Fantasy Football Rankings 2015: Early Breakdown of the Top D/ST, Kickers and IDP

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystJune 20, 2015

Fantasy Football Rankings 2015: Early Breakdown of the Top D/ST, Kickers and IDP

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    J Patrick Schneider/Associated Press

    Kickers and team defenses are the red-headed stepchildren of fantasy football.

    That's with good reason. There's an insane amount of variance from season to season with both positions. Last year's king of the mountain can easily turn into this year's fantasy flop.

    This isn't to say that there isn't still some strategy involved with drafting these positions—knowing which players to target to maximize the bang for your late-draft buck.

    Unless, of course, you choose to eschew team defenses altogether for the added fun and excitement of individual defensive player (IDP) leagues.

    In an IDP league, players are drafted just like on offense. Rather than drafting the Houston Texans defense, you draft J.J. Watt the player. Those players are then scored in categories like tackles, sacks and interceptions.

    I'll confess, I'm an IDP addict. In fact, it was an article about IDPs (and Watt in particular) that got me a nomination from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association for Web Article of the Year in 2013.

    So, whether you're looking for some help with drafting a kicker or defense or preparing to take the plunge in an IDP league, here's some rankings to help you on your way.

Kickers

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    The world of the NFL kicker has been thrown into chaos. Up is down. Right is left. Cats and dogs, living in harmony. The Cleveland Browns winning games.

    OK, let's not get nuts.

    The cause of this kerfuffle? The NFL's new extra-point rule. Beginning in 2015, point-after attempts will be spotted at the 15-yard-line in an effort to add "excitement" to what may be the most boring play in football this side of a kneel-down.

    Much has been made of the new rule and the effect it could have on in-game strategy. Two-point attempts will still be spotted at the 2-yard-line, leading some to speculate that some NFL coaches could go for two more often.

    Carolina Panthers head coach "Riverboat" Ron Rivera would appear an excellent candidate for this aggressive tack, but Rivera told Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer (via the Winston-Salem Journal) he isn't about to tip his hand:

    "We’ll see. I’m not going to talk about what I want to do. We’ve talked about it. We’ve discussed some of those situations and scenarios as coaches. It’s going to be interesting to see how it does develop. We’re most certainly going to take a look at it during the preseason games."

    The rule change only increases the uncertainty at fantasy football's most uncertain position. It also reinforces that the only draft strategy you need to know with kickers is this: Don't draft one before the last round. Period.

    Kickers
    RankPlayerTeamBye
    1Stephen GostkowskiNE4
    2Justin TuckerBAL9
    3Mason CrosbyGB7
    4Adam VinatieriIND10
    5Steven HauschkaSEA9
    6Cody ParkeyPHI8
    7Dan BaileyDAL6
    8Connor BarthDEN7
    9Matt BryantATL10
    10Matt PraterDET9
    11Shaun SuishamPIT11
    12Josh BrownNYG11
    13Nick NovakSD10
    14Blair WalshMIN5
    15Dan CarpenterBUF8
    16Randy BullockHOU9
    17Mike NugentCIN7
    18Chandler CatanzaroARZ9
    19Graham GanoCAR5
    20Phil DawsonSF10
    21Dustin HopkinsNO11
    22Cairo SantosKC9
    23Robbie GouldCHI7
    24Greg ZuerleinSTL6
    25Nick FolkNYJ5

Team Defenses

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    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    It can be hard to prescribe a blanket strategy to drafting team defenses in fantasy football.

    There are any number of reasons. Chief among them is the widely varying scoring assigned to team defenses from league to league. In some formats, big plays like sacks and turnovers are king. In others, points and/or yards allowed are also a consideration.

    There's also a great deal of yearly variance from season to season where team defenses are concerned. In 2013, the Kansas City Chiefs finished the season as the top-scoring fantasy defense in NFL.com default scoring. Last year, they fell all the way to 25th.

    Don't waste valuable mid-round draft capital on a so-called elite defense that may not be. Or get caught chasing the prior season's fantasy production.

    Instead, look for a team that starts the season with a favorable slate. When the favorable matchups dry up, just cut that defense loose and grab another team off of the waiver wire. By streaming defenses in this manner, you can get elite production from your team defense for a fraction of the price.

    An excellent candidate to start the 2015 season? The Carolina Panthers, who open a season against a Jacksonville Jaguars squad that ranked 31st in the NFL in total offense and led the league in sacks allowed last year.

    Team Defenses
    RankPlayerTeamBye
    1Buffalo BillsBUF8
    2Seattle SeahawksSEA9
    3St. Louis RamsSTL6
    4Houston TexansHOU9
    5New York JetsNYJ5
    6Denver BroncosDEN7
    7New England PatriotsNE4
    8Arizona CardinalsARZ9
    9Green Bay PackersGB5
    10Carolina PanthersCAR7
    11Miami DolphinsMIA5
    12Baltimore RavensBAL9
    13Cincinnati BengalsCIN7
    14Philadelphia EaglesPHI8
    15Kansas City ChiefsKC9
    16Detroit LionsDET9
    17San Francisco 49ersSF10
    18Cleveland BrownsCLE11
    19Minnesota VikingsMIN5
    20Dallas CowboysDAL6
    21Indianapolis ColtsIND10
    22Tampa Bay BuccaneersTB6
    23New York GiantsNYG11
    24Pittsburgh SteelersPIT11
    25San Diego ChargersSD10

Defensive Linemen

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    Patric Schneider/Associated Press

    It's J.J. Watt's world. We're all just living in it.

    Not only is the Houston Texans defensive end the top defensive lineman in IDP leagues, but he's the top individual defensive player at any position—and it isn't close.

