If you’re reading this article, you at least have a mild interest in dabbling into the wonderful world of Individual Defensive Players, or IDP. Fantasy IDP leagues are still considered a niche category of fantasy football, but have been around for as long as the game itself. It’s not for everyone, but it’s picked up in popularity recently and even the mainstream fantasy sites have increased their IDP content. ESPN, Yahoo, CBS and NFL.com offer free IDP leagues for anyone wanting to try it out.
Anytime you can incorporate more players into your lineup, you involve more weekly points scored, and when you do that, you build better balance. How many times have you played a team who had one guy (like Doug Martin in week nine last year) go off and you had zero chance of competing that week? In an IDP league you have a better chance to absorb those monster performances because you have more players scoring points – this idea is basically what created the flex positions on offense. It’s a simple theory – more players equal more points, and more points equals more fun.
So what is the best way to attack your draft when IDPs are involved?
1.) You Have to Know Your Scoring System
This sounds easy right? WRONG! On the offensive side of the ball, there seems to be an overwhelming “standard” in scoring systems as a foundation. Most leagues have subtle wrinkles or variations of the majority rules. I’m seeing more “tight end premium” leagues which award 1.5 points per reception compared to one point for everyone else. Some leagues give quarterbacks one point for every 20 yards passing, while others give one point for every 25 yards. There are little tweaks here and there, but the foundation is pretty much the same.
On the defensive side of the ball, things are a little different. Even though IDP leagues have been around for a long time, there really isn’t a universal “standard” scoring format. Just as the offensive side of the ball has two major variations (PPR and Non-PPR), the defensive side has “tackle heavy” scoring and “sack heavy” scoring. What do I mean, you ask? Let me explain.
Tackle heavy leagues are just like they sound – they diminish the pass rushing specialists and reward the guys making the tackles. Your 4-3 middle linebackers, weak side linebackers and safeties are the main beneficiaries in this scoring system. The players taking the biggest hits are your 3-4 outside linebackers. Rarely do the 3-4 outside linebackers accumulate high tackle numbers as most of their damage is done bringing down the quarterback. If they fail to record a sack in the game, odds are you’re stuck staring at a goose egg and there is nothing worse than a player giving you zero points for the week, offensively or defensively.
On the flip side, sack heavy scoring rewards the gamblers who draft sack specialist like Aldon Smith and Clay Matthews. Sack heavy scoring leagues are considered any league with a 5:1 sack to tackle ratio. For example, if a solo tackle is worth one point and a sack is worth four points, the sack will actually register as five points because the sack is counted as a tackle too. If you get points for tackles for loss, you get an additional bonus for the play. Your tackle heavy linebacker is going to have to record five solo tackles to offset the one sack. Obviously, you want to find the players who offer high upside in both formats, like Von Miller or Daryl Washington last year.
It sounds so simple but I cannot stress this enough – KNOW YOUR SCORING SYSTEM. Make sure you have all your bases covered and take into consideration every way a player can earn you points. Little things like tackles for loss and passes defended add up. Does your league score a solo tackle and assisted tackle separately, or do you get points for total tackles? They can make a huge difference in a player’s value.
2.) When Should I draft Defensive Players Compared to Offensive Players?
First, how many IDPs do you start? I see some leagues that only use three to four IDPs each week and to that I say, why bother? You’re basically rendering them useless. In this scenario, I would take them only before my kicker and I wouldn’t carry any reserves. The waiver wire will be littered with plenty of plug and play options each week. You can very easily use weekly rankings from various sites to find a suitable lineup.
In my opinion, the most common format for IDP leagues start 2 DT/DE, 3-4 LB, and 2 DB. Some leagues require defensive ends and defensive tackles be separate, same for corner backs and safeties. You will see defensive players get drafted much earlier in this format. In mocks I have seen and participated in, I see J.J. Watt go as high as the end of the third round. As a defensive lineman, he lapped the field in most formats last year. Having him in your lineup was literally like having an additional player – he was that good. Will he repeat his monster season? The odds are against it, but he’s worth the gamble in the fourth round range. After Watt, there isn’t another IDP worth drafting before the end of the sixth round. I always make sure I have at least three running backs and at least two stud wide receivers before I consider taking an IDP, unless Watt falls into round four.
The first IDP I usually draft is an elite young defensive end I consider a lock for ten or more sacks. I want players like Watt, Greg Hardy, Robert Quinn, Charles Johnson and Jason Pierre-Paul – these are players I feel comfortable starting every week regardless of match up. I still believe in JPP coming off his down year and surgery. I consider these guys towards the end of round six. After that, I will usually bounce back to the offensive players and finish building my core offense before I revisit the IDP players. My next targets are high tackle linebackers – this is where it is crucial to know your scoring system. I try to get my hands on guys I feel can get eight or more tackles per week. If I’m in a league with a somewhat balanced tackle-to-sack ratio, I will try to get one of the “sack artists” to play as my LB3 or LB4 as a weekly lottery ticket. I don’t want to count on more than one of them, but if they have a big week it’s a huge boost to your weekly score.
If all the linebackers who produce big time tackle numbers are gone, I will shift my focus to the strong safeties who produce high tackle numbers since they can be as valuable as a strong LB2 in most formats. You want to look at safeties playing behind a weak group of linebackers – Tyvon Branch is a good example. Also, teams having an overall weak team defense will struggle to get off the field quickly and lead to more scoring opportunities for all of your IDPs.
If you play in a league requiring starting cornerbacks, draft them towards the end. They are a dime a dozen and I consider them the “kickers of the IDPs.” Just like every other position, there is a top tier of corners, but the difference between them and players you can find on the waiver wire are very slim. Every year there are rookie corners pressed into action and opposing quarterbacks target them until they prove their worth. The more targets a player sees, the more tackle opportunities they have. The same logic applies to corners playing opposite of “shutdown” corners. Quarterbacks rarely challenge the big name corners like Darrelle Revis, instead they focus elsewhere and that corner gets picked on.
IDP leagues are just another variation of the same game you play now. It might seem overwhelming at first because you may not know the defensive players like you know the offensive guys. There are so many sites now putting out just as much solid IDP info, articles, rankings, and data, you can quickly get up to speed. Twitter is another amazing tool for IDP info. You can follow me, @OlingerIDP and my @DLFootball IDP brethren, @TheFFGhost, @AndrewMiley, and @SteveWyremski and we’ll gladly answer any questions you have. Once you do, you’ll love it and you can join the #NoTeamD revolution.
Get ahead of the curve and join one now.
Eric is on Twitter @OlingerIDP.