So you’ve been playing fantasy football for years and are thinking about giving IDP a try. You’re in for some real fun. Why only play fantasy football with less than half the player pool? Fantasy football is a game of skill and luck. Several things can shift the ratio of skill and luck. The more starters you start every week, the more the ratio of skill and luck weighs, even ever so slightly, towards skill. To help you get started, here’s a beginner’s guide to IDP.
Defensive Tackles are a weakness of mine. I carry too many on my roster. So it’s best not to listen to me. In general, 4-3 DTs are more likely to be productive than 3-4 DTs who usually face more double teams and play fewer snaps. There are two main types of DTs. The first type are run stoppers. These DTs are generally only on the field in early downs, but they have the opportunity to rack up tackles, which are often heavily weighted in fantasy points to boost DT scoring. The second type of DTs is interior disruptors. They’re good at pushing the pocket and causing chaos. Unfortunately, except Aaron Donald, most of these players are a mirage, and they’re the primary reason I carry too many DTs on my roster. But I’m not bitter…
Defensive Ends are the Tight Ends of IDP. There is a top tier consisting of five or six players that are the Gronks and the Travis Kelces. They have a very solid floor coupled with a very high ceiling. They get enough tackles every game to make them usable even in their down weeks, but they have enough sack-upside to put up a crooked number large enough to win you the week. The DEs in this tier are highly sought after. They’ll be drafted along with the top tier of LBs. After the top tier, the lower tier is generally sack-dependent.
In the same way that the TE10 is dependent on a TD to help your team in a given week, the lower tier of DEs is dependent on a sack to help your team. The weeks they don’t have sacks, their floor is low. There are obvious exceptions to this rule, but in general, 4-3 DEs are more productive than 3-4 DEs as they usually play more snaps and get more pass-rushing opportunities.
Linebackers are the RBs of IDP. It all comes down to opportunity. Just like RBs, where you’re looking for a 3-down back, you want to find 3-down LBs. A LB that is standing on the sideline when the team is in sub-packages isn’t scoring fantasy points. Since it all comes down to opportunity, if a LB gets hurt, the next man up will often be almost as productive as the injured starter. All that said, not all LBs are created equal. Outside of the 3-down role, the next deciding factor should be the position. The best LB positions in tackle-heavy leagues line up as: 4-3 MIKE, 3-4 ILB, 4-3 WILL, sizable gap, 4-3 SAM, 3-4 OLB. Most leagues are tackle-heavy, making 3-4 OLBs irrelevant, but more and more leagues are either, increasing scoring for sacks and QB hits, making 3-4 OLBs relevant, or splitting positions into IDL, EDGE, and LB, combining 3-4 OLBs with 4-3 DEs who play the same basic role. Leagues, where studs like Khalil Mack and Von Miller are irrelevant, will hopefully be a thing of that past in a few years.
CBs are the Kickers of IDP. Most scoring systems reward CBs that aren’t actually that good. There’s a sweet spot for a player who’s good enough to keep their job all year but bad enough that they don’t scare opposing QBs so they get targeted a lot, leading to plenty of tackle opportunities. Usually, the CB opposite a true Shutdown CB is a good IDP asset. Rookie CBs who become starters are usually good IDP assets. Finally, outside corners who cover the slot in sub-packages usually see plenty of opportunities. My normal strategy is to pick up as many rookie CBs who have a chance of starting off the waiver wire immediately after the rookie draft. As rosters cut down closer to the season, I’ll drop down to 2-3 based on how the depth charts are looking. At the end of the year, after my last game is played, I tend to either try and get value for these CBs or just drop them to pick up flyers at other positions. If someone had a really good year, you can probably get a 6th for him from somebody. And don’t carry CBs on your roster during the offseason. Roster spots are too valuable to waste.
Just like LBs, where a safety lines up goes a long way in determining value. The best positions for safeties, in order, are Box Safety, SS, Subpackage LB, 2-High, and Center Fielder FS. The closer a safety plays to the line of scrimmage, the more tackle opportunities they have. Center Fielders who are ballhawks are usually boom-bust players. If they get a pick, they can turn in a good game. If they end up with 1.5 tackles, they can be a dud. Sometimes you can find subpackage players who can produce enough to be useful. A safety who plays a money-backer role in sub-packages can be useful against teams that play a lot of 3-WR sets and will force the defense into the nickel. Safeties that cover the slot in sub-packages can also be very useful. Slot WRs are often possession receivers who will be targeted a lot. This provides a lot of tackle opportunities for the opposing IDP.
