Let’s start very basic. In IDP, you roster Individual Defensive Players instead of a Team Defense. If you play traditional fantasy football, your feelings about Team Defense likely fall between disdain and mild fondness. Nobody loves Team Defense, but you could love your IDPs. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who owns JJ Watt or Luke Kuechly. In this article from 2014, Bill Cervi compares non-IDP leagues to wearing only 1 shoe or hitting a home-run and stopping at 2nd. You love fantasy football, so why play half the game? The real question is why aren’t you playing IDP?
Part 1 – Setting up your league
IDP leagues vary significantly, likely because mainstream host sites don’t offer many “standard” IDP leagues. In this article, I’ll outline some of the main decisions you’ll face in setting up your IDP league, specifically rosters and scoring. I’ll emphasize how important it is to commit to IDP. Commissioners are often tempted to introduce IDPs slowly with just a couple starting spots or minimal scoring. However, if you underpower your IDPs, you risk making them a nuisance (similar to kickers). It’s possible a few league-mates will be resistant to the change. Ultimately, very few owners will leave over the decision to go to IDP, but they might if they hate the experience. Giving them powerful and exciting new weapons on the defensive side of the ball ensures they will love it.
At their simplest, IDP rosters are broken into defensive line (DL), linebacker (LB), and defensive back (DB). Most owners play defensive ends (DE) at DL, though some leagues require defensive tackles (DT). Similarly, most owners prefer safeties (S) at DB, but cornerbacks (CB) can be required. Most IDP leagues also offer 1 or 2 IDP flex spots (DL/LB/DB), which are most often filled with linebackers.
COMMIT TO IDP TIP: I think it’s reasonable to match your # of IDP starters to your # of offensive starters. Your total roster should be at least double your # of starters. So in the example below (7 Off, 7 IDP, 1 PK), I’d create a total roster of >30 players. For various reasons, your owners will stash many more offensive players than IDPs.
Minimalist: 2 DL, 2 LB, 2 DB, 1 IDP flex
Depending on roster depth, this minimalist lineup will leave a pretty robust waiver wire in 12 team leagues. Starting fewer IDPs than outlined above will leave borderline studs on your waivers. You’ll quickly find your league-mates feel no pressure to scout or stash IDPs and may opt to just “stream” IDPs based on weekly match-ups.
Extremist: 1-2 DT, 2 DE, 3 LB, 2 S, 1-2 CB, 2 IDP flex
The extremist roster is the most intensive experience, specifically requiring attention to DTs and CBs. The rare productive DTs and CBs become quite valuable, but casual owners will be quickly overwhelmed by scouting all 5 positions. In particular, scouring the waiver wire becomes laborious.
COMMIT TO IDP TIP: Nothing will kill an IDP league faster than wimpy scoring, where IDPs to quickly become “white noise.” Owners will get more excited if their IDPs occasionally win their match-ups. Consider a robust scoring system.
Tackle/Sack balance – This is the cornerstone of IDP scoring. Owners naturally gravitate towards tackle-heavy players, as they provide more consistency than their sack-heavy counterparts. Many leagues use a tackle:sack ratio of 1:2. I consider this relatively tackle-friendly. In this format, tackle-heavy players are not only consistent, but will also dominate the scoreboard. The value of such a system is that volume tacklers are studs and everyone wants them. A tackle:sack ratio of 1:2.5 makes things more balanced, allowing elite pass rushers to become viable IDP commodities. They remain inconsistent, but provide more potential “boom” to go along with their “bust”. While minimalist IDP leagues often use 1 pt/tackle, I think it’s a bit modest. I’d suggest a minimum of 1.5 pt/tackle.
Assists – There’s no reason players shouldn’t get 1/2 points for assisted tackles and sacks. Note that IDP stats are based on home stat crews, some of which are more assist-friendly than others.
Tackles for a loss/negative yardage – I’m cautious with this one, as it quickly throws off your tackle/sack balance. I can’t say I miss this when it’s not a part of my league scoring, but I’m ok with modestly rewarding these plays. Keep in mind this negatively affects your tackle-heavy safeties and sideline-to-sideline LBs.
Passes defensed – This is the equivalent of a DB tackle and should be rewarded accordingly. DB is probably the least exciting IDP position. Make sure you award passes defensed to help these guys justify their roster spots.
