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Building a Better Defense Without a Stud
Tom Nadratowski
July 12, 2004

Not long ago, David Dorey wrote an article called “Analyze your league using FLAG”. You may find this excellent article at The Huddle’s website and in chapter one of this book. The basic premise is that, after the few top players, the drop off between the top 10 and 20 isn’t all that dramatic (This is a gross generalization. Do yourself a favor and read it). After reading it, I realized that I had been using the rough idea it contains to build my IDP squads for years. I have managed it without having a regular stud on any of them. No Ray Lewis or Zach Thomas, and yet my defensive teams were usually among the best in each league. Reading the FLAG article made me question what it was I was doing, and why it was working. This article is the result of that search.

This article assumes the following starting lineup, in a 12 team league: 1 DL, 1 LB, 1 DB, 2 flex players. It also assumes that solo tackles are worth more than assists, and that all players get credit for sacks. The actual numbers aren’t important then, as long as we make this assumption, since nearly every scoring system has this assumption built into it.

When you use FLAG to graph out the defensive positions, you discover that what works for the offense works for the defense as well – after the few top studs at each position, the drop off between them all isn’t that dramatic. This works especially well with linebackers. Linebackers are the core of any fantasy IDP defense – they get the most tackles, and as many sacks as a lot of defensive lineman. And if your starting requirements allow you to start two flex players, almost invariably these will be linebackers as well. Some are likely to be defensive backs as well. So in a 12 team league, you are talking about 36 linebackers and 24 defensive backs. This amount is great, since it’s going to give you more options later.

What you have to keep in mind is that you are building the most complete team you can. If that means that one of the super studs like Ray Lewis or Zach Thomas is there, fantastic, but not if it means having one of them, but two other linebackers that aren’t contributing as well. Consistency is key, and all those tackles that linebackers get will give it to you.

The defensive line tends to be the most erratic scoring position in IDP leagues. This due to the fact that they get most of their points from sacks, and those occur in bunches. The drop off in scoring between the #1 and #12 defensive line was 6 points per game, and between #12 and #24 was only 2 points per game. Due to the ‘sack factor’, there isn’t much you can do to offset that among the other defensive line, other than doing your homework and trying to net the best players that you can. But where you can make that up is among the rest of your squad, the linebackers and defensive backs. We’ll look at linebackers first.

Look at the linebackers that fall between 12 and 36. They are all nearly identical in the terms of total tackles and average points per game (solo tackles and assists are scored separately though). In one league I am in, this drop off is a difference of a slight 3 points per game. This means that you can target any one of these players and have a reasonable expectation that they are going to perform as well for you – and you can get more of them on your team. Even better, if you are playing in a league that charges for free agent pickups (whether those charges are dollars or simoleons), those players can be had cheaply. And finally, since there are so many of them, your fellow owners can not prevent you from getting most of the ones you target.

When it comes time to choose one of these unlikely saviors for your squad, the best way to break a tie in favor of one player over another is to check and see which players are playing on teams that have a low Time of Possession for their offense. These players will then be on the field longer, giving you more opportunities for them to play above their average.

Another rich vein for you to mine is defensive backs. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen owners fixate on hogging linebackers while top defensive backs languish on the wire, scoring for no one. The FLAG theory works as well for them as it does for linebackers, since tackles tend to slow the rate of decline across both positions. In that same league, the per game difference between #12 and #24 was barely over a point. Yet, by seasons’ end, five of them were still sitting there on waivers, including the #11 guy! I have seen that number climb even more in less competitive leagues that my friends are in. So don’t be so keyed in on linebackers that you forget the defensive backs, since many times a guy in the secondary can equal the production of #10-20 linebacker. Watch your waivers during the season on the players that are getting the most tackles, since that is going to give you the most consistency. The same tie breaker that you used for linebackers works here as well – get the players on teams that are on the field a lot.

Keep your goal focused on building the best squad you can field, and these tips will not fail you. Don’t be discouraged, if, on draft day, you can’t get one of the stud linebackers. Because you can make your team overall be a stud, if you execute this strategy properly!