You Deserve Better Defensive Scoring (2022 Updated) Last Updated August 17, 2022


Do these numbers mean anything to you? 0, 6, 13, 17, 27, 34, 45, 100, 199, 299, 399, 499, 549

They're the standard D/ST scoring tiers on ESPN (and many other mainstream fantasy sites) for Points Allowed and Yards Allowed. At each tier the D/ST loses a chunk of fantasy points (usually spread from +5 to -5), resulting in a +10 bonus for your team score at kickoff, only to teeter and (usually) trend negatively over the course of a 3-hour football game. You might agree: it's terribly annoying to watch your team's projection shoot up, then taper off every single week as a result of this scoring system.

Having been dissatisfied with ESPN's default scoring for D/ST for several years now, I set out to find a better scoring format that more closely mirrors how scoring occurs for other positions. I implemented most of the scoring settings below in a dynasty league I commish on Fleaflicker, and the response has been positive, though there is a learning curve to offset years of being brainwashed by chunked tiers that can go very negative very fast.

So in order to find a better way, the project manager in me knows that first we need to define our parameters.

Table of Contents

  1. Guiding Principles
  2. Vanilla Settings
  3. Controversial Settings
  4. Negative Mechanisms
  5. TL;DR
  6. Historical D/ST Rankings
  7. ESPN Score Settings
  8. Sleeper Score Settings
  9. Yahoo Score Settings

Guiding Principles

  1. D/ST should start with zero points at kickoff and trend positive throughout a game, like other positions
  2. Top D/ST squads should not outperform top positional players (in fact, most folks agree they should be far less valuable)
  3. There should exist a tiered value for elite D/ST performance through a full season compared to good, middle, and bad defenses - again like the tiers that exist for other positions

Regardless of whether or not you agree with these guiding principles, they comprise the foundation of what we're striving to create with all the settings discussed below. While this scoring format isn't regarded as perfect, it is entirely preferential and, in many obvious ways, better than most default settings.

So now, I want to share my defensive scoring settings with you (or your commish), to implement in your league at your own discretion. There's a TLDR at the bottom for those who could care less about science and logic. We'll start with the easy stuff.

Disclaimer: Never use a single season's results as a basis for disqualifying a new scoring system!.

Vanilla Settings

These are the scoring settings you find in standard leagues, but below I outline some point value adjustments that I think are better suited for the achievement.

Defensive TDs of any kind are worth 6 points. Just like a TD for a skill player, you gotta credit the D when they directly put points on the scoreboard. Counts for INT and FR.

Punt/Kick return TDs are worth 8 points. I like to give a boost for return TDs because they are momentum shifters and won't receive a natural bonus from turnover points. And, some leagues already give value to return yards but I find that's hard to balance since nearly every return nets 5-25 yards and there are many returns every game. Running a kickoff to the 20 yard line isn't an accomplishment, but adding a 2pt bonus to a return TD compensates for the yards they must've covered to take it to the house. /rant

Turnovers are worth 2 points. Whether it's an Interception or a Fumble Recovery, it's worth 2 points. I like to split Forced Fumble and Fumble Recovery (1 point each) but you do you.

Sacks are worth 1 point. We can't make them worth 2 points (bc they're not equivalent of a turnover) so for simplicity we'll charge it as one. As a rule, just say they're worth half a turnover (in case we change our turnover points later).

Safeties are worth 4 points. Not only is it 2 points on the scoreboard, but it's also a turnover. So it's 4 points total because math.

2-PT Conversion Returns are worth 4 points. They put 2 points on the board for the team and prevent 2 points from the opposing team: a 4-point swing in theory. They can shift the momentum of a game just a much as a Safety, if not more so. These are also extremely rare, so this is a low risk setting.

Blocked Kicks are worth 3 points. Not only are they in many ways like a turnover (worth 2 points) but they're also a momentum shifter, which should hold value. "Kicks" applies to punts and field goals.

Vanilla D/ST Rankings in 2021

Using only these vanilla settings, below is how D/ST units would've ranked last year.

