Defensive back rankings can be highly variable based upon your scoring system and even with that, there are a lot of year to year fluctuations, especially at cornerback. If you read my DB drafting strategy article you know that my advice is to wait on drafting them.  Yes there are some elite players, but in general, the production from this position varies from week to week based upon who the player is going up against and what you expect the game flow to be. This is the most streamable position in IDP leagues, especially if the league separates out the safety and cornerback positions.  

The reliability of the linebacker position to get you points and the lack of depth at the defensive line position should lead you to drafting them first before going after defensive backs. The main exception is if you play in a very tackle heavy format where getting one the top safeties could be an advantage. Regardless, safeties remain the backbone of combined rankings as the volatility of corners on a week to week basis is what makes them streaming candidates.


Here are my top 25 defensive backs.








Jamal Adams




Derwin James




Budda Baker




Landon Collins




John Johnson




Harrison Smith




Jabril Peppers




Jordan Poyer




Tracy Walker




Justin Simmons




Tyrann Mathieu




Jessie Bates




Keanu Neal




Justin Reid




Shawn Williams




Minkah Fitzpatrick




Kyle Fuller




Taylor Rapp




Terrell Edmunds




Vonn Bell




Stephon Gilmore




Marcus Peters




Jonathan Abram




Malcolm Jenkins




Marshon Lattimore



Tier 1


Jamal Adams tops my list in 2020. Adams did see a drop in tackles last year, but he did miss 2 games and most of a third. He averaged almost 6 tackles per game, which would put him right about 100 tackles over a full season. What he did to keep his production at a high level was add big plays.  He had 6.5 sacks, 7 passes defensed and scored two touchdowns. He is the mainstay of the Jets defense and there is no reason to expect a drop off in his numbers. Adams is a plug and play week to week starter in any format.

Derwin James missed 11 games last season with a foot injury. Upon his return he averaged almost 7 tackles a game. As a rookie in 2018 he had 105 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 17 passes defensed. James is an elite safety and should return to his rookie form. There may also be added opportunity for James as the Chargers offense may suffer a bit with the losses of Rivers and Gordon. He can easily be the top defensive back this season if he returns to his rookie production.

Tackle machines are what we look for at the safety position and number 3 on my list is one.  Last year Budda Baker finished with 148 tackles to follow up his 102 in 14 games in 2018. He doesn’t do much in the way of passes defensed or sacks, so he definitely is better in tackle heavy leagues and takes a hit in big play oriented ones. The other question mark going into the 2020 season is how the Cardinals will use rookie Isaiah Simmons and if this will impact Baker’s production.

A name that seems to go under the radar a bit when talking about elite safeties is John Johnson of the Rams. He had an injury shortened season in 2019 but averaged over 8 tackles a game.  In his previous two seasons he also had 11 passes defensed in each. This year the Rams have a new defensive coordinator and lost several key players on defense. Johnson is expected to be a major contributor to the new scheme and should finish as a top DB.


Tier 2


Leading off the second tier is Harrison Smith. This tier is mostly composed of DBs who solidly contribute with both big plays and tackles with the exception being Jordan Poyer. Smith had 83 tackles and 11 passes defensed to go along with 3 INTs, 1 sack, 3 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries in 15 games last season. He has averaged about 85 tackles over the last 4 seasons and at age 31, doesn’t appear to be ready to decline. You won’t go wrong in redraft leagues, but there are better options if you are considering this tier in dynasty formats.

Jordan Poyer is your tackle heavy play in this tier. He’s averaged 100 tackles a year in his three seasons with the Bills. He is a key to the Bills defensive scheme in stopping the run and there is no reason to think that Sean McDermott will be changing his scheme in 2020. Poyer may have the highest floor in this group but the lack of big plays limits his upside.

Tracy Walker had a huge breakout campaign in 2019 racking up 103 tackles and 8 passes defensed in just 13 games.  The Lions didn’t do much on defense to impact Walker and another season of over 100 tackles is likely.  He should be a target of yours from this tier especially in dynasty leagues.

The best overall safety in the league may be Justin Simmons.   He can defend the pass and stop  the run. From a fantasy perspective he may fall a little short of the rest of the top 10 only because he doesn’t produce a ton of big plays. Last year he did have 15 passes defensed, but this was by far his best after averaging 4.33 in his first 3 seasons. If he can reproduce those PDs to go along with his 95 tackles, he’s a top 10 DB in 2020.


Tier 3


This tier includes a pair of teammates from the Bengals, a candidate for comeback player of the year, a third year player looking to step up, and someone who was traded during the season last year.  

Keanu Neal has missed most of the last two seasons to injury. Last year in week 3 he suffered a torn achilles. In his last full season Neal had 116 tackles with 6 passes defensed and 5 forced/recovered fumbles. If he can return to form, he will be a great return on investment.  Taking him as a DB2 will be worth the risk if he seems healthy in camp.

Shawn Williams and Jessie Bates roam the backfield for the Bengals. Bates had 99 tackles and Williams had 112. This is a formidable tackling tandem and getting one of them (don’t recommend both in leagues with short benches due to bye week issues) will solidify your DB2 slot. Again if you read my strategy article, you see a trend here. The position is relatively deep and there isn’t much difference as we go down the rankings. Two quality safeties and they both can be late DB1, early DB2 picks. Be patient!

Minkah Fitzpatrick is a much ballyhooed player having been acquired by the Steelers for a first round pick and an exchange of two late round picks from the Dolphins. After the trade Fitzpatrick had two big games with pick sixes, but faded down the stretch. His rankings are all over the place as some believe in his big play ability, but those plays are less predictable. As a DB2 he’s worth the risk, but he could disappoint. In tackle heavy leagues I may move him down a tier or two.


Tier 4


We finally see the appearance of a cornerback in the rankings with Kyle Fuller at DB16. Fuller had 83 tackles last year to go along with 3 INTs and 12 PDs. He is one of the best corners in the league and a sure tackler. The corner position is unpredictable as we saw with Logan Ryan’s 2019 season, but Fuller has been a consistent fantasy scorer. If you split CBs and safeties, Fuller moves up to Tier 1 in the CB list.

Also included in this tier are 3 of the best corners in the league: Stephon Gilmore, Marcus Peters, and Marshon Lattimore. You’ll read that these “shutdown” corners are the players you should shy away from because opposing quarterbacks shy away from throwing their way.  That’s true to an extent. They are also usually covering the other team’s best WRs, who will be getting the majority of targets in most games unless the offense is designed to go away from them due to the elite CB coverage. These corners are big play dependent, but they pay off.  Last year Gilmore had 20 PDs to go along with 6 INTs and Peters had 14 PDs, 5 INTs and 3 TDs. Yes if the league is super tackle heavy, then yes, shy away from them, but if you get significant points for PDs and INTs, they are worth taking.

Jonathan Abram played with abandon in his first NFL game last year. So much so he tore his rotator cuff and missed the rest of the season. He was impressive in that game despite suffering the injury in the first quarter and is the reason why there is an expectation that he will be one of the better safeties in the league. The Raiders are expecting it and so am I. If you are risk averse going with another lower ranked DB won’t hurt you much if you want a solid floor, but you may miss out on some upside.

That wraps up the top half of my defensive back rankings. As a reminder, my rankings are based on a balanced scoring system of big play to tackle ratio of 3 to 1. Feel free to comment here or on Twitter @gasdoc_spit.  Stay safe!