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IDP Primer: IDP Rosters

By Duncan Smith

Before we get started on the second part of my IDP series, I have a confession to make regarding something I said in part 1, which you can read here. In that article, I talked about the planning phase of the process and well that was a half-truth at best. My planning tends to consist of writing as much down as possible then cutting most of it out again.

Now that I’ve got that off of my chest I want to hit you with another truth bomb. When starting down the IDP road you may be tempted to do something like only adding 3 IDP spots to your lineup and even worse, making them flex spots.

DO NOT do that, there are simply too many available players to make it worth your while, we’re supposed to be building dynasty rosters here, and I don’t find much dynasty value in roster churning your way through a bunch of linebackers every week of the season.

Think about it, even in a 12 team league, 3 starting spots per team only account for 36 players, and unlike on the offense side of the ball, all 11 positions on defense are in play for fantasy scoring. Depending on the team and snap counts there could be 15 or more players with the potential for fantasy production. Now it won’t be the case for every team and with positional requirements removed some positions are worth less than others, I’ll get into that shortly, but generally, you can see there is a huge pool of potential points to choose from.

Your IDP roster shouldn’t be an afterthought to the rest of your team, you should have to work on your IDP players as you do with your offensive talent. Therefore I recommend going big or not doing it at all. I’m talking 11 starting IDP players plus a significant increase to your bench size.

In the league I talked about last week we start 3 defensive line players, 3 linebackers, 3 defensive backs, and 2 flex positions. I feel this is a good size of roster, although you might want to change 1 of your flex spots to a linebacker, as you’ll probably find yourself flexing one all the time anyway. It will also give your side a more realistic feel to it, even more so if you adopt a 3 DL, 4 LB, 4DB starting lineup. However, you lose all flexibility doing that.

Bench spots aren’t as easy a decision to make. You should probably look to add at least 4 or 5 spots to any existing bench you have but in all honesty, you will need to play around as a league to find your sweet spot. As a general rule, I think benches should be big enough that there aren’t really any offensive players worth rostering available and then have some more spots to start eating into the availability of defensive players.

With an extended bench players will naturally load up on offensive stashes first before dealing with defensive cover. This can prove advantageous to the switched-on manager who can swoop in and collect break-out defensive studs from waivers mid-season. A young linebacker or safety who is seeing a huge increase in snaps mid-season is going to be more valuable than a third-year running back who needs two players to go down before he sees meaningful snaps and then the team just brings in a veteran to timeshare anyway.

Base Formations

Before we break down the individual positions on defense I should perhaps take a moment to discuss base formations.

The base formation is simply the normal lineup a defense will show with no other considerations taken. This will either be a 3-4 or 4-3 formation. In a 3-4 base formation, the defense will line up with  1 defensive (nose) tackle, 2 defensive ends, that make up the defensive line. 2 inside and 2 outside linebackers make up the rest.

A 4-3 base is the reverse, 2 defensive tackles, 2 defensive ends, and 3 linebackers, a strong side, weak side, and middle linebacker.

Got that? Good, let’s break down the positions.


Defensive Line

First up is the defensive line. This fantasy position is made up of defensive tackles, nose tackles, and defensive ends. This is the grouping that contains some of the biggest names in football, guys like Aaron Donald, TJ Watt, the Bosa brothers, and Chase Young are all found in this grouping.

These guys are the human-wrecking balls of their teams, looking to create havoc wherever they go. Ideally, you’re going to want at least one of the top ones on your team but be aware you will have to pay for them. These guys will be among the first defensive players off the board in startups and elite talent like Young will cost you a first-round rookie pick. You can find value at the position as very few of them play 100% of snaps, a player who is effective on a lower snap count can be a nice play on any given week.

In general, you will want to avoid players designated as a nose tackle, these are the giants of the field, 300+ lb monsters with huge arms tasked with taking on 2 offensive linemen while re-establishing the line of scrimmage in the opponents’ backfield. It’s a demanding position but one that won’t see a lot of regular fantasy output.

As an example here’s Danny Shelton when he was in New England taking on 2 linemen.

And here he is re-establishing the line of scrimmage.

While that looks like a lot of fun both plays have scored you zero points.

The guys you are going to want to play defensive line are the defensive edges, particularly edges playing in a 4-3 formation. In a 4-3 formation there are two defensive tackles tasked with stuffing up the offensive line. Meaning the job of the edge is to get at the quarterback or running back. An edge that can do that well and consistently will be worth his weight in gold to your team.


It’s perhaps only a slight exaggeration to say that linebackers are among the best pure footballers on the field at any given time. These guys are expected to do almost everything on defense. They have to be able to get at the quarterback, tackle the running back, cover receivers in the shallows and flats, or help on the line if needed.

When selecting linebackers players with an outside linebacker designation are likely on a 3-4 formation and will play like an edge rusher on a 4-3 formation, you may find them listed as DL/LB on your scoring format.

Interior and middle linebackers are your tackling machines, they cover much more of the field than an outside linebacker, and with defenses constantly trying to funnel the opposition into them will be afforded the most opportunity. For reliable scoring, these are the guys to have shares in. Per pro-football reference 14 of the top 20 players in solo tackles last year had some form of ILB or MLB designation.

A strong linebacker corp will make up the core of your IDP scoring. This is a big group of players and you should be looking for value in this group. An example of this is Atlanta’s Foyesade Oluokon and Houston’s (now Buffalo’s) Tyrell Adams, who both broke out last season, and would have been available for free in most leagues. If you keep up with my weekly in-season breakdowns it will help know who is breaking out (link In My Defense Week 12).

Defensive Backs

The defensive back grouping of players is made up of two separate positions, these are cornerbacks and safeties.

Cornerbacks are the strangest position in all of fantasy football. Simply put, the better the player in real life, the worse they are for fantasy. Counter-intuitive right? It can be hard to get your head around, but once you think about it it’s not so complicated.

Ask yourself why are shut down corners called shutdown corners? It’s because they are so good they eliminate their opponents WR1, quarterbacks won’t throw in their direction* meaning they rarely have an opportunity to put up meaningful numbers.

*There are exceptions such as Aaron Rodgers who will go out of his way to prove he’s better than any cornerback.

Generally, if you can, you want to avoid rostering or starting cornerbacks, it’s a wildly unpredictable group of players in fantasy but if you must roster them look for young players lining up opposite a shutdown corner, or older CB’s good enough to start but not at the elite level.

With CB’s don’t get too attached, one good season does not make a career, offload them when they’re not producing, and don’t waste draft picks on them. Let your league-mates draft the big-name guys and figure out the mistake for themselves.

Safeties are the group of players you ideally want to make your defensive back corp out of. These players will generally either be listed as FS, Free Safety, or SS, Strong Safety. These players are often a team’s last line of defense, required to tackle running backs in the open or assist with receivers on crossing routes.

Although an inconsistent scoring metric, safeties are also a good source of interceptions. When a quarterback makes a poor or weak throw it’s often a safety who has read the ball quickest and gotten there first.

There we have it, over the last two articles. I’ve explained IDP scoring in easy-to-understand terms and gone some way to giving you the basics of roster size and construction. I hope I’ve persuaded you to give IDP a shot and if I have I’ll be back shortly with an article on where the defense rookies ended up in the draft.

In the meantime don’t forget your offense, check out Ryan’s latest mock draft here.

Duncan Smith – IDP Writer
Ride or Dynasty

Twitter: @duncafc

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