DST Rank Points
DST1 (Cowboys) 177
DST2 (Dolphins) 141
DST3 (Vikings) 130
DST4 (Colts) 127
DST5 (Bucs) 117
DST12 (Cardinals) 107
DST31 (Jaguars) 70
DST32 (Raiders) 69

Stop here if you want D/ST scoring based purely on positive achievements. No one will stop here, of course, but these are the foundational scoring mechanisms for standard D/ST scoring settings, although we've adjusted some of the point values. Stopping here makes D/ST weaker than other positions, which is the popular persuasion, and one could argue that this achievement-based scoring is most similar to how skill positions are scored, which rarely produces a negative point game.

Pause and Consider Your Sweet Spot

Pause here and consider: where do you want the top defenses to rank overall? Relative to other elite positional players (250-300)? Or maybe on par with a mid-range TE (140-150)? My league(s) like their DEF nicely nerfed, so our target for this exercise is to put the No. 1 Defense around 200 points and DST12 more like 125. Spoiler!

Add Some Hot Fudge

For me, the above basic settings are too vanilla. I like to reward more defensive achievements that are commonly overlooked except in IDP leagues. However, these installments require more effort to sell to a league of change-resistant fantasy casuals, so be prepared for some pushback.

Trustworthy stats I like to include: tackles for loss, passes defended, and defensive stops. Solo tackles are not reliably tracked (Google its origins), so I don't advise using them.

These stats are going to be the hot fudge on our otherwise vanilla settings.

Volatile, Unconventional, and Controversial Settings

These will boost our overall points and create variance among our D/ST units, but they are much more unconventional and therefore, more controversial. These will be harder to sell to change-resistant leaguemates.

Split Fumbles Recovered (2) into Forced Fumbles (1) and Fumbles Recovered (1). I like to do this because I feel like creating opportunity should be worth a point, even if the defense doesn't come away with the ball.

Tackles For Loss are worth .5 point. Often overlooked, I regard a TFL the same as a sack but occurring on rush attempts and screen passes. They don't usually result in as many negative yards and aren't as highly praised as sacks, and at half the value of a sack TFL boosts our overall D/ST scores substantially, by ~40 points. Yikes. We'll have to dial this back later, probably (with negative points - fun stuff).

Passes Defended are worth .25 point. Also overlooked, but more reliably recorded in box scores than tackles, are passes defended. It's common (critical, even) in IDP formats, but is forgotten/almost never used for D/ST. At a meager quarter-point, this raises a top-tier high-end D/ST another ~40 points. Yikes again, but this setting is great for establishing score variance among DEF units.

Why Tackles as a stat is unreliable (Sports Illustrated, 2015)

Three and Out Drives are worth .5 point. Every change of possession presents an opportunity for a defense to make a stop, and that is another WIN moment that deserves some value. These occur with regularity every week, so we need to keep their value under harsh regulation. At a half-point level, D/ST receives a ~20 point boost.

Fourth-Down Stops are worth 1 point. While not actually a turnover, a stop on 4th Down is definitely a WIN for the defense, and deserves some value. At a full point, this setting boosts top D/ST a modest ~10 points.

Sidebar rant: There will always be haters who will argue that trash time 4th down attempts artificially boost D/ST. Those with better developed sense of logic know there are many instances of statistical defects that go ignored in every system. It's unavoidable and regardless of whether the game is on the line or not, a 4th Down Stop is a defensive achievement, worthy of at least a half-value turnover.

Most mainstream fantasy sites like ESPN, Yahoo, CBS won't enable a commissioner to enjoy these uncommon defensive scoring settings. Fleaflicker does (shoutout to /r/NarFFL).

Controversial D/ST Rankings in 2021

If you turn on all these unconventional settings, here are the results you would see from last year:

DST Rank Points
DST1 (Cowboys) 268
DST2 (Dolphins) 222
DST3 (Bucs) 219
DST4 (Steelers) 218
DST5 (Bills) 217
DST10 (Colts) 204
DST20 (Browns) 183
DST31 (Jaguars) 142
DST32 (Lions) 137

Whoa, there, bucko! Those point totals are wayyyyy too high! Time to throttle back down with negative mechanisms.

