I did a post midseason about D/ST scoring, and neglected to make an update in the offseason. So, with ~30 hours before the start of the season, let's tumble down the rabbit hole once more.
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. 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 last year 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.
- D/ST should start with zero points at kickoff and trend positive throughout a game, like other positions
- Negative games should rarely occur
- Top D/ST squads should not outperform top positional players (in fact, most folks agree they should be far less valuable)
- 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, because I hate the default D/ST settings so much. 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 the less committed to this topic.
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.
Using only these settings, we're looking at a top-tier D/ST putting up 100-130 points over the course of last season.
Many 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 Browns and Jets with 35 and 34 points, respectively.
Note: In my 2015 post, the results were similar albeit higher, because defenses had a really good year overall.
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 likes their DEF nicely nerfed, so by the time we get to the end of this, we will have top performers in the 150-175 range. Spoiler!
Now let's move into the more volatile settings: Sacks, Blocks, etc. These will boost our overall points.
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).
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 shift in the direction we wanted.
So we're getting closer, and maybe you're done. In fact, 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, as these installments require more effort to sell to a league of 10-12 change-resistant fantasy casuals, I will likely have to forego these pleasures until I play IDP.
I am referring to tackles for loss, passes defended, and defensive stops.
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, so at half the value of a sack, TFL boosts our overall D/ST scores substantially, boosting our top-ranking D/ST 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 our high-end D/ST another 20 points. 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 of us with better developed sense of logic, we know there are many instances of these statistical defects that go ignored. Debate it in the comments, if you must (again).
Most mainstream fantasy sites like ESPN, Yahoo, CBS won't enable a commissioner to enjoy these uncommon D/ST scoring settings. Fleaflicker does (shoutout /r/NarFFL). If you turn on all these unconventional settings, here are the results you would see from last year:
Since we don't want to be drafting D/ST in the 5th round, we need to bring these point totals back down to our target of 150-175. How to do it? Revisit those pesky negative tiers, of course, but with more linear consequences! We'll use negative points for Points Allowed and Yards Allowed to fine-tune our settings and to create more variance. And we only want to punish a defense for poor play, not average play, so it's time for research.
Reviewing the average yards allowed per team in 2016 and 2015, we see an average yards allowed per game is 351 and 353, respectively. So if that's an average day for a defensive unit, let's not trend negative until we're beyond those benchmarks. Let's knock -2 points per 100 yards allowed after 400 yards allowed. That'll reduce our top-tier D/ST by... 2 points? That's right... good defense doesn't give up 400 yards in a 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 comments there will be debate about how Yards Allowed is the worst metric ever. 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. Cool your jets - the data shows that the top defenses are pretty stingy all around. If Drew Brees drops a 500-yard game, that DEF should be docked some points for letting him do it. Savvy?
Now we'll 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 subtract -2 points per 10 Offensive+Special Teams Points Allowed after 10 Offensive+Special Teams Points Allowed. That's a mouthful, but it's important to distinguish OFF+ST Points because pick sixes shouldn't count against your defense.
At -2 per 10 PA after 10 PA, our top defenses are reduced by ~40 points. That's good, but not enough. Make it more severe: -2 per 10 PA after 2 PA, so they're reduced by ~60 points. That puts our D/ST squads in this range:
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.
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. Scoring settings are as follows:
|Kick/Punt Return TD||+8|
|Safety and Conversion Return||+4|
|Blocked Kick (FGs and Punts)||+3|
|Turnover (INTs and FRs)||+2|
|Yard Allowed beyond 300 Yards (adjust to buff/nerf scores overall)||-.02|
|Point Allowed beyond 2 Offensive/Special Teams Points (adjust to buff/nerf scores overall)||-.2|
|Tackle For Loss||+.5|
|Three and Out Drive||+.5|
|4th Down Stop||+1|
Total D/ST scoring result 170-180 for the best, and ~30 for the worst. In 2016 the rankings looked like this: