Fantasy Football Education
The first fantasy football league I joined some 10 years ago had started out as a contest between a friend of mine and a couple of his best buddies in South Dakota. They were at a bar and at their table was one of those cardboard stand-up advertisements from Miller Lite with basic rules for “fantasy football”. So of course they started bragging about who could pick the best players. It was a “touchdown only” type of affair. So they each picked three players for the upcoming Sunday’s games (I believe Leroy Hoard was an absolute stud back then). They continued for the remainder of the season and this “league” has survived up until this day. It’s funny to think back to the rudimentary beginnings of this league, and fantasy football in general. Basically, these “touchdown only” leagues were like our grammar school education. We got the basics.
Moving forward, through “high school”, we develop our fantasy football acumen. We add YARDAGE to the game: who can accrue the most yards and scores? Then we “graduate” and hone our skills more in a “college” atmosphere of not only yardage and scoring, but developing an actual team made up of a quarterback, two running backs, three wide receivers, a tight end, place kicker and team defense. Perhaps in our “masters program” we add points-per-reception, bonuses for certain amounts of yardage gained or graduated scores for long touchdowns. And finally, once we have mastered all of these, we really open it up, adding INDIVIDUAL DEFENSIVE PLAYERS to our leagues. IDP leagues are the PhD’s of Fantasy Football.
Why Individual Defensive Players?
Well, why not? Defense is just as important in the NFL as offense. But we get so caught up in SCORING (touchdowns) that we oftentimes look past other key elements of the game: tackling, sacking the quarterback, interceptions.
As any veteran fantasy footballer should know, team defenses that are drafted in “typical” leagues are usually crapshoots. Team defenses that have been top scorers in the recent past (Baltimore, New England, etc.) took a huge downward turn last season. Average defenses like Detroit got on hot streaks, and while generally undrafted, became the best defenses to have week to week. Therefore, is it becoming a recognized fact that you wait until the tail end (if not THE end) of your draft to select your defenses. Where’s the fun in that? “Oh, shoot, I need a defense… let’s see, who’s playing Cleveland Week 1?” Wouldn’t you rather be drafting an actual player here, be it a deep wide receiver sleeper or backup linebacker?
Bottom line, there is infinitely more strategy and planning in IDP leagues. You are not drafting a “team” defense. You’re drafting linebackers (usually starting 3), defensive linemen (usually starting 2) and defensive backs (usually starting 3).
As I noted above, it becomes increasingly difficult to project team defense stats from season to season. One drafter invariably takes the “best” team defense of the previous season far too early in a draft, and sets off a “run” of defenses. Smart drafters ignore the run and grab sleeper running backs, wide receivers or necessary “handcuffs”. Stats for individual defensive players, however, typically remain a bit more constant. If nothing else, they are far easier to project and draft for.
Field a Full Team, Why Don’t You!
The main benefit of an IDP league/team is that you really have MORE to watch in a specific game. Sure, you can have more to watch if you are in multiple “typical” leagues, but the chance that your (or that week’s opponent’s) teams “overlap” is far greater in that instance. Being in an IDP league expands your roster, gives you a chance to watch the defensive side of the ball and broadens your general football knowledge. Essentially, it’s like having two teams in one.
Sure, there are always a few “impact” rookies on the offensive side of the ball year to year. Consider Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown last season. But those guys were SUPPOSED to produce. And produce right away. So it’s no surprise when they did, in fact, become fantasy options. But who knew that linebackers Kirk Morrison, Lofa Tatupu and Odell Thurman would produce the way they did last season?
In a Huddle article produced prior to last season, I mentioned the “Rookie Cornerback Theory”. This “theory” has been addressed before, and it typically holds pretty true season to season. In a nutshell, rookie defensive backs, good enough to start out of the gate, despite their prowess, will be tested by NFL quarterbacks and receivers.
Conversion and Setup
So now that I’ve fully convinced you that IDP leagues are the way to go, you’re asking yourself “well shoot, my league is a keeper/dynasty league. How the heck do we add IDP’s?” Well, simple: just hold an IDP-only draft. The Huddle has outstanding resources, including overall and position-based rankings for IDP’s. So, those of you in dynasty leagues hold your rookie draft/auctions and then add a separate draft/auction for IDP’s. Or if you’re in a simple keeper or pure re-draft league, just add the IDP’s to your draft.
“Typical” IDP leagues start three linebackers, two defensive linemen (defensive tackles or defensive ends) and three defensive backs (cornerbacks or safeties). Some more “advanced” IDP leagues further break apart the defensive line and require you start one defensive tackle and one defensive end; and 1-2 cornerbacks and 1-2 safeties for a total of three defensive backs.
The IDP Veterans
Veteran #1 - Steve Gallo
Longtime Huddler Steve Gallo has been playing fantasy football since 1997. Since then, he’s been playing in IDP leagues since 2002. Steve is in five leagues, four of which are dynasty IDP leagues. Let's see what Steve has to say about IDP leagues:
Q: What three things stand out most to you with regards to IDP leagues in comparison to regular leagues?
A: 1. Research and commitment are much more important;
2. Having offensive and defensive players allows for even more strategy on how to build a winning team; and
3. The player pool is deeper on the defensive side of the ball so it is easier to have depth to get through injuries
Q: You've played in IDP redraft leagues; could you offer up a couple of points comparing IDP redraft leagues to IDP dynasty leagues?
A: 1. In redraft leagues you can afford to wait a bit longer on drafting defensive players since the pool is deeper then the offensive side but in a dynasty getting a couple of nice young stud LB’s is a major key to success.