Interceptions/Fumbles – These are the IDP equivalent of a TD. I personally feel INTs should be rewarded as handsomely as an offensive TD. I give the same points for a fumble, but split it between the forced fumble (3 pts) and the fumble recovery (3 pts). Based on rarity, you could argue turnovers should be valued more than TDs, but remember that pick 6’s aren’t uncommon. An 80 yard INT/TD is already worth as much as 20 points!
Safeties/blocked kicks – These are pretty rare events, but I’ve seen them rewarded from 0 to 10 points each. I like to reward them conservatively.
Return yards – You need to decide if punt/kick returners get points for yards and TDs. I like to reward any statistic that positively impacts the NFL game, so I like this feature. I will acknowledge that it does give some IDPs an almost unfair advantage (It made Adam Jones the overall DB1 in many formats in 2014). I generally compromise by giving less than the 1 pt/10 yards that an offensive player would received.
- Tackles 1.5, assisted tackles 0.75
- Sacks 4 (3 for a more tackle-heavy system), assisted sacks 2
- Passes defensed 1
- Interception 6, forced fumble 3, recovered fumble 3
- Touchdowns 6
- (Interception/kick/punt return yards – 1 pt/25 yards)
Here’s how this scoring system shook out in 2014***.
“High performance” scoring – There are so many variants of extremist IDP scoring, that I can’t list them all here. Here’s one very high performance option, where IDPs will often outscore your offensive players.
- Tackle 2, assisted tackles 1
- Sacks 5, assisted sacks 2.5
- Tackles for loss 1 pt (in addition to tackle or sack points)
- Passes defensed 2
- Interception 8, forced fumble 4, recovered fumble 4
- Touchdowns 6
- safety 2, blocked FG 3, blocked punt 2, blocked extra point 1
- Interception/kick/punt return yards – 1 pt/10 yards
Here’s how this scoring system looked in 2014***. It might seem extreme to see such high scores for IDPs, but notice how little difference there is from LB2-LB4. Many IDPs offer very high floors and a lot of the scoring will get canceled out.
Final scoring comments – Many sites will allow you to play around with different schemes, seeing how they would have affected 2014 results. I highly recommend doing so before finalizing your scoring system.
Finally, some leagues award different points for different positions (example: DL get more pts/tackle than LBs). The goal here is to reach a balance, where each position is equally valuable. I think this is a bit silly, as I personally appreciate that some positions are more valuable than others.
Part 2 – General Strategy and Roster Construction
Now that your league is set up, it’s time to discuss how to win.
I like “safe” IDPs (Assuming I play in a balanced or tackle-heavy format). I’ve previously written that I use my IDPs to build a high floor. I don’t want my IDPs to lose the game. Instead, I want them to keep me in striking distance, so my home-run hitters on offense can win the day. Keeping my risk on one side of the ball means I don’t need the stars to align in order to have success. I prefer my safer plays on defense because many IDPs provide a decent baseline of weekly fantasy points. This high floor is mostly built on high tackle volumes. Therefore, many of the strategies outlined below revolve around finding high tackle guys. As I go along, I’ll try to point out the opposing strategies for you crazy owners who love big plays!
Offensive analogy #1 – On offense, some guys put up points more consistently than others. Typically, receptions and yardage are more consistent than touchdowns from week to week. In IDP, tackles are the consistent stat, while sacks, interceptions, and fumbles are all less reliable. Depending on your scoring format, Ryan Kerrigan might have finished the year with as many points as Bobby Wagner. However, they couldn’t have gotten there more differently. Even the sack-heaviest guys will fail to register a sack 4+ times per year and they typically don’t have much of a tackle cushion to soften the fall.
Wait, how do I know if I play in a balanced scoring format? Divide your points per sack by your points per tackle. If that number is <2, your scoring is tackle-heavy and you NEED to seek the tackle-monsters, while disregarding all sack-heavy IDPs. If that number is >3, then your scoring is relatively sack-heavy and you might consider the more sack-dependent guys.
IDPs are deep. Figure 1 outlines what I like to call “positional decay”. Borrowing an analogy from radiation science, a position reaches it’s “half life” when the current player only scores 50% of the leading player at that position. For example, the WR #35 will score approximately half of the overall WR #1. RBs, TEs, and DLs reach their half lives very quickly at RB #25, TE#15, and DL #21. Alternatively, you need to go all the way to LB #49 and DB #91 to reach their respective half-lives!
