Over the past couple of months, you’ve seen the rankings, you’ve seen the sleepers, you’ve seen the busts, and you’ve seen the NSFW Blurred Lines video. Now you’re ready to do two things: Draft and Google Image search Emily Ratajkowski with SafeSearch off. I’ll give you a minute…okay welcome back. Now you’re ready to do one thing: Draft.
We all know that drafting is more than just having your rankings in front of you with your sleepers circled, and that having a hard-and-fast draft strategy is a good way to have a very long and depressing season. But still, going into the draft with a road-map is always a good thing, even if you go off-roading as early as the first round.
For IDP leagues this means answering the all-important question of “When do I start taking defensive players?” If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it as many times as I’ve listened to Bruce Springsteen’s The River (hint: a lot). And while there is no one right answer to this question, as league rules, positions and settings all vary quite a bit, there are a few themes that are prevalent in all IDP leagues.
Here are some thoughts about how to approach Defensive Linemen in 2013:
Wait Until Your Starting Offense Is In Place
Offensive players offer much more consistency than their defensive counterparts, especially in the early rounds. In “standard” leagues that start 2DL/2LB/2DB, you’ll want to make sure that you have 2-3 RBs, 2-3 WRs, and your QB/TE all set before you start to dip your toe in the defensive waters. Based on a 12-team league with that setup, if you wait until Round 8 or 9 to pick your first DL, only J.J. Watt and JPP will be off the board. At that point you may want to look at a top-tier D-Lineman, especially if you’re in a big-play league that values sacks highly, or possibly at LB (more on that in my next post). But do not fall prey to picking an IDP before you’re comfortable on offense.
What About Watt?
I’ve seen articles that advocate taking J.J. Watt with the first pick overall in IDP leagues, something that is more than unheard of. The highest ADP for any IDP (let alone a 3-4 DE) since the millennium is Ray Lewis with and ADP of 40 in 2000. Watt is currently sitting on an ADP of 42, and he might have a shot at taking down Ray-Ray over the next month. All of this is with good reason, as Watt’s 2012 may have been the most dominant fantasy performance by anyone, ever. You think that’s an overstatement? He outscored the second-best DL in 2012 (JPP) by 51.7%. For comparison’s sake, AP outscored his closest competition, Doug Martin, by 11.2%. To reach Watt’s level of dominance, Peterson would have had to rush for over 3300 yards or score 33 TDs while holding his other stats constant. We may never see something like that again.
So why am I saying that you should avoid Watt? Because the last sentence of that paragraph is the only one that matters for 2013: We may never see something like that again. I ranked Watt as my #1 DL (and IDP), and I have total faith in him to achieve that ranking, but I’m not sold that he’ll repeat or improve on his other-worldly 2012. Watt is sure to see a double team on every passing play, limiting his sack potential, and teams would be crazy to run the ball his way, which limits his tackle opportunities. His pass deflections should stay consistent due to his crazy athleticism, but I would expect his solo-to-assist rate to drop a bit considering he led all DEs in solos and that stat is subject to large fluctuations year-to-year.
All in all, I expect Watt to have a great year. But the cost to get him is just far too high for my taste, as I would much rather take Frank Gore, Dwayne Bowe or Peyton Manning with my 4th round pick.
Target Other Studs
This is not to say that no DLs are worth taking early, in fact it’s the opposite. Whether you’re in a big play league or not, the majority of Defensive Linemen get their value from their ability to rush the passer. There are obviously exceptions to every rule, but look at it this way: In 2012, there were 14 DLs with double-digit sacks. In 2011, there were 10 and in 2010, there were 11. In a 12-team league, there are barely enough double-digit sackers for each team to get one in the average year. So while I’m not advocating taking J.J. Watt in the 4th round, spending two picks in the 8th-12th rounds should net you at least one elite pass-rusher, if not two.
There are high-upside guys available in the late rounds (Dion Jordan and Da’Quan Bowers to name two), but I don’t want to take any risks with my starting DLs. Save your bargain shopping for your DBs.
4-3 Or Not 4-3, That Is The Question
Traditional wisdom says that 4-3 DEs will get a better shot at the QB, therefore giving them a better shot at sacks and forced fumbles, and increasing their fantasy value. Last year was a bit of a shake-up to that logic. As I’ve repeatedly mentioned, J.J. Watt had a ridiculous year as a 3-4 DE, but he was accompanied by Muhammad Wilkerson (DL3), Calais Campbell (DL6) and Justin Smith (DL13) as elite 3-4 options, not to mention Geno Atkins (DL10) raising hell as a 4-3 DT.
So has the luster worn off the 4-3 DE? Has the IDP game changed ? Has it really been 20 years since Jurassic Park came out? No, maybe, and unfortunately yes. Other than Watt, it’s still much safer to bet on 4-3 DEs instead of DTs or 3-4 DEs. Especially in big-play leagues, but in balanced leagues as well. The IDP game has changed a bit in that there are a ton of exceptional athletes playing interior lineman positions. Watt is 24, Wilkerson is 23, Campbell is 26 and Atikins is 25. These guys are not going anywhere, and if anything they’re getting better. So while I’m still hitching my wagons to the JPPs and Jared Allens of the world, I wouldn’t blame anyone for taking an interior lineman as their top DL.
And as for Jurassic Park, it really is 20 years old, but apparently they are in talks for filming JP4. Hold onto your butts.