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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

IDP If You Please

Pay attention, kids. I'm handing you the keys to the IDP Ferrari. Some of you have already spent years blazing down the Autobahn. You know all this stuff. You're experienced. A champion, perhaps. You think you don't need any advice from me. Go ahead and move along, and I wish you good luck. Others among you are still bandaging scraped knees from tricycle accidents suffered just this morning. You know who you are: not only have you never played in a fantasy league with individual defensive players, you've decided to make the courageous leap into one that starts eleven.

I promised I'd offer my opinions, strategies, and resources to get you up to speed.

Well, here it is.

I think it's fair to call this league, The Dogpile, an intermediate level fantasy defense.

Most beginner IDP leagues start up to 6 IDPs, generally an even mix of defensive linemen (DL), linebackers (LB), and defensive backs (DB). This is often referred to as 2-2-2.

I started playing in beginner leagues four years ago. Due to that, everything I know has come from online research, not from actual football experience. I was never a jock. (Big surprise, I know.) Feel free to one up me or correct me if you disagree with anything below. I'm always up for learning from my peers.

We're intermediate level. This league starts eleven defenders, which can be any one of four different combinations of DL, LB, and DB. These four options mimic actual NFL defensive schemes that you'll hear the likes of Cris Collinsworth discussing on Sunday nights:

3 DL 4 LB 4 DB (3-4)
3 DL 3 LB 5 DB (3-4 nickel)
4 DL 3 LB 4 DB (4-3)
4 DL 2 LB 5 DB (4-3 nickel)

Finally, there's advanced. This is especially relevant, even to this league, because the specific defensive positions often translate directly to opportunity and production. I've never played in one of these mythical leagues, but I know where to find them when I'm ready.

In these leagues, not only would you choose whether to play a 3-4 or a 4-3, but your players would have to match the scheme. In order to explain this, I need to break down DL, LB, and DB as they relate to to the two schemes.

Defensive Linemen:

For our purposes, we can break down defensive linemen into two types: defensive tackles (DT) and defensive ends (DE). In the 3-4, there are two DEs, one on either end, and one DT in the middle, sometimes called a nose tackle. In the 4-3, there are still two DEs, but there are also two DTs.

In fantasy, defensive linemen are often the lowest point producers, sometimes an afterthought, much like tight ends were once considered a few years ago on offense. Still, they're part of your team, so you'd better make the most of them.

The interior tackles in the middle typically struggle with offensive linemen, and don't get a whole lot of statistical action. There are a few exceptions. In the last couple years, guys like Richard Seymour, Ahtyba Rubin, and Vince Wilfork have managed to put up a few sacks and respectable tackle numbers. You can use DTs in your DL slots, but I'd advise you to avoid them in most cases.

The defensive ends, on the other hand, are often blitz rushers. You know, the big play guys, like Jared Allen and Julius Peppers. These are the guys that are gonna put up serious points for you. Unfortunately, there's relatively few of these monsters in the league, certainly not enough to go around. Last year, only ten DLs reached 10 sacks.

Our league starts between 60-80 each week, depending on whether team owners are starting 3 or 4. You'll need to decide whether to spend an early pick or two on a beast, or throw out scrubs, like most of us will be.

Both DTs and DEs list on CBS as DL. Know the difference, and pick the right guys. Then, even with average players, you can do well.


Linebackers are a bit trickier, and I'll confess that I often get lost trying to keep track of the ramifications of each type. Despite myriad variations, for our purposes, we can classify them as such: Outside linebackers (OLB) can be either strong or weak side. Inside linebackers, in a 4-3, are usually called middle linebackers (MLB). In a 3-4, you have two inside: a weak inside linebacker (WILB) and a strong inside linebacker, also called the middle inside linebacker. (SILB/MILB/MIKE)

Confusing? I suppose. Look it up on Wikipedia if you want a better explanation. I've always found that the best for fantasy purposes (there are exceptions) are the middle linebackers in a 4-3. They commonly have the highest tackle numbers because they make stops on both rushing and passing plays. They also get sent on blitzes. MILBs in a 3-4 are a close second.

While the MLB position provides a linebacker with the best in-play opportunities to rack up points for you, a greater concern should be his snap count. Some of these guys only see two plays a series, and some only come on the field during third down. I'll provide links below to my favorite IDP message boards. Each of these usually keep a weekly updated thread called "three down linebackers." These threads, when applied to your drafting and starting decisions, can make the difference between you scoring 5 tackles and 10 tackles. It matters. Find out who will be on the field a lot. That's the key.

All different types of linebackers are listed on CBS as LB. Know the difference, and you'll be rewarded.

Defensive Backs:

DBs are broken down into cornerbacks and safeties. The corners' stats are often interceptions and passes defensed. You think shutdown corners like Darelle Revis and Nnamdi Asomugha are awesome? For fantasy, think again. Quarterbacks avoid them due to their skill. QBs like to pick on rookies. A bad corner is better in fantasy.

