Gary Davenport spacer
IDP 101: General Draft Strategy for IDP Leagues

| More
More articles from Gary Davenport

As fantasy football continues to grow in popularity more and more fantasy enthusiasts are taking the plunge and eschewing boring team defenses for the added fun and strategy of playing in Individual Defensive Player (IDP) leagues. However, some may be leery of joining the fray, as no one wants to be “that guy” … you know, the one that everyone in your league snickers at when they take a kicker in the ninth round, or drafts two stud tight ends when you can only start one.

That said, fear not, as I’m here to help, with a position-by-position breakdown of some general IDP draft strategies that can be of assistance to both IDP newcomers and veterans alike.

For the sake of this exercise, we’ll assume a 12-team “mixed” (offensive and defensive players) league that requires that you start two defensive linemen, two linebackers, two defensive backs and one “flex” player that can come from any position. It’s worth noting that IDP-only leagues exist, as do leagues with much larger starting lineups that differentiate between defensive ends and tackles and cornerbacks and safeties. Those leagues are great fun, and I hope to pen some articles concerning strategies for those leagues as the summer progresses, but we’ll just work in broad strokes here.

We’ll also assume that this league uses default IDP Manor Scoring, which awards one point for solo tackles (half that for assists) and passes defensed, two points for forced fumbles and fumble recoveries, four points for sacks, interceptions, and safeties, and six points for touchdowns. This is considered something of a “balanced” scoring system that serves as a solid baseline for discussion of general strategy, although we’ll get into how scoring can affect that a bit more later on.

Also, before I get into the positions, a quick note. It’s nearly impossible for me to say with any certainty when you should start taking defensive players in your particular league. Roster sizes, lineup requirements, scoring for defensive players relative to offense, and even the proclivities of the league’s other owners are all such important variables that for me to make a blanket statement such as “you should take your first linebacker in the seventh round” would be talking out of my butt.

As a general rule, if you’re new to IDP, keep things simple, and rather than overthinking and jumping the gun wait until a few IDPs have been selected before taking your first one unless the offensive talent available really isn’t doing anything for you.

Yes, that strategy means you may miss out on Cleveland Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson or New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, but I’d rather load up on depth at wide receivwer or running back and take my chances with the sixth linebacker off the board than grab a stud IDP a round or two too early.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

It used to be that defensive linemen were a little like quarterbacks and tight ends in fantasy football. Sure, it was nice to have an elite player at the position such as Jared Allen of the Minnesota Vikings, but the pool of available talent was deep enough that solid starters could be found a bit later on.

However, as the 3-4 defense has grown in popularity, the number of stud 4-3 defensive ends has decreased, and that positional scarcity has made defensive linemen more valuable. This isn’t to say that there aren’t 3-4 defensive ends capable of being strong fantasy performers ( Justin Smith of the San Francisco 49ers, Calais Campbell of the Arizona Cardinals, and J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans were all Top 20 IDP performers last year), but as a rule of thumb the 4-3 is where the action’s at up front.

That scarcity means that you will most likely want to make a defensive end one of your first two or three IDP selections, and it’s not strange at all to see a defensive end be the first IDP off draft boards. I usually go for one end with an early IDP pick, and pair that weekly starter with a “platoon” of sorts as my DL2, although taking two defensive lineman early isn’t necessarily a bad idea if you’re comfortable with the hit it can mean you’ll take at linebacker.

When looking at defensive linemen, unless your league awards highly for sacks relative to tackles (a ratio of more than four to one) try to find players who not only have shown a propensity to get after the quarterback but who also hold up well against the run, as tackles are where the most consistent IDP production comes from.

Where defensive tackles are concerned, unless your fantasy league requires them if you’re new to IDP forget about them. There are exceptions, but as a rule defensive tackles are very inconsistent on a weekly basis, so just do yourself a favor and leave them be.

NAME TO REMEMBER: Robert Quinn , DE, St. Louis: The departure of James Hall opens the door to a starting role for the second-year pro, the presence of Chris Long at the other end of the Rams’ line means Quinn won’t see many double teams, and his relatively quiet rookie year means that he can likely had much later in drafts than the production he’s capable of would indicate.

LINEBACKERS

Linebackers are the bellcows of IDP and the foundation of a successful team. Their high tackle totals mean that not only are linebackers usually the highest scoring defensive players, but they are also the most consistent on a weekly basis.

Once upon a time there were the 4-3 middle linebackers and then there was everyone else in fantasy football, and while the top fantasy linebacker last year (D’Qwell Jackson) is a 4-3 MIKE solid fantasy contributors can be found at nearly every linebacker position except 3-4 SOLB (Strong side Outside), which is basically a wasteland. In fact, the 3-4 SILB position was once avoided like the plague, but Navarro Bowman of the San Francisco 49ers (a favorite of Fantasy Sharks IDP Guru James Elvins) showed last year that even that slot can produce Top 5 numbers.