Negative Mechanisms

Since we don't want to be drafting D/ST in the early rounds of a snake draft, we need to bring these point totals back down to our target of 175-200 for the top performer(s). How to do it? Revisit those pesky negative tiers, of course, but with more linear consequences!

We'll apply negative points for Points Allowed and Yards Allowed to fine-tune our settings and to create more variance, but we only want to punish a defense for poor play, not average play, so it's time for research.

Avg. Yards Allowed Per Game

Here's a table showing average yards gained per team per game in recent seasons. (source)

We see the average yards gained per game over the past 4 years is ~350. So if that's an average day for a defensive unit, let's not trend negative until we're teetering around these benchmarks. Let's knock -2 points per 100 yards allowed after 300 yards allowed.

That reduces our top-tier D/ST point totals by a meager 2-5 points. Wow. If you're like me, you're surprised it's such a small change. But it proves that good defenses don't give up a heap of yards per game. Shoulda seen that coming... Let's move on for now, because we don't want to anger the horde of Yards Allowed naysayers.

Sidebar rant: In the Reddit comments there is always debate about how Yards Allowed is the worst metric ever because some D's are designed to bend but not break, and allowing yards doesn't lose a game, only allowing points. I get it, I enjoy watching Bend, Don't Break defenses at work. So if you want to leave this out, just leave it out. The data shows that the top defenses are pretty stingy all around, no matter what. But in my opinion, when Pat Mahomes puts up a 500-yard passing game, the opposing team should be docked some points for letting him do it, so a small negative value for Yards Allowed seems appropriate.

Avg. Points Allowed Per Game

Now we'll do the same calculation for Points Allowed. Here's our tables:

NFL teams score an average of ~22 offensive + special teams points per game (this excludes defensive touchdowns). So for our purpose, let's subtract 2 points for every 5 points allowed (that's 0.4 per point allowed) after 20. We won't apply any negatives until 20 points are allowed, since that's an average game. It's important to distinguish Offensive + Special Teams Points because pick sixes shouldn't count against your defense (ESPN only figured this out in 2017).

At -2pts per 5 PA after 20 PA, our top defenses are reduced by ~40 points. That's not nearly enough, so let's make it more severe: -2 per 5 PA after 10 PA, now they're reduced by ~60 points. That puts our D/ST squads right where we want them.

Final D/ST Rankings in 2021

Note: The skill position equivalents seen below are for 0.5PPR.

Rank Points RB WR TE w/ Standard Settings
DST1 (Cowboys) 171 RB23 WR27 TE3 163 (Cowboys)
DST2 (Bills) 150 RB26 WR31 TE5 152 (Bills)
DST3 (Patriots) 134 RB31 WR39 TE11 148 (Patriots)
DST4 (Saints) 133 RB31 WR40 TE11 143 (Dolphins)
DST5 (Bucs) 129 RB32 WR43 TE11 131 (Saints)
DST10 (Steelers) 107 RB41 WR57 TE17 109 (Broncos)
DST20 (Vikings) 82 - - - 90 (Steelers)
DST31 (Lions) -5 - - - 38 (Lions)
DST32 (Jets) -17 - - - 21 (Jets)

Now come on... that's a pretty good looking list, compared to what you know from your standard D/ST scoring leagues! Except now you get to root for your defense on Sundays and know that your team's projection is not going to fall off tiered cliffs as your DEF lets its +10 kickoff bonus slip slowly away.

If it's me, I will make the Yards Allowed more severe to decrease these totals even further, because again - my league likes weak D. But you do you... pick and choose from these settings based on what your league rallies behind - only the most engaged/obsessed owners will want to rock the boat with D/ST scoring changes.


What we've ended up with is a reasonably strong group of D/ST units with similar variance among top 5/top 10 as other positions have. And, when kickoff happens you won't see an inflated projection because of an immediate 10-point bonus to your D/ST. Cheer for defensive playmakers the same you would offensive playmakers, because your D/ST performance is grounded in defensive success, not failure.


