Why Play in an IDP League?
IDP is still relegated to the dark corners of the fantasy football world. Should you give it a try?
Millions of people play fantasy football. Along with Sunday Ticket, gambling, and the Red Zone channel, fantasy football has played a huge role in fueling the NFL's explosive growth. It's now expected that you'll be asked to join leagues at work, church, and in your family when each new season rolls around. But for how mainstream this once "nerdy" hobby has gotten, there's still one corner of the fantasy football universe that holds the "diehard geek" distinction: IDP.
For those unfamiliar with this term, an IDP league uses "individual defensive players." In an IDP league, instead of drafting a team defense, you draft guys like Bobby Wagner and Myles Garrett instead. Some leagues might still use a team defense in conjunction with IDP players, but most do one or the other.
The number of IDP players on each roster varies by league, but the most hardcore IDP leagues (like the one I'm in with my co-hosts Adam and Bobby) start 11 IDP players, same number as the offense. The league we're in together (The XFFL) has contracts, IR, a salary cap, and multi-year contracts to manage. It's another topic for another (much longer) article.
The point of this article is to explain what in the world compels someone to dive into the defensive side of the ball when playing fantasy? Isn't it enough to obsess over the offensive players? Sure, but only if you want to play an inferior form of fantasy football. Jumping into an IDP league for the first time is like eating steak after only eating bologna your whole life—you'll never want to go back.
IDP leagues provide an additional challenge, make you a smarter fantasy football player, and increase your enjoyment of watching NFL games. Let's dig into each of these advantages a little more to see if playing in an IDP league is right for you.
Provides an additional challenge
When do you usually take your team defense during your fantasy drafts? The only acceptable answer is "the last or second to last round" (if you grab kicker before defense). That's because most players stream defense throughout the season. It's essentially a throwaway position, which is why many leagues have moved away from defense and kickers altogether and added additional flex positions.
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When you shift away from a team defense setup and go with IDP, you can't mail it in when selecting defensive players. You have to pay attention to your scoring to know if it's a "tackle heavy" league (LBs are king) or a "big play league" that rewards sacks, tackles for loss (TFL), and interceptions (i.e. big plays), because that's where DE and S can be more valuable. You have to think about roster construction. A good IDP league will start at least 2 DL, 2 LB, 2 DB, and a flex. Do you stock your bench with LBs, DLs, or DBs once you fill out your starting lineup? Do you grab the best available guys, stock up on one position, or spread the love between all three groups? Again, it all depends on your scoring, where you want depth, and how your league mates have drafted.
When I first started playing IDP in 2015, I had no idea what I was doing. Were safeties more valuable than defensive tackles? Who were the best linebackers? Did anybody have a clue when it came to selecting cornerbacks? When you start playing IDP, you will feel overwhelmed—and that's the point. You're opening yourself up to a new side of the ball that you'd previously pushed aside until the end of your draft. You will take your lumps, make terrible draft picks, drop good guys, pick up guys that suck, and generally make a fool of yourself. But guess what? You'll learn, you'll get better, and slowly but surely, your IDP prowess will improve.
This brings up an important point: if you're not willing to put in the work to get better at IDP, stick to a league with team defenses. IDP is a challenge. It will kick your butt, but in the best sort of way. You'll become obsessed with improving your ability to spot up-and-coming talent and make those critical start/sit decisions each week.
You know, all the stuff you got better at the longer you played in an offensive league. With IDP, you're learning how to walk again when it comes to fantasy football. Stick with it, though, and you'll be running before long.
Makes you a smarter fantasy football player
Unless you play in a weird fantasy football league that's only IDP players, you have to decipher where IDP guys fall in relation to offensive guys in preparation for your draft. Not only that, you have to develop a sense of how you value IDP players in relation to offensive guys so you don't get wiped out during a trade where you sent away an LB3 for a RB2. You're already working out where guys fall in your head in an offensive league; adding the IDP wrinkle makes those mental calculations more strenuous. And just like lifting weights, the more mental reps you do at a higher weight, the smarter you become as a fantasy football player.
I've seen this firsthand over the past four years. Trades without IDP players involved? No problem! That feels like simple addition after doing advanced calculus. We tend to get lazy when it comes to valuing players and making trades in offensive leagues, in large part because we have trade calculators to fall back on. I like these calculators as a tool to make sure I'm not dreaming up a nonsense trade scenario, but they're just a tool. They're not gospel, and yet many fantasy players treat them as such. Well, guess what?
IDP trade calculators are few and far between. The ones that exist are behind a paywall. To figure out if a trade involving offense and defense (plus maybe even draft picks) is worth it, you've got to make that call.
You know what that means? You've got to level up as a fantasy player!
In an IDP league, if you operate with the same mindset you use in a redraft league, you're going to get steamrolled. You'll be the guy swapping Saquon Barkley for Darius Leonard and thinking it was a great deal because both guys are tops at their position. The only thing certain is a 2-11 finish is headed your way.
You could argue that playing in an IDP league is the biggest cheat code you can have when gamifying the passive activity of watching NFL games.
Not everyone plays fantasy football to level up in the way we typically think about with competitive hobbies. Some people use it as a means of escapism, a way to increase their excitement while watching games, or a unifying force for their friends, family, workplace, church, etc. When the season is over, they check out until August rolls around and drafts start back up. There is nothing wrong with being a casual fantasy player.
Again, IDP leagues aren't for everyone. But if you like the idea of leveling up, keep reading.
Increases your enjoyment of watching NFL games
I mentioned this benefit of fantasy football a moment ago. Aside from gambling, nothing makes NFL games more exciting than having fantasy players going for you in those games. It gives you a rooting interest beyond your favorite team. To be honest, this is probably the main appeal of all fantasy sports. Yes, even more so than money. It's why you see so many people playing in leagues with zero financial reward for the winner.
Simply put: fantasy football makes watching football WAY more fun.
Now imagine you weren't just limiting that heightened enjoyment to one side of the football. What if you could cheer for a team's players regardless of whether their offense or defense was on the field? What if your fantasy league made you better at picking games (if you're a gambler) or picking offensive guys (if you like daily fantasy) because you knew about the opposing team's defense? Wouldn't that be awesome?
That's the reality when you play IDP. You'll be cheering no matter who's on the field, and your sense of picking matchups and daily plays will improve dramatically. In fact, you could argue that playing in an IDP league is the biggest cheat code you can have when gamifying the passive activity of watching NFL games. It's a wonder to me (and my co-hosts) that more big name analysts don't dive into IDP. You think Evan Silva or JJ Zachariason are smart now? Just imagine what they could do if they set their sights on dominating the IDP world.
Added enjoyment and an advantage in other NFL-related pursuits is available to you... if you want it.
So, Who Should Play in an IDP League?
Let's bottom line this thing. You're asking, "Josh, who should play in an IDP league?"
My answer is: someone who is a serious fantasy football player and wants a deeper challenge than what they're being offered in their offense-dominated leagues. That's it. If you're ready to level up your fantasy football prowess—not to mention your enjoyment of fantasy and the NFL—then it's time you tried out an IDP league.