Fantasy Football Draft Preview: IDP
When Should I Draft IDP?
This is gonna sound strange … but I thought something was wrong with our 2023 IDP rankings page the first time I saw it.
That’s particularly strange because I’m the one who does those projections.
What seemed wrong? The very top of the board …
- Derwin James
- Jalen Pitre
If you’ve played IDP before, then you probably think that’s wrong, too.
No slight to either James or Pitre. But DBs just don’t belong that high in the IDP rankings … or so I thought.
What Has Changed?
LBs have basically always been in charge here. You might have heard them referred to as the RBs of IDP lineups.
Well, now it’s time to take that analogy a little further.
It’s been a rough offseason for RBs, because it’s really been a rough few years for them. The league has come to understand what fantasy football players realized more quickly: It’s a fairly replaceable position.
The same has more quietly emerged among off-ball LBs. You can’t tell by looking at franchise-tag values, where LB ranks second behind only QB. But that’s because the NFL still hasn’t figured out the difference between T.J. Watt and Roquan Smith – at least with position designations.
The top 5 “linebackers” in 2023 average salary play the edge. Ten of the top 15 are edge guys.
You’ll still find big salaries for some top guys such as Smith, Shaquille Leonard, and now Tremaine Edmunds. But we’ve also seen the Bears trade away Smith. And the Bills let Edmunds walk in free agency.
Why does this matter?
Cool, Matt. But who cares? Just tell me who to draft.
We’re getting there. I promise. But the LB landscape matters for why it’s not wrong to rank two safeties up top.
Many teams are treating off-ball LB as fairly replaceable. Salaries aside, we’re seeing fewer defenses keep multiple LBs on the field across sub packages.
“Nickel” packages (five DBs, usually three CBs) have become closer to the true “base” defense for most teams. More teams have a third safety getting good playing time.
And that has pushed non-edge LB snap shares down.
Doesn’t that make the elites more valuable?
Maybe. You’ll see the relatively big names atop the LB rankings and right behind those aforementioned safeties. Smith, Foye Oluokun, Nick Bolton, and Leonard will all help your team this year.
But there are also less-familiar guys headed for heavy playing time who won’t get drafted nearly as early. You’ll find some of them in the top 12.
And you won’t find huge projected scoring gaps as you go down the LB rankings. So that means you can afford to wait.
We’ll get more into the LBs in a few minutes.
Defensive Back Preview: the Elites
So before we get to more specific strategy, let’s circle back to those top-shelf safeties from earlier.
If the projected point totals at LB are flatter than in the past. And the projected totals are flatter among the edge/DL types (more on that soon), then it makes sense for a projected gap at DB to push the top guys earlier than we’re used to.
And that’s how our default rankings have it.
The 2023 DB rankings have Chargers S Derwin James 8 fantasy points ahead of No. 2 Jalen Pitre, who sits another 9 points ahead of the potential breakout we have at No. 3.
After that, you’ll find more bunching.
James has been a scoring machine when healthy. Pitre was the only DB who outscored him as a 2022 rookie. So they’re 1-2 on our board.
Even if that makes you uncomfortable.
YOUR Rankings Might be Different
Of course, you don’t play in a default scoring system. You play with lineup and scoring settings specific to your league.
That might very well move those top safeties down from their unusual perch. It might tell you to wait on all IDPs. Or maybe it’ll tell you to draft T.J. Watt earlier than you’d expect.
The only way to know “When should I draft IDP” in your specific league is to create your Draft War Room cheat sheet.
Learn how the Draft War Room will help you
IDP Strategy Guide
Now let’s get to more specifics by format -- and by position ...
This is the most basic way to approach IDP fantasy football. And frankly, it’s really easy.
Imagine only starting 1-3 offensive guys from the entire pool of QBs, RBs, WRs, and TEs.
That’s what you’re doing here.
Just don’t reach for anyone too early. There will be plenty of defensive players for everyone in this format – including plenty still left on waivers after the draft.
Now, because formats vary so widely, let’s go by position the rest of the way …
Even if your league counts players such as T.J. Watt as LBs, you’ll find him, Micah Parsons, and Haason Reddick in our DL rankings.
More league-hosting platforms have moved to designating edge players that way, which is how it should be. (Of course, we could get even more technical on these splits. But let’s leave that discussion for another time.)
