HANDY DANDY GUIDE TO IDP DOMINANCE
In the 21st-century NFL, offense is king. Teams are spreading the field and throwing the ball more than ever before. At the rate the rules are changing to favor offenses, within three years it will be a 15-yard penalty to look sternly at a receiver or say something mean to a quarterback.
Unless you’re playing in the NFC Championship game – in which case mugging a wideout is perfectly fine.
However, defense isn’t exactly dead. The New England Patriots won Super Bowl LIII not because Tom Brady’s so dreamy, but because the New England defense put the clamps on Jared Goff, Todd Gurley and the high-powered Rams’ offense.
If you’re reading this article, then odds are you’re at least considering giving the defensive side if the ball its due in your fantasy league as well – by replacing the late-round irrelevance of team defenses with individual defensive players.
In related news, you rock.
One of the most common reasons fantasy owners resist adding IDPs is a belief that it will overly complicate the league. But nothing could be farther from the truth. It’s not rocket surgery – players on defense aren’t that different from their offensive counterparts. Rather than running backs and wide receivers, fantasy owners draft defensive linemen, linebackers and defensive backs. Rather than getting points for rushing yards and touchdowns, IDPs rack up fantasy points for things like tackles, sacks and interceptions.
It’s really just that simple.
As a matter of fact, in the span of just a couple of pages in this magazine I can not only break down some general IDP draft strategies but even throw in some undervalued and overvalued players to target and avoid.
Throw in the IDP rankings included here, and you have a handy-dandy one-stop shop that will help you put together a competitive defensive squad.
If I can be a so-called “expert” at it, you know it can’t be all that hard.
BASIC IDP DRAFT STRATEGY
Without question, the most important aspect of IDP draft strategy is also the most obvious – KNOW YOUR SCORING. I can’t count the number of times I’ve watched IDP veteran sink their squad before it ever leaves the dock because they didn’t bother to check the league’s scoring before the draft.
Is the scoring tackle-heavy (a tackle-to-big play ratio of less than 3:1)? If it is, then the value of tackle vacuum linebackers like Bobby Wagner of the Seattle Seahawks increases that much more. Is it big play-heavy (a ratio of more than 4:1)? If that’s the case, then edge-rushers and ball-hawking DBs get a boost. Or is the scoring balanced, which falls in-between?
There’s also the matter of how IDPs score relative to their offensive counterparts. If the top defensive players score on a level that’s comparable with a WR3 (the case in more than a few leagues), then you have some inkling of when those high-end IDPs should start coming off draft boards. If they tally fantasy points at a similar level to an RB2, then the top IDPs should be valued as such.
Of course, this assumes that you’re starting at least a couple defensive players at each position. If you’re starting just one at each spot (or just one overall), then there’s no point selecting IDPs until near the end of the draft – there will be plenty of startable options available then.
When it comes to Defensive Linemen, the keyword(s) are ones that should ring loudly in the ears of fantasy drafters – positional scarcity. The talent pool up front’s a bit better in 2019, but there are still only about 20 defensive linemen I have any real confidence in as weekly starters. If your IDP league has 12 or more teams and starts two or more linemen – well, you do the math.
It’s important to target at least one highly-ranked (top-10) defensive lineman, and as often as not I’ll take my chances with finding value a bit later on at linebacker if it means the edge I can gain on the D-line by grabbing a pair of starters ranked inside my top-15.
This isn’t to say that Linebackers aren’t important – they are the lifeblood of most IDP leagues. Their propensity for racking up big tackle numbers makes them not only the highest-scoring players in most leagues but also the most consistent. Simply put, without a solid LB corps, you’re going to be sunk. In the overwhelming majority of IDP drafts, at least three of my first five picks will be linebackers. Locking down two inside the top-20 is important. Unless you attack the defensive line early, getting two inside the top-15 is even better.
In an era when most NFL teams are in passing subpackages more than any other formation defensively, targeting linebackers who stay on the field in the nickel (“three-down linebackers”) is critical. But unless your league awards highly for sacks, rush OLB like Denver’s Von Miller are better left alone. Their production tends to fluctuate a great deal from week to week.
In IDP leagues, Defensive Backs are two things – plentiful and unpredictable. You can rest assured that each year there will be highly-drafted defensive backs who fall flat, like Miami’s Reshad Jones did in 2018. You can also rest assured that there will also be defensive backs who come from nowhere to have a big year, like Cincinnati’s Shawn Williams a year ago.
Given those realities and the depth of options available at the position, I’ve long been a proponent of patience where drafting defensive backs is concerned. I almost always have all of my starters squared away on the defensive line and at linebacker before I draft anyone in the secondary. Fairly often I’ll have locked down a reserve or two.
Target upside options late on draft day – specifically young safeties who appear slated for a more prominent role in the upcoming season. If they pan out, you’ll have obtained an IDP starter on the cheap. If they don’t, there will be Plan B options available on the waiver wire even weeks into the regular season.
