2014 Fantasy Football Draft Guide: Eric Mack's IDP Blueprint

Eric MackFantasy Football Lead WriterAugust 14, 2014

2014 Fantasy Football Draft Guide: Eric Mack's IDP Blueprint

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Before we dig deep into the tangled web of individual defensive players (IDPs), we have to make an admission here: While interesting in theory, IDP leagues are unrefined. There are too many viable options and defensive statistics just aren't as measurable as the offensive ones that make traditional fantasy leagues more tidy.

    That doesn't mean these formats don't have their place. NFL and fantasy nuts love them. IDP players have their own mythical cult.

    We present a breakdown of the rankings and tiers by position, our IDP Top 100, outline some contract-year players who could be in for well-timed career years, and summarize some draft-day strategies. We also include a discussion of rookies for those IDP dynasty leagues. Now that is some serious level of depth for the true fantasy football and NFL fan.

Defensive Linemen Rankings: J.J. Watt Buoyed by Jadeveon Clowney

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Tier I: One-Man Wrecking Crew

    No. 1 J.J. Watt

    You want to focus on linebackers when breaking the seal on IDPs in drafts, but Watt is the lone exception to the rule. The addition of Jadeveon Clowney should only make Watt more productive, since it will be harder to block both of those game-changers. Also, the Houston Texans figure to be playing a lot of defense with the lack of offense they project to have this season.

     

    Tier II: Sack Masters

    No. 1 Robert Quinn to No. 7 DeMarcus Ware

    You should wait on picking Watt's also-rans at this position, but this group gets a boost over the others because of their sack potential. You might consider some of these guys over a linebacker early among your IDPs if your league rewards bigger points for sacks (also see final strategies slide).

     

    Tier III: Late-Round Fliers

    No. 8 Rob Ninkovich to No. 15 Lamarr Houston 

    There will be some start-worthy weeks from this group, but there just are too many viable options at the defensive line position to consider these guys weekly starters.

     

    Tier IV: Everybody Else

    There is a little bit of everything here: breakout candidates (Everson Griffen), pending contract years (Gerald McCoy), pass-rush specialists (Michael Bennett) and old, reliable veterans (Justin Tuck).

     

    Defensive Linemen Top 25

    2014 Defensive Linemen Draft Rankings—Eric Mack
    RankDefensive LinemenTeamECRvs. ECR
    1J.J. WattHou10
    2Robert QuinnStL20
    3Chandler JonesNE30
    4Cameron WakeMia5+1
    5Mario WilliamsBuf10+5
    6Greg HardyCar4-2
    7DeMarcus WareDen6-1
    8Rob Ninkovich NE7-1
    9Calais CampbellAri8-1
    10Cameron JordanNO11+1
    11Muhammad WilkersonNYJ13+2
    12Jared AllenChi19+7
    13Jason Pierre-PaulNYG9-4
    14Carlos DunlapCin12-2
    15 Lamarr HoustonChi14-1
    16Olivier VernonMia15-1
    17Ezekiel Ansah Det16-1
    18Charles JohnsonCar17-1
    19Chris LongStL22+3
    20Michael JohnsonTB18-2
    21 Everson Griffen Min23+2
    22Justin TuckOak20-2
    23Geno AtkinsCin21-2
    24Gerald McCoyTB28+4
    25Michael BennettSea30+5
    Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR) from over 100 experts provided by FantasyPros

Linebacker Rankings: Lavonte David Only Gets Better Under Lovie Smith

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Tier I: Legit IDP Stars

    No 1. Lavonte David to No. 3 Vontaze Burfict

    You could argue rotating the order of this elite trio of linebackers perhaps, but we go with David over Luke Kuechly, a middle linebacker, because of the addition of head coach Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay. Smith makes elite defenders turnover and touchdown machines. David will lead the league in defensive scores.

     

    Tier II: Tackle Factories

    No. 4 James Laurinaitis to No. 9 Jerod Mayo

    The middle linebackers generally generate more tackles than outside guys, so consider this tier the best options to go off the board after Watt and the legit IDP linebacker stars are off the board.

