Hello everyone and welcome back to part 2 of my positional analysis for MDL5 where I will be discussing the defensive positions. While I will be talking specifically about salaries in MDL5, these principles can be applied to any of the other MDL leagues and any other league with similar rules. IDPs are a tricky animal when it comes to fantasy and how much of your precious cap space you should devote to them. They are just as important as your offensive studs, however, and stacking up on offensive talent while neglecting your defense will leave you in a lot of trouble.
I had never played in any leagues with IDPs before joining the world of MDL last year, so 2015 was a bit of a trial by fire for me. I examined playoff rosters and saw how they were put together and used that to formulate some strategies, but there really is no way to learn until you build a lineup of defensive players for yourself. Anyone new to the world of IDPs should know that there are a lot of growing pains to adjusting to a league that suddenly requires that you start 11 defensive players. You will make mistakes, and that’s okay. It’s how you rebound from those mistakes that determine whether or not you are a contender. One major note that I will say before I get started with DTs is that big name players are not necessarily fantasy relevant. One thing that is required to be fantasy relevant Is for the players to be around the ball, and some of the best defensive players in the league are so good that the ball rarely comes near them, and in those cases, there aren’t many points to be had. So don’t just see a big name and think you have to spend up to get him, because shutdown corners such as Richard Sherman are no better than middle of the pack for fantasy purposes and you can spend your cap space much more wisely and have a better team for it. With all that said, let’s start with Defensive Tackles.
Defensive tackle is a bit like the Tight End position of the defense when it comes to fantasy point production. You have a couple of elite players, you have a guy or two that will break out every year and wind up being a huge value, and you have a lot of chaff. Some of the best football players among DTs are big nose tackles whose job it is to soak up 2 or 3 blockers on a play and allow the rest of the defense to make the plays. Those players will score very few fantasy points. Aaron Donald is essentially the Rob Gronkowski of the DT position, scoring over 232 fantasy points in the 2015 season. He is absolutely worth a high price tag as he will put you at a huge advantage at a positon where points are often hard to come by.
As I stated in my previous article, I like to look at how many players hit what I call the “respectability threshold” of 100 fantasy points to get an idea of how valuable the players that do score points are in relation to essentially replacement level players. In 2015, only 20 players at the position crossed this threshold, making this position even more sparse than TE. This means that over a third of teams in the league got basically no production from their starting DT every week. Getting 15 or even 10 points per week from the position will give you a nice head start over some teams that are lucky to come away with 5 points from the position week to week, so there is some money to be spent. Just realize that once those few players are gone that you should not spend much at all on the position and you should be content to spend your money elsewhere. You can always look at some players in prime position to break out and find the next Kawann Short or Jaye Howard, but don’t spend much to do so.
JJ Watt is an incredible player, perhaps the best in the league at any position. He gets to the QB, he makes tackles for loss, he can intercept passes, force fumbles, and he can even contribute a few touchdowns on the offensive side of the ball, but he went for an absolutely ridiculously exorbitant salary last year at auction of $238. To put that into perspective, only one other DE even had a salary of 100 dollars, and that was Robert Quinn at $106. DE is not like DT in that you have one or two elite players and then essentially crap. There are a lot of quality players at the position who will put up a lot of fantasy points, so while JJ Watt is certainly the best player at the position both in real life and fantasy production, don’t make the mistake of putting over $200 over cap into him.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the position as a whole. It is important, and I think you’ll have trouble succeeding if you punt it. For you to get two consistent starters you will need to plan on spending some money. None of the top 15 players at the position went for under $23, a stark contrast from most of the league where you find someone for only a few dollars up near the top. Of the top 32, what we would call DE1s, only 4 players went for under $10. I happened to hit pretty well on Danielle Hunter in the third round of the rookie draft and got DE1 numbers out of him, but it is tough to get that deep into the rookie draft and expect any sort of production right away.
Overall, 39 DEs hit my respectability threshold in 2015, with 5 or 6 more directly underneath. This means that there are enough players to go around for every team to have at least one respectable starters at the position. When looking at who to spend your money on at DE, look at a couple of factors. Are they 3 down players? Do they come off the field for obvious passing or rushing situations? Watch snap counts, as you can’t put up points if you’re not on the field. Also, look at their ability to stuff the run. Sacks cannot be counted on from week to week, and while a player can go off and put up 20 sacks in a season and therefore score a ton of fantasy points on the year, pass rush specialists will be streaky and will have weeks where they put up very few points. 3 down DEs that are good against the run will often at least guarantee you 1 or 2 tackles during the course of the game and at least leave you with the comfort that you won’t put up a 0 spot some weeks. In this league, I believe one of the most important things to do is to avoid as many 0s as possible. Even 2 points from a player helps. On the other hand, it’s possible for one of those sack artists to pile up 3 or 4 sacks in one game and pretty much singlehandedly give you a win, so it’s up to you if you’re looking for explosiveness or stability. Just don’t put the position off to the last minute when you have little cap space left because your team will suffer for it.
