A Beginners Guide to IDP Fantasy Football
With the NFL season closing in, it’s time to up our preparation a notch. Redraft fantasy leagues drafts are underway and will only continue to ramp up once we reach the preseason, before kicking into overdrive when we hit the third pre-season game—the one week that kind of actually matters.
If you are new to IDP leagues this primer will highlight some pointers you’ll want to factor into your equations before building your final draft board, and even if you have drafted a cornerback or two in your time, it never hurts to cram in that little bit of extra prep. As the old adage goes, if you fail to prepare, you’re preparing to fail.
As always with IDP leagues, and any fantasy league to be honest, you need to be on top of your scoring system and how that impacts player values. If it feels like you’ve heard this before from me, or any other fantasy analyst for that matter, that’s good—it means you’re listening! If you take anything from this article I hope that it is that the single most important thing you can do before any fantasy season is to familiarize yourself with the league’s scoring system. It should be the first thing you do whenever you join any fantasy league as it impacts every player’s value and scoring potential.
IDP Player Types
Once you’ve got a firm grasp on how the league’s scoring works the next step in dominating your IDP leagues is getting a firm handle on player types at each position. At defensive end there are 3-4 guys, 4-3 guys, run stoppers and double-digit sack artists, not to mention rotational rushers and situational players. More times than not, your focus should be on 4-3 guys with double-digit sack potential, and who will play upwards of 65% of snaps. Generally speaking, 4-3 ends are more volatile scorers than their 3-4 counterparts because they have less reliance on tackle totals for their scoring. In big-play leagues, this works in their favor as when they do record multi-sack games they can be difference makers, while in tackle-heavy formats, the 3-4 ends who can break 50 total tackles in a season can push up well into the DL2 tier.
Don’t sleep on rotational guys though as high upside backups, especially in big-play scoring leagues. Mario Addison springs to mind as a player who seems to have made a career playing a limited snap count role for Carolina but has popped up with multi-sack days on several occasions and 29.5 sacks over the last three years. Rookies also can often find themselves in these situational roles, especially those not drafted in the first round, and can parlay those early-season snaps into more significant time by the end of the season (Patriots rookie DE Chase Winovich anyone?).
At linebacker, just like at defensive end, one of the key things to know is the base scheme the defense plays—4-3 or 3-4. This is key because a 3-4 outside linebacker is a pass rusher in the same vein as a 4-3 defensive end, with the primary responsibility to disrupt the opposing quarterback. In most fantasy league setups, pass-rushing 3-4 OLBs like Khalil Mack and Von Miller are hugely devalued compared to their linebacking peers. The exception is, unsurprisingly, big-play scoring leagues as their 15-odd sacks can propel them into the LB2 tier, but, their scoring can be inconsistent from week to week, something I’d advise you to avoid when drafting IDPs.
When it comes to ranking the fantasy value of the different linebacker positions, I would break them down as follows:
4-3 MLB > 3-4 ILB and 4-3 WLB >> 4-3 SLB >>> 3-4 OLB
Ideally, you’re targeting 4-3 middle linebackers, who marginally top 3-4 inside linebackers and 4-3 weakside ‘backers. These three positions are traditionally the team’s three-down linebackers, which is in itself a very important designation, and a key indicator of fantasy value. Linebackers asked to man the middle, inside and weakside tend to accumulate higher tackle totals as their on-field responsibilities tend towards stopping the run, and when they assume three-down or every-down roles on the defense they can break 100 total tackles.
In all but the deepest IDP leagues, I’d recommend scrubbing all 3-4 OLBs and 4-3 SLBs from your draft board and even go as far to only focus on three-down linebackers. This strategy gives your roster a high-floor scoring engine each week and allows you to be more aggressive in the draft or selecting your offensive starters that week.
Going one step further in the pursuit of the next breakout fantasy linebacker rather than simply selecting Luke Kuechly or Bobby Wagner, look for players that show dynamic playmaking ability and have flashed big-play potential in more than one way. Being a 120-tackle guy who can add in a few sacks is great, but players who have shown a tendency to force a fumble as well, or have shown ability in coverage, can score fantasy points from such a variety of ways it’s hard for an opposing team to scheme them out of a game. For example, last year saw Kiko Alonso chart three interceptions and three forced fumbles, enough to push him into the LB1 tier despite only recording 79 solo tackles.