2. In redraft leagues i like to take 2 stud LB’s early and then try to take top 3 type players to try and start runs rather then get in on a run or be at the end of one...in dynasty leagues its all about LB’s if and when you draft as many quality LB’s as you can you can always deal them to improve other positions such as DL and DB...so i guess in dynasty you can say I devalue DB and DL somewhat
Q: When do most 12-team IDP redraft leagues typically start "drafting defense"?
A: Typically many say that you shouldn’t draft an IDP prior to round 6 but I don't completely buy that. There are many factors to look at such as scoring and skill level. If you are in a league with many that are new to IDP you can probably wait a bit. If you are new to IDP then it might be prudent to draft the "studs" earlier since you aren't as familiar with the pool of players. For me it is about dictating the draft rather then reacting to it; if I am up at the end of a wide receiver "run", I am probably gonna take the best linebacker off the board in anticipation of starting a linebacker run to allow some good wide receivers to slip to me later in the draft at a better value.
Q: Could you offer a short statement on how IDP positions "match up" to "similar scoring" offensive positions?
A: If we are talking about a typical scoring setup then linebackers are the heart and soul of the defense and in essence are much like the running back to the offense; however, linebacker is a much deeper position then running back. Defensive line could be very comparable to the tight end position in that there are a few top notch studs and then everyone else. Defensive backs are very similar to wide receiver in that it is a very deep position. But unlike wide receiver, where you want great players, you want to avoid GREAT SHUT DOWN corners since they dont get picked on, Safeties that are active in run support are much stronger scorers, traditionally.
Q: And finally, could you make one short statement to those considering starting or joining an IDP league?
A: Once you go IDP you won’t go back. IDP leagues allow you to immerse yourself fully into football on both sides of the ball.
Veteran #2 - Jeff Seedman
Jeff Seedman has been playing fantasy baseball and football with his high school buddies since 1993. In 1998, they converted their "traditional" fantasy football league into an IDP league.
Q: So what prompted the change from "team defense" to IDPs in your league?
A: In 1998, one of our league members, who had played outside linebacker in high school, thought that the "team defense" concept was too basic, that individual defensive players should be just as important as the offensive players. With the increasing popularity of fantasy football on the internet, we were able to expand the rosters to include IDP’s.
Q: So I assume you now prefer the IDP style? What sets it apart from traditional leagues?
A: Yeah, I think it just makes for a deeper game and takes a lot more into account. Overall, it provides for a deeper level of thinking. Essentially, you have to understand the complete game better. I'm just as interested to know what a cornerback's interception means to a team's chances to win as a quarterback's total yards passing. I think it all factors in to get the deepest experience. A game saving fumble recovery should mean as much as a game-saving touchdown.
Q: So you're saying that the IDP game is far more complicated? Or just more "true to the sport"?
A: I understand how team defense my be advantageous to the fan who wants to be less involved or views his fantasy football team as more of a basic hobby. Our league tends to be filled with enthusiasts who really understand the game and enjoy a more deep-rooted approach to scoring.
Andy has been playing fantasy football for 11 years, however has yet to experience the fun and excitement of owning a team with IDP’s. He's in six fantasy football leagues this season, but is eager to try out an IDP league.
Q: So why haven't you tried an IDP league yet?
A: Time constraints mostly; with so many leagues and "life", it is hard enough keeping up with just offensive players much less individual defensive players too. But I'm certainly intrigued by the complexities of IDP leagues. It would certainly be an exciting challenge, but I would want to cut back on my other leagues before I would do it so I could give it the proper focus it deserves.
Q: Would you prefer a dynasty or re-draft IDP league to start out?
A: Re-draft, at least for the first year or two until I was comfortable with the nuances of an IDP league.
The Fantasy Junkie
Kevin has been playing fantasy sports for 14 years, starting with fantasy baseball. After being bitten by the fantasy sports bug, he moved to fantasy football in 1993. He's played in fantasy golf, basketball, hockey, baseball and of course football.
Q: So you've pretty much done it all in terms of fantasy sports. What did you like best about fantasy football?
A: Well I started in 1993, and was able to draft Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith (he was a holdout so he lasted until the 2nd round). I dominated the entire season. So I took an early liking to it. Winning does that to you!
Q: When did you try IDP football leagues?
A: I finally gave it a try last season.
Q: So how many football leagues are you in? How many of those are IDP leagues?
A: I'm in four leagues, two of which are dynasty IDP leagues.
Q: Some have said that IDP fantasy football leagues are for "fantasy purists" because it involves both sides of the ball. Agree or disagree?
A: I disagree. I think of "fantasy purists" as sticking to the basic lineup which includes team defenses. If anything, IDP leagues are for "football purists" because they involve more than just the so-called "skilled positions".
Q: Perhaps fantasy purists would say IDP fantasy football is on par with fantasy baseball, too. How do IDP leagues compare to fantasy baseball leagues?
A: One way that IDP leagues are similar to baseball leagues is that there are two distinct portions of the roster that have to be filled: pitching and hitting in baseball; and offense and defense in IDP football. The drafting strategy becomes more complicated as the owner must strive to balance strength in both areas.
Q: As a fan of many sports and a veteran in many types of fantasy leagues, what piqued your interest in IDP football leagues?
A: The main thing that caused me to be interested in IDP leagues was a desire to expand my knowledge of football players. I tend to follow statistics more closely when they relate to my fantasy leagues. Before last year I knew a little about who the leading tacklers were, and which players got lots of sacks and interceptions. Now I am following the stats more closely and I know which defensive backs contribute a few tackles, which linebackers are more likely to get credit for passes defended, and things of that nature. I think it enhances my appreciation for the different aspects of the game.
So there you have it, your complete syllabus for your IDP education. More than likely, you fall into one of the categories of the helpful gentlemen interviewed above. If you’re ready to take the next step in fantasy football, it’s time to expand your horizons to IDP leagues.