IDP Perfect Draft
By Jene Bramel
August 22nd, 2012

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.

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.

You can get an idea of how I do this in the positional tiers series I co-write with Sigmund Bloom (offense) and John Norton (defense). 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 sixth ranked running back isn't much different than the eleventh 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 stand at each position during the draft at a glance. It gives you maximum flexibility. You can identify smart relative values i.e. there are eight RB2 available but only one TE1 left on my board, so it's better to take the TE. The flexibility within your tier list helps separate upside when needed Player X is a big risk-reward as my 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. Perhaps most importantly, it limits the chances you'll get stuck on the wrong side of run or push the panic button in the middle of one in the heat of the draft.

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, especially in late August when ADP value seemingly change from hour to hour. Remember that the ADP data is only as good as the last draft from which it was taken.

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 many were with Matthew Stafford and A.J. Green last year, Arian Foster and Hakeem Nicks in 2010 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. The IDP ADP data I'll use comes from three separate sources the latest Expert Consensus Ranking (ECR) published by FantasyPros, data from MyFantasyLeague (MFL) real and mock drafts since July 15 and our own Footballguys (FBG) staff consensus rankings.

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 8-10 rounds of your draft.

The tiers across nearly every offensive position are deeper than recent years. The list of potential QB1 talent goes 15 deep. There are lots of questions to be answered at the RB position, but there could be as many as 12-15 anchor 300+ touch backs. The steep drop-off that was evident after 25-30 WRs in 2011 is not as dramatic this year. And the trend toward pass-catching tight ends continues to lengthen the list of strong prospects at that position.

That depth suggests the following:

It's okay to fall in love with a player within a tier this year. If you simply must reach for Rob Gronkowski in the first round or Matthew Stafford in the second round or Doug Martin in the third round or Eric Decker in the fourth round, the depth of talent in the first few rounds will probably allow you to get away with it.

However, the nature of the running back tiers lots of high touch-high upside players, multiple injury questions, glut of unknowns in the RB3/RB4 tiers suggests that you should target at least one running back in the first two rounds and strongly consider drafting a back with three of your first four picks.. Going WR-WR, QB-WR, or TE-WR isn't a draft-killing strategy, but it will severely stress your RB tiers later. Decide (using mock drafts) if you're comfortable with how Rounds 4-8 will develop if you do elect to draft a QB or TE in the first two rounds.

To summarize:

  • Err on the side of drafting running backs early, rather than relying solely on upside targets in Rounds 4-10.
  • Use the depth in the WR tiers to draft three running backs (unless your tiers dry up sooner than expected) before drafting three wide receivers.
  • Unlike last season, the likelihood that you'll be taking three running backs in the first 5-6 rounds means you'll have to decide whether you'd rather have a top five QB or top five TE. It's very unlikely that you'll be able to get both.
  • If you target an elite QB or TE in the first two rounds, plan to draft an anchor running back with your other pick.
  • Weaving IDPs Into Your Perfect Draft

    This year, the playbook is essentially the same as last year. However, the depth at the defensive line and linebacker positions will give you even more flexibility in executing it. It's a four pronged strategy with a simple blueprint. This year, however, it comes with a twist that may be hard for a diehard IDP lover to handle.

    Do not consider drafting a defensive player until the 10th round or later.

    It pains me to type that sentence as the most vocal of vocal IDP advocates. If you're playing in a league with a scoring system that gives equal weight to offensive and defensive players, ignoring the IDP side of your cheatsheet until the tenth round is not a viable option. But it's not hypocritical in standard leagues.

    Hear me out.

    The defensive end position looks much deeper than in past years. ADP data shows that you can draft Jabaal Sheard, Cameron Wake and Elvis Dumervil at least five rounds after the elite tier players are drafted. Jason Pierre-Paul is a stud, but he's not worth a sixth or seventh round investment this year.

    The linebacker position is similarly deep. ADP data shows that you can draft Brian Cushing, Donald Butler, London Fletcher and many others at least five rounds after the elite players are drafted. Patrick Willis and D'Qwell Jackson are studs, but they aren't worth the seventh or eighth round investment.

