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In the first two installments of the Complete Guide to Dominating IDP, we have hit the basics—the foundation for IDP success.
Now, it's time to start taking a deeper look at each of the positions in IDP—how much they matter, what to look for in draft targets, and how to construct a strong group of IDPs at each spot.
First up, it's the guys charged with stuffing the run at the point of attack and making quarterbacks miserable—the defensive linemen. It's a position that, for many years, was defined by scarcity. But in recent years, the changing face of the NFL has brought some big changes along the defensive front in IDP leagues.
The Times, They Are-a-Changing
For many years, IDP managers faced a dilemma on the defensive line. In a 12-team league that starts two defensive linemen, the number of reliable weekly options ran out before each team had a pair of starters up front. If you weren't aggressive in acquiring two of the top 18-20 linemen, it meant a weakness at the position.
However, as the nickel became the de facto base defense in the NFL, more IDP providers began classifying 3-4 outside linebackers and 4-3 defensive ends together as DE or EDGE and 3-4 linemen and 4-3 defensive tackles together at DT or Interior Defenders (ID). True Position added a badly needed jolt of depth to the defensive line in IDP leagues.
This doesn't mean that elite defensive linemen have lost value or that having one won't afford fantasy managers an advantage at the position. But the pressure to grab a second starter before the well runs dry isn't what it once was. A measure of patience can be exercised without creating a major liability at the position.
What to Look for in a Defensive Lineman
Living on the Edge
This is by no means an absolute, but in leagues that don't differentiate between defensive ends and defensive tackles, edge rushers will generally have more value than interior linemen. As a whole, they are more consistent statistical producers.
Last year, just two of the top-12 defensive linemen (Quinnen Williams of the Jets and Daron Payne of the Commanders) were defensive tackles. In 2022, 19 players recorded double-digit sacks. Just five were tackles.
Again, this doesn't mean that interior linemen don't have IDP value, even in leagues that don't require defensive tackles—especially if they fall on draft day. But as a whole, targeting edge rushers is the more advisable course of action.
Sacks Matter, But So Do Stops
Many IDP managers focus on just one statistical category where defensive linemen are concerned—sacks. And of course, getting to the quarterback is important for defensive linemen (thanks, Captain Obvious). But there's another category that IDP managers should prioritize just as highly.
Last year's No. 1 defensive lineman (Maxx Crosby of the Raiders) had 12.5 sacks, but it was his jaw-dropping 89 total stops that put him over the top. Of the top-10 defensive linemen in 2022, only one (Haason Reddick of the Eagles) amassed fewer than 50 tackles. Eight of the 10 topped 60 stops. They averaged almost 63 tackles apiece.
Conversely, Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones piled up 15.5 sacks. But he had just 30 solos and finished outside the top 15. Trey Hendrickson of the Bengals tallied 27.5 sacks combined in 2020 and 2021, but he's never had 35 tackles in a season. When his sack numbers dropped in 2022, his IDP production went off a cliff.
Solid tackle numbers provide defensive linemen with a floor. Even if a guy doesn't get a sack, he'll at least provide a few points based on those tackles. Nothing ruins an IDP manager's week like the dreaded doughnut from a starter.
Again, sacks are, of course, an important statistic for defensive linemen. But they can also be a tad fluky. The blink of an eye separates a sack from a quarterback hit from a pressure. Many leagues don't award points for hits, and very few do for pressures.
However, hits and pressures can be a valuable tool for IDP managers—a way to forecast edge rushers and defensive tackles who could be set for a big year. Take the aforementioned Maxx Crosby. One of the reasons IDP analysts were high on Crosby in 2022 was the fact that while he managed just eight sacks in 2021, he was 10th in pressures and first in quarterback knockdowns.
Josh Allen's seven sacks in 2022 were widely regarded as a disappointing season in IDP circles. But the Jaguars edge rusher was seventh in the NFL in pressures and fifth in quarterback knockdowns. In other words, Allen could be headed for a rebound year in 2023—and could present an opportunity for value for fantasy managers.
You Down With OLB? Well, You Should Be
True Position is a relatively new phenomenon in IDP, and as with any big change, there is an adjustment period. Some fantasy managers new to the format appear to be overlooking some of the 3-4 edge rushers who were all but irrelevant in most leagues for so long. That presents an opportunity for value for those who take advantage of it.
Now, before you get too excited, this doesn't mean that you'll be able to draft Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt as the 15th defensive lineman off the board. But players like Uchenna Nwosu of the Seahawks, Rashan Gary of the Packers, Harold Landry III of the Titans, and Shaquil Barrett of the Buccaneers are all being drafted later than they should be.
Last year, Preston Smith of the Packers turned 59 tackles and 8.5 sacks into a top-25 fantasy finish at his position. The 30-year-old was essentially free in IDP drafts in 2022—and is again in the early-going this season.
Rookies are Risky
The defensive line is a valuable position in the NFL draft—this year's first non-quarterback drafted was Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson. But that value doesn't generally carry over into redraft IDP leagues.
The reason is simple—the defensive line has one of the steepest learning curves of any position in the game. Most rookie edge rushers enter the NFL having used one pass-rush move with consistent success. Then they get to the NFL—and that move no longer works. Even superstars like Myles Garrett of the Browns had relatively modest first seasons.
Last year's No. 1 rookie defensive lineman (Aidan Hutchinson of the Lions) had, by rookie standards, a great 2022—52 tackles and 9.5 sacks. Even then, he finished outside the top 20 at the position in fantasy points. Don't overinvest in first-year defensive linemen—even ones as talented as Anderson.
Guru Tip: Know Your Format and Do Your Homework
Defensive line strategy differs greatly between leagues that start two or three linemen and those that break out the positions, requiring two tackles and two defensive ends. The common denominator is understanding the relative value of the position in your scoring system.
Defensive linemen will never put up tackle totals like linebackers. That's just the nature of the game. If your scoring is the same for all positions, sacks and forced fumbles will be an equalizer for the top-shelf pass rushers, but once you get past the elite-tier guys, the punt approach might be your best option. This is especially true in formats requiring interior linemen, where there is a significant drop-off after the first 8-10 guys.
If you are in setup mode for an IDP league that breaks out the positions, I would suggest scoring that boosts interior linemen a little and levels the playing field. Maybe an extra half-point per tackle, quarter-point per assist, and half a point for a sack. Otherwise, the position is a lot like having another kicker.
As Gary mentioned, the trend toward True Position formats is adding more quality players to both the defensive end and tackle positions, but it doesn't mean there is an abundance of either. Know how deep the positions are and be flexible on draft day.
It's also vital to search out those upside guys to target late in the fray. Fantasy leagues are often won or lost in the last ten rounds. If you land that one stud at each defensive position and then turn to filling out your offense in the middle rounds, as I talked about in Part 2, you will be targeting mostly defense in the late rounds.
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