Critics of using Individual Defensive Players (IDPs) say it's too much work and not a good tradeoff. Perhaps. However, using IDPs can get you more of the things you enjoy most about playing Fantasy Football. Things like more strategy, more trading and of course more stats.
Although IDPs can add to the fun, in most leagues, offense and scoring are still the main keys to winning in Fantasy Football. So, don't sacrifice offense for a few extra defensive players, unless your scoring rules strongly suggest so. All that said, having a roster packed with some exceptional IDP value could give you a nice edge.
The strategy for drafting a good team of IDP's is a little different than it is for offensive players. So, how do you figure out which IDP's to draft?
While there is no surefire system for predicting the top producing IDP's each season, there are a few trends and decent leading indicators. First, we'll dive into some IDP DO's and DON'Ts.
DO expect to encounter a scoring inconsistencies while browsing the stats.
DO study your rules for the finer IDP points.
In any case, most leagues that use IDP's generally require you to start at least one DL, LB and DB. But, if you are free to start IDP's regardless of position - look to the LINEBACKER. The reason? Plain and simple, LB's often tally more points than DLs or DBs.
The Overall Top IDP Rankings you find at 4for4.com considers a player's value given his position. This ranking method is designed to find the most valuable players across all IDP positions. That's why you see DBs, LBs and DLs on the list.
But the fact is, LB's are often the highest scoring players, far and away!
If you can start IDP's independent of position, find the best tackling LB's on the board and draft them at every turn - simply put, see the 4for4.com LB Cheat Sheet and draft from that!
And BTW, in 2008 the NFL Tackling Leaders read like this...
Also worth honorable mention....
If you play in a league that only use a small number (1-3) of defensive starters each week, then you may not want to draft them until very late. On the other hand, if the mix is closer to 50-50 (split between offensive and defensive players), don't wait too long or else the talent level will really drop off and you'll have a clear disadvantage on defense.
DO understand your scoring system.
A typical IDP scoring system looks something like this: 6 points for any TD (this includes offense, defense or special teams), 3 points for any turnover (fumble recovery or interception), 2 points for each tackle, 1 point for each assisted tackle, 3 points for each sack and 5 points for each safety.
DO make sure you have a good linebacker.
The top IDP producers are always around the ball and will consistently provide you with excellent tackle numbers. Occasionally, they will add a sack or interception or maybe even a TD. However, tackles are their bread and butter. If you expect to have a strong unit of defensive players, try to grab 2 or 3 very productive linebackers.
DO remember the kick returners.
DO take a few chances on defensive rookies.
Some Historical Examples:
In 2008, rookie Jerod Mayo came up big with 128 tackles.
DON'T draft from the highlight reel, but rather from the stat sheet.
Do you remember back in 2002, the Baltimore-Denver Monday Night Game? DB Chris McAlister of Baltimore scored an NFL record, 107-yard TD on a field goal return. Thinking they uncovered a gem, plenty of people claimed McAllister the following week. But, that 107-yard play was almost his entire fantasy contribution that week. Aside from the TD, his only made 2 tackles that night. On the other hand, DB Gary Baxter had 11 tackles. In almost every scoring method used, Baxter's game was much more valuable than McAllister's, yet most focused on McAlister, not Baxter. Think stats, not highlight reel material.
The take is clear -- study the stats. A little homework could go a long way.
DON'T overvalue forecasted turnovers and TD's.
A typical example is old NFL veteran LB Donnie Edwards. He had 5 picks in 2002, after having none (zero) in 2001. In 1998 Edwards had zero, only to follow that up with five in 1999.
For what its worth, Stephen Cooper lead all NFL LBs with 4 INTs in 2008.
The message is clear, predicting LB INTs is risky. Don't let anyone kid you.
DBs have an increased opportunity to make interceptions. However, even that is somewhat misleading. As an example, Tampa Bay's Ronde Barber had 10 INTs in 2001 and had a cumulative total of 8 in his prior four NFL seasons. In 2002 and 2003, Ronde pulled in two INTs each year. In 2005 Barber had his 2nd best INT year - with 5 picks (half of what he had in 2001). In 2007 only two, but in 2008 he came back with 4 INTs.
As for IDP touchdowns, they are rare. So don't put much weight in them from year-to-year. Example: One year, All-Pro linebacker Derrick Brooks had 3-TDs. But, over his 15-year NFL career, he's "only" averaged 0.026 TDs per game. Further, in 2008, only 4 LBs even scored a defensive TD.
DON'T plan for defensive injuries.
DON'T be a leader or a follower; choose your team for value.
Generally speaking, fill your key starting offensive positions (QB, RB, WR) and maybe take a backup or two before worrying about IDP's.
