2014 Fantasy Football Draft Guide: Eric Mack's IDP Blueprint
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
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
|Rank||Defensive Linemen||Team||ECR||vs. ECR|
Linebacker Rankings: Lavonte David Only Gets Better Under Lovie Smith
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
Defensive Back Rankings: Legion of Boomers Draw Our Attention Here
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
|Rank||Defensive Backs||Team||ECR||vs. ECR|
IDP Top 100: Start with J.J. Watt and Go Linebacker Heavy Early
Here is how we recommend the top individual defensive players go off the boards in drafts.
Top 100 IDP Rankings
|Rank||IDP Rankings||Team||ECR||vs. ECR|
Contract Years: Greg Hardy Leads Promising 2015 Free-Agent Class
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
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
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.