Finding the Next League-Winning Defense

by Christopher Buonagura · Draft Strategy

Few people enjoy talking about Team Defense as a fantasy football position. The community works tirelessly every year to remove the position entirely, yet many platforms still utilize it. The most notable contributors include FFPC high stakes leagues and Bestball 10. Using PlayerPprofiler metrics and historical data, I’ve identified the best candidate to be this year’s top 5 defense drafted at value.

Historical Data

2020’s consensus top 5 defenses include the 49ers, Steelers, Ravens, Patriots, and Bills. All five of these teams presented strong defensive play in 2019 and appear to be well suited to succeed again. However, it is known that defensive performances are unpredictable year to year. This unpredictability is further exemplified when looking at turnovers and sacks, which are primary sources of fantasy points for the position. It is risky to draft top 5 defenses in fantasy drafts. Here is a look at the top ten defenses in ADP and where they finished the last three seasons.

2019 Defense ADP vs Fantasy Finish

2018 Defense ADP vs Fantasy Finish

2017 Defense ADP vs Fantasy Finish

The true problem when drafting top defenses is the cost. Not every top 5-10 defense is a bust, but normally we have to draft them far too early. From 2017-2020, the first defense has gone off the board at pick No. 96 on average, within the first 100 players. That is an absurd cost considering that the defense that finishes first overall is drafted on average at pick No. 157. That is a difference of 60 picks and five full rounds.

Parameter No. 1 for finding a league winning defense: good draft value.

Strength of Schedule

The main factor contributing to elite fantasy defense performances is a soft schedule coupled with a relatively easy division. The 2017 Jaguars won the AFC south with a 10-6 record. Both the Colts and Texans bottomed out that year finishing 4-12. They played eight games against teams that finished below .500 and four against teams that finished 9-7.

The 2018 Chicago Bears won the NFC North at 12-4 with the Packers and Lions finishing at six wins each. They played 11 games against teams that finished with a sub .500 record. Everyone should remember the absolute breeze that was the Patriots 2019 schedule playing in a broken division and facing mediocre quarterback after mediocre quarterback.

Parameter No. 2: a soft schedule and a winnable division.


The obvious requirement for a good defense is a roster with players that can perform at an above average rate. The 2018 Bears saw Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn combine for 19 sacks. These top players have upper-percentile athleticism metrics including top tier Burst Scores and 40-yard dash times.

Khalil Mack Advanced Metrics and Analytics

The 2017 Jaguars deployed an elite defense with names such as Calais Campbell, Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, and Yannick Ngakoue stifling every offense that came their way. The unit combined for 33 total takeaways, second-most in the league that year.

Parameter No. 3: Talent

2020’s League-Winning Defense

The Indianapolis Colts fit all three parameters to be the the next league wining defense in fantasy football. They are currently drafted at value as the consensus 10th overall defense for 2020. On average, their ADP goes anywhere from pick No. 164 to pick No. 216 in redraft and Best Ball formats.

Multiple different analysts have used Vegas Over/Under odds to project an easy overall strength of schedule for the Colts in 2020.

Schedule Breakdown

The Colts play the NFC North, the AFC North, the Jets, the Raiders, and their own division twice. That list includes mostly run-first teams with erratic quarterback play resulting in a more conservative offensive game plan; i.e. low scoring and high-turnover opponents. Their own division is up for grabs and arguably among the easier divisions in football. The Jaguars are in a clear rebuild, Bill O’Brien has gutted his roster this offseason, and the Titans have finished 9-7 for four years in a row. The quarterbacks they play include injury prone Ben Roethlisberger and Ryan Tannehill. They play four developing quarterbacks in Sam Darnold, Gardner Minshew, Baker Mayfield, and Joe Burrow. Don’t forget they draw the two ugliest quarterback rooms in the league with the Bears and Raiders. Its wheels up in 2020 for this Colts schedule.


This defensive unit is much more talented than people give them credit for. Their 2019 unit hosted a plethora of average and above average players capable of playing their positions. Pierre Desir, Darius Leonard, Anthony Walker, Clayton Geathers, and Kenny Moore are among their consistent producers. Not to mention Justin Houston and his 11 sacks in 2019.

Justin Houston Advanced Stats and Metrics Profile

Their only significant loss this offseason was slot corner Desir, but they replaced him with Xavier Rhodes and T.J. Carrie. They also added a proven elite interior defensive lineman in the form of DeForest Buckner from the 49ers and his teammate Sheldon Day. This unit finished No. 13 in overall scoring last season despite poor offensive play and they were the only team to hold the Patrick Mahomes-led Cheifs to fewer than 20 points.


The Colts’ offseason moves indicate that this team plans to win games utilizing the running game and their elite offensive line. They added an aging game manager quarterback and drafted a running back who measures up to Saquon Barkley athletically. In order to win games like that, they will need to dominate on defense. Based on their talent and schedule, they easily can be a top defense. Their affordable ADP in fantasy drafts makes them the ideal target in redraft and best ball leagues. Don’t overpay for last years rankings, go buy this years defensive league winner.

Honorary Mention

The Cleveland Browns present post-hype sleeper appeal as a value defense with upside. With an ADP of pick No. 264, the Browns present an extreme value as the 21st defense drafted. This unit is extremely talented with elite contributors, including Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward. They have a relatively easy schedule with the NFC East, AFC South, and New York Jets. The risk comes from coaching inconsistencies over the last few seasons and an abbreviated COVID offseason hindering team chemistry. Should this unit put it together, expect some monster fantasy weeks. The Kevin Stefanski offense has worked thanks to multiple years of above-average defensive play in Minnesota with top fantasy finishes. It makes sense to assume this team will put an emphasis on strong defensive play under the new coaching staff. Leaving a Best Ball draft with the Colts and Browns is an excellent cost effective approach to the position.