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Draft Strategy

2017 IDP Strategy Guide

By Matt Schauf 8:07am EDT 7/24/17

I enjoy all of this fantasy-analysis stuff, but the defensive guys hold a special place in my heart and my spreadsheets.

Even with all the saturation in fantasy football at this point, IDPs mark the one (final?) area where you can still outwork the rest of your league and really make them look silly. Fantasy players who have played with IDPs for years can still underrate their importance and overlook the planning stage. There are even analysts who still don't really get it.

That’s why we started delivering this annual guide. We want you to be the one to make your league mates look silly when it comes to selecting defenders. So let’s take a walk through multiple formats and every position group and dig into how you can exploit the defensive side of the fantasy ball come draft day.

1, 2 or 3 IDP Slots

This is IDP with training wheels; bowling with bumpers. Adding 1-3 defensive-player slots to your fantasy league’s lineups at least gets you and your competitors familiar with the guys that you’ll ideally be investing further in over the coming seasons.

For now, think of it like you’re choosing 1-3 offensive starters from a pool that includes all RBs, WRs and TEs. Seems pretty easy for everyone in your league to find quality from such a group, right?

Whether you snag a top-of-the-board option or wait and collect value here depends totally on when your league starts taking IDPs. Luke Kuechly is a potential beast in any format. Your MVP Board will help you figure out just when he makes sense in your league. And there’s nothing wrong, in general, with being the Kuechly drafter or the owner who waits another 6 rounds to start selecting LBs. Either approach can work.

The only way you can go wrong here is by jumping into a position run that someone else starts, worrying that your options might dry up if you wait. They won’t.

5 IDP Slots with 3 LBs or 2 Plus Flex

This is where you should really start if your fantasy league has decided to include IDPs (unless, of course, you’ve all decided that you’re all in on adding defenders).

With 5 slots, you’re going 30-36 deep on LB starters (depending on whether you have 10 or 12 teams). And you’re likely forcing every owner to start a lineman and a DB.

Just like in the previous section, it’s OK to be the Luke Kuechly or J.J. Watt drafter (i.e. likely the 1st to select any IDP), as long as you’re not taking him too early and sacrificing offensive talent. Although Kuechly and Watt can certainly match or beat the available offensive guys in upside and relative value at any point. But a savvy IDP drafter can find LB1 upside many rounds after all the starter-quality offensive guys are gone.

Late Round 5 to early Round 6 would generally be a good spot to start the defensive selections in this level of IDP format. Your MVP Board can help you to determine whether you should start that plunge. But it should basically come down to how you feel about the remaining offensive options.

For example, if the next WR on your list sits well ahead of the following group, then take him and look defense later. If, on the other hand, you’re looking at a pool of 5-6 RBs who are basically even for your RB3 spot, then grab Kuechly or Watt and go RB at your next turn.

We’ll get into more specific player targets and recommendations in the ensuing sections.

How to Draft D-Linemen

First of all, he’s back.

We all drafted J.J. Watt at or near the top of this position last year, but he was never really himself. He entered the year with back trouble (which we discounted because he seems like a superhero). And then he got in only 3 games before needing season-ending surgery.

But this time around, Watt says he has handled rehab properly and feels great. Couple that with Khalil Mack moving back to LB on many fantasy sites, and we’re back to Watt standing well ahead of the rest of your DL options.

Does that mean Joey Bosa and Jason Pierre-Paul can’t catch him? Of course not. But take what Rob Gronkowski is to other TEs and add about 30%. That’s a good starting point for Watt.

1-DL Lineups: Drafting linemen always starts with where Watt should/will go. Don’t be afraid to be the owner to select the beast. If you don’t take him, Bosa’s probably coming off the board next among D-linemen—and it’ll probably be tough to predict when that will happen. So expect to pay if he’s your target.

JPP and Melvin Ingram, on the other hand, will probably present you the best upside-value combo at the position. And it’ll likely take injury for either guy to actually bust.

If you want to wait even longer, then there’s DL1 appeal at least down to Calais Campbell at #15 in our rankings—with Bills DE Jerry Hughes a top value target.

2+ D-linemen: After Watt, Pierre-Paul and Ingram gain value the more linemen you play. JPP has displayed upside to the top of his position and was performing like his old self when a sports hernia ended his 2016 prematurely. Barring any summer setback, he’s an exciting IDP option once again.

Your top targets at 2nd and 3rd (and beyond, if you’re really serious about your IDP play) DL slots will depend on your scoring format. Players such as Jets DE Leonard Williams, Dolphins DT Ndamukong Suh and Giants DT Damon Harrison look much less attractive if your scoring favors big plays over tackles; much better if you play in a tackle-heavy format.