Safeties get less INTs and PDEFs, but plenty more tackles. They're the ones taking down tight ends and slot receivers after a catch. Aside from the corners, they're the last line of defense when a running back breaks through the DLs and LBs. Safeties come in two varieties: strong satefy (SS), and free safety (FS). From what I've seen, strong is the way to go. George Wilson was very good to me last year.

Deciding whether to use corners or safeties depends on whether the IDP league in question can be classified as tackle heavy, balanced, or big play. This league is somewhere between tackle heavy and balanced, so here, strong safeties will provide steady, consistent scoring, while corners will vary between big points one week and zilch the next. I prefer consistency.

Drafting and Roster Management:

Last year I won a 20 team league just like this. I've just combed through the draft results for myself and the other top teams, and learned a couple things:

I didn't touch a defender until round 6. Among the three teams right behind me, pretty much the same: Rounds 5, 6, and 6. That's not to say you can't start off with the best two DLs and still win. My top two picks were Philip Rivers and Darren McFadden, and we both know how those turned out.

What really helped me was doing my research early. I knew D'Qwell Jackson was a great player, but coming back from injury. I got him in round 15, and he ended up being the top scoring LB. Meanwhile other teams took Patrick Willis in the 1st or DeMarcus Ware in the 2nd. Willis was slightly off his usual deadly performance last year, and Ware is a big play guy with low tackle totals, and not really worthy of an early pick in this scoring system.

I essentially took high-upside gambles later in the draft and tried to pick up more offensive options early. I let others take all the stud IDP names, and scooped up the sleeper bargains for myself. Why spend a 3rd round pick on Jason Pierre-Paul when I can have Jabaal Sheard in the 12th? You can do the same if you use the links I provide below, and find out which guys are three down MLBs and SSs. The fact is, there's more turnover among defensive players than offensive ones, which means that once the season starts, you'll have a much better chance to find an awesome defender on the wire than you will a wide receiver.

Now, if everyone takes my advice, and you all avoid defenders early, there may be some absolute steals on high end defenders in the 3rd and 4th round. League drafting behavior will dictate value. This is just my experience I'm sharing here, not a concrete blueprint. If I see Jared Allen in the 4th, you bet your sweet ass I'm grabbing him.

Drafting is only the beginning, of course. I'd say it's actually far more important to manage your roster every week and be ready to pounce on available free agents. Last year Barrett Ruud, Titans linebacker, suffered a season ending injury sometime around week 10. Ruud had been studly up until then. A quick search informed me that a guy I'd never heard of named Colin McCarthy would take his place. I picked him up. 10 points for me his first week out. My opponent, in the scoreboard chat, wrote "Who the fuck is Colin McCarthy?" This year, he's ranked in the top 20 on most sites. While there will be some guys like this on offense (DeMarco Murray, anyone?) they'll be tougher to land off waivers with everyone gunning for them. You can't rely on that.

I guarantee you'll see plenty like McCarthy this year, too. You just have to pay attention. My 2011 draft was thoughtful and well-researched, but looking back, I can see I picked plenty of duds. Choosing Rivers over Brees was idiotic, in hindsight. There were other mistakes. No, it was aggressive team management that really won it for me.

Scoring Ramifications:

When choosing players, my general philosophy is to get guys with consistent tackle numbers. Sure, it's nice to get a twelve spot from a cornerback with two interceptions in a single week, but most likely he'll get a measly two tackles the next week. Find a good strong safety who'll get you 5 tackles and a pass defensed every week, and you'll win more games.

Same goes for linebackers. Sure, DeMarcus Ware is a beast. But he's always trying to make the crazy awesome play, and because he does sometimes, he gets attention. Notoriety. But his tackle numbers suck. He's the linebacker equivalent of a cornerback. When the draft room opens, try sorting different defender positions by tackles. You'll get a better idea of which guys are good values but ranked low, and likely to be forgotten. Remember them. Take them late. (But not too late, now that everybody knows to do this.)

Tackles can also save your defensive line. In our league, sacks will be tough to come by. Find a few DEs that put up 3 tackles a week, and you'll be okay. Every once in a while you'll get a sack, too. It doesn't sound like much, but that thinking served me very well last year.


FootballGuys IDP Forum - This one is the very best. Read Jene Bramel's tiers for the best rankings on the internet. During the season, this site also has a free weekly podcast called IDP Roundtable.
FootballGuys IDP Forum

IDP Manor - Gary Davenport writes good stuff. His weekly IDP waiver columns are worth your time.
IDP Manor

Gary also writes for Fantasy Sharks. They also have a good IDP forum.
Fantasy Sharks

The only IDP draft guide I actually buy is Ryan Sitzmann's. It's only $5. I use it when I'm stumped for a pick. His free stuff isn't quite as deep, but still just as useful.
IDP Guru

That's all I guess. Good luck, fellas.

4:46 AM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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