     

    Tier III: Likely Starters

    No. 10 Alec Ogletree to No. 18 Jerrell Freeman

    There are dozens of linebackers who are candidates here, but these are our favorites to be drafted in standard IDP leagues.

     

    Tier IV: Everybody Else

    The top rookies are slotted here, but they aren't quite certain to be picked outside of hype and name recognition. We go with Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker C.J. Mosley over the more high-profile May draftees Clowney or Khalil Mack.

     

    Linebacker Top 35

    2014 Linebacker Draft Rankings—Eric Mack
    RankLinebackersTeamECRvs. ECR
    1 Lavonte DavidTB10
    2Luke Kuechly Car20
    3 Vontaze Burfict Cin30
    4James Laurinaitis StL11+7
    5Patrick WillisSF6+1
    6Paul PoslusznyJac4-2
    7Derrick JohnsonKC5-2
    8Bobby WagnerSea7-1
    9 Jerod MayoNE8-1
    10Alec Ogletree StL13+3
    11 Karlos Dansby Cle9-2
    12Von MillerDen17+5
    13Paul Worrilow Atl10-3
    14Brian Cushing Hou12-2
    15Chad Greenway Min14-1
    16Curtis LoftonNO22+6
    17 D'Qwell JacksonInd16-1
    18 Jerrell FreemanInd26+8
    19C.J. MosleyBal190
    20 Jadeveon Clowney Hou33+13
    21Khalil MackOak31+10
    22Lawrence Timmons Pit20-2
    23Clay MatthewsGB37+14
    24Justin HoustonKC34+10
    25Mychal KendricksPhi21-4
    26Wesley Woodyard Ten15-11
    27Thomas DavisCar25-2
    28Donald ButlerSD23-5
    29DeMeco RyansPhi24-5
    30Daryl SmithBal27-3
    31Ryan Shazier Pit28-3
    32Stephen Tulloch Det29-3
    33Perry RileyWas30-3
    34Brad JonesGB32-2
    35Jamie CollinsNE350
    Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR) from over 100 experts provided by FantasyPros

Defensive Back Rankings: Legion of Boomers Draw Our Attention Here

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Tier I: Certain to Be Drafted

    No. 1 Earl Thomas to No. 5 T.J. Ward

    A sign of the sketchiness of defensive backs, there are only about five you can be sure will be drafted in standard IDP leagues. We go with a well-rounded, steady star in Earl Thomas at No. 1 and follow him up with a foursome sure to rack up a ton of tackles.

     

    Tier II: Brand Names

    No. 6 Richard Sherman to No. 11 Bernard Pollard

    Name recognition will get these guys drafted, but their fantasy production might not be consistently elite at this deep position. There will be some big weeks for these guys, though, so you might as well roll the dice with them.

     

    Tier III: Late-Round Fliers

    No. 12 Morgan Burnett No. 19 Jairus Byrd

    Any number of these guys can impact fantasy leagues this season, but we provide no guarantees these guys will be picked. They are more likely to be flushed on and off waivers throughout the season.

     

    Tier IV: Everybody Else

    There are some big names in the depths of the defensive backs, but they are not necessarily going to be draft-worthy in leagues. The six we cram into our Top 25 below are the best of the rest. 

     

    Defensive Back Top 25

    2014 Defensive Back Draft Rankings—Eric Mack
    RankDefensive BacksTeamECRvs. ECR
    1Earl ThomasSea8+7
    2Barry ChurchDal1-1
    3Eric WeddleSD4+1
    4Jonathan CyprienJac5+1
    5T.J. WardDen7+2
    6Richard ShermanSea62+56
    7Harrison SmithMin3-4
    8Antrel RolleNYG13+5
    9Kam ChancellorSea17+8
    10Kenny VaccaroNO9-1
    11Bernard PollardTen10-1
    12Morgan BurnettGB2-10
    13Mark BarronTB6-7
    14Tyvon BranchOak11-3
    15Eric BerryKC12-3
    16Matt ElamBal34+18
    17Donte WhitnerCle20+3
    18Charles TillmanChi22+4
    19Jairus ByrdNO25+6
    20Stevie BrownNYG14-6
    21DeAngelo HallWas28+7
    22LaRon LandryInd16-6
    23Antoine BetheaSF230
    24Calvin PryorNYJ29+5
    25Tyrann MathieuAri21-4
    Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR) from over 100 experts provided by FantasyPros

