Defensive strategy

By Mike Wolf, special to the Sandlot Shrink

Many leagues are now using individual defensive players as part of a total fantasy team, in addition to the normal offensive players. For many fantasy players, this is an unknown area and one not typically covered extensively in
preseason fantasy publications. The tendency, therefore, is to select players with big names that get media hype, rather than the players that will score serious fantasy points for your team. Let this article then serve as a primer for selecting individual defenders


For purposes of this article, we will assume your league requires at least 1 starting defensive lineman, at least 1
linebacker, 1 cornerback, and 1 safety. Points are awarded as follows:

Tackle or assist = 1 pt.
Interception = 5 pts.
Sack = 4 pts.
Fumble recovery =3 pts.
Touchdown = 6 pts.
Safety = 2 pts.

(Note: tackling stats are not official NFL stats. Team personnel keep them and some biases can be detected over a period of time - but that's a subject for another article.)


As running backs are the most important offensive position, the same can be said of linebackers for defense. On every team in the NFL a linebacker is the top tackler over the course of a season. Top linebackers are beautiful in their consistency, as they can be counted on for approximately 10 tackles or assists per game. Sacks, INT's, fumble recoveries are a bonus that you don't count on, but can seriously inflate a good LB's stats.


Safeties are the next most important players in individual defense leagues. There is one safety that causes an exception to the LB leading tackler rule - Rodney Harrison of the Chargers, and he is always the #1 safety taken in a draft. When looking at selecting a safety, you want to prefer a team's "strong safety" because they are usually called on for run support, hence more tackles.

Defensive lineman

Lineman will average several points a game lower than linebackers and safeties because there are not a lot of lineman that make a big number of tackles every game. Likewise, in shear numbers there are more to choose from, and there is a lot of equality. Invariably the highest scoring DLs come from the waiver wire every year.


Cornerbacks are the basement of defensive players for fantasy purposes, because very few make a lot of tackles, and they have to rely on big plays, such as INTs returned for TDs for most of their fantasy points. As you can imagine this is extremely difficult to predict. In fact it is rare that last years best CB will be in the top 10 the next year.

Additional observations

Based on the general statements above, we can find individual defensive players who merit selection in a draft every year. A top linebacker can be taken even in lieu of lower #1 receiver because there are about 6 "top" linebackers that will outscore your team's #1 wideout in most cases.

Never consider taking a safety before round 12 unless he is a standout

Linemen are always the most intriguing to watch in a draft. I always chuckle when they go in the 5th or 6th round because they are never worth that high of a pick. Like CBs, last year's best DL is no better than 10th best this year. Impact linemen are often major fantasy disappointments because they are double and triple teamed on most occasions.

Cornerbacks should be an afterthought. You should NOT want great cover men because opponents avoid them like the plague. If the ball never comes their way, how are they going to intercept it or tackle the player catching it?

This article has just been an overview for the uninitiated on this subject. In future pieces, we can discuss as matchups, drafting strategy, free agent pickups, relative value of certain defensive players to offensive players, when considering trades, and weekly rankings to solve some lineup headaches which invariably occur. In my leagues we start 7 offensive players, and 6 defensive players, and on average defense accounts for approximately 40% of your weekly score, therefore the subject merits closer scrutiny for the serious fantasy player.

Common thread running throughout is that you could build a championship fantasy defense from the waiver wire!!