Perform a Google search for the acronym IDP and the top results are fun-filled topics like Individual Development Programs, Insurance Data Processing and Internally Displaced Persons.
Scroll down some, though, and you'll find Individual Defensive Players. While almost as nerdy as Insurance Data Processing, this IDP is a growing fantasy football format for the manager seeking more control over the defensive side of their roster.
For many, the enjoyment found in fantasy football is tied to its simplicity, versus the micromanaging a fantasy baseball or basketball team. In standard football leagues, you draft your imaginary collection of football studs in late summer and set your team by Sunday morning each week throughout the fall. While it's not quite this effortless, the idea here is that football's weekly schedule translates ably to a mass audience. Fantasy football is king because it's not overly complicated. However, there is a group that wants it to be.
In the depths of the fantasy football subculture lies a breed of fantasy nerd who isn't satisfied with worrying about merely who to start in their second running back slot. Nay, the IDP manager wants to worry about more, wants to engage in the type of minutia that fantasy baseball affords it's data-mining loyalists.
How does IDP work?
It's simple. Instead of relying on the aggregate production of a team defense each week, you start various individual defenders, broken down by position (i.e., linebacker, defensive back, etc.). The IDP format measures more statistics in a football game and accounts for defensive stats unrecognized in traditional formats. IDP counts statistics beyond the common team defense modifiers (sacks, points allowed, touchdowns and forced turnovers). In this realm, each defender can accrue tackles (both solo and assisted), sacks, touchdowns and passes defended.
Competitive fantasy players are astute when it comes to the offensive side of the ball, able to recite the depth charts of nearly any NFL wide receiving corps. Yet if you only play in standard format leagues, you likely have less of a grasp of the defensive depth charts and schemes. The IDP format compels you to learn this side of the league. You must be aware of the defensive starters across the league as well as the schemes that defenses employ and how coordinators plan to utilize the players. Essentially, you are doubling your roster -- and your workload.
There are endless stat modifiers you can manipulate, from how you classify players (for example, safeties can be a separate position from cornerbacks, or they all can be regarded as "DB") to how you set your scoring (i.e., how many points a sack or an interception is worth).
Traditional Scoring Modifiers
Tackle Solo (1.0)
Tackle Assist (0.5)
Forced Fumble (3)
Fumble Recovery (3)
Pass Defended (1)
Blocked Kick (2)
Drafting in an IDP league
Much like traditional drafts, don't look to the defense until you've built a solid core of offensive talent. You likely wouldn't draft a team defense in the middle rounds in traditional leagues, so don't start now. Your first IDP selection ideally should be after you are satisfied with your offensive depth, around the ninth or 10th rounds.
In order to build a potent IDP squad, you should target players who give you a steady clip of production. Sacks and turnovers are heavily rewarded, but don't look past tackles, the main source of consistent fantasy production. While sacks and turnovers are like touchdowns on the offensive side, tackles are like the yards and receptions that maintain your production each week. When evaluating a player, look to see if his value is inflated by one stat or outburst. With my first IDP pick, I often look for stud middle linebackers. You know of the true studs like Patrick Willis and DeMeco Ryans, but targeting less regarded tackle-machines like Paul Posluszny and Jonathan Vilma will fuel your team with steady numbers at a discount.
Avoid drafting guys on name alone. Big-name defenders often do produce, but there are many players you may not be familiar with who provide better value and even more production than the stars. Don't reach for Dwight Freeney just because he's a high-profile talent that you recognize, especially when a guy like Elvis Dumervil will be available a few rounds later and provide similar, if not better, production.
Scour the free-agent pool in the early weeks for players who offer high tackles and deflections before you target interceptions and sacks, both of which can be inflated by one or two prolific outbursts. A high-tackle safety or linebacker can give you four to five points each week, with the peripheral stats (turnovers, sacks, deflections, etc.) being gravy.
Drafting by position
Defensive Linemen: You need to start two defensive linemen in most IDP leagues. The majority of production from the D-line comes from pass-rushing defensive ends. Rarely do you find a productive defensive tackle worthy of your loyalty, but they do emerge from time to time (Glenn Dorsey this year?). A prolific pass-rusher is a must for your team, as every sack is worth three points. A dominant DE outing can net double-digit points, so get at least one sack artist when considering linemen. At the same time, look for the quarterback crushers who also tally tackles to avoid weeks with no production.
Linebackers: Consider these guys the defensive version of running backs. The perennial top producers in fantasy are middle linebackers. They are the players who get you the steady tackles, with the elite performers also accruing sacks, deflections and turnovers. Patrick Willis gave his savvy owners nearly 10 points or so each week this past season, relying mostly on tackles. Middle linebackers in the 4-3 formation (i.e., DeMeco Ryans, Lofa Tatupu, Jonathan Vilma) will put up silly tackle numbers since their role is essentially to roam for the ball. A number of outside linebackers can offer a variety of defensive stats as well, with Ernie Sims being an elite example. In the 3-4 scheme, inside linebackers are significant tackle producers, as well, with outside guys capable of providing solid sack numbers and competent tackle totals (DeMarcus Ware, for instance).
Defensive Backs: Just like the other positions, you want to focus on getting players with high tackles as well as the turnover stats. Select safeties over corners in almost every case. A corner coming off a low-tackle, high-interception season (like Anthony Henry) isn't a value for your team, while a safety coming off a high-tackle, modest turnover season (Michael Lewis) often is. There are a handful of elite defensive backs, but the drop-off between the elite and the rest is steeper than in the DL and LB categories. Focus on getting two high-tackle, established defensive backs before you pursue depth at the linemen spots.
Simplified draft strategy
It sounds simple, but focus on stud middle linebackers, elite safeties and defensive ends with a balance of sacks and tackles when making your IDP selections. Avoid chasing inflated interceptions and sacks with your first pick, as most sack and pick specialists are just that, specialists who will leave you unbalanced when they don't produce. Get two choice defensive backs within your first four defender selections, leaving you free to take risks on the boom-or-bust defensive ends and outside linebackers in the twilight rounds. Just like in traditional leagues, it's best to keep up with the sleepers and scenarios that arise into the late summer so that you can pluck a player on the rise like a Curtis Lofton or Tamba Hali.
While many fantasy fans decry IDP as too nerdy and convoluted to enjoy, we IDP folk know better. Once you get a handle on how the scoring works and what type of players to rely on, it's not as complicated as it first seems. Follow the defenders with the passion you afford the offensive side and you'll find that, if built correctly, your IDP roster can help bolster your team during lean offensive outings.
Jim McCormick is an IDP analyst for ESPN.com Fantasy.