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IDP League Strategy 101: Welcome to your New Fantasy Football Journey

Most fantasy leagues play with one team defense. SI Fantasy analyst Matt De Lima opens up the door to IDP leagues, where defensive stars in the NFL finally get their fantasy glory.

When you think fantasy football, you think about high-powered offensive weapons and the superstar quarterbacks who get them the ball. Now the tide is changing.

In IDP (Individual Defensive Player) leagues, instead of drafting a team defense, you draft individual players at each defensive position. This format is not for the faint of heart. It really takes fantasy football to the next level.

IDP leagues take more time, work and dedication. If you are an avid football junkie like so many of us, it's well worth the blood, sweat and tears.

Fantasy football is not just about touchdowns and yards from scrimmage anymore. While IDP can be more exciting, it can also be difficult for many players, particularly casual football fans.

This IDP strategy guide will help beginner and struggling IDP owners compete for championships in the ultimate fantasy football leagues. Since IDP leagues are the future of fantasy football and for many devoted players, the future is now.

IDP League Strategy

Rule 1: Tackles, Tackles, Tackles!

Draft players that make tackles. It's very difficult to predict interceptions, fumbles, touchdowns and sometimes even sacks. You don't want to have to bank on big plays week in and week out to get points. Commissioners should flesh out a scoring system with a focus on tackles first and foremost.

If you draft triple-digit tacklers, you will always get some points. If your player is getting up around 100 tackles in a season, he’s a disruptor. He will probably force and in turn recover a few fumbles. This applies to all positions, although it is sometimes tough to apply this to defensive linemen. Oftentimes, you will have to just sit and hope for sacks when it comes to them. High-volume tacklers may not be the sexiest picks, but they'll help you get to your championship game. 

When it comes to defense, fundamentals are key. Stick with the sure points and hope for the big plays. You'll be thankful you did.

Rule 2: Do Not Fear Good Players on Bad Defenses

In a non-IDP league, you’ll notice most of the best players are on the best offense. This line of thinking doesn’t really apply to the IDP format.

Even on the worst defenses, somebody has to make the tackles. A terrible defense will often have one or two statistically dominant players. It's similar to drafting a running back on a bad team because he's the only option, and his team has no choice but to feed him. 

Do not be afraid to draft a great player on a bad defense, even if he's making a high number of tackles only because nobody else can. It's important to get out of the mindset of team defense leagues. Almost every defense has at least one valuable asset. 

Of course, this does not mean you should avoid players on great defenses. Both tremendous and tremendously bad defenses have players to target in IDP leagues.

Rule 3: When Stuck on Who to Play, Deploy Players That Force Turnovers

When you need a plug-in player off the waiver wire or you can’t decide between one player or another, look for players facing a weak offensive line that might succumb to turnovers.

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Lean toward players on teams that are more likely to bat the ball up for an interception or knock the ball out for a fumble recovery. If you have a superstar defensive end who is always knocking the ball away from QBs or a defensive back who rips the ball away from wide receivers, pick up their teammate, assuming they are also a safe contributor and get tackles as well. They will have a better chance recording a turnover. This is more of a desperation play, but it can be very effective.

While this will not happen consistently, it's okay to go for the home run play once in a while, especially if there are no great options available. It's better to take a high-risk, high-reward chance instead of a high-risk, low-reward one.

Rule 4: Play the Matchups

Do not be afraid to play the matchups. 

If you have a DB who is going against a mistake-prone QB, plug him in. If you have a defensive lineman going against a terrible offensive line, play him. 

Don't be afraid to play the matchups even if it means benching a slightly better player for an improved situation. Just don't go crazy and start benching great players; this rule applies to mid-level and lower-level players only.

Rule 5: On Draft Day, Fill Out Your Offense First

When should you start drafting IDPs? Well the scoring system is the key here. 

