IDP Strategy Guide (Fantasy Football)
There’s at least one question that scientists like Leonardo da Vinci, artists Pablo Picasso, and even bored teenagers all regularly ask themselves when examining an object or idea. “What else can I do with this?”
These are the inquisitive minds of their time and age who have always sought more when it comes to knowledge and utility of their ideas. They are not simply content to see something as it is. Rather, they imagine what could be. I’m asking you today to be one of these cutting-edge minds, these forward thinkers when it comes to the fantasy football world. Do not simply be content to play fantasy as you always have. Look for ways to innovate. One of the best ways to do this? Kick the tired old team D/ST units to the curb and add Individual Defensive Players (IDP) to your dynasty or redraft league.
Learning Never Exhausts the Mind: Why to Add IDP
Whatever your reason for adding the other half of the game to your fantasy league, there’s something for everyone in IDP. If you like a league that forces you to think about strategy, IDP is a way to add a new wrinkle to your fantasy game. You’re looking at which opposing offenses run up the middle and give your defensive tackles the chance for a play. Which offense just lost its starting left tackle to injury, and therefore is a good team to stream a sack artist defensive end against? Which quarterback loves check down passes and will give your linebackers a ton of tackles? These are just a few of the added questions you open yourself up to if you immerse in the strategy of IDP fantasy football.
This is also yet another way to express yourself in roster construction. With offense-only, there’s a fairly linear pathway to building your team: draft running backs and wide receivers early, wait on your quarterback and draft a kicker and team defense no earlier than the last two rounds. With IDP, you might value a strong defensive unit over a stellar tight end group. Depending on your positional requirements and scoring, perhaps you decide that you want to load up on wide receivers and linebackers and play both Zero RB and Zero DE. The choice is yours. The aesthetic of IDP is so satisfying. When you roll out a full starting lineup, not just half of a real football team, you feel like a true NFL head coach. There’s much more to watch and immerse yourself in during the game, and when you can cheer for a matchup-winning tackle the same way you do for a 60-yard bomb to your wide receiver, that’s a success in my eyes.
And finally, IDP gives you many more ways to win. Miss out on the best quarterback? No sweat. You have the deepest defensive line group in the league. So what if your running backs are on bye? You can still make up those points with a few pick-sixes from your defensive backs.
IDP gives you so many more ways to play.
Simplicity is the Ultimate Satisfaction: How to Play With IDP
The only question remaining (for now) then, is “how?” How does one get started, either building an IDP league or parsing it out? First of all, it all starts with the scoring. There is no standard scoring or uniform system for IDP, but that makes it pivotal that you understand the scoring systems in your leagues. That is when you master that league. In IDP fantasy football there are a few key stats to be aware of: Tackle, Turnovers, and Pass-Rush/Coverage.
In the Tackle category, we have two simple stats to follow; solo tackles and assisted tackles. The difference between these two stats, in theory, is that a solo is a singular player wrapping up the tackle alone whereas the assist is a group of players stopping the ball carrier together. Think about the difference between dragging down Tavon Austin vs. LeGarrette Blount. Solos are the bread-and- butter of IDP scoring, and most other categories’ weights are compared against the solo tackle. In most scoring systems, the solo is 1.0 points, while the assist is 0.5, but due to the subjectivity of how stat crews score a solo versus an assist, some leagues are eliminating the difference entirely and making both an even 1.0.
Next, we have Turnovers, which are the most universally used stats outside of Tackle; interceptions (INT), fumbles forced (FF), and fumbles recovered (FR) are the items here. There is a ton of subjectivity in how these are scored, but Big-Play scoring leagues tend to weight them a little heavier in relation to solo tackles. A Big-Play league will often see no less than a 3-to-1 ratio of an interception, fumble, or sack to a solo (i.e. if a solo is worth 2 points, a Big-Play league interception is worth 6 or more points). I personally favor rewarding interceptions with 6.0 points, the same as a touchdown, since they swing the course of the game so heavily and help to make defensive backs more statistically meaningful (more on that later). I also like the combined score of an FF and FR to equal touchdown points, but I split it into 4.0 points for an FF and 2.0 for an FR; players like Charles Tillman actually had a measurable ability to cause forced fumbles, but the bounces of a football are a fairly unrepeatable skill and therefore the recovery is more random. I favor big-play scoring, but Tackle-Heavy leagues will sometimes see just 2.0 points for each of these stats, compared to 1.0 points for a solo.
Finally, there are the Pass-Rush/Coverage stats, which are a broader sampling of statistics that some of your leagues may or may not score; sacks, tackles for a loss (TFL) or stuffs, quarterback hits (QBH), and passes defensed (PD). Sacks are the most common stat in this group, as they are the most noticeable and dramatic play among these. Big-Play/Tackle- Heavy distinction applies here too, and I usually dislike any scoring system that sees sacks weighted less than 3-to-1 versus solos. Again, I like as many players to be fantasy-relevant as possible, and edge rushers who get few tackles and a ton of sacks get less love outside of Big-Play leagues. TFL’s are also important. They cause the same play-stopping impact on a game as a sack, it’s just when you sack a running back or receiver instead of the quarterback. I tend to weigh these the same as a sack.