Watt endured a rough 2022. He tore a pectoral muscle in Week 1 but avoided surgery and somehow managed to return mid-season. While he was out, though, Watt did have surgery on a knee injury that originated in August.
Given those two factors, it’s no surprise that he struggled over the final nine games. Yet even within that stretch, Watt rebounded for 5 sacks over the final five weeks.
He’s back to full health now, doesn’t turn 29 until October and led the league in both sacks and tackles for loss each of his last two full seasons. (Actually, he even missed one game in 2020 and two in 2021.)
I’m grabbing Watt first among edge players and among my earliest IDP selections overall – depending on format.
Micah Parsons, Dallas Cowboys
Parsons is fully an edge player now; not a hybrid.
According to Pro Football Focus, he went from 374 snaps at D-line vs. 498 at LB in 2021 to 738 and 171, respectively, last season.
Given that he now has one full season as an edge rusher in the NFL, it’s pretty crazy that Parsons has already cracked 13 sacks twice. He’s been defensive rookie of the year and two-time runner-up for AP defensive player of the year.
It’s entirely possible Parsons continues ascending and overtakes Watt this year. But he’s also likely to come off the board earlier in your draft.
Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns
Garrett has been excellent, including delivering 16 sacks each of the past two years. He doesn’t deliver solo tackles or forced fumbles at Watt’s level, though.
That creates just a little separation here. But there’s nothing wrong with Garrett as your top D-lineman. That’ll be less attractive if you play in a tackle-heavy format.
Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers
Bosa has been somewhat quietly holding out through training camp so far, in search of more money. It has remained fairly quiet because camp began with belief the two sides would come together.
Each week Bosa misses adds risk. But he has showed us before that he can still produce on little practice time – and while playing through injuries. So we’re not moving him down the board just yet.
Still just four years in, Bosa racked up a league-high 18.5 sacks in 2023 and doesn’t turn 26 until October.
How to Draft Defensive Line
Grabbing any of the four guys above as your lead D-lineman will give you plenty of upside, especially in scoring formats that favor sack/pressure scoring more heavily than tackles.
If your league is less friendly to pressure stats and more tackle-heavy, then your rankings will adjust for the settings you enter.
Vikings Edge Danielle Hunter will climb vs. the other high-end guys in that format. Steelers Alex Highsmith and Chargers Joey Bosa also get boosts.
Sleepers & Values
Bosa makes for a potential value pick across formats, though. He’s coming off a year almost completely wiped out by groin surgery.
Bosa saw full playing time in just two games: the first two of the season. He delivered 2 QB hits and 1 tackle for loss in each of those games before going down in the third.
He has three top-16 fantasy finishes behind him, including a top-5 back in his second season.
Bosa carries some risk but is still just 28 and comes from a family that knows how to train (and rush the passer). He spent this offseason adding weight after playing light in 2022.
Finding value is the key to our fantasy football draft strategy in any format.
Matthew Judon, New England Patriots
Judon has set new personal highs in sacks in each of his two seasons since moving to New England.
He’s older than other DL1-level options (31), but also hasn’t missed a game over the past two years despite ranking fifth and 12th among all edge players in snaps played.
Judon commonly doesn’t get drafted as high as he should.
Cameron Heyward, Pittsburgh Steelers
You can often find value by simply targeting older players who are still performing.
Saints Edge Cameron Jordan signaled some decline in 2022. But Heyward did not.
Instead he reached double-digit sacks for the second straight year – and just the third time in his career. Heyward also tied his career high with 23 QB hits and kept his Pro Football Focus grades up across categories.
He’s a steady option across IDP formats.
Montez Sweat, Washington Commanders
Let’s close this section out with someone who’s more “sleeper” than “value.”
Sweat won’t pop if you look at our rankings but sports a higher ceiling projection than most other guys around him. (That will make him pop when your Draft War Room switches to Upside Mode in the second half of your draft.)
Sweat has yet to exceed 9 sacks through four seasons. But his 28 QB hits in 2022 topped his previous high by 8 and tied for fourth-most in the league.
Pro Football Focus graded him 16th in pass rushing among 133 edge players with at least 200 snaps. PFF also credited Sweat with the 12th-most total pressures at the position.
Defensive Tackle Preview
If your league doesn’t require you to start a DT, then they’ll just blend into the position – with only a few worth significant attention in most scoring systems.
If you are required to start one or more, then you’re likely to find a deeper group than in previous years.
