Team DST Draft Strategy that’s Built to Last

One thing that is often overlooked by managers in their draft strategy is the approach to DST. I’ve been managing fantasy football teams for a long time, but the past few seasons I decided to completely change the way I went about drafting and rostering Team DST’s, and the results have paid off handsomely so far. My goal was to craft a DST strategy that’s built to last. Instead of using ones that don’t account for poor matchup weeks down the line, or wasted waiver positions on weekly DST streamers. And so I began deploying the “A-B DST” strategy.

Before explaining the concept behind my new strategy at this position, I feel like I should highlight the strategies that most fantasy managers use for DST. So without further ado, here are three common DST strategies that could work, but are less foolproof than my A-B strategy.

Drafting the “Gold Standard”

You know the manager that always drafts a top-ranked DST five rounds before everyone else? Well, that’s the “Gold Standard” strategy. This person usually also takes Justin Tucker as their kicker shortly after. There’s nothing wrong with filling out your lineup at every position before adding depth, but personally, I wouldn’t do it. Determining a clear-cut top DST during preseason can also be tougher than most positions.

To display that, here were the Team DST leaders in fantasy the last four years according to Fantasy Data. The far-right column shows where the pre-draft ranked DST 1 (according to FantasyPros ADP) finished each season.

YearDST 1 at the season’s ENDPPGPre-Draft Rank via ADPPre-Draft DST 1 via ADP
2017Jacksonville Jaguars12.7 FPTS/GDST 12Denver Broncos (finished 20th)
2018Chicago Bears11.7 FPTS/GDST 13Jacksonville Jaguars (finished 12th)
2019New England Patriots14.0 FPTS/GDST 6Chicago Bears (finished 17th)
2020Indianapolis Colts/Pittsburgh Steelers9.4 FPTS/GDST 12/2San Francisco 49ers (finished 20th)

Not a SINGLE top-ranked DST has finished higher than 12th the last four seasons! And aside from the Pittsburgh Steelers last year and New England Patriots in 2019, the other three top finishers were ranked outside of the top 10 prior to the draft. That just goes to show that spending premium draft capital at DST doesn’t necessarily ensure success at the position.

Weekly Streamer DST

The polar opposite of the “Gold Standard” strategy for DST is generally the “Weekly Streamer” strategy. This utilizes a matchup-based approach. Relying more on the opponent than the actual DST you decide to play, and you would likely either draft a low-round deep sleeper candidate or a team that has a juicy Week 1 matchup. The streamer technique is much easier in smaller leagues, but the more teams that are involved, the harder this tactic can be.

I generally participate in 14-16 team leagues, which makes this strategy much riskier. Lots of managers still attempt it, but half the time it blows up in their face instead of hitting big.

The other problem I have with this approach is the cost of success. To sign one of the best available DST options that week, you normally have to sacrifice your waiver. Now if you’re in a league where the waiver order doesn’t reset week-to-week based on standings, you’ll find yourself near the bottom more often than not when utilizing the streamer mindset at DST. Either that or you won’t claim the top streaming options, which becomes dicey.

This might take you out of the running for a breakout player or a key free agent that becomes a starter at RB due to injury. All because you needed to waiver the Chargers DST last week in a matchup against the Jaguars. Is that really worth it? (P.S. even if your waiver order resets every week, this strategy can still become a hassle if you need help at other positions).

Second-Tier Darkhorse

Of course, I always encourage that you attempt to draft that future DST 1. As we learned above, most seasons a darkhorse ends up taking the crown (Jags, Bears and Colts were all drafted 12th or lower according to ADP).

Full transparency, last season my main darkhorse pick was not the Indianapolis Colts, it was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (who finished 9th in fantasy points per game). When embarking on this “Second-Tier” strategy, which I would say ranges anywhere from DST 6-15 pre-draft depending on the season, it usually ends up going one way or another.

Either your drafted darkhorse goes the way of the Colts in 2020, and you hold them the entire season no matter the opponent, or they bust early on and you release them before Week 5. This strategy is probably most similar to my A-B technique, which leads me to this alternative concept.

