Have you ever sat at your fantasy football draft and thought “Gee, I wish I had twice as many players to choose from?” Have you ever wanted to obsess over matchups on both sides of the ball, at every single position? Do you still believe that defense wins championships? Welcome to the world of IDP (Individual Defensive Player) fantasy football.

One of the most challenging, yet rewarding, fantasy formats is IDP. Instead of a generic team defense, the fantasy owner must instead prove his or her in-depth knowledge across the entire league, across full rosters.

So what should your IDP draft strategy be? As any expert (or well-read novice) will tell you, it depends on your scoring system. If your system provides solid point totals for tackles (at least 0.75 pts/per) then you’ll want high-volume tacklers with higher ceilings and lower floors. If your system rewards sacks and turnovers more richly, you’ll need to roll the dice on ball-hawks and pass-rush specialists.

The best real-life defensive player in the NFL is also the best in fantasy: Houston Texans DE J.J. Watt. The Hundred Mil (wow we need a better nickname for him) will wrap up ball carriers, crush quarterbacks, swat down passes (hopefully your league counts that) and cause general backfield mayhem each week. He can be counted on for about 75 tackles, which pales compared to most linebackers – but are basically 30% more than any other defensive lineman will make. Throw in at least a sack per week, and that’s why he’s elite – getting regular production at DL is like trying to squeeze juice from a turnip.

So where do you draft Watt? Even with his domination, it’s hard to justify a defender at the top of a fantasy draft. The week-to-week defensive output is just too low and too inconsistent and the players too bunched together compared to top offensive players. RB1 and WR1 should continue to be your first priority on draft day. It’s easier to grab a replacement-week linebacker (if you’re paying attention) than it is to find a good wide receiver on waivers. The difference between the # 25 LB and # 50 LB will be maybe a couple of sacks over the course of the season or 10-15 tackles or so – not a huge week-to-week difference. Of course, you still need that extra production over the course of the season – but it’s not as deadly as dropping from the # 25 WR to the # 50 WR, where you’d be giving up 250 yards and two TDs over the course of the season, which is much more impactful in a normal scoring system.

So while Watt could go off the board in the top 50 players of your draft, the rest of your defense can wait for later rounds, unless there’s a run and your tiers are drying up (heheh). Basically, when you look at the RB and WR options and get sad, it’s time to get another LB or DB. Then get even sadder at what’s left at RB/WR, unless you pick up that rookie breakout sensation no one knows about, but that’s a separate strategy article.

A key edge to remember in IDP is that you’re drafting for statistical output, not straight talent. While a top offensive talent will break big plays and find the end zone (unless he’s a horrible match for his team’s scheme), the best defensive talent actually gets penalized on the field. The top pass rushers get double teamed by blockers, and top cornerbacks never get balls thrown their way. For example, Darrelle Revis had 44 tackles and two interceptions last year, which makes him close to a non-factor in fantasy, as the top defensive backs will rack up 100 tackles per season (usually playing safety rather than corner). If your league requires CBs specifically, Revis is a reasonable CB3 or bye week filler, no more. So let other owners in your fantasy football league pay for name brands, while you shop in the bargain bin and realize some of the generics are just as good.

Defensive Line

As discussed, it’s Watt vs. the world. Behind him are several productive players who have proven to be a good source of tackles or consistent sack artists from the line. None are nearly as productive or reliable as Watt, though, and behind that second tier you basically need to play the matchups.

DL Tier 1

  1. J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

DL Tier 2 – The Rams and Bills have great DLs in general. In February this list would have included Sheldon Richardson from the Jets and Jason Pierre-Paul from the Giants, but both are expected to miss time or be hampered by severe mental injuries this season. Ziggy Ansah could continue his breakout, but losing Suh and Fairley won’t help him at all.

  1. Aaron Donald, St. Louis Rams
  2. Mario Williams, Buffalo Bills
  3. Calais Campbell, Arizona Cardinals
  4. Robert Quinn, St. Louis Rams
  5. Muhammad Wilkerson, NY Jets
  6. Everson Griffin, Minnesota Vikings
  7. Ezekiel Ansah, Detroit Lions

DL Tier 3 – Not quite as big numbers as the previous guys’ week-to-week, but there will be bright spots. The entire AFC East has great D up front and for at least the first month questionable QB play across the whole division – Ryan Tannehill will be the best QB in the division in September!

  1. Marcell Dareus, Buffalo Bills
  2. Olivier Vernon, Miami Dolphins
  3. Carlos Dunlap, Cincinnati Bengals
  4. Cameron Wake, Miami Dolphins
  5. Jurrell Casey, Tennessee Titans
  6. Rob Ninkovich, New England Patriots
  7. Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints
  8. Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles
  9. Charles Johnson, Carolina Panthers
  10. Chandler Jones, New England Patriots
  11. Cameron Heyward, Pittsburgh Steelers
  12. Jerry Hughes, Buffalo Bills
  13. Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  14. DeMarcus Lawrence, Dallas Cowboys

Tier 4 – More risk here due to age or injuries, plus some rookies that could be worth taking a chance on. None of these guys should be your DL1 on draft day, though some of them can certainly perform like it with the right breaks.