Linebackers are the most important position of your fantasy defense, and along with WRs, in my opinion one of the two most valuable positions in the MDL world. The right players can provide tackle floors and 10-15 points consistently every week, and create a huge base of points that you can continuously count on achieving so long as your corps is not crushed by the injury bug. Your defensive flex position should probably be filled with a LB every week unless you have an extra S or DE that can provide you with more consistent points than your 4th LB. It is absolutely vital that you are prepared to spend at least a couple hundred dollars at this position, probably more, between the draft, trades, and the free agent auction to fill your spots. There were actually 82 LBs in 2015 that put up 100 points or more in 2015, which might have you thinking oh I can get a couple of value guys and be fine, however this would not be my recommended strategy. Sure there may be enough players at the position for every team to have almost 3 LBs that will reach that threshold, but it is top-heavy. Only 9 players crossed 200 points, and of those 9, only Malcolm Smith, one of the greatest value buys in the league at $2 in 2015, went for under $50.
There are a whole lot of guys that will get you between 100 and 150 points on the fantasy season, but which ones should you target? Like with DEs, look at the defense that they play in. Are they 3-4 Pass rushing guys like Justin Houston? Then expect weeks of 20 and 30 points and then weeks of next to nothing. Sacks cannot be counted on every week. Are they 4-3 outside linebackers? Watch the snap counts. Oftentimes one of the LBs on a defense is only a 2 down guy, and with the prevalence of passing in the league today, nickel packages are more and more common. That 3rd LB that comes off in passing situations may rarely step on the field. I’ll hammer home the point again here that your players can’t get you points from the sidelines. Snap counts are king. I think that 3 down 4-3 LBs are the most consistent providers of stats from the LB position and can provide you with a huge amount of tackles, sometimes 10 or more in a single game. Tackles are the only things that you can count on from a defensive player consistently. Any forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, sacks, or interceptions are just bonuses thrown on top. 3-4 Middle Linebackers are also pretty consistent in providing tackle floors, so you can look for them too. Of course, maybe you’re looking for the explosiveness to put you over the top some weeks, so those rush LBs could be what you fill your team with. That’s fine, but a week where they come up small when it matters can scuttle your entire season, so tread carefully.
Cornerback is the weirdest position in the league. The best players in the NFL at the position are considered “shutdown corners” and QBs often don’t throw their direction the entire game. Remember when the Packers played the Seahawks and just didn’t throw to Richard Sherman’s side of the field for the entire game? That’s great for him that he can be so dominating, but that’s horrible for fantasy production. You don’t get points for great coverage that causes the QB to look elsewhere. You get points for tackles, passes defensed (probably the most valuable stat to look for in a CB), INTs, and the occasional forced fumble or recovery. If your guys never have the ball come their way, they will put up no points and you’ll be out of luck. Deciding which corners to start can be tenuous. I tend to target players who are 2nd corners on their teams who get a lot of targets their way. However, the problem here is that you almost have to rely on your CBs to play poorly enough to get the ball thrown their way often for fantasy production to happen while playing well enough to still keep their jobs. This is great until the coaches decide to replace them in the lineup and you get donuts for the rest of the season.
There is some way to mitigate this risk and get some consistency at CB, however. Some CBs do punt and kickoff returns. These guys are great for your team, as returns are a huge source of fantasy value in the MDL scoring system. Just keep in mind that the NFL seems more and more content to try and take as many of these returning opportunities away from players as they can from year to year so it may be tough to count on in the future. Also look for corners who can tackle. He’s no longer in the league, but I look for players who play like Antoine Winfield used to. Tough as nails, great at tackling, and taking slot corner duties in passing situations. Those guys will give you a tackle floor and some consistent production. Should you spend up on CB? In my opinion, no you should not. 9 out of the top 10 scorers at CB were on salaries less than $10, and Richard Sherman who went for $77 finished 47th as a mid-level CB2, so you can definitely pick up guys really cheap at auction that will put up numbers. This is always the last position I look to fill when completing my roster, and there is always value to be had. Even the barren waiver wire can usually provide players that will put up a couple points week to week, which is incredible considering the sheer depth and size of this league. Your money is best served spent elsewhere, but be smart about who you get and don’t just flock toward the big names.
Finally, we come to the safety position. While members of the secondary, this position tends to carry a lot more value than CB, and therefore you should look to possibly spend up on a couple of players to start for you. Since strong safeties tend to spend some number of plays every game in the box, look for them to get a couple of tackles in the running game week to week. Some safeties blitz quite a bit and will provide you with some sacks, but again, this isn’t consistent. Elite guys carry values of $50-$60 in my opinion and are worth bidding to that point to get. Just make sure you do your research to decide where you make that cut as to who is and who isn’t elite. There are almost enough S in the league to allow for all 32 teams to have 2 guys that put up 100 points, so if you miss out on what you consider your elite tier, don’t be too afraid to wait it out and get some cheaper guys later. Guys who perform on special teams even if it’s only with a special teams tackle or two every week do carry value so they are rosterable. Only Kurt Coleman who went for $1 last year and had an amazing year after years of mediocrity went for under $10 at auction, and 6 of the top 10 performers went for $38 or more.
As is the case with every position, just do your research. Look at snap counts, look at how roles are changing with new free agent acquisitions and the upcoming draft. You need to pick up some cheap guys and have them pan out to give yourself the best chance of winning, but you also need to spend up on some guaranteed production (of course so long as the injury bug is avoided) and know where that money is best spent. This is only a guide and you of course are allowed to run however you like. If you decide you want to spend $100 on a corner, I’m not your mother, go ahead. I just don’t think it will end very well for you. Everyone has their own strategies and ways to build their rosters, and it’s fun to see how those differences of opinions play out. I appreciate you taking the time to read what I have to say and am super excited to see how year 2 of the league pans out! Check back in soon and I plan on having pre-draft roster breakdowns of all 32 teams!