How to Structure Your IDP Fantasy Football League

Do you prefer your defense to be steady contributors, or do you like to live on high upside plays? IDP scoring helps determine that.

I’ve spoken about my love of cooking before -– mainly with the soups and stews genre -– but I also enjoy baking. One of my favorite baked goods to create is a pie, which requires an understanding of not only how to form the perfect crust to hold all of the goodness inside, but which fruits’ flavors work well together in the middle. It’s a heterogeneous, complicated mess, unlike a cake; you just pour the batter into a pan and bake it.

Baking the perfect pie is hard.

In the same way, building a strong fantasy football league is sometimes tough if you don’t have a good recipe to follow, and some options with which to personalize it. For those of you just starting out in the Individual Defensive Players (IDP) format, this can seem like the instructions are all written in a foreign language.

Fortunately, we’ve already shown you how to make the “crust” for your IDP leagues –- by checking in on how defensive schemes affect IDP value –- and we have provided you with some fillings options, in our annual Draft Kit. But which flavors mix well? How much should you fill the pie up? How long do you bake it?

These questions -– in my mind -– relate to how to structure your IDP league. Whether it’s a dynasty or redraft, whether you dabble in IDP or dive in headfirst, we’ll look at how roster construction and scoring system affect your IDP fantasy football league.

Scoring Systems

Finding the right scoring system for your IDP league is all about knowing what you and your leaguemates value in your play. Do you want your IDP to have a similar momentum-shifting value in your league as they do in the NFL, or do you want consistency on a weekly basis, with little room for big swings or surprises? This largely comes down to how you structure your scoring system.

There are three general scoring systems for IDP: big-play, balanced, and tackle-heavy. Each of these has many variations, but we’ll work with the consensus “standard” scoring systems within each of these to compare how they look on players. The way we can distinguish a league’s scoring system is generally by looking at the ratio of sack points to tackle points, and the tipping point is about 3:1.

If a league has a ratio of lower than 3:1 sack-to-tackle (say, sacks are worth two points, tackles are one; sacks are worth four, tackles are worth two; etc.), we call it tackle-heavy. This means that the bulk value of an IDP will be based on their consistent and steady tackle opportunities, as opposed to their turnovers and other big plays. The standard tackle-heavy league we will examine uses a value of two points per tackle to four per sack, four per interception, and four total per fumble forced/recovery. We’ll see how this compares when overlaid onto the player stats shortly.

If a league has a ratio of greater than 3:1 sack-to-tackle, we call it a big-play league. This means that game-changing turnovers and momentum-shifting sacks are the currency in this league. The standard big-play scoring format is one point per tackle, four per sack, six per interception, and six total per fumble forced/recovery.

When a league has just around a 3:1 sack-to-tackle ratio, we call that balanced scoring. Our balanced leagues use a one point per tackle, three point per sack, six per interception, and four total per fumble forced/recovery system.

So, how does this affect the outcome of a player’s score?

Positional Value by Scoring System

Since it’s hard to compare the total points that each player earns in these different scoring systems and make a fair assessment of the use of these in that way, we will compare the scoring systems a different way. The tables below show the number of players at each position who were startable more than 60% of the time in 2014, the number who were elite more than 20% of the time, and the average standard deviation for those players, across all three scoring systems.

For our purposes, “startable” means ranking in the top 16 defensive tackles, top 32 defensive ends, cornerbacks, and safeties, and top 64 linebackers in a given week, and “elite” means the top 10% of startable players at a position. Standard deviation is simply a measure of weekly variance in scores; essentially, how close to their average they stayed.

The first comparison will be for the defensive linemen. What do we find in the difference between tackle-heavy, balanced, and big-play?

DE ScoringElite%Start%Avg. SDev

What we would expect from the difference in scoring is a low standard deviation for tackle-heavy, high elite potential for big-play, and a split between the two for balanced. In actuality, this is fairly accurate at the defensive line (defensive ends and defensive tackles). Tackle-heavy makes it possible for a lot more of them to be startable options, giving those who aren’t necessarily sack artists – such as William Gholston or Kyle Williams –- a chance to be considered in your weekly lineup. Tackle-Heavy, however, also has the highest number of consistently elite players, meaning that this is one of the most stable scoring systems. This is good when you want to get the expected value out of your top players, but bad for any sort of “underdog” stories to emerge.

The big-play format shows the least top-end consistency of the three, but this can be a boon for you if you enjoy the heroics of a big interception swinging a week, or a forced fumble changing fortunes. These players are slightly less consistent, but it’s important to note that all three formats have about 31 defensive linemen who were startable 50% of the time in 2014. Scoring mostly changes the extremes; the lower end roster-fillers have a better chance for upside in big-play leagues, but the high-end are less stable too.

The two tables below will show the linebackers and combined defensive backs in this same way. Will we see the same effect?

LB ScoringElite%Start%Avg. SDev

DB ScoringElite%Start%Avg. SDev

We can see from all of these data that tackle-heavy, as expected, just provides so much consistency for your top options, whereas big-play allows for anyone to make an impact on the league. This means that in a tackle-heavy league, you will want to make the elite options at a position a priority, because the lower-end ones will not have nearly as much a chance to break into the top tiers of points in any given week.

Big-play allows a little more flexibility. You can take highly consistent but lower-ceilinged players like Luke Kuechly, or you can risk big-time boom/bust options like Elvis Dumervil. Both have usefulness, but it all depends on how you shape your team and build your roster.

Speaking of roster construction, how does that structure influence IDP leagues?

The IDP Roster and Starting Lineup

We come back to the very fundamental idea that there is no right way to build a league; the only important thing is what values you want it to reflect. With roster construction and starting lineups, it becomes less about relating scoring or even IDP positions to themselves. A bigger question is: do you want your IDP to be valued as much as your offensive players, or should they be supporting characters?

You can build a league with unit headings (defensive line, linebacker, defensive back) or for a greater challenge, use defensive tackle-specific or cornerback-specific. If you do use full units instead of position-specific, you will likely still prefer defensive ends over defensive tackles for your defensive line spots and safeties over cornerbacks for your defensive back slots. These positions, due to scoring opportunities, have both a higher upside and a higher floor in fantasy production.

As far as the number in your starting lineup, I always recommend and prefer more immersion in IDP. I play in many leagues that use full IDP starting lineups (three to four defensive linemen, three to four linebackers, and four defensive backs; eleven total). Some prefer to just dabble, starting one player at each position. A healthy middle ground for new leagues is seven total: two defensive linemen, three linebackers, and two defensive backs. Since it’s a little harder to find consistently startable defensive linemen and defensive backs, these two have slightly fewer required starters.

One other guideline: when putting in total roster spots and considering IDP, I like to assume that IDP will take up a percentage of my total roster that they do to my starting lineup. Say I have nine offensive starters and seven IDP; if I was planning on a twenty-man roster just for offense (2.22 times the offensive starters), then I should probably add fifteen extra total roster spots to account for the IDP (2.22 times the IDP starters).

Hopefully this helps you begin to structure your IDP leagues, or read the framework of your existing leagues. Once you crack the crust of this delicious fantasy pie, the rich flavors will tempt you even more, and it will be so rewarding.