IDP draft plan
August 12, 2008
Special IDP report from FantasyGuru.com
The following is a guide for those of you who play in IDP leagues featuring, at a minimum, seven weekly defensive starters and a comprehensive scoring system. As a rough example, your league should track tackles, sacks, PD, and INT at the minimum, and all big plays should be worth more points than a single tackle.
I had my play last year, but my strategy will be a little different this season, as I think there's an abundance of talent available at LB, the backbone of any IDP roster. There are seemingly fewer impact players than usual along the D-Line, and plenty of questions at a deep, but less certain DB position. The LBs are often compared to RBs on offense, that is, you have to have the top guys or you have no shot. But for '08, I think the LB list is about 40 deep, with the possibility of little variance outside the top two guys.
This section begins with the same theme every season, and it's not out of sheer laziness (as far as you know). It's essential that you have a plan to draft the necessary offensive talent before targeting any defenders. In almost every IDP league, offensive players are still much more valuable than their defensive counterparts. I'm in a league entering its 18th season of drafting full defensive rosters, including at least five IDP backups. It was designed to equally value the offensive and defensive sides of the ball and has yet to actually realize that goal. In other words, Demeco Ryans isn't going to outscore Tom Brady if both players stay healthy. I'm not sure you need to fill in your entire starting offense before moving to the IDPs, but it's not going to kill you, either, especially with so much depth available on the defensive side this season.
My credo (" … if you have to have a credo") is to take the best player available with my first pick, including a top QB if he's head and shoulders above the rest of the field. Seems simple, right? Well last season in one IDP draft I had the eighth pick. And for the first time I took the eighth best RB after seven had come off the board. His name … Shaun Alexander. Season over.
If you follow the "best player available" plan for Round 1, I think you have to do the same for Round 2, otherwise you'll end up reaching for a just-out-of-his-prime RB or a No. 1 receiver on a team that can't score.
My third, fourth, and fifth picks will never yield a defensive player, either. In a 10-team league, for example, there are 60 offensive starters. If you pass on one of them and grab a top LB, you're looking at a weekly decision between Darrell Jackson and your neighbor, Frank, for your final starting receiver spot. Unless you're faced with picking the dregs of society to fill out your final starting spot, don't jump to the defensive side just yet. Take a rookie RB. Take the fifth best TE. Both will come in handy at some point in the next 17 weeks and both will have more value over their replacement pick than one of the remaining 100 options on defense.
When you're satisfied with your starting offense, it's time to begin your search for value on both sides of the ball. The overall group or pool of defensive players is greater than on offense, so drafting your starting offense is probably the way to go, then start drafting your defensive players. IDP for show, breakout offensive backups for dough.
Finally, it's time for everyone's favorite off-season discussion topic: IDP Tiers!
Whether your league has a tackles-based or comprehensive scoring system, the supposition is that LB will generally be the highest scoring defenders. But remember, there's value up and down the LB list for '08, so don't be afraid to branch out a bit with your first defensive selection. From this point on, it's value, value, value. Need should take care of itself.
The First Tier – It's a bit different for 2008: Demeco Ryans, Patrick Willis
And … scene! Seriously, that's my first tier for the upcoming season. The two most reliable defensive scorers and tacklers are two of the youngest, most dynamic defensive players in the NFL. They're both top-notch NFL defenders and fantasy scorers with little downside. Both are worth a one-round reach (a Round 6 selection if you just can't justify your final offensive spot with a guy like Reggie Brown).
The First Tier, Part II – Players who have a solid shot to finish among the top 5 at their position at season's end: Kirk Morrison, David Harris, Jon Beason, Brian Urlacher, Jared Allen, Mario Williams, Karlos Dansby.
Morrison is the sure-thing as a tackler and improving pass defender (10 PD, 4 INT last season). Urlacher is a grumpier, dissatisfied almost sure-thing if not for a pesky neck injury and a little more tread on his tires. Still, you'll likely be fine with the Bears MLB that finished as the No. 2 LB in comprehensive and No. 6 LB in tackles-based scoring systems in '07.