What does this mean? Having an elite RB, TE, or DL will give you a more significant statistical advantage over your leaguemates. It’s obviously more complicated than that, as you need to weigh your starting requirements and longevity/stability of the player, among a multitude of other factors. Also, the trend in most leagues is to stash more RBs and WRs than any other position. Therefore, they are drafted early and often, causing these positions decay significantly faster than their IDP counterparts in your standard draft.
Streaming is an option. Because of the depth at most IDP positions, streaming is a viable option, particularly in shallow leagues or leagues with relatively low-impact IDP scoring. In such situations, you’ll often start to notice negligible difference between the low end of your roster and the players available on waivers. Even in deep leagues, startable safeties are frequently available. If that’s the case, keep a minimal roster of reliable IDPs and swap the rest out for some volatile WRs and RBs who could see a more drastic increase in value.
Offensive analogy #2 – Defensive linemen are the tight ends of the IDP. Just as there is Gronkowski and everyone else, there is JJ Watt and everyone else. People often rave about the advantage Gronk gives at an otherwise frustrating position. In 2014, he scored 14% more than the TE #2. People use this to suggest drafting Gronk in the 1st round. Not to belittle Gronkowski, but JJ Watt scored 96% more fantasy points than the DL #2 in 2014. There’s a strong case for taking him with the 1.01 pick in start-ups. The fact that he can be had in the second round of many drafts is an unbelievable bargain. After the elite talents, the decay at DL is very slow and unpredictable. Just like TE, you’re best waiting if you fail to secure an “elite” talent.
What makes a stud DL? The benchmark for a stud DL is 40+ combined tackles and double digit sacks. Using these criteria, there were only 5 studs in 2014 and 10 in 2013. Of these players, Watt was the only player to appear on both lists. It was actually Watt’s third straight year to accomplish the feat. Greg Hardy also reached these heights in back to back years of 2012 and 2013. But I’m not here to discuss specific players. The point is that even though elite DL are the biggest statistical advantage in IDP fantasy football (and maybe FF in general), they are hard to acquire and even harder to predict.
3-4 vs. 4-3 Defensive Ends. Traditionally, 4-3 defensive ends have been favored in IDP. Historically, they have posted greater sack counts, with a much greater likelihood of reaching double digit sacks. From 2011-2014, 49 4-3 DEs reached double digit sacks, compared to only 7 3-4 DEs. Over that same time period, the top 20 4-3 DEs averaged 10.8 sacks compared to only 5.9 sacks for top 20 3-4 DEs. Therefore, the preference for 4-3 DEs seems legitimate.
However, 3-4 DEs have seen an uptick in IDP value. 3-4 schemes are becoming more prevalent in the NFL and will outnumber 4-3 teams in 2015. As such, more stud 3-4 DEs are emerging. As JJ Watt attests, playing in a 3-4 system does not completely dampen IDP production. Names like Watt, Cox, Campbell, and Casey are often off the board early in IDP drafts. Despite posting fewer sacks, a stud 3-4 DE will often outperform many or most 4-3 counterparts. Therefore, a 4-3 or bust philosophy is not recommended. In particular, the “tackle leader” among DE has most frequently been a 3-4 player. Check out my previous article for more discussion on 3-4 and 4-3 DEs.
My league requires a DT, help! Yeah, this one is tough. If I’m really being true to my high floor philosophy, I would suggest that Nose Tackles who stand alone at the front of the defense and plug multiple running lanes stand to post high tackle volumes. However, most NTs won’t be able to generate significant pressure (although Suh and Poe have shown such a capacity).
If i’m being more honest, even I have a hard time going super conservative at DT. It’s just such a low-yield position that even a sack every-other week gives you an advantage over most opponents. There are only a handful of talents that come close to generating double digit sacks from an interior DL position, most recently including Gerald McCoy, Aaron Donald, Sen’Derrick Marks, and Geno Atkins. It’s nice to see these talents returning to stable schemes in 2015. A change in scheme should be a major red flag for DTs. For example, Marcel Dareus and Kyle Williams were previously fairly productive DTs in Buffalo’s 4-3, but will struggle to find similar success in Rex Ryan’s 3-4, where Dareus will be a NT and Williams will be a DE.
Offensive analogy #3 – If DL are equivalent to tight ends, LB are equivalent to watered down wide receivers. They’ll be your highest scoring IDPs and provide significant depth. I say they are “watered down” because the points aren’t quite as high as PPR wideouts and the depth is even greater at LB. Also, LBs have higher injury risk and slightly worse longevity than your typical WR. For all of these reasons, I want some solid LBs anchoring my IDP roster, but I’m not breaking the bank like I would for a stud WR.
