IDP Draft Strategy: The Definitive Guide
IDP leagues are still considered a niche in fantasy football, however, more and more players are joining IDP leagues and are unsure on how to tackle the influx of new players to follow and draft. I’ve always looked at IDP a new way to follow and enjoy, not only fantasy, but football in general.
There are more stats to follow, however, it’s the scoring on the offensive side of the ball that is still the key driver of your fantasy football team. If you’ve decided to join an IDP league, buckle up; it’s a fun ride and one you’ll want to continue riding year after year.
With that said, here is my general draft strategy for playing in an IDP league. There are no steadfast rules or standards, but there are some trends that will help you figure out which defenders to draft.
Know Your Scoring
Knowing your scoring system is going to be key in your IDP league. There are no standard scoring systems like on offense; PPR, non-PPR, 1 point per 10 yards rush/receiving, etc. You’ll see me referencing big-play scoring formats, tackle-heavy or balanced formats when it comes to IDP scoring. Big-play scoring typically refers to formats that devalue tackles and place more of an emphasis on the splash plays, which are far less predictable.
Sample Big Play Scoring Format
Sacks: 6 points
Tackles for Loss: 2 points
Fumble Recoveries: 4 points
Forced Fumbles: 2 points
Interceptions: 4 points
Passes Defended: 2 points
Solo tackles: 1 point
Tackles are more frequent, so they aren’t valued as highly as the sacks or splash plays. This places a higher value on a sack specialist like Von Miller or Justin Houston, and places less emphasis on a tackle machine, like Bobby Wagner. There are elite players who thrive in most formats, like Luke Kuechly or JJ Watt, who should be high IDP selections, no matter the format.
Sample Tackle-Heavy Format
Solo tackles: 2 points
Assisted Tackles: 1 point
Sacks: 2 points per half sack
Fumble Recoveries: 2 points
Forced Fumbles: 2 points
Interceptions: 4 points
Passes Defended: 1 point
As you can see, tackles are emphasized with 2 points per solo tackle. So having a tackle machine, like Luke Kuechly, who has averaged nearly 93 solo tackles in his first four years, can help you rack up double-digit points each week just by racking up the tackles. This scoring deemphasizes pass rushers, as their scoring typically relies on sacks and they may only notch a few tackles a game. Pass rushers can also go multiple games without a sack, thus, increasing their chances at producing very little. Another scoring intricacy to consider is return yardage, as this puts a little more value into a corner or safety, since they can sometimes be primary special team returners. Knowing your scoring system will give you an advantage over your leaguemates.
A Good Defense Is a Good Offense
As an IDP enthusiast, I love the defensive side of the ball. I love when a linebacker chases down an RB and gets him for a loss. I appreciate the spin moves and bull rushes of a defensive linemen that allow him to get to the QB. However, I do know you need to build your offense before considering your first IDP. This goes back to knowing your scoring system, but typically, you’re going to want to grab your offensive players first.
If you have a 20-round draft, I like to have the foundation of my starting lineup and a few backups before considering my first IDP, so you may be into round nine before considering a defender. Since there’s no reliable IDP ADP, it can be tough to pinpoint where the IDP run can start.
As much as I love Watt and Kuechly, I can’t suggest drafting them within the first five rounds of your draft. I’d rather draft someone like Mark Ingram, Doug Martin, C.J. Anderson or Dion Lewis ahead of Watt or Kuechly. As you will also see, linebacker is a deep position, so Kuechly isn’t a must-draft player. I can make a case for Watt to be the #1 overall IDP, however, solely because the gap between him and the other DL is so wide.
So, build your offense first, add some backups, and then consider your first IDP.
Study Your Rules
You need to know how many defensive players you have to start each week, how many you can roster and if there are limitation to how many you can draft at each position. For example, you may be limited to drafting just five linebackers. What are your position designations? Do you have to draft DT and DE? Or is it a general DL position? Those rules and requirements matter.
If this is your first IDP league, I suggest using just one at each position, which means 36 IDPs at a minimum will be drafted. To get the most out of your league, I suggest starting 2-DL, 2-3 LB and 2-3 DB and then eight offensive starters.
Our overall Top-100 IDP Rankings will give you a good idea of who we value at their given position and should help in finding value across the different IDP positions.