Harris and Beason represent the next generation of IDP superstars, and Harris will probably sneak by a few less-seasoned IDP GMs as his final-year numbers belie his true worth entering '08 (Harris started the Jets' final 9 games: 75 solos, 27 assists, 5 sacks, 3 PD, 2 FF, 1 FR). Beason is a solid No. 1 LB if he remains at MLB or moves to his natural WLB spot at some point this year.
Allen and Williams are easily the two best DL on the board (although new Redskins DE Jason Taylor could again prove us all wrong as he nears the end of a Hall of Fame career). Still, think of Allen and Williams as the Antonio Gates and Jason Witten of the defensive side of the ball.
Dansby could join Ryans and Willis in the top tier if he remains healthy for a full season on the inside of the Cardinals' 3-4 scheme, but his track record of missed games and position changes makes me slightly wary of this ranking. He has the most upside of any player in this Tier.
Cromartie was part Randy Moss, part Spiderman, and part LeBron James last season. He was simply the best athlete on the field at all times. Don't be alarmed by his paltry tackle total (39 solos) as Cromartie started just eight games last year. His selection before the end of Round 10 represents a shot at greatness, and there are plenty of filler-CB selections at the tail end of the draft if you need to cover your bases.
Henderson is close to the top tier, but there are about 57 playmakers on the Vikings defense this season and I just have a hunch his numbers will plateau a bit after a breakout '07 campaign. Fletcher-Baker has to age at some point, and Witherspoon just seems more comfortable on the outside, but he's still a safe bet to produce nearly 100 solos and 4-5 sacks. Tatupu is a playmaker, leader, and apparently a poor driver, and I consider him an ideal No. 2 LB, but acceptable as your best defender in a deep league.
I think Posluszny will finish in the top 5 in the NFL in total tackles this season, but he started just two games before going on the IR with a broken arm as a rookie last year.
Wilson and Vilma are coming off season-ending injuries. I'd be stunned if Vilma isn't a top-notch fantasy MLB by season's end, but you might have to endure a couple of average weeks as he gets his feet wet with a new team in the Big Easy. Wilson was a phenomenal athlete before injuring his Achilles last November so there's always a chance he'll lose that step that made him the most explosive S in football.
Lewis is another year older and there's a chance he'll miss a couple of games, but he's still in line for more than 100 total tackles and 15-plus big plays. Just be prepared for the requisite, "I didn't know this was 2001" comment after his selection.
Merriman had an uneven season in '07, but we can probably just chalk that up to that pesky little cup he had to send to the league offices every other week. Look for a top three NFL sack finish for the enhanced Chargers OLB.
Jones feels like a guy you can wait on, but his two-year numbers: 140 solos, 67 assists, 26 PD, and 10 INT, suggest you probably shouldn't. Wilson moves from the Super Bowl Champions to the Oakland Raiders. I doubt I need to elaborate on this warning sign. Still, I love him playing in the box in Oakland right up until he decides it's not that fun losing and decides to begin his offseason in early December.
Panthers CB Richard Marshall didn't start full-time last season. He did, however, finish third among all CB in solo tackles, and tacked on 13 PD, 2 FR, and 3 INT despite just six starts. He's going to be my second CB selection (specifically CB, I might grab one of the aforementioned S). Feel free to jump on the Marshall bandwagon while there's still room.
Kampman's numbers dipped a bit after finishing 2nd in the league in sacks in '06. I'd settle for a 3rd straight season with double-digit sacks, and a return to a 60-solo/25-assist tackle total.
The Fourth Tier – All are good enough to be listed in Tier Three, but I have one major question mark for each: Nick Barnett, Demarcus Ware, D.J. Williams, Barrett Ruud, Justin Tuck, Jason Taylor, Champ Bailey, D'Qwell Jackson, Trent Cole, and Darrelle Revis.
I would put Revis in the third tier based on how good his numbers were last year. If not for the fact that he has a scrub on the other side of him, I'd put him even higher.
Barnett had the best season of his five-year career in '07, but I think he's reached his statistical ceiling, especially with third-year LB A.J. Hawk emerging on the outside. Ruud was the best IDP in football until early November last season when the rigors of a full-time starting gig in the middle of the Bucs' Cover 2 scheme finally caught up with the first-time starter. He likely took the necessary steps this offseason to avoid another second-half slide. Williams is moving back to his original WLB spot after finishing 2nd in the NFL in total tackles last year at MLB, his first season playing the position.
