Now that we’re done going through the Front Sevens, it’s time for the annual crapshoot of ranking Defensive Backs. Sure, guys like Harrison Smith and Eric Weddle are good bets to produce, but 2013’s consensus DB1, Morgan Burnett, barely made the top 20 DBs for the season last year. Injuries, role changes, and wild performance shifts all play more of a role for D-Backs than for any other fantasy football position outside of kickers. So rather than focus too much on one player or another, I’ll take a deeper look at strategy before diving into the rankings.
Draft Strategy – Safety First!
First off, if your league rules do not mandate that you start a DB, then don’t draft one. Linebackers will provide the best raw numbers, and elite D-Linemen are really the only ones who can compete with that on a semi-consistent basis. For leagues that do require DBs, there are typically 2 slots, and that is the number that should be drafted. The name of the game for the DB position is streaming (more on that later), so there is no need to carry anyone on your bench to start the season.
Within the draft itself, focus on the Safety position, and specifically Strong Safeties. This isn’t rocket science, but you would be surprised how often guys like Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis fly off the board before IDP stalwarts like Antoine Bethea and Bernard Pollard. If you have to resort to taking a Cornerback, look for guys who aren’t exactly shutdown corners, but can still make plays. DeAngelo Hall and Charles Tillman are the poster boys here, but each year there are others. Hall specifically is someone who I typically have on my roster, and he’s great to pair with a tackle-heavy Safety like Eric Berry or T.J. Ward.
Finally, for leagues where you are required to start Cornerbacks, avoid the studs and look at the rooks. Rookie corners are feasted on by opposing QBs, giving them more opportunities to rack up stats than someone like Joe Haden, who’s mere presence will scare off QBs. The 2014 draft was chock full of Cornerbacks who will be seeing the field this year, so take your pick and don’t feel any loyalty. Which brings me to my next topic…
In-Season Strategy – Stream On
In general, loyalty is an admirable trait. It’s the reason that dog is man’s best friend, and the reason that Dwyane Wade is getting paid more than you or I will make in our lives to play mediocre basketball for the next 4 years. But it has no place in the fantasy game, and especially not when it comes to Defensive Backs. If you draft Jamaal Charles or Peyton Manning this year and they get hurt for a few games, you’re not dropping them. Those guys have the talent and situation to warrant using a bench slot on them even when they aren’t able to play. If the same thing happens to Mark Barron, move on. Sure, he could bounce back produce for your team, like Burnett ended up doing last year. But more likely he will either miss more time than expected, or play through injuries that affect his production. That’s an opportunity cost that could force you to miss out on someone like Barry Church, who went from undrafted in any league to DB1 for the year.
My favorite strategy for the standard, two-DB slot roster setup is to grab a Safety that I feel is undervalued (William Moore is my favorite target this year), and then wait until just before drafting my kicker to pick my second DB. This will likely give me a choice between inconsistent CBs, and unproven Safeties. Rookies Calvin Pryor and Deone Bucannon are both catching my eye this year (I may even make an exception and reach for Pryor), and they have very little cost associated with them. If my second DB isn’t producing after 2-3 weeks, or if Moore gets hurt as he is prone to do, I’ll have no issue cutting bait and moving on to a waiver wire DB who has the potential to be this year’s Church.
So once again, take these rankings with a grain of salt, as the most effective way to handle your DBs is to stream them. Good luck.