IDP Top 100: Start with J.J. Watt and Go Linebacker Heavy Early

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Here is how we recommend the top individual defensive players go off the boards in drafts.

     

    Top 100 IDP Rankings

    2014 IDP Draft Rankings—Eric Mack
    Rank IDP RankingsTeamECRvs. ECR
    1J.J. WattHou10
    2 Lavonte DavidTB20
    3Luke Kuechly Car30
    4 Vontaze Burfict Cin40
    5James Laurinaitis StL16+11
    6Robert QuinnStL60
    7Chandler JonesNE70
    8Patrick WillisSF9+1
    9Paul PoslusznyJac5-4
    10Derrick JohnsonKC8-2
    11Bobby WagnerSea10-1
    12 Jerod MayoNE11-1
    13Cameron WakeMia15+2
    14Alec Ogletree StL18+4
    15Mario WilliamsBuf27+12
    16 Karlos Dansby Cle12-4
    17Von MillerDen36+19
    18Paul Worrilow Atl14-4
    19Greg HardyCar13-6
    20Earl ThomasSea61+41
    21DeMarcus WareDen19-2
    22Rob Ninkovich NE220
    23Calais CampbellAri230
    24Barry ChurchDal21-3
    25Brian Cushing Hou17-8
    26Chad Greenway Min20-6
    27Eric WeddleSD34+7
    28Cameron JordanNO280
    29Muhammad WilkersonNYJ35+6
    30Curtis LoftonNO39+9
    31Jared AllenChi70+39
    32 D'Qwell JacksonInd31-1
    33 Jerrell FreemanInd44+11
    34Jonathan Cyprien Jac37+3
    35Jason Pierre-PaulNYG24-11
    36C.J. MosleyBal33-3
    37T.J. WardDen47+10
    38 Jadeveon Clowney Hou60+22
    39Khalil MackOak58+19
    40Carlos DunlapCin30-10
    41Lawrence Timmons Pit38-3
    42Clay MatthewsGB76+34
    43Justin HoustonKC59+16
    44Mychal KendricksPhi43-1
    45Wesley Woodyard Ten29-16
    46Thomas DavisCar51+5
    47Richard ShermanSea  
    48 Lamarr HoustonChi41-7
    49Olivier VernonMia48-1
    50Donald ButlerSD40-10
    51Harrison SmithMin26-25
    52DeMeco RyansPhi42-10
    53Ezekiel Ansah Det49-4
    54Daryl SmithBal46-8
    55Antrel RolleNYG68+13
    56Charles JohnsonCar53-3
    57Ryan Shazier Pit54-3
    58Stephen Tulloch Det45-13
    59Perry RileyWas50-9
    60 Kam ChancellorSea  
    61Brad JonesGB57-4
    62Jamie CollinsNE69+7
    63Kenny Vaccaro NO55-8
    64Bernard PollardTen63-1
    65Morgan BurnettGB25-40
    66Nick RoachOak660
    67Chris LongStL670
    68Mark BarronTB52-16
    69Mason FosterTB62-7
    70Michael JohnsonTB56-14
    71 Tyvon BranchOak64-7
    72Kevin MinterAri80+8
    73Lance BriggsChi72-1
    74 Everson Griffen Min79+5
    75Jon BeasonNYG73-2
    76 Navorro BowmanSF78+2
    77Justin TuckOak74-3
    78 DeAndre LevyDet75-3
    79Geno AtkinsCin81+2
    80Nigel Bradham Buf85+5
    81Gerald McCoyTB95+14
    82Eric BerryKC65-17
    83Michael BennettSea92+9
    84Matt ElamBal  
    85D.J. WilliamsChi87+2
    86 Jurrell CaseyTen77-9
    87Vincent ReyCin  
    88Donte WhitnerCle97+9
    89Charles TillmanChi101+12
    90Sheldon RichardsonNYJ83-7
    91 Jairus ByrdNO  
    92Cliff AvrilSea90-2
    93 Koa Misi Mia930
    94 Joplo Bartu Atl940
    95Adrian ClaybornTB  
    96 LaMarr Woodley Oak86-10
    97Stevie BrownNYG88-9
    98Brian Robison Min96-2
    99Kyle WilliamsBuf  
    100 Ndamukong Suh Det98-2
    Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR) from over 100 experts provided by FantasyPros