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

    Ensuring that you've rostered an elite defensive end has been the mainstay of my advice to those in an IDP redraft league for four years. The rest of the IDP world has now come around to this way of thinking, but you'll still see a linebacker 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 running backs and wide receivers with upside are gone and you're certain your leaguemates will give you a shot at a defensive end in the next round), taking an elite linebacker over a defensive end is a losing strategy.

    This season, the elite and near elite tiers get a boost from the re-classification of Mario Williams, Cameron Wake and Kamerion Wimbley as defensive ends. Jabaal Sheard, Cliff Avril, JJ Watt and Jeremy Mincey have given the near elite tier a big boost. And players like Robert Quinn and Adrian Clayborn like strong bets to break out.

    That depth means that you don't need to forego running back or wide receiver depth to lock up Justin Tuck or Julius Peppers in the seventh or eighth round this year. You certainly don't need to be willing to break the seal in the fifth or sixth round to ensure you get Jason Pierre-Paul. If one of the elite defensive ends slides and represents clearly better value than the offensive talent left over in the ninth round, grab him.

    If you miss on the elite tier defensive ends, the following players may outperform their current consensus ranking by a full tier or more. Target two of the following defensive ends between the 10th and 14th rounds. If you are able to draft an elite defensive end at value, target one of the following players as your DL2.

    DL1 / DL2 Value Targets
    Player
    Bramel Tier / Ranking
    FBG ADP
    ECR ADP
    MFL ADP
    Cameron Wake
    DL7 / Near Elite DL1
    DL17
    DL18
    DL13
    Jabaal Sheard
    DL8 / Near Elite DL1
    DL11
    DL11
    DL14
    Elvis Dumervil
    DL10 / Near Elite DL1
    DL15
    DL13
    DL11
    J.J. Watt
    DL13
    DL18
    DL17
    DL9
    Kamerion Wimbley
    DL17
    DL20
    DL21
    DL25
    Robert Quinn
    DL20
    DL26
    DL27
    DL23
    Adrian Clayborn
    DL21
    DL22
    DL25
    DL25+
    Jeremy Mincey
    DL22
    DL19
    DL19
    DL24

    Many of you may be able to draft three defensive ends off this list between the 10th and 20th rounds. Those in deeper and more competitive leagues should consider the following targets as your DL3.

    DL3 / DL4 Value Targets
    Player
    Bramel Tier / Ranking
    FBG ADP
    ECR ADP
    MFL ADP
    Matt Shaughnessy
    DL23
    DL29
    DL33
    DL25+
    Mark Anderson
    DL24
    DL29
    DL31
    DL25+
    Chandler Jones
    DL25
    DL35
    DL38
    DL25+

    If you're in an extremely deep league or have deep rosters, please see the DL tier feature [LINK] for further targets.

    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 or D'Qwell Jackson. 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 3-6 rounds later. While you wait, you can add better WR or RB depth from a much higher tier than your competition.

    Last year, I recommended targeting David Hawthorne, Desmond Bishop and Derrick Johnson as your "anchors" after 10-12 linebackers had been drafted. Bishop (in his 13 healthy games) and Johnson were top five linebackers; Hawthorne finished strong after a slow start. I recommended D'Qwell Jackson (LB1), Nick Barnett (LB10) and Daryl Washington (LB11) among possible targets) after 15-20 linebackers had been drafted. And I recommended Donald Butler (LB30 in part time duty) and Sean Weatherspoon (LB15) as targets after 30 linebackers had been drafted. This isn't a foolproof strategy I also recommended Rey Maualuga and Rolando McClain as value targets but the hit rate is certainly strong enough.

    You may not hit on every player you draft. Some of them may "only" finish as a solid LB2+. But you'll be getting them at huge values to those who invest picks in rounds 5-9 on a bigger or more hyped name.