Aaron Donald should carry a DT designation in most split formats and clearly gains value with that label as opposed to DE. He’s worth boosting up your rankings in such a format
Your Draft War Room will label DTs vs. DEs amid your overall DL pool. But it doesn’t yet separate the groups for peak valuations by format.
Other Potential Studs
Don’t sweat if you miss out on Donald. He actually trails Dolphins DT Christian Wilkins by our default projections. Wilkins is most attractive in tackle-leaning formats.
Neither Donald nor Wilkins is a must, though. Quinnen Williams and DeForest Buckner sport plenty of upside as well. Jeffery Simmons brings a ceiling much higher than his baseline projection.
And then there’s Chris Jones. The Chiefs star is the only DT with a ceiling as high as Donald’s. But he’s also looking for a salary as high as Donald’s and thus hasn’t reported to training camp yet.
Jones is worth drafting anyway. But the scenario necessarily adds risk.
If you’d prefer to wait on DT – or just happen to miss out on the aforementioned guys – Broncos Zach Allen is a good target.
He signed a three-year deal with $32.5 million guaranteed in free agency, re-uniting with DC Vance Joseph after playing under him in Arizona.
Allen was in the midst of his best pro season last year before a hand injury cost him the final four weeks. Through 13 games, he delivered career highs in QB hits (20) and tackles for loss (10).
The names at the top of the LB rankings shouldn’t surprise you.
Foye Oluokun, Nick Bolton, and Roquan Smith probably finished in that order in your IDP league last year. Their 2023 order might differ with your scoring settings, but they look like a pretty safe top 3 across most formats.
Any of them should treat you well when healthy. But I’m most excited about another LB …
Return of the Shaq
Colts LB Shaquille Leonard basically missed all of last year. He made it to three games but never got to full playing time and clearly never got over a back injury that required surgery in both June and November.
But reports have been glowing this summer on Leonard, who is still just 28.
A healthy Leonard dominated the position in points per game in 2018 and 2019, and ranked second in 2020. He remained a top-10 LB in 2021 even while playing through a nagging ankle injury.
If he’s truly all the way back, then Leonard sports at least as much cross-category upside as anyone else at the position.
I wouldn’t trust that he’ll stay available 10 rounds after those top 3 LBs, as our ADP currently suggests. But Leonard sits just 15th among LBs in Fantasy Pros’ expert consensus rankings right now.
I have him fourth.
Change = Value
There’s nothing wrong with grabbing any of the top 3 LBs. But I probably won’t be that buyer this year.
Why? In addition to Leonard, just look slightly lower in the LB rankings …
I can all but guarantee you that Nos. 6, 7, and 8 in our default LB rankings will remain available well into your draft. And that’s why we can still find real edges in IDP drafts.
Let’s dig into that trio …
Nakobe Dean, Eagles
Dean arrived as a third-round pick last year but barely played in a LB corps that started T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White. Both left after the season for more money than the Eagles cared to pay. (Remember what we said earlier about teams treating the position as replaceable?)
Dean has jumped right into calling the defensive plays, which should mean full playing time in his second season. And that’s not shocking. It’s exactly what Dean did at Georgia.
I ranked him ahead of college teammate LB Quay Walker when both entered the league last year, despite Walker going to the Packers in Round 1. That’s because Dean started more games at Georgia despite arriving a year later, and he dominated Walker statistically.
So why’d Dean last until Round 3? Because he’s small for an NFL LB (5’11, 231). Missing Scouting Combine drills with a pectoral injury probably didn’t help.
But that plus his quiet rookie season will now help us draft a potential breakout LB late.
Dean sits 25th among LBs in the Fantasy Pros expert consensus rankings. I was able to draft him as my LB3 and the 23rd LB off the board in my most serious IDP league.
Why did I wait so long? Because I got Leonard and this guy …
Troy Andersen, Falcons
Are you familiar with Rashaan Evans? He went from first-round draft bust across four years in Tennessee to eighth in the league in tackles and top-10 fantasy scorer in his lone Atlanta season.
Now he’s an unsigned free agent, because he’s not that good. And Evans’ departure leaves room for Andersen to rack up numbers. And this guy is much more exciting.
Andersen was an all-conference mobile QB at Montana State before shifting to defense. Over his final two years, Andersen racked up 25.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, and 15 passes defensed. He delivered 147 tackles in his final campaign.
Oh, and then he ran a 4.42-second 40 at 243 pounds at the Combine.
