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Monday, June 18, 2012
Updated: June 20, 11:16 AM ET
IDP strategy: Pay for D-linemen

By Jim McCormick
Special to ESPN.com

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in June 2011. We are bringing it back updated to reference the 2012 season for your convenience.

We are the underground of fantasy football.

A subculture in what has become its own culture. We play in IDP leagues. Or for the uninitiated, our focus is on individual defensive players.

You know, the other side of the game. The side that seeks to protect precious ground and punish offenders who seek to take it. You are a football fan, so you already know their names: Jason Pierre-Paul and Charles Woodson, Patrick Willis and Jared Allen. Household names to you, fantasy monsters to us.

So you already know who the talents are, maybe not all of them, but you have some incumbent knowledge. The next step is getting into an IDP league, or six, and enjoying what the other side has to offer that the traditional side simply cannot.

As an alternative to relying on the cumulative production of a team defense each week, IDP leagues instead require that you roster and manage a variety of individual defenders, organized by position (defensive linemen, defensive backs, etc.). The statistics that your individual defenders accrue go well beyond the common team defense settings (sacks, points allowed, touchdowns and turnovers). In this format, defenders accumulate tackles (solo and assisted), sacks, fumble recoveries, interceptions, touchdowns and passes defensed.

Most commonly, defensive rosters take the place of selecting a team defense and are a complement to the offensive roster you build. The truly hard core play in defensive-only leagues, but that usually takes a few years into the obsession.

Is playing on the IDP side more consuming in the sense that there are bigger rosters and more players to consider? Of course it is. No misleading pitch here; you are going to have to put in some work, but it's not TPS reports, but rather delving deep into the defensive side of the game we love.

For the interested and uninitiated, let's discuss just how the IDP format works …

League setup

There are infinite settings you can employ, from establishing the scoring key (how many points awarded for a sack or an interception) to how positions are organized (for example, with respect to defensive linemen, defensive tackles can be a separate position from defensive ends, or they all can be regarded as "DL"). A common framework for a defensive roster often includes 5-8 spots broken down by position. As an example, here's the setup for an IDP league that I've played in for the past decade:

2 DL slots: defensive linemen that can be either tackles or ends
2 LB slots: linebackers
2 DB slots: defensive backs that can be either safeties or cornerbacks
2 DP (defensive player) slots: "flex" or utility spots in which you can start any defender

Traditional scoring modifiers

Always have a sound grasp on the scoring settings in any fantasy league in which you play. This is especially true when entering an IDP league, as variations in scoring are more common, given there isn't a truly accepted set of scoring standards amongst the IDP community. That said, I've found that the scoring format below is a reasonable basis to work from:

Solo tackle (1)
Assisted tackle (0.5)
Sack (3)
Interception (3)
Forced Fumble (3)
Fumble Recovery (3)
Touchdown (6)
Safety (2)
Pass Defensed (1)
Blocked Kick (3)

Drafting in an IDP league

So, you are entering the second half of your fantasy draft and you have what (hopefully) seems to be a compelling collection of offensive talent; it's now time to start developing the defensive roster. Here is a breakdown of each defensive position followed by a basic overall draft strategy.

Patrick Willis
Patrick Willis' fantasy production can rival an offensive player's, in certain league setups.

Linebackers: If the core draft strategy in years past was to take two stud fantasy tailbacks off the bat in traditional leagues, the current truism on defense is to nab at least one elite linebacker to start off your defensive roster, and seek to build out the secondary and tertiary options, given how deep the 'backer position can be.

Truly elite fantasy linebackers, such as Patrick Willis and D'Qwell Jackson, have been known to average (using the scoring settings above) nearly 10 points per game, numbers comparable to valued offensive commodities, such as No. 2 wideouts and tailbacks. One element that has changed is that it isn't solely the middle 'backer who puts up the prolific totals; with the 3-4 scheme sweeping through defensive playbooks over the past decade, we've seen a crop of outside linebackers who regularly collect double-digit sacks and generally create havoc, as DeMarcus Ware and James Harrison have proven.

