Punch Drunk Wonderland

Fantasy IDP Best Practices

IDP-RankingWhen it comes to fantasy IDP there are several factors that play into what makes a defensive player worthwhile. Obviously, the scoring system will dictate a great deal. Beyond the scoring system, it is important to pay attention to defensive scheme for IDPs. I’ve had several questions recently about “best practices” and position-by-position breakdowns for IDPs, so I’m going to take a look at each position (DL, LB, DB) with a focus on good rules of thumb for each.

Be sure to check out my 2014 IDP Rankings.


RULE:  4-3 MLB/3-4 ILB >= 4-3 WLB > 4-3 SLB/3-4 OLB

As mentioned above, scheme is essential when it comes to IDPs. Linebackers with the highest potential fantasy floor and opportunity for consistency will be Middle Linebackers in a 4-3 defense or Inside Linebackers in a 3-4 defense because they will have the greatest opportunity to amass tackles. In most scoring systems tackles are the bread winner stats for IDP.

After MLBs/ILBs you have Weak Side Linebackers (WILL) in a 4-3 defense. These linebackers have both the ability to stuff run plays and pursue on pass plays which means there is a great deal of versatility to the position. Versatility means a player’s talent will dictate effectiveness.  Some of the best fantasy IDPs can be WLBs (Lavonte David, Vontaze Burfict, Kiko Alonso), but as a general rule they may not be as consistent as MLBs/ILBs. There is a fairly big talent drop off from the elite WLBs to the 2nd tier.

Pass rushing linebackers make up the bottom of the barrel in terms of IDP potential. Strong Side Linebackers in a 4-3 defense and Outside Linebackers in a 3-4 have the least opportunity for tackles since they are primarily rushing the QB. These players are very boom/bust and more often than not aren’t worth grabbing unless you’re using a scoring system that greatly rewards “Big Play” (sacks, ints, etc.). For example, in 2013 Robert Mathis (OLB, Indianapolis Colts) led the league in sacks but was only the #15 fantasy linebacker in our Getting Defensive leagues. He was the top rusher in the league, but couldn’t crack the top 10 in terms of IDP. Only the very cream of the crop of pass rushing linebackers would be worth consideration. For example, Von Miller (OLB, Denver Broncos) is an example of an Outside Linebacker with such huge talent that he is nearly always worth having on your roster. Otherwise, pass rushing linebackers can typically be avoided as there should be better options available.

Note on OLBs: It’s important to note that many times players that were Defensive Ends in a 4-3 defense often are converted to Outside Linebackers in a 3-4 defense if a team changes scheme. In terms of fantasy impact this is huge. For example, Dwight Freeney was once an elite fantasy pass rusher listed as a DE but his value became greatly reduced when he was switched to an OLB in a 3-4 defense. He was a worthwhile addition as a Defensive Lineman, but there were just far too many better options if he was considered a Linebacker. Many pass rushers become fantasy irrelevant because of scheme changes.

Defensive Backs

RULE:  S > CB, SS > FS
When it comes to defensive backs there are a lot of variables that go into their production, so more often than not it’s very hard to predict which players will find success from season to season. The only sure thing when it comes to defensive backs is to remember that Safeties ALWAYS out produce Cornerbacks when it comes to fantasy IDP production. This is largely because safeties will have more opportunities for tackles and their value isn’t so dependent on whether a pass is thrown in their direction as is the case for corners.

Vikings SS Harrison Smith

SS Harrison Smith

Among safeties, Strong Safeties tend to have the best opportunity for fantasy consistency. SS will often play “in the box” and will be more involved in run support. This means they have a greater chance to amass both tackles and sacks as Strong Safeties are also more often involved in safety blitz packages. Free Safeties are often referred to as “center fielders” and their primary responsibility is deep coverage and providing secondary help to the cornerbacks. This means FS opportunity for tackles are reduced, but they do have opportunities for interceptions.

Cornerbacks are the most haphazard and largely random position in terms of fantasy production. Their numbers will depend on how often passes are thrown in their direction. Even then, their effectiveness will be based on whether they can tally tackles, passes defensed, or the oh-so-elusive interception to show IDP value. For this reason you often see that some of the best cornerbacks in the league tend to not be worthwhile fantasy IDP options. If quarterbacks fear a corner and don’t want to throw in his direction, then that player isn’t going to get the opportunity to fill out a stat sheet. As a result, you will often find that a team’s #3 CB or slot corner tends to show better fantasy production than their star cover corner. Slot corners can tend to get more tackle opportunities in the middle of the field, but keep in mind this isn’t a good predictor for consistent IDP success since now we’re talking about a sub-package and these corners will be facing tackle competition from linebackers.

Note on Interceptions: More often than not interceptions are a fluke stat. Talented players will certainly make big plays, but there are very rarely predictors when it comes to INTs. 

Defensive Line

RULE: 4-3 DE > 3-4 DE > DT

Texans DE J.J. Watt

DE J.J. Watt

When it comes to the defensive line, Defensive Ends in a 4-3 defense are the stars. They will be the linemen that amass the most sacks while still having some opportunities for tackles. 4-3 DEs will be far and away the most productive defensive linemen, and more often than not you won’t need to look anywhere else. Defensive Ends in a 3-4 have a greater responsibility in being disruptive to the offensive line and tying up blockers to allow other rushers to get through. While some elite 3-4 DEs can be producers, there isn’t much fantasy consistency.

Defensive Tackles are the lowest on the totem pole when it comes to fantasy IDPs in most scoring systems. For the most part, tackles in both a 4-3 and 3-4 have a responsibility to clog up the line in run defense and tie up blockers. There is a lot of great work that goes on in the trenches, but there just aren’t fantasy stats that can give these players value. The only slight exception is the 1-gap DT in a 4-3 defense. In a 4-3 defense one of the Defensive Tackles will play 2-gap technique meaning they are responsible for tying up two (or more) blockers while the other DT plays 1-gap technique in which he is responsible for the other remaining offensive linemen (typically a guard). The DT with the 1-gap responsibility will have a greater chance at making tackles or sacks, and that gives him a slightly greater potential for fantasy production.  However, that potential is still VERY low in the grand scheme of things. Also, DTs will have varied responsibilities throughout a game depending on schemes and plays, so there rarely is a single tackle that is consistently considered the “1-gap DT”.

Take these “IDP Best Practices” to heart and good luck!

(Feel free to contact me if you have any questions)


K. Smelser About K. Smelser
Kelly Smelser is Owner/Senior Writer for Punch Drunk Wonderland and PDFantasy Sports. Architect of the PDW fantasy football world and general spinster of NFL and Fantasy Football news and analysis. Long walks on the beach, sunsets, and other such niceties are also fine...