I’m trying something new this season. Rather than starting from scratch with rankings, I’m going to start with each player’s performance last season and analyze what may change that could move the player’s performance up or down. Clearly, injury is always a potential but unless a player has a history of chronic injuries (see Wilshere, Jack or Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alex), I’m not going to mention that here as it is similar for all. Ultimately, this is about ability increasing or decreasing with age and the opportunity for more or fewer minutes compared to last season.
I started off the analysis with the goalkeepers. Now we move on to the defenders. The defenders will be fascinating because there was one clearly dominant option, Trent Alexander-Arnold, last season and then a small second tier (Robertson, Van Dijk, and Doherty), and then a really big bunch of parity. Given that three of the four players in these top two tiers come from Liverpool, there is significant risk that all three could see their value reduced if the Reds have a post-Championship hangover when it comes to keeping clean sheets.
The PL.com game requires everyone to have five defenders in their squad so here are my thoughts of the top 40 defenders based on scoring from last season plus some notes on others who could jump into the mix this season.
Trent Alexander-Arnold, Liverpool (Fantasy Points 2019-2020 = 210; Minutes Played 2019-2020 = 3173) – The attraction of TAA, and the reason he will be the first defender off the board again, is that he gets significant points from the attack in addition to excellent clean sheet production. Even if his production declines 10% he’d still have ranked first among defenders last campaign.
Andrew Robertson, Liverpool (181, 3111) – Perhaps making TAA a tier all his own doesn’t make sense. The season before last, Robertson actually produced more fantasy points than TAA’s defense-leading 210 of 2019-20. If you can get Robertson a round or two after TAA in your draft then he’s probably the better value play.
Virgil Van Dijk, Liverpool (178, 3420) – The rock in the middle of Liverpool’s defense is going to play just about every minute, score a few goals, provide a few assists, and get well more than his share of clean sheets. Holding steady as a top five defender worthy of an early round pick (4th or 5th round in an 8-team draft).
Matt Doherty, Wolves (167, 2836) – The biggest threat to the Liverpool hegemony of top defenders. Doherty got close to Van Dijk and Robertson in total points despite playing more minutes. It seems reasonable to expect another 10% added to Doherty’s minutes this season which, if extrapolated out in points, would see him jump Van Dijk’s and Robertson’s totals from this past season. Because he plays for a less famous team you might realistically get him a few rounds later than any of the Liverpool trio.
James Tarkowski, Burnley (143, 3420) – This is probably about the peak for Tarkowski who played every minute and got the benefit of the Clarets’ 15 clean sheets. Before you expect that to happen again, Tarkowski only got 7 clean sheets during the 2018-19 campaign. Feels like some significant regression coming up. I’d put him in the Harry Maguire/Çaglar Soyuncu mix after you’ve drafted all, or at least nearly all, of your forwards and midfielders.
Enda Stevens, Sheffield United (142, 3345) & George Baldock, Sheffield United (142, 3420) – Both Blades defenders chipped in 6 combined goals/assists in addition to 13 clean sheets. I suspect that there will be resistance to them repeating their 2019-2020 fantasy heroics so any regression is likely to be priced into their draft position. Like Tarkowski, it seems unlikely that there’s much upside in either player but there seemed to be something to the Blades system so I wouldn’t drop them too far down the pecking order.
John Egan, Sheffield United (133, 3187) – Unlike his two teammates above, there could be some upside here. Whereas Stevens and Baldock were near ever-present, Egan could still play three or four additional matches worth of minutes next season.
César Azpilicueta, Chelsea (130, 3229) – My opinion of Azpilicueta depends entirely on what happens around him over the summer. As it currently stands, Chelsea’s defense doesn’t look like it will improve and Azpilicueta seems to be playing more center back as Reece James ascends. For me, there’s a lot of risk here of Azpilicueta playing less as he turns 31-years-old just before the start of the new season and/or of the Blues continuing to struggle to put up clean sheets. I think of him as more of a 3rd defender than a 1st or 2nd in my squad.
