By Sean Haugh, IDPs specialist for Fantasy Football Maniaxs.com
I’ll be honest; at this time last year, I was facing my first IDP dynasty-league draft and felt like anything but a genius picking players on that side of the ball.
However, I studied hard, absorbed the thinking of some brilliant IDP minds across this big wide Internet, and won my championship. Now I am here to add to that knowledge.
If my example proves anything, it’s that anyone can figure out how to pick and play the right defensive players. It isn’t rocket surgery. You too, can win championships right out of the gate.
There are some prejudices I have which will come out in my advice. I play in dynasty and keeper leagues exclusively, so I favor younger players and often ignore older ones entirely.
I prefer players that score consistently, week in and week out, over guys with a knack for the occasional big plays. For IDPs, that means I’ll take a tackle machine over a sack artist every time.
I hold all defensive backs in contempt, as they swing wildly in performance from game to game and year to year. Of course they have value, but their inconsistency makes them disposable.
I hate to draft all players from USC. They’re certainly fearsome in college, but that program sends them to the NFL thinking they have it made already. Sometimes it takes a couple years for them to figure out that everyone in the NFL is actually as good as or even better than they are. Most of them never recover.
Yes, I am a Sooners fan and darn proud of it, but I won’t hesitate to tell you if they are naughty or nice, as you’ll see below. (Here’s a hint: All Sooner WRs in the NFL stink—I mean, there are sleepers and then there’s the dead—although I hold out hope for Malcolm Kelly.)
As you enter your August drafts and prepare for the season, here are a few things I have learned about IDPs. During the season, I’ll offer you start/sit and waiver-wire suggestions.
Everybody tells you this, but it bears repeating: Know your league’s scoring system, especially with IDPs. There are all manners of differences between point values for tackles, sacks, and turnovers.
The first thing to ask yourself is if your league counts return stats for your players. If so, then a DB like Terrence McGee or Antonio Cromartie becomes someone worth reaching for in your draft. Otherwise, you can let someone else spend a high draft pick on them.
This leads to the fact that there can be a remarkable difference between a great football player and a great fantasy football player. In every draft, some poor fool reaches way too early for DE Dwight Freeney.
Sure, when healthy he is an exciting player to watch and a dominant force for his team, but there are plenty of other DEs that will score more points on a weekly basis.
When it comes to DBs especially, a lot of times you don’t want to draft a player precisely for name recognition. The reason why I devalue Cromartie this year is many teams sure won’t make the mistake of throwing his way, like they did last year.
Conventional IDP wisdom will tout the flipside of this, saying bad DBs are good fantasy value because they are tested so often and thus have many more tackle opportunities.
The problem with that theory is that no one has fantasy value while benched. Last year, I was excited to draft DB Roy Williams, but after one horse-collar tackle too many, I’m glad to be rid of him.
That’s just a high-profile sign of his overall sloppy play. Now that some reports from Cowboys’ camp say he may be struggling for a roster spot, much less his old starting gig, I feel vindicated.
For those of you about to draft, here’s what you are looking for in IDPs.
One general rule is to not draft them too early. Stock up on RBs and WRs before you fill out your IDP starting lineup. You can always get solid value, at LB and DB in particular, at the end of a typical 26 or 28-round draft.
I will often allow myself one IDP pick in the back half of the first 10 rounds, just to get it out of my system, and wait until rounds 15 or 16 to concentrate on defense.
Don’t draft too many of them either. You only need enough for your starting spots, with bye-week coverage. In leagues with two starters at each position, that means three players max. Save your remaining roster spots for rarer and more valuable RB and WR prospects and leave the IDP prospects to ripen on the waiver wire.
Linebackers are the key to IDP success. Simple reason, they score points by the boatload. My dominant LB corps was a big reason why I am a champion today. The good news is the pool of solid LBs is deep, and you can get great value in later rounds.
My championship LB corps was picked in the 11th, 16th, and 23rd rounds. They were Patrick Willis, Nick Barnett, and E.J. Henderson.
This year, some brazen soul will jump all over Willis, Chicago’s Brian Urlacher, or Houston’s DeMeco Ryans as early as the fifth round. Let them. If you feel you must have a sure-fire elite LB, then sneak in a round or two later and tab Carolina’s Jon Beason or David Harris of the Jets, who should be just as good at a lesser price.
You probably can get an even better deal on Buffalo’s Paul Posluszny, who should be right up there with them after recovering from the broken arm that put him on IR early last year.
The remarkable thing about LBs is the recent trend of dominating rookies. Many pundits say this year’s crop doesn’t measure up to the studs that entered the league in recent years, and we should not count on that happening this time.
