Individual Defensive Player Primer
By Andy Behrens
July 5, 2007
Literally, it stunk. The draft took place in a basement in Iowa City, and it smelled like Keystone and cigarillos. It was either 1991 or 1992. In those days, football drafts were boozy things that lasted five hours. You went into them with an NFL preview magazine and a spiral notebook. If you were lucky, you left with Warren Moon and a manageable buzz.
All I can clearly remember about my first draft, aside from the odor, is that my co-owner was useless and we selected Derrick Thomas very early. Too early, as it turned out. But at the time we felt that Thomas was among the best of the Individual Defensive Players (IDPs). In that league, in addition to the usual offensive skill positions, we started a full 11-man defensive lineup.
If your football league has similar settings, you'll need more than just this article. This is merely a primer. It's an introduction. If you're starting 11 IDPs, that's a pretty hardcore league. The guiding principles below will apply, but you'll find the position rankings to be insufficient. IDP configurations will normally use fewer than 11 players, though. In my primary league we start a total of four defensive players. But I've played in leagues that use one IDP, and I've played in leagues that use 11. If you're a league commissioner planning to replace the DEF position with some yet-to-be-determined number of IDPs, I'd recommend starting slow. Don't overwhelm your owners. Use only four or five defensive players this season.
If you're an owner struggling with draft preparation in an IDP league, these are a few important things to consider …
This seems brutally obvious, but fantasy owners blow it all the time. They blow it in every sport, too. Custom configurations require customized rankings. Nearly every list of IDP rankings you'll encounter was developed using the assumption that fantasy points will be awarded for tackles and assisted tackles. My list assumes that, too. That's why middle linebackers rule the IDP rankings. But I've played in leagues that don't use tackles at all, and I've played in leagues where sacks are assigned absurd values. In those configurations, defensive ends were significantly more important.
These are the scoring settings we use for defensive players in my main IDP league:
1 point per tackle
That's fairly standard. But if you tweaked it just a little, you'd have to alter your player rankings to reflect the changes.
Don't draft Brian Urlacher in the fifth round
In my IDP league in 2006, Urlacher was the ninth-leading scorer among all defensive linemen and linebackers (DLs). He finished the fantasy season with 142.5 points. Nice, but the 25 DLs after Urlacher all finished within 32 points of his year-end total. So Urlacher was no more than two points per week better than a several players who were available in the free-agent pool all season.
In fantasy, the difference between the No. 1 IDP at any position and the No. 10 guy isn't anything like the difference between, say, Peyton Manning and Jon Kitna. I won't generally draft IDPs until I've sketched out most of my offensive lineup and added depth at running back. This was a lesson that I learned in the early-90s. (See above). Basically, I'm not likely to draft any of the players I've ranked one through five at DL or DB. There's not a discernable drop-off at the end of my lists, either. There are plenty of defensive players who can produce stats comparable to the guys ranked 15 and beyond.
The best real-life defensive players aren't necessarily the biggest fantasy scorers, by the way. Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren't. For example, Champ Bailey was a Pro Bowl cornerback in 2004. That season he had three interceptions and 12 passes defended – not a very helpful fantasy season. Bailey can have a profound impact on an actual game, obviously. Opposing quarterbacks often avoid the receiver he's covering, resulting in fewer opportunities to make plays that have fantasy relevance. He was still a stellar fantasy DB in 2005 and 2006, though. So it goes with corners.
Just draft players who make tackles
Other defensive scoring categories are far more difficult to project. You can't really predict defensive touchdowns for any player. Nobody had more than two of them last season. Similarly, you can't reliably predict that any player will get turnovers in a given week. If you're in a Yahoo! league that uses DL and/or D positions, get the linebackers who post big tackle totals. It's the safest, most reliable path. Except …
Well, OK, maybe you can draft one non-tackling freak
Pre-rank the top IDPs before drafting
Even if my suggestions and my player ranks disgust you, it's important that you listen to me on this point: you'll want to pre-rank your IDPs. Yahoo! didn't do it for you. Auto-pickers who don't prepare for their draft will suffer consequences.
Top 35 at DL
1. Keith Bulluck, Tennessee
Top 30 at DB
1. Adrian Wilson, Arizona
Andy Behrens has written for ESPN.com, the Chicago Sports Review, NBA.com, the Chicago Reader and various other publications. In all likelihood, Andy owns more Artis Gilmore memorabilia than you. Follow him on Twitter. Send Andy a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated on Thursday, Jul 5, 2007 11:39 pm, EDT