  1. Williams, Kyle, Buffalo Bills
  2. Floyd, Sharrif, Minnesota Vikings
  3. Johnson, Michael, Cincinnati Bengals
  4. Suh, Ndamukong, Miami Dolphins
  5. Bryant, Desmond, Cleveland Browns
  6. Ware, DeMarcus, Denver Broncos
  7. Hankins, Johnathan, New York Giants
  8. Long, Chris, St. Louis Rams
  9. Atkins, Geno, Cincinnati Bengals
  10. Odrick, Jared, Jacksonville Jaguars
  11. Hardy, Greg, Dallas Cowboys
  12. Hageman, Ra’Shede, Atlanta Falcons
  13. Biermann, Kroy, Atlanta Falcons
  14. Shaughnessy, Matt, Arizona Cardinals
  15. Pierre-Paul, Jason, New York Giants
  16. Williams, Leonard, New York Jets
  17. Clemons, Chris, Jacksonville Jaguars
  18. Hatcher, Jason, Washington Redskins
  19. Ealy, Kony, Carolina Panthers
  20. Bennett, Michael, Seattle Seahawks
  21. Poe, Dontari, Kansas City Chiefs
  22. Davis, Carl, Baltimore Ravens
  23. Easley, Dominique, New England Patriots
  24. Edwards, Mario, Oakland Raiders
  25. Robison, Brian, Minnesota Vikings
  26. Mincey, Jeremy, Dallas Cowboys
  27. Avril, Cliff, Seattle Seahawks
  28. Odighizuwa, Owamagbe, New York Giants

Linebackers

These are the centerpieces of your IDP team, racking up tons of consistent tackles, getting sacks, interceptions, and generally making mayhem wherever they are. Luke Kuechly continues to be the top guy, but the rest of the top tier will still give you what you need. Here the scoring system is most important – some pass-rush specialists will be LB-eligible only, hurting their value – but anyone with double-digit sacks will be worth starting every week, in any format.

Tier 1 – The Jacksonville Jaguars, of all teams, have two guys in the top tier – Paul Posluszny and Telvin Smith – and they earn it. Since teams run lots of plays against the Jags, their defenders get lots of opportunities to make stops, and these ’backers make enough to be worth your while.

  1. Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers
  2. Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  3. Paul Posluszny, Jacksonville Jaguars
  4. Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks
  5. C.J. Mosley, Baltimore Ravens
  6. Telvin Smith, Jacksonville Jaguars

Tier 2 – Three big names that missed a lot of time with injuries: NaVorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson, and Kiko Alonso. If you’re convinced that any of them will be healthy and return to form this year, they should be available at a steal in the later part of your draft.

  1. Jerrell Freeman, Indianapolis Colts
  2. Curtis Lofton, Oakland Raiders
  3. DeAndre Levy, Detroit Lions
  4. Danny Trevathan, Denver Broncos
  5. Daryl Smith, Baltimore Ravens
  6. Lawrence Timmons, Pittsburgh Steelers
  7. NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco 49ers
  8. Derrick Johnson, Kansas City Chiefs
  9. Kiko Alonso, Philadelphia Eagles

Tier 3 – Some injury risks, some big-play dependent production – but enough to be solid LB2s and enough to be considered at LB1 some weeks.

  1. Jamie Collins, New England Patriots
  2. Ryan Shazier, Pittsburgh Steelers
  3. Paul Worrilow, Atlanta Falcons
  4. Mason Foster, Chicago Bears
  5. Alec Ogletree, St. Louis Rams
  6. Brian Cushing, Houston Texans
  7. Jelani Jenkins, Miami Dolphins
  8. Perry Riley, Washington Redskins
  9. Keenan Robinson, Washington Redskins
  10. D’Qwell Jackson, Indianapolis Colts

Tier 4 – These guys are mainly sure bets for 100 tackles and little else. Expect points week to week but not game-breakers.

  1. Brandon Marshall, Denver Broncos
  2. James Laurinaitis, St. Louis Rams
  3. Chad Greenway, Minnesota Vikings
  4. Karlos Dansby, Cleveland Browns
  5. Zach Brown, Tennessee Titans
  6. Stephen Tulloch, Detroit Lions
  7. Thomas Davis, Carolina Panthers
  8. Koa Misi, Miami Dolphins
  9. Preston Brown, Buffalo Bills
  10. Nigel Bradham, Buffalo Bills
  11. Benardrick McKinney, Houston Texans
  12. David Harris, New York Jets
  13. Demario Davis, New York Jets
  14. J.T. Thomas, New York Giants

Tier 5 – Plenty of good value here, but a lot of the names are bigger than the stats these days, as well as the usual injury risks. Anthony Barr, Vic Beasley and Khalil Mack are guys who should definitely outperform their draft positions.

