The Perfect Draft – IDP
By Jene Bramel
August 22nd, 2011

David Dodds has a long running feature series at Footballguys in which he opens his playbook and shows how he melds his knowledge of ADP, personal player evaluations and projections to have the "perfect draft." It's one of my favorite articles every August and it's served me extremely well over the years.

Unfortunately, it ignores half the NFL.

So, like the From the Gut series that I've adapted (stolen is such an ugly word) to include IDPs, I think it's time to include IDPs in one of our best features. I'm going to present my thoughts a little differently than David, but the process and execution will be similar.

First, I think it'll be helpful to share my own drafting philosophy. Feel free to skip through this part of the discussion if you're only interested in the strategy and execution of the philosophy.

Pillars of Perfect Draft Strategy

1. Be aware of your league's parameters and competition.

You're a Footballguys Insider. You know this. But it bears repeating, especially since there is no single standard IDP scoring system. The perfect draft process, for me, relies on one part statistics, one part player evaluation and one part tier/ADP strategy. All three parts assume a precise understanding of your league's scoring system and a reasonable expectation about how your competition will value a given class of players.

2. Set up your draft board in tiers before the draft.

There will be much more about this in a positional tier series I'll be writing with Bloom over the next couple of weeks. You can also see how I applied those tiers in a draft in a recent article. In a nutshell, I think using projections as a single data point or a list of players ranked 1-N is dangerous. You lose too much context. Maybe the 6th ranked running back isn't much different than the 11th ranked running back in your mind. Maybe the RB15 on the list is really either the RB7 or RB40 depending on how the first month of his season progresses.

Splitting your draft board into tiers allows you to see exactly where you are at a glance and maintain flexibility. You can more easily take relative value (i.e. there are eight RB2 available but only one TE1 left on my board) and upside (Player X is RB14, but I want an upside player as the right foil for my safe, elite RB1, so he's a better fit than the RB9 right now). And it limits the chances you'll get stuck on the wrong side of run or push the panic button in the middle of one.

You can define your tiers in any number of ways. I tend to be boring and split into categories like Elite RB, Strong RB1 with questions, High Upside RB2, High Floor RB2, and so on. Others might have catchier names (gold standard, silver dollar, etc.) or break them into round grades (1st round, 2nd round, 3rd-4th round, etc.).

The key is to be true to the process so that you're not debating player values during the draft. If you know that you'll reach for a Mark Ingram or Mario Manningham or Jimmy Graham before a given tier says you should, bump that player up a tier before you draft. But be prepared to live with the consequences of falling too hard for any given player.

3. Understand what ADP means.

Average draft position, right? The point at which Player X is generally going in relation to his peers and overall. Absolutely, but know what "average" means in this context. Some players may go 2-3 rounds earlier than current ADP, whether they're rapidly ascending in the fantasy consciousness or not.

Here's where the art of the tier process and ADP strategy comes in. If your player analysis and projections says a player belongs a tier or more ahead of his current ADP, i.e. Player X is in the RB2+ tier on your board but carries and ADP of RB33, don't be a slave to "value." Why get stuck with a back ten slots and two tiers down your board because you waited until it was "correct" to draft him by ADP? If you trust your analysis, let your leaguemates point fingers and laugh when you "reach" for Player X. When you're right, as with Arian Foster and Hakeem Nicks last year and Ray Rice in 2009, you'll be the one laughing when it matters.

The Perfect IDP Draft

Let's assume a twelve team league, with a standard QB-2RB-3WR-TE-PK offensive lineup with PPR, a reasonably standard 2DE-3LB-2DB IDP setup with balanced scoring and roster sizes between 30 and 36. I'll also assume leagues with at least average drafters, who'll be looking at more than an outdated magazine.

Offensive Positions

Make sure you read David's Perfect Draft thoughts to get a feel for where the best offensive values lie. The focus of this article is to highlight the best places to weave in each IDP position and highlight the biggest relative values to ADP. This year, that means that you'll probably not be targeting an IDP in the first 7-8 rounds of your draft.

Briefly, however, I'll note that my draft board suggests the following strategies in the first eight rounds.