Contract Years: Greg Hardy Leads Promising 2015 Free-Agent Class

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    USA TODAY Sports

    As we said throughout our 2014 fantasy blueprints at Bleacher Report, drafters love following the money. We break down the top five defensive players who are playing for big contracts in free agency next winter:

     

    1. DE Greg Hardy, Carolina Panthers

    The Panthers' franchise player is playing under a one-year, $13.2 million tender this season. The prime-aged 26-year-old might not return to Carolina, but Greg Hardy is going to be motivated to earn a huge payday elsewhere.

    His contract status just might have been enough to put him in Watt's elite tier among defensive linemen, but a potential league suspension hangs over Hardy right now, as The Charlotte Observer's Joseph Person reported.

     

    2. DT Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions

    Ndamukong Suh barely made it in our Top 100, because defensive tackles just don't generate huge fantasy totals. Suh is going to generate a another big-time contract, though. The 27-year-old hasn't quite been as good as his 65-tackle, 10-sack rookie season, but a contract year just might be the impetus he and his fantasy owners need.

     

    3. DT Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Sticking with the front-four studs in their mid-20s, McCoy has steadily improved year to year. Now, he could be ready to erupt, particularly with defensive guru Smith as his head coach. It will be interesting to see whether he or Suh earns a bigger deal.

    McCoy has fewer character questions and is better suited for a 65-10 season, but his fantasy value is higher, so his sleeper potential in a contract year is slightly lower than Suh's.

     

    4. OLB Jason Worilds, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Yet another player just now entering his prime at age 26, Jason Worilds is on the verge of becoming a defensive star for one of the most proud defensive franchises in football. He was transition tagged and signed only a one-year tender, so he is a candidate to trump his 63-tackle, eight-sack career year of 2013.

     

    5. OLB Brian Orakpo, Washington Redskins

    If not for injury questions (see the final slide on why to avoid these in fantasy), Brian Orakpo would have a lot more juice in fantasy. He is also more pass-rusher than tackle machine. When you pick linebackers, you need those huge tackle totals.

    Still, playing under a franchise tender, Orakpo will be motivated for a career year along the lines of 75 tackles and 12-plus sacks. He will need health for a full 16-game season to do that.

     

    For a more complete outline of pending 2015 defensive free agents, see Spotrac.com's comprehensive list here.

Rookie Rankings: Solid Class Unlikely to Impact IDP Formats in Year 1

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    With the NFL getting more and more wide open, a premium has been placed on talented, athletic defenders. There is a bit of irony there, until you realize scheme is generating offense, while defense is getting the athletes to defend those attacks.

    It is why defensive players dominated this May's draft class relative to running backs and quarterbacks. Clowney went No. 1 overall, even though the Houston Texans' biggest hole in their franchise's history has been the quarterback spot.

    We break down the top five defensive rookies here but warn you drafting them for immediate fantasy production is a crapshoot. There are just too many veterans better suited to outperform their draft position.