  1. Von Miller, Denver Broncos
  2. Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers
  3. Anthony Barr, Minnesota Vikings
  4. Anthony Hitchens, Dallas Cowboys
  5. Justin Houston, Kansas City Chiefs
  6. Vic Beasley, Atlanta Falcons
  7. Dont’a Hightower, New England Patriots
  8. Kevin Minter, Arizona Cardinals
  9. Bruce Carter, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  10. Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders
  11. Ryan Kerrigan, Washington Redskins
  12. K.J. Wright, Seattle Seahawks
  13. Sean Lee, Dallas Cowboys
  14. Dannell Ellerbe, New Orleans Saints
  15. Kyle Van Noy, Detroit Lions
  16. Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots
  17. Stephone Anthony, New Orleans Saints
  18. Christian Kirksey, Cleveland Browns
  19. DeMeco Ryans, Philadelphia Eagles
  20. Trent Cole, Indianapolis Colts
  21. Jon Beason, New York Giants

Defensive Backs

This one is tough – the top 20 or so are all good bets for 100 tackles. What differentiates these guys is whether they get into passing lanes for picks, or used on safety blitzes to pick up sacks. DB is definitely a position you can stream based on matchup – bad quarterbacks and bad offenses in general leave plenty of opportunity for the DBs to swoop in and make plays.

Tier 1 – Johnathan Cyprien probably has the biggest upside on this list. These guys will get you six tackles per game and a pick every other week or so. Charles Woodson had a career year at age 37 last season, so he’ll still be relevant, but of course expectations must be tempered.

  1. Eric Weddle, San Diego Chargers
  2. Johnathan Cyprien, Jacksonville Jaguars
  3. Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings
  4. Morgan Burnett, Green Bay Packers
  5. Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks
  6. Kam Chancellor, Seattle Seahawks
  7. T.J. McDonald, St. Louis Rams
  8. HaHa Clinton-Dix, Green Bay Packers
  9. Tashaun Gipson, Cleveland Browns
  10. Deone Bucannon, Arizona Cardinals
  11. Michael Griffin, Tennessee Titans
  12. Charles Woodson, Oakland Raiders

Tier 2 – Antrel Rolle belongs in this tier, but personal preference leads me to rate him a notch higher than others would – he’s certainly still productive enough, though. Rolle’s replacement in New York, Landon Collins, should step immediately into the starting free safety role and be a nice buy. Jairus Byrd should also have a good bounce-back year in New Orleans.

  1. Antrel Rolle, Chicago Bears
  2. Reshad Jones, Miami Dolphins
  3. Alterraun Verner, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  4. Antoine Bethea, San Francisco 49ers
  5. Malcolm Jenkins, Philadelphia Eagles
  6. Kyle Fuller, Chicago Bears
  7. Kendrick Lewis, Baltimore Ravens
  8. Jairus Byrd, New Orleans Saints
  9. Barry Church, Dallas Cowboys
  10. Mark Barron, St. Louis Rams
  11. Eric Reid, San Francisco 49ers
  12. Ron Parker, Kansas City Chiefs
  13. Jason McCourty, Tennessee Titans
  14. T.J. Ward, Denver Broncos
  15. Jahleel Addae, San Diego Chargers
  16. Reggie Nelson, Cincinnati Bengals
  17. Landon Collins, New York Giants
  18. Duke Williams, Buffalo Bills

Tier 3 – The best of the rest. Honey Badger Tyrann Mathieu should continue to get better in Arizona, but don’t overpay based on the name recognition yet. If Troy Polamalu is finally done in Pittsburgh, then whoever wins that job – presumptively Shamarko Thomas – can make a nice splash.

  1. Brent Grimes, Miami Dolphins
  2. Kenny Vaccaro, New Orleans Saints
  3. Donte Whitner, Cleveland Browns
  4. Calvin Pryor, New York Jets
  5. Joe Haden, Cleveland Browns
  6. Rahim Moore, Houston Texans
  7. Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona Cardinals
  8. Mike Adams, Indianapolis Colts
  9. Devin McCourty, New England Patriots
  10. Tyvon Branch, Kansas City Chiefs
  11. Roman Harper, Carolina Panthers
  12. Jimmie Ward, San Francisco 49ers
  13. Robert Blanton, Minnesota Vikings
  14. Byron Jones, Dallas Cowboys
  15. Marcus Gilchrist, New York Jets
  16. Dashon Goldson, Washington Redskins
  17. Da’Norris Searcy, Tennessee Titans
  18. Shamarko Thomas, Pittsburgh Steelers
  19. Aaron Williams, Buffalo Bills
  20. George Iloka, Cincinnati Bengals

About The Author Jonathan Pollak