Don't knock it 'til you try it
I decided to try something different in my long-running family fantasy football league last season. Bear in mind that this league is often more serious than the NFC East, so it is no small task to get any significant legislation passed as commissioner. But this just made too much sense to me.
I wanted to replace the defense/special teams position with an individual defensive player, or IDP.
This was not met with a positive reaction initially. I didn't hit them with the data up front, just the concept of switching from owning a team's entire defense and special teams unit to one defensive player. "Why change something that isn't broken?" "We all understand how to play with D/ST." "You're just mad 'cause you had the Jags defense last year."
Ok, that last one is valid. I was the first one to take a D/ST in 2018, scooping up a Jags defense that had finished #1 in points the year prior and was widely considered to be the best available on draft day. I figured they would be a matchup-proof pick that I could set and forget until their week nine bye .
I was wrong. They finished tied for 15th in points; a middling defense best used as an emergency waiver wire pickup. I have often been bitten by the Jaguars in fantasy football, and the 2018 season was yet another example of me trusting that stupid franchise.
But that is NOT (entirely) the reason I proposed switching to an IDP, in lieu of a D/ST.
There are few worse feelings, in life, than losing because your opponents D/ST scored 27 points, largely on the backs of a defensive score and a punt return for a touchdown. You spend all week analyzing the schemes your running backs are set to face, or the DBs your receivers will line up against, only to have it all wiped away because a batted ball clumsily bounced into a 330-pound defensive lineman's hands before he stumbled into the end zone, jersey halfway up his stomach. Luck. Blind luck. I hate that.
This is fantasy football, though; luck is an inescapable part of the game. It's true. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't strive to eliminate as much of it as possible.
It's just the damn range of possibilities that pisses me off the most about the D/ST position. The Patriots were the #1 defense in fantasy last year, scoring a little over 200 points, depending on your scoring system (they would have scored 225 in our league). Their best game was week two against Miami, a 35-point performance in which they racked up seven sacks, four interceptions, and two defensive touchdowns in a shutout. Their worst week...was also against Miami, a one-point shit burger on the final week of the season. The best defense available had a 34-point range between their best and worst possible outcomes of the season, from a fantasy perspective.
Second best was the Steelers D/ST. 30-point range. After that came the Niners. 36-point range. 29-point range for the #4 Ravens. To cap off the top-five we had the Vikings. 26-point difference between their best and worst games. The top-five units in fantasy averaged a 31-point range in 2019.
This is maddening. UNNECESSARILY MADDENING.
This doesn't happen to the top options at other positions, including the IDP. D/ST is where the largest portion of the yearly flukes happen, and I, being the elite commissioner that I am, simply could not stand for such a skill-less roster spot to exist in this beautiful game.
Insert the IDP.
Point system is key
The IDP is nowhere near as random, but a large portion of that depends on what kind of scoring system you employ. My goal when I determined how points would be earned was for teams to own players at different levels of the defense. I didn't want all of the top IDPs to be linebackers, who are generally the most active defensive players. This is what I came up with...
Several positions have their strengths in this scoring system. Linebackers, specifically MLBs, pile up the tackles. A solo tackle gives them .75 points (.5 for the tackle, .25 for it being solo), while an assisted tackle leaves them with just .5. A 11-tackle/five-solo game gives them 6.75 points.
The good ones are bound to tack on a few sacks, fumbles forced/recovered, and interceptions throughout the season, which are akin to an offensive player scoring a touchdown. Speaking of touchdowns, ESPN's system doesn't expressly say that they get credit for TDs, but they do.
Linemen survive on sacks and fumbles, while defensive backs need a pick or a few passes defended to be effective. These are the home run hitters in the IDP world. They are the boom-or-bust wide receivers that can go for 4/125/2 or 2/30/0. Linebackers tend to have higher floors, while linemen and defensive backs have the higher ceilings.
All of this info equates to one thing: strategy.
You have options in an IDP system. There are only 32 D/ST to choose from, but each team has multiple defensive players that can contribute on the fantasy gridiron. This allows for more strategy, one of things that led to me making this pitch to my fellow league mates.
Should I start this ball-hawking safety against interception-prone Jameis Winston? If David Bakhtiari doesn't play, should I add the defensive end he was going to match up against? Maybe I should snag this run-stopping middle linebacker facing the Ravens, who run the ball more than anyone. These are all legitimate questions and ideas made possible by the IDP slot.
You obviously still have to consider matchups when playing a D/ST, but the analysis exists on a macro level, if it exists at all. Most people ask themselves "Does this offense score a lot of points?" and "Are they turnover prone?" when looking at a D/ST's opponent, and that's about it.
Owning only one player instead of a group of 11 (plus special teams) forces you to think more. That's a good thing. Don't be a baby.
The league voted in favor of my IDP proposal after I presented my scores of data showing how D/ST was a bullshit fantasy position. The projections based on my point system showed that IDPs should score around what tight ends score, although there would be far more serviceable ones to choose from, allowing for more mixing and matching. But you never really know until the season gets under way.
It could not have gone better.
Of the top-25 IDPs at the end of the 2019 season, 13 were LBs, six were DEs, two were DTs, and four were DBs. The top three were DEs, led by T.J. Watt and his 215.25 points, followed by Chandler Jones and Shaquil Barrett. Darius Leonard was the highest-scoring LB and the #4 overall defender. Logan Ryan was the best DB and #5 IDP overall. Aaron Donald led all DTs and finished #10 in the IDP rankings.
The average point range of the top-five IDPs was 28, a few ticks down from the D/ST numbers of yesteryear. Furthermore, this range was augmented by the fact that three of the top five players were defensive ends, the most volatile position group on defense in terms of fantasy. All in all, though, IDPs were easier to forecast than D/STs.
Like I predicted, opposing teams were swapping a litany of defensive players out week by week, depending on their matchups. While the youngest of the Watt brothers led our league in points, the #25 IDP (Tremaine Edwards) scored just 71.25 points less than him, or about 4.5 less points per game. Not a huge gap compared to other positions, meaning the streaming options were bountiful every single week.
This is good.
Embrace the IDP, people. I really don't know why this isn't more popular. Don't you want fantasy football to be a skill game? Enough of this D/ST nonsense; the individual defensive player is the way to go. It adds a layer of strategy not present when picking an entire team's defense and special teams unit, and eliminates some of the unearned good fortune that skews the fantasy football standings every season.
I won the championship in this league last year, so you know. Lost only one game. But that is neither here nor there. The IDP is where it's at.