Fantasy leagues that use individual defensive players offer owners a great opportunity to score a competitive advantage over their leaguemates. A handful of points, which a savvy owner can exploit each week, can mean the difference between winning and losing. To gain that competitive advantage, though, owners must stay up on IDP news, trends and strategy.
First, tackles are king. Treat turnovers, and sacks to an extent, as icing on the cake. Turnoves and sacks might come and go, but tackles must be a weekly payday for IDP owners. Pay attention to players who rack up tackles early in the season. What might seem like a fluke in the first couple weeks could end up being a trend. Players come out of nowhere every year to be great IDP contributors.
Second, opportunity is half the battle. Obviously, players in rotations or those who must battle all season with an equal to hold the starting job are riskier IDP plays. Make sure you roster IDPs who aren't looking over their shoulders each week.
Third, pay attention to roles. An outside linebacker will have fewer tackling opportunities by virtue of simply playing on only half the field. A middle linebacker, though, can roam sideline-to-sideline, gobbling up tackles. Likewise, it's rare that defensive tackles will outperform defensive ends. And while cornerbacks might have more interception opportunities, safeties often lead their teams in tackles.
With Week 1 here, here's a look at IDPs going in opposite directions based on the above criteria.
Mason Foster, LB, Buccaneers
With the release of Tyrone McKenzie, Foster has no competition for middle linebacker snaps in Tampa Bay. It's quite an endorsement on the part of Tampa Bay's coaches, but not particularly surprising to anyone who saw Foster fly around the field at Washington. Foster looks entirely primed for a 16-start season as a rookie, meaning he has a good chance to hit the 120-tackle mark.
Kurt Coleman, S, Eagles
Coleman has clearly pulled away in the race to be Philadelphia's in-the-box safety, and he could be a surprisingly decent IDP in that role. The Ohio State product isn't a great athlete, but he's tough and instinctive. In three starts as a rookie, including one in the playoffs against the Packers, he totaled 19 tackles (17 solo) and one interception. He's looking like a good target if you're trying to go cheap in a deeper IDP league.
Turk McBride, DE, Saints
McBride was fairly impressive in a rotational role for Detroit last year, accumulating 33 tackles (16 solo) and five sacks in 15 games. With the ability to line up inside and out, the departures of Tony Hargrove and Alex Brown mean that McBride should be on the field often for the Saints, particularly in passing situations. With Will Smith likely facing a two-game suspension (StarCaps), expect McBride to be especially active in the first two weeks. With a strong interior line of Sedrick Ellis, Aubrayo Franklin and Shaun Rogers in New Orleans, McBride should see favorable situations on the edges, and he has flashed the talent to capitalize on those opportunities.
Adrian Wilson, S, Cardinals
With the release of Matt Ware, it seems to signal that Arizona expects Wilson (torn biceps) to be able to play Week 1 or not long afterward. His injury could definitely harm his effectiveness, but at least he is someone to keep an eye on as an in-season pickup. It wasn't that long ago that his season appeared to be in doubt.
Patrick Chung, S, Patriots
Chung enjoyed an impressive breakout season in 2010, earning him a starting role for '11. Chung figures to be one of the more productive safeties this season as he won't have to fight for playing time. Long-time starter and two-time Pro Bowler Brandon Meriweather is out of the picture, leaving Chung to gobble up tackle after tackle. Chung is an excellent athlete and looks like a prototypical strong safety. Last season, he totaled 94 tackles (72 solo) in just 14 games. With no competition and a full season, Chung holds strong fantasy value.
Thomas DeCoud, S, Falcons
As a cover safety who doesn't make many plays, DeCoud was never a good IDP option to begin with. But the signing of James Sanders, it looks like DeCoud's numbers are bound to get even worse. Sanders is mostly a cover safety himself, which means he's likely to cut into DeCoud's snap total rather than that of strong safety William Moore.
Derrick Morgan, DE, Titans
Morgan had his knee scoped Monday, and now he's doubtful to start the season. The Georgia Tech product has talent, but he won't be able to show it if he doesn't stay on the field. He risks losing snaps to players like Dave Ball, William Hayes and even Akeem Ayers in pass-rushing situations.
Kevin Williams, DT, Vikings
Not only is Williams dealing with plantar fasciitis, an ailment that could very well last the entire season, but he'll also be suspended two games as one of the players involved in the StarCaps fiasco. Although he's one of the most talented linemen in the league, it's tough to imagine a scenario where he's worth drafting as an IDP. New Orleans defensive end Will Smith will also miss two games as a StarCaps user.
Jason Babin, DE, Eagles
After totaling just 17.5 sacks in his first seven seasons, Babin erupted for 12.5 last year with Tennessee. That led to a five-year contract with Philadelphia this season. Unfortunately for Babin, Juqua Parker (56 tackles and 14 sacks the last two years) also re-signed, taking a paycut to avoid being released. Babin looks doomed to play in a heavy rotation on the defensive line this season, rather than a true starter role that standout IDP defensive ends enjoy.
LaRon Landry, S, Redskins
A mid-season Achilles' tendon injury cut Landry's season short last year, and his availability for this season is in question. The best news he's had in months came when he wasn't placed on the PUP list. He'll likely end up a game-time decision for Week 1, but as productive as Landry can be, he's probably not worth the risk until he gets a full and successful game under his belt.