Know The Defensive Scheme
Defensive schemes are an important component in IDP leagues. A defender can be a supreme talent, but may not score much because of his role in the defense. By the same token, a below-average defender can fill up the stat sheet because of opportunity and the system he plays in.
Most notably, is the player an every-down player? If a player is going to be on the field for 80 percent or more of the snaps, that gives him more opportunity to make plays and score fantasy points. Linebackers who are in their team’s sub packages are going to be more valuable than linebackers who are only strong against the run. If a player has scored just three or four points in a few weeks, but suddenly balloons to 10-15 points per week, chances are, the player has increased his snap counts and has earned a role outside of their base defense.
Is your player playing a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme? Nowadays, a lot of the defenses are playing more hybrid schemes and sub packages. The importance is limited, but when it comes to IDP positional value, it still has merit and it still comes down to scoring system.
If you’re deciding between a LB in a tackle-heavy format, a 4-3 MLB is going to score higher and provide more value than a 3-4 OLB because their tackle opportunities are going to be more frequent than the OLB. Likewise, if you’re in a big-play scoring format and you’re trying to decide between Von Miller and Anthony Hitchens, Miller’s value is going to be higher. In general, this is what I look for when deciding on players and their schemes:
4-3 MLB > 4-3 SAM
4-3 WLB > 4-3 SAM
3-4 ILB > 4-3 SAM
3-4 ILB > 3-4 OLB
4-3 DE > 3-4 DE
Safeties > Cornerbacks
Like I said, these aren’t steadfast rules, so refer to your league’s scoring.
Shift in IDP Philosophy
In the past, I was an advocate of the linebacker early-and-often approach. When you think you have enough linebackers, draft another and wait on your DL and DB positions. While I still believe in the linebacker position, I recommend looking at DL earlier and not waiting on that position. The NFL has shifted to more of a pass-oriented league, so the DL position has increased in IDP value.
The linebacker position is deep with guys who have 100-tackle potential and can be weekly LB1s. The defensive linemen who can amass double-digit sacks are rare, so the position is scare with elite options. I’d advocate drafting Watt, Aaron Donald, Carlos Dunlap, Zeke Ansah and Robert Quinn before drafting your first LB. By drafting a DL who can average nearly a sack per game, you can put yourself at an advantage ahead of your leaguemates.
I’d feel much more comfortable with a duo of Carlos Dunlap/Olivier Vernon than, say, a combo of Everson Griffen/Cliff Avril. You might be chasing points on the waiver wire with the second pairing. Once you have an elite DL, start targeting linebackers. I do like to have at least four or five on my roster.
In tackle-heavy formats, a DL who can produce pressure and get tackles becomes even more valuable. Here is a list of DLs who produced at least 50 tackles/9 sacks in 2015:
- JJ Watt – 76 tackles/17.5 sacks
- Khalil Mack (depending on league designation) – 77 tackles/15 sacks
- Fletcher Cox – 71 tackles/9.5 tackles
- Aaron Donald – 69 tackles/11 sacks
- Muhammad Wilkerson – 64 tackles/12 sacks
- Carlos Dunlap – 55 tackles/13.5 sacks
- Kawann Short – 55 tackles/11 sacks
Wait on the DB Position
The DB position is even deeper than LB, but it’s also far more volatile and unpredictable. Over the last three seasons, Reshad Jones, Jonathan Cyprien, Charles Woodson and Eric Weddle made multiple appearances in the top-10 DB scoring and only Woodson and Weddle made it in consecutive weeks. There’s typically an elite DB every year and then there’s the rest of the position. In 2015 the DB4, Malcolm Jenkins, was the last DB taken. The DB6, Mark Barron, wasn’t drafted. Corey Graham, who finished as the DB2, also wasn’t drafted.
Unless you’re in a league where cornerback is its own position, target safeties above all else, as they are the most consistent IDP scorers. Interceptions are sexy, but they are inconsistent and unpredictable. Darrelle Revis and Richard Sherman are outstanding football players, but are lousy for fantasy because they aren’t thrown at often.
Of the top 30 scoring DBs in 2015, only six were cornerbacks. In 2014, five were cornerbacks. Safety is the key position because they are getting the tackles on a weekly basis. In 2015, only one cornerback had at least 80 tackles (Bashaud Breeland).
If you are in a league where you are picking cornerbacks, the better the corner, the worse fantasy producer they tend to be. The top cornerbacks rarely see many balls thrown their way, thus limiting their opportunities for big plays or tackles.