  • Take the best value at QB between rounds two and six. That may be an elite QB like Aaron Rodgers or Michael Vick in the mid-second round (or later) or one of the five players in the strong QB1 tier sometime between the fourth and sixth rounds.

  • Unless you can get one of your elite RBs, consider sloughing the RB position in favor of WR in the first 2-3 rounds. The list of WRs I'd be comfortable starting goes is only about 30 players deep. The list of RBs with some measure of RB2 upside stretches 40 or more players deep. See Matt Waldman's Upside Down Drafting article for one variation of this strategy.

  • The TE2 tier will be deep, but that doesn't mean you should avoid the elite and near elite TE1 tier. I'll either be taking the best remaining value among the truly elite TEs (Dallas Clark, Antonio Gates, Jermichael Finley and Jason Witten) in the fourth round or targeting Owen Daniels in the sixth or seventh round.

  • Through seven or eight rounds, then, I'm expecting to have a top tier QB and TE, 3-4 top 25 wide receivers and 2-3 running backs across my RB1 and RB2 tiers. Nothing groundbreaking there, though it's a bit upside down to target a top six QB and TE while letting value drive your RB roster.
  • Weaving IDPs Into Your Perfect Draft

    This year, the playbook is nearly the same last year, with one twist. It's a four pronged strategy with a simple blueprint.

    1. Get an elite defensive end to anchor the DL position.

    This has been the mainstay of my advice to those in an IDP redraft league for four years. The rest of the IDP world is beginning to come around to this way of thinking, but you'll still see a linebacker (or ten linebackers) as the first IDP drafted in most leagues and sometimes as early as the third or fourth round. With rare exception (e.g. it's now the 11th round, all the viable RB and WR with RB2 upside are gone and you're certain your leaguemates will give you a shot at a DE in the next round), taking an elite linebacker over a defensive end is a losing strategy.

    Though there are a few intriguing names in the second and third tiers (see below), you should make sure to get one of the six elite defensive ends – Justin Tuck, Trent Cole, Terrell Suggs, Charles Johnson, Jared Allen and Julius Peppers. Expect to pull the trigger on one (and possibly two if things break that way) between rounds eight and ten.

    After you have an anchor, the following players may outperform their current consensus ranking by a full tier or more. Target one from the DL2+ tier after the 14th round and move on a DL3+ player as your third DL much later in the draft.

    DL2+

  • Matt Shaughnessy (FantasyPros Expert Consensus Ranking Avg DL14)
  • Elvis Dumervil (ECR ADP DL10)
  • Jason Pierre-Paul (ECR ADP DL29)
  • Cliff Avril (ECR ADP DL25)
  • DL3+ (all ECR ADP > DL30)

  • Lamarr Houston
  • Derrick Morgan
  • Michael Johnson
  • Brian Robison
  • Andre Carter
  • 2. Wait until 10-15 linebackers have been drafted, then get at least three players from the LB2 with upside or higher (LB20 or better) tiers.

    Most of your colleagues will want a name linebacker to anchor their defense, like Patrick Willis, Lawrence Timmons or Jerod Mayo. And they'll do well enough with them. But you can find equal production (and sometimes better) by identifying and drafting talented players from the right situations 2-4 rounds later. While you wait, you can add better WR or RB depth from a much higher tier than your competition.

    Don't believe me?

    In 2008, Channing Crowder and Jerod Mayo were easily identifiable strong targets available well after the consensus top 15 linebackers. James Laurinaitis and Curtis Lofton fit the same profile in 2009. So, too, Stephen Tulloch and Lawrence Timmons in 2010. All finished with LB1 caliber numbers but were drafted many rounds after the elite group. I drafted Tulloch as the LB19 in our FBG staff IDP league last year, eight rounds after Willis went as the LB1. Tulloch finished with more fantasy points.

    You may not hit on every player you draft. Some of them may "only" finish as a solid LB2.

