With few exceptions, drafting IDPs differs quite a bit from drafting offensive players.
Even the relatively few leagues that use defensive players -- about 18% among Draft Sharks subscribers -- often start as few as 3, 2 or even just 1 of them. And if your league has made more of a commitment, including 5+ defenders in the starting lineup, most of your league mates still probably spend just a fraction of their prep time on D. You certainly won't find nearly as many folks writing about, talking about and mock-drafting IDPs come the heated summer drafting season.
I find that all makes it less important to nail down a straight rankings set for your defensive-player drafting. Sure, you still need to figure out who you like better before you're sitting on the computer or in a room with friends filling out your team. But IDP rankings vary much more than their offensive counterparts. And replacing your draft mistakes in-season is much easier on the defensive waiver wire.
That's why I generally find it a good idea to target some players that you really like at draft time -- preferably a few high-ceiling types. Insuring those guys with several proven, trustworthy pillars should give your IDP lineup a strong start -- even if you don't hit on all of your sleepers.
The upside guys that you get right can become difference-makers in your quest for a title. We had some such players in our 2014 preseason IDP projections, with no better example than Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul. Of course, we'll probably never hit on all of our calls. Nobody does. So let's take this opportunity to run through some key hits from 2014 and then try to learn from some of the misses.
We had JPP projected higher than any other site that I saw. He sat #3 in the Draft Sharks default scoring system and might have even pushed ahead of Robert Quinn to #2 in more tackle-heavy setups. Pierre-Paul finished 2nd only to J.J. Watt at the position and racked up 7 sacks over his final 4 fantasy weeks (plus another 2 sacks if you played in Week 17.)
Ansah was a popular breakout pick among IDP folks, and we certainly didn't hate him. But we also favored more caution, projecting the 2nd-year DE 20th among all linemen. He used 2 big weeks to finish 24th. Don't be surprised if we rank him higher heading into next season, though.
We had Donald near the top 20 for much of the offseason but moved him down when it became clear that the Rams wouldn't start him at the beginning of the season. But we still kept the eventual defensive rookie of the year in the top 40 and then included him in the Week 7 Free Agent Focus after he registered his 1st sack of the year. Donald went on to deliver 7 more sacks
Hardy's season was a casualty of the NFL realizing it sucked at punishing domestic abusers. If you drafted him -- much like with Adrian Peterson -- you had no reason to believe he'd get suspended for the year. But that's what happened after the Ray Rice video release finally changed everything. We'll see what Hardy's future looks like when he reaches free agency this spring.
Houston embarrassingly tore his right ACL celebrating a sack while trailing the Patriots by 25 points back in October. But he was having a down season even before that. After finishing 13th among 4-3 DEs in Pro Football Focus' grading in 2013 and 11th in 2012, Houston checked in just 25th last year -- right behind part-time players George Johnson, Jonathan Massaquoi, Osi Umenyiora and Anthony Spencer. Houston will still be just 28 next season and is certainly capable of rebounding as soon as 2015. But he proved to be an utter disappointment in his 1st Bears campaign.
Atkins provided some reason for optimism in 2014. PFF rated him 20th among DTs overall and 14th in pass-rushing. But he clearly needed a bit more cushion after his 2013 ACL tear. Atkins barely cracked the top 100 at his fantasy position. We'll expect significantly more in 2015.
We had Levy ranked 9 spots higher than his MFL ADP, which made him a tremendous value if you drafted him. He finished as high as 2nd among LBs, depending on your scoring system.
Collins proved to be 1 of the season's breakout IDP stars, finishing securely inside the top 10 in most IDP formats. Jerod Mayo's injury helped the numbers for both Collins and Dont'a Hightower, but Collins' mix of coverage ability, strong run D and even pass-rushing skills promise to make him a perennial fantasy starter and top-10 contender. We had Collins 30th in our final projections, well within draft range for any league starting 3+ LBs.
We listed Robinson in our preseason IDP sleepers article. He wound up with top-30 numbers despite missing 3 games, and a top-16 scoring average in most formats.
The Colts obviously believed in Jackson more than I did. I expected him to fall short of full-time status as Indy's #2 ILB, but he and Jerrell Freeman stayed on the field full time even after the latter returned to full health. The old guy's still not as good a real-life player as fantasy performer, though. We'll see what that means for his future, heading into his age-32 season.
Speaking of old guys, guess we hung on a year too long with Briggs. He delivered surprising -- top-10 -- production when on the field in 2013 and looked like a potential value for 2014. Instead, he got outscored on a per-game basis by teammates Jon Bostic and Christian Jones, along with 80-something other LBs. The 34-year-old also missed another 8 games. We'll be surprised if he starts anywhere in 2015.
Spikes appeared headed for a 3-down role in his 1st Buffalo season, playing such a role in the exhibition games. But the Bills quickly changed that in the regular season, leaning instead primarily on OLBs Nigel Bradham and rookie Preston Brown. Consider us done with Spikes as a fantasy candidate.
Thomas led all DBs off the board in many a 2014 IDP league. He ranked #1 in ADP at the position on MFL. We projected him 12th, though, which basically should have meant that you didn't draft him. Avoiding him paid off, as Thomas finished 21st.
If you drafted Jonathan Cyprien instead of Burnett ... sorry. We had Cyprien too high. But we also projected the Packer 7 spots higher than his MFL ADP, and he delivered the top fantasy tally among DBs for the season.
We projected McDonald 19th, according to the DS default scoring system. He wound up a top-10 fantasy DB, a role that could become common for this "in the box" prototype playing behind arguably the league's best D-line.
We were probably higher than anyone on Cyprien, projecting him 2nd among DBs heading into the season. He finished 23rd, with a scoring average that only climbed to 15 (depending on your format). Jaguars coaches still speak well of him and say that he developed throughout last season, so we might be ready to overrate him again in his 3rd season.
Elam, Baltimore's 1st-round pick in 2013, has proved to be such a dud that the Ravens benched him mid-year and then turned him into a slot CB. We had top-12 dreams for him heading into 2014. Oh well.
Projecting Mitchell 18th among DBs probably didn't get him drafted onto too many of your teams, given the abundance of likely available options ahead of him on our list. But it also gave way to a season that found him ranking well outside of the top 100 DBs in fantasy points per game.
Just to wrap this up with a little context, MFL's ADP numbers for DBs had Richard Sherman at #7, Patrick Peterson at #8. If you've played with IDPs much, you know that neither high-profile player belongs anywhere near either position.
Let that reaffirm the likelihood that your league mates aren't spending enough time on their IDP research and remind you that value defenders won't be hard to find in the draft's late rounds and on the waiver wire.