    In Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring, Watt was the No. 1 overall IDP in 2014 by over two fantasy points per game. It's the second time in three seasons Watt has laid waste to his competition—and that's unheard of for a non-linebacker.

    After watching Watt wreak havoc on his Indianapolis Colts twice a season over the past few years, head coach Chuck Pagano didn't mince words while talking to Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle:

    "Game wrecker. Freak," Pagano said. "He's a guy you better have a plan for."

    Watt is much more than just the top overall IDP. More even than a legitimate first-round pick in IDP leagues.

    If your league starts several IDPs, and/or scores them at a level that makes the top defensive players comparable to the elite offensive options, then Watt is absolutely worth a look at 1.01.

    You heard me right. An IDP first overall. The edge he affords at his position is that huge.

    Defensive Linemen
    RankPlayerTeamBye
    1J.J. WattHOU9
    2Jason Pierre-PaulNYG11
    3Robert QuinnSTL6
    4Chandler JonesNE4
    5Calais CampbellARZ9
    6Everson GriffenMIN5
    7Carlos DunlapCIN7
    8Muhammad WilkersonNYJ5
    9Cameron WakeMIA5
    10Rob NinkovichNE4
    11Ezekiel AnsahDET9
    12Sheldon RichardsonNYJ5
    13Cameron JordanNO11
    14Fletcher CoxPHI8
    15Olivier VernonMIA5
    16Jurrell CaseyTEN4
    17Charles JohnsonCAR5
    18Marcell DareusBUF8
    19Aaron DonaldSTL6
    20Gerald McCoyTB6
    21Corey LiugetSD11
    22Ndamukong SuhDET5
    23Cameron HeywardPIT11
    24Demarcus LawrenceDAL6
    25Chris ClemonsJAX8

Linebackers

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    Cliff McBride/Getty Images

    In the vast majority of IDP leagues, linebackers rule the roost.

    In many leagues, the scoring for IDPs favors tackles over big plays. And racking up triple-digit tackle numbers is the purview of 'backers like Luke Kuechly of the Carolina Panthers and Lavonte David of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Not only does the tackle production of linebackers make them the top scorers in many IDP formats, but they're also easily the most consistent point producers on defense. And that makes having a solid stable of linebackers a key to success in IDP.

    This isn't to say that pass-rushing outside linebackers like Justin Houston of the Kansas City Chiefs don't have substantial value. In fact, it was Houston who led all players at his position in fantasy points in Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring a season ago. However, linebackers who count on big plays for production are also going to be more prone to weekly ups-and-downs than the "tackle vacuum" types like Kuechly.

    As a general rule of thumb, in fantasy leagues with a 2/2/2+1 starting lineup setup (two defensive linemen, two linebackers, two defensive backs and a "flex"), two of your first three IDP picks should be linebackers. But given the depth at linebacker and the relative lack of it up front in 2015, a strong argument can be made for flipping that script this year.

    Linebackers
    RankPlayerTeamBye
    1Lavonte DavidTB6
    2Luke KuechlyCAR5
    3DeAndre LevyDET9
    4C.J. MosleyBAL9
    5Paul PoslusznyJAX8
    6Jamie CollinsNE4
    7Kiko AlonsoPHI8
    8Bobby WagnerSEA9
    9Paul WorrilowATL10
    10Keenan RobinsonWAS8
    11Jelani JenkinsMIA5
    12NaVorro BowmanSF10
    13Alec OgletreeSTL6
    14Derrick JohnsonKC9
    15Karlos DansbyCLE11
    16Lawrence TimmonsPIT11
    17James LaurinaitisSTL6
    18Sean LeeDAL6
    19Justin HoustonKC9
    20D'Qwell JacksonIND10
    21Preston BrownBUF8
    22Mychal KendricksPHI8
    23Curtis LoftonOAK6
    24Brandon MarshallDEN7
    25Jerod MayoNE4

Defensive Backs

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    Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

    Defensive backs are the red-headed stepchildren of IDP leagues.

    There are a couple of reasons. The biggest is that defensive backs are wildly unpredictable from year to year. Of the top 10 defensive backs selected last year per the average draft position data at My Fantasy League, all of two finished the season there.

    There's also the matter of the depth present at the position. Every season a handful of fantasy options come from nowhere at the position to become IDP starters. Rashad Johnson of the Arizona Cardinals and Mike Adams of the Indianapolis Colts both went undrafted in most IDP leagues in 2014.

    Both finished inside the top 10.

    Given that, the advisable strategy is simple—wait. Then wait. Then wait some more. Make a sandwich. Binge-watch Daredevil on Netflix. Then wait some more.

    Pass on the "elite" IDP options at the position in lieu of late-draft upside options such as Pittsburgh Steelers safety Shamarko Thomas.

    If they pan out, great. If not, no biggiejust pluck another defensive back from a waiver wire that will be loaded with talent in all but the deepest of IDP leagues.

    Defensive Backs
    RankPlayerTeamBye
    1Harrison SmithMIN5
    2Morgan BurnettGB7
    3Eric WeddleSDC10
    4Jonathan CyprienJAX8
    5Reshad JonesMIA5
    6Da'Norris SearcyTEN4
    7Antoine BetheaSF10
    8Barry ChurchDAL6
    9T.J. McDonaldSTL6
    10Antrel RolleCHI7
    11Tyvon BranchKC11
    12Charles WoodsonOAK6
    13James IhedigboDET9
    14Landon CollinsNYG11
    15Jason McCourtyTEN4
    16Ha Ha Clinton-DixGB7
    17Kenny VaccaroNO11
    18Kam ChancellorSEA9
    19William MooreATL10
    20Rashad JohnsonARZ9
    21Robert BlantonMIN5
    22Donte WhitnerCLE11
    23Ron ParkerKC9
    24Earl ThomasSEA9
    25Calvin PryorNYJ5