My favorite part about dynasty football leagues is the depth and variety of leagues available for you to choose from. Interested in Superflex or 2QB leagues? Those are readily available in plenty of forums. How about one that increases scoring league-wide? Something like 0.25 points per carry while tight ends score 1.5 points per reception (TE Prem)? Those are a dime a dozen.
The most challenging hurdle I’ve found for dynasty owners, is the transition into individual defensive player leagues. Most fantasy players have a strong grasp on which running backs and wide receivers they should build their squads around. What happens when IDPs are introduced into the fold? Let’s break it down, step-by-step:
Know your scoring format
The difficulty in writing about IDP leagues is there’s such a variety of both formats and scoring, it’s often difficult to generalize. The most important thing here is know your league’s scoring settings. I cannot emphasize that enough. The two most common types of scoring are either “tackle-heavy” or “big-play” scoring, but even those have plenty of variations.
Tackle-heavy leagues generally emphasize scoring on solo tackles, often making them worth two points per tackle compared to big-play’s one-point scoring. Linebackers are the lifeblood of these leagues. Targeting 4-3 middle linebackers is often the modus operandi of IDP veterans who play in this scoring format.
Big-play scoring prioritizes players that can create turnovers. These leagues often score sacks (six points), interceptions (four), and fumble recoveries (four) at a much higher rate. Due to the volatility of turnovers, the weekly variance in these leagues can sometimes frustrate owners. Prioritizing players that see plenty of snaps and hurries can limit inconsistencies.
Do your research
If I’m starting a brand-new league, I like to see how defensive players from the past few years have fared under my league’s particular scoring settings. Creating a spreadsheet with this information can help you easily view tiers at each position and any scoring anomalies (ala 2014 J.J. Watt). Tier each defensive position you are required to start and go back about five rounds’ worth of players. By comparing the midpoint of a tier against another position, you can get a sense for how to value IDP’s relative to their offensive counterparts.
That being said, we can’t just blindly go off last year’s fantasy scoring and presume it will directly translate to the next year. We need some context. What kind of scheme did their team run last year? Did the team make any important coaching changes that could present a change? Was the player successful due to another player seeing a significant injury? Did the team make any big free agent signings or spend high draft equity on someone?
You don’t have to know the ins and outs of every defense in the league, but having a pulse on the team and knowing the scheme they plan to run in the upcoming year should be your biggest takeaways.
Defensive Player Breakdown: DL
The reason I point out defensive scheme in the section above is that it’s integral to the type of defensive players we should be focusing on. You aren’t going to prioritize a WR3 on a run-first team. Similarly, you shouldn’t be prioritizing 3-4 nose tackle over a 4-3 defensive tackle.
We’ll start with defensive linemen. In big-play scoring, there can be some true gems worth reaching for at this position to anchor your defensive squad. These are typically our young 4-3 ends — think Joey Bosa, Myles Garrett, etc. With the NFL continuing to trend to a more pass-happy league, we want to prioritize these ferocious pass-rushers that also see plenty of snaps. That combination presents with plenty of upside in sacks and forced fumbles, while the high snap total presents more opportunities for tackles and tackle assists. 3-4 ends traditionally are asked to occupy space over making plays. While there are exceptions — especially with how often we’re seeing multiple fronts nowadays — 4-3 ends should be your focus. Grabbing a youthful 4-3 stud can be a consistent source of fantasy points for your IDP squad.
If you’re in a league that also plays defensive tackles, targeting players that see significant snaps in a 4-3 should be your priority. Damon Harrison, Gerald McCoy, and Fletcher Cox are all stalwarts at the position worthy of investing early in. We’re looking for guys that rarely come off the field and present some upside as disruptive interior defenders. Scoring for defensive tackles isn’t particularly high nor is there much of a jump in tiers. Subsequently, my preferred strategy is to draft one high-end player then wait a considerable amount of time before addressing the position again. There isn’t much difference in scoring between DT3s and DT4s.
Defensive Player Breakdown: LB
In a startup, you can let others reach and overpay for the top-shelf linebackers without much worry. You’ll be able to get 90 percent of their production in the next round, while still staying in the same tier. The linear, close-knit scoring of linebackers makes drafting linebackers one of the easier parts of playing IDP leagues. This wasn’t always the case, but as DynastyLeagueFootball’s Tom Kislingbury illustrates, the high-end fantasy-scoring linebackers are now becoming a rather extinct position:
— Tom Kislingbury (@TomDegenerate) April 12, 2018
We are seeing fewer “stat-stuffers” when it comes to tackles and assists. This flattening at the position provides fewer top-tier standouts, but it does leave us a better opportunity to grab mid-tier linebackers without sacrificing much in terms of fantasy point differential. Many leagues let you start three or four linebackers. Attacking this position frequently in the middle rounds can make your squad a difference maker if you can net several LB2s and LB3s. Inside linebackers (both 4-3 and 3-4) are the general bread and butter for tackle-heavy leagues. 3-4 edge rushers can provide boom or bust weeks, but their boom ones can really propel a linebacker corps. If my league starts four linebackers, I’d be okay utilizing an edge outside linebacker in one of those starting spots, but our main target should be inside linebackers that see heavy snaps.
