Reading the Defense: 2016 IDP fantasy preview

Fantasy football is supposed to mirror real football as much as possible, right? In that case, it makes sense that fantasy contests should include more individual defensive players. We don't pick team offenses, so it shouldn't work like that with defenses. After all, defense wins championships. At least that's what the cliché would have us believe.

We're here for you, IDP players. You all are the hipsters of fantasy football. While you might not be the most populous nation in the fantasy world, you are a devoted and loyal bunch. So this primer is for you.

Beginner tips

Maybe you're entering your first IDP league and are wondering exactly how to approach your draft. Let me offer a few tips for you.

Wait. Then wait some more. Most IDP leagues don't dedicate a large number of spots to defensive players. That means there will be plenty of depth available. You can afford to wait until you've loaded up your roster with most of your offensive skill position players before diving into the individual defenders.

DEs and MLBs are golden. Much like on the offensive side where there is a priority on wide receivers, there are IDP positions that provide more production than others. You'll probably have to fill a defensive line position. But you're better going after a defensive end that racks up a lot of sacks over a big-name defensive tackle. That means Khalil Mack will go way ahead of Ndamukong Suh. Oh ... and middle linebackers over everything. It's a position that generally provides production in all of the key categories (tackles, sacks, interceptions).

Avoid shutdown corners. Much like timid quarterbacks, smart IDP drafters know not to look at shutdown cornerbacks. Guys like Patrick Peterson and Richard Sherman get a lot of attention for their play, but they generally don't get much attention on the field. With teams afraid to throw in their direction consistently, they don't rack up a lot of picks or tackles ... or fantasy points. In general, you're better off looking at the "other" corner in that same defense.

There's J.J. Watt ... and everyone else. Watt has been the highest-scoring IDP player in three of the last four seasons. The one season he failed to reach that plateau, he was tied for the top with Robert Quinn. If Watt really will be ready for Week 1 as he suggests, then he'll easily be the first IDP option off the board. Watt is the only player worth reaching for a little early.

Now that we have that out of the way, on to other business.

Sleepers

Benardrick McKinney, LB, Houston Texans: McKinney was just getting his feet under him during an up-and-down rookie campaign. But he enters camp this year with heightened expectations in a defense that could end up as one of the better units in the NFL. McKinney added nearly 20 pounds in the offseason and could have a role in the team's nickel packages this season meaning he'll be on the field even more after playing just 39 percent of the defensive snaps last season. And if you believe in the narrative that having children makes players more focused, well ... McKinney celebrated the birth of his son just last week. So there's that.

Myles Jack, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars: Yes, there are concerns about the knee injury that caused Jack to slip in the NFL Draft this spring. But if you watched the two-way stud play at UCLA or any of his action with the Jags so far this preseason, you understand the type of impact player he can be. The expectations for Jack are so big that there's already talk that he'll be the heir apparent to Paul Posluszny in the middle of the defense. With so much young talent on this Jaguars defense, Duval County could be a fountain of IDP talent for years to come.

Jabaal Sheard, DL, New England Patriots: Sheard picked up his game at the end of last season, notching four sacks in his final four contests. Now that Chandler Jones is in Arizona and Rob Ninkovich is battling a triceps injury, Sheard will be counted on to pressure the quarterback. There's a good chance that he could top his career-high 8.5 sacks this season.

Damarious Randall, DB, Green Bay Packers: Randall was named a starter at corner opposite Sam Shields and should see plenty of attention this season. As a rookie in 2015, Randall registered three interceptions and 14 pass deflections. If the Packers offense is as explosive as advertised, opposing teams could be forced to throw the ball plenty. That should mean plenty of chances for Randall to make plays from his corner position this year.

Karl Joseph, DB, Oakland Raiders: The Raiders rookie doesn't have a pick during the preseason and on paper looks a little undersized to play the position. But his highlight this summer was a big goal-line stick on Eddie Lacy to keep the Packers running back out of the end zone. The coaching staff loves Joseph's toughness and big-hitting ability and hopes he can eventually be a Tyrann Mathieu-like player.

