Who will emerge as IDP stars in 2009?
NFL, oh how I've missed you. Now that our favorite game has finally commenced a new campaign, it's an appropriate time to get back to analyzing this nerdy little subculture of ours: the realm of the individual defensive player (IDP).
In this third season of the column, we've decided to adjust the format to better meet the needs and interests of the IDP manager. Many of you have requested weekly rankings for defenders, and we'll offer that this season. Given that specific IDP questions are rarely voiced in general mailbags and chats, we'll also post a weekly mailbag that focuses on defenders. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with your queries.
Whether you're a veteran IDP loyalist or just joining us for your first season, you'll find that you can enjoy significant margins over your opponents if you can successfully maximize the production of your defensive roster.
The Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
• The 3-4 strikes again: The Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos all invested in new coordinators with an eye toward overhauling their unbalanced defenses. As the cool kids seem to be doing these days, these teams are switching to 3-4 defenses. The undeniable success of athletic "tweeners" like DeMarcus Ware, Joey Porter and James Harrison from the outside linebacker positions in their respective 3-4 schemes should compel IDP managers to target new converts Aaron Kampman, Tamba Hali and Elvis Dumervil, with Kampman boasting elite potential.
• Notable new coordinators: For good reason, the New Orleans Saints made bolstering their generous defense their top offseason priority. Guru Greg Williams is the new defensive czar for the Saints, and while it could take some time for the plethora of new additions to jell, it should be a much more IDP-friendly team than in previous seasons. In-house hire Bill Sheridan takes over an already imposing New York Giants defense that added $88 million in talent. Not much changes in the Meadowlands, other than more blitzing from the linebackers, given their investment in Michael Boley. Jim Bates is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' first new defensive coordinator since they rocked the burnt-orange unis, but little should change in his Monte Kiffin-like system.
• Safety issues: Among the most important positions in this format, a number of top fantasy safeties are on new teams, in new schemes or battling early injuries. A 2008 fantasy stalwart, Bernard Pollard, was outright released by the Kansas City Chiefs because of his lack of coverage skills. Ex-Chicago Bear Mike Brown takes his spot and has some upside despite his lack of durability, while Pollard might just be headed to the Bears, in time, as their secondary depth is once again thinner than prosciutto. The Bucs' Jermaine Phillips successfully made the arduous switch from safety to outside linebacker this offseason, only to be switched back to safety at the last second. Is Brett Favre the new defensive backs coach in Tampa? Bob Sanders can likely be had at a discount thanks to his lingering knee problems. The fact that the team didn't place him on the dreaded PUP list makes him worth rostering if you can stash him on your bench.
• Scarcity of trusted defensive ends: With several more teams employing the 3-4, it means fewer traditional pass-rushing defensive ends are eligible for our fantasy teams. If you failed to draft a stable of stud defensive ends for this season, keep an eye out for some solid young sleepers like Cliff Avril, Brian Orakpo and Mark Anderson.
IDP Rankings Week 1: Top 10 linebackers, linemen and defensive backs
So that we're working from agreed parameters, we'll use what many consider to be traditional scoring modifiers for an IDP league:
Tackle - solo (1), Tackle - assist (0.5), sack (3), interception (3), forced fumble (3), fumble recovery (3), touchdown (6), safety (2), pass defended (1), blocked kick (2)
Bargain Bin: Worthy defenders available in more than half of ESPN leagues
If not for missing much of 2008 to injury, beastly middle linebacker E.J. Henderson would be owned in far more than 49 percent of ESPN defensive leagues. The Miami Dolphins' Yeremiah Bell is a tackle machine from the safety position and should do well facing the Atlanta Falcons' capable offense. The aforementioned Kerney has battled injuries since joining the Seattle Seahawks and will see his ownership rapidly rise as he enjoys a favorable early schedule. The New York Jets' David Harris just missed our top 10 linebackers for this week and will thrive under new coach Rex Ryan. Gaines Adams has breakout potential in a Tampa Bay Buccaneers system that relies on pressure from the ends. It's almost criminal how undervalued Chad Greenway, Joey Porter and Bart Scott are. Please fix this.
Jim McCormick is an IDP and fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com, as well as the editor and publisher of BLITZ Magazine, a print and online publication covering football from prep to pro. Contact email@example.com with all of your IDP concerns.