Lewis Dunk, Brighton (128, 3230) – Dunk had a very nice season in 2019-2020 and, even more importantly for our purposes, there’s still some upside there. Brighton didn’t go crazy with clean sheets so if they can add a few more from the 9 he recorded to, say 12 or 13 and he chips in an extra goal or two in an improved side then he could look more like Tarkowski or Enda Stevens did this past season. He’s unlikely to join the top tier but I like him to be closer to the top of the next group than in the middle of it.
Jonny Evans, Leicester City (128, 3304) – In contrast to Dunk above, Jonny Evans looks about maxed out. He played close to all of the minutes available for the Foxes and picked up 13 clean sheets. He has a long history of producing neither goals nor assists. I’d suspect a total of closer to 110 than 130 this coming season. He’s a fine 4th or 5th defender but that’s about the limit I’d put on him.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Manchester United (127, 3070) – AWB looks like he is what he is. He put up remarkably similar numbers for Crystal Palace and Manchester United in his two full seasons. Based on what the Red Devils have done thus far in the summer, he’s unlikely to see his clean sheet total rise significantly and the assist total seems likely to remain in the 3-5 range. Wan-Bissaka is a very credible 2nd defender but don’t expect much more.
Serge Aurier, Tottenham (124, 2699) – With 124 points in what amounts to 3/4ths of a season’s worth of minutes, Aurier would be a fantastic “buy low” candidate if he weren’t on his second consecutive manager who appears to want him gone. The challenge here is trying to project what Spurs will do. Will they invest in their spine and go with Aurier one more time or will they bring in a replacement? If the former, he’ll be a great value. If the latter, you probably just wasted a mid-round draft pick. If you can get him after the 10th round, the risk is worth it.
Ricardo Pereira, Leicester City (123, 2520) – Pereira was on pace to be a top five fantasy defender before his season was cut short due to injury. The talent is there but the risk associated with drafting him in/around the premium defensive group is that he’s not expected back from injury until just after the season starts. Missing a couple of matches is no big deal but if he suffers a set back or isn’t quite the same upon return then you’ve spent a premium pick on a non-premium player. I’m less concerned about Pereira’s injury return than the risk of Aurier being shipped off but both of them are in a similar boat of high upside balanced out by a clear downside.
Harry Maguire, Manchester United (123, 3420) – You get what you get with Maguire and this is about his upside after he played every minute of the season and the Red Devils earned 13 clean sheets. The nice thing is that there isn’t a ton of downside here either. For those who end up taking a risk like Pereira or Aurier, here’s the perfect counterbalance of solidity in the squad.
Chris Basham, Sheffield United (123, 3242) – Yet another Blades defender who will probably drop in drafts because people don’t believe that they’ll be able to replicate their performance of last season. Here’s betting he falls below guys like Marcos Alonso, Toby Alderweireld, and Kyle Walker based on nothing more than (lack of) name recognition.
Jonny, Wolves (123, 2885) – Another would be candidate for a jump up the standings but after being diagnosed with an ACL tear, he’s likely to miss a massive chunk of the upcoming campaign. Picking up Ruben Vinagre (Jonny’s presumed replacement) in the last round or two of your draft will be some good business.
Lucas Digne, Everton (120, 3031) – It was a disappointing season for both Digne and Everton. While the former Barcelona man registered 8 assists, the club only managed 9 clean sheets. As a result, he failed to meet expectations that saw him drafted with guys like Robertson, Doherty, and Pereira last season. I expect a bit of positive regression from Everton in terms of clean sheets so Digne could be a nice value pick if he’s going among the 2nd and 3rd defenders in the 10th and 11th rounds.
Çaglar Soyuncu, Leicester City (120, 3036) – As the season unraveled at the King Power Stadium, it became clear that everything had to be going right for Soyuncu to maintain this sort of fantasy production. With Pereira recovering from injury and Ben Chilwell rumored to be leaving for Chelsea, there seems to be more downside here than upside for a guy whose fantasy value cratered over the final couple of months. I’d be thinking of Soyuncu as more of a 4th or 5th defender than a 2nd or 3rd.
Connor Coady, Wolves (118, 3420) – Coady is another in the “steady but with little upside” department. He and Wolves will likely continue to be above average but after playing every minute and offering little in the attack, there isn’t much chance that he’s going to improve much on this output. A solid 3rd or 4th defender who you won’t have to think much about.
