Incorporating individual defensive players (IDP) into fantasy football leagues is no just just a “growing trend” — it’s the only way to play for some. Defensive linemen, linebackers, and defensive backs have taken the place of team defenses in some leagues; in others, fantasy owners simply draft DLs, LBs, and DBs along with a team D/ST. Regardless of which you prefer, if your league has any level of IDP component, you need a cheat sheet full of rankings, potential sleepers, and draft strategy tips ahead of your 2021 draft.
Almost everyone’s favorite part of fantasy football is the draft, and having IDP slots in addition to the typical QB, RB, WR, and TE makes for a deeper player pool and more strategy. Everyone knows the star defensive players — DE Myles Garrett, LB Darius Leonard, and DB Jamal Adams, to name a few — but when you play in an IDP league, you need to know a lot more than that. We’re not just talking about players — we’re also talking about each team’s defensive scheme. There’s a big difference between 4-3 and 3-4 fronts as it relates to potential fantasy value for LBs and DLs (as we’ll discuss later). Having more players on your roster also creates more points, something every fantasy owner loves.
Whether you’ve been playing in IDP leagues for years or you’re about to take the plunge for the first time in 2021, we’re here to help with a complete guide to everything IDP.
Fantasy Football IDP Tips
In a 4-3 scheme, defensive ends and middle linebackers reap the most benefits, at least in terms of IDP value. DEs tend to post a good amount of sacks, and MLBs rack up the tackles. All three linebacker spots will get a good amount of points, as there will be plenty of opportunities for tackles, interceptions, and passes defended for all of them.
In a 3-4 scheme (three DLs, four LBs), outside linebackers are the best targets. Inside linebackers and d-linemen will get tackles but much else. That has value, but, depending on your scoring system, not as much as sacks or takeaways (more on that later).
More often than not, you want to look for the bulk of your IDP players from a 4-3 team. Those players will be more consistent, particularly the LBs and DLs.
Defensive ends are better than defensive tackles for IDP purposes. DEs — at least ones in 4-3 schemes — will generally provide more sacks and tackles, though certain DTs, like Aaron Donald, can produce big sack numbers, as well. Even with that said, as a general rule, unless your league requires a DT, avoid them. You want to start the “IDP portion” of your draft by focusing on the LBs, but if all of the best linebackers have been taken, then pivoting to the top-tier DEs is smart. In general, you will want one of the top seven or so DEs on your team because the drop-off can be steep.
Linebackers are key in IDP. They can provide pretty much everything, from elite tackle numbers to INTs, fumble recoveries, and even passes defended. That said, it’s a very deep position, so even if you don’t get one of the top guys when the IDP picks start flying, you will still get a chance to draft a highly productive LB. Get a stud if you can — hell, get two studs if you can — but don’t forget to mine this position for value later on, too.
A few LB tips: 4-3 LBs usually provide a better overall mix of stats. You should also look for “three-down” linebackers. They’re not as rare as “three-down RBs,” but the elite ones are still somewhat tough to find. It only stands to reason that the more a player is on the field, the more likely he is to provide your team with production. Also, linebackers on bad teams generally get more tackles.
If you don’t have to have both corners and safeties on your IDP team, opt for safeties to fill your DB slot. Safeties get more tackles on a weekly basis, and because interceptions can’t be counted on every week, focusing on tackles is the better player with your secondary. Good safeties will chip in with passes defended and takeaways, too.
Unlike in a real life, a shutdown corner isn’t a great choice in IDP leagues. After all, he can’t make plays if a quarterback isn’t throwing the ball his way. For example, Kyle Fuller and Patrick Peterson are both great corners, but they’re suboptimal fantasy football contributors. Rookie cornerbacks actually have more IDP value, as quarterbacks will test them until they prove they can consistently stay with a wide receiver. If he can’t, then he’ll get tackles; if he can, you’ll get some passes defended and a few INTs.
Rookie defensive players frequently have a good amount of IDP value. We already mentioned how rookie DBs can rack up points, but even at other positions where the learning curve isn’t as steep, you can find value. This year, look to Arizona’s Zaven Collins or Miami’s Jaelan Phillips as potential middle-round IDP picks to click.
