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Reading the Defense: Sack Heavy IDP Strategy

Find out how highly your IDP league values sacks and when you should target sacks rather than tackles

Sorting Out The 3 Flavors Of IDP Leagues

There are a handful of differences in offensive fantasy leagues. PPR or non-PPR, yardage bonuses, 2 QB leagues, and flex lineup slots are common variations on the offensive theme. But it's rare to see many variations on scoring. The vast majority of leagues award either four or six points for a passing touchdown. Nearly every league bases its scoring system on a rushing or receiving touchdown equalling six points. And most leagues base their rush and receiving yardage at a one point per ten yard clip.

That's not the case with IDP leagues.

There is no standard scoring system. I've played in leagues where solo tackles were worth anywhere between 1 point and 4.5 points. I've seen leagues where players were awarded one point for a sack and others where a sack was worth 15 points. Every other scoring parameter sees the same variation.

That makes understanding the scoring system in your league critical. Just as the value of a pass catching running back or slot receiver can be vastly different in PPR vs non-PPR leagues, the value of an edge rushing linebacker or two-gapping defensive end can vary widely depending on the value of tackles and sacks in your system.

Thankfully, there's a quick and simple way to gauge player value in your scoring system.

Calculating the Sack-to-Tackle Ratio

The variety of IDP scoring systems isn't a new issue. Many years ago, I began recommending a simple mathematical conversion to classify IDP scoring systems -- the sack-to-tackle ratio. It's exactly what it sounds like. Take the point value of a sack in your system and divide it by the value of a solo tackle. That's your league's ratio.

For example, if your league gives 2 points for a solo tackle and 6 points for a sack, your league has a STR of 3.0.

As you'll see in the data tables below, the tide begins to heavily turn in favor of tackle producing defenders at a STR of 2.5 or less. Players who heavily rely on sacks start seeing added value at a STR of 5.0 or higher. That allows us to classify any IDP league into one of three categories.

Tackle Heavy IDP League: STR 1.0 - 2.5

Balanced IDP League: STR 3.0 - 4.5

Sack Heavy IDP League: STR 5.0+

Note: If you are awarded points for sack yardage, you can do some quick math to adjust your STR appropriately. Over the past five years, the average yardage lost per sack in the NFL is 6.5 yards. So, if your league awards 0.1 yards per sack yard, you would add 0.65 to the points awarded for a sack. If your league awards a point for a quarterback hit or a tackle for loss, add those to the value of a sack before calculating your STR. Therefore, if you're league awards one point for a solo tackle, three points for a sack, one point for a TFL, one point for a quarterback hit, and 0.2 yards per sack yard, your STR is 3+1+1+1.3 to 1 or 6.3 to 1.

Rise of Sack-Heavy Leagues

When I first started playing IDP fantasy football 20 years ago, IDP leagues were heavily skewed toward tackle-heavy scoring systems. Eight years ago, when I polled the fanatics in our IDP Forum about league parameters, tackle-heavy systems outpaced sack-heavy systems by a factor of twelve.

As the number of 3-4 base fronts and athletic edge rushers increased, so too have the number of IDP fans choosing sack-heavy scoring systems. I've preferred systems that lean sack-heavy for years. But the IDP industry hasn't kept pace with that increase. Rankings (and my tier features) are based on balanced or slightly tackle-heavy based scoring systems. Our default FBG IDP scoring system has a STR of 2.67.

It's time to turn our some much-deserved attention to the sack-heavy league. So, let's revisit this feature I wrote eight years ago and reassess the value of players in sack-heavy systems.

Warning: Data Ahead

I highly suggest you look through the tables to come. But if you're allergic to data, feel free to skip ahead to the take home summary at the end of the article.

Defining A Range Of STR Scoring Parameters

Before we begin highlighting differences in player type and examine how the relative value of specific players changes based on STRs, let's quickly define a few sets of scoring parameters per STR. For the purposes of this feature, I'm varying only the sack and interception parameters.

 STR 1STR 2STR 3STR 4STR 5STR 6STR 8STR 10
Solo 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5
Assist 0.75 0.75 0.75 0.75 0.75 0.75 0.75 0.75
Sack 1.5 3 4.5 6 7.5 9 12 15
FF | FR 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
INT 4 4 5 6 7.5 9 12 15
PD 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 

The Changing Value of Player Types By STR

Now that you know how to categorize your IDP league, let's compare how certain player types fare in each system. I'm going to separate player types by the tiers I prefer first. Then we'll use a few 2014 player stat lines to put faces to the numbers a little later.

When I tier players, I have a rough projection in mind. I'll use that target projection to generate a yearly point total. We can then see at a glance where the rubber meets the road for an edge rushing outside linebacker (i.e. Rush LB) or a pass rushing defensive end with low tackle numbers (i.e. High Variance DL2), etc.