Sometimes that top-tier LB can put up stats like an above-average RB or WR. There are certain times when you can stretch for an elite talent. However, in general, you should try to fill out at least your starting offensive lineup before you begin drafting your defensive players. If you want to reach for a stud, that's one thing. But you shouldn't be drafting your third or fourth defensive player when you have only two WRs. 

Defensive players do hold value and can have a huge impact on a fantasy matchup. Still, be patient and wait until you're confident with your offensive depth before you get deep into your defense.

IDP Drafting by Position

Defensive Linemen

Linemen are kind of like the RBs of defense: There are a few elite guys, then there's a major drop-off. Try to get one elite lineman. The position is surprisingly volatile year to year but those top guys are the most reliable.

If your league is broken down into defensive ends and defensive tackles, DEs are much more valuable, with very few exceptions. If you can get a DL who tackles often, you're in great shape. However, you will most likely have to depend on sacks and forced fumbles the majority of the time and that’s where the big scoring will be derived.


LBs are the major point-earners on defense. They are kind of like the PPR WRs of defense: While they hold great value, there are a lot of them. Unlike at DE, you can wait and still get a great LB. You really want to focus on high-volume tacklers at this position as they are much more valuable than the pass-rushing outside linebacker hybrids. If you can roster a bunch of inside linebackers, they are much more valuable and consistent than defensive ends. Your best bet is grabbing a tackle-happy inside linebacker who will get you points every week with an occasional big play.

Defensive Backs

DBs should be the last position filled in most cases. They would be comparable to TEs on offense: They usually don't put up huge points consistently outside the top two tiers at safety. But if you get a guy who does, he can give you a major advantage. With the exception of a few elite CBs, safeties hold more value. Safeties tend to make many more tackles, which can lead to big-play points.

The biggest mistake people make when drafting DBs is depending on top CBs to get the most points. Shutdown corners do not equate to major fantasy points This is because the best corners aren’t thrown at so they don’t have many chances to make stops. They’re usually decent in terms of scoring because they are just that good; however, you do not get points for locking down a WR and forcing the QB to throw to the other side of the field. A DB actually gets more points if he gives up a bunch of receptions and then tackles the receiver. Safeties who make a lot of tackles are your best bet at this position.

IDP Starting Lineup, Roster & Scoring System

I prefer big, deep leagues with a robust number of IDP starting spots but you have to choose what’s right for you and your league.

I’ll provide three templates based on league size.

Beginner / Casual: 1 DL, 2 LB, 1 DB starters
Intermediate: 2 DL, 2 LB, 2 DB starters

Expert: 1 DT, 2 DE, 3 LB, 1 CB, 2 S starters

If you want to go beyond that, you can add IDP flex positions or IDP flex spots for each position group (DL, LB, DB)

Scoring System

This is really the wild card for each IDP league. Some lean more toward tackles, some lean more toward big plays, some have big points for both. It’s up to you to strike the right balance.

Tackles: 1.5 pts

Assists: 1 pt

Sacks, INTs, Safeties, Forced Fumbles, Blocks: 4 pts

Fumble recovery: 2 pts

Pass Defended: 1.5 pts

Return TD: 6 pts

Those are your standard IDP scoring categories. Some extra categories I like to use to bolster the position: QB hits (1 pt), tackle for loss (1 pt), turnover return yards (0.1 pt per yard)

IDP Conclusions

What makes a good IDP league is an informed league and commissioner. Don’t be afraid to tweak the scoring settings. Do you think defensive tackles should score more points (since almost all of them don’t score much)? Consider adding a couple scoring modifiers to their position, like you might see in a TE premium league. So instead of 1.5 pts for a tackle, maybe a DT tackle counts for 2 pts or their sacks count for 5 pts, etc. Think DBs should get a boost? Increase points for passes defended or add INT yardage.

The ability to stay flexible and attentive to your leaguemates is important. This doesn’t mean you wildly boost or decrease a position that wouldn’t be fair and could appear as favoritism toward your own team. Be a tiny twist here or a fractional change can nudge the league in a healthier direction. In the end, like any league, the idea is to have fun and challenge yourself so always embrace that attitude!