And now for last, but definitely not least... Fantasy Football's ever polarizing Individual Defensive Player leagues. To date, every time we talk about Defense and Fantasy Football, we are talking about a team's entire Defensive and Special Teams unit, all rolled into one. For most, that is good enough because offensive players are the guys everyone pays attention to - they have the big highlights on ESPN, they have the easily understood statistic categories (yards, touchdowns, catches) and they have the big names...But what if "Bears D/ST" just isn't enough for you? What if you want to pair Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers with a Safety like Ed Reed, or a Tackle like Ndamukong Suh? This is "Fantasy Football" right, not just "Offensive Fantasy Football"? Some people swear by it, some people hate it, and some even go so far as to say it "messes up" the entire system... Whatever your thoughts, let's see how it actually works.To start an IDP Fantasy Football league, the first thing you have to decide (and it is CRITICAL) is whether you are doing a "Full Team" Fantasy League or a "Defense Only" Fantasy League. If you are using the offensive players still, you are fielding a full team, if you are playing IDP and only the defenders, then it's a defense only league. As you can imagine from the Roster and Scoring System articles, this makes a drastic difference and will even more obviously impact how you draft.
Rosters: After you know if you are Full Team or IDP only, you've got some tough choices to make. You can put as many individual defenders out there as you'd like; and I have personally used anywhere from 3 to a full 11. How many you want will often depend on how you deploy them. Typically, you have a number of different options. You can add Safety and Cornerback positions independently, or use a generic "Defensive Back" position. Same for Defensive Tackle, Defensive End, or generic Defensive Line. Linebackers are what they are. There is often an option for a Defensive "Flex" or "Utility" position as well. If you are running offensive players still, adding 1-2 from each category (DB, DL, LB) is a nice compliment to your existing league, but if you want defenders only, I recommend no less than 8 starting positions (ex. 3 DL, 3 DB, 2 LB). If you want to be all out, as I am prone to be at times, you can set up a full defense: 2 CB, 2 S, 2 DE, 1 DT, 3 LB, 1 Defensive Flex. Now you can run a 4-3 (DT in the flex), a 3-4 (LB in the flex) or a variation of the 3-3-5/nickel/Dime by putting a DB in the flex. You could make that 2 flexes and 1 less LB to get even more "real" NFL flexibility, but I won't digress too much here.
Scoring Systems: As you can imagine, now you need some baseline ways to compare how guys score. Pro Football Focus has a great article here on standard scoring system for IDP that I like, but I make some changes. (i.e., I put sacks at 2 points, they give 3, and PFF does not mention defensive TDs which I attach a 6 pt. value to). That is good enough to get you started and then you can adjust to get something you like more. The article also has some fantastic examples in the charts at the bottom, showing how players in 2010 scored based on their system. That will help you get a feel for what positions get priority come draft name. In standard fantasy its typically RB, WR/QB, TE, D/ST, and a distant Kicker. In IDP, as a general rule value goes LB, DB, DL, with some exceptions now and then. I would also argue that getting good "kick block" point systems in place is critical, as special teams units often include some of the good Defensive players (guys like Idonije and Peppers, for example) and you have likely eliminated the standard "D/ST" position.
Special Teams: If you really miss them after doing away with "D/ST" you have a couple of options. Some leagues let you set a "ST" stand alone slot you can use. If not, you can set a "D/ST" spot still, and change the scoring to only account for ST actions (Kick/Punt Return TD, blocked FG/K/P, etc). Beyond that, you can add miscellaneous rules for return points and let the players score (i.e. Hester gets pts for return yards and his return TDs).
Draft: This is tricky, and fun. There is no "definite" answer. Some people say "draft defenders last" after you have all of your offensive guys (in a Full Team league). I personally start working defenders in around the time I get to back up offensive players - namely the 8th round. I might reach a little earlier for a true stud Linebacker, or wait longer if there is still a solid backup RB or WR on the board. In IDP only leagues, the drafting is far simpler - get your starters, and your backups, while trying to get the best player available the whole time. Linebackers are the Running Backs of this group, while Safeties and Corners are like the Receivers. Linemen are closer to Tight Ends as the score less and there is less differential.
Final Thought: Remember it is fantasy football, not real football - a good player or a big name doesn't necessarily translate into "stats" and stats are what score in fantasy. A Shutdown corner like Darrelle Revis might not be a good fantasy player - he lacks measurable stats when QBs stop throwing his way. Guys who post tons of sacks might not get enough Tackles to be worth owning in fantasy (10 sacks and 50 solo tackles by the PFF scoring system above is 80 points - 2 sacks and 100 solo tackles is 106). Pay attention to how players get their stats, which stats are reliable, and who consistently puts up big numbers...But most of all remember to have fun, and to let this drive you to a greater appreciation of defensive players and what they put into a game where the focus and news is often dominated by offensive playmakers. this is Fantasy Football 101, signing off.
Things to come: Pre-Draft Fantasy Watch, A Year in Review: 2010 (5 part series), Post-Draft Fantasy Update, Fantasy Football Team Reports (8 part series, by division)