Originally Posted: June 7, 2016
After dipping your toe in the water and playing in a few offense-only fantasy leagues, you’ve decided to cannonball your way into the deep end and take a shot at your first Individual Defensive Player (IDP) league. Two things:
- Congratulations, you are playing fantasy football the way it was meant to be played.
- Don’t worry, it isn’t as daunting as it may seem.
(Queue inner infomercial pitchman) In fact, you need only take a few preparatory steps to crush your IDP draft this season. It’s as easy as ABC.
A. Understand your league’s scoring and starting lineups
How much weight does your league place on IDP scoring? How many IDP players can you start? Is it tackle-heavy or does it favor big plays? These are the kinds of questions you need to ask yourself prior to drafting.
In regards to the first question, understanding how important IDPs are in relation to offensive players will help determine where you should start drafting them. If the top linebackers, defensive linemen and defensive backs score close to the same as the top quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs, then you should be looking to start drafting a few of them in Rounds 3 or 4. If not, feel free to wait on them a bit while you stockpile talent on offense. Similarly, knowing how many IDPs you are required to start will help in this regard as well.
Focusing solely on defense, you also need to understand what types of stats are prioritized in your league. Most leagues like to use tackle-heavy formats, but there are a few that place a greater emphasis on big plays such as sacks, interceptions and forced fumbles.
As an example, let’s compare two of last year’s most productive IDPs: Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith and Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt.
- Telvin Smith: 128 tackles, 2.5 sacks, one interception, two forced fumbles
- J.J. Watt: 76 tackles, 17.5 sacks, three forced fumbles
Let’s also assume the following scoring formats:
- Tackle-Heavy: Tackles = 1.5pts, Sacks/INT/FF = 3 pts
- Big Play: Tackles = 1.5pts, Sacks/INT/FF = 6 pts
In the tackle-heavy format, Smith (208 pts) out-scored Watt (175.5 pts) and therefore represents the more valuable asset. In big play formats, however, Watt (237 pts) gets the better of Smith (225 pts).
Understanding the scoring will help you better identify which players to target over others.
B. Know which teams play in what alignments
This plays into Step A, as it will help you determine which players have the best scoring opportunities in your league.
In general, teams either play in one of two defensive alignments; 3-4 or 4-3. Understanding which teams play in what alignment will then allow you to better identify a player’s position and role on defense. This is most often used to help discern which linebackers and defensive linemen to draft.
While it varies from team to team, you can use the following as a generic guideline to follow:
- DL: Used primarily to stop the run and aren’t often a good source for sacks.
- OLB: Sack specialists who typically focus on getting after the quarterback.
- ILB: Run-stuffers who can also be asked to drop back into coverage on passing plays.
- DL: Sack specialists who typically focus on getting after the quarterback.
- WLB: Hit-and-run linebackers who are frequently asked to drop into coverage.
- MLB: Defensive signal-callers who play the run and are occasionally asked to cover.
- SLB: Cover tight ends occasionally get after the quarterback.
Combining Steps A and B, it makes sense to target 3-4 ILBs and 4-3 WLBs/MLBs in tackle-heavy formats, as they typically get the most opportunity to post tackles. Similarly, you will want to target 3-4 OLBs and 4-3 DLs in leagues that heavily favor sacks.
C. Study depth charts
Using the first two steps in this article, you should be able to draft obvious studs at each position to help anchor your defense. But unless you are playing with total rookies (aka people who haven’t read this article), you aren’t going to be able to draft a stud for each starting spot in your lineup.
That’s where studying depth charts come into play.
Each year, many relatively unknown defensive players come out of nowhere to post difference-making fantasy stats. Knowing team depth charts inside and out prior to drafting will give you a much greater chance of snatching these sleepers up before any of your fellow league mates.
Had you heard about Oakland Raiders WLB Malcolm Smith prior to last year? Probably not, given that he posted just 37 tackles in 2014 as a member of the Seattle Seahawks. But those few who recognized that Smith had a real shot at significant playing time as a newly-signed member of the Raiders in 2015 were rewarded with a breakout season where he posted 123 tackles, four sacks, an interception and three forced fumbles.
Who will be this year’s Malcolm Smith? The only way to know for sure is to keep a close eye on depth charts as we get closer to the start of the 2016 season.
Source: Fantasy Pros
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