There are two important considerations when looking at linebackers. The first is whether their fantasy production is mostly a result of tackles (such as ageless wonder London Fletcher of the Washington Redskins) or big plays (such as sack artist DeMarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys). I tend to lean pretty heavily towards tackle producers, as they are more consistent on a week-to-week basis, but if your league is slanted toward big plays or you’re not averse to a little risk with your reward then sackmaster linebackers such as Ware and Von Miller of the Denver Broncos can be fine fantasy additions.

Another very important aspect to consider is whether a particular player is a “three down” linebacker, meaning that he stays on the field in his team’s nickel defense. More time on the field means more opportunities for fantasy production, and in today’s pass-happy NFL it’s even more important to try acquire linebackers who won’t spend half the game sitting on their rear ends.

I draft linebackers like I do running backs … early and often. In general, at least two of your first three or four IDP selections should be linebackers, and since a linebacker will most likely man the “flex” spot in the majority of IDP leagues it’s not at all strange to see a team make three of their first four IDP picks linebackers, or even fire off three in a row as the cornerstones of their defense.

NAME TO REMEMBER: Donald Butler , WILB, San Diego: Butler’s 30th-place finish among fantasy linebackers a season ago may not seem all that impressive at first glance, but it becomes much more so when you take into account that Butler left the field in passing situations last year. Keep an eye on how new defensive coordinator John Pagano, who was previously San Diego’s linebackers coach, utilizes the third-year pro in training camp, because if Butler can stick in the nickel his fantasy value will skyrocket.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Defensive back is far and away the deepest position in IDP leagues so far as the pool of available talent, and in fact in a format such as the one in our little exercise, the waiver wire would likely be littered with startable options on a weekly basis.

The bugaboo is that defensive backs are also far and away the most inconsistent position in IDP leagues, as apt to explode one week as they are to disappear the next. There are a few IDP defensive backs, such as Oakland Raiders safety Tyvon Branch and Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson, who have shown the ability to post consistent numbers over a period of several seasons, but those players are much more exception than rule, and they also carry a premium in IDP drafts.

As with every spot in IDP leagues, the evolution of both defenses and offenses over the past several seasons has caused a shift in the conventional wisdom where the DB position is concerned. It used to be that strong safeties that spent a great deal of time “in the box” in run support were the most desirable IDP DBs due to their higher tackle production.

However, as the NFL has become more and more pass-happy, many of these “thumper” safeties have been exposed as liabilities in coverage and are now leaving the field in passing subpackages. Strong safeties such as Branch and Kam Chancellor (Seattle), who stay on the field for the majority of their squad’s snaps, are still king of the defensive back hill, but more and more free safeties and cornerbacks are entering the conversation as viable IDP options.

Be aware, though, that as maddeningly inconsistent as defensive backs are in general cornerbacks are even worse. Cornerbacks such as Charles Tillman (Chicago) that are capable in run support are preferable, as many times the fantasy potential of other cornerbacks is tied directly to how much opposing quarterbacks target them. This sometimes makes average NFL corners such as DeAngelo Hall (Washington) - yeah, I said it, he’s average - better IDP options than “shutdown” guys like Darrelle Revis (New York Jets), as a player can’t make tackles if the opposing quarterback is terrified of him.

All the uncertainty and inconsistency with fantasy defensive backs may make it seem imperative to try to acquire an elite option early, but in honesty I prefer to take the opposite tack. Load up on linebackers, get your starting defensive lineman, hell even grab a reserve a two. Then draft your defensive backs. This approach of waiting and then grabbing upside options may appear risky, but the simple fact is that in shallower IDP leagues (as I said earlier) the waiver wire will be riddled with serviceable starting options, so if the player you drafted isn’t cutting the proverbial mustard then just show him the door and grab someone else.

NAME TO REMEMBER: There are approximately nine million fantasy defensive backs with some potential this season, so rather than point out a specific player I’ll leave you with a tip known in IDP circles as the “rookie corner rule.”

Generally speaking, rookie cornerbacks (or second and third-year pros starting for the first time) don’t inspire much fear in opposing quarterbacks, who have a tendency to welcome these youngsters to the NFL rather rudely. Many young corners are targeted relentlessly, which greatly increases their opportunities for fantasy production. The McCourty brothers (Devin in New England and Jason in Tennessee) are excellent examples, each having posted Top 10 finishes at their position in their first season as a starter.

As much rambling as I’ve done, this is literally only the tip of the IDP iceberg where strategy is concerned. However, here at Fantasy Sharks we have you covered, whether it’s with Player Rankings or an IDP Forum filled with knowledgeable and helpful IDP enthusiasts.

Also, if you ever have a question about a specific player or IDP situation feel free to shoot me an email at askgary@fantasysharks.com . I’ll do my best to help!