    This year, you should target the following players:

    After 10-12 LBs have been drafted (usually sometime after the 10th round):

  • David Hawthorne (FBG consensus [excluding my ranking] LB14, Bramel Rank LB3, ECR ADP LB17)
  • Desmond Bishop (FBG LB9, Bramel LB5, ECR ADP LB12)
  • Derrick Johnson (FBG LB17, Bramel LB6, ECR ADP LB10)
  • [NOTE: The above rankings and ADP data will be fluid over the coming days.]

    All three of these players have 100 solo tackle upside with added big play value. Hawthorne has replaced Lofa Tatupu as the every-down MLB in Seattle and has proven himself with big numbers when he's filled in due to injury in the past. Most will be afraid to rank him in the top ten, but he has top five upside. Desmond Bishop has a similar profile. Johnson remains an underrated ILB with little competition for tackles. He's a very safe top ten linebacker who you'll often find available at a value price.

    Any of these players may go in the top ten in a league of savvy owners, but you'll should be able to get at least one after twelve backers have been drafted and after you've already rostered at least one stud defensive end.

    After 15-20 LBs have been drafted (usually after the 12th round):

  • Rey Maualuga (FBG LB31, Bramel LB10, ECR ADP LB29)
  • Nick Barnett (FBG LB18, Bramel LB12, ECR ADP LB25)
  • D'Qwell Jackson (FBG LB14, Bramel LB16, ECR ADP LB22)
  • Rolando McClain (FBG LB26, Bramel LB19, ECR ADP LB27)
  • Daryl Washington (FBG LB29, Bramel LB20, ECR ADP LB30)
  • Including the tier above, that's eight players that I think have top 15 or better upside that should be available after 15 linebackers have been drafted. I believe every linebacker listed above has a very strong chance to put up 90-95 or more solo tackles. Many have added big play value. You should have at least three on your roster by the end of the 17th round. You may be able to draft 4-5 of these players by the end of your draft in leagues with lesser competition.

    In a recent FBG staff IDP draft, only Hawthorne (LB8) and Bishop (LB11) were taken among the league's top ten linebackers – and they were drafted by me, two full rounds after the first linebackers were drafted, and only after I got caught on the wrong side of an early DE run. The other six, in a 14 team league full of dedicated IDP observers, were all available after 12 linebackers were drafted. Specifically, Jackson was drafted as the LB13, three rounds after first LB drafted, and Johnson the LB17, four rounds later. Barnett (LB20) and Maualuga (LB21) were both drafted nearly six rounds later, with Washington (LB25) and McClain (LB27) almost seven rounds later.

    (If you play in a scoring system that emphasizes big play defenders, you'll want to add (and prioritize) at least one stud rush OLB in the first group. That tier is reasonably deep, with DeMarcus Ware, Cameron Wake, James Harrison, Clay Matthews, Tamba Hali and LaMarr Woodley all elite targets.)

    After 30 LBs have been drafted (usually after the 16th round):

  • Donald Butler (FBG LB44, Bramel LB22, ECR ADP LB35)
  • Sean Weatherspoon (FBG LB39, Bramel LB32, ECR ADP LB48)
  • I've targeted Butler, who's playing an every-down WILB role in San Diego, as my LB4 or LB5 in every draft this year. Though the news of his starting full time role has started to break, he's still well under the radar. I got him at pick 213 (equivalent of the late 17th round) as the LB38 in this year's FBG staff IDP draft.

    3. Target one elite defensive back and then skim value the rest of the way.

    Before the advent of interchangeable safeties and the 3-4 defense, a stud in-the-box safety was a priority draft target as a surrogate LB2 you could plug into your DB1 lineup slot. As the league trended toward cover safeties with cornerback tackling ability, the 80 solo tackle DB all but disappeared. In 2007, only one defensive back had more than 80 solos and just two had 180 or more fantasy points (equal value to a mid-level LB2) in FBG's standard scoring system.

    An influx of cover safeties with an interest in supporting the run has changed all that. Last year, it was correct to wait on the DB position and target a select group of safeties later in the draft (LaRon Landry, T.J. Ward, Patrick Chung, Donte Whitner and Eric Berry were all ranked outside the consensus top ten. We argued that you should target as many as four late in your draft and see which hit.

