Different ways to play with IDPs

Updated: July 26, 2013, 3:09 PM ET
By Jim McCormick | Special to ESPN.com

A decade into my favorite league, it feels like time for a change. Internally, in the midst of deeply personal trash talk on the league message board, we are debating whether to add a keeper element or switch to an auction draft from the traditional winding snake. Mostly it's a series of well-intentioned insults, but every few offseasons we actually get together and augment the format a little bit, and it has undoubtedly improved the health of the league.

To make a more transformative shift than just a few draft or keeper tweaks, one of the best ways to differentiate your fantasy football resume is to play in an individual defensive player league (IDP). It's more than likely that you are quite familiar with the IDP format, but check out our strategy guide to becoming a full-fledged defensive nerd for a quick refresher. But this isn't a verbose pitch that argues how this side of the pillow is cooler because it encompasses the other side of the ball and offers a more complete fantasy football experience. Instead, I'm here to discuss the variety of ways you can enjoy managing and competing with imaginary defensive rosters. From scoring modifiers to roster blueprints, each IDP league seems to be a little different than the next. Let's delve into the different ways these leagues can be structured and just how we might best navigate these variations on our way to the fantasy playoffs.

Scoring

You'll have a hard time trying to find a consensus scoring legend or "standard league" settings among IDP leagues, but there are some conventions we find; like how the vast majority of leagues recognize standard defensive stats such as tackles, sacks and turnovers. Some leagues also acknowledge pass deflections, tackles for loss and even the sum of "stuff yardage" -- the yards lost by a runner on a given tackle for loss. The real strategic differences come into play when these stat categories are weighed differently from league to league, such as a six-point interception reward that equates stealing possession with a touchdown. It's common to find groups of managers who view sacks as highly influential plays and believe getting to the quarterback should be handsomely rewarded. A strip-sack fumble recovery for a touchdown mega-play by your top defensive lineman? The point total on that play might just break a laptop or two in some leagues. It can seem complicated at first glance, but it's a reality of the format that variation in scoring systems is the rare constant.

[+] EnlargeChris Long
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesThe value of Chris Long (on ground) increases in leagues where sacks are given greater value and tackles are minimized some.

Some good work has been done in the quest for an ideal and universal scoring format for IDP leagues, but we nay just have to accept that variety will often trump conformity. IDP fanatics are often proud of the more underground nature of the format, and a part of that identity is the personalized and specific settings that make up their gaming experience. It's really all about how your league wants to value the different contributions to the game that each statistical achievement represents. Now this is the part where I say, "you should always know the scoring system" of any league you enter. It was assuredly on the "Ten Commandments of Fantasy Football" that Matthew Berry was given on that mountaintop so many years back, but the notion does continue to bear value. We should focus on what that saying should compel managers to do -- namely, to actively shift your value chart based on the scoring settings.

Too often, particularly with IDP leagues, we enter new leagues trusting we'll make capable adjustments on the fly to whatever unique tweaks or twists a new league might employ. Don't just know your scoring, adjust to it and augment your pricing of players. In other words, before the draft, actively shift your rankings or cheat sheet with the settings in mind. Depending on the format you are used to in your longest running and favorite leagues, you might have a well-established archetype for the players you pursue. And this archetype might fell you if you don't adjust it for new settings. You might avoid the boom-or-bust pass rushers when drafting defensive linemen in the league you are used to, but in this new league you are joining because a work friend needs a last-minute hand, maybe sacks are weighted with much more value, and thus, that type of producer becomes an entirely different and more valuable commodity. It feels like I'm advising that you eat your vegetables … but know your scoring. We are comfortable with the concept of adjusting our value chart for, say, a PPR or a two-QB league, and this is really not different. Pricing players appropriately during the draft tends to define the potential for success in both real and fantasy football.

As a potential point of reference for those looking to start up an IDP league this summer, I generally use this set of what I'd consider somewhat conservative scoring modifiers for an IDP league: Solo tackle (1), assisted tackle (0.5), sack (3), interception (3), forced fumble (3), fumble recovery (2), touchdown (6), safety (4), pass defended (1), blocked kick (3).

Rosters

[+] EnlargeGeno Atkins
Jason Bridge/USA TODAY SportsGeno Atkins compiled 54 tackles and 12.5 sacks last season as an interior defensive lineman, making him a rare commodity in fantasy leagues.

The most common roster formula I've seen for IDP leagues throughout the years features two starters defensive back, defensive line and linebacker, while also having two flex defender spots (any position). In more traditional point-per-tackle leagues, like the format I posted above, linebackers tend to dominate the scoring leaderboard and should be drafted to fill the flex spots when possible. More and more commonly, though, you'll encounter leagues that demand specific positions be rostered, such as cornerbacks and safeties, versus just deploying a general defensive back slot. This once again shifts the value system in that specific marketplace, as position scarcity should influence our decisions -- consider how rare it is for a dominant defensive tackle like Geno Atkins or a stud cornerback like Charles "Peanut" Tillman to surface. For help navigating such specific leagues, check out our top-150 IDP rankings and seek out the specific position notes (CB, DT, etc.) next to each player as a way to build out tiers for more precise position differentiation. Much like how investing in Jimmy Graham at a premium could help you feast on margins above the pack of tight ends this fall, the same can be said when you deftly invest in an Atkins or Tillman type in a setting that truly sees profits born from position scarcity.

It's never corny to quote GI Joe (I'm talking cool mid-80's "Kung Fu Grip" version), because knowing truly is half the battle. Even though it takes a little more preparation, competing in the wild west of IDP is truly rewarding. With so much amazingly information and so many resources available to us, like the aforementioned IDP strategy guide and positional breakdown in the Draft Kit, it's time to get down to the best kind of homework ever invented.

Jim McCormick is a fantasy football and fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.

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