IDP VALUES AND REACHES
VALUE: Michael Bennett – DE, New England Patriots
Bennett’s not the player he used to be at 33 years of age. But in a rotational role with the Philadelphia Eagles last year, Bennett piled up nine sacks and finished inside the top-30 defensive linemen in fantasy points. Bennett was traded to the Patriots in the offseason, and with Trey Flowers bolting for Detroit in free agency Bennett should see an uptick in snaps in 2019. He could easily be a cheap source of DL2 production.
Reach: Nick Bosa – DE, San Francisco 49ers
To be fair, Bosa’s an excellent young defensive line prospect – while he’s not as athletic as his older brother, a pretty compelling argument can be made that he’s a more technically sound pass-rusher entering the NFL than Joey was. However, the elder Bosa’s 10.5 sacks as a rookie is much more exception than rule. First-year edge-rushers often take some time to adjust to the professional game.
VALUE: Everson Griffen – DE, Minnesota Vikings
Griffen’s 2018 season was admittedly a disaster – he missed five games while battling mental health issues and recorded his fewest sacks (5.5) since all the way back in 2013. However, as recently as two years ago Griffen piled up 13 sacks and finished as a top-10 fantasy lineman. Griffen took a pay cut to remain with the Vikings and is reportedly a man on a mission in 2019. If he accomplishes that mission, there’s value to be had.
Reach: Dee Ford – DE, San Francisco 49ers
This isn’t meant as piling on the 49ers, who have a staggering five former first-round picks along the defensive line after trading for Ford and drafting Nick Bosa. But there are a lot of new parts in San Francisco this year, including Ford – who will moving to DE after playing standing up with the Chiefs. He’s going to be hard-pressed to match last year’s 13 sacks and live up to his draft slot.
VALUE: Zach Brown – ILB, Philadelphia Eagles
Brown’s another veteran player coming off a disappointing 2018 season. Last year in Washington, Brown saw his snap count scaled back and failed to hit the 100-tackle mark for the first time since 2015. Now on his fourth team in five seasons, Brown was brought in to replace Jordan Hicks at middle linebacker. That will all but certainly mean a three-down role, and the last time Brown played that much he racked up 127 tackles and finished inside the top-15 in fantasy points.
Reach: Myles Jack – OLB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Jack’s a trendy pick in many IDP circles to have a breakout year after Telvin Smith announced his intention to sit out the 2019 season. And it’s understandable that many folks see the upside to be had there. The problem is that the hype is driving up Jack’s ADP, and the fourth-year pro’s production has never matched his potential. Unless your IDP league awards extra points for candle-making, Jack’s overvalued this year.
VALUE: Kiko Alonso – OLB, Miami Dolphins
Alonso’s the linebacker that many IDP owners love to hate. And in some respects, it’s with good reason – while he’s been a productive player throughout his career Alonso’s not close to being a difference-maker on the field. But the thing is, in IDP leagues you get the same number of fantasy points for a tackle made six yards downfield as one made near the line of scrimmage. And there are going to be plenty of tackle opps on a bad Miami team this year.
Reach: Jordan Hicks – ILB, Arizona Cardinals
I want to like Hicks as a three-down starter at inside linebacker for the Cardinals in 2019 – especially with the team moving back to the 3-4 after one disastrous season under Steve Wilks. But in addition to Hicks learning a new scheme there’s the matter of durability – or lack thereof. Hicks has missed at least four games in three of four NFL seasons.
VALUE: Antoine Bethea – S, New York Giants
Bethea’s one of the elder statesmen of IDP, but he just keeps plowing along – last year Bethea racked up over 120 tackles and set a career-high with 101 solos in Arizona. Now Bethea’s with the New York Giants as the replacement for Landon Collins at strong safety. Just like Collins, Bethea will play behind a shaky LB corps. And just like Collins, Bethea could be in for a big year in his 14th season in the NFL.
Reach: Minkah Fitzpatrick – DB, Miami Dolphins
Fitzpatrick had his moments as a rookie, piling up 80 tackles and earning an expanded role defensively as the season wore on. But there’s one massive question mark looming over Fitzpatrick, who spent time at both cornerback and safety last year. He’s being drafted in 2019 like he’s going to primarily play the latter – but as things stand right now there’s no guarantee that will be the case.
VALUE: Justin Reid – S, Houston Texans
Reid’s the poster child for the kind of upside play that smart IDP owners target late in drafts. He’s flying a bit under the radar in a lot of leagues – outside the top 25 defensive backs selected. But from Week 8 on last year, Reid was fantasy football’s second-highest scoring defensive back. His situation hasn’t changed much in the offseason outside one thing – the safety playing next to him in 2019 won’t be Tyrann Mathieu.
Reach: Malcolm Jenkins – S, Philadelphia Eagles
To be fair, Jenkins is a very good veteran free safety who tallied 97 total tackles last year on his way to his third trip to the Pro Bowl and a top-15 fantasy finish. However, last year was the first time since the 2015 season that Jenkins accrued even 80 tackles, and he’s never logged more than three interceptions in a season. He’s being drafted based on last year’s production – and over-drafted at that.
Gary Davenport is a Senior Staff Writer at Fantasy Sharks and the 2017 FSWA Fantasy Football Writer of the Year. His IDP work is also featured regularly at Rotoworld and The Athletic.