After posting 18 INT from '05-'06, The Champ finally showed he was human at CB, finishing with just three picks last season. He still posted 71 solos and 14 PD, and an INT total under five would be surprising for one of the best fantasy CB of the last 20 years.
DeMarcus Ware has way too much upside to be listed in the Fourth Tier. Of course, 64 solo tackles represents way too low of a number to list him any higher. Ware averages about 1.5 big plays per game and is much more valuable in comprehensive scoring systems. Browns LB D'Qwell Jackson tops my list of undervalued players entering '08 and could finish among the top 10 scorers and top 5-7 tacklers if he can stay healthy for 16 games.
I love Tuck as a full-time player, so other than a new contract, my only concern is the Super Bowl hangover phenomenon, and that's only for the ultra-superstitious.
Taylor is playing with a new team in a new scheme, but he's been a model of consistency and probably feels he has a little to prove after a strange offseason. Don't be surprised if Taylor is again among the top five DL at the end of the season despite the adjustment period in a slightly different defensive position (4-3 LDE).
Umenyiora isn't consistent enough versus the run to be my No. 1 DL, but he could reach 15 sacks if healthy.
Clements was a solid fantasy player (No. 12 DB in comprehensive leagues) in his first season as a 49er, finishing with 77 solo, 15 PD, and 4 INT. He had nine games with five or more solos but needs to return to the 6-INT range to justify a higher slotting.
Hawk didn't take the big step I expected last season, but I've never been one to learn from past mistakes, so let's forecast a Pro Bowl campaign for the third-year pro in '08. Brackett is a reliable MLB that will rarely hurt you and I just can't let Zach Thomas fall any lower than this, despite a new team and scheme.
Update: 38 IDPs listed to this point.
The Sixth Tier – (Value Picks) These guys should be just as good as 10 of the players drafted above: Kerry Rhodes, Atari Bigby, Patrick Kerney, Terrell Suggs, Terrence McGee, Antonio Pierce, Michael Boley
After perusing my charts, it just occurred to me I've inadvertently listed the final nine players I completely trust for the upcoming season. Rhodes was an IDP lineup-killer last season after plenty of GMs drafted him as their No. 2 overall defender (thanks to a certain jerk IDP analyst). But the Jets' D will be better this season and you can't ignore his three-year totals of 211 solos, 59 assists, 8 sacks, 24 PD, and 10 INT this late in the draft. Rhodes is my bounce-back DB for '08.
Bigby enters his second season as a starter and is ready to join the elite fantasy DB after a solid '07 season and breakout playoff performance versus Seattle. Revis is the best of the myriad of second-year DB on the board and McGee quietly posted one of the best (13-game) seasons at his position last year.
Pierce and Boley illustrate the depth of the LB position this year as we're now about 40 IDP deep. Kerney might be listed too low after a No. 2 finish among DL last season, but he had just three impact starts in his first nine games in '07 and most fantasy owners had cut bait by the time he caught fire, finishing with 11 sacks in his final eight games. There's a chance Kerney will be in a heavier DE rotation this season with third-year vet Darryl Tapp and rookie Lawrence Jackson, but he'll obviously log the bulk of the time.
Cole is every bit the player as the DL listed in the tiers above but he's also part of a heavier D-Line rotation, limiting his final season totals. Suggs, of course, is a special case: a player that is a steal if your league lists him as a DE, but is barely a fantasy starter for the rest of us that play him as a 3-4 LB. But Suggs is in the midst of an ugly holdout and not yet in camp, so monitor that situation before pulling the trigger.
THE MIDDLE ROUNDS
We've covered about 9-10 rounds of an IDP draft. At this point you should have 4-5 defensive players, depending on the size of your league. The key is to mix in a few reliable backups offensively and not focus entirely on defenders simply because you've filled 5-6 offensive spots.
Unless you've landed a starting LB corps, the middle rounds become the perfect opportunity to feed the lifeblood of your fantasy roster.
LB with warts, but could still finish among the elite:
• Chad Greenway – Should take a major step forward now two seasons removed from a season-ending ACL injury.
