IDP leagues (individual defensive players) involve a little more planning on draft day than standard leagues. For the purpose of this discussion I will refer to a standard league as one where you draft a team defense instead of individual defensive players. The first and most important thing to note is the scoring format. Most default scoring formats (pre-set scoring by the host site) will not award many points to defensive players in their respective statistical categories. The focus in these leagues is generally still on offensive players. In default scoring IDP leagues your draft day strategy may not differ much from what it would be in a standard league. You will want to fill out your starting roster on offense first and perhaps even grab a few bench players for your key offensive positions before you start to pick up defensive players. Custom scoring systems on the other hand, can get a little more interesting.
Most of the IDP leagues in which I’ve been involved have used custom scoring, which simply means that the commissioner set the scoring to his or her liking when they set up the league. I have signed up for many public IDP leagues with custom scoring and I like to shop around until I find a scoring setting that suits me. The reason for this is that it has become apparent to me that 90% of the people who play in custom scoring leagues, especially IDP leagues, don’t study the scoring system prior to draft day. This can give you a huge advantage over your competition. Another bonus in your favor is that at least half of the people who play in IDP leagues also have no clue about who to draft on defense, usually relying on the “average draft position” rankings by the hosting site. Some sites are better than others in this regard, but none of them are even close to perfect and a few are downright terrible. If you know what players you want and when to draft them there is a good chance you can dominate the competition in an IDP league.
There are some key things to look for in the scoring format. First of all, study the point system for offense. If it looks to be a TD-heavy scheme then the defensive point system might be an advantage. If the offense is based more on stats (i.e. a PPR league) then it may only be worthwhile to join if the defensive categories are lucrative. I generally use a simple test. A 10-tackle game should score around the same ballpark as a 100-yard rushing game. If these categories rank about the same then the offense and defense are ranked about equally in my book. For example: 100 yards rushing @ 20yds/point would be five points and 10 tackles at 0.5pts/tackle would also be five points. Keep in mind that 10-tackle games are not the norm in the NFL but there are players who attain that number on a regular basis. Sacks, safeties, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries and interceptions are also important to note. Most of your defensive players aren’t going to score a TD all season and if they do, they usually don’t exceed two scores for the entire year. On offense it is not unheard of for a RB to score 15 or more TDs in a season. This needs to be offset with sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries and safeties. These should be worth at least two or three times the value of a tackle.
Now that you have that figured out, there’s one more thing to look at closely in the scoring setup and that is kick and punt return yardage. If the league awards points for kick return yardage there are a few other gems out there for the taking. A DB that starts on defense and also returns kicks and/or punts can be a goldmine. Take Josh Wilson for example. In 2008 he had 69 solo tackles, one sack, four INTs and a TD on defense which is solid but short of what you want out of a starting defensive player. With the exception of defensive linemen, which you should avoid unless you have to draft those positions, you want LBs and DBs who get at minimum 90 tackles in a season. Wilson doesn’t quite make the cut there so he flies under the radar for many fantasy owners in IDP leagues. Here’s where it gets interesting though. Josh Wilson also led the NFL in kick return yardage in ’08 with 1,753 yards. Let’s say it takes 50 yards to get 1 point for kick return yardage. That’s another 35 points for the season and at 0.5pts/tackle it’s just like he had an additional 70 tackles! That would make his stat line look more like he had 139 solo tackles, one sack, four INTs and a TD. You’d be foolish to pass on someone with stats like that, especially a DB.
To dominate any league will require research. IDP leagues will require a little more. I will not offer a list of IDP player rankings because my list changes from league to league depending on the scoring setup. My advice here is to figure out what stats are worthwhile in your league’s scoring setup and then go and do your own research. NFL.com, the official site of the NFL, is a great place to start. There are links to each and every team and stats galore. Study the stats and scouting reports, write down names and try to put them on your draft sheet in some organized fashion. There are lists of IDP rankings out there and as a general rule they will usually point you in the right direction. However, considering how the scoring setup varies from league to league you will want to tweak your own list to match the scoring system for the league you are in. (Do you think I’ve beaten that dead horse enough yet?) I’ve found that one of the best sites for information on IDP players is right here at the Cafe.
I’d also like to discuss a point that so far I’ve only touched on lightly. As a general rule in IDP leagues the most important individual statistic for defensive players are solo tackles. Players who get lots of tackles are usually more consistent scorers. A player like Jared Allen, who had 14.5 sacks last season, might get you points in bunches but you can’t count on a player like that week in and week out. He may have a three-sack game one week and then have a game the following week with zero sacks and three tackles. In many leagues this would net you only a pittance for points. On the other hand, you might have a guy like Patrick Willis who will occasionally blow up for a 20-tackle game and the following week have a “bad” game where he only gets seven tackles. At least with seven tackles you get more points. Consistency is the key here.
Once you figure out who to draft you will need to decide when to draft them. This can get a little tricky as I’ve usually found that most people in IDP leagues do not draft defense until the later rounds. For this reason you may be tempted to hold off for a while and try to fill out your starting roster on offense and grab some backup RBs, WRs and a QB before taking that first defensive player. This is not always a good idea. How late you wait should depend on the size of your league. The more opponents that you have, the earlier you should be taking defensive players. This is simply because as the draft progresses more and more of the quality offensive players are off the board. As a rule of thumb, I would say that you should target that first pick in Round 9 in an eight-team league, Round 8 in a 10-team league, Round 7 in a 12-team league and Round 6 in a 14-team league.
I’m not saying you need to start filling your entire defensive roster at this point, but if you want a stud LB like Patrick Willis or Jon Beason then you should grab them at that time. In the rounds leading up to that you will want to get an anchor at RB, WR and QB and probably a good #2 for the RB and WR at minimum before taking that first defensive player. The trade off here is that you may be tempted to be that guy who tries to get the best TE or nabs the stud backup QB. This can be tempting and isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it may cost you a shot at the very best defensive players. I say this because there is a phenomenon that happens in almost every draft. It’s almost a kind of “keeping up with the Joneses” syndrome. Once that first player of a certain position is off the board there will suddenly be a rash of picks at that position. I see it at TE all the time. Someone grabs Jason Witten in Round 4 and by Round 7 there are 10 TEs gone already, six of which were taken way too early. You are then tempted to grab one too because you figure that if you don’t, there won’t be any TEs left by time you wanted to target one. The same thing happens with defensive players. If you wait too long you might get a good defensive player instead of a stud.
IDP leagues are not for everyone. There are people out there, and you may be one of them, that feel the scoring systems for fantasy football should reflect real football. These people generally do not like IDP leagues because in their mind those leagues award far too many points for tackles, defended passes, even sacks or interceptions. For these people I would recommend that they stick with a standard league where the focus is 95% on offense. I personally do not feel that it is necessary for fantasy football scoring to reflect the real thing. The reason for this is simple. It’s fantasy football, not real football and I don’t compare it to real football at all. To me it’s more like chess. In a chess match you have different pieces. Each piece has certain movements that it can make and therefore each one is has its strengths and weaknesses. It’s no different here. I have certain positions that are stronger than others for scoring points. If you’re one of those guys that will get disgusted because Patrick Willis scored more points in the season than Adrian Peterson then you may want to stick to a standard fantasy league instead of an IDP.
Eli Ricke knows absolutely nothing about Fantasy Football that everyone else doesn’t already know. All of his success in Fantasy Football can be attributed entirely to dumb luck. He has been playing Fantasy Football since 1999 and is a habitual liar. You will occasionally run across him in the café forums under the name 204BC, a name that has no particular meaning whatsoever. He just made it up, the same thing he does with most of the advice he gives.
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