Simplifying IDP:Targeting The Men In The Middle
As every experienced IDP player knows there are a lot more intricacies and nuances regarding defensive positions than there are on the offensive side of the ball. Things such as schemes, rotations, defensive co-coordinators, quality of a teams offense, percentage played in positive or negative game scripts, positional designation changes, and even bias stat crews. So whenever possible it's nice to try and simplify things on the defensive side to a certain degree.
One way I found to do so as it pertains to linebackers is to target inside linebackers and depending on the defensive scheme focusing on middle linebackers. I am a firm believer that talent nearly always trumps situation and the cream will rise to the top, but when it comes to linebackers this may not always be the case. A player with mediocre talent level playing middle linebacker is almost certain to outperform a superior talent playing on the strong side statistically speaking.
Now granted every leagues scoring system is unique, whether your league is tackle heavy, sack heavy, DT or CB premium, the most prevalent way of scoring points is always going to be accumulating tackles and the position that makes the majority of those tackles is linebacker. So regardless of how they are scored in your league chances are the guys making the majority of the tackles are scoring the most points. Last season twenty four of the top thirty six (66.6%) linebacker tackle leaders were listed on their teams official depth chart as either an inside or middle linebacker. With one third of the linebacker tackle leaders playing on the outside, there are definitely some viable options at outside or weak side linebacker. Guys like Sean Lee, Telvin Smith, KJ Wright, and Thomas Davis, have been among the league leaders in tackles despite playing the majority of their snaps at weak side or as outside linebackers.
Traditionally strong side linebackers and the outside linebackers playing in a 3-4 scheme will have significantly lower tackle numbers due to pass rushing duties. Honestly its not overly complicated as to why the linebackers playing on the inside of a defensive formation rack up the tackles. The vast majority of run plays occur between the numbers, so essentially the running backs are almost always running in the vicinity of the inside linebackers.
Another very simple but beneficial stat or number to familiarize yourself with as an IDP owner is snaps played. Similarly to what I discussed earlier in regards to talent almost always being more important than situation, this can be another example of talent not always winning out. A player can have all the talent in the world but if he isn't on the field he can't be accumulating fantasy points for your squad. The magic number that IDP owners look for is 1000 snaps played, if an inside linebacker reaches the 1000 snap mark they are most likely to flirt with 100 solo tackles regardless of talent or efficiency. To put it in perspective only twenty linebackers played 1000 snaps last season, well actually only 18 but two of them were just under so I included them as well. Of them 20 linebackers that played 1000 snaps 19 of them made the top 45 in total linebacker tackles. Only Anthony Barr who is an outside linebacker and had a down season, didn't crack the top 45. Tahir Whitehead is a prime example of situation over talent as he graded out as one of the lowest graded inside linebackers according to PFF while putting up 99 solo tackles in 998 snaps. Myles Jack and Stephone Anthony are a perfect example of talented recent first round draft picks being unable to put up stats due to the simple fact of being stuck on the bench.
Obviously nothing about IDP is simple and easy, but if you can manage to stack as many 1000 snap inside linebackers as possible setting your lineup will be significantly easier. I like to use the 3:1 rule with linebackers when setting my lineup, meaning using a 3:1 inside to outside linebacker ratio when setting your lineup. Its perfectly acceptable to use a pass rushing outside linebacker in yourstarting lineup for the upside of sack and tackle for a loss points if you have several tackle machine inside linebackers in your lineup as well to off shoot the possibility of a low tackle, no sack game from your outside linebacker.