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What is IDP Fantasy Football? What is the Best Strategy?

By Matt Schauf 9:05am EDT 8/10/23

Have you been missing half the game?

What is IDP fantasy football?

In fantasy football, IDP stands for “individual defensive players.” Just like on the offensive side, you draft defensive players and then set a weekly lineup to score fantasy points – based on stats in NFL games.

These IDPs typically take the place of team defenses (DST) in fantasy football lineups. But you can also find leagues that use both.

 


IDP stats | IDP scoring | Slots | Positions used  |  IDP Strategy | Drafting IDPs

What stats make up IDP scoring?

Your defensive players will most commonly score fantasy points for registering:

Sacks

Sacks can be awarded to a single player, split between two, or even awarded to a team’s overall defense.

If you’re looking for more scoring depth for your IDP league, you can also use pass-rushing stats such as QB hits, hurries, and pressures. Check with your league-hosting site to see what stats they can accommodate into your scoring rules.

Tackles

Tackles can be split into (i) solo tackles, (ii) assists, or (iii) counted just as total tackles, which combines solos and assists. 

Both categories of tackles are determined by the official scorer at the stadium where the game is being played. Oddly enough, tackles are still not recognized as an official NFL stat, however.

Different score keepers can also exhibit tendencies for how they award tackles. Seahawks home games, for example, have tended to produce more assists than average.

Tackles for loss can also be a valuable category. 

That counts every tackle a defensive player makes behind the opponent’s line of scrimmage. So it represents a positive defensive play much more than a simple tackle does.

Pass Breakups/Interceptions

A pass breakup (PBU) can also be identified as a pass defended or pass defensed (PD). It occurs when a defensive player knocks away a pass that then falls incomplete.

Most scoring systems will count it as both a pass breakup and an interception (INT) when a defensive player intercepts the pass.

Forced Fumbles

As it says, this occurs whenever a defensive player forces an offensive player to fumble. This should be counted regardless of which team recovers the fumble.

Fumble Recoveries

This occurs when a player recovers a fumble from the other team, making it a turnover. Recoveries and forced fumbles are generally worth the same number of fantasy points.

Touchdowns

The fantasy points here usually match whatever a player would get for a rushing or receiving TD. Typically 6 points. Any TD scored on defense should count here. Whether kick- and punt-return TDs count for individual players can depend on your league’s scoring system. But they should be counted.

How should you score an IDP league?

This format offers a wide range of possibilities for allocating fantasy points. Frankly, the range is too wide for there to be a single “right” way.

The best way to do it “wrong,” however, is to weigh tackles too heavily in relation to other categories. 

A tackle counts the same whether a player makes the stop right at the line of scrimmage or 20 yards downfield. One of those, however, is obviously much more valuable.

The other categories listed above all represent definitively positive plays for the defense. 

So make sure they get significantly more weight than tackles in your scoring format.

A sack, for example, should be worth at least three times what a solo tackle nets. And don’t be afraid to lean that scoring even more heavily toward the sack, as well as other big plays.

TIP

Avoid weighing tackles too heavily in relation to other categories.

Don't be afraid to give more value to sacks and other big plays.

How many IDPs should you use?

There’s no single “right” answer here either, as it can vary widely by league.

It’s a mistake, however, to set up your league with just a single IDP slot. Imagine everyone in your league merely needing to pick one starter a week from the entire pool of RBs, WRs, TEs.

Ridiculously easy, right?

That’s exactly what you’re doing on defense if you play with just one IDP slot. Here are some suggestions:

Beginner league

Are you just trying to give your league a taste of playing with IDPs? Build in 3-4 lineup slots, and require starters from each position group:

  • Defensive line (DL)
  • Linebacker (LB)
  • Defensive back (DB)

You’ll all still have a pretty easy time finding worthwhile starters for every spot. But the league will at least need to get familiar with more players.

Ready for a challenge?

There’s no reason you can’t start as many defensive players as offensive players in your fantasy football league – or even more. Think about it …

The defense actually presents you with more options. 

Both sides of the ball start 11 players in an actual NFL game. But you’re not playing individual offensive linemen in your fantasy league. 

So that’s five offensive players automatically out of the fantasy mix for every NFL team.

There will be relative non-factors on defense, especially those big interior linemen tasked with occupying blockers to help the LBs behind them. But even those guys are logging some stats.

So you have 11 defensive players delivering some level of fantasy value. Add in all the sub packages for varying defensive formations, and you increase the number even beyond that.

Learn more about IDP leagues and strategy

What positions are used?

As mentioned above, there are three basic categories:

You can stick with those for ease, if you’d like. 

But the evolving NFL game will leave you with challenges such as determining whether a certain “edge” player should qualify as a DL or LB.

Your league-hosting site will often determine that classification for you, though some offer you the option to customize and/or make changes. 

And even if you don’t have control over which category a certain player falls into, you’ll likely get a whiny league mate complaining that a player should be something else when a week doesn’t go his way.

So let’s dig into each group a little more …

Defensive Line (DL)

This comprises defensive end (DE) and defensive tackle (DT). Many IDP leagues keep them combined and choose starters from a pool including both.