• Lance Briggs – A steal in the middle rounds; a sucker-bet when everyone's still sober.
• James Harrison – Ditto. Harrison was the breakout LB of 2007, his first season as a starter. That's the same thing I said about Bart Scott in last year's IDP Draft Plan column, and look how that turned out. Draft Harrison, but don't overvalue him.
• Ernie Sims – Solo-tackle machine but I believe you and I had just as many sacks as he did in '07.
• Shaun Phillips – Speaking of sacks … Breakout LB Alert! Unfortunately, this alert comes with a 45-solo warning siren attached.
• Derrick Johnson – Speaking of breakout alerts … Johnson is a big play waiting to happen (posted a career-high 15 in '07) and he'll have a huge September (trust me). Make sure you monitor Weeks 5-7 and consider selling him if he shows signs of decline.
While we're discussing those that could finish among the elite, how about some DB:
• Chris Harris – Top tier tackler and hitter (8 FF). Hands reminiscent of Venus di Milo though.
• Leigh Bodden – A top tier talent joins a new team (Detroit) and a new scheme (Cover 2). He'd have been among my top five CB had he remained in Cleveland, alas, there's a warning sign attached for '08.
• Roman Harper – Better IDP option than NFL player to this point, but he was a coveted player in the offseason and is now almost two years removed from an ACL injury.
• Cedric Griffin and Antoine Winfield – The best CB tackling tandem in the NFL. Now … which one do you draft first?
• Marcus Trufant – Exploded in '04, fell off the face of the fantasy map in '05 and '06, and reclaimed his spot among the elite in '07.
With about 60 IDPs down and about 125 viable options remaining, which players have the best chance of making a difference? I'm glad you asked.
Not among the elite, but I sure do like them: Justin Durant, Angelo Crowell, Mike Peterson, Thomas Howard, Thomas Davis, Freddie Keiaho, Eric Wright, Charles Tillman, Madieu Williams, Deangelo Hall, Aaron Schobel.
Schobel is a bounce-back candidate at DE (finished the season with four impact games in the final five weeks), Tillman rarely disappoints when healthy, providing solid tackle totals and enough big plays, Peterson is a steal here but an injury-risk any higher, and Crowell is the third-best IDP option on a vastly improved Bills D.
The Panthers' Davis has been moved from SLB to WLB. A former collegiate S, Davis has the speed, strength, and skills to succeed in space on the weak side. He'll be matched up with RB in the flat and is a punishing young hitter.
Raiders LB Thomas Howard is one of the best young OLB in the game, but he posted 6 INT last season. You can't count on that every season.
Jaguars LB Justin Durant is my sleeper selection for 2008. The warning sign attached is the presence of three solid LB in Jacksonville in Daryl Smith, Clint Ingram, and the aforementioned Mike Peterson. Look for Durant to win the weak side job, joining Smith and Peterson in the starting lineup, but as of early August, Ingram is the incumbent at WLB.
If Keiaho stays healthy he could be a top 20 LB playing WLB in the Colts Cover 2.
Speaking of staying healthy, here are DBs of note that could pay off in deep leagues and have the upside to outperform the remaining LB options:
• Eric Wright – Was beaten like a drum early, made big plays prior to a Week 11 injury, and improved on a weekly basis. The ideal fantasy CB.
• DeAngelo Hall – He'll have plenty of opportunities playing opposite All-Pro caliber CB Nnamdi Asomugha in Oakland. (Asomugha, by the way, would be a great late-round selection if you're looking for a guy that could explode in comprehensive leagues).
• Kenny Phillips – The former Hurricanes underachiever is making quite an early impression and might be the best rookie IDP option for '08.
Nearing the end of the middle rounds and the pickings are getting slim along the DL. You don't have to reach, because there's not likely to be a run on DL after the top guys are gone. A few to target near Round 15-plus:
• Kyle Vanden Bosch – KVB's motor never stops. Ideal No. 3 DL and he can fill the role as your No. 2.
• Tamba Hali – Time to step up entering his third season as he moves to the RDE spot in KC's 4-3.
• Derrick Burgess – Undervalued player that's 12-15 sacks waiting to happen when healthy.
