A Former Beginner's Guide to Conquering IDP
If you're hesitant to try IDP, remember: you're closer to success than you realize.
Editor’s Note: Peter originally put this resource together for his fellow dynasty managers who were hesitant to dip their toes in the IDP waters. He wanted a concise guide that showed newcomers they were further along the IDP learning curve than they realized. He also wanted people to come away excited and confident that they can be successful IDP players.
So you’ve decided to dabble in the madness of Individual Defensive Player fantasy football, eh? Well then, welcome to doubling your fantasy football fun!
If you have just played offensive fantasy football, you may have been upset when your QB got sacked and lost you points, a WR failed to haul in a catch, or an RB was stopped short of the goal line. All those situations stink, right? Well, in IDP, what if your IDP made the sack, got the pass breakup, or made the tackle on the RB? Cha-ching! Fantasy points are coming your way, my friend. Feels good, doesn’t it?
So, good for you for choosing to peek into the world of IDP, where there are fantasy points to be had from the time the ball is snapped to when the whistle is blown. Congratulations on broadening your horizons. Your fantasy season just became twice as exciting—as did your enjoyment of the NFL. Every game is more intriguing when you have twice as many players to watch in each game. And when the NFL Draft rolls around, you don’t have to wait impatiently for the first RB to be taken because you’ll be watching where the top edge rusher lands or where the 3-down LB goes.
To recap: you made a great decision giving IDP a chance! But you may be wondering where to even begin. Hopefully, this article can provide a frame of reference for you. Most people do not jump into IDP leagues without having played traditional offensive fantasy football before, so I am going to rely heavily on that framework. Quite a few examples of parallels between traditional offensive fantasy football will be used.
Even if you are brand new to fantasy football, I hope to provide enough of a starting point regarding the IDP positions themselves, game theory, roster construction, and resources to send you on your way with a decent foundation for IDP success. This may seem like a lot of ground to cover, but my hope is that this breakdown will help show that the transition is not as overwhelming as it can seem.
Step 1: League Construction
As with any league, your first consideration is to check your league settings and scoring. In traditional fantasy, how players are valued can depend greatly on if it’s a traditional league or superflex. Is it half PPR or full PPR? Is it a tight end premium?
It’s the same with an IDP league. How a league is set up can vary wildly from one IDP league to another. The main areas to check are roster setup, positional designations, and scoring. Much like how a superflex league inflates the value of quarterbacks, the number of defensive players rostered at each slot will affect the value of those position players. Does your offensive league have 2 starting wide receivers, or does it have 3? The difference in strategy can be quite drastic. It is the same regarding IDP. Does a team need to start 2 defensive linemen or 3? Take note of each position.
Another area to consider is how the positions are determined. Some leagues have all defensive linemen lumped together with a DL designation, where there is no positional determination between an EDGE and an interior, whereas others have them designated separately. The same applies to cornerbacks and safeties. Sometimes they are separate positions, whereas other times, they are just DBs. There are other leagues in the format of True Position where outside LBs (think TJ Watt) aren’t designated as LBs but as DE or EDGE. In leagues that use True Position, 3-down LBs are more valuable because the pool of available players has decreased.
Scoring is the area that can provide each league with its own flavor. Check to see how tackles are scored compared to sacks or interceptions. If big plays (sacks, forced fumbles, interceptions) are rewarded greatly, it may benefit your team to target players who may be more boom/bust with big play ability compared to the steady IDP who racks up 8 tackles per game but does little else in the stat department.
If you have access, I recommend looking up past drafts to gauge how your leaguemates draft different positions. In the dynasty leagues I’m in, we have a full offensive and defensive roster, and it’s not often rookie IDP players are drafted before the 3rd round. Comparatively, I know of other full-roster leagues where rookie IDPs are flying off the shelf because of league structure and scoring.
So, know your leaguemates and league settings. I made a deep run in a redraft IDP league once solely because I checked out the league scoring before the draft.
The rest of the league didn’t.
Step 2: Mental Approach
If you have a background in traditional offensive fantasy football, it’s best to mentally prepare for the scoring of all IDPs by treating them like TEs and WR3s. Most players will put up pedestrian numbers, but they will have their blow-up weeks. You just have to pay attention to matchups or wait it out until they have their day.
IDP is like QB when it comes to injuries. If a top guy goes out, their replacement could easily get 75% of their production if it’s a good defensive scheme. They say the best ability is availability, so if replacement players are getting the snaps, points will come their way. That makes IDP waivers something to monitor. When it comes to roster construction, the popular strategies of a “balanced team” versus “studs and duds” can absolutely be applied to IDP leagues like it is in offense-only leagues.
Personal note: I prefer my leagues to have larger IDP benches because I like to already have the players in hand to stream matchups. Currently, I took the studs/duds approach with my DL, and LBs and DBs are matchup-based choices.
Step 3: Positional Breakdowns
TL;DR: Treat DL like RB, LBs like QB 20-32, and DBs like WR2/3. It gets a bit more nuanced if you are in a true position league, but you get the idea.
