The current season-long fantasy football conversation is (rightfully) focused on individual players. Full-season stat projections, identifying vulnerable starters and highlighting over drafted players are examples of very valuable information as season-long drafts approach.

But from a DraftKings perspective, projecting team defensive effectiveness is at least as important as projecting individual players. I believe Willie Snead is undervalued as discussed here, but we also need to know which defenses to use him against on DraftKings. Unlike season-long, successful DraftKings players need to deeply understand defensive matchups.

With that said, I wanted to take a look back and a look ahead at defenses. Obviously, an easy stat to look at is simply fantasy points allowed per game by position. However, that stat isn’t adjusted for schedule strength and is often skewed heavily by touchdowns allowed. In other words, a team which had to face Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins and Andrew Luck last season last season undoubtedly will have a poor DvP against pass attacks. Furthermore, if a defense happened to get stuck with really bad field position or faced teams which passed a lot in the red zone, their DvP against pass games will be out of whack as well due to touchdowns.

So I picked out three pass defense stats which are independent of touchdowns and (mostly) adjuted for schedule. They are Football Outsiders’ DVOA against the pass, yards per pass attempt allowed and hurries per game (rather than the noisy sack stat). Then I ranked each team 1-32 and added up their total. The lowest total is No. 1 below, second-lowest is No. 2 and so on. It’s not perfect, but I think this gives us an idea of which defenses were the worst to use pass games against last year:

1. BRONCOS

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2016 Pass Defense DVOA: 1st
2016 Yards Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 1st
2016 QB Hurries: 6th
2017 Coordinator change? Yes

Notes: Denver has led the league in YPA in three straight seasons and has had the No. 1 DVOA pass defense in two straight. The dominant corner duo from last year is intact – Chris Harris was PFF’s No. 1 CB among 109 qualifiers and Aqib Talib was No. 3. Von Miller is the game’s premier edge defender. And while Wade Phillips fleeing for the Rams is a concern, there’s continuity with Joe Woods taking over. Woods has been working under Phillips as the Broncos’ DBs coach for the last two seasons. Add it up and we are likely to have another year of “No Fly Zone” pass defense from the Broncos.

2. GIANTS

2016 Pass Defense DVOA: 4th
2016 Yards Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 7th
2016 QB Hurries: 9th
2017 Coordinator change? No

Notes: The Giants’ defense was quietly dominant last season, masking a one-player offense and leading the team to 11 wins. They signed Janoris Jenkins to a $62.5M contract and he earned it, excelling in shadow coverage as I discussed here and finishing as PFF’s No. 8 overall CB. Landon Collins was an absolute smash pick in the second round of the 2015 draft, Damon “Snacks” Harrison is ultra-valuable and Jason Pierre-Paul overcame his finger issue to record 24 hurries in 12 games. With 2016 first-round pick Eli Apple likely to take a step forward, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie sticking around to man the slot and the defensive line intact, this is certainly a pass defense to avoid.

3. JAGUARS

2016 Pass Defense DVOA: 16th
2016 Yards Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 3rd
2016 QB Hurries: 5th
2017 Coordinator change? No

Notes: Far too many people rostered offensive players against the Jaguars last season simply because they were “the Jaguars.” If we realized early on this defense was among the league’s best, we had a lot of room for profit. Now let’s fast-forward to this offseason when the Jags went on a spending spree by adding CB A.J. Bouye for $67.5M, DE Calais Campbell for $30M and SS Barry Church for $21.6M. All three were among the top-12 at their respective positions in PFF’s grades. So now the Jags boast one of the league’s best corner duos in rising star Jalen Ramsey plus Bouye, an elite pass-rushing interior in Campbell plus Malik Jackson and a strong safety pairing in Church plus Tashaun Gipson. The Jags, who quietly ranked fourth in the entire league in overall yards per play allowed, will be extremely difficult to throw on again.

4. EAGLES

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2016 Pass Defense DVOA: 2nd
2016 Yards Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 20th
2016 QB Hurries: 2nd
Coordinator change? No

Notes: It’s odd to see the Eagles grading out so well against the pass after so many years of misery in that department. Disastrous signings such as Nnamdi Asomugha and Byron Maxwell as well as scheme-based problems made the Eagles a secondary to attack weekly not too long ago. But this is a new unit, one which was absolutely dominant against tight ends, and finally got strong safety play from Malcolm Jenkins/Rodney McLeod and had the league-leader in hurries (DE Brandon Graham). Corner play remains a huge concern with liabilities Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson the projected starters. So there’s certainly room for this pass defense unit to take a step back, so it’s a situation I’ll be watching closely early in the year.

5. TEXANS

2016 Pass Defense DVOA: 5th
2016 Yards Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 2nd
2016 QB Hurries: 18th
2017 Coordinator change? Yes

Notes: J.J. Watt, the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, played in just three games. But the Texans were still one of the league’s most dominant units against the pass, thanks in large part to the emergence of CB A.J. Bouye and a strong season from former No. 1 overall pick OLB Jadeveon Clowney. Bouye fled to Jacksonville in free agency, but Watt is expected back at 100 percent off back surgery. In terms of scheme, not much will change as Romeo Crennel put off retirement to stay on as an assistant head coach. The Texans went in-house for his replacement with Mike Vrabel, their linebackers coach from 2014-16. While the loss of Bouye hurts this pass defense, it’s still not one I’m looking to pick on.


CANDIDATES TO MOVE INTO TOP-5 IN 2017

1. CHARGERS

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2016 Pass Defense DVOA: 9th
2016 Yards Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 19th
2016 QB Hurries: 11
2017 Coordinator change? Yes

Notes: Significant changes for the Chargers include moving to Los Angeles, bringing in former Seahawks defensive coordinator plus former Jags head coach Gus Bradley to be their DC and (most importantly) getting elite CB Jason Verrett back from a Week 4 ACL tear. Verrett, who emerged as one of the league’s top shadow corners over the last two seasons, will pair with Casey Hayward. As I noted here, Hayward was spectacular after Verrett went down last year, holding Mike Evans (3-38-0), Kelvin Benjamin (1-11-0) and Amari Cooper (1-28-0) well below their season averages.

2. RAVENS

2016 Pass Defense DVOA: 10th
2016 Yards Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 9th
2016 QB Hurries: 28th
Coordinator change? No

Notes: The Ravens are a different defense when top CB Jimmy Smith can’t play, and last year he missed five games and didn’t appear 100 percent in others. This is also a team which played a bit out of character in 2016, leading the entire league in pass attempts and playing at a faster first-half pace than any team in the league (via Football Outsiders). Now Smith is healthy and the Ravens used their first four draft picks on defense – including No. 16 overall on CB Marlon Humphrey. The Ravens have more pass defense questions than the aforementioned Chargers, but still have a shot at a leap.

 


I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is AdamLevitan) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above.