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2024 Fantasy Football: IDP Draft Strategy

Add a new wrinkle to your old, tired fantasy football league by adding individual defensive players (IDP) to your starting lineup. When you think about fantasy football, you probably think about Patrick Mahomes, Christian McCaffrey, Justin Jefferson, and Travis Kelce. But why not also think about defensive studs like T.J. Watt, Foyesade Oluokun, or the best young player in the NFL you may have never heard of, like Baltimore Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton? Read this overview of IDP Draft Strategy and we can start to change the way you enjoy fantasy football.

Instead of drafting a team defense (or in addition to), you draft IDPs at each defensive position. Even if your defensive knowledge is limited and you don’t know every great defensive player, it’s a wonderful challenge to push the boundaries of your football education.

Sure, IDP leagues require a little more attention, but there’s no good reason for half the game to be ignored or discounted. If you’re a diehard fan, like so many of us, it’s well worth the experience.

I will aim to help beginner and struggling IDP managers in this IDP draft strategy guide. I’ve been playing in IDP leagues for more than 20 years. I’m one of the top-rated IDP rankers on Fantasy Pros, and I’ve been writing about IDP leagues for over a decade.

What!? Your fantasy football league wasn’t hosted on Fantrax last season!? Once you see how Fantrax stacks up to the competition, we think you’ll be singing a different tune in the 2024 season.

IDP Starting Lineup, Roster & Scoring System

League construction predetermines a lot of the decisions you have to make. Unlike most fantasy football leagues, there is no IDP standard. You might find an IDP league that only starts one or two IDPs per team. There are dynasty leagues with as many defensive starters as you’ll find on offense. 

Generally speaking, I prefer deep leagues with a robust number of IDP starting spots.

I’ll provide three templates based on league size.

  • Beginner / Casual: 1 DL, 2 LB, 1 DB starters
  • Intermediate: 2 DL, 2 LB, 2 DB starters
  • Expert: 1 DT, 2 DE, 3 LB, 1 CB, 2 S, 2 IDP flex starters

Scoring System

Scoring should be tackle-focused, with healthy point totals for big plays. Some lean more toward tackles, some lean more toward big plays, and some have big points for both. It’s up to you to strike the right balance.

  • Tackles: 1.5 pts
  • Assists: 1 pt
  • Sacks, INTs, Safeties, Forced Fumbles, Blocks: 4 pts
  • Fumble recovery: 2 pts
  • Pass Defended: 1.5 pts
  • Return TD: 6 pts

Those are your standard IDP scoring categories. Here are some extra categories I like to use to bolster scoring for defensive linemen and defensive backs: 

  • QB hits: 1 pt
  • Tackle for loss: 1 pt
  • INT/FUM return yards: 0.1 pt per yard

IDP League Draft Strategy

Tackles Are Your Bread & Butter

In fantasy football, you want players who score points in bunches, but tackles are the consistent point category in IDP. Draft players that make tackles. 

It’s difficult to predict interceptions, fumbles, touchdowns, and sometimes even sacks. You don’t want to bank on big plays week in and week out to get points. Commissioners should flesh out a scoring system that focuses on tackles first and foremost.

If your player gets up around 100 tackles in a season, he’s a disruptor. Think of it like a high-volume rusher or receiver accumulating many targets and receptions. These are rightfully your best point scorers every year.

High-volume tacklers are not often the big names on defense. Inside linebackers are no longer the game-changers they once were in the days of Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher and Derrick Brooks. They may not be the sexiest picks anymore, but they’ll help you get to your championship game. 

Stick with the surefire points from tackles and hope for the big plays, not the other way around. You’ll be thankful you did.

Follow the Snaps

Want to know who will be the next big thing on defense? It’s often as simple as finding the guy on the field the most. 

For example, there’s what is known as the “green dot” on defense, and that’s the linebacker (sometimes safety) who has the radio in their helmet. The defensive coordinator relays the call to them, and they call the plays on the field.

Yes, this is exactly like the quarterback calling the plays in the huddle pre-snap. So, on defense, this “green dot” and maybe three or four other players will be on the field for 100% of the defensive snaps. Each team is unique, so you must check the snap counts after games to see who stays on the field. Even the best players can’t score points if they aren’t on the field.

Good Players on Bad Defenses

In a traditional fantasy football league, you’ll notice most of the best players are often on the best offense. This line of thinking doesn’t apply to the IDP format.

Even on the worst defenses, somebody has to make the tackles. Because the defense is on the field so often, a terrible defense will often have one or two statistically dominant players. 

It’s similar to drafting a running back or wide receiver on a bad team because he’s the only option, and his team has no choice but to feed him. 

When In Doubt, Deploy Players That Force Turnovers

When you need a plug-in player off the waiver wire, or you can’t decide between one player or another, look for players facing a weak offensive line that might succumb to turnovers.

