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Streaming Defenses during COVID-19

The 2020 Football and Fantasy Football season will be one of the most interesting seasons we have seen in quite some time. By now I'm sure that most of you reading this article are familiar with the worldwide pandemic known as COVID-19. We still do not know the full and long term effects of this virus or how much it will affect players throughout the 2020 NFL season. One thing that we do know is that COVID-19 will have an impact on how we play Fantasy Football in 2020. I am sure that many of you are in leagues where the commissioner has either expanded bench spots or even added additional IR spots. In this article I want to take a closer look at how COVID-19 could impact Defenses and how we choose to stream them for the 2020 Fantasy Football season.

Example 1) A top tier defense has multiple players who test positive for COVID-19.

In the past we have seen top tier defenses go from great to average after losing key players to injury. With less reps in training camp and no preseason games, we could see an increase in soft tissues injuries much like what we saw during the 2011 season. We have already seen key players on good defenses, like Von Miller and Derwin James, lost for the season. Now add in players who test positive for COVID-19 and will miss a minimum of 2 weeks. Would you draft the Bears defense without Khalil Mack? Probably not. How about the Ravens defense if they lose their top CBs like Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, and Jimmy Smith to COVID-19 or injuries? Disclaimer, I'm not saying all of these players get injured or test positive for COVID-19 these are purely just examples. With these potential factors, streaming defenses could be even more common this year in Fantasy Football.

Example 2) A team's starting QB tests positive for COVID-19. Should I start the Defense playing against that team?

For this example, there are a couple major factors at play: who is the backup QB, who is the defense, what is the scheme of the offense, and potentially if the backup QB tests positive as well.

First off, I wanted to make a list of all the teams I believe have competent backup QBs. These would be Philadelphia (Jalen Hurts, Josh McCown), Dallas (Andy Dalton), New Orleans (Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill), Chicago (Nick Foles), San Francisco (Nick Mullens), Kansas City (Chad Henne, Matt Moore), Indianapolis (Jacoby Brissett), and Cleveland (Case Keenum). While these backups would be a downgrade from the starting QB, they all have relevant starting experience in the past (minus Hurts and Hill). Looking back to 2019 I want to compare how starting QBs fared in terms of points per game compared to their backups. All these stats will be from ESPN scoring.

Lions QBs:

Matt Stafford 20.8 Points Per Game (8 Games Started)

Jeff Driskel 19 Points Per Game (3 Games Started)

David Blough 10.9 Points Per Game (5 Games Started)

Chiefs QB:

Patrick Mahomes 21.52 Points Per Game (13 Games Started)*

Matt Moore 16.99 Points Per Game (2 Games Started)*

*Does not include the game where Mahomes injured and Moore came in to replace him for these numbers.

New York Jets:

Sam Darnold 14.6 Points Per Game (13 Games Started)

Luke Falk 0.36 Points Per Game (2 Game Started)

*I did not include the one game that Trevor Siemian started as he got injured early in the game.

Pittsburgh QBs:

Ben Roethlisberger: 21.3 Points Per Game* (using his 2018 stats due to 2019 injury)

Mason Rudolph: 11.06 Points Per Game (8 Starts)

Duck Hodges: 7.02 Points Per Game (6 Starts)

*I only used Points Per Game for the games that Hodges and Rudolph started in.

New Orleans Saints:

Drew Brees: 22.52 Points Per Game (10 Games Started)*

Teddy Bridgewater: 16.72 Points Per Game (5 Games Started)*

*Does not include the game where Brees got injured and Bridgewater came in to replace for these numbers.

If you were to average these numbers out Starting QBs had on average 20.03 Points Per Game across 60 starts. Backup QBs had 11.63 Points Per Game across 31 starts. While there is a 8.40 Points Per Game difference it is important to take these numbers with a grain of salt as Blough, Falk and Hodges were all technically 3rd string QBs. The backup QBs who had prior starting experience (Bridgewater and Moore) fared better but were still about 5 points per game less than the starting QB they were replacing. Keep in mind that they both had a good supporting cast as well. Driskel appears to be the outlier in this case and may have benefited from throwing to both Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay. Rudolph struggled mightily as I would expect most lower tier backup QBs to do. This would be an example of a situation to target if the starter were to test positive or miss time due to injury.

Like I mentioned earlier, scheme and personnel play a factor as well. While Kirk Cousins testing positive is definitely good news for the defense going against him, it may still not make for the perfect match up to stream. If the defense going against Minnesota is lacking against the run it could still be a less than ideal match up even with a relatively unproven backup QB in Sean Mannion under center. On the other hand, if the defense is stout against the run this would be an ideal match up to stream. I could go on forever mentioning other possible situations but for the sake of this article I am trying my best to keep it short.

Personnel also plays a major factor. Does the team have a lot of skill position players to help support the backup QB? Is the offensive line one of the better units in football? These are factors to consider as well as who the actual backup QB is when it comes to streaming defenses for Fantasy Football in 2020.

Lastly, there is the possibility that both the starting QB and backup QB test positive for COVID-19. This would be an ideal situation to exploit. As seen above Falk, Hodges and Blough were massive downgrades in comparison to their starters and even backups. In general, most teams are not equipped to handle losing their top 2 QBs outside of maybe Philadelphia and New Orleans. Even those two teams would be turning to relatively unproven players in Jalen Hurts and Taysom Hill. In this situation it would be hard to see teams with a quality backup even open to trading them as well. Looking at free agency there are even less available options with relative NFL game experience outside of Colin Kaepernick, Blake Bortles and Cody Kessler (none of which I would recommend for fantasy).

While I spent a long time primarily focusing on the QB position I want to acknowledge that COVID-19 could affect any position on offense. However, in general RBs and WRs are easier to replace than QBs. We have seen even more teams using the running back by committee approach or splitting carries. In terms of WRs last season we saw players like Breshad Perriman, Diontae Johnson, Darius Slayton, Byron Pringle, and Greg Ward among others who were able to step up and perform as viable FLEX options or better when called upon.

Offensive line is the last remaining position to consider, and I know these guys do not get the love they deserve, especially when it comes to Fantasy Football. However, they play an important role in every single game. Losing one or more starters could alone turn a good offense into an average one in no time at all. A team missing a key offensive lineman or multiple starters going against a defense, especially one with an above average defensive line could make for a very enticing match up to stream.

In closing I just wanted to say that 2020 will be unlike any other we have seen for Fantasy Football in terms of streaming match ups, whether it be QB, TE or Defense. This article was particularly geared towards finding possible match ups to exploit for streaming defenses. However, similar concepts can be applied for QBs and TEs as well. I hope this article gave you some more insight into how defenses could be affected by COVID-19 and some additional opportunities to stream them in 2020. I would also love to hear your thoughts regarding this as well so feel free to comment on this article or reach out to me directly!

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