    This year, the right strategy is a mix of those earlier strategies. There are again a handful of late targets, but it's important to get one of the big six (Ward, Berry, Landry, Branch, Mikell and Bell) before the tier dries up. The upside of a 200 point DB is too great to pass. Expect to grab one as early as your 4th IDP after securing one elite DE and two linebackers from the LB2+ tier.

    After that, look to fill out your roster with at least one of the following value defensive backs (all currently MFL ADP > DB20) after at least 15 defensive backs have been drafted. Try to get one of this group, but don't leave a better offensive depth selection on the board to draft any of them if you have already drafted an elite DB. There will always be rosterable DBs with lineup upside on the waiver wire during the season.

  • George Wilson (Bramel DB10, ECR ADP DB22)
  • Kam Chancellor (Bramel DB11, ECR ADP DB35)
  • William Moore (Bramel DB17, ECR ADP DB37)
  • Morgan Burnett (Bramel DB22, ECR ADP DB45)
  • Melvin Bullitt (Bramel DB28, ECR ADP DB63)
  • 4. Always err on the side of high upside rather than a high floor when drafting IDP depth.

    A high floor is nice, but unless you've got a lineup full of studs, a high floor LB3 without any upside provides no relative advantage for your lineup against a good team. Rather than filling out your roster with a player like Bradie James, take a shot on a Pat Angerer or Mason Foster. Neither project to more than matchup LB5 candidates right now, but both could slide into much more productive roles (and fantasy value) with a depth chart shakeup or injury.

    If you don't see an IDP that fits the upside profile, spend your depth picks on offensive players and tread water with your starters until a better option presents itself on the waiver wire. Rashad Jennings or Tim Tebow or Denarius Moore or the like is a better use of a roster spot than a marginal IDP that you'll need only as a bye week replacement.

    Executive Summary

    1. Expect to leverage your tiers in the first seven rounds to secure a top tier QB, a top tier TE, three top 30 WRs and two value RBs (three if the QB or TE positions prove too pricey).

    2. Draft one of the elite six defensive ends between rounds eight and ten.

    3. Wait to take your first linebacker until at least ten (and possibly fifteen) have been drafted, then work to add 3-4 linebackers from your LB2+ tier over the next few rounds (likely between rounds 10 and 16.

    4. Plan to take one elite defensive back between rounds 10 and 15, then target your short list of upside DBs at value much later in the draft.

    Here is a sample team drafted using the above strategy from a middle round pick. This snapshot of the first 17 rounds of a 30+ round draft includes players drafted at or below their current ADP. If you're drafting with a large group of FBG subscribers, the defensive players could go a round or more ahead of where they're drafted here.

  • 1.05 - RB - Ray Rice
  • 2.08 - WR - Greg Jennings
  • 3.05 - RB - Jahvid Best
  • 4.08 - QB - Tony Romo
  • 5.05 - WR - Santonio Holmes
  • 6.08 - WR - Mario Manningham
  • 7.05 - TE - Owen Daniels
  • 8.08 - RB - Chris Wells
  • 9.05 - RB - Mike Tolbert
  • 10.08 - DE - Charles Johnson
  • 11.05 - WR - Lance Moore
  • 12.08 - LB - David Hawthorne
  • 13.05 - LB - Rey Maualuga
  • 14.08 - DB - Tyvon Branch
  • 15.05 - WR - Hines Ward
  • 16.08 - DE - Matt Shaughnessy
  • 17.05 - LB - Daryl Washington
  • With so many more variables and rounds, make sure you're comfortable with your tiers before you start drafting. If you're looking for help in setting up those tiers, Footballguys offers two full sets of projections (that you can tweak and customize with the Projections Dominator and Draft Dominator tools), and many sets of positional rankings. Also, Sigmund Bloom and I will be posting our own tiers in a position-by-position series of articles over the next two weeks.

    Best of luck with your IDP drafts over the next three weeks.

    Thanks as always for reading. Questions and comments are always welcome in the discussion section below or by e-mail and Twitter (@JeneBramel). Best of luck in your draft this month.

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