DEFENSIVE LINESoloAssistSackFF/FRPDINTSTR 1STR 2STR 3STR 4STR 5STR 6STR 8STR 10
ELITE DL1 50 20 12 5 4 0 144 162 184 206 230 254 302 350
HIGH FLOOR DL1 40 10 10 4 3 0 110.5 125.5 143.5 161.5 181 200.5 239.5 278.5
HIGH FLOOR DL2 45 10 5 3 3 0 106.5 114 124.5 135 147 159 183 207
HIGH VARIANCE DL2 35 10 10 4 4 0 107 122 141 160 181 202 244 286
MATCHUP DL3 30 6 8 3 3 0 85.5 97.5 112.5 127.5 144 160.5 193.5 226.5
LINEBACKERSoloAssistSackFF/FRPDINTSTR 1STR 2STR 3STR 4STR 5STR 6STR 8STR 10
ELITE LB1 105 40 3 4 8 2 243 247.5 260 272.5 289 305.5 338.5 371.5
HIGH FLOOR LB1 95 30 2 3 5 2 203 206 214 222 232.5 243 264 285
LB2 W/ ELITE UPSIDE 85 25 3 3 5 2 185.75 190.25 199.75 209.25 221.25 233.25 257.25 281.25
HIGH FLOOR LB3 78 20 2 2 3 1 156.5 159.5 165.5 171.5 179 186.5 201.5 216.5
RUSH LB1 52 20 12 5 5 1 152.5 170.5 193.5 216.5 242 267.5 318.5 369.5
RUSH LB2 / LB3 40 15 12 4 4 1 122.75 140.75 162.75 184.75 208.75 232.75 280.75 328.75
MATCHUP RUSH LB 35 10 10 3 3 1 100.5 115.5 133.5 151.5 171 190.5 229.5 268.5

Putting Player Names To The Data

I'm including two sets of data here. The first table will use actual season-ending stat lines from 2014 -- grouping players into their respective types and tiers -- and calculate their points in leagues with various STRs. The second table is the money table. It translates the season-ending point totals into year-end rankings. It's there you'll see just how much more valuable a sack artist becomes as the STR increases.

Remember, I'm just choosing representative stat lines here. I'm not arguing Robert Quinn is a High Floor DL1. That's just where his 2014 stat line crosses my tier plateaus. And not every player - tier connection here represents their 2015 expectation or tier. For that ... well, see my tier features.


Defensive Line | Year-End Total Points and Ranking by STR value

 

 SoloAssistSackFFFRPDINT STR 1STR 2STR 3STR 4STR 5STR 6STR 8STR 10
ELITE                                
J.J. Watt 59 19 20.5 4 5 10 1   188.5 219.25 251 282.75 315 347.25 411.75 476.25
Jason Pierre-Paul 53 24 12.5 3 1 6 0   141.25 160 178.76 197.5 216.25 235 272.5 310
HIGH FLOOR DL1                                
Everson Griffen 39 16 12 1 0 3 0   97 115 133 151 169 187 223 259
Robert Quinn 39 7 10.5 5 0 6 0   108.5 124.25 140 155.75 171.5 187.25 218.75 250.25
HIGH FLOOR DL2                                
Fletcher Cox 49 13 4 1 3 0 0   105.25 111.25 117.25 123.25 129.25 132.25 147.25 159.25
Corey Liuget 46 11 5 2 2 2 0   103.75 111.25 118.75 126.25 133.75 141.25 156.25 171.25
DL2 W/ VARIANCE                                
Cameron Wake 31 5 11.5 3 1 3 0   88 105.25 122.5 139.75 157 174.25 208.75 243.25
Marcell Dareus 35 14 9 1 0 1 0   82 95.5 109 122.5 136 149.5 176.25 203.5
MATCHUP                                
Chris Clemons 27 9 8 3 1 3 0   79.75 91.75 103.75 115.75 127.75 139.75 163.75 187.75
Vinny Curry 17 2 9 4 1 0 0   60.5 74 87.5 101 114.5 128 155 182
 SoloAssistSackFFFRPDINT STR 1STR 2STR 3STR 4STR 5STR 6STR 8STR 10
ELITE                                
J.J. Watt 59 19 20.5 4 5 10 1   1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Jason Pierre-Paul 53 24 12.5 3 1 6 0   2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2
HIGH FLOOR DL1                                
Everson Griffen 39 16 12 1 0 3 0   10 5 6 5 5 5 4 4
Robert Quinn 39 7 10.5 5 0 6 0   4 3 3 4 4 4 5 5
HIGH FLOOR DL2                                
Fletcher Cox 49 13 4 1 3 0 0   5 10 13 16 19 22 26 29
Corey Liuget 46 11 5 2 2 2 0   6 12 12 15 17 18 21 24
DL2 W/ VARIANCE                                
Cameron Wake 31 5 11.5 3 1 3 0   16 13 11 9 7 7 6 6
Marcell Dareus 35 14 9 1 0 1 0   22 20 19 18 15 15 15 14
MATCHUP                                
Chris Clemons 27 9 8 3 1 3 0   26 24 21 21 20 19 18 18
Vinny Curry 17 2 9 4 1 0 0   52 39 33 30 28 26 22 21