All LBs are NOT created equal. Here on DFW, and in IDP fantasy football in general, you’ll hear a lot of talk about 4-3 and 3-4 defenses. This has to do the with defensive front 7, with the first number indicated the number of defensive linemen playing with their hand on the ground. The second number refers to the number of linebackers, who line up standing. Calling a team strictly a 4-3 or 3-4 is usually an oversimplification. There are many variants of each scheme and many teams will fluctuate over the course of the game. However, most teams will gravitate towards one scheme or the other. With fewer “defensive linemen” in a 3-4, the outside linebackers (OLBs) are often primarily pass rushers. This means their stats will more closely resemble those of a 4-3 defensive end (high sacks, but potentially very few tackles). On average, these players will be outscored by 3-4 inside linebackers and 4-3 LBs from all positions (WLB, MLB, SLB), assuming the players are seeing a similar # of snaps.
What makes a stud LB? The simple answer is 120 combined tackles. Some players will exceed 120 in solo tackles alone and that’s even better. In 2014, 4 players manged 120+ solos, while 3 more got there by counting assists. Only two players hit the mark in both 2014 and 2013, and both of those players did so in 2012 as well. Of course, we are talking about Luke Kuechly and Lavonte David. However, repeat performances aren’t uncommon for top linebackers. Freak performances like 120+ solos are typically the result of either defensive scheme or a lack of talent elsewhere on defense. In the case of teams like Tampa, Carolina, Jacksonville, (and San Francisco), 120 tackles is almost the expectation. The schemes funnel the tackles to these key defenders. In other cases, struggling defensive lines or weak linebacker corps will leave one player to pick up the slack. This situation will be even more important when we talk about the defensive back position. A more realistic expectation for your starting caliber LB is 100+ combined tackles. Players in the 100+ and 120+ club will almost universally be 3-4 ILBs, 4-3 MLBs, or 4-3 WLBs. Additionally, they will be every-down players.
Maybe you want some huge weeks from your LBs. Owners in sack-heavy scoring formats (or those who just like to live dangerously) may roster 3-4 OLBs. You can’t argue that they’re not exciting to watch on Sunday. Luke Kuechly will never post 23 sacks like Justin Houston did in 2014. However, these pass rush specialists will frequently post <50 combined tackles, making the floor very very low. For example, Elvis Dumervil was 2nd in sacks in 2014, but posted 5 goose eggs for fantasy owners.
What about 4-3 SLBs? 4-3 SLBs are a mixed bag. Some teams seek a coverage specialist, who can even allow the 4-3 middle linebacker off the field in passing situations. Other teams employ the SLB as a pass rush specialist, like 2014 Von Miller. Before employing one of these players you want to double check his snap counts and how his coach/scheme is most likely to use him.
Offensive analogy #4 – Defensive backs are unfortunately the kickers of IDP. Defensive backs will occasionally put up some big weeks. However, for the most part you’re getting a trickle of 2-6 tackles/week with very little difference between a top 10 player and a guy outside the top 30. It’s an extremely streamable position and there’s very little point in wasting roster spots on depth. Just like kicker, it should not be prioritized in your draft.
What makes a stud DB? 100 combined tackles is a stellar season for a defensive back. 8 defensive backs managed this last year, 7 of which manned the strong safety (SS) position. The tackles at SS are largely a result of their assistance in run-support. Strong safeties are often asked to step up “in the box” to assist in that regard. Players like Deone Buccanon, and previously LaRon Landry, offer flexibility in dime packages, where they can take on a role as either defensive back or linebacker. Just like linebacker, the most important thing will be ensuring your safety is an every down player. On the opposite side of the field, free safeties (FS) typically post significantly fewer tackles. A FS “center fielder” can be productive for IDP, but they are often less consistent, relying more on ball hawking skills than run defense.
Never roster a CB unless they’re required. There is no offensive corollary here. Cornerbacks are perhaps the most miserable position in fantasy football. They don’t post as many tackles as their safety counterparts and are almost totally dependent on streaky big plays. It’s a shame, as the position is pretty exciting at an NFL level. One of the most common complaints from new IDP owners is that great NFL defenders are often terrible IDPs. We get a glimpse of this with our 3-4 edge rushers, but it’s much more blatant at cornerback. If you are a stud cornerback, chances are the opposing QB will simply not throw the ball your way. This means dismal IDP production. In fact, the poor CB forced to play opposite Richard Sherman or Joe Haden is probably the guy you want, as he’ll get targeted all day, leading to numerous tackle opportunities. Similarly, rookie CBs are often picked on, which can lead to stats regardless of how poorly they perform.