At defensive back, it is the run stuffers who are the most highly-prized players, even in big-play scoring leagues. Being able to consistently produce high-tackle numbers year after year makes them dependable and desirable (the same goes for Tampa-2 coverage corners asked to support the run), whereas roaming free safeties are reliant on making turnovers and cover cornerbacks need to be targeted regularly.
Traditionally, defensive backs that blitz often can have elite fantasy values, with future Hall-of-Famer Charles Woodson famously being one of the most memorable examples of such a stereotype. Last season saw rookie Derwin James utilized aggressively in the box and on blitzes which earned him a DB1 valuation as well as All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors in his first season. He subsequently earned a unanimous No.1 rank from us here in 4for4's defensive back rankings for 2019.
However, that hasn’t been quite the case in recent seasons for safeties in general, with many teams using more nickel formations to counter the league-wide shift to a pass-first game. By employing more nickel defense in reaction to three-wide sets on offense, as well as pass-catching tight ends such as Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce, there has been an evolution in the prototypical types of player used in varying defensive back roles.
There are slot corners such as Chris Harris Jr. and Desmond King who will be tasked with manning up with the elite receivers asked to move inside—this type of corner, if blessed with ball-hawking skills, can be among of the best fantasy corners in football. They are also some of the hardest players to identify preemptively, so you might be better served using the far simpler ‘rookie corner rule’ in finding your fantasy defense’s corners. If a rookie corner is deployed as a starter, they often have significant fantasy value as opposing teams will look to target them as much as possible. The more opportunity you have to score points, in all likelihood, the more points that player will score.
The nickel corner/dime linebacker types are your Landon Collins and Kam Chancellors of the world and again, they are some of the most valuable fantasy defensive backs—more often than not, they are categorized as a safety. These players are happy taking on ball carriers near the line of scrimmage and are big enough to do so, but also have a skill set that allows them to cover those athletic tight ends that split the field. Because of their size/skill set blend, they are a rare breed, but worth their weight in fantasy gold.
Another factor in the value of defensive backs that is beginning to emerge is whether they see usage at linebacker in sub-packages, or even on occasions in base schemes. In recent seasons we have seen the Cardinals install Deone Buccanon as an inside linebacker for the majority of the season, and the Rams plugged in Mark Barron on the weakside after Alec Ogletree suffered a season-ending injury. The net result was that both players were top-10 options on all fantasy host sites that classified them as defensive backs, so keep a close eye on how teams are using their safeties during the preseason, and also how sites are designating them.
I’m intrigued to see how the Broncos will utilise Su’a Cravens this season, for example, a highly regarded rookie and big-hitting run stuffer back in 2016. Off-the-field issues plagued his time with the Redskins but he’s fallen so far off the radar he appeals as a late-round steal who can be easily dropped if he doesn’t achieve over the first few weeks of the season.
Once you’ve got a handle on player types and scoring systems, you can take another step towards winning your league by knowing about the variance in home stat crews as it pertains to awarding tackles. The NFL does not define a tackle as an official statistic, so home stats crews award tackles based on a somewhat ambiguous definition, and the result is that some players rack up assisted tackles at a much higher rate than others, while other stat crews are freer with their awarding of solo tackles.
Looking ahead to 2019 based in the last few years of data, the most IDP-friendly home stat crews will be: New York Giants, Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Chargers. Defensive players on those teams get a slight boost in value, as will all visiting players on their travels. Stat crews to be slightly wary of include: New York Jets, Minnesota Vikings and Miami Dolphins.
Don’t fret about owning multiple defensive players from one team either. The stack has become a strategy du jour in DFS games, and it’s not something that I’d get concerned with avoiding on fantasy draft day in IDP formats. For example, I won’t be worried if I ended up owning the Chargers trio of Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram and Derwin James, especially as their home stat crew is a favorable one. I’d also be happy enough in owning the Atlanta trio of Vic Beasley, Deion Jones and Keanu Neal.