TL;DR Enable D/ST to score points like other positions: starting at zero and trending positive throughout a game, instead of starting with 10 and teetering, while also rewarding defenses for real achievements that are often overlooked.

Scoring Settings

Basic settings:

  • +8 points per Kick/Punt Return TD
  • +6 points per Defensive TD
  • +4 points per Safety and Conversion Return
  • +3 points per Blocked Kick (FGs and Punts)
  • +2 points per Turnover (INTs and FRs)
  • +1 point per Sack

Unconventional settings:

  • +0.5 point per Tackle For Loss
  • +0.25 point per Pass Defended
  • +0.5 point per Three and Out Drive
  • +1 point per 4th Down Stop

Negative mechanisms:

Adjust to buff/nerf overall scores to suit your league's preferences.

  • -2 points per 5 Points Allowed* beyond 10 (-0.4 per point)
  • -2 points per 100 Yards Allowed beyond 300 (-0.02 per yard)

*Offense and Special Teams only

D/ST Rankings Archive

Here's some historical end-of-season rankings based on the above scoring settings for defense.

Final D/ST Rankings in 2021

Disclaimer: Never use a single season's results as a basis for disqualifying a new scoring system!.

Rank Points
DST1 (Cowboys) 171
DST2 (Bills) 150
DST3 (Patriots) 134
DST4 (Saints) 133
DST5 (Bucs) 129
DST10 (Steelers) 107
DST20 (Vikings) 82
DST31 (Lions) -5
DST32 (Jets) -17

Final D/ST Rankings in 2020

Note: In 2020, offense took over the NFL with record highs (at least in the past 10 years) in yards gained and points scored. By effect, fantasy points for D/ST units were 22% lower than usual and worth monitoring in future years in case adjustments to scoring settings need to be made.

Rank Points
DST1 (Steelers) 178
DST2 (Rams) 158
DST3 (Ravens) 142
DST4 (Football Team) 134
DST5 (Colts) 132
DST10 (Bills/Cardinals) 88
DST20 (Broncos) 38
DST31 (Raiders) -25
DST32 (Lions) -32

Final D/ST Rankings in 2019

Note: In 2019, the Patriots had a run of games against the Dolphins, Jets, Bills, Redskins, Giants, Jets, and Browns. Over these 6 weeks, they allowed only 46 total Offensive + Special Teams points scored while compiling 30 Sacks, 24 Turnovers, and 168 total fantasy points. So yeah... they had a really good fantasy season as a result.

Rank Points
DST1 (Patriots) 232
DST2 (Steelers) 194
DST3 (49ers) 169
DST4 (Bills) 166
DST5 (Ravens) 151
DST10 (Bucs) 127
DST20 (Browns) 65
DST31 (Bengals) 22
DST32 (Dolphins) -16

Final D/ST Rankings in 2018

Note: In 2018, the Bears had a phenomenal season (thanks Khalil Mack!), compared to the rest of the league which was below average, defensively speaking.

Rank Points
DST1 (Bears) 215
DST2 (Texans) 138
DST3 (Ravens) 135
DST4 (Vikings) 125
DST5 (Steelers) 110
DST10 (Chargers) 103
DST20 (Jets) 75
DST31 (Bengals) 24
DST32 (Raiders) -9

Final D/ST Rankings in 2017

Note: 2017 was a really strong year, defensively speaking. Across the NFL, points and yards allowed were down, and the Jags D was crazy good.

DST Rank Points
DST1 (Jaguars) 229
DST2 (Eagles) 197
DST3 (Ravens) 189
DST4 (Steelers) 177
DST5 (Rams) 170
DST10 (Seahawks) 144
DST20 (Titans) 91
DST31 (Jets) 43
DST32 (Raiders) 36

Final D/ST Rankings in 2016

DST Rank Points
DST1 (Cardinals) 173
DST2 (Vikings) 164
DST3 (Chiefs) 161
DST4 (Broncos) 154
DST5 (Giants) 154
DST10 (Patriots) 126
DST20 (Cowboys) 89
DST31 (49ers) 34
DST32 (Browns) 18

Final D/ST Rankings in 2015

Note: In this year, negative mechanisms were set to -2 per 8 points allowed after 10, and -2 per 100 yards allowed after 400. As a result, these scores are 25-35 points higher.