One negative with rookies is the potential of them hitting the “rookie wall” later in the season. That could be even more likely this year with the extra game. Watch their production closely, and if it starts slipping later in the season, look elsewhere.
IDP Fantasy Football Draft Tips
When to start drafting IDPs
Offense still reigns supreme in fantasy football, even in IDP leagues. You shouldn’t begin drafting defensive players until you have your starting offense locked in. Even then, it’s best to get at least one backup RB and WR (or more). Don’t rush to draft defensive players, no matter what the other owners in your league are doing early on. That might cause you to miss out on the top-tier LBs, but usually the elite DLs and DBs will be there for you. (And remember, LB is very deep.) Except in two-QB or superflex leagues, you should fill all your IDP starting spots before you go back to selecting backup offensive players (aside from the initial two or three mentioned above), but like all draft advice, adapt to your particular draft.
If an obvious value sleeper at RB or WR is falling in the middle rounds, take advantage and draft them. No matter how highly you may have a defensive player ranked on your cheat sheet, you shouldn’t pass up a starting quarterback, running back, wide receiver, or tight end for him. If you use a tiered cheat sheet (highly suggested), make defensive players an entirely different section. No matter how highly a defensive player is ranked, he’s going to be more worthy of a 10th-round pick than a fourth-round pick.
One thing shouldn’t change from standard formats is that a kicker should go in the last round. If you have a team D/ST slot, wait on that position, too.
Best IDP Scoring Setup
Ideally, your defensive players will provide roughly the same amount of points each week as an offensive player. A good linebacker can usually give your team 10-15 points a week, which is a decent number for an RB or WR. Occasionally, if a defensive player really goes off, his point can rival those of a top-tier quarterback.
Most IDP leagues follow the recommended or default settings of the site on which you play. If you have any input on the scoring setup, it’s suggested that you value IDP stats differently. For example, sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles, and blocked kicks should be more valuable than recovered fumbles (a lucky occurrence) or passes defended.
The defensive plays mentioned above reverse possession (interceptions) or stop momentum (sacks and forced fumbles). They have a greater impact on the game than simply tackling a ball carrier or batting down a pass. Sacks are of significantly more consequence than a regular tackle, so it stands to reason they should be worth more in IDP scoring. Here is a recommended set of scoring values for what is best described as a hybrid IDP system:
Solo Tackle (or Total Tackles): 1 point
Assisted Tackle: 0.5 points
Sack: 4 points
INT: 6 points
Pass defended: 3 points
Forced Fumble: 4 points
Recovered Fumble: 2 points
Safety: 2 points
Blocked FG/PAT/Punt: 6 points
All Defensive TDs: 6 points
Most good IDP leagues will have six-to-eight defensive spots. Typically, you’ll see two LBs, two DLs, two DBs and perhaps two flex positions. Some leagues take out the DL positions and go with four flex spots.
Final IDP Strategy Thoughts
Consistency is key in standard fantasy leagues and IDP leagues That means targeting MLBs and DEs in 4-3 schemes, OLBs in a 3-4 scheme, and safeties over cornerbacks. All the other categories, with the possible exception of sacks, are too unpredictable to project when drafting.
The waiver wire is extremely important when it comes to finding the best defensive players in a given week. Injury, performance (or lack thereof), and favorable/unfavorable matchups can change the equation for virtually any player from week to week. All defensive backs (especially corners) are inconsistent from an IDP standpoint. Use that to your advantage by constantly scouring the waiver wire for players coming on in the second half or who just happen to be playing a particularly pass-happy team.
Unless you have a stud defender, don’t worry about dropping him on a bye week. Most likely, no one will pick him up right away, and you have a chance to slide him back onto your roster once the bye week is over. Even if you don’t get him back, it is likely some other worthwhile defensive player will be dropped due to bye-week worries by another owner and you can swoop in. Besides, there are plenty of good IDPs on the waiver wire or free agent market every week simply based on matchups.
If your league gives points for return yards, look for defensive players who get work as kick returners. This will make these players valuable even if they don’t put up a bunch of tackles or interceptions for you.
2021 Fantasy Football IDP Rankings
These rankings will be updated until Week 1, so check back for the latest player movement.
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Defensive Linemen Rankings
Defensive Back Rankings