A Comprehensive Guide to IDP Leagues (Fantasy Football)

May 24, 2019

By playing in an IDP league, drafters can individually roster defensive standouts such as J.J. Watt.

The days where I could have opened this article with the “Let me introduce you to a new format for fantasy football” line are over. Individual Defensive Players (IDP) leagues have been around for quite some time and have established a solid foothold in the fantasy realm. More and more owners have been turned on to this exciting brand of fantasy football over the years, and it’s a wild ride.

One of the main reasons that some owners have been hesitant to dip their toes in the IDP pool is that they consider it too complicated or confusing. Nothing could be further from the truth. As someone who has played in IDP leagues for well over a decade (Yes, I am old) and has had the pleasure of writing about them for the past six years, I assure you it’s an easy concept to learn. Trust me. I am not a Rhodes Scholar by any means.

Let’s take a look at how adding points for tackles, assisted tackles, sacks, and forced fumbles — as well as other plays — can add excitement and interest to the fantasy football experience. More and more leagues have moved away from the ‘old school’ defense/special teams (D/ST) option to actually add individual defensive players.

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IDP League/Scoring Formats

There are basically two ways to include IDP into fantasy leagues. Gamers can add IDP into leagues with offensive skill-position players or have a league entirely made up of defenders. Adding IDP options to leagues that have offensive players all but guarantees fantasy owners the chance to score on every single snap. An all-IDP league can help expand owners’ knowledge of the defensive side of the ball and enhance the overall NFL viewing experience. Bonus!

Succeeding in IDP formats is based on the same variables as standard fantasy football leagues. It is imperative to understand the league’s scoring system and roster construction. Just as playing in a point-per-reception (PPR) league alters an owner’s draft strategy, knowing the scoring format in IDP leagues will come into play on draft day.

In most IDP formats there are three main scoring formats. They are “balanced,” “big play heavy,” and “tackle heavy.”

In “balanced” scoring, tackles are usually worth one or two points (with assists at 0.5-1) while “big plays” (sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles, etc.) stay within the three-four point range, keeping the positions on more of a level playing field. “Big play heavy” leagues tend to award five or six points for a “big play” while keeping tackles in the one-1.5 range. The “tackle heavy” scoring keeps tackles and big plays within a point of each other. Defensive touchdowns scored are generally always six points. Keep in mind that scoring will vary from league to league based on commissioner preference.

Position Designations

Knowledge of defensive schemes and player designations is also vitally important when putting together IDP draft boards as well as when making in-season decisions.

In most IDP formats, players fall into three main position designations. Those positions are defensive linemen (DL), linebackers (LB), and defensive backs (DB). There are deeper formats that may separate the linemen into defensive tackle/defensive end or defensive backs into cornerback/safety designations. I’ll touch on these designations a bit more when examining defensive schemes and their fantasy impact on positions.

As with standard fantasy football, it is important to know just how many DL, LB, or DBs are required to start and how many can be rostered overall.

There is a bit of a catch-22 situation when dealing with defensive schemes in today’s NFL. The proliferation of hybrid schemes and sub packages has all but eliminated what we used to refer to as a ‘base’ scheme. Most (if not all) defenses lined up in sub packages (nickel and dime packages) or hybrid fronts on over 50% of their defensive snaps last season. That makes it very cloudy when trying to determine a team’s ‘base’ scheme.

Analyzing Schemes for Fantasy Value

Basically, there are two schemes applied in order to put a designation on a particular defender for scoring purposes. Those two schemes are the 3-4 base or the 4-3 base. Each scheme plays a role in where a player lines up (more often than not) and then ultimately what designation he receives.

Let’s take a look at the 3-4 scheme and some of the IDP fantasy ramifications that are in play. A 3-4 scheme’s defensive line consists of a nose tackle (DT) and two DEs. There are two outside linebackers as well as two inside linebackers. A basic 3-4 is rounded out with two safeties and two cornerbacks.

In the 3-4 scheme, the DL position suffers from a fantasy standpoint. They are asked to tie up offensive linemen, allowing the edge outside linebackers (OLB) to rush the passer. These edge-rushing OLBs carry more value in “big play heavy” scoring formats, as they tend to rack up sacks but struggle to post solid tackle totals. The position of value from a fantasy outlook is the two inside linebackers tasked with getting after the ball-carrier while also staying involved in coverage. This allows the chance for both high tackle numbers as well as sacks (if brought on a blitz) and interceptions.

The secondary position is a bit harder to nail down outside of strong safeties (SS) who are asked to help in run support and line up in the box (within eight yards of the line of scrimmage). Cornerbacks tend to be more big-play dependent and are hard to rely on for consistent fantasy production.

The DL position gets a bit of a fantasy boost in the 4-3 scheme consisting of two interior DTs and a pair of DEs. Linebackers consist of a middle linebacker (MLB), weakside linebacker (WLB), and a strongside linebacker (SLB). Once again, a pair of corners and safeties round out the scheme.

The DE position is generally asked to get after the quarterback while the DTs are more of space-eaters taking up blockers. DEs are also involved in stopping the run, as they set the edge on rushing plays. The opportunity for sacks as well as solid tackle numbers increases the fantasy value of the DE in IDP formats.

Linebackers are fantasy gold in a 4-3 scheme, especially the MLB and WLB. NFL defenses are designed to force the running game inside, where these two positions are primed to rack up huge tackle numbers. The SLB carries less value, as there are more offensive players (usually the tight end) lined up on the strong side. In both schemes, it is imperative to find three-down linebackers. Snap counts are easily found here at FantasyPros.

Defensive backs basically bring the same value as in the 3-4 scheme.

Draft Tips

In mixed leagues, go ahead and fill out the offensive skill positions before selecting IDP options. When selecting defensive players, make two of your first four selections DEs, where the depth thins out quickly. DTs can generally be drafted later in leagues that require the position. Wait on defensive backs and target safeties unless the league requires cornerbacks.


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Walton Spurlin is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Walton, check out his archive and follow him @waltonspurlin.

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