Last Updated: Jun 09, 2010 2:09 PM
Fantasy Football University – Class X
The following is an introduction to IDP, which stands for Individual Defensive Players. It discusses all that is needed to break into and succeed in the widely growing format of IDP.
We shall start with the nuts and bolts of the basic defensive schemes that NFL teams employ. The most common is a 4-3 system, which uses two defensive ends, two defensive tackles, and one weak-side linebacker, middle linebacker and strong-side linebacker. The other system is called a 3-4. That goes with two defensive ends, one nose tackle, two outside linebackers and two inside linebackers.
Defensive ends in the 3-4 notably get less chances for sacks, and the pass rush relies on the speed of the outside linebackers. In other words, the defensive ends' main task is to take up space and free up the linebackers to make plays. Elvis Dumervil led the NFL with 17 sacks in 2009 after Denver moved from a 4-3 to a 3-4 under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. Defensive ends in a 3-4 are going to be limited and less productive, while linebackers in a 3-4 will have more opportunities to generate big plays, like sacks. It is worth mentioning that DeMarcus Ware (Cowboys), LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison (Steelers), and Calvin Pace (Jets) are all top pass rushers while working in 3-4 defenses. Brian Orakpo should thrive in that capacity with Washington in 2010, as new coordinator Jim Haslett is going with a 3-4.
Linebackers are the equivalent of stud running backs, and are actually the most consistent source of points in all of fantasy football –- and consistency wins championships. You should also know that defensive ends are like tight ends, as few are consistent enough to carry fantasy owners on a weekly basis. In other words, defensive ends are erratic, and even very good ones can go several weeks between sacks or a strong performance.
To break it down even further, middle linebackers are king of the gridiron jungle, as they are in the center of the action on defense. Weak-side linebackers are the next best spot for production –- especially those who work in a Tampa-2 scheme, like Thomas Davis of the Panthers. Strong-side linebackers should generally be avoided, with the exception of a few who dominate and are very productive in the spot like Chad Greenway (Vikings) and Brian Cushing (Texans).
With defensive backs, safeties are most productive and reliable, as they are in position frequently to register tackles and fantasy owners don't live or die banking on big plays like an interception. Strong safeties are more valuable than those working in the free spot, because they play closer to the line of scrimmage and aren't covering in “center field” most of the time. When it comes to cornerbacks, the mediocre ones are often more valuable than the studs like Darrelle Revis (Jets). How can this be you ask? Well, it is simple. The elite cornerbacks are not challenged much and opposing quarterbacks (the smart ones) try to avoid throwing to their side of the field -- hence limiting chances for tackles or big plays. On the other hand, those weak cornerbacks who shall remain nameless, are picked on often, which in turn leads to more opportunities for tackles and interceptions. Remember, this is FANTASY football, and things are a bit upside down when it comes to cornerbacks in IDP leagues. There are exceptions of course, like star cornerback Charles Woodson of the Packers, who was a top 10 performer in many scoring systems in 2009 with nine interceptions. The main lesson here is to rely on tackles, as they will be the most consistent source of points, and you don't have to count on big plays as much.
After understanding the breakdown of positions in IDP, you should next become aware of position eligibility. Andre Carter was a defensive end with Washington in 2009, but will be used as a rush outside linebacker in 2010 under new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett's 3-4 system. So don't draft him as a defensive lineman unless your league will allow him to keep his eligibility at that position. Elvis Dumervil moved from defensive end to outside linebacker when Denver moved from a 4-3 to a 3-4 in 2009. I bet more than a few IDP owners got burned by that one if their league no longer allowed him to be eligible at defensive end. In 2010, Jacksonville is moving to a 4-3 defense, and all should take note that Aaron Kampman will be moving back to his natural position at defensive end after serving as a rush linebacker in Green Bay's 3-4 scheme in 2009. To make things easier, Buffalo will be dropping their 4-3 for a 3-4 defense in 2010. Seattle may also be going with a 3-4 scheme under coordinator Gus Bradley, but that is still yet to be decided.