In startup drafts, it can be hard to gauge when the defensive talent will start coming off the board, so you have to be flexible. IDP scoring, as well as starting position requirements, make the value of IDP vary wildly from league to league. I never want to be the first guy drafting an IDP at any position, and I don’t need the top guy at any position. My preference is strength up and down my roster. Usually, the drafter who takes the first DE or LB off the board does so to the detriment to of his offensive starters and the advantage gained taking the LB1 overall vs. the LB8 overall is minimal. In my ideal startup, I draft all my offensive starters and some key offensive depth before I start drafting defensive players. My IDP startup shopping list would be (for a full starting IDP league):
1 Top Tier DE1
1 Lower End LB1
2-3 Sack-dependent DEs
Best DT available
I want a DE2 by committee where I can plug and play whoever has the best matchup against the worst offensive line. I don’t even want to draft CBs. If your league doesn’t require you to, don’t draft CBs. Pick them up off the waiver wire just before the season starts. Also, watch for IDP who were injured the previous year. They often fall in drafts as drafters will organize players based on their previous year’s stats.
In Rookie drafts, someone will invariably draft 1st Round LBs, and Top 10 drafted DEs in the 1st Round. Let them and enjoy the offensive players who drop. Even in leagues where defensive scoring is on par with offensive scoring, defensive players aren’t typically valued as highly as offensive players. The opportunity cost of drafting an IDP in the 1st and 2nd rounds of a Rookie draft is too high. You’re missing out on the chance of drafting the top rookie offensive players. Wait until the 3rd Round or later, when your league-mates are drafting magic beans, i.e., late round/UDFA RBs and WRs and mid- to late-round QBs, and grab all the defensive players you can. Also, 5th and 6th Round picks are usually undervalued in IDP formats, considering the caliber of IDP you can draft at that point. Whenever someone offers me a trade, if I’m thinking about taking it, without rejecting the trade, I usually offer a counter of the same trade plus a 5th or 6th round pick. At one point last year, I had seven 5th, and 6th Round picks stashed for 2019 in one league. I probably won’t be able to draft that many players so those picks will be used as deal sweeteners, or I’ll trade them away during the draft for 2020 4ths, and 5th round picks.
My strategy is usually the same in all my leagues. I find defensive talent wherever I can. Productive IDPs are much easier to find on the waiver wire than offensive players. Staying up-to-date on depth charts and injuries allows active owners to find value throughout the season. Whenever possible, I try and trade defensive players for offensive players or draft picks. Two things drive this. 1. Again, offensive players are usually more valuable than defensive players so any time I can trade up from a defensive player to an offensive player, it’s usually an increase in value for my team. 2. I don’t expect a lot of prolonged production from many of the IDPs I’ve picked up. Trading away a LB who’s having a career year due to opportunity is the same as trading away an aging WR who’s in decline. Find a contender who needs LB help and take advantage. Two years ago, for instance, before the season, I picked up a Top 10 DE (Alex Okafor), 2 Top 20 LBs (Ramon Humber and Jon Bostic) and the #1 overall Safety (Tyvon Branch), when they were healthy, off the waiver wire. I traded away 3 out of 4 of the players, all, luckily, before they got hurt and, in return, got a few offensive players as well as several draft picks.
ODDS AND ENDS
IDP scoring isn’t as standardized as offensive player scoring, both in fantasy leagues and in the NFL. Every stadium stat crew awards stats differently. Some give out one solo per play. Some give out one solo and one assist per play. If your league rewards assists highly, highlight players, who play in front of favorable stat crews.
Remember all the fuss when Tavon Austin switched to RB before ultimately being switched back to WR? Dexter McCluster made a similar move a few years back. There was a whole to-do. That happens literally every season for IDP. As defensive coordinators are hired for new teams, they generally take their scheme with them. When a 4-3 team shifts to a 3-4 defense, their DEs typically became LBs and one or two of their DTs usually become DEs. In most leagues, a 3-4 OLB has less value than a 4-3 DE, because he’s facing tackle-heavy LBs like Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner. Also, 3-4 OLBs drop back into coverage more often than 4-3 DEs. When a 3-4 team shifts to a 4-3 defense, the reverse happens, and value is generally created. Somewhere down the line, league hosting sites will make IDL and EDGE positions easier to use in your league, which will clear up a lot of this position flexibility.
Different leagues have different starting requirements for IDP. Some leagues only require 1-2 total IDP. These leagues are just sad… It’s like visiting Hawaii and staying in the hotel room to watch TV. You’re technically in Hawaii, but you’re not enjoying anything Hawaii has to offer. You can watch TV at home. A lot of older leagues require three DLs, three LBs, and three DBs. This is a bit of a half measure. Combining DTs and DEs makes DTs worthless except for the studs. Combining CBs with Safeties makes most CBs useless as well. The best leagues start a full defense, one DTs, two DEs, three LBs, two CBs, two safeties, and one Defensive Flex. As league hostings sites make IDL and EDGE positions easier, this will give more flexibility to leagues in starting requirements which will be a lot of fun.
The best strategy of all is, of course, to check back in with the IDP page on DFF every day for the outstanding content. We’ve got you covered on everything IDP.