Across formats, though, you can find fantasy-starter upside as far down as Bills DL Kyle Williams and Eagles DE Vinny Curry.

DT-Specific Leagues. Let’s all pour 1 out for Aaron Donald, who should now carry a DE designation in your league. That lowers the DT bar to a familiar old starting point named Suh. He carries much more upside than the next DT in our default site rankings, Damon Harrison.

Gerald McCoy and Geno Atkins leap past Harrison in upside, with Harrison the safer tackle bet. Bills DTs Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams could be the relative steals at this position, though, if they’re listed at DT in your league.

How to Draft LBs

Similar to the D-line, the 1st question here is when Luke Kuechly will start the proceedings. But he’s more like Antonio Brown is to WRs than Watt and Gronk are to their positions: The clear #1 and best bet, just not dominantly so.

1 IDP or 1 LB leagues. Here’s an example of why you shouldn’t bother with such a shallow format: Zach Brown and Jerrell Freeman each finished last season among the top 10 LBs in fantasy points per game. Brown floated through free agency for a while before settling on a $2 million, 1-year deal with a Washington D that might not even find him starting. Freeman’s a 31-year-old who will go much later than he should in fantasy drafts until he retires. Lions MLB Tahir Whitehead delivered a top-16 season in his MLB starting debut … and has since been booted from the position by rookie Jarrad Davis.

The point: There are lots of LBs available. You’ll find quality whenever you decide to take 1, and then you’ll probably find plenty more quality on the in-season waiver wire.

2-3 starting LBs. There’s nothing wrong with being the Kuechly drafter in your league. If you don’t land him, though, you’re likely to find solid relative value on Vontaze Burfict -- #2 in our site rankings -- several rounds later. And there’s LB1 upside at least down through Jordan Hicks at #22, with some wild cards beyond that. (We’ll get further into the sleeper candidates in ensuing articles.)

There’s basically no way to do this position wrong. Here are the players most likely to be overvalued, though, based on ADP as of this writing:

Khalil Mack: We’re not forgetting about him just because he moved back to LB, but he’s apparently going in the top half of LB1 territory. That’s risky.

Deion Jones: Atlanta’s middle starter should be better in Year 2, but fantasy drafters seem to be projecting him forward from a 2016 stat line that included 2 INT returns for scores. Can he repeat that? Sure. But it’s not likely.

Zach Brown: If he’s clearly a starter and 3-down guy by the time you draft, then Brown can certainly deliver fantasy-starter numbers. But each of his 1st 2 NFL teams have let him walk from starting gigs. He’s no lock to stick in Washington’s lineup even if he cracks it.

Keep in mind that draft position and player valuation will vary widely by league, so we can’t trust any ADP set that much when it comes to IDPs. Your best bet at LB is to catch whichever guys from your MVP Board start dropping well past the LBs right next to them. Don’t get caught up in a position run, which can be especially tempting if you’re not as comfy drafting defenders as you are the offensive guys.

How to Draft DBs

Wait. Treat this position the way you should QB or TE.

Just like at those 2 positions, there are attractive options up top. And you can feel free to draft Giants S Landon Collins or Dolphins S Reshad Jones — as long as the value matches up. But your league probably hasn’t seen the same top scorer at DB in consecutive seasons since Rodney Harrison in 2003 and 2004.

DB scoring is as volatile as any position in fantasy, especially because the point totals turn more than any other on unpredictable scoring plays and only slightly more predictable turnovers.

At the top, the fact that Jones missed 10 games last year might turn him into a strong relative value. He scored in 2015 just like Collins did last year. But don’t feel like you need to jump at any particular point. You’ll be able to find value anytime, even if you start multiple DBs.

CB-Specific Leagues. Kudos for going all out with your fantasy strategizing. This is the ultimate, given that you probably also start a DT-specific position. But this is also the kicker of IDP slots.

CB scoring will be all over the place throughout your season. That makes reaching for upside attractive. You probably play in a deep enough format that starters at other positions can present your weekly scoring baseline. So drafting a big-play-reliant CB – such as San Diego’s Casey Hayward, Kansas City’s Marcus Peters or Denver’s Aqib Talib – can raise your week-to-week ceiling.

Look to our projections for passes defensed to mine that upside.

If you prefer a safer tackle-collecting bet, then new Titan Logan Ryan and Washington’s Bashaud Breeland seem to fit. Just make sure to apply your own air quotes any time you use “safe” to describe anything pertaining to a player at this position.

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