Defensive Line Notes:

It's always striking to see just how impressive J.J. Watt's numbers are relative to his peers. Jason Pierre-Paul's 53-24-12.5 line is huge. With each successive step up the STR rung, however, Watt increases his lead over Pierre-Paul. It's plainly ridiculous.

Look how the DL2 tiers diverge as the STR increases. High tackle ends like Fletcher Cox and Corey Liuget are studs in tackle-heavy leagues. They're every bit as valuable as Everson Griffen and Robert Quinn in the most extreme tackle-heavy systems, but remain DL1 caliber plays to the lower reaches of a balanced IDP system (STR = 3.0). But they become afterthoughts and lineup killers at the other extreme, when the High Variance DL2 group holds the significant edge. The swing happens around a STR of 4.0-5.0.

The most notable finding for sack-heavy owners is in the Matchup Tier. No one in a tackle-heavy or balanced league should have a player with a 17-2-9 expectation over 16 games on their draft board. But Vinny Curry held DL2 value in leagues with an STR of 8.0 or higher last year. There's variance there, obviously, but a big week from a high variance matchup play can win you a weekly matchup in a high STR system.  If you're stuck and searching the waiver wire for an option in those leagues, every defensive lineman is in play.


LINEbacker | YEAR-END TOTAL POINTS AND RANKING by STR value

 

 SoloAssistSackFFFRPDINT STR 1STR 2STR 3STR 4STR 5STR 6STR 8STR 10
ELITE                                
Luke Kuechly 99 54 3 1 1 11 1   222 226.5 232 237.5 243.5 249.5 261.5 273.5
DeAndre Levy 119 32 2.5 0 0 5 1   217.75 221.5 226.25 231 236.25 241.5 252 262.5
RUSH LB1                                
Justin Houston 59 9 22 4 0 5 0   151.75 184.75 217.75 250.75 283.75 316.75 382.75 448.75
Ryan Kerrigan 51 13 13.5 5 1 1 0   132 152.25 172.5 192.75 213 233.25 273.25 314.25
HIGH FLOOR LB1                                
Lavonte David 100 44 1 4 1 3 0   209 210.5 212 213.5 215 216.5 219.5 222.5
Curtis Lofton 100 45 0 1 1 1 0   193.25 193.25 193.25 193.25 193.25 193.25 193.25 193.25
LB2 W/ ELITE UPSIDE                                
C.J. Mosley 84 44 3 0 1 8 2   187.5 192 198.5 205 212.5 220 235 250
Jamie Collins 74 42 4 4 2 3 2   185 191 199 207 216 225 243 261
HIGH FLOOR LB2                                
Paul Worrilow 84 59 2 2 0 3 0   185.75 188.75 191.75 194.75 197.75 200.75 206.75 212.75
Alec Ogletree 84 27 0.5 4 0 12 2   189 189.75 192.5 195.25 199 202.75 210.25 217.75
HIGH FLOOR LB3                                
K.J. Wright 74 33 2 2 1 4 0   156.75 159.75 162.75 165.75 168.75 171.75 177.75 183.75
Chris Borland 78 21 1 0 1 5 2   153.75 155.25 158.75 162.25 166.75 171.25 180.25 189.25
RUSH LB2/LB3                                
Clay Matthews 44 16 11 1 0 9 1   116 132.5 150 167.5 185.5 203.5 239.5 275.5
Von Miller 41 17 13 0 1 2 0   100.75 120.25 139.75 159.25 178.75 198.25 237.25 276.25
MATCHUP RUSH LB                                
Terrell Suggs 36 25 12 0 1 1 0   96.25 114.25 132.25 150.25 168.25 186.25 222.25 258.25
Elvis Dumervil 25 10 17 1 1 1 0   80 105.5 131 156.5 182 207.5 258.5 309.5
 SoloAssistSackFFFRPDINT STR 1STR 2STR 3STR 4STR 5STR 6STR 8STR 10
ELITE                                
Luke Kuechly 99 54 3 1 1 11 1   1 1 1 2 2 2 4 7
DeAndre Levy 119 32 2.5 0 0 5 1   2 2 2 3 3 3 6 9
RUSH LB1                                
Justin Houston 59 9 22 4 0 5 0   20 10 3 1 1 1 1 1
Ryan Kerrigan 51 13 13.5 5 1 1 0   32 23 16 12 7 4 2 3
HIGH FLOOR LB1                                
Lavonte David 100 44 1 4 1 3 0   3 3 4 4 6 9 15 17
Curtis Lofton 100 45 0 1 1 1 0   5 5 8 11 14 20 25 30
LB2 W/ ELITE UPSIDE                                
C.J. Mosley 84 44 3 0 1 8 2   7 6 7 7 8 8 12 12
Jamie Collins 74 42 4 4 2 3 2   9 7 6 6 5 6 7 10
HIGH FLOOR LB2                                
Paul Worrilow 84 59 2 2 0 3 0   8 9 10 9 12 15 19 22
Alec Ogletree 84 27 0.5 4 0 12 2   6 8 9 8 11 13 16 19
HIGH FLOOR LB3                                
K.J. Wright 74 33 2 2 1 4 0   16 18 21 22 25 27 34 39
Chris Borland 78 21 1 0 1 5 2   19 20 22 24 27 28 30 32
RUSH LB2/LB3                                
Clay Matthews 44 16 11 1 0 9 1   50 36 26 20 17 12 8 6
Von Miller 41 17 13 0 1 2 0   66 53 36 27 22 17 9 5
MATCHUP RUSH LB                                
Terrell Suggs 36 25 12 0 1 1 0   70 57 47 32 26 22 14 11
Elvis Dumervil 25 10 17 1 1 1 0   82 68 48 29 20 11 5 4

