Best Fantasy Football Defenses & Kickers for 2021 NFL Season

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Picking at least one good running back is vital to the success of any fantasy football team. The same could be said for quarterbacks, wide receivers, and to a lesser degree, tight ends. But two positions are not too terribly important—D/STs and kickers.

That is not to say that you do not need to pick a good defense/special teams unit or kicker. Last year’s top performers in each barely averaged ten points a week (Rams—9.9; Younghoe Koo—11.1).

Consequently, you will not need to select either until the end of your fantasy football draft—yes, even if people start making a run on the better ones in an earlier round. Even if the best ones are gone, you can still get one that is good enough.

Choosing A FF Kicker

It is not as simple as just taking the guy with the most attempts. Last season, that was Dallas kicker Greg Zuerlein. While he attempted a league-high 41 field goals, he was successful on only 34 (82.9 percent). However, to be fair, six of his misses were from 50+ yards.

You want to look for someone who will get a few attempts a game and is less likely to miss. From a historical perspective, the most accurate kicker in the league is Baltimore’s Justin Tucker. Last season two kickers made every kick and six with 30+ attempts that completed 90+ percent:

  • Mason Crosby, Green Bay Packers: 100 percent (16-16)
  • Jason Myers, Seattle Seahawks: 100 percent (24-24)
  • Graham Gano, New York Giants: 96.9 percent (31-32)
  • Younghoe Koo, Atlanta Falcons: 94.9 percent (37-39)
  • Daniel Carlson, Las Vegas Raiders: 94.3 percent (33-35)
  • Cairo Santos, Chicago Bears: 93.8 percent (30-32)
  • Jason Saunders, Miami Dolphins: 92.3 percent (36-39)
  • Ryan Succop, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 90.3 percent (28-31)

If you were to take any one of those eight guys, no one would question your selection. But if you want to get technical when choosing your kicker, look for the guys with the most attempts from 50+. It is not uncommon for leagues to value such kicks a little more.

The three best kickers from 50+ yards last season were:

  • Brandon McManus: 82.4 percent overall (28-34); 10-15 from 50+ yards.
  • Younghoe Koo, Atlanta Falcons: 8-8 from 50+ yards.
  • Jason Saunders, Miami Dolphins: 8-9 from 50+ yards.

If you miss out on all of these guys, try to grab Harrison Butker. The Chiefs are more of a touchdown team than a field goal one. But when he does kick, he rarely misses (92.6 percent in 2020; 90.3 percent career).

At least with the Chiefs, you know he’ll get a few extra point attempts a game.

Choosing A D/ST

If you think picking a fantasy football defense/special teams (D/ST) is as simple as choosing the most formidable defense in the league—you would not be wrong. The top seven fantasy D/STs last season all ranked inside the top ten scoring defenses. The Rams were the No. 1 scoring defense last season and the No. 1 fantasy D/ST with 9.9 points/week.

However, while the Rams were the No. 1 fantasy D/ST, it is worth noting that there was only a three-point difference between them and the seventh-best unit (the Buccaneers). That means you do not necessarily need the best D/ST. But you should target one of these guys if you can:

  • Los Angeles Rams: While they lost a few guys in free agency, chances are they will still have one of the best defenses in the league.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers: The offense may be suspect in Pittsburgh heading into the season, but the defense is as tough as ever.
  • Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens are one of a few defenses you will not drop when it is their bye week.
  • Washington Football Team: If the offense can improve a little this season, there is a good chance the defense is even better.
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers: If they can pick up where they left off, the rest of the league better watch out.
  • Indianapolis Colts: The Colts will not have the best defense in the league, but it will be one of the better ones.

The Saints were one of the better fantasy D/STs last season and would not be a bad choice this year. But the uncertainty around the offense is concerning. If Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston struggle to get the offense on track, too much pressure will get put on the defense.

They might thrive on the pressure, but even the best defenses tend to bend when they are on the field too much. That is also why the Giants D/ST is a bad choice even though it was top ten in points allowed last season.

Once the best defenses are gone, target one of these. They were not great fantasy football D/STs last season, but they will get a lot of help from their offense and/or have a ton of potential upside:

But as long as you are not stuck starting the Lions (who averaged -.3 in ESPN leagues last season) or the Texans, Raiders, or Jaguars (who all averaged less than a point), you will be okay.

About the Author

Travis Pulver

Travis Pulver is a lifelong football fan, something he says comes naturally having been born in the football-crazy state of Texas. Through the years, his love of sports has extended into baseball, basketball, golf, and rugby. Life currently finds him in Indiana with his wife and two kids.

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