Victor Lindelof, Manchester United (116, 3092) – Like Serge Aurier, here’s another player whose club seems intent on replacing. The fantasy totals are solid but there appears to be a significant chance that he’ll either be gone or relegated to reserve duty for the upcoming campaign. It would be hard to justify drafting Lindelof at all at this point.
Ben Chilwell, Leicester City (114, 2374) – Regardless of where he plays, Chilwell should be in line to be in that group just below Alexander-Arnold and Robertson. With three goals and three assists in approximately 2/3rds of a season, a season of good health should see Chilwell as a credible top defender who should go off the board as early as the 7th round or as late as the 9th.
Kyle Walker, Manchester City (114, 2392) – Here’s where history becomes a problem. Walker’s time at Spurs, in a system far more favorable to outside backs going forward, saw him at the top of the rankings of fantasy defenders. Plug him in to a historically high-scoring team at Manchester City and you’d think the good times would continue to roll. The thing is that he hasn’t surpassed 3000 minutes in a season since the 2012-13 season and last season saw him dip to 2392 minutes. He was still incredibly productive from a fantasy standpoint but his opportunities will likely continue to decline as he enters his 30s. He’ll likely be drafted as a 2nd defender when he should be a 3rd or 4th at this point.
Jack O’Connell, Sheffield United (111, 2915) – I could just copy and paste the section about any of the other Blades defenders because it applies to O’Connell as well. The lack of respect given to the Blades will mean he’s available late in your draft and you should be perfectly happy to have him in the 11th or 12th rounds. Not exciting but you’re likely to get as much out of him as managers overdrafting Harry Maguire or James Tarkowski two rounds earlier will get out of them.
Ben Mee, Burnley (110, 2880) – If you want to buy the James Tarkowski profile at a dramatically reduced salary, Ben Mee is your guy. He looks to be fit to start the season and he and Tarkowski should mirror each other when it comes to clean sheets. Mee’s fantasy point production rate is similar but, because he missed some time, his totals aren’t nearly as impressive. As such, the PL.com game’s recommendation engine will drive down his value and provide you with a great value play. He’s as likely as Tarkowski to go over 130 points and you’d get him 3 or 4 rounds later.
Patrick Van Aanholt, Crystal Palace (109, 2507) – Another candidate who LOOKS like he should be a value buy given his points/minute rate. The two things working against him are that Palace need some significant recruitment to avoid being relegation fodder and PvA starts the season recovering from the ugly-looking shoulder injury he picked up after the restart. If the health reports come back positive, he’s a nice upside pick as a 4th or 5th defender. If not, he’s probably not worth drafting but rather waiting to pick up until he’s closer to returning to the line-up.
Romain Saiss, Wolves (103, 2703) – I don’t mean to bash Harry Maguire but the combination of being an England international and playing for Manchester United will lead to him being overdrafted based on essentially maximizing his fantasy value last season. Romain Saiss isn’t going to be a sexy pick but he’s likely to see his minutes increase as he consolidates his starting spot at the Molineux and a jump of 20% in fantasy points makes him a solid 2nd defender available when everyone else is drafting 3rd and 4th defenders.
Federico Fernandez, Newcastle United (102, 2617) – I’m not as confident of Newcastle reproducing their results of last season as compared to Wolves but Fernandez is like Saiss in that there’s an uptick in minutes available which make him a solid, if unsexy, value buy as your 3rd defender.
Marcos Alonso, Chelsea (100, 1429) – The point-production efficiency makes the eyes water. That Alonso managed triple digit points in less than half a season’s worth of minutes speaks to his exceptional fantasy value when playing. The problem is that Ben Chilwell appears inbound which means Alonso will either play even less or be shipped off to balance the books. Assuming the Chilwell deal comes through, and all reports are leaning that way, Alonso isn’t draftable. Pour out a drink for Marcos Alonso FPL legend.
Toby Alderweireld, Tottenham (97, 2957) – Alderweireld has been an excellent real-life defender for Spurs throughout his tenure at White Hart Lane/Tottenham Stadium. The problem is that he hasn’t been either reliable to start or produce fantasy points since the 2015-16 season. Great name recognition but he’s probably best cast as a 4th defender in a team planning to start three defenders most weeks.