Linebacker Notes:

An elite, all-around edge rusher does not need the benefit of a high STR to be an elite fantasy linebacker. Justin Houston was a top three fantasy linebacker in leagues with a STR of 3.0 last season. It took 59 solos and 22 sacks to get there, however. The second best overall rush linebacker, Ryan Kerrigan, became a top ten option at a STR of 5.0.

Look at Curtis Lofton's line. A inside linebacker with very few pass rush opportunities has a huge difference in expectation as the STR increases. Lofton was a stud with 100 tackles in tackle-heavy leagues. His total lack of pass rush contribution pushed him down to replacement level LB3 range in the most extreme sack-heavy systems. Even a balanced league monster like Lavonte David didn't provide nearly the same value in leagues with a STR of 8.0 or more.

A mid-range rush linebacker like Clay Matthews or Von Miller were unstartable in tackle-heavy systems last year. While that may not be the case for both players this year, it shows that the floor expectation for a rush LB2/LB3 is not good enough in tackle-heavy leagues. However, that same floor expectation brings a top ten finish in leagues with a STR over 8.0.

If you thought Vinny Curry's line was extreme, how about Elvis Dumervil. Ranked 82nd in a league with a STR of 1.0, Doom was a top five fantasy option in leagues with a STR of 8.0 or higher. Just like the defensive end position, the reward well outweighs the risk with an extreme flyer in high STR leagues.


Take Home Summary

Be certain you know your league's STR and category. Tackle-heavy leagues have a STR of 2.5 or lower. Sack-heavy leagues have a STR of 5.0 or higher. Anything in-between is balanced.

If your league includes bonuses for statistics that favor pass rushers -- quarterback hits, tackle for loss, sack yardage -- increase your STR value accordingly.

When in doubt, enter your league settings into our customizable MyFBG tool or a sham MFL league (you can test your parameters without paying for a league) and closely examine the relative value of players for your specific scoring values.

Favor high floor, high tackle DL2 options over high variance or rotational pass rushers in tackle-heavy leagues. Favor high variance DL2 plays in sack-heavy leagues.

Recognize that the defensive lineman with a decent chance at a sack every week becomes more valuable than a defensive lineman who may be a lock for four solos but is unlikely to get a sack in leagues with a STR of 3.5 or higher.

Strongly consider the highest upside, all-around rush linebackers (55 solos, 14 sacks) as options just outside the Elite LB tier in leagues with a STR of 4.0 or higher.

Draft rush linebackers with a 40-10 expectation over more steady tacklers in leagues with a STR of 6.0 or higher. The reward begins to progressively outweigh the risk in that range.

Aggressively stream players in the Matchup Rush LB tier in leagues with a STR of 8.0 or higher.

I'm going to begin incorporating some notes on those players who fit the target profile in high STR leagues in future updates to the tier articles. If you're a long time tackle-heavy IDP lover, consider shifting gears. You don't have to swing so far that Elvis Dumervil and Vinny Curry become more valuable than Muhammad Wilkerson and Lavonte David, but you may want to strongly consider elevating the value of dynamic players like Clay Matthews and Von Miller.

Follow and ask questions on Twitter @JeneBramel. Reading the Defense will be a regular feature this offseason with free agent commentary, draft prospect previews, tier discussion, links to our offseason IDP roundtable podcasts and much more. Subscribe to The Audible on iTunes or download our IDP podcast here