It’s time to wrap up the IDP positional rankings with the most difficult position to project week-to-week, let alone over the course of a season. The rule of thumb with Defensive Backs has always been to load up on as many Strong Safeties as possible, with the thinking that they will perform similarly to Linebackers. While that remains true to a certain extent, NFL secondaries now use a more hybrid approach in order to confuse offenses, especially with their top talents. No team better personified that last year than the Cardinals. They had a variety of talents at DB, deployed them in creative ways, and the results were incredible. Three of their DBs over 80 tackles, and that doesn’t even include Tyrann Mathieu, Antonio Cromartie, or Patrick Peterson, arguably their three best DBs. It helped that they got little to no production from their Linebackers, but it’s hard to argue with those numbers. With the way offenses are playing, defenses have no choice but to evolve, and that should have exciting consequences on the IDP world, especially for Defensive Backs. On to the rankings…
Tier 1 – Putting Reshad Jones as my DB1 could be considered a homer pick, but I think he has the best situation by far of anyone in this tier. Everyone else is either a Free Safety and/or faces internal competition from their Linebackers or another stud in the secondary. Jones has none of those issues and has been a model of consistency for the last three years. Injuries are a slight concern after missing 4 games last year, but no one’s perfect right? The only other name I really considered for #1 was Jonathan Cyprien. He has the talent to be a dominant IDP force, but he’ll need to improve in coverage (and have teams actually throw the ball against the Jags) in order to realize that potential. This could definitely be the year he puts it all together.
Tier 2 -This tier includes two guys I really wanted to put in my top tier, but there are just enough questions that I bumped them down. Charles Woodson was improbably the #1 DB in 2014 at age 38, on a terrible Raiders team. That’s one of the more insane (and impressive) fantasy storylines I’ve ever seen. Insane enough that I can’t put him in my top 5, but impressive enough that I won’t count him out this year. Tyvon Branch is likely to be on the majority of my teams this year. Yes, he’s essentially missed the last two seasons and yes, he may not be listed as the starter right now, but if he’s healthy (admittedly a huge if), he could easily be the DB1 of 2015. That’s a ceiling I’m willing to gamble on.
Tier 3 – This is the last tier where I’m actually willing to spend a draft pick. There are a variety of talents and situations here, and some huge question marks as well. The aforementioned Arizona DBs all fall into this category, so we’ll see if a repeat performance is doable in the desert. One of the more interesting IDP situations comes in New Orleans, where Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd get a do-over after last season’s brief but less than stellar debut together. One guy who will never get fanfare but will always produce is Reggie Nelson, coming off yet another 85+ tackle season along with a few big plays. He’s a nice steady complement to a riskier pick like Woodson or Branch, and I’ll gladly scoop him up as my DB2.
After Tier 3, it’s really a matter of preference. There are low-ceiling Safeties like Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins who will get you a few tackles each week but likely nothing more. There are cornerbacks like Joe Haden and Aqib Talib, who are notoriously inconsistent but can get you huge weeks. And then there are young guys like Calvin Pryor and Matt Elam, who have a good pedigree that hasn’t translated to the field so far. I prefer to gamble on the latter group during the draft, but when you get to this level, loyalty should be at a minimum and streaming should be on the mind.