IDP leagues (featuring individual defensive players) involve a little more planning prior to draft day than standard leagues. The first and most important thing to note is the scoring format, which is a given considering that it is the most important thing for any fantasy league. Most default scoring formats (pre-set scoring by the host site) will not award many points to defensive players and their respective statistical categories. The focus in these leagues is generally still on offensive players. In IDP leagues with default scoring 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.
The first step in preparing for any draft, IDP or not, is to study the scoring format. There are some key things to look for. 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 and it may actually be worthwhile to start drafting key defensive positions earlier in the draft. If the offense is based more on stats (i.e. a PPR league) then you may want to use the same mentality that you would for a standard scoring league when drafting. The easiest way to determine the value of defensive players — or more precisely, when you should start drafting them — is to get out a calculator and do a little math. Touchdowns aside, a good statistical game for a QB is 300 yards passing. Let’s say the league awards 50 yards/point, so that’s six points. A good statistical game for a RB is 100 yards. Let’s say its 20 yards/point — that would be five points. Finally, a good statistical game for a LB or DB would be 10 tackles. If the scoring format is at 0.5 points/tackle, which would be five points. For the sake of argument, let’s pretend that the stat categories I just used for offense stay the same but the commissioner has set tackles at two points each. Suddenly, a defensive player might be a bit more lucrative. Don’t misunderstand me here, I would never advocate taking any defensive player in Round 1, unless of course it’s an all-IDP league, but it wouldn’t be out of the question to grab a top tier LB as early as Round 7 if the scoring system and number of teams in the league make it worthwhile.
Sacks, interceptions and safeties are all important to note as well. However, these are hit and miss categories. The statistic that you want to focus on first is tackles. Tackles are generally consistent. I’ll take a guy that gets me seven tackles/game and zero sacks on the season over a guy that gets me three tackles a game and 10 sacks on the season. The reason is consistency. You need to count on your players week in and week out getting consistent points. Otherwise you’re just guessing, and when you start guessing, you lose games.
Aside from tackles, there is another stat category that can be consistent and sometimes quite lucrative; that is, if your commissioner awards points for it. This would be kick and punt return yards. There are not many defensive players in the league who return kicks but it is important to know who they are if your league counts this. Generally, kick and punt returners are going to be offensive players such as WRs and RBs, but there are a few D’s out there that fill this role for their teams. Find out who these players are and put them on your cheat sheet, especially if they also start on defense.
To dominate any league will require research. IDP leagues require a little more. 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. Do your research, 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 here), 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.
Another thing to research is the wheeling and dealing that each team does in the offseason, and there was plenty of that this year. Figure out who the bad teams are and focus on them. The best defensive players for IDP leagues are usually gifted athletes on bad teams. Why is this? Well, generally it’s because their team is behind on the scoreboard and the other team, since they have the lead, tends to do the predictable thing and run the ball….a lot. This equates to more tackles for individual players on defense. To make my point here, seven of the top 10 players in total tackles in 2010 were on teams with six wins or less. Identify good defensive players on bad teams before the season starts and you could reap the rewards in your IDP leagues.
Once you figure out who to draft, you will need to decide when to draft them. This can get a little sticky and requires a delicate balance of patience and gusto. 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 and, as I’ve already mentioned, the scoring system. The more opponents that you have and the more lucrative the defensive scoring, 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. You will still want to fill out most of your starting offense before taking any defensive players. Don’t panic if somebody grabs Patrick Willis in Round 5. It happens. There will still be plenty of great IDPs on the board. I generally fill my starting RB, WR and QB slots right away and try to get backups at each position. I may throw in a starting TE if the TE run has not started too early in the draft. However, if Jerod Mayo or Patrick Willis are available in Round 8 of a 16-team league and it’s a choice between one of them and Tavaris Jackson as my backup QB, I’m taking a LB.
When ranking IDPs, it is a general rule of thumb that linebackers are the top commodity, followed by defensive backs (usually safeties) and lastly defensive linemen. You should not draft any defensive linemen unless that is a required position to fill on your roster. Ndamukong Suh had an awesome year last season for his position, but he was nowhere near the numbers that even the 20th-best linebacker produced.
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 really 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. I really don’t care if RBs only score one point per 100 yards while kickers get 50 points for a 20-yard field goal. I’m going to study the scoring system and draft accordingly.
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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