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10 rules to live by in IDP dynasty leagues

With dynasty start-ups in full swing, Dave Larkin shares his 10 tricks of the trade for IDP owners

When you routinely participate in as many dynasty IDP leagues as I do, you can’t help but pick up a few tidbits along the way. Though every league has its own rules and intricacies – with salary cap formats, contracts, restricted free agency and so on – ultimately the rules of team building can be applied in the context of the league’s set-up.

As we enter spring, many owners are only dipping their reluctant toes in the deep pool that is dynasty IDP fantasy football. Many will shirk away from these formats due to the amount of time necessary to succeed, but believe me when I say that this is by far the most enjoyable and enriching experience. If you’ve never played IDP fantasy football, I would recommend starting with a redraft league just to get your feet wet – but don’t let me discourage you from diving in at the deep end with dynasty.

Now, with that plethora of water metaphors behind me, let me take you through the nuggets I have picked up over my years of playing dynasty IDP fantasy football. My hope is that this piece will inspire those of you who aren’t playing yet to take it up, and that it will reignite the passion among owners who are already going steady with a team.

1. Surround yourself with the right people and you can’t go wrong

No, this is not a psychology lesson, but its place atop the list should speak to how important it can ultimately be to pick the right group of people in fantasy football. I’ve been involved in leagues where a handful of owners, like a heavy anchor that won’t shift, drag the league’s entertainment quotient down several notches. This kills the fun and the rest of the owners are left to pick up the slack while the panicky commissioner fumbles around for answers.

Don’t let this be your league.

If you are starting a league from scratch, take your time to visit the places where dynasty fantasy football players are most likely to hang out. The forums here at Footballguys.com are a terrific place to start your journey, but look further afield if needed and you will be able to meet experienced owners. Go with your gut and ask these guys or gals about their background to get a gauge of how much time they will realistically be able to pour into this hobby.

Trust me, when your league is still going strong a decade from now you’ll thank me. Well, probably not, but you’ll pat yourself on the back for getting the right mix.

2. Collect linebackers LIKE THEY'RE GOING OUT OF FASHION

On to the football stuff now, the real reason we’re here, I presume? On the surface it seems obvious that linebackers should be the priority in IDP dynasty leagues. They are the life blood of the defensive side of the ball, most likely to be involved on a play-by-play basis and rack up tackles and assists – and if you’re lucky a few sacks as well.

Schemes play a big part in how valuable linebackers are, which can make them notoriously difficult to parse out when formulating rankings, for example. A stud weak inside linebacker in a 3-4 compares favourably to a 4-3 middle linebacker in terms of overall tackle upside, but consideration has to be made for the players around them. Are they magnets for tackle production? Is there a player in the secondary who is a sure tackler and is likely to affect the linebackers’ value?

These are all questions that have to be asked, regardless of the player, but the lesson is to familiarise yourself with the schemes just for this season – 2016 – and make moves accordingly.

In a start-up, be the owner who knows these scheme changes like the back of your hand; snatch up the linebacker no-one is talking about in the later rounds. In an established league, scour the waiver wire (which we will discuss more later) and get a leg up on the pile with a shrewd pick-up.

Free agency has shuffled the NFL deck; it is now up to you, the players, to draw the right cards and play your hand.

Most importantly, though, make acquiring linebackers your hobby in IDP dynasty formats. They have the highest upside and can often turn from waiver wire fodder to entrenched starter overnight.

3. Fade defensive backs

Have you ever been to one of those parties where there’s always one group of guys who just keep their own counsel in the corner, sipping their beers and engaging in quiet conversation that no-one else is privy to? Sure, you want to talk to them, but you just wonder where the value is in it.

That’s defensive backs in a nutshell; the guys in the corner, the last resort for dynasty owners. Or, at least, I believe they should be.

There are exceptions to this hard and fast rule, of course; some players are must-have commodities and comprise the upper echelon of defensive backs. Names like Eric Weddle, Charles Woodson and Deone Bucannon come to mind. However, for every one of these players, there are five or six examples of players who can be acquired on the cheap.