I watch a lot of college football games, and on the offensive side of the ball, I’ll confess that I have yet to completely wrap my mind around how prowess in the college game translates into NFL success. Nevertheless, I believe I have found the key to knowing what to look for when picking your rookie LB phenoms.
That key ingredient is a non-stop motor. You want the guy that always seems to be flying out of nowhere from a corner of your TV screen to bring down the ball carrier. You want the guy that is always seen running 20 yards or more to make sure he’s in on every tackle possible.
If such a player ends up on a team that desperately needs him to start from day one, there you have your pick.
There are two rookie LBs who fit the mold this year, Curtis Lofton in Atlanta and Jerod Mayo in New England. Lofton will most likely see the field more than Mayo since the Patriots’ offense will be driving longer, and having to rebuild due to age is an easier task than doing so out of complete ineptitude.
In both cases, however, these two have exactly what it takes to play every down and put up big numbers immediately.
Defensive linemen are like tight ends; they don’t score a lot but there are few elite options available, which means having one gives you a significant edge. This year, I won’t fault you if you use a relatively high pick on Minnesota’s Jared Allen, the Giants’ Osi Umenyiora or Justin Tuck, or Mario Williams of the Texans.
You could make a reasonable case for Green Bay’s Aaron Kampman or Philadelphia’s Trent Cole to be included in this group, and if you’re a bit of a gambler, you might want to reach just a little for Rams’ rookie Chris Long. If age doesn’t scare you away, then sure, consider Jason Taylor or Patrick Kearney as well.
If you miss out on those guys, wait a little and make do with the best mediocrity you can cobble together on the DL. Look for guys who had a down year last year and you believe will rebound, like Carolina’s Julius Peppers.
One guy that is so undervalued that he wasn’t even taken in our inaugural Maniaxs’ dynasty league draft is Redskins’ DE Andre Carter. Not the flashiest player in the world, but he will quietly rack up the tackles and more than likely end the year as a top-10 DE. I believe the addition of Taylor will free Carter up to be even more productive in 2008.
My late-round DL shocker pick in the Maniaxs’ draft was Minnesota’s Ray Edwards in the 24th. As with the Redskins and Giants, having two solid DEs helps them both become even more productive. I love Edwards’ blustery claim that he will break the sack record this year.
While opposing offenses will have their hands full with Allen on the other side, he just might have a chance to back up that boast.
For a sweet super sleeper, how about rookie Quentin Groves in Jacksonville? While all eyes are on Derrick Harvey after we saw how much the Jags were willing to pay to get him, Harvey sits at home unsigned while Groves is wowing them in camp.
If he holds out too much longer, it may be another year before Harvey can earn a spot on the starting line, alongside a battle-hardened Groves.
You may have noticed that I only talk about DEs here and not any defensive tackles. That’s because DTs with fantasy value are very few and far between. I don’t have any experience with leagues that require separate starters at DT, so all I have to say is if you draft a Sooner, you can’t go wrong there.
Defensive backs, as I ranted above, drive me nuts with their inconsistency. The upside of this chaos is that there are usually some excellent options waiting for you on the waiver wire. On that same championship team, unlike my LBs, only one of the DBs I drafted was still on my roster at the end of the season, Madieu Williams, and I took him in the 26th round.
Interceptions are sweet, but just like touchdowns, they don’t happen for every player every game, which is why at DB especially, I favor the ones with the most tackles. Williams, in his new home in Minnesota, has a chance to increase his already steady numbers.
Other DBs to whom I give this tackle edge are Sammy Knight in New York, Marcus Trufant in Seattle, Tennessee’s Cortland Finnegan, Nate Clements with the 49ers, and another Viking, Cedric Griffin.
In fact, except for bye-week concerns, when in doubt, draft a Viking. That defense is going to be beyond sick this year and will yield multiple weekly IDP starters.
A lot of attention is paid to nickel packages and every-down players, which means some players get devalued but can still produce excellent fantasy points, even with limited opportunities.
One such player I’m very high on is Carolina’s Richard Marshall. Fantasy owners the world over are wondering when the heck coach John Fox will wake up and make Marshall an every-down starter, but in the world of real football, he’s still the third CB on the team, Steve Smith’s impromptu rearrangement of Ken Lucas’ face notwithstanding.
Yet, even coming off the bench, Marshall puts up solid numbers in the time he sees the field, and he’s only getting better.
Feel free to save your DB picks until the end, comfortable in the assurance that if you mess up, the waiver wire will be there to help you at this position like no other.