When the Chicago Bears defense is selected in the fifth round of your fantasy draft – and their average draft position is 46.3, so they probably will be – it's going to elicit a flurry of derisive chat. This sort of thing tends to happen:
Waaaay too soon for a D, bro.
The dude who drafts the Bears might feel a certain amount of shame and anxiety. Then someone will take either Tony Gonzalez (ADP 44.6), Hines Ward (47.1) or Santana Moss (49.5) and the draft room will quiet down again. Those picks tend to be accepted without disapproval.
But here's the thing: one of the worst mistakes you can make in a draft is to worry about how the league will react to your picks.
I've never been as viciously ridiculed in a fantasy draft as I was three years ago, after selecting LaDainian Tomlinson with the top overall pick ahead of Priest Holmes. It was a keeper league, too. Two championships later, the Tomlinson pick doesn't look so bad. In fact, it looked pretty decent by Week 10 in 2004.
Let's get back to the Bears, though. Experts will often tell you that defenses shouldn't be drafted early, that no defense is worth more than $2 or $3 in an auction, and that you're always better off taking a flier on a running back or wide receiver. And in the case of 31 of the league's defenses, I'd agree.
But Chicago is different. In a Yahoo! public league, the Bears defense is a better fifth round selection than Gonzalez, Ward, Moss, and a bunch of other players who tend to go between rounds four and six.
I'll give you three reasons why this is true:
THE BEARS ARE ACTIVELY TRYING TO HELP YOU
OK, so maybe Lance Briggs isn't looking in at the Minnesota backfield thinking, "Damn, Frank in New Paltz, NY really needs a turnover here." But the Chicago defense isn't just trying to hold opponents to three-and-outs. They're not just trying to create turnovers, either, though they led the NFL in takeaways last season with 44.
No, the Chicago defense is trying to score. Obsessively. Almost recklessly.
The results of this approach have been spectacular, fantasy-wise. In standard public league scoring, the Bears totaled 205 points last year and 200 the year before. Care to guess how many individual players scored 200 or more fantasy points in each of the past two seasons?
Seven. The only players to do it were Larry Johnson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Carson Palmer, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Auto-Pick Vic … um, I mean Michael Vick. That's it. Only one wide receiver reached 200 fantasy points in either of the past two seasons (Steve Smith in 2005).
THE BEARS ARE MUCH, MUCH BETTER THAN THE AVERAGE FANTASY DEFENSE
In each of the last two years, the Bears have been an elite fantasy defense. Let's think about their value relative to the receivers taken in the fifth round. That tends to be a round where the third-tier receivers and second-tier tight ends often go.
We can safely say that the Chicago defense will outscore all of them (see above), but are the Bears really that much better than the other startable team defenses? Here are the top ten from 2006:
Whoa, Baltimore was good last year. Six defensive touchdowns helped, as did Adalius Thomas, who's now a Patriot. Only ten individual players outscored the Ravens in 2006, five quarterbacks and five running backs. In 2005, Baltimore produced 142 fantasy points. Not terrible, but not all that close to the Bears, who were the season's top fantasy defense.
In 2006, the average fantasy total for the ten best DEFs was 167. The Bears were 38 points better than that, more than a full standard deviation. In 2005, they were 34 fantasy points better than the average of the top ten teams.
That's really a huge difference. The only receivers who are that much better than an average fantasy starter are generally second and third round picks: Chad Johnson, Steve Smith, Torry Holt, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Terrell Owens … guys like that.
Not Hines Ward, not Santana Moss.
Favre and Kitna combined for 54 turnovers last year. In Jackson's four appearances, he threw four picks and lost a fumble. The Bears will get six games against these guys. They host Green Bay in Week 16, in fact. Chicago will actually have the second-easiest schedule in the NFL this year based on opponents' 2006 winning percentage (.465). This is no small thing.
So if you intend to draft the Chicago defense early, it's perfectly OK. You'll just need to brace yourself for mockery. If you don't get the Bears, you can probably wait all day – every other top defense is likely to cluster around the mean.
Chicago, however, figures to score another 200 points, which will make them something of a bargain in the fifth round.