Defensive Player Breakdown: DB
Finally, we get to the secondary position. Safeties — particularly in the box safeties — are the main target we want to pursue here. Guys who can rack up tackles and tackle assists are the lifeblood at this position, even in big-play scoring leagues. The rarity and randomness of interceptions makes them difficult to rely on. Instead, targeting guys that we know are game-planned to be around the ball and in the box should be our priority. Reshad Jones, Keanu Neal, and Landon Collins all notched 100-plus combined solos and assists and are strong Tier 1 safeties to pursue.
Traditional scoring for cornerbacks has made them a near afterthought unless your league has some quirky rules. Most quarterbacks tend to avoid the All-Pros in the league. Like them, we want to shift our focus on No. 2 cornerbacks. We want No. 2’s because we want players that quarterbacks can pick on but aren’t so bad that they get replaced and taken off the field in different formations. Targets against is a statistic I like to utilize when selecting corners to start for my IDP teams. If we’re lucky and the cornerback wins his battle when targeted against, he can accrue fantasy points by either an interception or pass defensed. If he loses the battle with his receiver and allows the reception, he’ll be right there to tackle the receiver and score points that way. If you’re in a starter IDP league that has you starting three “defensive backs” and isn’t position-specific, attack the safety position and safely ignore corners.
Starting the Draft: Offense reigns supreme
Now that we know how our scoring rules are defined and which types of players we want to target at each position, we can enter our startup draft with confidence. In a startup, it’s important to exercise patience when looking at the defensive side of the ball. Your core of early-round picks should center around offensive players. Why? They regularly outscore their defensive counterparts and are generally more stable. It’s also far easier to acquire streamable defenders over streamable offensive pieces. Building around the offensive side of the ball and investing early in it has proven to be a winning strategy.
We’re going to want to fill out a decent portion of our roster with offensive players prior to dipping our toes into the defensive side of the ball. Drafting 3-4 running backs, 4-5 wide receivers and either a quarterback and/or tight end presents a strong nucleus of offensive players for us to work with. We may miss out on the J.J. Watts and Luke Kuechlys, and “settle” on Melvin Ingram and Eric Kendricks a few rounds later. However, while our opponents are grabbing premiere defensive players, we’re nabbing the Jordan Howards and Doug Baldwins of the world while they’re settling for Lamar Miller and Robert Woods later.
In most startups, you’re going to want to start your defensive selections with youthful studs. While it sounds like I’m stating the obvious, there’s more to it. In today’s NFL, defensive coordinators can change on a whim. Getting younger players who can adapt to changing schemes can prove useful over the long-run. Shifts in defensive philosophy can happen overnight and turn a rookie stash into a sophomore breakout candidate if he finds himself in the right situation.
Further, it should be our goal to stash linebackers like they’re going out of style. You never know whether a waiver-wire pickup could turn into a weekly starter for you. Defensive backs can be found and streamed without much difficulty. Take linebackers often to maximize the potential for hidden gems.
I mentioned it earlier, but drafting a mid-Tier 1 defensive end can go a long way to anchoring a lineup. I’ll let others reach for Watt while I take on the Melvin Ingrams and Carlos Dunlaps a few rounds later. Getting a difference-maker at defensive tackle can also help alleviate weekly start/sit concerns, but don’t force it. If you see a good time to pounce you can make a move for one, but don’t rush to get a premiere DT.
Safeties can be targeted around the range LB2s start to dry up. There’s really no rush to go out and get an in-the-box safety with there being plenty to choose from. The replaceability of corners should make them an afterthought. You should be deep into your start-up before even looking at them.
The bottom line here is that when you think it’s time to start looking at IDPs, you should likely wait another round. Offensive players score at a much higher rate and are subsequently generally valued much higher. Build a strong core of offensive players, then attack the defensive side of the ball. Prioritize 4-3 ends, 4-3 middle linebackers, and above all, snap counts. Simply being on the field leads to more opportunities and the chance to tack on ancillary stats such as tackle assists and perhaps a lucky bounce of the ball for a fumble recovery.
Integrating individual defensive players into your dynasty portfolio is a rewarding challenge if you’re willing to put in the work. Taking the time to learn defensive schemes and unearthing potential IDP gems will be well worth it when you’re hoisting your fantasy league’s trophy at the end of the season.