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15:54 08/31/2017

Fantasy Football IDP strategy cheat sheet

Fantasy Football IDP strategy cheat sheet

If you watch football and play in a fantasy football league, you have certainly watched a defensive player stymie your offensive player with a great play on occasion. Do you wish you could've taken advantage of that defensive gem? Then you should get involved with a league that employs individual defensive players (IDP) as part of your roster.

Once a rarity in the fantasy football world, IDP leagues are now incorporated in more and more fantasy formats. However, these leagues aren't just "pick J.J. Watt and you win" -- there's a lot more depth to it than that. So, let's take a little time to explore some of the strategy that goes into IDP leagues. You can find even more draft-day stats, information, and tips at Fantasy Alarm!

DOMINATE YOUR DRAFT: SN's Ultimate 2017 fantasy football cheat sheet

Fantasy Football IDP Draft Strategy

For the newcomers, there are two aspects to understand before joining an IDP league: Roster construction and scoring systems. Just like understanding your league's settings in any league, understanding roster construction and scoring systems in an IDP is just as important and essential to your success.

Roster systems in IDP leagues vary widely, from the extremely basic type that requires just a few IDP positions (like three IDP without designation or one LB, one DL and one DB) to those that require a full defensive complement consisting of 11 positions in every week's lineup.

Beginners to the IDP world should consider dipping in their toe with a smaller IDP roster, and as you grow comfortable with evaluating IDP talent, move up to a more complicated system. Or you can just jump in like a cannonball -- your option.

First, you need to figure out what is necessary for your IDP portion of the roster prior to the draft. Then, do not pick a defensive player until you have filled the important offensive positions. By that, you should pick one QB (two in superflex or 2-QB league), your starting RBs, WRs and TEs. It should go without saying that you can wait on kicker and defense (although if you are in an IDP league, there may be no team defense if your commissioner is worth his or her salt). Once the offense is set, then start pursuing IDP.

Now, I suggest that you consider your scoring system before making a pick. IDP leagues have many variations, but they can be broken down to two basic systems: Tackle-heavy or big-play leagues (and many variations on the two basic systems). In a tackle-oriented system, linebackers are the key, along with certain defensive linesmen and safeties. In big-play leagues, interceptions, fumble recoveries, passes defended, and sacks receive a huge uptick in points, so you need to study the projections and prior seasons' stats to determine who will produce big stat numbers for your IDPs.

There are plenty of sites that give you this information prior to your draft, and it would benefit you to find a site that agrees with your evaluation. Then, use their cheat sheets while drafting (not exactly going out on a limb there).

MORE: Fantasy Alarm 2017 Draft Kit

Tips and Advice for IDP Fantasy Football Leagues

After understanding roster construction and your specific scoring system, you'll already be a couple steps ahead of everyone else in your IDP league. However, there's a ton more information to learn, specifically on the draft.

Below, I've wrapped up a short playbook on how to go navigate the draft waters of an IDP league.

Be Aware of Defensive Schemes

When figuring out which defensive player to draft, you need to understand the defensive scheme their team implements. For example, outside linebackers on 3-4 schemes are expected to rush the passer more than on a 4-3 defensive team. In a 4-3 scheme, the two-down linemen (the guys with their hands on the ground at the snap) on the corners are the guys who will pressure the QB.

Essentially, you want to target OLBs in a big-play league, so look for the 3-4 defenses to find those players. This is not always a given, as certain OLBs do not rush the QB, and certain DEs are always after the passer on each and every play. Again, look at the past seasons' results and make certain that the defensive scheme has not changed.

When drafting IDP, always be sure to look for upside. Did a player recently move from defensive line to linebacker (could be good or bad, depending on the move)? A DL moving to a rush LB position could pick up sacks, while a LB moving to DL may be only valuable now in a tackle-oriented league. Also, is the team starting a rookie on one side of the defensive backfield? That wouldn't be a bad thing in IDP since the rookie will be constantly targeted and rack up tackles and other stats due to the increased attack.

If you have a scoring system you understand, you will be ahead of many of your opponents in an IDP league. Find a site that provides you with their projections that you trust (like Fantasy Alarm), then look at the last couple of seasons of stats for those who have been consistent players and figure out a way to rank them. There are a number of places to find this information, and it is useful to compare the results to get a consensus of the various experts for ranking purposes.

Drafting IDP players

In a three-IDP roster setup, the suggested strategy is to target a top-notch defensive lineman first, then a linebacker, and finish with your defensive back. You will always be able to find LBs and DBs on the waiver wire, but DLs are the gold for your first IDP pick. Keep in mind, they will not provide the same point value as LBs and DBs, although a DL's overall production will help you trend toward a winning season. Also, never select a DB as your first IDP off the board. Always go with a top-five DL or a top-10 LB.

