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Togga Strategies: Don't Draft Defenders Early

Andrew M. Laird

Andrew M. Laird, a four-time FSWA Award finalist, is RotoWire's Senior Soccer Editor and an editor for the site's NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, CBB and DFS content.

Paying up for defenders is a long-debated strategy for Togga drafts, as some players view them as important foundational pieces while others see them as slightly more important than goalkeepers. I've long viewed them as easily replaceable, especially because values on the waiver wire come up frequently. For example, Burnley’s Ben Mee finished the season owned by only 39 percent of managers and yet he was the 20th-highest scoring defender (276.75 points), ahead of players drafted well ahead of him like Aleksandar Kolarov (274.50), Cedric Soares (270.75), Nathaniel Clyne (267.75), Ryan Bertrand (262.25) and Daley Blind (241.75). But the bigger reason for not drafting defenders early is that you're missing out on more valuable forwards and midfielders.

Chelsea's Marcos Alonso was the highest-scoring defender last season, finishing with 410.25 fantasy points, a total bested by eight forwards and 11 midfielders. As the 20th-highest scoring player, that theoretically makes Alonso a second or third-round draft pick in 10 or 12-team leagues, right? Well, not exactly.

The difficulty with that line of thinking is that if you pay up for at least one defender early, you have to make sure you're getting the right one. Alonso didn't even transfer to Chelsea until the end of August, when most Togga drafts were already completed, and it was still a ridiculous thought that he would finish the season as the top-scoring defender, as his first Premier League start didn't even happen until Oct. 1. Not drafting a defender early isn't about getting the most points out of the defender spots, it's about the replacement value of those players, as well as the upside that you're passing on from in midfield and forward positions.

As mentioned earlier, there were 19 players who scored more points than Alonso, the highest-scoring defender. Nicolas Otamendi was the fifth-highest scoring defender (326.00) and there were 14 forwards and 21 midfielders who outscored him, including players like Joshua King (403.50), Manuel Lanzini (393.00), Son Heung-Min (384.00), Michail Antonio (371.00), Pedro (345.5), Robert Snodgrass (335.00), Etienne Capoue (332.50) and Marko Arnautovic (331.50). When comparing them to the other positions, there were four forwards who scored more points than the fifth-best midfielder (Dele Alli, 491.50) and seven midfielders who scored more than the fifth-best forwards (Christian Benteke and Sergio Aguero, 427.00). You're likely not taking a defender ahead of the fifth-best midfielder or forward, but choosing one ahead of the 20th-best forward (Olivier Giroud, 237.5) can be detrimental as well.

Choosing a defender in the early rounds means you're passing on a player at another position, one that isn't nearly as flat in terms of point distribution:

The midfield distribution is also much flatter than forwards, but those players are higher scoring. The 100th-ranked midfielders, Tom Huddlestone and Pedro Obiang, scored 132.00 fantasy points last season, while the 100th defender, Martin Kelly, finished with 95.5. There are obviously fewer forwards to choose from than the other positions, and while you're not going to end up with the 100th-ranked one, I'll note that Jonathan Benteke and Dan Agyei were those players, finishing with 2.5 fantasy points each. The chart below breaks down specific ranks and fantasy points scored by position and then how many players at the other positions scored more points. For example, the 25th-ranked forward scored 203.50 fantasy points, a total that 58 midfielders and 49 defenders finished above.

Seeing the flatter point distribution of the top 100 defenders allows us to go deeper into just how many points you're losing at each position by waiting. For example, the highest-scoring forward (Alexis Sanchez, 650.50) finished with 413.00 more points than the 20th-highest one (Giroud), while the second-highest (Harry Kane) had 282.50 more than Giroud (needless to say, Alexis had a ridiculous season). The distribution is much smaller for midfielders, as Eden Hazard (627.00) had 282.50 more points than 20th-ranked Robert Snodgrass; still a significant margin. However, the defender grouping is much tighter, with Alonso having 80.25 more points than 20th-ranked Aleksandar Kolarov. In other words, the 20th-ranked forward scored just 39.12 percent as many points as the top one, while the midfielder and defender percentages were 54.25 and 71.25, respectively. Waiting for the 20th defender still allowed you to get almost three-quarters as many points as the top player at the position while allowing you to focus on upside earlier in the draft for players like Andros Townsend (366.00 fantasy points), Ander Herrera (324.50), Victor Wanyama (284.50), Joe Allen (282.50) and Oriol Romeu (277.50), all of whom scored more than the top-20 defenders.

You could even make the argument that you shouldn't draft a defender at all until your other outfield positions are full. While there were plenty of people taking Leighton Baines (319.50) early, those who waited for Michael Keane (307.00), Steve Cook (303.00) or Matthew Lowton (281.00) likely had a roster with higher upside attacking players.

And if you're thinking "wait, why didn't he touch on goalkeepers?" it's because you should always take them last.