     

    1. ILB C.J. Mosley, Baltimore Ravens

    The 22-year-old Alabama linebacker is an instant starter for a rebuilding defense. The Ravens drafted him in the first round, hoping to get a poor man's Ray Lewis. Mosley should rack up more tackles than any rookie, playing in the middle of a Ravens defense that will face a lot of plays in the physical AFC North, particularly in the running game.

     

    2. OLB Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans

    Clowney draws a lot of attention and hype for his speed as an outside pass-rusher, but one of the more underrated parts of his game is his speed and run-stuffing ability. He makes just as many highlight reels with crushing blows on backfield stops.

    The Texans have a solid defense, but a potentially putrid offense should keep the defense on the field a lot. Clowney is going to rack up more surprising points with tackles versus the sacks most thought would define him.

     

    3. OLB Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders

    The 6'3", 251-pound Khalil Mack is a physical freak, and he will be one of the baddest dudes on a Raiders defense that figures to spend a lot of time on the field. Mack can rush the passer and stuff the run, so he will be an every-down linebacker. He might be a bit raw to draft in annual/redraft fantasy leagues, but he is a better dynasty league pick than No. 1 Mosley above.

     

    4. SS Calvin Pryor, New York Jets

    The hitter from Louisville cracked our Top 25 defensive backs in prior slide. The Jets are going to be a tough defensive team as long as coach Rex Ryan is calling the shots, and Pryor will start right away and be one of those delivering the blows from the strong safety position. The Jets allowed a league-low 3.4 yards per rush a year ago. The addition of Pryor should only help. 

     

    5. ILB Ryan Shazier, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Along the same lines of Mosley and Pryor above, Ryan Shazier was drafted by a proud defensive franchise. Similarly, Shazier will start out of the gate in the middle of a defense that will play a lot of physical, run-heavy games. Shazier should rack up borderline fantasy-worthy tackle totals right away.

Draft-Day Strategies: Tips to Navigate the Plethora of IDP Options

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Before we get into this final slide, we are going to give you a review of supply and demand. Because there are many defensive players and most IDP leagues slot just a handful of starters, demand is low, supply is high and therefore, price is low.

    Every IDP option is a sleeper, because they are picked in the latter rounds after the regular fantasy offensive skill-position stars are sewn up. Again, IDP leagues are interesting in theory, but the structure is out of whack.

    Here are some useful rules of thumb as you attack slotting your one defensive lineman, one linebacker, one defensive back and one IDP flex spot:

     

    Go Dalai Lama—The Middle Way

    In general, the men in the middle generate more fantasy points. The safeties outscore the cornerbacks and the inside linebackers trump the outside ones. It is hard to score as many fantasy points when you are stuck on one side of the field. Those middle folks get to play sideline to sideline.

     

    Tackles Are King, and Stars for Bad Defenses

    Tackle totals can rack up fantasy points for you in a hurry. So, target the consistent tacklers. Sometimes the best defenses are not elite in this category. For instance, a great defense can kick an offense off the field with a three and out.

    A bad defense can give up a 10-play touchdown drive that racks up a load of tackles. Don't sleep on good defensive players on mediocre defenses like Jonathan Cyprien of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

     

    Know How Important Sacks Are

    One of the bigger variants in IDP leagues is how many points a sack is worth. If your league awards more points for sacks, you can upgrade the defensive ends and outside linebackers. The elite pass-rushers come off the edge.

     

    Devalue Defensive Backs

    This is fairly common in IDP leagues, but it bears a mention for newbies. An elite shutdown cornerback like Darrelle Revis is not a great fantasy player, because teams just don't throw his way. It is hard to rack up statistics as a sure-fire defensive deterrent.

    It makes a lot of defensive backs worthless relative to their NFL cachet. Also, defensive backs relative to the front-seven players rack up fewer points in general.

     

    Don't Touch Injury Risk

    We will go back to the top of this slide in reminding you how many viable IDP players are out there. There are far more potential picks than roster spots in a standard IDP league. That makes it important for you to completely ignore players who are not healthy. IDPs are disposable players. Go with the healthy ones.

     

    Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.