Reading the Defense: Linebacker depth hurting

Much like dating websites aimed at everyone from farmers to gluten free eaters to people with mullets (yep, that's a thing), there are fantasy football formats designed to suit a wide range of tastes. And while leagues with individual defensive players (IDP) might not be for everyone, we here at Reading the Defense aren't judging. In fact, you hold a certain special place in our hearts for trying to make your fantasy experience as close to the real thing as possible. Consider this column a safe space.

If you're new to IDP leagues, check back every week during the season for updates and information. And maybe if you're not doing anything later we can get a cup of coffee?

But enough of that, let's get down to business ... starting with draft day. Much like putting together a good offensive football team, you'll need a sound strategy to put together a quality IDP squad. Here are a few things to remember heading into your draft.

Get a quality linebacker: Linebacker is without a doubt the most productive position in IDP leagues. Their ability to roam the field and make plays wherever they can allows them to score in just about every way imaginable -- tackles, sacks, interceptions, etc. Almost without exception, this will be the first position to come off the board in your draft. But, as with team defenses in standard leagues, you'll want to wait until the back half of the draft to start targeting the position.

Play it safe with safeties: When the time comes to snag a defensive back or two, you'll be better off eschewing cornerbacks in favor of safeties. Much like linebackers, safeties have license to roam the secondary and make plays when and where they can. Plus, they're more likely to occasionally rush the passer and pick up a sack here and there. It's also worth recognizing that some of the best corners on the field aren't necessarily the best IDP options. After all, part of being a good cornerback means no one throws your direction. If no one's throwing at you, there are fewer chances to score. Case in point: Richard Sherman finished 48th among defensive backs and Darrelle Revis was 75th.

Players to target: Eric Weddle, Antrel Rolle, T.J. Ward

If it ain't Watt ... wait: Defensive linemen tend to be the least productive of the IDP players you'll select. Unless you're talking about J.J. Watt. He's a beast. But you already know that. The problem is that there's only one J.J. Watt and there's a good chance that someone else in your league is going to scoop him up. In that case, you can afford to wait until the very late rounds before getting your defensive linemen. But once you do, you will want to find guys who can provide a combination of sacks and forced fumbles.

Players to target: J.J. Watt, Robert Quinn, Chandler Jones

Plumb the depths

Remember when I talked about the need to start with a solid linebacker? Well ... about that. There is still plenty of depth at the position, but a significant number of top linebackers are going to miss either all or most of the season for various reasons.

Start with last season when NaVorro Bowman suffered an ugly knee injury in the NFC Championship Game. The Niners have suggested that he could be ready by the midpoint of the season, but the track record of players returning from a major knee injury generally isn't good. But he's not the only player dealing with injury issues; Sean Lee, Sean Weatherspoon and Kiko Alonso all suffered season-ending injuries during offseason workouts.

Add Daryl Washington being suspended for the entire season after another violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy and there is a sizable chunk of the linebacker depth chart that won't be available to fantasy owners in 2014. Thankfully there are still plenty of quality options out there. Just make sure you're getting a guy who's going to be healthy when the season starts.

Four downs

» This is the time of year when coaches and players start making big boasts about themselves and their teammates. The Raiders are no exception. The latest comes from general manager Reggie McKenzie who compared No. 5 overall pick Khalil Mack to Green Bay Packers star linebacker Clay Matthews. It's certainly a big standard to live up to. McKenzie has some foundation to his statement. After all, he was on Green Bay's staff when the team drafted Matthews back in 2009. It would be a tall order for Mack to post that kind of production immediately, but it's at least enough to get us excited about his potential.

» Jadeveon Clowney knows a thing or two about high expectations. The No. 1 overall pick has been tabbed with helping turn around a Texans defense that ranked 24th last season. But he'll need to be healthy and on the field to do it. Clowney has achieved the second part, participating in the first day of training camp. However, the linebacker admits that he's still not 100 percent healthy after offseason hernia surgery. The Texans will likely take things slowly with their new playmaker and as long as he can continue to participate and be ready to go in Week 1, there's little reason to be concerned.

» Patrick Peterson is quickly becoming one of the tougher cornerbacks in the National Football League. To help speed that progression, Peterson will no longer play offense or field punts in an effort to concentrate fully on his primary job. What should help the Cardinals secondary won't do IDP owners any favors. With Peterson losing a couple of potential ways to tally fantasy points, his draft stock is likely to fall this season.

» When it comes to boasting, few teams as a whole can match the New York Jets. Gang Green isn't shy about letting the world know how good they think they are -- regardless of whether or not the world agrees. Dee Milliner is just the latest to join the parade, telling Manish Mehta of the Daily News that he considers himself the best cornerback in the league. That would make Milliner a committee of one. The rookie struggled last season, finding himself on the bench on multiple occasions. A good dose of self-confidence is a wonderful thing. Just don't expect the rest of us to buy into it.

Marcas Grant is a fantasy editor for and a man who enjoys good beer and long bike rides along the beach. Tweet him @MarcasG to see if you're a fantasy football match.

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