You Deserve Better D/ST Scoring (2019 Updated)

Introduction

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. D/ST Rankings Archive

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: I mention it a couple times, but it's worth saying here at the top: 2017 was an above average year for defense. Around the league, offenses scored fewer points and gained fewer yards compared to annual averages. Cause and effect: D/ST points were higher overall and the Jags had an incredible year. This is not indicative that these scoring settings make defenses more powerful. In practice, these settings actually make them a little bit weaker than default settings.


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 2018

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

DST Rank Points
DST1 (Bears) 171
DST2 (Chiefs) 152
DST3 (Rams) 146
DST4 (Texans) 134
DST5 (Dolphins) 131
DST12 (Browns) 113
DST31 (49ers) 75
DST32 (Raiders) 66

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 D/ST 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 top performers in the 175-200 range with a DST12 more like 120. 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, 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.

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. For those with better developed sense of logic, we know there are many instances of these statistical defects that go ignored. It's avoidable, 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 D/ST scoring settings. Fleaflicker does (shoutout to /r/NarFFL).

Controversial D/ST Rankings in 2018

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

DST Rank Points
DST1 (Bears) 274
DST2 (Texans) 225
DST3 (Chiefs) 224
DST4 (Rams) 221
DST5 (Jets) 211
DST10 (Dolphins) 203
DST20 (Jaguars) 180
DST31 (49ers) 149
DST32 (Raiders) 132

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 redraft leagues, 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 348. 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:

Teams average ~22 points per game (excluding defensive touchdowns). So 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 2018

Note: In 2018, the Bears had a phenomenal season, compared to the rest of the league which was below average, defensively speaking. This is a bit of an outlier season, but the NFL is trending towards greater offensive power, so in the next year or two we may need to lessen the negative mechanisms.

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

Rank Points RB WR TE Std Points
DST1 (Bears) 215 RB12 WR11 TE3 185 (Bears)
DST2 (Texans) 138 RB28 WR34 TE6 137 (Rams)
DST3 (Ravens) 135 RB29 WR35 TE6 131 (Texans)
DST4 (Vikings) 125 RB34 WR40 TE7 129 (Vikings)
DST5 (Steelers) 110 RB39 WR54 TE10 125 (Chiefs)
DST10 (Chargers) 103 RB42 WR56 TE13 109 (Chargers/Saints)
DST20 (Jets) 75 - - - 94 (Cardinals)
DST31 (Bengals) 24 - - - 59 (Bucs)
DST32 (Raiders) -9 - - - 42 (Raiders)

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.


Summary

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

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
  • -2 points per 100 Yards Allowed beyond 300 (adjust to buff/nerf scores overall)
  • -2 points per 5 Offensive/Special Teams Points Allowed beyond 10 (adjust to buff/nerf scores overall)

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

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 2018

Note: In 2018, the Bears had a phenomenal season, compared to the rest of the league which was below average, defensively speaking. This is a bit of an outlier season, but the NFL is trending towards greater offensive power, so in the next year or two we may need to lessen the negative mechanisms.

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

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