• Darnell Dockett – Possibly the best DT on the board, but inconsistent through 16 games.
• Will Smith – I usually draft him too high, so this feels about right.
• Mathias Kiwanuka – The hidden gem in the group is actually a versatile SLB who could end up with 10 sacks as a third-down pass rusher. It would be a surprise if Kiwanuka doesn't move to a down (LDE) position (vacated by retired Michael Strahan) in obvious passing situations, with Justin Tuck shifting inside as he did last season.
• Madieu Williams – A case in which a new team can only help. Williams has an injury history, and he may be down for the first few weeks of the season. But you can expect big plays aplenty but not as many downfield tackles on a stacked Vikings D.
(Remember to use these rounds to pull the trigger on the best young RB available, a WR that could emerge as a No. 2, and to get a backup QB if you have a question about your starter. At some point, you'll be down to sediment offensively and you don't want to get stuck with Cedric Benson's breathalyzer as your 3rd RB. There's plenty of IDP talent available).
LATER ROUNDS – Filling out your starting lineup
The X-Factor DE:
• Julius Peppers – I know, I know, you've been down this road before. As long as you don't reach for Peppers, he's worth a later selection. It's a complete gut feeling, but I think Peppers will return to form in '08.
• David Thornton – Had his best season in a Titans uniform in '07.
• Donnie Edwards – Bad vibes. Edwards is an all-time IDP favorite of mine, and he's proved doubters wrong in the past but injuries might have finally taken a toll.
• Keith Brooking – He'll help you as your No. 4 LB after a move back to the weak side, his natural position.
• Julian Peterson – Risky in tackle-based systems but still a great playmaker.
• Calvin Pace – Would rank about two tiers higher had he stayed in Arizona, so there's no reason not to take a chance here.
• Oshiomogho Atogwe – 39 big plays in his last 32 games.
• Ronde Barber – He'll bounce back.
• Bernard Pollard – If Guru did a cheesy "Who's Next?" spread, he'd be featured.
• LaRon Landry – A potentially dominant run defender in Washington.
• Eric Weddle – Should shine in his first year as a starting Safety for an excellent Chargers defense.
• Jermaine Phillips – Mixes in a few too many dud outings but has 160 solos, 16 PD, 9 FF, and 6 INT over the last two years.
• Michael Griffin – Is it possible to be littered with future stardom?
• Chinedum Ndukwe – The best fantasy DB of Week Sixteen and Seventeen last season and my Summer Sleeper Selection Spectacular, but Ndukwe went down with a knee injury early in camp and should be shelved for a few weeks.
• Bob Sanders – Too low? I'm just trying to make sure you don't reach for a much better NFL than fantasy player.
• Troy Polamalu – Already battling an injury (hamstring). I had Polamalu as a bounce-back candidate as well, but his injury history is troubling.
• Chris Long – 50-solo rookie with anywhere from 6-9 sacks.
• Gaines Adams – Look for a major leap by mid-season.
• Elvis Dumervil – The last guy left off the IDP Top 100 list just doesn't make enough tackles to rank higher.
No. 4 LB Options
Breakout Candidates (Rookie Division):
• Keith Rivers (Cin) – Should make an immediate impact on the weak side.
• Jerod Mayo (NE) – Has the inside track to the starting ILB spot next to veteran Tedy Bruschi and Mayo has looked fantastic thus far.
• Jordan Dizon (Det) – Still needs to win a job or have incumbent journeyman LB Paris Lenon move to the strong side.
• Curtis Lofton (Atl) – Should beat out 2nd-year LB Tony Taylor for the MLB role but is just the 3rd-best fantasy LB on his own team.
• Dan Connor (Car) – Slated for backup MLB duty but a guy to jump on if either Jon Beason or WLB Thomas Davis is injured.
No. 4 DB Options
DL Worth a Late Selection:
• Kelly Gregg
• Kevin Williams
• Mike Patterson
• Jovan Haye
• Adewale Ogunleye
• Justin Smith (Versatility doesn't always equal production)
• Trevor Pryce (Injury concern)
• Matt Roth
• Amobi Okoye
• Ray Edwards
• John Abraham (Probably hurt himself while I was writing this)