Tampa-2 CBs are rare and valuable. Tampa-2 defensive schemes are becoming pretty infrequent in the NFL. Appropriately, Lovie Smith has brought the system back to Tampa Bay. Dallas also runs a version of the scheme currently. It’s a variant of a 4-3 defense, where the cornerbacks contribute significantly in run defense. These CBs are often stouter defenders who post above average tackles and consistency for the position. You could argue this hurts Tampa-2 strong safeties, who spend more time in coverage. Realistically, the lost tackle opportunities are pretty minimal.
Certain defensive backs offer a hidden bonus in return yardage leagues. In 2014, Adam Jones, CB, CIN won one of my favorite IDP leagues. The idea seems ludicrous, but it’s true. Most weeks, these players will post a small handful of yards. These won’t make or break your week, but they’re a nice bonus. However, a couple times a year they’ll blow up with a couple big returns and might even take one to the house. Those weeks, they could win your game. It’s a nice bonus for an otherwise low yield position.
Here at DFW, many of us write with some sense of a “standard format”, but the legitimacy of this concept is largely untested. I’ve written about my general recommendations on league set-up previously. Help us understand what you need by telling us about your league in the polls below. Apologies for those of you in multiple IDP leagues. Pick your favorite or find another IP address!
How many points per tackle does your league award?
- 1 (47%, 45 Votes)
- 1.5 (30%, 29 Votes)
- 2 (14%, 13 Votes)
- 3 or more (9%, 9 Votes)
Total Voters: 96
How many points per sack does your league require?
- 4 (37%, 34 Votes)
- 2 (23%, 21 Votes)
- 3 (15%, 14 Votes)
- 6 (14%, 13 Votes)
- 5 (11%, 10 Votes)
Total Voters: 92
How many DL does your league require?
- 2 (56%, 53 Votes)
- 3 (31%, 29 Votes)
- 1 (7%, 7 Votes)
- 4 or more (6%, 6 Votes)
Total Voters: 95
Does your league require defensive tackles specifically?
- no (59%, 53 Votes)
- yes (41%, 37 Votes)
Total Voters: 90
How many LB does your league require to start?
- 2 (47%, 44 Votes)
- 3 (40%, 37 Votes)
- 4 or more (11%, 10 Votes)
- 1 (2%, 2 Votes)
Total Voters: 93
How many DBs does your league require to start?
- 2 (55%, 50 Votes)
- 4 or more (24%, 22 Votes)
- 3 (14%, 13 Votes)
- 1 (7%, 6 Votes)
Total Voters: 91
Does your league require cornerbacks, specifically?
- no (62%, 57 Votes)
- yes (38%, 35 Votes)
Total Voters: 92
How many IDP flex spots does your league offer?
- 1 (62%, 46 Votes)
- 2 (20%, 15 Votes)
- 3 (11%, 8 Votes)
- 4 or more (7%, 5 Votes)
Total Voters: 74
Is your IDP league a PPR league?
- yes (76%, 70 Votes)
- no (24%, 22 Votes)
Total Voters: 92
Is your IDP league a dynasty league?
- Yes, of course! (98%, 89 Votes)
- No, what am I doing with my life? (2%, 2 Votes)
Total Voters: 91
Does your league reward return yardage for offensive and defensive players?
- yes (65%, 59 Votes)
- no (35%, 32 Votes)
Total Voters: 91
Is your IDP league a salary cap league?
- no (62%, 56 Votes)
- yes (38%, 35 Votes)
Total Voters: 91
What host site do you use?
- MFL (67%, 66 Votes)
- Flea flicker (9%, 9 Votes)
- ESPN (7%, 7 Votes)
- NFL.com (7%, 7 Votes)
- Other (6%, 6 Votes)
- CBS (2%, 2 Votes)
- Yahoo (1%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 98
Did we forget something? Are we mising the mark for your league? Let us know in the comments.
*** Offensive scoring for tables – 1 PPR, 4 pts/pass TD, 1 pt/20 pass yds, 6 pt/rush or receiving TD, 1 pt/10 receiving or rush yards, -2 pt/fumble or interception.
Think you’ve got a great IDP mind? Contact [email protected] opportunities to become a DFW contributor.