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IDP Draft Strategy: Lessons Learned From an “Experts” Draft

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I was fortunate enough to be invited to participate in a draft earlier this week featuring some of the sharpest minds in the fantasy football industry, including Fantasy Sharks’ own FSWA Hall of Famer Greg Kellogg and some of the top names from the Individual Defensive Player (IDP) side of the fence.

It was both great fun and absolutely maddening, as there’s no such thing as a “sleeper” when you draft with a crowd this knowledgeable. If you want a guy, you’d better be prepared to go get him, because “sniping” abounds.

However, between this draft and some others that I’ve participated in over the past several weeks, I’ve noticed some trends emerging in most IDP drafts, and you can turn these trends into an advantage of sorts if you’re aware of them before your own draft begins.

I’m not going to get into too many particulars regarding the league or its participants, in part because I don’t want any of the people involved (all of whom I respect a great deal and many of whom I’m fortunate enough to call friends) to feel that their decisions are being criticized or thrown under the bus (I don’t presume to know more than any of them, or even as much as most) and in part because it’s not really germane to our discussion.

However, it would help to know the scoring. It’s a start three wide receivers, points-per-reception league with a flex spot on offense. The IDP lineup is fairly straightforward, consisting of two defensive linemen, two linebackers, two defensive backs and an IDP “flex” with defensive scoring that favors tackles. It also awards bonus points for big performances and scores return yardage, but that had much more effect on offensive players than IDPs, so it wasn’t really a big consideration when drafting on the defensive side of the ball.

Here are some things I took away from the draft that you should keep in mind when sitting down at your own IDP draft this season.

Jason Pierre-Paul is Overvalued in IDP Drafts This Year

Before you start throwing tomatoes at your computer (which is silly, really), hear me out. I have New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul as my No. 1 fantasy defensive lineman this season, and for good reason, as defensive ends that rack up 80 tackles and double-digit sacks don’t generally grow on trees. Pierre-Paul has been the first defensive player at any position chosen in the vast majority of IDP drafts I’ve participated in this year, and I have no problem with that.

My problem lies with the overall pick required to land Pierre-Paul’s services. In this particular draft, Pierre-Paul was selected at 4.07, and while that may have been a touch early, I don’t think I’ve participated in a draft yet where he lasted past the sixth round.

Sure, having Jason Pierre-Paul on your roster will give your team an edge at the defensive line position, but Pierre-Paul went nearly three full rounds before Jared Allen (who outscored Pierre-Paul in this format in 2011), and the benefit you get on defense may well be outweighed by the hefty price you’re going to pay on offense.

I liken Pierre-Paul to New England Patriots' tight end Rob Gronkowski this season. Both players are phenomenal talents who will all but certainly have fantastic seasons, but their sticker price has risen to the point to where it’s all but nullifying the positional advantage gained by drafting them in the first place.

There are Some Outstanding Values at the Linebacker Position in 2012

In most IDP leagues, linebackers form the foundation of your defensive squad, and usually, shortly after Pierre-Paul and Allen go off the board you’ll begin to see the elite linebackers follow. This draft was no different, as two picks after Allen was selected, Patrick Willis of the San Francisco 49ers became the first linebacker to be chosen with the 7.06 pick.

However, if you exercise a little patience and wait a bit before assembling your cadre of linebackers, you can still assemble a rock-solid group while also having the luxury of building up your offensive depth along the way.

This is advice that I would have been well-served to heed myself in this instance. I went into this draft with the mindset that from the two spot I wanted to go with back-to-back picks at the linebacker position in order to give my IDP lineup a strong base. So, when the linebackers began to come off the board, I pounced, selecting Colin McCarthy of the Tennessee Titans and Derrick Johnson of the Kansas City Chiefs with the 8.11 and 9.02 picks, respectively.

Granted, both of those players rank in the Top 5 at their position in the Redraft Linebacker Rankings here at Fantasy Sharks, and I’m happy to have them as the foundation of my defense. However, had I practiced what I’m preaching and held off for a bit, I could have continued adding offensive depth and still gotten quality options such as Sean Weatherspoon of the Atlanta Falcons (11.05), Brian Cushing of the Houston Texans (13.01), or Stephen Tulloch of the Detroit Lions (a steal at 15.10), all of whom possess Top 10 fantasy upside later in the draft.

The same holds true for the old warhorses at the linebacker position. London Fletcher of the Washington Redskins was the runner-up at his position at 2011 in this scoring but lasted until the first pick of the 10th round, and that’s actually a fair bit earlier than I’ve seen him typically come off the board. Similarly, Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens was the 20th linebacker chosen in the middle of the 14th round.

Granted, there is some risk involved with choosing these veterans given their age, but the fact remains that at the very least Fletcher and Lewis should post high-end IDP LB2 numbers if healthy (and Fletcher has been the model of durability throughout his career). In fact, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see one or even both players crack the Top 10 again in 2012.

Waiting on Defensive Backs Makes More Sense than Ever

If you’ve read any of my articles here at Fantasy Sharks (and if you’ve plowed this far into this one I’m guessing you have), you probably know that I’m a big proponent of waiting to draft your starting defensive backs, due both to the inherent inconsistency of the position in IDP leagues and the sheer number of options available.

Nothing that I’ve seen in IDP drafts this summer has changed my mind in the least in that regard. Buffalo Bills' strong safety George Wilson was the first defensive back off the board in this draft with the first pick of the ninth round. While Wilson is a fine IDP option, that’s a point in drafts where teams should be loading up on linebackers or grabbing offensive depth.

In fact, Oakland Raiders' strong safety Tyvon Branch and Green Bay Packers' free safety Morgan Burnett, both of whom are ranked higher at Fantasy Sharks than Wilson, were not selected until the 15th and 16th rounds, respectively. That’s more than six rounds of additional picks made before another team picked options that are perceived (by myself and the other rankers here at Fantasy Sharks anyway) as being better than Wilson in the first place.

As for me personally, I didn’t choose a defensive back until the end of the 18th round. At 18.11 I selected Indianapolis Colts' free safety Antoine Bethea as my DB1. Bethea is presently eighth in our Redraft Defensive Back Rankings, and the difference in scoring between Bethea and the aforementioned Wilson in this scoring format in 2011 was about 13 points …in Bethea’s favor.

Granted, every IDP league (and its owners) are different, and not all these trends will hold true in all cases. However, if you keep these items in mind you’ll be one step ahead of the curve and that will put you both one step ahead of your competition and one step closer to fantasy glory.

For additional information on Individual Defensive Players be sure to check out the IDP Team Preview Series at IDP Manor, the Fantasy Sharks IDP forum , and for the latest news on IDPs follow IDP Manor on Twitter.