You don’t need to draft him as high as we have him ranked. But I’d recommend making Andersen part of your 2023 IDP plan.
Alex Singleton, Broncos
Singleton isn’t as exciting as the previous two guys because he isn’t as shiny and new. But his role certainty is.
Singleton has racked up big tackle numbers when on the field over the past three years. He just hasn’t been able to stay on the field.
He started 19 of 32 games across his final two years in Philadelphia. Singleton’s playing time with Denver last year also wavered. But then the Broncos gave him a three-year, $18 million contract in free agency.
Bet on him remaining top-2 in the LB corps with Josey Jewell. And take advantage of a guy who finished 2022 sixth in the league in solo tackles while ranking just 37th among non-edge LBs in total snaps.
How to Draft LB
Your Draft War Room will help guide you for exactly when LBs make sense in your specific draft.
Keep in mind, though, that ADP will vary widely – especially for IDP, a format with far fewer drafts from which to pull data.
And ADP factors into those in-draft valuations that power your recommendations. It doesn’t mean that a too-low ADP will keep your Draft War Room from ever recommending a certain player. But don’t be afraid to reach over a few offensive guys for a LB who hasn’t hit the top of your list yet.
That said, keep in mind the low market values on some of those favorites highlighted above. You just might be able to wait, grab an extra offensive guy or two, and then steal that breakthrough LB your league mates haven’t even heard of.
How to Draft Defensive Backs
We’ll get right to it here, because I already highlighted the elite safeties at the top of this article.
I’m more in favor of drafting either Derwin James or Jalen Pitre among the early IDPs than is usually true at DB.
The No. 3 DB I teased above: Baltimore Ravens S Kyle Hamilton.
The 14th overall pick a year ago, Hamilton settled into a part-time role as a rookie. His playing time picked up, though, and the offseason trade of Chuck Clark cleared a starting spot.
That lines Hamilton up next to Marcus Williams, a true deep safety who missed six games last year but spent 71% of his snaps at “free safety” when on the field, according to Pro Football Focus.
With Williams in the lineup, Clark split time between playing deep, working in the box, and even manning the slot. Baltimore clearly views Hamilton as an upgrade for that role. And the second-year man has drawn praise for his coverage battles with TE Mark Andrews.
Hamilton’s varied role gives him upside in the tackle and turnover categories, in a defense that traditionally knows how to leverage player talents.
It might seem flippant, but you can pretty much do whatever you want beyond the top 3.
If you don’t want to draft a DB early enough to get James or Pitre, then Hamilton should stick around long enough to be a good option.
Otherwise, don’t prioritize safety. There will be plenty to go around in nearly all formats. And there are enough players in new situations that surprises are bound to emerge.
Cincinnati, for example, is replacing both safety starters. Second-year S Dax Hill carries intriguing upside there.
If you play in a league that requires any CB starters, this position should be your lowest priority. (And if you don’t have to use any corners, very few will even be worth your attention.)
The Chiefs’ L’Jarius Sneed leads our CB rankings after scoring as a top-5 DB in his third season. Be aware that he’s dealing with knee swelling that has cost him a fair amount of practice time, though the team has reportedly downplayed the issue.
Colts CB Kenny Moore II sits next but is no lock for production. His numbers fell way off in 2022 after two straight top-10 fantasy rankings.
But he remains in the Indy starting lineup. And I remain willing to bet on a rebound. If Moore doesn’t bounce back early in the year, we can easily drop him for someone on waivers.
Rookie CBs to Know
New corners can often be good sources for tackle and on-ball production because offenses are looking to test them.
These rookie CBs appear in line for starting jobs right away:
- Emmanuel Forbes, Washington Commanders
- Tyrique Stevenson, Chicago Bears
- Devon Witherspoon, Seattle Seahawks
- Christian Gonzalez, New England Patriots
- Deonte Banks, New York Giants
- Joey Porter Jr., Pittsburgh Steelers
Witherspoon strikes me as especially interesting. He’s expected to play opposite 2022 breakout Tariq Woolen in 2-CB sets and move inside in sub packages. That would put the rookie in good position to collect tackles and generally be near the ball.
Witherspoon defensed 14 passes and picked off 3 in his final college season.
Want to Learn More About IDP?
Whether you’re new to IDP and interested in the basics or looking to build out your IDP strategy, this article is ready to help.
And you can find most of that info in the video below …