DST Rank Points
DST1 (Broncos) 224
DST2 (Chiefs) 205
DST3 (Cardinals) 197
DST4 (Panthers) 195
DST5 (Steelers) 171

You Deserve Better Defensive Scoring on ESPN

Last updated in 2020

I've been getting a bunch of questions about how to implement You Deserve Better defensive scoring on other fantasy sites, so here are some app-specific instructions for making changes on ESPN.

Personally, I hate ESPN because I think they have neglected their fantasy football website for too long and you should all switch to another site, but I digress...

Unchanged D/ST Score Settings

  • +6 per Defensive TD
  • +2 per Turnover
  • +4 per Safety
  • +1 per Sack (half a turnover)

Easy Improvements for ESPN DEF Scoring

  • +8 per Punt/Kick Return TD (ESPN default is 6)
  • +4 per 2-PT Conversion Return (ESPN default is 0)
  • +3 per Blocked Kick (default is 2)

Controversial DEF Scoring Settings for ESPN

  • +0.5 per Tackle For Loss (aka Stuff if you're
  • +0.25 per Pass Defensed

Negative Mechanisms on ESPN

ESPN default scoring compared to modified scoring

  • Delete all bonuses for Yards Allowed and Points Allowed
  • Add -1 point for each of ESPN's predefined tiers, starting at 300 Yards Allowed
  • Add -1 point for each of ESPN's predefined tiers, starting at 7 Points Allowed

Complete Settings for Better ESPN Defensive Scoring Model

Defensive Scoring Settings on ESPN

Accomplishment Modified Pts Standard Pts
Defensive TD 6 6
Kick Return TD 8 6
Punt Return TD 8 6
Interception 2 2
Fumble Forced 1 0
Fumble Recovered 1 2
Sack 1 1
Stuff 0.5 0
4th Down Stop NA NA
Three and Out NA NA
Safety 4 2
Blocked Kick 3 2
Pass Defensed 0.25 0
2PT Return 4 2
0 points allowed 0 5
1-6 points allowed 0 4
7-13 points allowed -1 3
14-17 points allowed -2 1
18-21 points allowed -3 0
22-27 points allowed -4 0
28-34 points allowed -5 -1
35-45 points allowed -6 -3
46+ points allowed -7 -5
0-99 total yards allowed 0 5
100-199 total yards allowed 0 3
200-299 total yards allowed 0 2
300-349 total yards allowed -1 0
350-399 total yards allowed -2 -1
400-449 total yards allowed -3 -3
450-499 total yards allowed -4 -5
500-549 total yards allowed -5 -6
550+ total yards allowed -6 -7

You Deserve Better Defensive Scoring on Sleeper

Last updated in 2020

After many requests to provide some guidance on implementing You Deserve Better scoring format on Sleeper Fantasy Football App, here we go.

Sleeper Default Scoring

Sleeper default scoring for DEF has bothersome Points Allowed and Yards Allowed tiers, just like ESPN

The primary change to Sleeper settings is to adjust the same bothersome tiers of bonuses for Points Allowed.

By default, Sleeper excludes Yards Allowed so add in those negative values too unless you want to stick to the mode of thought that defense shouldn't be punished for giving up yards. If you do that, be sure to adjust the negative values for points allowed to be a bit harsher to compensate.

Steer clear of the Points Per Yard Allowed setting, because there isn't a way to set a minimum threshold and it's silly to penalize a DST for giving up 150 yards because that literally always happens.

Other Sleeper scoring settings that can be turned on (as seen below) include Tackles For Loss, Passes Defended.

