Extra Draft Picks Affect Defense and Special Teams Scoring
If you don't spend your entire month of March obsessing over fantasy football defense and special teams scoring, then you're probably doing something right. I don't quite qualify.
Last week here on numberFire, we did a study of the effect that having at least 10 draft picks had on a team the following two seasons. The simple conclusion was that teams saw increases in both offensive and defensive efficiency in those two years, often leading to stretches of sustained team success.
Doesn't it seem like that would be good for defense and special teams scoring?
After all, the two main things we look for here in fantasy are positive game script and a great defense. Increases in both offensive and defensive efficiency would -- in theory -- check both of those boxes.
Rather than just assuming this is the case, let's instead see if there is a link between these 10-pick drafts and defense and special teams scoring. If so, that would give us plenty of insight as we're obsessing over those 17th-round best-ball picks in the middle of the night.
In order to investigate this, I looked back at the 81 teams that made at least 10 draft picks in a single draft from 2003 to 2015. The furthest back I could find defensive data for on Fantasy Data was 2002, so that's the reason for the sample size.
For each of those teams, I looked at the standard defense and special teams fantasy points they scored the year prior to the 10-pick draft and the two years after. The year before will be referred to as Year 0, followed by Years 1 and 2.
The complicated aspect of this is that as scoring in the NFL in general has gone up, defense and special teams scoring has gone down. This makes it important for us to look at the league averages for each year in the sample. Because of the information we have, Year 0 will include the 2002 through 2014 seasons, Year 1 will be 2003 through 2015, and Year 2 will be 2004 through 2015. The expected totals for each of these was based on the average scoring in each of those ranges.
This leaves us with an 81-team sample for Year 1 and a 76-team sample for Year 2 as we won't have the second-year data for the teams that had 10-pick drafts in 2015. Can we draw actionable information from this? You best believe it, amigo.
If we were to see a difference between the expected scoring and the actual output, that would indicate we should be targeting defenses and special teams of teams that had a 10-pick draft within the past two seasons.
There was just a wee bit of a difference.
Here's how the scoring broke down. The "expected" total is based on the season averages of the seasons within each range, while the "actual" is what showed up in the sample.
|Fantasy Scoring||Year 0||Year 1||Year 2|
Hot diggity dog, yo. That's tasty.
The average did decline in Year 2, but it was still well above the expected total for that season. This appears to be a two-year bump that is both significant and actionable.
Although there were some teams that posted significant totals -- defense and special teams scoring is a fickle beast -- this improvement wasn't limited to only a few teams. Of the 81 teams, 64.20 percent scored more points in Year 1 than Year 0, and 55.56 percent improved at least 10 points. Teams with at least 10 draft picks are more likely to improve their defense and special teams scoring by 10 points than not. That's pretty baller.
There were plenty of teams that saw major improvement in Year 1. There were 35 teams with 20-point bumps, 21 teams that hit 40-point improvements, and 14 teams that improved by at least 60 points. Normally, these would look like outliers, but when it happens to 14 of 81 potential data points, that's definitively not the case.
The numbers do decrease in Year 2, but they're still encouraging, regardless. Here, we saw 60.53 percent of the teams post better scores than in Year 0 with 48.68 percent improving by 10 points or more. With the downward trend in defense and special teams scoring, that shouldn't be a surprise, and it's still mostly optimistic.
What This Means
Right now, we've got five teams that can still plan on basking in that second-year bump after 10-pick drafts in 2015. They are the New England Patriots, Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns, and Washington.
The bad news? A lot of these defenses are kind of gross. The good news? They're mostly crazy cheap in current best-ball drafts.
Based on current My Fantasy League average draft position (ADP) data, none of these teams are currently within the top eight defenses being selected. The Vikings are 9th, and the Patriots are 10th.
You can snag Washington with pick 216.12 on average, and the Raiders and Browns often aren't being drafted with ADP's of 230.12 and 234.75. Once you get that low, there aren't a lot of attractive options. Why not take a hack on a team that fits this profile?
The two I'm most bullish on are the Vikings and the Raiders. They are the only two teams that have two 10-pick drafts in the past three seasons. The Vikings aren't as cheap, but with the pass rush they've assembled, they could easily exceed their ADP.
With the Raiders, that optimism is largely based on Khalil Mack. Dude took over games last year, and if they can get him a pass-rushing partner, that defense could shape up quickly. At their price, I'm willing to gamble a bit on that.
You should also be looking at which teams end this April's draft with a boatload of prospects. It's hard to project now which teams will be trading up and which will go down to add more picks, but you should be paying attention to identify who's going to benefit from that Year-1 bump in 2016.
This is far from a universal strategy when it comes to drafting fantasy defense and special teams. However, with all of the hacks you end up taking in best-ball drafts, I want to give myself as many chances at pinpointing value as possible. It certainly seems as if targeting teams that recently had 10-pick drafts may be a way to do exactly that.