Especially in start-up drafts, I would place defensive backs as my last priority, unless an insane value fell to me. The savvy owners will want to wait on the position, so at times it pays to zig when they zag.

Overall, however, I believe you can’t go wrong by just staying in your little corner with your buddies. You’ll get to the DBs later.

4. Learn to compare offensive and defensive players’ relative values

An exercise I would advise all owners to undertaken upon entering a league is to establish the hierarchy of value between offensive and defensive players. The method I use is the following:

n      Create a spreadsheet and use your league management software to find lists of the top performers (by points) of all the players at a particular position.

n      So, take linebackers for example. We will take the list and split the players into tiers, where LB1 – LB10 are elite, LB11 – LB20 are mid-level starters and so on, until we have a firm order in place.

n      Take the average of the point totals of the top 10 linebackers and record the value. Repeat the process for the next tier, and so on down through the positions.

n      What you will have is an ordered list of point totals across all positions, allowing you to compare the value of, say, a top 10 RB versus a top 10 linebacker according to your league’s scoring system.

This is an invaluable exercise that has allowed me to get one over on leaguemates many times in the past. While they scramble to figure out the intricacies of the league, you are already aware that this linebacker staring you in the face on draft day simply shouldn’t be there.

Even if you’ve been involved in a league on a long-term basis, this is a great process to refresh your memory and re-evaluate your roster.

5. MaximiZe rookie draft picks to snipe defenders in mid-late rounds

As diehard a fan of defensive football I am, even I cannot advocate drafting defenders in the early rounds of rookie drafts unless they are potentially elite talents. In fact, in my main dynasty league I only took one IDP in last year’s rookie draft; the value simply was not there according to my board.

The strategy for the rookie draft will vary owner to owner. If you are a contender, you may want to trade these picks when they hold their highest value right before the draft. If you’re on the other side of the ledger, you may prefer hoarding picks and offloading declining assets to give yourself another lottery ticket.

And let’s not make a mistake here, that’s exactly what we’re talking about: lottery tickets. If you have enough though, you can strike gold. As Tony Soprano said: “Even a broken clock is right twice a day”. Only you know where your main strength lies as a fantasy owner. Some people simply don’t have time to scout the rookies and must rely on the draft community to help them out; others will pour hours into film study and make a list of ‘their guys’. 

Either way, I believe the best way to approach rookie drafts is to go heavy on offense unless the value simply isn’t there and then trade down in the later rounds to pick off some high upside IDPs.

Of course, if point 4 above about relative values places more emphasis on acquiring defensive players, then all bets are off.

6. Stay on top of scheme changes

The NFL is like a game of musical chairs, but the more you listen to the music and the more you pay attention to which coaches are on the chairs, the more you realise that while things change often, the substance of the change is not substantial. Coaches are creatures of habit, generally sticking to their methodologies whether they occupy the top job as head coach or a coordinator position.

As the culture of impatience infests the NFL much like it does other sports all over the world, we see familiar faces move to new places. Take Jim Schwartz’ move to Philadelphia this offseason, for example. Previously unemployed after being ousted by the Lions brass, Schwartz didn’t take long to latch on to a new team clamouring for change after a disastrous final season under Chip Kelly. Steady-handed head coach Doug Pederson was brought in, with Schwartz his defensive coordinator.

The move by Schwartz has shuffled the pieces on the chess board as far as Philadelphia’s defensive starters. The shift from a 3-4 to a 4-3 Wide-9 will begin in earnest this offseason, with players like Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham seeing their value skyrocket.

If you’re the type of owner who overlooks the impact of scheme changes on the defensive side of the ball, now is the time to change that. Understanding the nature of how a team runs their defense and deploys their personnel is crucial to maximising your draft picks and player acquisitions.

7. Examine statistics crew trends for past three seasons and learn patterns

Now we’re getting down to the nitty gritty of IDP fantasy football – statistics crews. The bane of many an owner’s existence during the season as they go through their line-ups with a fine tooth comb, predicting the impact (or lack thereof) of the statistics crews is often a tiring exercise.

However, thanks to great work from the likes of Jene Bramel and Larry Thomas during the season here at Footballguys, we are able to take these metrics and use them to our advantage. Each season has a life of its own in this regard, so it is wise to look at a three-year sample size and then increasingly lean on the current season’s trends as they make themselves clear.

These metrics can be the difference between a win and a loss for your team. If you are breaking a tie between two linebackers and one of them is playing in a stadium where the stat crew is very assist-heavy, this could affect your decision. Sometimes that’s all we as owners need to make those tough, game day calls: the clarity of numbers.

8. Get out while the going is good on declining assets… but respect your elders

Especially at this time of year, when rookie drafts are upon us and everyone is optimistic about new faces in new places amid a slew of depth chart changes, it is easy to get caught up. You know what I’m referring to. We’ve all fallen victim to it in the past; we start to offload older players on our roster for that extra rookie draft pick that could turn into a stud.

Unlikely, but we take the chance because we are blinded by our ambition to improve our roster with youth, not even realising that the answer might be right in front of our eyes. Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman often leans on this adage – that the answer, more often than not, is already on your roster.

That answer takes the form of veteran players who have been mainstays of your roster for years. They don’t look as pretty as those rookies, but they’ve got the war wounds and the edge in experience that is often overlooked.

I suppose the take-home message here is to respect your elders in dynasty leagues. Often you can find a perfect replacement level player to fill in as your third linebacker or second safety in any given week and they can produce enough points for you to be viable.

Then there is the other side of the coin. Sometimes you have to be honest with yourself about a veteran who just hasn’t been producing for whatever reason. When the time comes to cut ties, via trade or by releasing the player, make sure you have good reason to shut the door.

Fortunately, the releasing of players is a much simpler process and isn’t often undertaken with much heartache – especially in leagues with ample roster spots.

9. Get to know your fellow owners – their habits, the wheeler-dealers and the quiet ones

Every league has them: the dealmakers, the swindlers, the guys who never respond to trade offers. These are just a handful of the fantasy league archetypes we see on a yearly basis. While redraft leagues take place over a condensed time period, providing less exposure to fellow owners, dynasty leagues mean you can get cosy with your leaguemates and settle in for the long haul.

Increased exposure sheds light on what kind of fantasy owner they are deep down, and I believe it is crucial to have at least a basic understanding of which owners you should be targeting and which you should steer clear of. Certain owners will always try to get one over on you and will not be helpful with their accompanying communiqués, opting for the silent treatment. Left in limbo, you feel like hitting your head against a wall as that deal you thought would be straightforward begins to slip through your fingers.

Alas, there are the owners who are more than willing to loosen their purse strings and open a proper dialogue. Latch on to these people, build relationships with them and no matter what, finish on a high note with them. A simple note like the following could come after your back-and-forth chatter failed to result in a deal:

“Sorry we couldn’t get a deal done, but I’m always willing to chat if you have any other trade ideas in the pipeline.”

Allow these relationships to grow and you will establish a reputation as a fair owner who is open to any and all deals – and that will benefit you hugely in the long term.

10. Don’t get distracted by the shiny toys on offense – there’s plenty of defensive gems to be mined on the waiver wire

As you will no doubt be aware, offensive players are the hotcakes of IDP leagues while defensive players play the role of the day-old bun that nobody wants to risk eating. But like the five-second rule, defensive players can still serve a purpose when it comes to discarded treats.

Yes, offensive players are more visible and easier to follow at times, but with all the IDP resources available here at Footballguys, there is no excuse not to be on top of defensive free agents. If you spend a few minutes looking through the options on the waiver wire among your DL, LB and DB prospects, you can find a more than capable player to fill in.

Matchup selection is key in IDP fantasy football, so using the various metrics on tackle opportunity, pass rush opportunity and offensive snaps per game can really boost your chances.

So whether you are a fledgling IDP player or a seasoned pro, adhere to these little tricks of the trade as much as possible and you won’t go far wrong. I maintain that IDP dynasty formats are the most enjoyable I have ever participated in, and I hope I have gone some of the way in convincing you of the same thing. 


Don’t hesitate to drop me a line on Twitter @davlar87 or email me at larkin@footballguys.com for any queries about the article or IDP dynasty leagues in general