Standard dynasty leagues – those exclusively with offensive players – are challenging and rewarding in equal measures, but introducing individual defensive players adds a whole new layer of strategy that, if you ask me, is unrivalled in fantasy football.
Yes, it’s dynasty, but not as you know it. At least not if you’ve only dipped your toe in the shallow end of the pool, where quarterback hits and tackles for loss are foreign concepts reserved for casual chats with your buddies over the Thursday Night Football game on NFL Network.
If you’ve never dared enter the IDP dynasty realm for fear of its complexity, or even if you’re a diehard IDP nut who just wants a little tuning up for the summer months of planning and prognosticating, read on for my personal nuggets of wisdom to leave your league-mates in your wake.
GETTING THE BALANCE RIGHT – OFFENSE VS DEFENSE
It goes without saying (or it should, at least) that while you should take account of the pros and cons of defensive players and how they will affect your overall strategy, offensive pieces are just as key – if not more so – to winning your championship.
In a standard IDP dynasty start-up, you should allocate your premium resources to the offensive side of the ball, deferring only to defensive stalwarts when the value dictates. You might be the most savvy defensive guru in your league, aware of defensive coordinator tendencies, blitz percentages and nickel linebackers, but if you jump too early to secure the top-tier IDPs, you could be left holding the bag when your league-mates are swiping premium offensive talents from under your nose.Rule #1: Allocate premium resources to offensive players in start-up drafts and wait to seize on value among IDPs in later rounds.
FINE-TUNING YOUR BOARD – KNOW YOUR SCORING SYSTEM
A point often harped on in the months leading up to redraft league drafts is to know your scoring system. The importance of this mantra increases tenfold in dynasty formats, especially if you are putting together a team in a start-up draft.
Remember, you will be tied to this roster for the foreseeable future. Your success and failure hinges on getting these picks right. Obviously you won’t be able to bat 1.000, but maximising the chances of success with your selections comes down to one thing: your scoring system.
Like the calling card of any league, the scoring system will determine the relative value of positions and, in turn, the order of your draft board.
A useful exercise leading up to a start-up draft is to research the players from each position in your league and separate their points total from previous seasons in a tier system.
For example, take the top 25 defensive linemen and split them into the following tiers:
DL1-5: Take the average of the points totals of the top five defensive linemen in the last couple of seasons based on this scoring system.
DL6-10: Repeat for those defensive linemen in the six through 10 range
DL11-15 and so on
A spreadsheet is the ideal tool to be able to see this across all positions. Once you have completed this, you will have an excellent reference point as you go through your draft to break ties between tiers, players and take the best player available.Rule #2: Be aware of the finer points of your league’s scoring system and maximise the value in the draft by creating ‘average points tiers’ by position.
PLAYER ACQUISITION – TRADING VERSUS DRAFT PICKS
Now, if you’re already well entrenched in an IDP dynasty league and have heard all this before, things are about to become more relevant for your purposes.
In any league, the decisions you make ultimately define your success or failure; that’s part of the gig. However, knowing where your strengths lie as an owner is absolutely crucial to player acquisition, what makes dynasty leagues so much fun.
The art of the deal is tricky to master. Even experienced owners, frustrated by the lack of response from league-mates to trade offers, simply goes into his shell and keeps his deals to a minimum. Some of us, myself included at times, forget that there is a whole player pool out there waiting to be plucked – for the right price.
With IDP dynasty leagues, however, unlike offense only formats, you can more easily get in on the ground floor with young prospects. Less heralded and often overlooked by the mass media – and hence by many less in-the-know owners – the clever ones can find the young guns and nurture them into superstars.
The key to unearthing the diamonds in the rough for IDP is knowing your scoring system (there’s that one again), becoming a better talent evaluator (NFL Game Rewind is excellent for reviewing tape) and keeping your finger on the pulse as far as coaching comments.
Is this coach particularly high on this player? Does he fit the coach’s scheme? If so, pounce. You may even find that the player isn’t on a roster and you can get him for free.
On the flip side, acquiring IDP veteran players can yield big dividends too. A good example would be Justin Tuck this season in Oakland. Tuck may not have much time left, but whether you’re in a dynasty league or not, he can be acquired at bargain basement prices and could make the difference with your depth on the defensive line.