Know Thy Scoring System
This should look familiar as it is the second of our Commandments, and is just as important to remember for IDP leagues. So pay close attention to the scoring system in your league. Some leagues put a premium on big plays like sacks and interceptions, hence raising the value of players such as imposing pass rusher DeMarcus Ware and ball-hawk Charles Woodson (both of whom were discussed earlier). Also, be aware if your league awards points for return yardage and touchdowns on special teams, as some defensive backs serve double duty in that area.
If there is not a premium on big plays (like four or more points for a sack or interception), then a cornerback who makes three interceptions could score less than a safety who registered 10 tackles. The same is true for a linebacker who breaks loose for three sacks, opposed to one who reaches double digits in tackles. You can play in five IDP leagues, with each having a different scoring system, in turn making many players more valuable than others.
Don't Draft By Last Year's Stats
NEVER draft according to last year's stats. A defensive back (for instance) may see a boost in value for the new season after making five or more interceptions and scoring multiple defensive touchdowns in the previous campaign. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that player will be able to repeat or exceed those numbers in the following year. Antonio Cromartie of the Chargers broke out with 10 interceptions in 2007, but dipped to just one interception the following season. He was likely a hot fantasy pick for 2008, and in turn was drafted far too high going by his 2007 production.
We are not saying to avoid players who had a tremendous year of making big plays –- we are just saying to be aware that it isn't a safe bet to assume that player can repeat that production in his next tour of duty. Even future Hall of Fame free safety Darren Sharper's output of big plays has been erratic from year to year. In other words, don't expect him to come close to the nine interceptions he hauled in last year, and let others going by his far numbers draft him a few rounds higher.
Sacks tend to be more consistent after a player reaches his peak, but the most powerful crystal ball in the world cannot predict stats like fumble recoveries, defensive touchdowns or interceptions, as those come down to being in the right place at the right time, and rely a lot on chance.
When To Draft IDPs
Another common question is “when should you draft IDPs?” As a rule of thumb, it is ideal to fill out your top spots on offense before adding defensive players to your roster. In other words, never pass up a star running back or wide receiver to draft a stud linebacker like Patrick Willis. I tend to scoop up two starting running backs, two receivers, one tight end and a good backup at running back and receiver before targeting IDPs. So that usually brings me to round 8 before drafting my first IDP, which is always the best available linebacker.
If there are still enough starter-caliber quarterbacks left on the board, then I will add another linebacker in round 9. After acquiring my first quarterback, then I determine my remaining picks by best available player remaining, following the Fantasy Football Champs' Tiering system closely. At the end of the draft, all should have a strong and well-balanced roster ready to vie for the league title. There are far more quality and consistent linebackers available than running backs and receivers, so it is not a good move to pass on a guy like Ryan Grant (RB) in the early rounds to draft a linebacker.
Bad Offensive Teams Can Be Your Friend
For IDP purposes, bad offensive teams can be your friend. When offenses struggle, their defense is on the field more –- which leads to more opportunities for tackles. That is a key reason why linebacker D'Qwell Jackson of the Browns is an IDP monster (when healthy). He racked up 59 tackles over six games last season before going down with a torn pectoral muscle, and he led the NFL with 154 tackles in 2008.
The Rams will be among the teams that struggle to move the chains offensively in 2010, making middle linebacker James Laurinaitis a safe bet to rank as an IDP stud. Kirk Morrison's production benefited from Oakland's offensive woes for a few years too.
If just beginning an IDP league, the easiest format to use for starting requirements is: 2 defensive linemen, 3 linebackers and two defensive backs. To keep things even simpler, don't force owners to start 1 middle linebacker, or 1 on the weak or strong side. The same goes for the other positions, meaning safeties (free or strong) and cornerbacks fall into one universal category of ‘defensive backs.' When you are ready to get more “hardcore,” you can separate starting requirements. I play in one league that starts 2 defensive ends, 2 defensive tackles, 2 cornerbacks, 1 free safety, 1 strong safety, and then 1 each of the three spots at linebacker in a 4-3 system. You can even have a very basic league of just 1 defensive lineman, 1 linebacker and 1 defensive back to dive into the tide of IDP.
If you only come away with one thing from this course, remember that tackles are gold and stud linebackers are the top commodity in IDP play. Also, write on the top of your cheatsheets that CONSISTENCY WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS.