For fantasy owners that are bored of the typical 12-team, standard scoring fantasy football leagues, there are plenty of different league formats to try. One of that is becoming more popular, and my personal favorite, are leagues that incorporate Individual Defensive Players (IDPs). Instead of focusing strictly on one side of the ball, it requires owners to become familiar with the defensive side of the ball.
Here is a quick IDP primer. Players that produce a high amount of tackles are usually very valuable. Those players tend to be linebackers. Players that rely on turnovers and sacks, primarily defensive ends and defensive backs, can be inconsistent (except the freakishly athletic J.J. Watt who can seemingly do anything on the field). Knowing your league’s defensive scoring rules before going into the fantasy draft is crucial, and IDP scoring does tend to vary more from league to league than offensive scoring.
Knowing an NFL team’s defensive scheme (3-4 or 4-3) will help guide which positions should be getting more tackles, linebackers or defensive linemen. Teams with weak offenses will obviously have their defense on the field much more, which translates to more fantasy points. Matchups are key assessing which teams give up more points on average to opposing DL, LB and DBs.
As for rookies, some step right into an ideal situation due to lack of competition at their position. Some have to prove themselves before earning a starting gig, or a spot that has the opportunity to produce good defensive stats and fantasy numbers. Here are my Top 10 Rookie Defensive Players, for fantasy football, for the 2015 season:
1. LB Eric Kendricks, Vikings
Talk about an amazing landing spot for linebacker Eric Kendricks with the Minnesota Vikings. Kendricks should slide right into the middle linebacker position and play alongside veteran Chad Greenway and former college teammate Anthony Barr. Although a bit on the short end for a linebacker (6’0”), Kendricks makes up for it by being very athletic and a tackling machine. He is great in pass coverage and should immediately start as a three-down player. Kendricks is clearly the best IDP rookie prospect given his situation.
2. LB Stephone Anthony, Saints
The New Orleans Saints definitely needed to improve their defense and they took a giant step in the right direction by drafting Stephone Anthony. Anthony, like Kendricks, is very athletic and a great tackler. Although Anthony has struggled a bit in pass protection, he is great against the run. With minimal competition at linebacker, Anthony should start Day One and get plenty of opportunity for tackles.
3. LB Benardrick McKinney, Texans
The Houston Texans cannot seem to catch a break with linebackers. They either get hurt or continue to underperform. Benardrick McKinney is next up for the Texans as he should start immediately and make a name for himself on an already impressive defense. McKinney is an excellent pass rusher and run defender, but struggles in pass coverage, which may limit him early. With his physical play and persistence, McKinney will impress the defensive staff and his fantasy owners.
4. DE/LB Vic Beasley, Falcons
It is yet to be seen where Vic Beasley will play for the Atlanta Falcons, but either way, the Falcons need help on the defensive side of the ball. His best fit is at defensive end where he is a nightmare for opposing offensive linemen. He excels at the pass rush and he could push for 10+ sacks his rookie season, but he needs to improve his play at stopping the run. Beasley has great talent and is full of energy, so he should instantly improve the Falcons defense. Fantasy owners make sure to lobby for Beasley to be considered a defensive lineman in your league.
5. LB Denzel Perryman, Chargers
With Manti Te’o underwhelming in 2014, Denzel Perryman has the opportunity to step in immediately and prove he is a Day One starter for the San Diego Chargers. Perryman has the upside to be a three-down linebacker and a tone-setter, which is greatly missed in defenses around the league nowadays. Perryman is light on his feet proving he can move well side to side. With only Te’o standing in his way, it will not be long until Perryman is starting for the Chargers and he could hold onto that job for many years.
6. LB Jake Ryan, Packers
It is still unknown if veteran Clay Matthews will stay at linebacker (as the Green Bay Packers experimented with in 2014) or go back to defensive end. However, either way, he is a force to be reckoned with. Jake Ryan will immediately make an impact for the Packers. A Mid-Western native, Ryan is used to playing tough. He is a great tackler and athletic enough to play any linebacker position for the Packers. With no competition for a starting position, Ryan has a fantastic opportunity ahead of him for an elite team. He has sleeper appeal written all over him for IDP leagues.
7. LB Shaq Thompson, Panthers
Shaq Thompson is a great athlete and a turnover-forcing machine. Unfortunately, IDP owners may have to be patient with Thompson as he lands with the Carolina Panthers who already have elite linebackers in Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. With the addition of Thompson, that makes the Panthers’ linebacker corps one of the best in the league. Given Thompson’s athleticism, the Panthers will find a way to get him on the field, likely in a third-down role as he is a great pass defender. Give him some time to work his way into the defense and he will be a stud.
8. DE/LB Randy Gregory, Cowboys
Going into the 2014 season, all the talk surrounding the Dallas Cowboys was how bad their defense would be due to injuries and lack of depth. Well, they held their own and impressed the skeptics. For 2015, they added some defensive line depth by drafting Randy Gregory. Gregory is a small defensive end at 235 pounds, but is a great athlete. He has an opportunity to play opposite recently acquired Greg Hardy (once he comes back from suspension). Given his lack in size, Gregory has some room to improve, but has a bright future ahead of him on team that always seems to be in the spotlight.
9. S Landon Collins, Giants
The New York Giants defense had some huge holes in 2014. To start plugging them up, they drafted safety Landon Collins. Yes, defensive backs in IDP leagues are easy to find. However, defensive backs that play in the box and put up linebacker-type tackles are rare, and that is exactly what Collins is. He will instantly help the Giants. He is not a great pass defender, but that didn’t stop Bernard Pollard from consistently producing top 10 defensive back performances by racking up tackles. Expect Collins to do the same and become a top defensive back for fantasy.
10. OLB Preston Smith, Redskins
The Washington Redskins have a sneaky good linebacker corps. With the addition of Preston Smith, he joins Keenan Robinson, Ryan Kerrigan, and Perry Riley Jr. Smith should make an immediate impact as he is a natural defender. He might not rack up the tackles next to those other linebackers, but he will be a “big play” stopper. It will take some time for him to become fantasy relevant week in and week out, but he is a great stash for deep IDP leagues.
Two More To Monitor
DL Leonard Williams, Jets
Easily the best defensive linemen and arguably the best all-around player in the 2015 NFL Draft, Leonard Williams was taken by the New York Jets. Unfortunately for Williams, the Jets already have two really great defensive linemen in Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson. Williams’ best chance for year one success is via a rotation. However, Williams is the next man up for the Jets and has incredible talent, so consider him a longer-term quality stash even if he doesn’t produce immediately.
OLB Alvin “Bud” Dupree, Steelers
A team that is desperate for a pass rusher, the Pittsburgh Steelers went with Bud Dupree in the 2015 NFL Draft. Dupree still needs time to develop his game, but given the Steelers history developing outside linebackers, Dupree is in the right place to learn and become very good. He could eventually become a good fantasy option, but will rely more heavily on sacks, so factor that into his value for your IDP leagues.