I would advocate trading an ageing offensive veteran for a young defensive stud for the right price, as an example of a deal like this. The overriding message is to keep at your league-mates with offers, keep the dialogue open and you never know who might come knocking.
On the other side of the coin is the annual rookie draft, an event that some owners criminally under-prepare for. Being aware of the top rookies’ strengths and weaknesses can be the difference between long-term glory and a quick rebuild.
Be honest with yourself: are you a good talent evaluator? Have you shown to be a good eye for college talent translating to the pro game? If so, focus on this strength and accumulate draft picks, especially in the later rounds, to scoop up the cream of the IDP talent.Rule #3: Have clarity as an owner and decide whether your strength is trading or drafting players and focus on that strength
WIN NOW, NOT TOMORROW…
It is easy to get caught up in the dynasty ‘window’. Some say it is three years, some say five. I say there is a balancing act that can be successfully navigated if you plan things out and have a clear idea of where your team’s strengths and weaknesses lie.
Honestly assess your team’s chances for this season. Comb through your roster. How many of your players are in the prime of their careers? How many are developing talents? And how many are soon to be scrapheap material?
Generally in IDP dynasty leagues, you should aim to have the following balance (in an average IDP roster of, for argument’s sake, 20 players):
• Two to three players at each of DL, LB and DB in their prime (24-29 years old)
• One or two players at each position who are your developmental talent. These can range from rookie draft picks currently sitting behind veteran incumbent starters, or simply fliers you poached off the waiver wire
• One or two ‘declining’ players at each position who can still deliver despite their advancing years. Julius Peppers, signed this offseason by Green Bay, is an example of a solid investment with a relatively high floor.
The idea is to eschew thoughts of winning down the road and win now by executing moves to acquire older veterans to hold you over while your young nucleus of talent is in incubation, so to speak. As soon as the young players have broken into the starting line-up, it will be time to move on from the veterans and the cycle will repeat itself.
… BUT REBUILD IF YOU HAVE TO
If you’ve ever taken over a team from someone else, you will know full well the challenges it entails. You have to start from square one to put your unique stamp on the roster. You cut bait on certain players you don’t believe in and you try to offload some players in trades in an effort to complete an overhaul.
The advice I gave above relating to player acquisition holds true here. Determine your strength as an owner. If it is the draft, accumulate rookie picks and use that capital to start again with a young nucleus, supplementing it with veterans. If it is trades, then become that guy in your league who becomes known as the wheeler-dealer. Be relentless.
The rewards will come if you target high-upside young players.Rule #4: Don’t get sucked in to the idea of a dynasty ‘window’ – be controlled, yet aggressive, in your moves and keep a balance of ages across your roster.
CONTRACTS AND SCHEMES
Keeping your finger on the pulse of the contract situations of players can give you a leg up on your league-mates. Using websites like overthecap.com, spotrac.com and rotoworld.com will help you stay abreast of players on the verge of being let go – and why Team A drafted that linebacker when they didn’t ‘need’ him.
These NFL front offices are looking ahead, and you should be doing the same. Pinpoint some players you like currently stuck behind veterans and acquire them. If you get in on the ground floor with a player’s value, you will have him for his most productive years.
Equally, being aware of scheme changes (i.e. switches in defensive coordinators, 3-4 to 4-3 or vice versa, a shift to a more attacking defense) can yield huge dividends. A player who has previously been criminally under-utilised for what he does best can be set free and flourish under a new coordinator.
The Eagles’ Brandon Graham is a great example. Clearly a talented pass rusher, he has been forced to play in a 3-4, an alignment not conducive to his strengths. If he were to move to a base 4-3 team, his value could skyrocket.Rule #5: Become more informed about contract situations and schemes so you can better project the long-term outlook for players
Dynasty leagues are the most enjoyable format by far and introducing defensive players adds a whole new universe of possibilities to shaping your own roster and creating a championship-winning team. In this article I have only scratched the surface of the depth of strategy that goes into these complex and challenging leagues, but my hope is that I have whetted your appetite for more.
If you have any dynasty dilemmas or need advice ahead of start-up drafts, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you prefer you can tweet @davlar87.