While it pales in comparison to the popularity of a traditional fantasy football league, individual defensive player, or IDP, leagues offer team owners a chance to learn the about the NFL and football from an entirely different perspective.
For good reason, most game highlights center around the top offensive plays like 50-yard touchdown bombs from Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson, or a juke followed by a 35-yard touchdown sprint down the sideline by running back Adrian Peterson.
A linebacker like Carolina’s Luke Kuechly or Seattle defensive back Earl Thomas are lucky to make a highlight reel if they come up with a big hit or force a turnover, and most times we forget the impact defensive players have on the game.
So for the last few years IDP fantasy leagues have made up for this. There are some leagues and fantasy sports providers that are strictly devoted to building the defensive monoliths, with teams selecting every position from defensive lineman to safeties and playing head-to-head or rotisserie just like every other league. Tackles, sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles etc. are scored just the same as yards and touchdowns. That might seem a bit extreme to some, so most leagues have allotted one to two roster spots for a defensive player.
For those who have made the full-time or part-time switch to IDP leagues, check out some sleeper picks that could provide excellent value throughout the upcoming season. Guys like Kuechly, Thomas and Houston’s J.J. Watt will be the first ones to go, and while all three are stellar players, no owner wins their league with just one guy.
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Danny Trevathan, Denver Broncos (2013: 129 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 10 passes defended)
The soundest and most used IDP strategy relies heavily on consistent linebackers, since every year they rack up the most tackles. Last season, of the top 30 tacklers in the NFL all but two were linebackers.
Denver’s Trevathan was 11th in the league with 129 combined tackles, and his 10 passes defended and four forced fumbles make him a reliable pick in the second to fourth round, depending on your league. He helps in every category except for sacks, but you can find a defensive end to help you there.
Daryl Smith, Baltimore Ravens (123 tackles, 5.0 sacks, 18 passes defended)
In his first season with Baltimore last year, Smith did most of his damage against the pass and he worked best as a help defender, coming up with a career-high 66 assists. His 5.0 sacks are also a huge plus, and paired with the right d-end Smith represents excellent value later in drafts. In a single-IDP-player league Smith could be your third to last pick in the draft and give you plenty in return.
Alec Ogletree, St. Louis Rams (117 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 9 passes defended, 1 interception)
Amongst a very deep and pass rusher heavy Rams defense, Ogletree’s stellar rookie season kind of went unnoticed last year. He should put up triple-digit tackle numbers again but his real value lies in forced fumbles. Ogletree was tied for third last season with six forced fumbles, recovering two.
Curtis Lofton, New Orleans Saints (125 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 4 passes defended)
Another reliable veteran is Smith. He’s racked up 100-plus tackles every year since 2009 and hasn’t missed a single game. Fantasy Pros has him ranked as the 19 th best linebacker this season, but he will outperform that ranking by Week Eight.
Justin Tuck, DE, Oakland Raiders (63 tackles, 11.0 sacks)
The New York Giants chose not to re-sign Tuck, and his age (31) and asking price were both too high for their future plans. However Tuck was extraordinary for an inconsistent Giants defense last year, and was one sack shy of tying his career-mark. Some will say Tuck played that well because he was in a contract year, and they’re likely right. But Tuck will really benefit with fellow Raiders Lamarr Woodley and rookie Khalil Mack helping him rush the passer in Oakland.
Brian Robison, DE, Minnesota Vikings (37 tackles, 9.0 sacks, 3 passes defended)
Robison came up with a career-high 9.0 sacks, and was one of the few bright spots for the Vikings defense last season. He’s also durable, missing one game in the last three years, and just two total since he entered the league in 2007. With Jared Allen leaving the Vikings as well, Robison could have a much bigger role.
Kyle Williams, DT, Buffalo Bills (68 tackle, 10.5 sacks)
DTs rarely rack up high numbers, and there’s really only a few top options for owners. Williams is a solid choice, coming off his best season yet with 10.5 sacks and a fumble recovery.
Kam Chancellor, S, Seattle Seahawks (99 tackles, 3 INTs, 12 passes defended)
Some time he’s forgotten with Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas also in the secondary, but Chancellor emerged as one of the best at his position last year with 99 tackles and an excellent 12 passes defended. He could blow up even more this year with defenses scared to throw at Sherman or Thomas.
Lardarius Webb, CB, Baltimore Ravens (74 tackles, 22 passes defended, 2 INTs)
It’s highly unlikely that Webb repeats as the best pass swatter in the league this year, notching 22 in 2013. Still the sixth year veteran is in his prime, and is arguably the best d-back in the Ravens secondary. Fantasy Pros has him rated as the eighth best corner in the league, which is about right, but that just makes Webb a steal in the 12th to 13th round.
Jonathan Cyprien, SS, Jacksonville Jaguars (104 tackles, 1 INT, 6 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles)
Plagued by an eight-game losing streak to start 2013, the Jags had the 26th ranked pass defense in the league but came on in the second half and improved. Much of the credit goes to Cyprien. Then a rookie he was second on the team in tackles, fourth in passes defended, and tied for first in forced fumbles. Assuming he makes strides this season, Cyprien could lead your secondary for the next half-decade if you’re in a dynasty league.