Willy Boly, Wolves (97, 1980) – Another Wolves defender that the PL.com draft room recommendation engine will drive down due to his injuries in 2019-2020. Boly should be ever-present this coming campaign and return to being a solid 2nd defender/excellent 3rd defender worthy of a 10th round pick but probably available in the 12th or 13th.
David Luiz, Arsenal (94, 2809) – Two things will drive Luiz’s fantasy value this coming season. What formation does Mikel Arteta play and how many young center backs are starting at the Emirates. If Arteta plays with three center backs, Luiz can be a solid option in a defense that, I’m convinced, will significantly increase the number of clean sheets earned. If they revert to a more traditional two center back formation, Luiz will likely not play much. The other question is whether Gabriel joins William Saliba in arriving at Arsenal. All of this uncertainty means I don’t have a draft-able grade on Luiz at this point.
Joe Gomez, Liverpool (93, 1999) – Will this be the year? Last season I was all in on Gomez thinking he was a great bargain path to points similar to Virgil Van Dijk. Liverpool dropped off slightly in the number of clean sheets produced and Gomez couldn’t nail down that regular starting role. The same logic still applies this season so Gomez has the potential to be a top five defender, he could be a great fantasy pairing with Joel Matip if you can snag both, or he could be a source of frustration like he was last season. Ever the optimist, I’ll be drafting him as a 2nd defender in the 10th round or so if I’m not drafting against someone who is even higher on Gomez than I am.
Tyrone Mings, Aston Villa (90, 2902) – There’s upside here if you think Aston Villa can consolidate their Premier League position and Mings can improve on the 6 clean sheets he picked up last campaign. The upside doesn’t seem exceptional, especially if Villa lose Grealish and/or Douglas Luiz, so I’d consider Mings a perfectly reasonable 5th defender but not much more. There will be similar production available on the waiver wire most weeks.
Michael Keane, Everton (90, 2556) – Here’s a guy who could see his value improve from 5th defender in your squad to 3rd pretty easily just by playing more of the minutes that will inevitably be available to him. His upside is as a 2nd defender if he and Everton can more closely approximate the results of two seasons ago when he yielded 129 fantasy points. Nice value play in the 12th or 13th rounds.
Adam Webster, Brighton (88, 2668) – Like Keane, there is upside here based on minutes, the concern is that with the return of Ben White from loan to Leeds United and the fact that White seems to be incredibly highly regarded, something is going to give when it comes to minutes with Webster or Dan Burn most likely to yield. If you like the upside then Webster is a fine last defender in your squad but he feels like a guy you could just as easily wait on and pick up on waivers after the draft.
Dan Burn, Brighton (86, 2879) – See Webster, Adam above. An adequate 5th defender but I’d leave him to the waiver wire in favor of some higher upside options.
Jack Stephens, Southampton (85, 2451) – I’d be interested in Stephens as an upside pick based on last season’s production and the potential for more minutes played but with the arrival of Ghanaian Mohammed Salisu, we just don’t know how the minutes will be divided up. A flyer on either Stephens or Salisu would be a fine 13th round pick but I wouldn’t go any higher than that.
Charlie Taylor, Burnley (84, 1944) – Taylor’s second half production points to a profile similar to Ben Mee in terms of getting the benefit of Burnley’s defensive strength without paying the James Tarkowski name-recognition/recent season production tax. A great late round value pick.
Jan Bednarek, Southampton (84, 3057) – See Stephens, Jack. Hard to know where the minutes are going to go but there will likely be waiver wire value in the Southampton defense once it all works itself out.
Nicolás Otamendi, Manchester City, (82, 1710) – It speaks to the quality of City that Otamendi was still even vaguely fantasy-relevant after being pushed out of his starting job. With Nathan Ake and, presumably, another premium center back arriving this summer Otamendi loses nearly all fantasy value unless he is sold elsewhere in the Premier League.
Returning from Injury
Below the top 40 from last season, here are a few names who are returning from injury who should be considered when drafting:
Aymeric Laporte – Will be a full-time starter and earn somewhere between 10 and 15 clean sheets albeit with minimal attacking contribution. 10th-11th round as a 2nd or 3rd defender seems about right.
