Let me just admit right off the bat that it took a ton of badgering to get me to publish this article. The bottom line is, I love IDP, I play IDP, and I think it is awesome for the great event that is fantasy football...But it isn't just another stat category like PPR. It isn't just another player slot like 2 QB leagues (and yes, I know both have deeper consequences than that one change...). IDP is a totally different way to play football. You are either managing 20+ man rosters in an IDP + standard Fantasy league, running just defensive players in a pure IDP league, or you are only using a couple of IDP spots and to be frank it doesn't matter that much...
Secondly, this is going to be the longest article I have written yet. I am sorry, but it needs to be. Its essentially the equivalent to all the other Fantasy Too Early articles rolled into 1. If you like IDP much, you are probably pretty hardcore though, so you might actually like it.
With that in mind, lets take a look at some of the rankings that exist for IDP and I'll give you some of my thoughts.
First things first...IDP rankings tend to DRASTICALLY undervalue Chicago Bears players. Note, I never said that about our offensive guys. Cutler has played like a fantasy backup in Chicago. Knox was a hot and cold #3 receiver, Bennett was a borderline 5th receiver, and Hester was only worth touching in Kick Return/Punt Return yard point leagues. Olsen was a back up at TE, and not even a top 5 backup most of the year last year. Only Matt Forte gets underrated on our offense (though I think that changes some in 2011), and even he goes 2nd-4th round. But no, our defense gets dissed, and you will see it below.
ESPN has an IDP list here for you to look at. Sadly, CBSSports doesn't have any IDP material up (yet). Some less known sites that are hit or miss like Fantasy Football Overdrive have lists, and Pro Football Focus did one too.
Now that we have covered some outside sources, let me say this: If you look back at my FF 101 articles you will remember me telling you how important it is to know your scoring system...that goes double for IDP. Most systems make tackles the most valuable asset, meaning LBs, specifically MLBs dominate, flat out, not pass rushers, not finesse coverage guys...in fact, a hard hitter run stopper at Safety usually outscores a guy with 6 interceptions. Just a reminder.
I have a lot of beef with how ESPN ranks their IDP guys. I endorse their offensive rankings (mostly) as solid, but IDP is a different ballgame. Let me repeat...MLBs dominate IDP.
In 2010, in my primary IDP league, the top 10 fantasy scorers on defense were: Jerrod Mayo, Lawrence Timmons, Chad Greenway, Brian Urlacher, Stephen Tulloch, Ray Lewis, James Anderson, London Fletcher, Derrick Johnson, and Paul Posluszny. You know what they all do? First answer is play Linebacker. Second answer is, primarily Middle Linebacker. Now, in my 101 series on IDP, I talked about lineups, and unlike say QBs (who often round out top 10 scoring in fantasy), Linebackers often have 2, 3 or even 4 spots they can play in on a fantasy roster for deep IDP leagues. This is the first time I tell you a Bear got dissed. Urlacher is #21 on ESPNs list. He was the 4th overall IDP scorer last year in my semi-standard league.
Linebackers: If you play in a mixed league (Offensive and IDP), start hitting Mike Linebackers as early as the 7th-8th round for the elite guys. I try to avoid needing a single OLB on my roster. A DeMarcus Ware or Clay Matthews may get 15 sacks, but they won't get top 12 LB numbers, so let other people chase names...You should get:
#1 NE MLB Jerrod Mayo - 3 straight 100 tackle seasons (even with the 2009 injury time missed). Itll be 4 in a row.
#2 SF MLB Patrick Willis - The best MLB in the game right now, sorry Brian/Ray. Willis is younger, faster, harder hitting...he may not be Urlacher or Lewis in their primes, but he is better right now. Last year was an off year, but I believe in a guy with 4 straight 100 tackle seasons who added 15 sacks, 8 forced fumbles, 4 picks, 26 stuffs, and 28 deflected balls over that stretch.
#3 CHI MLB Brian Urlacher - thats right. #3. 110+ tackles is the norm for Urlacher (00, 01, 02, 03, 05, 06, 07, 10). He gets nice peripheral stats (10+ pass deflections in 07, 08, 10; 8 interceptions in his last 3 seasons played; 6 Fumble Recoveries in his last 3 seasons played; 10 stuffs in 08 & '10).
#4 BAL MLB Ray Lewis - 5 straight 100 tackle seasons, 2 straight over 130. Peripheral stats are starting to fade though, this might be his last year at the top of our lists.