Sleeper settings that need to be adjusted (see below) include Safeties, Blocked Kicks, and Fumble Recoveries.

What we're missing from a perfect scheme is Fourth Down Stops and Three and Outs. How you replace these settings (because not having them will lower your overall defensive scoring by 25-30 points) will depend on your defensive scoring philosophy. Choose your preference:

  1. Reduce the impact of negative mechanisms (as seen below)
    Somewhat flattens out the D/ST rankings tiers
  2. Boost points per Turnover to 2.5
    Rewards the teams with high turnover ratios

I like that Sleeper has included Stopped 2-PT Conversions as a setting, but since we didn't include it in our baseline scoring model, I'm not adding it here. They would only raise D/ST totals by 2-3 points, so it's negligible.

How To Improve Scoring Settings on Sleeper

Accomplishment Modified Pts Standard Pts
Defensive/Special Teams TD 6 6
Special Teams TD Bonus 2 0
Interception 2 2
Fumble Forced 1 1
Fumble Recovered 1 2
Sack 1 1
Tackle For Loss 0.5 0
4th Down Stop NA NA
Three and Out NA NA
Safety 4 2
Blocked Kick 3 2
Pass Defended 0.25 0
2PT Return 4 2
0 points allowed 0 10
1-6 points allowed 0 7
7-13 points allowed -1 4
14-20 points allowed -2 1
21-27 points allowed -3 0
28-34 points allowed -4 -1
35+ points allowed -5 -4
0-99 total yards allowed 0 0
100-199 total yards allowed 0 0
200-299 total yards allowed 0 0
300-349 total yards allowed 0 0
350-399 total yards allowed -1 0
400-449 total yards allowed -2 0
450-499 total yards allowed -3 0
500-549 total yards allowed -4 0
550+ total yards allowed -5 0

You Deserve Better Defensive Scoring on Yahoo

Last updated in 2020

After many requests to provide some guidance on implementing You Deserve Better scoring format on Yahoo Sports Fantasy Football, here we go.

Yahoo Default Scoring

Yahoo default scoring for DEF has bothersome Points Allowed and Yards Allowed tiers, just like ESPN

Just like Sleeper, Yahoo has excluded Yards Allowed by default. Interesting... maybe in a few years that will be the prevalent methodology.

Just like Sleeper and ESPN, Yahoo uses tiers for Points Allowed, and Yahoo has fewer tiers in bigger chunks, so we'll need to reconfigure those and it's going to feel a bit cliff-like. But... we can only do what Yahoo scoring allows us to do.

There's a random Extra Point Returned setting, but considering that almost never happens, we'll just turn it off (see below).

Other Yahoo scoring settings that can be turned on (as seen below) include Tackles For Loss, 4th Down Stops, and Three And Outs.

What they don't have is Forced Fumbles, Passes Defended or 2PT Return. The latter doesn't matter much in the grand scheme of things, and we can compensate for lack of Passes Defended by boosting Interceptions to 3pts. That's kind of a lazy, easy fix since an INT is an achievement in the same realm as a PD.

Yahoo settings that need to be adjusted (see below) include Safeties and Blocked Kicks.

Everything else is pretty straight forward with Yahoo.

How To Improve Scoring Settings on Yahoo

Accomplishment Modified Pts Standard Pts
Defensive TD 6 6
Kick/Punt Return TD 8 6
Interception 3 2
Fumble Recovery 2 2
Sack 1 1
Tackle For Loss 0.5 0
4th Down Stop 1 0
Three and Out 0.5 0
Safety 4 2
Blocked Kick 3 2
0 points allowed 0 10
1-6 points allowed 0 7
7-13 points allowed -1 4
14-20 points allowed -2 1
21-27 points allowed -3 0
28-34 points allowed -4 -1
35+ points allowed -5 -4
0-99 total yards allowed 0 5
100-199 total yards allowed 0 3
200-299 total yards allowed 0 2
300-399 total yards allowed -2 0
400-499 total yards allowed -3 0
500+ total yards allowed -5 0
Extra Point Returned 0 2

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