Robust IDP Football Draft Strategy

by Mitchell Blatt
Robust IDP Football Draft Strategy

Zero RB. Robust RB. Superhero RB. Just Pick JJ. Fantasy analysts write a lot about draft strategies. Why aren't there any popular draft strategies based on IDP? Well now there is, welcome to Robust IDP Football Draft Strategy.

IDP (individual defensive player) fantasy football is growing in popularity. I play almost all of my leagues as IDP.

In my experience, many fantasy managers still haven't internalized the value of defensive players. They draft the IDPs late, taking offensive players who would fill their second running back or wide receive slot instead of linebackers who could finish as the IDP overall No. 1.

Robust IDP Draft Strategy

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Introducing the Robust IDP Draft Strategy

Let me introduce a strategy that will let you take advantage of your league-mates waiting on IDPs. It's called "Robust IDP," and it is simple. Draft star IDPs early and often!

Now, it's not quite that simple. I do not advocate drafting IDPs in Round 1. Also, it would be best not to draft an IDP unless they are the best player (or in the same rough tier as a group of possible best available). You must also know your league setup and scoring settings to ensure that Robust IDP will work for you.

You should never rigidly hold to a position-based draft strategy. Knowledge of draft strategies can come in handy as you consider the different ways a draft might play out, but you shouldn't force your draft behavior to fit into a specific strategy if the draft isn't unfolding in a way that makes it work.


So before we get started, a few caveats:

  • Robust IDP won't work for leagues with tiny IDP rosters. For any league with fewer than three IDPs in the lineup, you can wait until late and still build a solid IDP roster. If there are four or more IDPs in the lineup, some version of Robust IDP should be a strong strategy.
  • Robust IDP only works if your league has a reasonable scoring system that rewards IDPs fairly for their achievements. I've seen some leagues that only score two points for a sack. That's unbelievable! If you're playing in such a league, you should tell your commissioner to change the damn rules and, second, don't use Robust IDP as long as the scoring system is so janky.
  • A sound scoring system should award at least four points, preferably more like six points, for a sack, six or more points for an interception, and between 1-2 points for a solo tackle, with an assisted tackle worth half of that. Most leagues score solos and assist separately. Some score all tackles the same.
  • You also must analyze whether your scoring system leans towards rewarding tackles, sacks, interceptions, or some other kind of impact play. This will determine what positions and players you target.
  • I devised a scoring system for RotoBaller, which I also contributed to use for IDP analysis and leagues. Take a look! We have lots of fun in the leagues that use it. Other standard scoring systems include IDP123, FantasyPros, and Big3.

Now let's take a look:

The Strategy

Start the draft like any other ordinary offense-only fantasy draft. Take elite RBs and WRs who have top-12 upside at their positions in the first two rounds. Take a QB earlier if you are in a Superflex league or a QB-premium league (such as leagues that reward fractional points per completion). Consider taking a TE early if Travis Kelce is on the board or if you are in a TE-premium league.

Starting in Round 3, consider drafting IDPs. Ensure you draft at least one tier-one IDP player who could finish as the IDP1. Then in the next round, draft him, too, if another tier-one IDP is available! (You could get both of the best IDPs if you are drafting near a turn.)

Keep drafting quality IDPs earlier than your league-mates so that your team's second-best IDP is as good as other teams' best IDP and your third-best IDP is better than their second-best. Do not draft only IDP in every round, but keep your eye on the board and know what tiers different players fall into. Frequently, you will find the best IDP available is better than the best offensive player available.

Or there might be many more equally quality IDPs available than quality offensive players. In a situation where many IDPs are available of similar value with offensive players, it could still make sense to load up on the IDPs because you can stockpile value.

Then add upside WRs and RBs (the same RBs you might target with a Zero RB strategy) in the middle and late rounds. Whether you focus on WRs or RBs late depends on which position you prioritized early.

All points count the same no matter what position scores the points. You will consistently outscore your opponents significantly at IDP, and if you do a good job drafting sleepers and making waiver adds, you will equal your opponents at the offensive positions.

An Example Based on Sleeper ADP

Look at this example: It's Round 6. Bears 49ers DE Nick Bosa, Steelers OLB T.J. Watt, LB Roquan Smith, Jags LB Foye Oluokun, Chiefs LB Nick Bolton, and Eagles RB D'Andre Swift are all on the board. Now, I don't know why all those elite IDPs are on the board in the sixth round; a couple of them could make a good case for IDP1, and they all score more than any offensive players. I'm just going by what the Sleeper ADP data tells me.

Say you are picking at 6.09. You take Bosa or Watt there. You have arguably the top edge rusher in fantasy. There are six picks between that and your next pick at 7.04. There are five tier-one IDPs available. The chances that all of them will be taken are close to nil. So you take the next best player, possibly an LB, if you drafted DL Bosa first. Now you have a tier-one DL and a tier-one LB. (Watt can be played both positions in Sleeper leagues.)

In real life, you might want to execute that strategy in Rounds 3 or 4, depending on your league's scoring system and how intense you evaluate your league-mates to be about IDP. Bosa, Watt, or Cowboys edge Micah Parsons would all be justified picks in the third round, as they outscore most of the offensive players taken there.

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Who Is the IDP1 in Your League?

Whether your league is tackle-heavy or sack-heavy depends on the ratio of a sack-to-tackle. In the average of the central scoring systems, a sack is worth six times a solo tackle. So if a sack is worth more than six times a solo tackle, your league is sack-heavy, and you should target players, such as Bosa, who get a lot of sacks relative to tackles.

If the ratio is less than six, you should target players who make a lot of tackles, even if they don't make many sacks. Remember when calculating that most league stack tackles for loss, QB hits, and tackles (solo or assist) on top of each other, so one sack is worth that much combined.

IDP1 Candidates in Tackle-Heavy Leagues

Linebackers Foye Oluokun, Nick Bolton, Bobby Wagner, and T.J. Edwards will all be near the top of the charts for tackles. Still, they won't be coming close to making double-digit sacks or half a dozen fumble recoveries.

IDP1 Candidates in Sack-Heavy Leagues

For years, edge rushers Nick Bosa, T.J. Watt, Myles Garrett, and Maxx Crosby have proven they can rack up and sack opposing quarterbacks. They are all legitimate contenders to lead the league in sacks. Watt, in particular, also has a knack for forcing fumbles and making interceptions.

IDP1 Candidates in Interception-Heavy Leagues

Most leagues do not reward near enough points for interceptions for a defensive back to finish as IDP1. Last year, for example, the league leaders for interceptions, Minkah Fitzpatrick, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Justin Simmons, and Tariq Woolen, tied with six, while Nick Bolton led the league with 18.5 sacks. A pick would need to be worth three times as much as a sack for some of those DBs to come close; DBs also do not make as many tackles as LBs.

But if you are in a league that values DBs, look at Fitzpatrick, Talanoa Hufanga, Jalen Pitre, and Jalen Ramsey. Texans safety Pitre also made 147 combined tackles last season, so he has a good base there that should be consistent, as interceptions can fluctuate randomly. 49ers safety Hufanga also blitzes and makes impact plays; he forced two fumbles and made five tackles for losses in addition to two sacks.

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