If you have a stud defensive lineman, they will anchor the defense like RBs anchor the offense. A few guys are at the top (like 3 down RBs), there are a decent amount of mid-tier guys, and then some lower-tier guys who don’t get the snap volume we want but can still blow up for a multi-sack week. Speaking of sacks, they’re incredibly hard to predict, so you shouldn’t chase them. The stats to monitor are snap counts and pressure rate. The players who put up the most QB pressures end up being the ones who make big plays. Edge rushers often put up the highest point totals along the DL. Even an average EDGE will out-score a good DT on a regular week.
There are only a handful of interior guys who regularly make noise, so generally avoid interior DL (or DT) in a league where all defensive linemen are lumped together under the DL position designation. In a DT-required league, those interior players who sack the QB or even get regular pressures are worth far more than run stuffers.
Defensive scheme and role can make a big difference to a player’s fantasy success. Certain players can be great NFL players but not great fantasy assets if they’re drawing double teams, plugging gaps, or blanketing a WR in coverage.
Linebackers can produce the most points in all of defensive fantasy football, but they are also the most replaceable. If the defensive scheme has their linebackers make a lot of tackles, that will happen regardless of what caliber player is there. This is why Alex Anzalone and Alex Singleton have more IDP relevance than NFL relevance. They will get tackles because they get picked on and get in the way. To take it back to the QB 20-32 parallel: in 2022, Dak Prescott is out, but Cooper Rush put up decent numbers because the team was catering to his skill set and because the QB is involved in every play. Linebackers succeed for the same reasons. Snap volume is key.
A way they differ is that defenses have huge turnover every year. It’s incredible how coaching staffs change, or half a position group has new guys. Treat linebackers like a 2-year redraft. Don’t be afraid to sell good players because it’s 50/50 those guys will ever match what they are doing now. The best guys do, but the majority don’t. And if you do sell a dude, it’s OK. You can stream LB and get 75% of his points.
That’s not to say “set ‘em and forget ‘em” linebackers aren’t great. Bobby Wagner is an IDP legend for this reason. His weekly floor is always solid because, with his smarts and ball-hawk ability, he racks up tackles. Then it’s his ability to regularly sprinkle in big scoring plays and a handful of sacks and INTs that make him a stud.
This is probably the most bizarre position when it comes to value in all of fantasy football. A lot of great NFL defensive backs are terrible IDP assets. IDPs get points for tackles, forced fumbles, interceptions, and pass breakups. The shutdown CBs (think Revis Island) will not help your team very much, if at all. If the opposing quarterback does not throw to a receiver who is covered by the shutdown corner, it is tough for the shutdown corner to make a tackle, force a fumble, or make an INT.
Sometimes it’s better to roster the weaker starting CB on the field because they will be a guy the opposing offense wants to exploit. More passes thrown their way leads to more opportunities for pass breakups, tackles, and interceptions.
You can select what CBs to play on any given week based on matchups. Does the other team have stud WRs? Does it figure to be a big passing game from both offenses? What are the injuries like to the team’s other DBs? The same logic that applies to WR matchups works in reverse when picking CBs to stream.
Although more reliable than CBs week to week, safeties are a mixed bag overall. Some defenses have their safeties drop into coverage more, so they have passes coming their way. Some defenses have their teams blitz more often, but with how the league emphasizes passing, many safeties find themselves in coverage more now.
There is a new paradigm of safety emerging where they’re getting regular box snaps in certain coverage looks. These safeties who play in “the sweet spot” (box/DL/slot) are becoming more valuable because they end up being able to read plays better and/or get more tackles. Here’s a great resource for identifying “sweet spot” safeties.
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Final Tips for IDP Success
IDP fantasy football can feel like a crapshoot, but if you just pay attention, you can find success. Hopefully, this article has given you a foundation for understanding the game and how to approach your league. If you find the right matchups, it can be very clear who is a decent start. But don’t abandon ship if your IDPs don’t perform.
Keep in mind that most weeks are not a player’s boom week. In 2022, the top 24 sack leaders in the NFL averaged just over 12 sacks. In a 17-game fantasy season, a top 24 player is not even guaranteed to get 1 sack a game. So be patient. Not every week is a boom week. However, if you happen to hit on a multi-sack week, you’re probably going to win your matchup. It’s an amazing feeling when patience pays off.
Simple preparation is key. If you just pay attention to a team’s depth chart and to the surrounding circumstances (snap counts, pressure rates, contracts, etc), you will surely find your path to success. Remember, though, that the whole point is to have fun. Securing a last-second victory because you got points for a game-ending sack by Myles Garrett while your opponent lost points because his QB lost rushing yards because of that same Garrett sack is a sweetness that is hard to match.
Fantasy football often takes a season or two to really get the hang of, and IDP is the same way. You may start your IDP career coming out swinging. Or you may fall flat on your face. No matter the outcome, keep a level head. Things change fast. Keep it fun and you’re in for a great ride from snap to whistle, draft to confetti.
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