In dynasty leagues where both offensive and defensive players are present, it can be tough to figure out how to value individual defensive players (IDPs). Common questions that come up in these formats are:
Is trading an offensive player for an IDP a good idea?
Typically speaking, what is the most valuable position among IDPs?
How many IDPs should I keep on my roster during the offseason?
How early in my startup draft should I begin drafting IDPs?
For the owners who want to learn how to navigate this challenging format, Footballguys.com IDP Dynasty Draft Guide has you covered!
SECTION I: EVALUATION
KNOW THE SCORING AND SETTINGS
Understanding your league’s scoring system and position requirements is a good place to begin. Scoring and position requirements are going to decide how you evaluate, value, and ultimately draft certain players and positions going forward. Questions pertaining to your scoring and settings that you should be asking yourself include:
How many points do I get for a tackle? For an assist?
What is the ratio of tackles to assists?
Do big plays (sacks, interceptions, tipped passes, etc.) get massive bonuses that make certain IDPs more valuable?
How many players must I start at each position?
Answering these questions will help owners begin to sort out which IDPs have more value in their league. Here are some examples that will illustrate this point:
Example A: In a 12-team, neutral-scoring IDP league where the lineup requirements are 1 DE, 1 LB, and 1 DB, a player can afford to wait longer to make IDP selections than if 3 DE, 4 LB, 4 DB, and 3 Flex IDP starters are required. This is because the number of overall players at each IDP position in the free agent pool is greater when fewer of those positions are required starters. This is what is known as position scarcity, a concept that will be expanded upon in Section II.
Example B: In a tackle-heavy scoring system, a strong-side LB is generally less valuable than a middle linebacker. This is because strong-side LBs usually get fewer tackle opportunities. However, in a scoring system that rewards big points for interceptions and sacks, a strong-side linebacker usually will be more valuable because he is called on to rush the passer or cover a TE or RB on a screen pass. He will have more opportunities to make a big play and score points for your team.
KNOW THE SITUATION
Situation is another important component to an IDP's value. An IDP can be a supremely talented player and still fail in fantasy terms because of the role they are asked to fill on their team’s defense. Likewise, a player of mediocre ability can generate significant numbers for fantasy owners if the environment around them is conducive for production. Again, here are some questions owners need to be asking when considering their IDPs:
IS HE AN EVERY DOWN PLAYER?
Just like on the offensive side of the ball, fantasy owners want a player who is on the field for all three downs, simply because he will have more opportunities to score. Footballguys provides a database that logs IDP snap counts, making it easy to see for yourself whether a player is getting consistent and significant playing time.
Example: LBs that are involved in the nickel and dime packages on their team are on the field more than an LB that is strong against the run only.
Another advantage of knowing how often your player is on the field is that it will help you to see who is breaking out and who is fool’s gold on the waiver wire. Most fantasy host sites do not give IDP projections on a weekly basis like they do with offensive players. Many of your competitors will look at the past few games to see which players are scoring well and mindlessly pick them up. Having context will mean that you can spot the real diamonds in the rough and save your resources for players that will really make a difference.
Example: Player X has averaged 15 points over the last 3 games and is the hot pickup in IDP leagues. Researching snap counts, you see that Player X was only in on 35% of the snaps and just had a great streak. Player X stops producing and is tossed back to waivers later in the year.
WHAT SCHEMES DOES THE DEFENSIVE UNIT MY PLAYER IS A PART OF COMMONLY USE?
Knowing whether your player plays in a 3-4 or a 4-3 is important in understanding how they will score. It is also necessary to consider how their position typically produces in that scheme.
Example A: In a tackle-heavy scoring league, a 4-3 middle LB is going to usually be more valuable than a 3-4 DE, simply because his tackle opportunities are usually greater in this scheme.
Example B: In a big play-heavy scoring league, if choosing between Justin Houston and Avery Williamson on the waiver wire, Houston would be the clear choice, simply because he is a 3-4 OLB who will have more big play opportunity than Williamson, the 3-4 ILB.
WHAT OTHER PLAYERS ARE ON THIS DEFENSIVE UNIT AND HOW DOES THEIR ROLE IMPACT MY PLAYER? WILL AN INJURY TO THE SUPPORTING CAST ON THIS UNIT CHANGE THE ROLE OF MY IDP?
Great players’ play can sometimes elevate the value of mediocre IDP talents. Also, injuries can happen, causing coaching staff to move a player to a new position on the field that helps or hurts their production.
Example A: In a divisional game between the Colts and the Texans, the Colts decide to double team J.J. Watt all game to protect Andrew Luck. Jeoffery Pagan is not blocked as often and is able to sack Luck twice.
Example B: In 2015, Sam Barrington had a season-ending injury. The Packers coaching staff moved different LBs into his spot each week, trying to find a combination that helped the defense. This instability left fantasy players not knowing who, if anyone, would be a dependable starting option.
HOW DO PLAYERS AT THIS POSITION TYPICALLY FARE WHEN FACING OFFENSE X? WHAT IMPACT DO STAT CREWS HAVE ON THE STATISTICAL OUTPUTS OF MY PLAYER?
This is where things can get really complicated. How the game script plays out can impact the role your player will have in a given game. Also, it is important to know how stat crews can impact match-ups. Some NFL stat crews are stingy with awarding tackles, but will award more assists. Others will be stingy with assists, but award more solo tackles. Some will hand out tackles and assists equally. Researching and factoring these tendencies into player evaluation gives you a distinct advantage over others who don’t do their homework.
Example A: In 2015, The Baltimore Ravens presented a horrible match-up for most tackle- heavy IDPs because the Ravens’ offense couldn’t stay on the field, had to pass often, etc. However, big play IDPs feasted on this weak match-up because of poor O-Line play, the back-up QB holding the ball too long, a high number of offensive backup players making mistakes, etc.
Example B: In your tackle-heavy league, your MLB has a match-up against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals’ stat crew is known to be stingy with solo tackles and will more often award assists on a play. Depending on who you have, you may think about benching this MLB for one who has a more favorable match-up.
KNOW THE PROSPECTS
Another way that you can get the jump on your competition is to evaluate rookie IDP prospects before they play a down at the NFL level. Even if you do not feel competent to watch film and evaluate these guys yourself, there are experts out there who are freely sharing their evaluations and observations with the IDP community. Closer to the season, our very own Jene Bramel and John Norton commonly tweet and speak on the IDP Roundtable podcast about how these guys will fit on their respective units. Dane Brugler is also an excellent IDP evaluator who commonly tweets about college prospects. Draft Breakdown is another excellent place to watch videos and read the prospect breakdowns of certain IDPs. This is not an exhaustive list. There are many other IDP scouting resources out there for owners to find. Knowing the skillsets of these prospects and how they will likely be used by their teams will enable you to properly identify their value in your league. You will not have to pay a premium for talented IDPs because you will know which late-round guys could vastly outproduce their ADP.
Section I Takeaway: Evaluating IDP talent is just one way to separate yourself from the other owners in your league and the first step on the path to building a dominate team.
Ready for Section II? Click here.