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How Scheme Changes Impact IDP Player Value (Fantasy Football)

by Walton Spurlin | @waltonspurlin | Featured Writer
Jun 11, 2019

J.J. Watt posted another 16 sacks and 7 forced fumbles last season

There is a very important aspect in IDP formats that new owners tend to overlook. With the yearly turnover of head coaches in the NFL it’s important to keep abreast of the changes and the past defensive tendencies of the new head coach. Or more importantly to be aware of the past schemes implemented by the new or sometimes retained defensive coordinator.

Think of it as in standard fantasy leagues knowing if an offense favors 3-wide, 4-wide receiver (WR) sets or do they tend to run a lot of 2-tight and sets or favor the slot WR position (I’m looking at you New England Patriots). This information helps to set up draft boards as well as weekly lineups and the same is true of defensive schemes.

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Changing the Defensive Scheme

Fantasy values can be positively or negatively affected by scheme changes as more often than not, player designations will be changed from the previous regime. These designation changes will absolutely alter the way IDP owners approach the draft as well as weekly lineups.

4-3 to a 3-4

Let’s take a look at what happens when a new coaching staff comes in and changes the defensive scheme from a 4-3 to the 3-4. In this situation, players that were defensive ends (DE) will now be considered outside linebackers (LB) and receive that designation.

This is a blow to their fantasy value as they will often be playing upright (without their ‘hands in the dirt’) and asked to drop into coverage while also being the primary edge rushers. All this can lead to a drop off in tackle numbers and a tumble down fantasy draft boards as there will be too many inside linebackers worth selecting ahead of them. Most edge rushing LBs finish outside the top-24 in balanced scoring formats meaning they bring LB3 value or worse. They can be later round draft selections come fantasy draft day.

Generally, the switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 doesn’t dramatically affect the inside linebackers nearly as much as the switch from DE to LB. In the 4-3 the LBs to target are the weak side (WLB) and middle (MLB) LBs as they tend to rack up tackle totals as the defensive line funnels rush attempts to the middle of the field. In a switch to the 3-4 these players will simply stay inside with LB designations often referred to as the right inside linebacker (RILB) or left inside linebacker (LILB). They are still the LBs to target early in drafts.

3-4 to a 4-3

Now let’s examine the effect of switching from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 scheme and the fantasy ramifications. The biggest benefactors here are former edge rushing OLBs now being labeled with a DE designation. Their fantasy value rises exponentially and there are a few reasons why.

First off, the DE position brings value as edge rushers bringing sack potential and they are also called upon to set the edge against the run boosting tackle totals. That’s not to say OLB edge rushers can’t put up double-digit sacks and decent tackle numbers as well as they often do. However, it’s the tackle numbers relative to the position that increases DEs in a 4-3 and their fantasy values. The DL position will always trail the LB position in tackle production and therefore, alters the scoring curve.

For example, an OLB may put up 14 sacks, eight combined ‘big plays’ (forced fumble, int etc.) but just 48 total tackles. In most balanced scoring formats that would land this player 31st or so among LBs while the same totals would land him among the top-5 DL for fantasy purposes. That’s why IDP owners love the DE designation.

As for the secondary and how scheme changes come into play things get a bit murkier. The league, in general, has gone in favor of ‘sub packages’ (nickel and dime packages) with most defenses lining up in these sets over 50% of the time. The main things to look for here are coaches/coordinators that favor bringing the strong safety (SS) into the box (within eight-yards of the line of scrimmage) replacing a LB. This tendency has grown popular of late and the easiest way to track it is through snap counts which can be found here at FantasyPros.

Some teams will replace LBs that struggle in coverage with a SS that now will be able to either cover the tight end, running backs or slot receiver while also helping in run support. Look for starting LBs that play roughly 60%-65% of the snaps and then check the snap counts of the safeties. Again, it’s a bit of a murky situation.

Coach Aggressiveness

One last thing to look for after a coaching/coordinator change is the style of defense they have run in their previous stops. Are they an aggressive coach willing to sell out to get the quarterback utilizing what we used to call the ‘fire zone’ blitz. In short, bring five or more on the rush while dropping a couple of unexpected players in coverage to confuse the offense. That’s an old school example but you get the point.

The best way to get an idea of a coach’s aggressiveness blitz wise is to take a look at the teams sack totals for players not generally tasked with getting to the quarterback. How many sacks do the inside LBs and DBs have? Generally, some inside LBs in an aggressive scheme will have at least five sacks while 3.5 to 4 is more in line for DBs. More blitzing leads to more big plays and more IDP scoring opportunities.

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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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