The A-B DST Draft Strategy

I’ll refer to this as a draft strategy, but it’s really more of a way of life for Team DST. First off, this position is VERY IMPORTANT in winning weeks, and that’s the main goal of fantasy football after all. Too often do people undervalue the impact of the DST spot in their lineup. The difference between 10-plus points and output of less than five or even negative points is commonly the difference between winning and losing. If your DST puts up 15-plus or even 20, it’s such an advantage over the competition. My “A-B” strategy finally gives the DST position the respect that it deserves. Yet it has yet to really fail me since I began using it.

The concept is relatively simple, draft and hold TWO defenses the entire season, an A Unit and a B Unit. The A Unit is obviously the more crucial of the two. This is the DST that you draft to be your starter most of the season.

Selecting the A DST Unit

You can go Gold Standard here if you want, but being that you are sacrificing two roster spots for DST already, I wouldn’t. I like to go with a Second-Tier Darkhorse for my A Unit (Bucs and Rams were my A Units last season, both not bad picks). The idea here is that you hold onto this A Unit, even if it has a poor matchup or a rough start, but of course, if it’s clear that this pick was a total bust (Tennessee Titans come to mind in 2020), you can make a change later on.

Side Note: More often than not, managers tend to drop really talented DST’s haphazardly, due to one challenging matchup or one lousy performance. If you screw up and draft an A Unit bust, don’t hesitate to snatch up a DST with top-tier potential if available. I remember in 2019 I signed the Pittsburgh Steelers DST mid-season in one league because some numbskull released them, I ended up winning that league and the Steelers D ended up with a rank of DST 2, go figure!

Selecting the B DST Unit

Your B Unit DST is the more fun slot to manage. You don’t necessarily have to draft a B Unit defense (let’s say your A Unit starts the season facing the easy part of their schedule). But you should look into signing one before the week that you’ll end up needing it. This unit is generally the revolving door DST, like the “Weekly Streamer” strategy. Only you’ll never have to waste waivers on it if you implement it correctly (more on that below).

So when would you draft two DST’s? This part is totally at your discretion. But let’s just say, for example that you really want the Baltimore Ravens DST in 2021. The only problem is, they’re playing the Kansas City Chiefs Week 1 and the Cleveland Browns Week 2 (this scenario is totally hypothetical). Then you would draft the Ravens as your A Unit. But also draft a B Unit with a lower pick (maybe even your last pick in the draft) based on Week 1 strength of schedule or matchup.

Two great B Unit DST’s last season were the Miami Dolphins and Washington Football Team. Both finished with a top 10 ranking, and really beat up on certain opponents.

Proper Usage of the A-B Strategy

We already went over the A Unit spot, and how you should use it, but let’s talk a little more about the different options you have when rostering a B Unit at DST. The B Unit is meant to be constantly changing based on forward-thinking. Unless you hit the jackpot on two sleeper DST’s (which can happen), do NOT hold the same two DST’s all year long.

I first got this idea from a friend who had the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs the entire season. Neither ended up being a top DST that year, but he held them both anyway. THIS IS NOT THE PURPOSE OF THE A-B STRATEGY.

The B Unit’s primary responsibility is to replace the A Unit in the starting lineup when there is a difficult matchup. I always look at schedules when drafting DST’s (and recommend everyone do the same), but you should know your A Unit’s schedule like the back of your hand. That way if you know you’re planning to start your A Unit in Week 5, but not Week 6 (because they’re playing a top offense), you can bypass waivers by looking ahead to at the Week 6 schedule. Therefore signing a B Unit defense a week in advance. I’ve even done two weeks in advance before, if it’s a DST that you think someone else might pick up (and if you’re confident enough in your A Unit). The main two purposes of the “A-B” strategy are;

  1. You’re ALWAYS confident in the matchup of the DST you end up starting.
  2. You NEVER have to spend a premium waiver or draft pick on DST.

Now, this strategy is mainly designed for leagues with at least five bench spots and 14-16 teams. But I have used it at times in competitive 12-team leagues as well. It legitimately works. No longer will you get negative points from your defense. No longer will you get stuck with a risky play in a key week, and no longer will you waste high waivers on a defensive “flavor of the week.”. It’s time to put more value into the Team DST position. It’s time to double up and dominate.

Hopefully, you have great success with this DST Draft Strategy. If you want some more in-depth analysis reach out on social and we can help! You can find us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Don’t forget to check out our other content in our draft kit!

Image Credit: Jerome Miron – USA TODAY Sports