The Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers of 2002 featured a defense for the ages. In fact, a well-researched Football Outsiders feature that recently ran on ESPN.com ranked the Bucs of '02 as the second-best defense of the last 30 years.
Tampa Bay's defense was obviously the best in the NFL in 2002, and it also offered fantasy football players their highest-scoring team-defense option. If you could find an article ranking the top 30 fantasy football team defenses of the last 30 years, that crew would probably be on it.
But you're not going to find such an article, are you? It's just not that important of a topic. The impact of that real-life '02 Bucs' defense was obvious and legendary. No offense to Brad Johnson, Mike Alstott or Keenan McCardell, but the Sapp-Brooks-Barber-Lynch-Rice defense was the reason the Buccaneers took home their first Lombardi Trophy. On the other hand, it's not likely too many fantasy leagues turned on the exploits of the Buccanees' defense in 2002.
The point is, you shouldn't sweat this position too much on your fantasy draft night. Yes, a couple defenses will go earlier than the rest; in ESPN fantasy drafts, Denver is going around pick number 86 and Seattle two spots after that, but those are the only two team defenses with an average draft slot under 100. The 10th-ranked defense in ADP is Atlanta, and you can get them around pick number 140. In a 12-team league, that means the Broncos and Seahawks are eighth-round picks but the Falcons are available in the back half of Round 12.
If you were drafting in the summer of 2002 and somehow had advance knowledge that Derrick Brooks and company were going to ransack the rest of the league, you still wouldn't take the Buccaneers' defense before the eighth or ninth round (I hope). Using the same ESPN scoring we've relied on for this Fantasy Forecast series, that '02 defense would have scored 160 points. Last year, the Minnesota Vikings had the highest-scoring fantasy defense in that format, with 157 points. That was a good defense but I don't think anyone considers it legendary, yet it was essentially equal in scoring to the '02 Bucs.
All of that said, we're not here to tell you to shy away from the Bucs' defense in fantasy football this year. In fact, we're rather bullish on Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David and company. We would just like you to be strategic about this. Don't let your (much-appreciated) Buccaneer fandom lead you into pulling the trigger too early. Rather, you should consider Tampa Bay's defense a potential bargain acquisition, and that's the best thing in fantasy football.
So where should you start targeting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense? Let's take a look.
Buccaneers 2017 Fantasy Focus: Team Defense
There are bound to be differences in your league's format and the one we're using to establish our numbers and rankings for all of these positions. There's obviously the big split between PPR and non-PPR leagues, though that doesn't really affect team defenses. In this case, we're talking about how many points you award for sacks and interceptions; if there is scoring based on how many points a defense allows in a game; if special teams are included or not, etc. So take the following rankings with a grain of salt but know that any differences will probably be minor.
Average Draft Position (ESPN): n/a
Position (DEF/ST) Draft Ranking: 23
2016 Fantasy Point Production (Standard Format): 122
2016 Position (DEF/ST) Rank: 11
You'll notice first that the Buccaneers do not show up in ESPN's current ADP chart, which runs 200 deep. Of the 32 available defenses, 17 are in that top 200, so roughly half the league is ranked. Fantasy general managers tend to only draft one defense at the beginning of the season, so there's a good chance Tampa Bay's defense won't be selected in a 12-team league. GMs who like to "stream" defenses might be looking for a good Week One matchup, but the Bucs play on the road in Miami to start the season and the Dolphins are no pushovers.
The Buccaneers were roughly a top-10 defense last year, which is actually somewhat remarkable because the first half of 2016 did not go well. If you believe in momentum, or the value of recent results, then you might be higher on the Bucs than ESPN's ADP. Of the 122 points the Buccaneers' defense scored last year, fantasy-wise, 92 came in the final eight games of the season.
That's when the Bucs went on a turnover binge. Tampa Bay led the NFL in takeaways during the second half of the season and finished third in that department overall. The Bucs also tied for 10th in the NFL in sacks and got 21 of their 38 QB takedowns after the midway point. Most remarkably, Tampa Bay went from allowing 29.0 points per game through its first eight outings to 17.1 through the final eight.
That sounds like a defense on the rise, and it fits with the narrative that Buccaneer players took a little time to become comfortable in new Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith's system, and to learn how to effectively communicate with each other. Smith has a long history of success in the NFL, and his decision in winter to forego the pursuit of another head coaching job in favor of staying with the Buccaneers brings hope that the defense will continue trending in the right direction.
Do you believe that? If so you probably want to at least consider drafting the Buccaneers as your fantasy defense this year. The good news, you can wait until close to the end of your draft to do so, unless you're worried about other Bay area homers in your league. The Bucs were essentially a top-10 defense last year, with some pretty obvious potential to get even better, but they're not even going among the top 17 defenses in ESPN drafts so far this year.
That's the bargain opportunity we were talking about. No, there probably isn't going to be a huge difference in the average weekly results of the 10th and 18th-drafted defenses, but that's the whole point. Why use a 10th-round pick on the Vikings or the Chiefs when you can get the Buccaneers in Round 15 or 16 and end up with the same scoring results? You can use that 10th-round selection to build receiver depth, handcuff your best running back or add a second quarterback. Heck, you can still be a homer and use it on Tampa Bay rookie tight end O.J. Howard. His ADP is currently 129, which is an 11th-round pick in a 12-team league.
Here are some guys with ADPs in the range of the 10th round: Randall Cobb, Matt Stafford, James White, Corey Coleman. Save your late-middle round picks to build depth of that variety and jump on the Buccaneers' defense late. You may be pleasantly surprised. It's true and worth considering that the Buccaneers' defense plays in a division with three MVP-caliber quarterbacks and three offenses with explosive potential, but Tampa Bay's schedule gives you time to find out how good the team is before worrying about that. The Bucs don't play a division foe until Week Eight, and four of their six NFC South contests are bunched in Weeks 12-17. Early games against Chicago and Minnesota look like promising matchups for the Buccaneers' defense.
And, hey, if it doesn't work out you can just stream defenses the rest of the way anyway.