Fantasy - Jared Watts - Colorado Rapids
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Fantasy: Are defenders the value play in 2017?

The 2017 season started off with a bang, as the Portland Timbers welcomed MLS expansion side Minnesota United FC to Major League Soccer by routing them 5-1. After opening night, goals were a little harder to come by, as the other 10 matches produced a total of 14 goals and nine clean sheets.

Since clean sheets have been upgraded from four to five points in MLS Fantasy this season, most of you probably felt the boost in your Round 1 score. With that change and the decrease in price for defenders, is it finally time to start thinking about playing more than three defenders?

Let’s take a look at exactly how each of the positions fared in Round 1 compared to their average scores from last year. I’ve only included matches with 60 or more minutes played in my charts, as otherwise the clean sheet bonuses don’t come into play:

The midfielders and forwards are off to a start that’s slightly behind 2016’s numbers, but I expect them to perform better as the season progresses and the teams start to gel. However, the interesting thing to note here is that not only did the goalkeepers and defenders increase by over one point per game, but their average scores were well above the attacking positions. It’s too early to draw any conclusions, but it’s definitely worth considering adding a fourth defender to your starting XI if this trend continues.

Another big reason why you may want to consider a four-man back line is that the defenders now seem to be the premier value play in MLS Fantasy. Now that the top-tier defenders only cost $6.5 million in fantasy budget, the top value players are almost exclusively defenders:

2016 Top 20 Players, Points Per Game Per $

Player Position Team PPG Average cost PPG/$
Marlon Hairston DEF COL 6.9 5.3 1.31
Dave Romney DEF LA 5.6 5.1 1.11
Patrick Mullins FWD DC 6.7 6.5 1.02
Dominique Badji FWD COL 4.6 4.6 1.02
Jack Harrison MID NYC 5.6 5.9 0.96
RJ Allen DEF NYC 5.1 5.3 0.95
Alex Muyl MID NY 4.5 4.7 0.95
Justen Glad DEF RSL 4.7 5.0 0.94
Mauro Manotas FWD HOU 5.7 6.1 0.94
Khiry Shelton FWD NYC 5.4 5.8 0.93
Sean Davis MID NY 5.6 6.2 0.91
Ola Kamara FWD CLB 7.7 8.6 0.90
Axel Sjoberg DEF COL 5.3 5.9 0.89
Jordan Hamilton FWD TOR 4.4 5.0 0.89
Juan Agudelo FWD NE 7.3 8.3 0.88
Walker Zimmerman DEF DAL 5.6 6.5 0.87
Daniel Steres DEF LA 4.6 5.3 0.87
Patrick Nyarko MID DC 6.3 7.3 0.86
Atiba Harris DEF DAL 4.9 5.7 0.86
Jonathan Campbell DEF CHI 4.4 5.1 0.86

(Five match minimum)

2017 Top 20 Players, Points Per Game Per $

Player Position Team Points Cost PPG/$
Tim Melia GK SKC 14 5.5 2.55
Christian Dean DEF VAN 11 4.5 2.44
Jared Watts DEF COL 13 5.5 2.36
Nick Rimando GK RSL 14 6.0 2.33
Zac MacMath GK COL 10 4.5 2.22
Joe Bendik GK ORL 11 5.0 2.20
Eriq Zavaleta DEF TOR 11 5.0 2.20
Anibal Godoy MID SJ 15 7.0 2.14
Nick Lima DEF SJ 9 4.5 2.00
Oguchi Onyewu DEF PHI 9 4.5 2.00
Tim Parker DEF VAN 10 5.0 2.00
Chris Wingert DEF RSL 9 4.5 2.00
Axel Sjoberg DEF COL 12 6.5 1.85
Drew Moor DEF TOR 11 6.0 1.83
Clint Irwin GK TOR 10 5.5 1.82
Jonathan Spector DEF ORL 10 5.5 1.82
Jose Aja DEF ORL 9 5.9 1.80
Tony Beltran DEF RSL 9 5.0 1.80
Jimmy Medranda DEF SKC 9 5.0 1.80
Ike Opara DEF SKC 9 5.0 1.80

You can see that for every fantasy million you spend on a defender that picks up a clean sheet, you’re potentially going to get two points per game per million spent, where even the top performers in 2016 barely cracked one PPG/$. Finding the Christian Deans and Jared Watts out there is going to be key to maximizing your score within your fantasy budget this season.

Are you going to play four or even five defenders this week? Let us know in the comments below!

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