#5 MIN MLB Chad Greenway - 3 of the last 4 seasons with 100 tackles, and 2009 he had 99 tackles. Not as many supporting stats (sacks, ints, forced fumbles) as some of the other top MLBs though.
After them...Jon Beason, Lawrence Timmons, Stephen Tulloch, London Fletcher, Paul Posluszny, Derrick Johnson all make nice picks. After them I'd look at the top outside guys like James Harrison, Clay Matthews, DeMarcus Ware, James Anderson...Then a mix of MLB/OLB guys like James Laurinaitis, Curtis Lofton, Paris Lenon, D.J. Williams, Desmond Bishop, DeMeco Ryans (could be a real sleeper with Wade Phillips arriving), E.J. Henderson, Barrett Ruud...After that, its mostly a guessing game, but if you are going to guess...Start with starting Middle Linebackers.
What about the D-Line? They have a couple elite guys, and then sadly a lot of the same. Most scoring systems don't lend to dominant D-Line stats. Lets face it, D-Line guys are either "low stat" Nose Tackles/3-4 Ends, "few tackle, nice sack" Under Tackles, "Run Stopper" 4-3 Ends, or "Sack Artist" 4-3 ends. The one thing they all have in common is few ever hit 50 tackles, and those that do aren't the same ones getting 10 sacks. Usually. There are 2 I am sure will have high stats (for their positions) and deserve drafting earlier - NYG DE Justin Tuck (#1 DL scorer in 2010) and DT Ndamukong Suh (#3 DL scorer in 2010). Other guys who will outscore most week to week include Julius Peppers (#3 on my list, #7 DL scorer in 2010), Jared Allen (#3 DL scorer in 2010), Trent Cole (very underrated, top 10 DL), Those are the only top 10 guys from last year I trust. If you can't have them, just wait, because the scoring differential from the #10 to the #20 is about 10 points... or less than 1 point a game. That means if you can't have a stud, Israel Idonije is just as good a starter season long as Robert Mathis.
Guys I like, however, beyond those top names I gave out include: Israel Idonije (weird), Osi Umenyiora, John Abraham, Matt Roth, Kyle Williams, Matt Shaughnessy, Ahtyba Rubin, Charles Johnson, Haloti Ngata. Get two of these to go with 1-2 of those above, and your D-Line won't hurt you.
But DBs are playmakers, right? You betcha, and if you had DeAngelo Hall in week 7 last year, you probably won that week. (Ouch). But without that game (I know, if if if) he would've finished 16th, not #1 overall...and you can't predict that kind of game. My #1 CB from last year is actually Terrell Thomas, and he will be this year too. Not many corners post 100+ tackles, so jump on the one that does. After that, the top of my list is mostly Strong Safeties. Pat Chung, T.J. Ward, Michael Griffin, Eric Berry, Donte Whitner round out my safeties, and Charles Woodson, DeAngelo Hall, and Devin McCourty round out my top 10.
After that, it drops off but I'll tell you who else I like:Tyvon Branch, Quintin Mikell, Earl Thomas, Charles Tillman, Antonio Winfield, Eric Weddle, Craig Dahl, and Brent Grimes. If you want more, go find the Strong Safeties who near 100 tackles, and the corners who regularly exceed 60 tackles and get at least 2 picks a season (average, not every year). Yeremiah Bell is another really good Safety.
How to put it all together: Get your 100+ tackle Linebackers, they carry your team. After that, if you can get one of the top 5 DL guys go ahead, otherwise start collecting 100+ tackle DBs (Strong Safeties and some corners) and save DL for the very end. Very few DL guys are worth drafting before your starting LBs and DBs. I often rely on tackle-heavy Nose Tackles on the D-Line because I spend all my draft picks on MLBs and Strong Safeties, with a rare corner tossed in...and you know what? It works. Having 4-6 starters you KNOW will get 100 tackles or more is worth a lot more than a big name DE. Now, if you play in a mixed standard/IDP league, I recommend breaking the "save IDP for last" trend, and start going IDP crazy as soon as you get your WR, RB, QB and TE starters (about 7 players in most leagues, so round 7-8). Conventional wisdom says get the sleeper/backup RB and WR, but I believe the guy who scores the most, and plays the most, helps you the most. If passing on a good value #3-4 receiver or RB means having 2 top 5 LBs, it will mean 5-10 more points a week for you. No really, its that much. Same goes for safeties and a few corners.
Up Next: I hope a CBA, and a planned Free Agency...If not, I have a nice treat planned just for our WCG followers.