Learning to play IDP fantasy football can seem imposing for a beginner. Just like anything else, once you learn the basics, the rest will start falling into place.
As with any new fantasy football league there are things you need to know before making any decisions. The main things we’ll be looking at today include league settings such as: starting lineup/roster composition and scoring settings as these guide the strategy with which you will approach your league.
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a standard format for IDP leagues. Fortunately, that means there is a lot more variety of leagues you can try out and no cookie-cutter approach. That means you can show off your skills by winning in multiple formats with diverse strategies. It also means developing strategy around constructing your starting lineup is paramount.
Typically, IDP leagues vary between splitting up Defensive Line (DL) into Defensive Ends (DE) and Defensive Tackles (DT) or keeping them grouped as DL. The leagues that split DL typically also split Defensive Backs (DB) into Cornerbacks (CB) and Safeties (S). This is an important distinction because typically DE and S produce better fantasy numbers than DT and CB so in a split league an elite DT is a rare and valuable asset. In a combined league there will be few DT or CB worth starting. Players like Aaron Donald are the rare exception where a DT can be valuable in combined format. This makes him even more valuable in split format.
Finally, the remaining defensive position is Linebacker (LB). It is rarely split but should be noted there is a difference between pass rushing Outside Linebackers (OLB) and off-ball Linebackers. Sometimes you will see a positional distinction known as EDGE, which combines OLB and DE. That is a slightly more complex issue we won’t delve into in this article.
Now that you understand the different positions, you need to look at how many of each position needs to be started. Most IDP leagues include some roster flexibility. Generally, in split leagues you should plan on starting the fewest DT and CB that you are allowed. If you can start 1-2 DT and 2-3 DE, you plan to start 1 DT and 3 DE. If you only need to start 1 DT you can wait and piece it together but if you need to start 2 you want to grab at least one player you believe in.
In split leagues there is drop-off after the elite DT and CB. This leads to positional scarcity, like Tight End (TE) in a standard league. If you don’t get an elite DT, you can punt the position and accept whoever falls to you late or off the waiver wire. Alternatively, you can use this to your advantage by attacking positions of scarcity to gain an advantage at that position, and load up on the much deeper LB position later. As an example, in one of my leagues the difference between DT1 and DT12 was 64 points but the difference between DT13 and DT24 was only 22 points.
Another way to look view this, rather than minimizing the players you start in low-scoring positions, ie. CB and DT, you maximize the players you start at high-scoring positions. Much like on offense, where you are more likely to play an RB or WR in your flex, in IDP you are more likely to play an LB or S in your flex. In the aforementioned league, there were 34 LB that put up 160 points, or 10 PPG, whereas there was only 1 DT, 5 DE, 0 CB, and 15 S.
A recurring theme: there is no standard scoring system for IDP. However, there are two common archetypes; tackle-heavy and big-play. Tackle-heavy scoring systems are going to reward tackles relatively higher than big plays (sacks, fumbles, interceptions etc.). One tackle will not be worth more points than one sack, but the relative value will be higher. A tackle heavy league may reward 2 points for a solo tackle and 4 points for a sack (2-4 ratio). A big play league may award 1 point for a solo tackle and 4 points for a sack (1-4 ratio).
Tackle heavy leagues are slightly more common and they reward players that are always around the ball. Off-ball linebackers, typically Middle Linebackers (MLB) and Inside Linebackers (ILB) shine because they play a lot of snaps and make a lot of plays. Strong safeties are also strong plays in this format. DT and CB really tend to struggle in this format for different reasons. DT frequently take on double teams in order to free up other pass rushers so they don’t always get to the ball carrier. Good cornerbacks don’t allow a lot of completions so they shouldn’t need to get a lot of tackles. Really good cornerbacks don’t get the ball thrown their way very often so they don’t even get very many pass break-ups.
In this format there are a lot of good plays at linebacker so many players will choose to address positions of scarcity and wait on LB. There is also a fair amount of fluctuation due to injuries. Much like running back, a lot of a linebacker’s value is tied to his position. If he gets hurt, his position is still valuable so another player can come in and return similar, if not equal, value.
As indicated by the name, big play scoring systems reward… big plays. Pass rushers tend to excel because sacks are easier to predict and accumulate than interceptions and fumbles, but also because sacks often lead to fumbles. Free safeties can shine in this format as they blitz for sacks and drop into coverage for picks. Lots of possibilities for big plays.
There are other variants of big play leagues where DT and CB are given premiums to reduce positional scarcity. Some leagues may reward QB hits, even if they don’t result in a sack. Some leagues may give extra bonuses to CBs that break-up passes to encourage playing those guys. What this all means is that it’s important to understand your scoring system and how that impacts player value.
Now that you have a better idea of how to construct your roster and how your league scoring works, you need to learn to evaluate players. Evaluating offensive players for fantasy football is relatively easy. If you’ve heard of the player, (outside of players with memorable names), there’s a good chance the player is a good fantasy asset. You don’t need to dig as deep. Unfortunately there are not nearly as many big names on defense and quite often the well known players are not as fantasy relevant.
The example that comes to mind is Clay Matthews. Even during his prime, Clay Matthews was a fringe-playable fantasy asset because he played an undervalued position, OLB. Had he been a defensive end ,his sack production would have made him much more valuable due to position scarcity but at OLB he’s competing against MLB who just produce too many more tackles.
It’s important to go through your league’s player stat section, position by position, to identify which positions are going to be more scarce and therefore more valuable.
Now it’s time to do your homework and find out what edge you’re going to use to win your league. I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and I hope you will continue to read more to help hone your skills in IDP. For more information please visit out league setup page to learn more about IDP leagues.