    This year, I'm targeting the following players after 8-12 linebackers have been drafted with multiple picks between the 10th and 13th rounds:

    LB1 / LB2 Value Targets
    Player
    Bramel Tier / Ranking
    FBG ADP
    ECR ADP
    MFL ADP
    Colin McCarthy
    LB2
    LB11
    LB11
    LB10
    Daryl Washington
    LB4
    LB8
    LB6
    LB9
    Sean Lee
    LB7
    LB17
    LB15
    LB11
    Brian Cushing
    LB8
    LB14
    LB13
    LB14
    Donald Butler
    LB9
    LB19
    LB26
    LB29
    Lawrence Timmons
    LB12
    LB23
    LB19
    LB17

    All of these players have 95 solo tackle upside with added big play value and are available at a discount by current ADP. McCarthy has been drafted in the top five in some recent industry drafts; he and Washington are the most likely players to be taken before the tenth round. Continue drafting from the above list for value before moving on to the next group of later, value targets.

    It should be noted that I'm not advocating passing on players like James Laurinaitis, Sean Weatherspoon, and Ray Lewis. Their current ADP doesn't suggest that they'll be value picks. If they're available in the 10th (Laurinaitis) or 12th (Weatherspoon, Lewis) rounds, they're definitely worthy of your consideration.

    LB2 / LB3 / LB4 Value Targets
    Player
    Bramel Tier / Ranking
    FBG ADP
    ECR ADP
    MFL ADP
    Karlos Dansby
    LB17
    LB15
    LB17
    LB27
    Nick Barnett
    LB18
    LB21
    LB27
    LB30
    Rolando McClain
    LB22
    LB28
    LB30
    LB32
    Mason Foster
    LB23
    LB35
    LB45
    LB32+
    Erin Henderson
    LB31
    LB48
    LB47
    LB32+
    Kavell Conner
    LB36
    LB50
    LB50
    LB32+

    If you choose to slough the linebacker position deep into your draft, drafting three (or more) of the top five names on this list will still give you a very strong group. Conner could be a top ten linebacker through the first month of the season, but be ready to sell high if he sits in the nickel packages when Pat Angerer returns from injury.

    Those of you in very competitive or very deep leagues should consider the following three linebackers as prime LB5 / LB6 targets:

    LB5 / LB6 Value Targets
    Player
    Bramel Tier / Ranking
    FBG ADP
    ECR ADP
    MFL ADP
    K.J. Wright
    LB43
    LB57
    LB64
    LB32+
    Stephen Nicholas
    LB45
    LB65
    LB80+
    LB32+
    Bruce Carter
    LB47
    LB63
    LB71
    LB32+

    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 again correct to wait on the DB position and target a select group of safeties later in the draft. Kam Chancellor, George Wilson and Morgan Burnett were all ranked outside the consensus top ten and highlighted as value targets in this feature.

    I still lean toward drafting an elite safety as early as your 4th or 5th IDP after securing at least one DE and two linebackers from the LB2+ tier, but the landscape is a little different than in past seasons.

    From Yeremiah Bell to Tyvon Branch to Donte Whitner to George Wilson to Kam Chancellor, the last 4-5 seasons have featured at least one identifiable player that was available outside the top 15-20 defensive backs with clear stud potential. Midway through the preseason, I still don't see a player I'm willing to stand on the table for as the next value DB torch bearer. Jordan Babineaux was my favored target last month, but he's in a battle for the SS job with Robert Johnson in Tennessee.

    You can approach this in one of two ways. One approach would be to secure two elite safeties from your top ten and not worry about mining for a value target. The other approach is to take a risk on a player with upside (e.g. Babineaux, Yeremiah Bell, Taylor Mays, William Moore, etc) and hope you hit. If you choose the latter approach, be ready to move on sooner than you otherwise might if the early season trends aren't promising.

    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 Lance Briggs, take a shot on Bruce Carter or Mychal Kendricks. These players may not project to more than matchup LB5 candidates right now, but 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. Ronnie Hillman, Randall Cobb, Tim Tebow 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

    Expect to leverage your tiers in the first six rounds to secure at least three solid running backs. Be leery of targeting an elite QB and an elite TE in the first five rounds.

    Don't draft a defensive player until the 10th round.

    Consider drafting an elite defensive end in the 10th round, but targeting offensive depth and electing to take two near elite defensive ends is reasonable.

    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).

    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.

    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. Best of luck with your IDP drafts.

    Please ask questions or send comments to me by email at bramel@footballguys.com or on Twitter at @JeneBramel.

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