We individual defensive player (IDP) leaguers recruit in all sorts of ways.
Be it a "random" last-minute opening in a league, a reasoned pitch over a few pints or simply years of relentless badgering, more and more invites to join IDP leagues go out every year. This August and September, even more of you will accept the offer to join us on the "other" side.
The IDP format asks that you manage not only your standard offensive roster but also a collection of various individual defenders, broken down by position (linemen, defensive backs, etc.). Points are generated by individual performances instead of just the production of a team defense each week.
Just as in most subcultures, there are shared characteristics among IDP loyalists. It attracts a dually hard-core football and fantasy fan. An IDP partisan is the inventive type who conjures up defensive-player-themed fantasy team names such as "Revis and Butthead" or "Red Hot Julius Peppers" instead of something of the "Favre Dollar Footlongs" or "The Birds and the Brees" ilk.
Communal knowledge is great, if you're into that kind of thing, but the IDP manager wants more to do, inspired to glean advantages from research and masterful "nerdery." A starting running back goes down and we all know about it within 12 seconds. The line to pick up his replacement on the waiver wire, in the unlikely case he's not already on a roster, often begins immediately. Simply put, the vast amount of readily available analysis and information for offensive football players has continually seen the gap close in standard leagues. Improvement via the wire remains crucial and elemental in any format, but in a standard league, its impact is somewhat minimized by the ever-informed investor. In IDP leagues, on the other hand, more attention must be paid to a considerably less-publicized facet of the sport. Maximizing your roster's production takes more time and interest, making expertise in defensive leagues arguably more appreciable.
As user demand for more influence and customization over the fantasy experience grows, so does the IDP format. Don't get me wrong, standard fantasy football leagues remain as awesome and enduring as the "Red Zone Channel" and light beer, but sometimes you want to mix it up, and IDP leagues afford you this option.
The foundation of any league is in its settings and rules. A delicate balance should be crafted that satisfies the constituents of the league and also pays respect to a realistic balance. As fun as it can be to get creative with scoring modifiers and whatnot, I've always found that a more conventional approach vets out better. Awarding six points for a sack is fun in theory, yet ridiculous in practice.
There are endless elements that you can manipulate, including how you categorize players. For example, defensive tackles can be a separate position from defensive ends, or they all can be regarded generally as defensive linemen. There's also the important facet of how you set your scoring (i.e., how many points a tackle, a sack or an interception is worth).
So that we're working from agreed parameters, we'll use what many consider traditional scoring modifiers for an IDP league:
Tackle - Solo (1)
Tackle - Assist (0.5)
Forced fumble (3)
Fumble recovery (3)
Pass defended (1)
Blocked kick (2)
Again, striking a balance is ideal in regard to how many slots you designate for different defensive positions. Sticking with assumed standards, let's say an average IDP league consists of seven defenders: two defensive backs, two linebackers, two defensive linemen and one utility slot. No longer are you merely plugging in the Steelers' aggregated defense; instead, you're discerning which of the four potent Pittsburgh linebackers provides you with the best value and production.
Linebackers: The elite "mike" (middle) linebackers dominate our IDP rankings for good reason, as their blend of consistency and potent production is unmatched. The middle 'backers who play in a 4-3 scheme, such as Stewart Bradley and Barrett Ruud, will put up ridiculous tackle numbers since their role asks that they instinctively roam and hunt for the ball. A number of outside linebackers and inside linebackers in the 3-4 are also profound tacklers, and some 3-4 outside guys (DeMarcus Ware and James Harrison, for instance) are capable of providing a mixture of elite sack numbers and capable tackle totals.
Defensive backs: Concentrate on the coveted few defensive backs who post high tackles as well as turnover stats. Target safeties over corners in almost every case. Talented cornerbacks who have low-tackle, high-interception résumés (such as Rashean Mathis or Antonio Cromartie) don't add enduring value to your team, while a safety, or the rare stud corner who boasts a penchant for high-tackle, modest-turnover production (such as Yeremiah Bell), often does. Netting two high-tackle, established defensive backs before you pursue depth at the lineman spots is advised.
Defensive linemen: Most leagues require that you start at least two defensive linemen each week, with the hard-core leagues asking that you differentiate among ends and tackles. The bulk of notable fantasy production from the line comes from sack-savvy defensive ends. A productive defensive tackle is a rare commodity and is extremely valuable in leagues that ask you to specifically roster tackles. You'll notice a few elite tackles interspersed in our rankings. With every sack worth a gaudy three points, prolific pass-rushers are vital to your efforts. Choice defensive ends can net double-digit points in a big multi-sack week, so get at least one true sack artist when considering linemen. At the same time, look for the quarterback wranglers who also tally tackles to avoid getting goose eggs.
Drafting in an IDP league
The greatest stigma that the format faces is that it's over-complicated, and that it convolutes what is an already-consuming hobby. Don't believe the hype. While IDP clearly asks more of you than a traditional league, it's not so involved that you can't become adept within a short amount of time. It's more imperative to know what type of players and statistics to covet as opposed to needing a verbose knowledge of all of the league's defenders (although this helps).
As in traditional drafts, don't look to defense until you've built a solid core of offensive talent. It's often best to stay away from drafting a team defense in the early and middle rounds in traditional leagues, so why start now? Your first IDP selection should come after you've assembled considerable offensive depth, around and after the 10th round.
In building an imposing defensive roster, target players who provide steady production. If forced turnovers and sacks are like touchdowns on the offensive side, then tackles are akin to the yards and receptions that sustain your production each week.
Just as you would in researching wide receivers, investigate beyond the surface stats of defenders to see if value is inflated by one prolific game or outburst of production. Savvy fantasy managers often find that players such as Lee Evans or Santana Moss net most of their production in just a few games, diminishing their value in a weekly head-to-head league, in which consistency is coveted. Did the defensive lineman you're looking at notch six of his 13 sacks in two games, or were they spread throughout the season?
When drafting and making acquisitions, avoid investing in simply "recognizable" names, as if you're using the Pro Bowl rosters as a cheat sheet. Prominent players often earn their reps, but that doesn't always equate to fantasy stardom amongst defenders. Don't reach for Dwight Freeney just because he's a recognizable high-profile talent, especially when a guy like his less-heralded teammate Robert Mathis provides more stable production.
Simply put, focus on stud middle linebackers, elite safeties and defensive ends who boast a balance of sacks and tackles when making your IDP selections. Avoid chasing inflated specialists with early picks that tend leave you imbalanced and weakened some weeks due to their irregular production. Nab a pair of proficient defensive backs within your first four defensive picks, leaving you free to take risks on the risk/reward upside players in the twilight rounds. And just like in traditional drafts, keep abreast of the sleepers and scenarios that arise as the season approaches so that you can pluck a talent on the rise such as James Laurinaitis.
Post-draft and as the season unfolds, scour the free-agent pool in the early weeks for sustainable stats such as tackles and deflections before you target turnovers or sacks, which can be inflated by single-game outbursts. A high-tackle safety or linebacker can net you upward of 5-7 points each week, with the secondary stats (turnovers, sacks, deflections, etc.) serving as a windfall.
Follow defensive players with just a mere percentage of the fervor and guile you afford the offensive side, and you'll find that your IDP roster can help shore up your team during lean offensive stretches and down weeks.
Consider yourself invited. Now get playing!
Jim McCormick is an IDP analyst for ESPN.com Fantasy.