A sound strategy for this position is to pair elite inside 'backers, such as James Laurinaitis and NaVorro Bowman, with some of the cheaper upside options that exist at this uniquely deep position. The position is valuable but incredibly deep, as well, so seek out upside and value here with some greatly productive, if lesser-known commodities, such as Daryl Smith or Kevin Burnett.

Defensive Backs: Safeties are the safest. Like linebackers, they have consistent opportunities to take down ball carriers, and the elites combine stable tackle numbers with a variety of turnovers and passes defended. Cornerbacks certainly factor in, as productive playmakers such as Charles Woodson and the workmanlike Terrell Thomas are proven commodities. It's simply less common for a corner to be a consistent fantasy source, given the nature of the position, but a young crop of legit fantasy options is emerging in the likes of Jason McCourty and Kyle Arrington. One discrepancy with the "real" and fantasy realms is that the truly shutdown cover corners such as Darrelle Revis and Nnamdi Asomugha simply don't put up worthy numbers, since they are so often avoided by opposing signal-callers. If fantasy value is predicated on opportunity to produce, drafting a blend of ball-hawking safeties (i.e., Kam Chancellor) and punishing close-to-the-box safeties (Tyvon Branch) is your best bet.

Defensive Linemen: Defensive ends are the valued commodities at this position, with the atypically productive defensive tackle (Haloti Ngata) entering the discussion. You are hunting for a volume of sacks and fumbles from these guys, with the top talents also collecting a nice clip of tackles. I find that outside of, say, the top 5-7 guys, this position is amazingly fickle from year to year. That means you can either draft one trusted stud and some upside guys in the twilight rounds or go all out and get two studs in hopes of not having to consider the position for much of the season.

With the shallow nature of the position, it wouldn't be a bad plan to aim for two elite defensive linemen if you can bear the draft cost, given that linebackers and defensive backs crop up in greater volume than linemen during the season.

Draft strategy

As is the case in standard drafts, it is best to wait on defense until you are confident with the depth you have built on the offensive side of the ball. Just as you are likely to toggle your team offense -- outside of a few elite exceptions -- at some point in the season, your defensive roster will be edited and somewhat fluid, as well. By that I mean that while it's certainly important to build your roster via the draft, it's also vital to not invest too early or at too high a price, as offensive talent remains more scarce, given roster sizes, among other factors.

The manager who drafts a supposed elite team defense in the sixth or seventh round feels secure in landing what is expected to be a consistent and productive fantasy source, but as we know, most team defensives fluctuate in value from year to year. Regret might set in when considering the potential offensive fixture that was passed over when paying a premium for a defensive unit.

The same can be said for drafting individual defenders, as it's best to wait until the later rounds, when your offensive stock is strong, to begin investing. This might make you miss out on Willis or Chancellor, just as you likely won't land the San Francisco defense if you plan to wait it out, but there are plenty of choice defenders past the elite tier that might serve your roster best in terms of offensive and defensive balance. Get that superstar when you want to -- this is just to suggest you seek out value on offense as a priority.

In an attempt to reduce the positional breakdowns into a basic overall IDP drafting strategy, I would advise that in your first four defensive selections you net two star linemen, given the position scarcity; also net one choice defensive back and an elite linebacker. With this foundation, you'll be free to gamble and go into "best available" mode with an eye on the upside sleepers to fill out the rest of your defensive roster.

That format has a reputation for winning over its participants, given how immersed one becomes with the defensive side of the ball. No offense to those who like to solely play what is essentially offensive fantasy football, we're just asking that you consider getting defensive.

The overall pitch here is that you should differentiate your fantasy experience every so often. The idea with these individual defensive leagues is to try something new, something different, which discusses an entirely different market for talent.