It’s the $64 question—the query I get more than any other from IDP managers (especially those new to the format).
When should I start drafting IDPs?
The easy answer is that there is no easy answer. There are a number of factors that come into play, from roster size to starting lineup requirements and scoring.
If you’re playing in a “standard” IDP format with tackle-heavy scoring that starts two defensive linemen, two linebackers, two defensive backs and maybe a “flex” starter (almost always a third linebacker), then the stud linebackers and an elite D-lineman or two will probably come off the board in the fourth or fifth round of a draft that will last somewhere between 26 and 30 rounds.
It’s a marathon, folks. Not a sprint.
Then there will be a lull of sorts—the calm before the proverbial storm. And then the first big run on defensive players will happen.
I’ve long been of the belief that so long as you aren’t frozen out of that first run, you can assemble a competitive defense. That you can exercise patience and build a formidable offense without sacrificing a potent cadre of IDPs in the process.
And I’m about to show you how.
Now, this isn’t failsafe draft strategy–because there is no failsafe draft strategy. The first rule of successful drafting is be flexible—you have to be willing to shift plans on the fly if circumstances dictate.
But if you follow this draft-day blueprint, then more often than not you can acquire both an explosive offense and a stout defense—and take a big step closer to winning a championship.
STEP 1: Offense, Offense, Offense
First off, let’s get something out of the way—if you implement this strategy, you aren’t going to roster Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard. Or Minnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter. Or Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker. The first two will come off the board before we’re ready to select an IDP player. And we’re not going to squander valuable draft capital on any high-end defensive backs.
Instead, the first five or six picks should be spent on the offensive side of the ball. Load up on dependable weekly starters in the backfield. Grab a reliably productive wide receiver or three. Pick up a higher-end tight end if that turns your gears.
This is where that patience on the defensive side of the ball pays off.
Don’t worry—You can wait and still be fine.
You’re welcome for that.
One more thing. One offensive position we won’t be hitting early is quarterback. Will all due respect to Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens and Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs, there’s too much depth at quarterback to justify the early investment under center.
STEP 2: Landing the Linchpins
OK, so it’s the seventh round of the draft or so. The first big run of IDPs is getting underway. And it’s time to get after it defensively.
Over the next 5-6 rounds, you’re going to want to make three IDP picks—two linebackers and a defensive lineman. What order you choose to do it in is a matter of draft flow and personal preference, but the goal is to acquire a pair of steady tackle producers at the linebacker position and a high-end DL1 you can slot with confidence on a weekly basis.
PRO TIP: If you’re comfortable with how your offense looks to this point in the draft, feel free to snag a second starter on the defensive line here. The depth up front is better than it has been in recent years, but it’s still not as good as at linebacker. Getting two reliable weekly starters on the D-line can afford your IDP squad a nice edge.
Here are some players to keep in mind in this portion of the draft.
Jordan Hicks – ILB, Arizona Cardinals (Round 7-8): In 2019, only Bobby Wagner of the Seattle Seahawks scored more fantasy points than Hicks in Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring. Despite that big year and 150 total tackles in 2019, the sixth-year veteran is falling toward the back end of the top 10 in many IDP drafts.
Roquan Smith – ILB, Chicago Bears (Round 9-10): After an excellent rookie season two years ago, Smith’s production fell of a little in 2019. However, he remains an immensely talented young linebacker who was a top 15 IDP option in terms of fantasy points per game last season.
Zach Cunningham – ILB, Houston Texans (Round 9-10): Cunningham isn’t the household name of some of his counterparts, and it shows in an ADP outside the top 10 at the position in many drafts this year. But Cunningham came up one solo shy of 100 last season and finished as a top-five IDP option.
Cameron Jordan – DE, New Orleans Saints (Round 9-10): Despite piling up a career-best 15.5 sacks last year on the way to a top-five IDP finish, Jordan remains the most undervalued of the elite fantasy options on the defensive line. He’s a great target for teams that hit linebacker early.
J.J. Watt – DE, Houston Texans (Round 11-12): Yes, Watt’s injury history has become a genuine issue with the 31-year-old. But Watt’s just one year removed from a 16-sack season that saw him finish third at his position in fantasy points. He’s capable of dominant production.
This is also the point in the draft where it’s time to target a starting quarterback—but that’s a story for another day.