If you draft turns sour due to late preseason injuries/suspensions/etc., realize that the waiver wire is your friend. There are plenty of IDP players on the waiver wire you can pick up during the season, and understand that there are plenty of IDP experts out there to contact about your options.

MORE: Fantasy Alarm's FREE Draft Book

Who are the best fantasy football defensive players?

Big-Play Leagues

In a big-play league, interceptions, pass defended and sacks are favored, so you want to find the rushing safeties in your league. These guys will not only post big numbers because of their ability to pressure the QB and rack up tackles on the RBs and WRs, but they are generally viewed as the most talented defensive players on the field.

Players to target are Rasheed Jones (MIA), Landon Collins (NYG) and Keanu Neal (ATL). At linebacker, it would not hurt to target Von Miller (DEN), Vic Beasley (ATL) or the Arizona pair of Markus Golden and Chandler Jones. As a general rule, defensive linemen are devalued in big-play leagues.

Rookie/unskilled corners

One of the attributes of rookie defensive backs is that they are targeted by opposing offensive coordinators and quarterbacks until they can demonstrate an ability to provide adequate coverage skills. Instead of shying away from the weaker half of the deep coverage unit, fantasy owners should instead embrace these players.

With more targets, they'll get more chances and will likely rack up the tackles and other stats (interception, pass defended, forced fumbles and/or fumbles recovered) that are important in big-play leagues and not as important in tackle-oriented leagues. A “shut-down” corner may be a great commodity in the NFL, but it is not anywhere near as valuable for fantasy purposes. Always look to take the player that will generate the plays, even if he gets burned occasionally.

Plan on passes defended, not interceptions

In a similar vein, do not be enamored by defensive players who had a bunch of interceptions the previous season. Certainly, some players have a nose for the ball, and they will have more than their fair share of interceptions each season. The key to fantasy production rests with pass defense skills.

A player who collects a ton of PDs during the season will inevitably pick off a certain percentage of passes just by being able to provide great coverage of receivers. The player who has a large number of PDs will prove his value over the course of the season, and he will likely provide those INTs that are valued just based on his ability to be around the ball.

Grab Outside LBs that rush in a 3-4 system

Defensive ends are generally viewed as the main source of sacks, at least when the team employs a 4-3 defense. However, in a 3-4 defensive scheme, the team is relying on its outside linebackers to get to the QB, and the three-down linemen are more tailored to be a run-stopping set of defenders.

Do not automatically expect an OLB to provide sacks. Some are not as effective at penetrating the offensive line and may be more suited to dropping back into coverage. Sean Lee (DAL) and Tahir Whitehead (DET) are good examples. Not to say you should ignore either Lee or Whitehead -- both are fine linebackers for an IDP squad -- just be aware that the sacks will not flow for them.

Edge is the new wrinkle

Fantasy leagues now have a new designation for defensive players called EDR. ESPN instituted the new position of edge rusher, and this essentially collects all the defensive linemen and linebackers who spend their time on the field attempting to get into the backfield and pressure or sack the QB on most plays.

If you join an assortment of IDP leagues, you'll be forced to draft EDR players soon, if not this season. This designation helps the IDP league owner not only to determine the better pass-rushing specialists on each NFL team, but it also takes some of the strategy out of the game.

MORE: Fantasy Alarm 2017 Draft Kit

Who is a sack monster?

It is not often you will be unaware of the player who racks up the most sacks. Still, during the course of the season, some young player or a player shifted to a new position (say a DL in a 3-4 system to an OLB) will start to exhibit a good pass-rush ability and begin to rack up QB hurries, or better yet, sacks.

If you can sense a trend beginning, be the one to snag that new sack machine for your team. Nearly every IDP format values sacks.

Draft three-down linebackers

The more time your defensive player spends on the field, the better in terms of production. Tackles increase, opportunities to grab fumbles or pick off passes grow, and even the chance for an occasional sack will develop.

If you know your linebacker will be on the field for the majority of his team’s defensive snaps, you can generally assume that he will put up better numbers than a teammate who is swapped out due to down-and-distance considerations from the defensive coaching staff.

Scoring systems based on stadium crews

Tackle numbers are awarded by decision of the home stadium stat crew, and this leads to wide disparities in terms of how defensive players are rewarded for their efforts.

For example, the Seattle Seahawks stat crew is very generous with assisted tackles, but not so much with the more valued solo tackle. On the other side of the coin, the New York Giants stat crew is incredibly generous in rewarding much more valued solo tackles. It is an important key to know what stadium your defensive players are playing in and whether this will impact their fantasy totals.

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