Lean toward players on teams that are more likely to bat the ball up for an interception or knock the ball out for a fumble recovery. Luck is a part of the game, and it’s important to keep that part of it in mind.

If you have a superstar defensive end who is always knocking the ball away from QBs or a defensive back who rips the ball away from wide receivers, pick up their teammate, assuming they are also a safe contributor and get tackles. 

They will have a better chance of recording a turnover. This is more of a desperation play but can be very effective.

While this will not happen consistently, it’s okay to go for the home run play occasionally, especially if no great options are available. It’s better to take a high-risk, high-reward chance instead of a high-risk, low-reward one.

Play the Matchups

Do not be afraid to play the matchups. For example, if you have a DB going against a mistake-prone QB, plug him in. If you have a defensive lineman going against a terrible offensive line, play him. IDP scoring is just as variable as position players from traditional fantasy football leagues.

Don’t be afraid to play the matchups, even if it means benching a slightly better player for an improved situation. Just don’t go crazy and start benching great players; this rule applies to mid-level and lower-level players only.

Draft Your Offense First

When should you start drafting IDPs? Well, the scoring system is the key here. 

Sometimes, that top-tier LB can put up stats like an above-average RB or WR. There are certain times when you can reach for an elite talent. However, in general, you should try to fill out at least your starting offensive lineup before you begin drafting your defensive players. 

My rule is not to be the first team to draft an IDP position. I’ll address the position once a defensive lineman or two are drafted. Once a linebacker is drafted, I’ll take mine. 

But you shouldn’t be drafting your third or fourth defensive player when you have only two WRs. Not unless the IDP scoring is double what the offense produces!

Defensive players hold value and can greatly impact a fantasy matchup. Still, be patient and wait until you’re confident with your offensive depth before you get deep into your defense.

IDP Drafting by Position

Defensive Linemen

Linemen are like the RBs of defense: There are a few elite guys, and then there’s a major drop-off. Try to get one elite lineman. The position is surprisingly volatile year to year, but those top guys are the most reliable.

If your league is broken down into starters split between defensive ends and tackles, DEs are much more valuable, with few exceptions. You’re in great shape if you can get a DL who tackles often. 

However, you will most likely have to depend on sacks and forced fumbles most of the time, and that’s where the big scoring will be derived. 

Being patient with defensive linemen as they score in bunches can be very difficult. After a slow month, they might explode with a four-sack game.


LBs are the major point-earners on defense. They are like the PPR WRs: While they hold great value, there are many of them. 

Unlike at DE, you can wait until draft day to get a great LB. At this position, you really want to focus on high-volume tacklers, as they are much more valuable than the pass-rushing outside linebacker hybrids.

If you can roster several inside linebackers, they are much more valuable and consistent than defensive ends with LB designations. Your best bet is grabbing a tackle-happy inside linebacker who will get you points weekly with an occasional big play.

Defensive Backs

DBs should be the last position filled in most cases. On offense, they would be comparable to TEs: They usually don’t consistently put up huge points outside the top two tiers at safety. 

There may be five top-tier defensive backs in any given season, and predicting them before the season can give you a major advantage. Except for a few elite CBs, safeties hold far more value. Safeties tend to make many more tackles and do enough to accumulate big-play points.

The biggest mistake people make when drafting DBs is depending on top CBs to get the most points. This is because we usually know the names of the best cover corners in the NFL, but they aren’t necessarily the best fantasy option.

Shutdown corners do not equate to major fantasy points. The best corners aren’t thrown at as much, so they have few chances to make stops and score points. 

They’re usually decent in scoring because they are just that good; however, you do not get points for locking down a WR and forcing the QB to throw to the other side of the field. A defensive back gets more points if he gives up a bunch of receptions and then tackles the receiver. 

Safeties who make a lot of tackles are your best bet at this position.

IDP Conclusions

What makes a good IDP league is an informed league and commissioner. Don’t be afraid to tweak the scoring settings yearly to strike the right balance. 

Do you think defensive tackles should score more points (since almost all of them don’t score much)? Consider adding a couple of scoring modifiers to their position, like you might see in a TE-premium league. So instead of 1.5 pts for a tackle, maybe a DT tackle counts for 2 pts, or their sacks count for 5 pts, etc. Do you think DBs should get a boost? Increase points for passes defended or add INT yardage.

The ability to stay flexible and attentive to your league-mates is important. This doesn’t mean you wildly increase or decrease the value of a position every year. That would be unfair and could appear as favoritism toward your team. Discuss a fractional point change with your league that can nudge a position and the league in a healthier direction. In the end, like any league, the idea is to have fun and challenge yourself, so always embrace that attitude!

Got more takes on IDP Draft Strategy? Drop some knowledge in the comments below and then make sure to check out our 2024 Fantasy Football Draft Kit for more great rankings and analysis.

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