Also, try and avoid following the pack. If someone else starts a run on defensive players, turn your attention elsewhere and find that sleeper running back, while other owners are busily checking their lists to be sure they don't miss out on the IDP run.
In general, when drafting offensive players, you want to be the manager that starts the run at a position, not the one that's ending it. However, as an IDP guidepost, remember this -- don't be the first to pick an IDP in your draft, nor the last.
So when is the best time to select an LB? The real answer to that question is, when it is best for your team. If you find yourself 8 or 10 rounds into the draft and still don't have a WR, it probably wouldn't be your best value to choose a DB, even if he is the best one on your board. On the other hand, if you have chosen your team with good balanced picks, (i.e. 1 QB, 3 RB, 2 WR) then a top-tier linebacker could be a good value pick for you in the 7th or 8th round.
Next, we take a deeper look at each position. There are a few things that make each defensive position unique.
Here are a few things to look when selecting your defensive line players.
1. Sacks are golden, but you still need tackles. When choosing defensive linemen, the ideal player is a good run stopper and is also just as good at rushing the QB. The best players are able to contribute points in many scoring categories. Most DL's are not going to give you tremendous tackle totals, anything more than 40, or approximately 2.5 per game, would be considered excellent. When people think of defensive linemen, they usually think sacks first. As a result, the guys that get to the QB more often will get drafted first. But don't worry, by knowing the run stoppers, the guys that get tackles along the front line, you can still find value after the sack leaders are long gone.
2. Beware of 3-4 defenses. The main responsibility for a lineman in 3-4 sets is to create a mess and take up space, thus freeing up the faster, more athletic linebackers to make the plays. They generally go unnoticed and have less opportunity to make sack or tackle. More often than not, the down linemen in 3-4 schemes are not as productive as those in 4-3 sets. Choose players from these teams carefully.
3. Versatility is a key. It makes sense to say that the players who are on the field more often, get more playmaking opportunities. Therefore, players that move around in certain situations may be a bit more valuable than those that get rotated in and out and don't play on every down.
4. Look for players on good teams that have easy schedules. This is more of a theory than a statistical certainty. However, if it is combined with strong, secondary coverage, it makes for a good indicator of success. Think about it, this combination often results in the good team running up big leads, generally forcing opponents into obvious passing situations. With good coverage in the secondary, the QB will take more time to throw the ball, allowing the rushers to get there and make more sacks.
When in doubt about an IDP decision, always go for those that make more tackles.
TOP-25 TACKLERS in 2008
Other things to consider:
1. Team's Heart and Soul - 49ers Head Coach and Chicago Bears Hall of Famer Mike Singletary has often been called the prototypical middle linebacker. His aggressive, fiery style of play has become the standard that others strive to achieve, and spawned the term "Mike" linebacker to refer to the man in the middle. In many cases, this is the leader of the defense, the guy that opposing offensive schemes are often designed around. In general, starting middle linebackers are well positioned to be effective fantasy players. Being in the middle of most every play obviously helps them ring up stats. Therefore, any player starting as a Middle LB is worth watching.
2. Outside speed never hurts. Not everybody can be a middle linebacker. Sometimes the faster, speed guys are more effective on the outside. Pay attention to the terms "strong side" and "weak side" linebacker. Players that line up on the same side as the offensive tight end are considered "strong side". Those that line up opposite the tight end are "weak side." Oftentimes, the tight end is the extra blocker on running plays and ties up his coverage - the strong-side linebackers, leaving others to make the tackles. This could have a negative impact on the strongsiders fantasy value. On the other hand, the weak side backer is left more unencumbered to make the plays and thus has a little more value. Those that possess great speed and play on blitzing defenses could have tremendous upside. As for the strong side players, speed also helps tremendously. It allows them to shed blockers more quickly and get to the corner on the pass rush or perhaps drop into coverage when needed.
3. Find players with a good fit. Sometimes, a player is signed as a free agent or acquired via trade or even promoted from a lesser role, to a new role that is a perfect fit for his talents... like lining up linebackers as defensive ends and vice versa, to disguise a 3-4 and 4-3 fronts.
4. Look for players on bad teams. Teams who are on the losing side of the scoreboard, generally produce players with more tackles. The reason for this is because of their opponents' tendency to control the game by running the ball. If the interior defensive line is also weak against the run, the likelihood for increased middle linebacker production is even greater.
1. The tacklers insure consistency. A common myth is that the best fantasy defensive backs are those that get the most interceptions. While that is certainly a key statistic, once again it is the tackle that tops the list as the simplest way to determine a players' fantasy value. Defensive backs are in the position to make more interceptions, however to be able to predict that and determine fantasy success is a tough call (again we want to be 100% transparent here).
While several of the top scoring fantasy DB's do have interceptions and that factors into their season stats, those that consistently contribute tackles are more successful.
