The Case For & Against DST in Fantasy Football

by Andrew Barton
2021 Fantasy Football Week 8 IDP Waiver Wire

Recently I have had the pleasure of covering some of the top rookies as well as potential bust and sleeper candidates on the defensive side of the ball in regard to IDP leagues. However, the closest most Fantasy Football managers ever get to defensive players is the overarching designation “DST” or defense & special teams.

As time has gone on the debate on keeping DST roster spots has become more and more intriguing.

Today we are going to dive into both sides of the argument and I’ll offer up my opinion on if defenses should remain on your draft boards.

The Case For & Against DST in Fantasy

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For: Defense is Half of the Game!

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In the world of Fantasy Football offense reigns supreme. It seems like every article, podcast, or debate is centered around if Christian McCaffery is worth the number one overall pick or if Cooper Kupp can repeat his dominant 2021 season. Yet, in the real world, the less glamourous side of the ball is far more prevalent. In the 2022 NFL Draft, the first five players selected played on defense. Many consider Aaron Donald the best player in the league. Every single coach seems to believe that “Defense wins championships!”.

Simply cutting out an entire aspect of the game simply because it isn’t as flashy could be considered a disservice to the integrity of football. In other sports, people wouldn’t consider removing centers from basketball or pitchers from baseball. While the name “Fantasy Football” implies some detachment from reality cutting out half the game might be considered too far.

Against: DST scoring is Not Grounded in Real Football

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According to FantasyPros, the Dallas Cowboys finished as the number one overall defensive unit in fantasy last year. Thanks to their weak division and league-leading 34 takeaways they secured the number one spot. Yet, they finished the season ranked 20th in passing defense and 16th in rush defense. Fantasy football rewards teams for highlight defensive plays like interceptions or sacks. It doesn’t matter how staunch a run defense is. It doesn't a secondary is shutting down a star quarterback. The scoring almost always devolves into just a few statistical categories. Posting solid defensive rankings in passing and rushing defense (6th and 7th respectively) didn’t keep the San Francisco 49ers from finishing as a mediocre 15th overall fantasy defense.

For: Special Teams Matter Too

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Often times we hear about the three phases of a successful football team. Defense, offense, and special teams make up the core of every team in the NFL but one is often left out in the fantasy community. In filling DST roster spots not only are managers taking on a team’s defense but their special teams as well. This adds a layer of excitement to more mundane parts of the game like a punt return. If most professional coaches believe you must win all three phases of the game in real life the same should be said about your fantasy matchups as well.

Against: Most DST Spots Devolve into Weekly Streaming

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Outside of a small handful of top defensive teams, most managers end up streaming defenses to fill their roster on an almost weekly basis. I will admit that I spent much of the 2021 season selecting my starting defenses based on things like opposing quarterbacks or inclement weather. The point of drafting a team is to research, identify and select players you believe in. Selecting a new defense multiple times a season becomes tedious and turns into praying for pick-6s. Instead of selecting a defense for their skill most managers just grab the team facing a rookie quarterback or Sam Darnold on any given week.

Final Thoughts

I have spent much of my fantasy football life playing with a DST option. Up until the past year or so, I accepted it as the norm given how popular sites such as ESPN have it set as a default roster spot. Thankfully I have expanded my outlook and believe there are much better options available. For example, I and a number of Fantasy Six Pack analysts recently completed a redraft league in which kickers and defense were removed. Instead, three flex spots were created, forcing us to value our benches' depth. This will reward those who spent time researching sleepers instead of drafting a random DST in the last round.

The other option in my opinion is adding IDP elements to drafts. Instead of simply taking a DST, create roster spots for one or two linebackers, defensive linemen, and defensive backs. It keeps defense involved and increases the importance of individual players like Roquan Smith or Nick Bosa. I think defense has a place in the fantasy community, their implementation just needs a bit of a shakeup.

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