You’re sitting there on draft day, cool as a cucumber as the names continue to fly off your cheatsheet.
Sure there have been some unexpected surprises but you’re making sound adjustments and you’ve been happy with your decisions. There’s a run at tight end but you stay calm because you’re comfortable with the idea of starting Tony Gonzalez
, Jacob Tamme
or Brandon Pettigrew
Then it happens: A run starts on IDPs.
Now you start to panic a little. You know you have to start one IDP and fill two more spots on your bench and players are flying off your board. If you wait too long you’ll miss out on filling a position that could net you 100-plus points but you’re also trying to draft for value and there are still offensive players to be had.
What’s an IDP owner to do?
First and foremost, make sure you have a firm grasp on your league’s scoring. If your league scores one point per tackle, two per forced fumble, two per fumble recovery, two per sack and three per interceptions, then let someone else draft Jason Paul-Pierre, Jared Allen or Trent Cole while you nab a top 10 linebacker that’s going to score you 100 points in tackles alone. Conversely, if your league scores 4-7 points per sack, then you’ll need to zero in on one of the top pass rushers because the talent pool this year is thinner than at linebacker. (Still, if you only start one IDP in your league, linebackers are king so you can wait to fill the position until near the end of your draft.)
If you’re in a deeper IDP league where you’re required to start several IDP players at different positions and you score high for sacks, you’ll want to grab a defensive end no later than the eighth round. But even then, if you miss out on JPP, Allen, Cole and Mario Williams, guys like Justin Tuck, Julius Peppers, Jason Babin, Cameron Wake and Elvis Dumervil will still be there later in your draft, so don’t feel like you’re forced into drafting a top guy. And there will be plenty of quality IDPs to be had later in your draft, so after you select your starters, wait until the final rounds to fill out your bench. There’s no need to pass on a sleeper wide receiver because you want to draft a second linebacker.
No matter the format, the key is to understand your scoring system and draft based on value. Don’t panic when a run on IDPs happens because there will be plenty of quality starters to nab later on. Who are the value picks, you ask? Below are a few IDPs at DL, LB and DB that you can feel good about selecting if you happen to miss out on a run at that position.
Babin strained his calf in late July, which has caused some owners to shy away from him on draft day. But he’s expected to be ready for Week 1 and is a defensive lineman that has averaged 15.5 sacks the past two seasons while playing all 32 games in the process. Babin won’t rack up a ton of tackles playing in Juan Castillo’s Wide-9 technique but he should continue to post double-digit sack numbers.
As a rookie in 2011, Sheard racked up 8.5 sacks, five forced fumbles and 40 solo tackles. He’s already becoming a leader in Cleveland and a building block on Dick Jauron’s defense. He projects to have 10 sacks and 45-50 tackles and if he continues to force fumbles he’ll be one of the more underrated IDPs on draft day.
Long isn’t viewed as a top 10 defensive lineman in IDP circles but his sack numbers have climbed every year he’s been in the league. He’s coming off a 13-sack performance and the development of Robert Quinn should allow Long to continue to produce double-digit sack seasons. He isn’t viewed as a very good run stopper but he’ll have to stop the run in Jeff Fisher’s defense. So if he can produce 50 tackles and another 12-14 sacks, he’ll be a steal in the later rounds after the top DLs are off the board.
It won’t be long before Jones isn’t viewed as an IDP sleeper. He registered five quarterback pressures in 14 dropbacks in his preseason debut and already appears to be a fixture at right end defensive end for the Patriots
. Bill Belichick isn’t shy about playing rookies immediately and most first-year pass rushers don’t have a ton of responsibilities. Thus, if Belichick sets up his defense to allow Jones to focus on rushing the quarterback, the rookie may produce double-digit sacks a la Aldon Smith last year with the 49ers
Washington ranks behind D’Qwell Jackson, Patrick Willis, Derrick Johnson, Colin McCarthy and James Laurinaitis, but by the end of the season his fantasy production won’t be far off from the “top” LBs. Due to the lockout and a change in scheme, Arizona’s defenders were often caught out of position and looked relatively lost early in 2011. But in the second half of the year, the unit came together under Ray Horton and should be improved as a whole in Year 2. Washington led the Cardinals
in tackles last season with 107 stops and has Pro Bowl-caliber talent. Considering Arizona’s offense could really struggle behind a poor offensive line and a shaky quarterback situation, Washington will be on the field plenty in 2012, which means more opportunities for tackles and turnovers.
Patrick Willis casts a pretty big shadow in San Francisco but Bowman actually outplayed his fellow linebacker last season. While Willis should be the first linebacker off the board this year, you can have Bowman much later in your draft and for nearly as many points when it’s all said and done. Bowman projects to have 100-plus tackles and while he won’t post the sack numbers that Willis does, he’s as steady as they come.
Curtis Lofton, Saints
Lofton has been a tackling machine since he entered the league out of Oklahoma in 2008. In four years he’s averaged 123 total tackles per season and 88 solo stops. He doesn’t excel in pass coverage, which is why the Falcons
ultimately decided not to pay top dollar to bring him back this offseason. But while he won’t post interception numbers, you can easily plug him into a starting role and watch him rack up the tackles. He’s also never missed a game due to injury, so he’s incredibly durable.
Here’s your sleeper at linebacker this year. The Falcons
hired Mike Nolan as their new defensive coordinator so that he could install a scheme that would slow down the top passing attacks in the NFC (including the Saints
, who reside in the same division). In doing so, Atlanta decided not to pay top dollar to bring back middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, because they didn’t view him as a three-down ‘backer. But the athletic Weatherspoon won’t come off the field in Nolan’s scheme, which means he has the potential to not only rack up tackles but also interceptions and pass breakups. It’s doubtful he produces a 100-tackle season but his production in other areas will make him worth a late pick in your draft, especially if you miss out on the top 10 LBs.
When it comes to drafting defensive backs, you’ll either want to nab one of the top 4 players, which include George Wilson (Bills), Eric Berry (Chiefs), Tyvon Branch (Raiders) and Kam Chancellor (Seahawks), or wait until the final rounds. If you don’t land one of the top guys then there’s no sense in reaching just to fill the position – not even in deeper IDP formats. As was the case with quarterbacks four or five years ago, their production at the end of the season won’t vary too much from one player to the next. Depending on the setup of your league, a guy like Pollard could be had in the final rounds and he’ll produce anywhere between 70-80 tackles, 1-3 sacks, and 1-3 interceptions, all while knocking down 10-12 passes. The same can be said for Eric Weddle of San Diego, Antoine Bethea of Indianapolis, and Patrick Chung of New England…
Mark Barron, Bucs
…that said, if you’re looking for a sleeper at the defensive back position, look no further than Tampa Bay’s first-round pick in 2012. Barron came out of Nick Saban’s defense at Alabama, meaning he’s NFL-ready and should start as a rookie for the Bucs. Given how soft Tampa is in its front seven, Barron could easily produce 80-90 tackles in his first year and chip in another 3-5 interceptions.
A cornerback who tackles and knocks down passes? Sign us up. McCourty won’t be the first cornerback off your board (Charles Woodson or Charles Tillman will have that honor), but he’s worth a look in the final rounds of your draft. In 2011 he totaled 103 tackles, including 83 solo stops and two interceptions. He also knocked down 13 passes and even registered one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He plays on a defense where cornerbacks are required to play the run and he’s a solid option in the later rounds if you have a DB spot to fill.