In 2008, the best tackling DBs included..
2. Play it safe, pick a safety. The job of the cornerback is well defined - keep close to the wide receiver and don't give up the reception or big play. Meanwhile, it is the safeties that are free to roam around and make adjustments based on the prevailing down and distance. Sometimes they will provide double coverage, sometimes they will crowd the line looking for the run and sometimes they just end up being in the right place at the right time. Furthermore, on teams with weaker front line and linebacker corps, the safeties are more often forced to make the play. What does all this mean? In most cases the safety will be in a better position to make more plays by acting like a second middle linebacker than a cornerback will. The NFL veterans that have been around for a while have a better knack of knowing where to be.
3. The scoop on the cornerbacks. In general, the following is true regarding cornerbacks and their fantasy effectiveness - the better they are by NFL standards, the worse their fantasy production is.
To prove the point, check out this historical breakdown --- several years ago, the AFC/NFC Pro Bowl cornerbacks were Champ Bailey (58), Troy Vincent (73), Bobby Taylor (67), Ty Law (35), Aaron Glenn (39) and Patrick Surtain (80). Collectively, their highest fantasy ranking, based on point totals, which are shown in parentheses, was #35 by Law. The reason for the apparent "lack of production" from these players is simple -- they represented the league's best cover cornerbacks. They were so good at their jobs back then, that teams avoid throwing the ball in their direction, which leaves them fewer opportunities for tackles and interceptions.
By contrast, rookie and inexperienced corners can sometimes produce excellent fantasy numbers simply because those same cover skills are targeted.
4. Use the schedule to your advantage. Look for matchup advantages that you can parlay into success. For instance, when good teams with high-powered offenses play bad teams, the result is often predictable. The bad team will be playing catch up and will likely throw the ball more often. This could lead to higher tackle and big-play opportunities for the DB's. Another thing to look for is matchups against top WR's. Regardless of the player covering him, the league's top WR's often get their share of balls thrown their way. This could temporarily inflate a corners' numbers. Also, there are several offenses that will simply throw the ball more often than others, no matter who they are playing.
5. He could go all the way! Defensive TDs are somewhat more predictable for defensive backs than linebackers or linemen. Watch as the season progresses for those teams who seem to make the big-plays. It seems like each year, there is at least one defensive team that scores a bunch of TDs once they get on a roll.
Situational Play Calling in the NFL
The following 4for4.com exclusive table is based on over 1,000 NFL games.
|NFL Team Tendencies - Rushing the Ball by Situation
Example: above shows that if a team is winning by 7+ points in the 2nd half, that team will run 61% of the time.
A few ways to leverage the above chart…
2) LBs are king when it comes to IDP and tackles are the stat that drives the LBs value. During the season, try to get a top-tier LB matched up against a top-tier running team. The result is often big-time stats for your stud LB.
3) When trailing, poor running teams are often forced to pass 75% or more of the time in the second half. For the astute IDP player, that's great news. In these situations you want to seek out the opposing DBs. Because the poor team is passing so often, your DBs will be making plenty of tackles.
Some Final Observations…
Forecasting DLs each week can be tricky. However, there will be obvious matchups where your defensive lineman will be facing either a weak offensive line or a slow/young/indecisive quarterback who tends to get sacked a lot. In these cases, you need to take that into consideration.
Linebackers are the most consistent IDP options. Generally, it doesn't matter if they are playing a running team or a passing team, as both plays often end up being covered by a LB anyway. What you look for here is how good your player's opposing offense is. If it's a top-flight opposing offense, it's an easy pick. Top offensive teams will most likely be on the field the majority of the time and the opposition will get a major workout. It's also important to consider how BAD your IDP player's teammates are. After all, if his teammate can't make the tackle, that gives your man more opportunity and more time on the field.
If your league doesn't differentiate between outside linebackers and middle linebackers, you'll want to start as many MLB's as possible. Given that, your starting LB's shouldn't change much if you've collected some of the finer run stopping MLB's from around the league.
With defensive backs everything is REALLY backwards. For instance the best fantasy CB is often considered a below average NFL cornerman. The better the talent, the more established the player, the less they'll score. Opposing teams often game plan to avoid throwing at these good NFL cover guys. Another huge factor in CB production depends on a player's opposite CB. But, two good CBs (on the same NFL team) have a chance at actually scoring because teams have no choice but to pass against them. What rises from this is the true value at CB: young and inexperienced guys getting their big chance. In other words, the rookie and 1st year starting corners will generally be IDP bargains, if they get the playing time. Also, the guys playing across from the best corners are always consistent tacklers because opposing teams are constantly throwing their way. If your league doesn't differentiate between corners and safeties, search out the best run stuffing safeties you can find.
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