In 2015, Trumaine Johnson was the target for opposing QBs nearly 20 percent of the time and it led to seven INTs, 17 defended passes, and 71 tackles, which made him CB2 in scoring. I typically like to target corners who are playing opposite an elite corner, as well as rookie corners, since the QB is going to throw their way more often.
Three rookie cornerbacks appeared in the top-25 in CB scoring in 2015, with Marcus Peters finishing as the CB1. Peters was targeted over 20 percent of the time, defending 26 passes, producing eight INTs, and notching 61 tackles.
Handcuffs Aren’t Necessary
If you draft an injury-prone LB like Sean Lee, it’s not really necessary to draft his backup and waste a pick. The IDP player pool is so deep that it’s just not a necessity like it would be to draft a RBs handcuff later on in your draft. Depending on the size of your league and how many IDPs you start, you’ll be able to acquire an IDP who has comparable value. Now, if an elite IDP gets injured, much like an elite offensive player, his production will be difficult to replace.
Take Advantage of Previous Season Injuries
If your league is new to IDP, chances are they could be using last year's total fantasy points as a metric to determine who to draft. This can put you at an advantage, especially if an elite defender missed a significant portion of the previous season. While your leaguemates are scrolling through the top scorers, they are missing out on possible defenders who when healthy produce elite fantasy numbers. There are two defenders I'm targeting this year; DeAndre Levy and Alec Ogletree. Levy missed the entire 2015 season after recording 204 total solo tackles in the previous two seasons. After appearing in all 32 games in his previous two seasons, Ogletree missed 12 games in 2015. Look at those IDPs who missed time to injury and evaluate their track record of production to identify overlooked targets.
Keep an eye on position designations within your league management software. Has a linebacker been moved to the defensive line? Has a linemen been moved to outside linebacker? Has a safety shifted to linebacker? You get the picture. Positional movement will have an impact on a defender’s IDP value. If a player with a DE designation gets moved to linebacker, specifically OLB, he’ll lose his IDP value, as he’ll enter a deep pool and his production won’t be as valued. And if an edge rushing OLB gets moved to the DL as an end, his IDP value will get a boost.
Targeting Defensive Linemen
Although there are exceptions, I like to target DLs who are playing in a 4-3 base as opposed to a 3-4 base defense. Linemen in a 3-4 are typically trying to take up space and fill gaps allowing the edge rushing OLBs to make plays and get to the QB. Nose tackles, unless you’re in a deeper league where defensive tackles are required, can be ignored.
When it comes to snaps, defensive linemen, like linebackers, need to be on the field as often as possible to make an impact. If a DL has a snap participation rate over 70 percent, he’s on the field enough to get the opportunities.
Sacks are nice, but make sure to target linemen who have averaged 3-4 tackles per game. At least 45 tackles in a season should be the floor you target.
The 4-3 MIKE and 3-4 inside linebackers are the leaders of the defense and wear the ‘green dot’, meaning they’re calling the plays and audibles and everything funnels through them.
The 4-3 weak-side linebackers are also fantasy producers since they are lining up on the weaker side of the offense and aren’t working with extra blockers. Some of the faster linebackers in the league man the WLB spot.
Don't be afraid of rookie linebackers, especially if they are in good spots to produce. In 2015, Stephone Anthony was inserted into the starting lineup and notched 111 total tackles. Kwon Alexander and Eric Kendricks were also productive rookies. In 2014, CJ Mosely finished as LB6 in tackle-heavy scoring, while Chris Borland and Preston Brown also finished among the Top-30 in LB scoring. Make sure to scout rookies who find themselves atop the depth chart. If you need a quick guide, here's a link to the rookie LBs I'm targeting.
Projecting DL can be a bit tricky, but you'll typically want to start your elite guys every week. If deciding on a DL/DE2, play the matchups and play a linemen facing a weaker offensive line or a rookie QB.
Linebackers are still your most consistent scorers in IDP. Target the LBs who are three-down defenders or are on the field for at least 85-90 percent of the defensive snaps. They are used all over the field, whether it’s against the run, or in coverage on a tight end or running back.
Wait, wait, wait on defensive back. If you miss out on the top DB option, it’s okay. There is always turnover in the ranks and you’ll be able to get a solid producer in the middle-to-tail end of your draft. If you’re in a cornerback-required league, stream the position and use the waiver wire as your friend.