You Deserve Better D/ST Scoring (ESPN Edition)

Because I've been getting a bunch of questions about ESPN and Yahoo scoring, I'm doing this write-up to show how better DEF scoring settings can be applied to ESPN (sorry, Yahoo users). 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.


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 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 game. You might agree: it's terribly annoying to watch your team's projection shoot up, then taper off every single week.

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 started in 2016 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.

I've now created an ESPN league that I use for testing new/improved DEF scoring. You can always tweak your league's settings and look at how the DEF rankings and point totals are affected, and then undo your changes if you don't like what you see.

Guiding Principles

  1. D/ST should start with zero points at kickoff and trend positive throughout a game, like other positions
  2. D/ST should be rewarded for good plays, like positional players (think IDP but without drafting individual players)
  3. Top D/ST squads should not outperform top positional players (in fact, most folks agree they should be far less valuable)
  4. 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

I want to share my settings with you, for you to implement at your own discretion. While this scoring format isn't regarded as perfect, it is entirely preferential and, in many obvious ways, better than most default settings. So here we go... we'll start with the easy stuff. There's a TLDR at the bottom for those who could care less about science and logic.

edit: 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. It actually makes them weaker.

ESPN Default Scoring

ESPN default scoring for DEF has bothersome Points Allowed and Yards Allowed tiers

This is taken from a league I've been in for over 6 years. I think it's close to the standard scoring, with the negative values intensified slightly because this league likes their defenses nicely nerfed.

The highlighted portion is what I hate most about ESPN scoring, the arbitrary tiers for Yards Allowed and Points Allowed. By the end of this, we will get rid of the big bonus that all defenses get at kickoff.

Time To Make Changes

ESPN default scoring compared to modified scoring

No Changes From ESPN DEF Scoring

  • Defensive TDs of any kind are worth 6 points. No change from default.
  • Turnovers are worth 2 points. I like to split Forced Fumble and Fumble Recovery (1 point each) but you do you.
  • Safeties are worth 4 points. No change from default.
  • 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 of thumb, just say they're worth half a turnover (in case we change our turnover points later).

Easiest Improvements For ESPN DEF Scoring

  • Punt/Kick return TDs are worth 8 points (default is 6). 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.
  • 2-PT Conversion Returns are worth 4 points (default is 0). 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.
  • 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.

I recommend you stop here if you want D/ST scoring based purely on positive achievements, like other positions except for an occasional fumble or INT. They'll be weaker than other positions, which is the popular persuasion.

For me, this is still 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 10-12 change-resistant fantasy casuals, so be prepared for some pushback.

Trustworthy stats I like to include: tackles for loss, passes defended, and defensive stops.

Recommended Adjustments for PPR

If you play in a PPR league, your top position players are scoring 300-375 points, up from 200-300. Don't leave your DEF in the dust... make these easy adjustments to boost top DEF squads into the low 200's.

  • Increase Turnovers to 3. If you split Forced Fumbles and Fumble Recoveries, increase Fumble Recoveries to 2 points.
  • Increase Sacks to 1.5. Always half a turnover.

Pause: 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)? These scoring settings are flexible, so you can make a small adjustment to give your league the results it wants from defenses.

Now let's move into the more volatile settings: Sacks, Blocks, etc. These will boost our overall points.

Controversial DEF Scoring Settings

These will surely be a point of discussion in your league. Not everyone will approve, but they are necessary for comprehensive scoring settings that reward good defensive play.

  • Stuffs are worth .5 point. ESPN calls them Stuffs, but it's really a Tackle For Loss. 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 Defensed 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. This setting is great for establishing score variance among DEF units.

Now our defenses are scoring too many points, and we need to throttle back down so that bad defenses get punished for poor play.

Negative Mechanisms

No one wants to feel compelled to draft a D/ST in the 5th round, so we need to nerf them by adding some offsetting negative values for poor play (e.g. allowing the other team to score).

We could set a low negative value per Point Allowed, but that punishes a defense immediately when the other team scores. As research shows, an average NFL team gives up 20+ Offensive/Special Team Points Per Game, so we don't want to punish teams very much unless they move from average play to poor play.

See my research on average Points Allowed and Yards Allowed on previous posts

ESPN default scoring compared to modified scoring

Points Allowed and Yards Allowed

  • 0 points for 0 Points Allowed and 0 Yards Allowed. We said at the beginning that we'd eliminate the bonus at kickoff, and this is how.
  • Add -1 point for each of ESPN's predefined tiers, starting at 300 Yards Allowed. Research shows an average team gives up 300+ yards per game, so we don't want to punish defenses until they move beyond that.
  • Add -1 point for each of ESPN's predefined tiers, starting at 7 Points Allowed. Research shows an average team gives up 20+ points, but we need this negative mechanism to provoke adequate offset to the points given earlier for good performance, so we'll start the negativity a bit ahead of the average.

If it's me, I might start the negative values for Yards Allowed a little sooner because my league likes their D/ST to be weak. 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 at all, so you should be applauded for trying.

Final Scoring Settings for ESPN


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.


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. Final Scoring Settings are as follows:

Scoring Settings

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
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
Scoring Settings In Action Modified NA

Top Defenses From Last Year, Compared to Skill Positions (Standard Scoring)

The Standard Points column below isn't for the team seen on that row, it's for the rank position. Make sense? Standard rank order for defenses were: Jags, Ravens, Rams, Eagles, Chargers.

Rank Team Modified Pts Standard Pts TE WR RB
1 Jaguars 176 208 165 226 328
2 Ravens 150 172 151 221 271
3 Rams 137 159 132 197 250
4 Eagles 136.3 153 114 183 245
5 Lions 121.3 145 110 171 235
10 Bears 98.8 130 86 158 180
20 Falcons 66.3 94 64 152 144
31 Raiders 27.8 56
32 Jets 24.8 55

The results speak for themselves, and we're meeting the goals set forth in the beginning. I typically prefer the overall D/ST to score lower than skill positions, but since 2017 was a strong year for defense overall, I trust that they will regress in 2018.

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