Busts

Paul Posluszny, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars: Remember what I wrote about Myles Jack earlier? Well, Posluszny is going to be directly affected if Jack is what the Jaguars hope he is. That's not to say that one of the best IDP players over the past five years is going to suddenly fall off a cliff. But upon entering his 10th season in the NFL, it's fair to expect that Father Time is on the verge of claiming another victim.

Kawann Short, DL, Carolina Panthers: Am I the only one who feels like last year was a bit of a magical season for Short? After totaling five sacks in his first two seasons, Short exploded for 11.5 sacks in his third year while playing from the defensive tackle position. You rarely see those types of numbers from DTs, especially without some sort of upward progression. This feels like a year when Short comes back to earth a little bit.

Lawrence Timmons, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers: Timmons has been a stalwart for the Steelers and IDP fantasy players for a good long while now. But signs point toward 2016 being his last season in the black and gold. That makes it fair to wonder if Mike Tomlin's team will start to feature some younger players in key positions this season. Much like with Posluszny, don't look for Timmons to completely vanish. But it's fair to expect a decline in production this year.

Sean Lee, LB, Dallas Cowboys: This really centers on the fear that Lee will continue to struggle with injuries. Even if he is healthy, it's fair to wonder how much of his speed and athleticism have been sapped. It was sadly unsurprising to read reports recently that Lee was being held out of practice while nursing a knee issue. Someone in your league will probably take a chance on him, but with so much depth it might be better not to have to deal with that concern.

Josh Norman, DB, Washington Redskins: Remember when I said you don't want to take a chance on star corners in IDP fantasy? Norman was one of the few who bucked that trend last season. Part of that was because he moved all over the field and frequently covered the opposition's best receiver. This year, he's in a new defense that so far in the preseason has left him strictly on one side of the formation. If that's the case during the regular season, he might not see as many balls come his way.

Breakouts

Melvin Ingram, LB, San Diego Chargers: Injuries in his first two seasons led Ingram to be underwhelming. But we started to see the best of the pass rusher last season when he started 16 games for the first time in his career and posted 10.5 sacks. According to Ingram though, we haven't seen the best of him yet and he'll be eager to show what he can fully do. If the Chargers end up in some shootouts this year -- which is easily possible -- then Ingram should get plenty of chances to post robust sack totals.

Eric Kendricks, LB, Minnesota Vikings: Kendricks was an impact player in his rookie year, occupying space in the middle of one of the NFL's up-and-coming defenses. In just 11 starts last year, Kendricks finished inside the top 35 among fantasy linebackers. Expect that ranking to rise this year as Kendricks inherits more responsibility in the defense while gaining a greater understanding of opposing offenses. Look for the UCLA product to fight his way into the top 20 this season.

Bashaud Breeland, DB, Washington Redskins: Breeland has set a goal for himself of being the top corner in the NFL. It's a noble cause but one that could take him off the IDP radar eventually. But until offenses figure out what's up, they're going to keep throwing in Breeland's direction. He's followed up a quality 2015 season with a nice preseason. If teams decide to avoid throwing at Josh Norman this season then Breeland could see plenty of work.

Leonard Williams, DL, New York Jets: Williams could just as easily have ended up on the bust list. As a rookie last year, the USC product was a disruptive force even if he didn't log a ton of sacks. Now the Jets appear to be moving him to a nose tackle position which will certainly include a learning curve. But with Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson causing havoc on the edges, defenses won't be able to focus on the big man in the middle. The Jets defensive line could be a problem for offenses this year.

Ronald Darby, DB, Buffalo Bills: This has been a forgettable preseason for the Bills with injuries to key players taking the forefront. But for all of the disappointments, Darby hasn't been one of them. The Bills corner enters his second NFL season looking to build on a top-30 finish at his position last year. If the Bills can't muster a serious pass rush, Darby is going to be a busy man this year.

It's not too late to play NFL FantasyCLICK HERE to get your 2016 NFL Fantasy season started.

Marcas Grant is a fantasy editor for NFL.com and a man on a crusade to get Tame Impala to play Super Bowl LI halftime. Follow him on Twitter @MarcasG or check out the hashtag #Tame4SBLI.

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