In the real NFL world, team defenses do the tackling, blocking, sacking, pass interception and other defensive moves while the special teams handle the kicking game. Fantasy football players, however, have become comfortably accustomed to the Defense/Special Teams (D/ST) roster position, which lumps the two together. League commissioners who are looking for new wrinkles to keep their owners’ interest sharp should consider splitting up the “D” and the “ST”. NFL coaching staffs treat them as separate facets of the game, and so should you.
In most cases, it’s a simple matter for commissioners to remove (or uncheck) the “Return TD” scoring from the “Defense” category and reassign it to “Miscellaneous” — along with any desired scoring value for “Return Yards”. Now the fantasy points for kick/punt returns will be assigned to the NFL player who was responsible for them. Many of the major fantasy sports host systems support this option. If yours does not, curse it roundly, send them a nasty letter, and read no further.
The change may seem minor, but the consequences can be far-reaching. With individual NFL players accumulating fantasy points for kick/punt returns (instead of the D/ST slot), owners must now give thought to drafting at least one player who doubles as a return man. At the very least, they will have to keep track of free agents who are becoming promising prospects as kick/punt returners. In leagues with minimal allowances for reserves, you should consider adding a bench position for such a player, at least for the first season, as your owners adjust to the change.
In smaller and shallower leagues especially, you will find that the draft becomes a deeper affair. There seems to be a trend by NFL coaches to reduce or eliminate a young player’s return responsibilities once they prove worthy of a regular starting position. It is unlikely that a fantasy player will be able to find an offensive fantasy stud who also racks up major kick return points unless they get very lucky with a rookie (Denver’s WR Eddie Royal was one such last season). Lower-tier players thus gain importance in the draft, making it a more complex set of equations.
Another side effect is that owners will have to think harder about how to fill their “Flex” position(s). A lower-tier player who has great return skills (such as Atlanta RB Jerious Norwood) may actually generate more fantasy points under these rules than a top-tier RB2. Lastly, rethinking D/ST draft choices may be in order as well. There are some tough and steady (but unspectacular) defensive squads which have been generating good fantasy scores due to exceptional special teams play, and shrewd owners will consider going with a less touted defense. Defensive points will now come solely from defensive plays, so D/STs which have mediocre stats for points-against per game but rank highly in sacks and/or forced turnovers may be a better option.
My final advice: be absolutely certain all your owners know of this rule change (I require confirmation emails from everyone). New challenges create new opportunities and help keep fantasy players from getting discouraged or bored. Decoupling the D/ST position from special teams return points is a subtle, yet powerful way to give your league a fresh feel. Owners who may have felt “shafted” in the draft now have another avenue to explore, a chance to outwit the lucky opponents who landed AP & D-Will or MJD & Michael Turner. Try this simple twist — you and your league will enjoy the results!
Shea Colandri is an architect, musician, and Fantasy Football Fanatic.
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