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 maybe other 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 boost to your team score at kickoff, only to teeter and (usually) trend towards negative over the course of a 3-hour game. It's really annoying to watch your projection shoot up, then taper off, and if the opposing team returns an INT for a TD... that counts against your D/ST as well because default scoring settings (again... on ESPN, at least) don't differentiate between a Pick 6 and passing TD.
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 scores happen for positional players. I implemented most of the scoring settings below in a dynasty league I started this year on Fleaflicker, and so far the response has been positive, though there is a learning curve to offset years of being brainwashed by chunked tiers that can go really negative really fast.
I want to share my settings with you, for you to implement at your own discretion, because I hate the default D/ST settings so much. So while this scoring format isn't regarded as perfect, it is totally preferential and, in many obvious ways, better than most default settings. I'd like to use IDP one day, but my league(s) have been resistant to the idea.
- Treat D/ST like a player, starting with zero points at kickoff and trending positive throughout a game.
- Negative point totals should only occur rarely (like when Dez caught a single 10yd pass a couple weeks ago, and fumbled it).
- Top D/ST squads should not outperform top positional players on average (bc we don't want to draft D/ST in high rounds).
- There should be clear value for any elite D/ST compared to good, middle, and bad defenses just like we have tiers of players at other positions.
Here we go... we'll start with the easy stuff. There's a TLDR at the bottom.
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.
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 (just ask the Falcons from Week 13).
Using only these settings, we're looking at a top-tier D/ST putting up 105-125 points over the course of a season. The top five D/ST for 2015 (again... using just these settings) would've been
Four of these teams look familiar as high performers last year, so we must be on the right track. If you're a nerd and wondering who the bottom D/ST squads are with these settings, it is the 32. Bears and 31. 49ers with barely 30 points each.
We still need to boost these scores and get them to be more comparable to skill positions, whose elite talent is scoring 250-300 per season, but we'll come back to that, as we have yet to address sacks, blocked kicks, etc. Spoiler: our target for top D/ST is 200 points but again - it's your preference how powerful you want them to be.
First (or second... but who's counting) let's get our negative mechanisms in place for really bad defensive play. Reviewing the average yards allowed per team in 2016 and 2015, we see an average yards allowed per game is 350 and 353, respectively. So if that's an average day for a defensive unit, let's not trend negative until we're beyond that.
So let's trend negative after 400 Yards Allowed and do the same calculation for Points Allowed. Here's a table of offensive points per team and another table for special teams points per team. Teams averaged 21.9 and 21.6 total Offensive+Special Teams Points in 2016 and 2015, respectively, so let's trend negative after 25 Offensive+Special Teams Points Allowed for our D/ST scoring. I put all these averages into Google Sheets.
Now... how quickly should we trend negative upon reaching our thresholds? I arbitrarily picked -2 points per 100 yards allowed beyond 400 (-0.02 per yard) and -2 points per 10 points allowed beyond 25 (-0.2 per point). We'll see how that plays out later, and we can adjust if necessary.
With our negative points plugged in, our top 5 D/ST squads in 2015 are the same, but reordered:
The Eagles moving down on the list indicates they had some games where their defense gave up a lot of points/yards. The Broncos stout D moved up because they were always stingy. These top squads would've scored 84-119 fantasy points in 2015 using only these settings. Our bottom feeders would be 32. 49ers and 31. Bears, scoring 15 and 18 points, respectively. Ouch.
Now let's move into the more volatile settings: Sacks, Blocks, etc. These will boost our overall points by quite a bit.
Sacks are worth 1 point. We can't make them worth 2 points (bc they're not equivalent of a turnover) and 1.5 feels too close to equal, so 1 feels like the sweet spot to me. As a rule, just say they're worth half a turnover (in case we change our turnover points later).
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.
Now our top 4 D/ST units are scoring 140-160 points, a big change in the direction we wanted.
So we're getting closer, and maybe you're done. This might be all you want with some minor tweaks, but for me, there are a couple more items I like to add. These are more controversial, and some are not customizable on ESPN. But they're all available on Fleaflicker. Choose your flavor.
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 the same negative yards and aren't as highly praised as sacks, so at half the value of a sack, TFL boosts our overall D/ST scores by 30-40 points, taking our #1 D/ST right up to that 200 mark. That's great! Stop here if you are happy. But I want to keep going.
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.
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.
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 more frequently than 4th Down Stops, and are arguably not as significant, so I only assign it half a point.
So now all of our top D/ST from 2015 are putting up over 200 points, and I want to adjust them down. So I'm going to revisit our negative points and increase the impact there.
Adjust To Your Preference
We saw that on an average week, an NFL offense scores 21.x points and accumulates 350 yards. So we set our negative trend to start above those metrics (25 points and 400 yards), but now maybe we realize even an average RB is going to have a fumble once in awhile, so let's move that needle for D/ST so our average units take more of a hit. Let's shift our negative trend to 300 yards allowed and 20 points allowed. Now the Broncos, whose defense had an incredible year (won the Super Bowl, in case you forgot), is sitting pretty with 248 points.
Wanna shift even further? Let's try reducing our threshold for points down to 14. Now the Broncos would've scored 239 last year, and the Steelers (#5 D/ST) weigh in at 189. The bottom 2 squads are the 49ers and Saints, with 78 and 90 points, respectively.
Still seems high? Keep adjusting until you find the balance you want. Perhaps leave out the controversial bonuses or any settings your fantasy site doesn't support. I'm going to increase the rate of negative trending from points allowed. I'm gonna make it -2 per 8 points allowed beyond 10.
Especially if you detest counting Yards Allowed against a D/ST (because of trash time, "bend don't break" coaching philosophies, etc.), increasing the impact of Points Allowed is critical to finding a suitable balance. This final adjustment looks pretty good to me considering the 2015 Broncos performed uncommonly well, so this is where I'm stopping.
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. Scoring settings are as follows:
- +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 10 Offensive/Special Teams Points Allowed beyond 14 (adjust to buff/nerf scores overall)
- +1 point per 4th Down Stop
- +.5 point per Tackle For Loss
- +.5 point per Three and Out Drive
- +.25 point per Pass Defended
Total D/ST result is best scoring 220-240, worst scoring 75-85 per season. Here's an example of a terrible performance: Vikings, Week 15, 2016 and here's an example of an outstanding performance: Vikings, Week 3, 2016.