Defensive backs are like the kickers of IDP leagues. There really aren’t too many players that need to be picked early in your drafts. They are also like tight ends after the first 5 or so where streaming on a week to week basis can be the way to go based on the weekly matchup. Outside of some top end safeties who rack up tackles, guessing who will finish near the top of DB scoring is a crap shoot. In tackle heavy scoring systems it’s a little easier to go after safeties, but in big play leagues, trying to predict who will garner interceptions, passes defensed, and sacks from this position is tough. A typical drafting strategy for DBs in IDP leagues is to wait and here’s why.
While researching the scoring in my home league for the last 5 seasons, the best scoring season by a defensive back over that time was had by someone who went undrafted. That wasn’t surprising as out of 42 DBs picked in the draft only 5 were cornerbacks. Logan Ryan scored 130 points last year in that system. To put it in perspective there have only been 3 other defensive backs to score over 110 over the last 5 years. In 2015 both Marcus Peters and Reshad Jones scored 127 and 122 respectively. In 2016 Landon Collins posted a 127.5. Why is Ryan still a free agent? Cornerback desperate teams should have been all over this guy. The Eagles traded for Darius Slay. Chris Harris signed with the Chargers. Byron Jones signed with the Dolphins. James Bradberry signed with the Giants. Trae Waynes signed with the Bengals. Coming off one of the best seasons fantasy-wise for a DB, Ryan is rumored to be pursued by the Jets. Contract demands may be the issue as he seems to be unwilling to take less money than he made last year at 10 million.
Is Ryan a one year wonder? Over these 5 seasons it was only the second time he finished in the top 30 in fantasy scoring for DBs. In 2016 he finished 18th with 80 points. It shows what an outlier year Ryan had. He finished with 112 tackles, 4 forced fumbles, 4 interceptions, 4.5 sacks, and 17 passes defensed. He finished second to Jamal Adams in sacks. He was tied for 11th in sacks and tied for first in forced fumbles amongst his DB brethren. The chances that he comes close to repeating this season is pretty much zero. Is he a good player? Absolutely and he should find a home in the NFL soon. Should he find himself on your IDP roster? That’s going to depend on what team he lands with and what teams they play. If he ends up in a division where slot corners will be busy, he will be an asset.
The example of Ryan illustrates why DB is the ugly stepchild of IDP drafts. Looking back at the scoring for defensive backs, once you get beyond the top 10, there is little difference on a game by game basis after that. Last season based on scoring per game played, Ryan was a full point ahead of second place Jamal Adams. There were 9 players within a point of Adams and after that, 24 players within a point of Tre’Davious White. That covers 35 players. If the league happened to draft these top players, the last DB taken would have averaged only 3 points less per game than Logan Ryan or only 2 points less than second place finisher Adams. This is a position you don’t have to spend draft capital on.
With the week to week variability based upon opponent, streaming is a popular option for this position. Will you know in week two that the corner you picked up and has a good game is going to have a career year like Ryan did? Of course not, but if you know what to look for each week, you can easily pick up a free agent DB who will be competitive in scoring for that week. When a top CB is going up against a pass happy offense, his opposite corner will be busy as the offense will shy away from throwing in the top corner’s direction. Playing a team that favors slot receivers or tight ends? Look for that defense’s strong safety who may be available or their nickel corner. You will spend some time each week on the waiver wire scouring for the free agent DBs who will likely be targeted that week. If you’re in a FAAB league, it may not even be worth bidding on a DB unless the expected matchup is just ridiculous, but for the most part, just picking up someone from the free agent pool after FAAB is run (if your rules allow for this) is the way to approach this position. You can literally wait and use your last three picks on this position in leagues that have you roster three of them. Even if you end up with the bottom three scoring DBs in the league, chances are you will only be 1-3 points behind the other teams, which you probably make up even more by choosing a player from another position earlier whose difference is greater than the bottom players at other positions.
When you are choosing/ranking DBs remember it is highly dependent on the scoring system. In tackle heavy leagues safeties tend to be favored. When big plays are the most rewarded, corners creep up the ladder as interceptions and passes defended play a larger role although safeties still go early here as they too can make interceptions and defend passes. In 2019 the top ten scorers were split 50/50 between the positions but if you extended it to the top 20 it goes to a 13/7 split in favor of the safeties.
Is Jamal Adams worth his ranking? Yes, compared to other defensive backs, but the difference between him and the 36th one taken at the end of the draft will turn out to be small. If you don’t want to or don’t have that much time to devote to the waiver wire, then Adams is a great choice as he is consistent. Is he worth taking ahead of your LB1 or DL1? I think the answer is obvious but the problem is that someone in your league will nab him early as he is the top ranked DB so you won’t have a shot at drafting him. Wait and be patient. Fill out your LB and DL starters before taking a DB if you want to win your league.