QBH’s and PD’s are a little less noticed, but can still be very useful. The QBH helps to recognize the pass-rusher who still gets pressure on the quarterback but doesn’t get there quite in time before the ball is thrown. To me, that guy still deserves some points, since he succeeded at pass-rushing. I usually afford QBH’s 1.0 points, the same as a solo tackle. PD’s help to balance cornerbacks especially with other positions. They may not have picked off the pass, but they were still successful in breaking up the passing play. To me, that’s worth at least 1.0 points as well.
Each league’s scoring system is different, and – like a scientist looking at molecules in a microscope – you can figure out the whole structure and impact of the league by parsing these bits. Does your league reward tackles closer to a 1-to-1 ratio with sacks? You don’t have to worry about pass-rushing linebackers like Leonard Floyd then. Go get a Kevin Minter instead. Interceptions weighted 6-to-1 against solos? Maybe you can wait and roster a free safety like HaHa Clinton-Dix a little later instead of biting early on a tackle-racking strong safety like Jonathan Cyprien. With no one-size-fits-all approach possible in IDP, the world is wide open to you. But it’s also imperative that you figure out the road ahead in order to compete.
Passionately Curious: IDP Rosters
So, I’m a bit obsessed with IDP – clearly no surprise there. I love to play in leagues with 11 IDP starting lineup spots, with a realistic 3-4 or 4-3 alignment available (either three linemen, four linebackers or vice-versa). That tends to be on the high end for an IDP starting lineup, however.
I believe that the more you immerse yourself in IDP, the better your experience will be with it, so more lineup slots devoted to defense are always good in my book. But if you are hesitant to overwhelm yourself, start slow. Six to eight slots are a good place to learn about IDP in your starting lineup, usually with two defensive linemen (DL), two to three linebackers (LB), and two to three defensive backs (DB). In more advanced leagues, you may split out defensive tackles (DT) from defensive ends (DE) and cornerbacks (CB) from safeties (S), but that’s a better topic for later.
I like to have enough players on my bench proportional to a number of positions I need to fill them in the starting lineup. For instance, if my league starts eight offensive players and eight defensive players, I typically like my bench to be used half for offensive reserves and half for defense. If my league starts three linebackers and two defensive linemen, then I don’t need many defensive linemen on my bench. I’d prefer to load up on linebackers to flip in, in case of injury or bye weeks. When it comes to selecting which kinds of players to fill these spots, there are a few hierarchies to follow.
For defensive linemen, it looks like this: 4-3 defensive end > 3-4 defensive end > 4-3 undertackle > 4-3 nose tackle > 3-4 nose tackle. The 4-3 defensive end is the cream of the DL pass-rushing crop. They get to attack the quarterback in most systems and get into the backfield to rack up sacks and TFL’s. 3-4 ends are slightly lower because they often don’t get the big-play stats the 4-3 ends do. They stay on the line and help anchor against the run. Then the 4-3 defensive tackles come. With two of them, it helps to take the pressure off each from opposing offensive linemen, but their primary job is often to stop the run and they frequently get double-teamed. The undertackle, like Geno Atkins or Aaron Donald, is more of an attack specialist position, however, and gets a slight boost in value. The 3-4 nose tackle (think Vince Wilfork) almost always stays at home and tries to take up blockers to help his pass-rushers.
For linebackers, this is the hierarchy: 4-3 middle > 3-4 inside > 4-3 outside > 3-4 outside. Middle and inside linebackers in both schemes get tons of chances to make tackles and are valuable contributors in your IDP lineup. The 4-3 middle has slightly less competition for those tackles, though, and therefore is slightly more valuable. 4-3 outside linebackers still get a lot of chances for plays (especially the weak-side linebacker, who often stays in on passing downs due to coverage ability) but don’t have the sturdy floor of an inside ‘backer. Finally, due to the pass-rushing nature of 3-4 outside linebackers, they are inconsistent play-to-play, week-to-week, and season-to-season. They are often much lower unless in a sack-heavy scoring system.
Finally, the defensive backs: strong safety > free safety > cornerback. The strong safety is often the only defensive back you truly want to trust. They play in the tackle box like an extra linebacker and get a ton of tackles and TFL’s, occasionally snaring a sack or interception (like Landon Collins). Free safeties play way back and only tend to make plays when things go wrong. They’re the safety valve. They tend to have lower tackle marks and higher PD and interceptions than the strong safety, but this isn’t enough to make up the scoring difference. Cornerbacks have the free safety effect taken to the extreme. They only get to make plays when the ball is thrown to a guy near them. If your league doesn’t reward interceptions or passes defensed highly, then the best cornerbacks will not be nearly as valuable as bad ones who allow catches but happen to get some tackles along the way.
Again, this hierarchy is highly dependent on scoring system, so figuring that out is your first step. But once you know what earns points in your league, start figuring out what kind of guys you might like to fill your lineup with. Be an inquisitive mind and pick through the clues in your league setup. That kind of inventiveness is what will bring you an IDP trophy and the satisfaction of discovering a new way to play fantasy football.
Joseph Redemann is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Joseph, follow him @JayArrNFL.