* As the 2021 NFL season inches closer, NBC Sports Washington's Ethan Cadeaux takes a look at the fantasy football outlook of multiple Washington Football Team players. Next up: should Washington's defense be the first taken?
Should Washington's defense be the first D/ST unit drafted in fantasy football?
It's no secret that the success of the Washington Football Team in 2021 largely hinges on its defense.
Anchored by its dominant defense front headlined by Chase Young, Montez Sweat, Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen, Washington finished second in the NFL in sacks last season. Now, with newcomers defensive backs William Jackson III and Bobby McCain on the backend, as well as linebacker Jamin Davis in the middle, and this unit should be among the league best in 2021.
"I feel like, if you look on paper, we can be the top defense in the league," Young said in June. "Now we've just got to do it."
Washington's defense has high expectations for itself in 2021. But, will a dominant defense translate to a dominant fantasy defense? Let's take a look.
According to FantasyPros, a site that creates a consensus ranking from multiple other outlets, Washington's D/ST unit is expected to be the fifth defense drafted this year behind the Rams, Steelers, Ravens and Buccaneers. Washington is listed as high as the No. 2 defense on Yahoo!'s predraft rankings, but also as low as 11th on CBS' list.
In fantasy football, defenses aren't rewarded for forcing three-and-outs -- besides keeping their opponents' total yardage to a minimum. How points are truly racked up are on forced turnovers, sacks and even touchdowns.
In standard scoring leagues, sacks are worth one point, while fumble recoveries, interceptions, safties and two-point conversion returns are each worth two points. Defensive and special teams touchdowns are worth six points.
For Washington's sake, they'll certainly rack up a lot of points in one department: sacks. The Burgundy and Gold defense finished second in the NFL in total sacks last year. That number should only rise this fall with Chase Young entering his second year and the return of arguably Washington's best pass rush interior defensive lineman, Matt Ioannidis.
However, where Washington might lack behind the other top defensive units is its ability to force turnovers. Last fall, Jack Del Rio's unit forced 23 turnovers, which was good enough for the seventh-most across the NFL. Overall, that's a really impressive number.
But when it comes to fantasy defenses, especially those four ranked above Washington, both the Buccaneers and Steelers forced more turnovers last fall. The Rams and Ravens, the other two clubs listed above Washington, forced just one fewer turnover (22) than the Burgundy and Gold did last season.
One other thing worth mentioning about Washington's defense in 2021 is they have one of the toughest schedules of any team. This fall, Washington is expected to face off against these quarterbacks: Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Josh Allen, Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan, Justin Herbert, and Dak Prescott (twice).
Every single one of those quarterbacks has the potential to finish as a top five QB in fantasy. Even if Washington's defense puts up an admirable effort against them, there's still a chance it won't reflect in the fantasy box score.
Washington's defense, in general, could have a fantastic season. Yet, when it comes to drafting them in fantasy, Del Rio's group is one of the riskier options of the NFL's elite defenses.