Kieran Tierney – He looked great down the stretch after getting healthy contributing at both ends. Tierney produced 42 fantasy points in 986 minutes which is a pace to be a top ten fantasy defender. If you can get him in the 10th or 11th round he could be fantastic value. Later than that and he’s a steal.
Ben Davies – It was only two seasons ago that Davies was a fantasy star at 143 points in a mere 2323 minutes of Premier League action. Injury has seen his minutes played go nowhere but down since but if he can rebound, he’s worth drafting on his upside. If not, you know there are lots of adequate options.
Héctor Bellerín – Sadly, Bellerin doesn’t seem to have fully recovered from his injuries. Increased minutes and improved talent around him in Arsenal’s defense should see him rise to being a credible starter of the 3rd or 4th defender variety in the PL.com format but don’t get fooled by his name value. I put the chances of him rebounding to being a premium fantasy option at less than 10%.
Reece James – James is young and undisciplined as a defender but his attacking potential is exceptional if he can lock down a starting role. As you read the final 10 or so entries from last season’s fantasy results you’ll recognize that there are always going to be a lot of unsexy but adequately productive options available on waivers. It is always my preference to draft upside guys like James to have first crack at them. You can always throw them back in favor of more solidity after the season starts.
Ruben Vinagre – See the Jonny write-up above, he’s in line for a massive uptick in minutes in an above-average defense due to Jonny’s injury. Solid 3rd defender.
William Saliba – I’d include Gabriel here as well but his capture isn’t yet confirmed. Saliba will likely be given every chance to earn a regular starting role and could play a part in double digit clean sheets. An upside pick as a 5th defender.
Stuart Dallas and Luke Ayling – The Leeds United outside backs aren’t likely to replicate their 22 clean sheets from last season nor their attacking prowess but even at 10 clean sheets and a few goals/assists going forward, that’s some strong potential for a 4th or 5th defender who can replaced easily with an adequate option if things don’t pan out. I’d rate Dallas slightly ahead of Ayling based on his propensity to occasionally play higher up the formation while still being listed as a defender.
Positions Yet to be Solidified
Beyond the specific players discussed above there are some holes currently unfilled that offer significant fantasy value depending on who fills them. It may be that these roles don’t get filled until after your draft so consider them either draftable or high priority waiver wire claims after the draft:
Chelsea: Goalkeeper, Center Back, and Left Back – The expectation is that Ben Chilwell will fill the last of these three but there isn’t a great deal of certainty about the first two. If the Blues can sort all three spots before the start of the season, the value of the entire Chelsea defensive group goes up significantly.
Manchester City: Center Back and Left Back – Expect City to spend big to shore up what were real problem spots last season. I’m not sure any left back option is ever going to get full-time minutes based on what we’ve seen since Pep has been in charge but the arrival of a premium center back would slot in as an 9th-10th round pick.
Manchester United: Center Back – Unless the Red Devils fix the entire spine – goalkeeper, center back and holding midfield then the upside for a new center back is probably Victor Lindelof’s production from last season. Adequate 3rd defender in your squad but little-to-no upside and some downside if the acquisition doesn’t work out.
Tottenham: Both Outside Backs, Center Back – There was a time when the prospect of outside backs at Spurs would bring great excitement. I wouldn’t get swept away now that Mourinho is in charge. His outside backs have generally been above average due to keeping an above-average number of clean sheets but not exception in the way that Pochettino’s were contributing at both ends. If you’re convinced by the acquisitions then I could be talked into any of them being 11th round picks but more likely 12th round due to the uncertainty of any new player coming in to play for Mourinho.
Leicester City: Left Back – If Ben Chilwell leaves then 19-year-old former forward Luke Thomas may get a chance to replace him. Thomas certainly wouldn’t be likely to replace Chilwell’s full production and there’s a risk that the Foxes will buy a more established player as a replacement but if you’re looking for big upside with your final outfield player pick, Thomas wouldn’t be a bad bet.
There will inevitably be some changes between now and when you draft based on transfer activity but this should give you a good guide for how to slot new players into your personal rankings as they happen.