In offense only fantasy football leagues, we are always looking for value. It’s no different when redraft leagues include the defensive side of the ball. By finding those guys to take later in our drafts who might produce on par with a top option, we are able to not only take more shots on offensive players, but we also feel fantastic when we correctly identify a great player that others ignored. For the purposes of the article, we’ll be considering a 12-team league with 2 IDP starters at each position (DL, LB, DB) and Footballguys’ Standard IDP scoring. Changing the scoring and settings may impact how you approach your IDP draft (more on that here). I’ll provide three names at each position that have the potential to finish among the top options at their respective positions-- without paying a premium to acquire their services.
Average MFL ADP: 250.65 (late round 21)
Rationale: When talking IDP this offseason, one of my favorite catchphrases to utter has been “Liuget is legit.” Liuget finished in the top twelve in tackle heavy formats last year, but still seems to be flying under the radar. He may not be a big-play machine, but he’s a consistent tackler, logging fifty plus combined tackles in two of his last three seasons. Call me crazy, but I think he has a shot at exceeding five sacks this year. San Diego recently signed him to a five-year deal, so you know that they love what they see in him. At 25 years old, he’s entering his prime years of production. I project him to finish inside the top twelve once again this year.
Average MFL ADP: 255.29 (early round 22)
Rationale: Like Liuget, the Steelers recently extended Heyward with a big contract. He gave them 7.5 sacks and 53 combined tackles last year, which is excellent production considering he’s a 3-4 end. He finished in the top 20 among all lineman last year. Heyward has also proved to be extremely durable, not missing a game in his pro career, which started in 2011. It must be those excellent bloodlines, as he is the son of former NFL star Craig “Ironhead” Heyward. Cameron Heyward is a high-floor, high-ceiling option for 2015 that isn’t going to cost owners an arm and a leg to acquire.
Average MFL ADP: 266.21 (early round 23)
Rationale: Hughes was also a late-round selection in 2014. He finished in the top eight at defensive end in most formats. Why is he going so late now? Part of that has to do with the positional change he and Mario Williams underwent earlier in the year. Shortly after Rex Ryan took over in Buffalo, MFL and many other platforms changed their designations from defensive end to linebacker, based on the hybrid role that Ryan hinted they would play. Changing their position hurt their value, as the tackle numbers that a linebacker regularly logs are far greater than those of most defensive ends. As OTAs ended and camp began, MFL and others switched them back to their old designation. Savvy owners have realized this and capitalized, but the masses still have not caught up. Entering his prime and in a Ryan defense where defensive ends thrive, Hughes should put up personal best numbers in all categories 2015. Both Williams and Hughes can be considered a value at their current ADPs, but Hughes is going many rounds behind Williams and has the higher ceiling of the two in my estimation. Hughes is my #3 defensive lineman headed into 2015 and presents by far the greatest value of this group.
Average MFL ADP: 179.90 (early round 15)
Rationale: The 26-year-old Robinson finds himself in position to be the leading linebacker in an extremely tackle-rich environment. In a recent interview, Robinson admitted that past injuries had caused him to realize that his career could be over at any moment. This experience drove him to play harder than he ever had before in 2014. His effort certainly showed up on the stat sheet, where Robinson logged 109 combined tackles in a breakout year. Remember, the Washington stat crew tends to be pretty generous with awarding tackles, which could also be a boon for Robinson’s 2015 production.
Average MFL ADP: 210 (mid-round 18)
Rationale: Davis logged a ridiculous combined 116 tackles in 2014 under Rex Ryan. Most don’t see how Davis can repeat such numbers under a new regime. Under normal circumstances, I would agree. However, Todd Bowles is the new coach in New York and we know that there was value aplenty for ILB in his scheme in Arizona. If there were a perfect scenario for Davis to land in a regime that will utilize his talents, this would probably be it. Only 26 years old, Davis will have a step on the aging David Harris. The Jets tend to be generous with the assist, which also can’t hurt.
Average MFL ADP: 219.63 (early round 19)
Rationale: With Alonso departed to the Eagles, the next man up for the Bills in the middle appears to be the young Preston Brown. Brown seems to have beaten out Bradham for work in the middle. Brown has demonstrated the ability to be a more fundamentally sound tackler than Bradham, so this development is not at all surprising to me. Brown also happens to be the son of a high school football. His father spent a lot of time with Brown as a child teaching him the defensive X's and O's. As a result, Brown is much more well-versed in the language of the game than a majority of his peers. He has earned the trust of Ryan to lead this unit. The generous Bills stat crew and a place in Rex Ryan’s defense could propel Brown to new heights in 2015.
Average MFL ADP: 253.67(early round 22)
Rationale: There wasn’t much to like about the play of the Tennessee Titans defense last year. Fortunately, that created a tackle wonderland for a few of their IDP options. Dick LeBeau has been brought in to assist Ray Horton in reconstructing this unit and the offense should be slightly improved, but there will still be plenty of opportunity for some in this group to post great tackle totals. Da'Norris Searcy is one of those players. The 26-year-old had previously been with the Bills since 2011 and took a step forward when he posted 65 total tackles in 2014. While the Bills stat crew is more generous than that of the Titans, he should see more tackle opportunity in this system. The linebacker group (aside from Avery Williamson) are questionable tacklers at best. 100 total tackles and a top ten finish is a real possibility for Searcy this year.
Average MFL ADP 263.54 (Late round 22)
Rationale: Ward has been up and down for IDP owners through the years. Though Ward failed to deliver on big expectations last year, I’m optimistic that the change to Wade Phillips’ system is going to help his outlook for 2015. When asked about the progress of his secondary at training camp, Ward stated, “We’re light years ahead of where we were last year.” Ward clearly feels more confident and comfortable in this system. Even average strong safeties tend to produce well in Phillips’ scheme, and I believe Ward is better than average in terms of ability. I predict that Ward’s comfort in this system and his favorable role will finally translate to the numbers for which we’ve been waiting.
Average MFL ADP: 281.78 (mid-round 24)
Rationale: Despite being older than dirt in football terms, Woodson continues to play at a high level in the IDP world. The soon-to-be-thirty-nine year old finished among the top ten at the position last year in most formats. He logged a whopping 80 solo tackles in the process. The Raiders continue to make improvements on both sides of the ball, but the defense still hasn’t gelled enough to take tackle opportunities away from Woodson. The wheels could fall off this season, but you’re getting him so cheap that it won’t cripple your team. The fantastic upside he presents is well worth taking a late swing.