To add a challenge, you can split them and require starters at both DE and DT.

If you really want a format that more closely mirrors today’s NFL, classifying players as interior defensive linemen (IDL) and edge players gets more accurate.

In that case, IDL tends to cover nose tackles, other DTs, and 3-4 DEs. Edge covers what we’ve traditionally known as 4-3 DEs and 3-4 outside linebackers (OLB).

Regardless of your format, it will be key to find sleepers with sack upside. We’ll dig into hidden pressure stats to help reveal such players.

Linebacker (LB)

You’re commonly chasing tackles at this position. Ideally, you find guys who can produce in that category and deliver big plays.

That can differ by format. If your scoring favors sacks over tackles and 3-4 OLB types are included here, then you might want to lean toward them.

LBs used to drive IDP lineups, but far fewer LBs see full playing time in today’s NFL. So you’ll want to make sure you’re not overrating the position.

But just like at running back (RB) on offense, those guys who do stay on the field full time gain value.

Defensive Back (DB)

This category comprises cornerback (CB) and safety (S). That pool includes at least four starters per NFL team. Most teams now have at least five DBs playing starter-level snaps.

In most fantasy leagues, this is the easiest area in which to find viable starters. The top-scoring safeties tend to change out year to year. And CB is as volatile as any position in fantasy football.

CB scoring tends to swing on big plays, primarily INTs. And that category proves especially volatile year to year.

Keeping that in mind can turn you on to some sleepers available up to and through the end of your draft.

What is the best strategy?

The answer depends heavily on your specific format. But you can still gain a significant edge on your league by knowing your format well.

Start 1-3 IDPs

This is beginner level. Don’t think too much about pursuing top options in your draft. There will be plenty of guys to fill the starting spots for every team in the league. So focus on offense first and grab late value.

Edge

There are so many different formats, so we’ll go by position group here instead. 

As mentioned above, “edge” can include both 4-3 DE types and 3-4 OLBs.

If you play in a league that favors sack/pressure scoring, then target this position early among your defensive-player picks. If you grab an early stud in this area, you open up your strategy the rest of the way.

If your league favors tackle scoring over sacks and pressure, then you can push off this position until later.

Your Draft War Room will serve as the ultimate guide for where their value fits in your specific setup.

Defensive Tackle (DT)

This can also encompass interior defensive line (IDL), depending on your format.

There are a few elite options at this position, and the Draft War Room will tell you where they fit in your format.

If you’re required to start a DT, there will be value in grabbing one of those elite players. And if you don’t, then you can likely get away with waiting until late.

Most players in your league will not have sleeper DT options in mind as they draft.

Linebacker (LB)

This position has changed over the past couple of years. The number of LBs spending full-time snaps on the field has changed dramatically. And that should impact how you draft LBs.

The other key factor in how you treat LBs is how your league treats them. Are edge types included here? Is it just non-edge LBs? And, of course, how does your league weigh sack/pressure scoring vs. tackles?

The more points awarded for sacks, the more valuable edge players become. The more tackles count vs. sacks, the more you want non-edge guys.

This was once basically the RB of defensive fantasy football. There are now a lot fewer LBs who play close to 100% of the snaps, though.

That can put a premium on those who do. But there’s also plenty of variability in year-to-year leaders at this point.

You won’t need to jump too early. And you’ll be armed with some sleepers no one else in your league knows to target.

Safety (S)

A lot of guys who would have played strong safety (SS) in the NFL not long ago have now migrated to LB. That can mean more coverage-first types at both safety spots for a given defense.

You’ll also see multiple defenses play three safeties at a time often.

You’ll still generally want to chase tackles before turnovers at this position. They’re more predictable year to year.

That said, the deeper your IDP lineup goes (in number of starting spots), the more room there is to chase big plays.

Why? When you have more starters, you don’t need quite as much reliable scoring from each slot.

Cornerback (CB)

In most IDP formats, this should be the last defensive position you’re targeting.

Why? Because it relies heavily on INTs. And nobody consistently racks up INTs.

So you’ll find lots of year-to-year volatility in the scoring leaders. And you’ll almost definitely find viable CBs available on waivers throughout your season.

If your format keeps safeties and CBs combined, then you’ll almost exclusively want to favor safeties. More reliable scoring.

When should you draft IDPs?

This is a popular question every year.

The right answer: It depends.

Seems like a cop out, right? But it’s really not. Your IDP league probably isn’t exactly like anyone else’s.

Even if the number of starting slots are the same, your league might vary the lineup settings at other positions. Or maybe you have more bench spots. Or fewer.

The scoring specifics matter. A lot. And not only on defense.

The offensive scoring and lineup slots will affect the values of those positions, which impacts the relative value of defensive players in your draft.

Your league mates matter, too. Are you drafting against a particularly savvy group? Total newbies? Something in between? That will affect who you can expect to get and when.

So when should you draft IDPs? It depends.

Fortunately, the Draft War Room is ready to count what matters and deliver your answer.

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