IDP - 2015 defensive backs review
Following on from my reviews of defensive lineman, and linebackers performances last season, this time I’ll be taking a closer look at how defensive backs played in 2015. How did our preseason projections work out? Which players did we get wrong? How did the rookie class do?
It’s not pretty reading when looking over our pre-season rankings for defensive backs, but in defense of Jeff Ratcliffe, Nate Jahnke and myself, multiple injuries did afflict many of our top 10 defensive backs. Before I touch on some of the wiffs, it’s worth noting that our No. 1 ranked safety, Reshad Jones, was by far the top performing fantasy safety last year, and was so dominant that he was also the top scoring defensive player, outscoring all the elite linebackers. If you want to talk about hall-of-fame-esque seasons for fantasy players, Jones’ 2015 campaign would certainly rank highly. Jones will be one of the top ranked and safest plays again next season.
Looking at the rest of our pre-season DB1s, six players were hugely disappointing. Morgan Burnett (our pre-season No.2) only saw the field in one game before Week 8 due to injury, and although he averaged over 10 points per game when on the field, that only represented mid-tier DB2 scoring. That was partly because Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (11), one of the pre-season DB1s we did get right, was much more effective against the run than expected, charting 96 total tackles and ending the year as the 10th-highest scoring defensive back. I expect both Burnett and Clinton-Dix to be fringe DB1s again next season.
Another disappointment was Harrison Smith, who was the consensus No. 3. Smith did struggle with injuries in the second half of the season and missed three games, but he also suited up in six others games when he failed to register double-digit fantasy points. I don’t think Smith has regressed; rather, the Vikings defense has been greatly improved around him, so his amount of opportunities to make plays has fallen. Smith’s value is going to take a hit in the 2016 rankings, but I’m going to find it difficult to place him outside of the DB1 tier.
Eric Weddle (fourth) started the season hot, posting four consecutive games with over 12.5 points, before failing to break the six-point barrier in seven of the nine games he played the rest of the season. Weddle then proceeded to have a highly acrimonious split with the Chargers as the season ended, being placed on injured reserve against his wishes in Week 17 because “there wasn’t room on the plane” for the flight to the final game.
Since then Weddle has stated, “I [will] probably never speak to them again.” Weddle ended up signing with the Ravens on March 14 on a four-year deal. Like Burnett and Smith, who finished outside the top-60 defensive backs, I’m expecting a bounce back season next year. Weddle will be back in the mix as a top-6 defensive back playing in Baltimore.
Veterans Antoine Bethea (fifth) and James Ihedigbo (10) were also busts, but for different reasons. Bethea succumbed to injury, suiting up for just seven games, while Ihedigbo was flat out benched. Neither player will be DB1s in 2016.
Looking at our misses, several are certainly forgivable. Deone Bucannon (29), who ended the year as the third-best scoring defensive back thanks to spending the majority of the season playing as an inside linebacker in Arizona, did feature as a DB3 in our pre-season rankings, with Jeff even going as far as to rank him as his No.21.
Similarly, the Rams plugged in Mark Barron as a weakside linebacker after their starter, Alex Ogletree, was sent to injured reserve. Barron ended the season as the seventh-best defensive back despite playing only a limited role in Weeks 1-4 at strong safety in sub packages, before being inserted into the Rams lineup as an every-down WLB. You’d have to be a very prescient fantasy analyst to have pegged Bucannon and Barron as out-of-position steals in the pre-season, and considering Jeff went on to win his fourth-straight accuracy title from FantasyPros for his weekly IDP rankings, by reading PFF IDP content you’re in the right place to identify these type of breakout players before your league-mates.
Veteran Mike Adams (20) was a player I hyped a lot during the season in my weekly waiver wire articles, as I felt he was being underrated, and he ended the season as the No.16 ranked defensive back, four spots better than his consensus pre-season ranking. A closer look at Adams’ scoring on a per-game basis (12.99 ppg) actually ranked him as the fourth-best defensive back last season as he missed three games, and considering he scored as a low-end DB1 in 2014 as well, Adams will be a player I will be being more bullish on this coming season. He’ll likely fly somewhat under the radar as well, so should be a decent steal on draft day.
The Seattle duo of Earl Thomas (18) and Kam Chancellor (23) both failed to deliver for their fantasy owners, and even though both players only featured as low-end DB2s in our pre-season rankings, neither player managed to crack the top 50 defensive backs at the end of the year. Chancellor can point to missing four games to start the year as part of the problem, but in truth, both players were fantasy flops and have slipped into the DB3 tier heading into 2016.
Top 30 Defensive Backs – Staff Consensus Pre-Season Rankings vs. End of Season Ranking
|PS Rk||Player||Team||EOS Rk||Diff|
Before the season started there was one standout for fantasy purposes: Landon Collins. The All-American out of Alabama was a first-round snub in April, but still proved to be a popular pickup in rookie drafts if an owner needed help at defensive back. Replacing Antrel Rolle, who had recorded 87 or more total tackles in each of his five seasons in New York, Collins was expected to step in and be a productive starter from day one, which made him a upside DB2.
His debut was a lackluster affair (four total tackles for 6.5 points), but he improved as the season progressed and ended the year with five consecutive double-digit fantasy scores, posting eight or more total tackles in each game. I like Collins to continue to progress in his second season and have him pegged as a borderline DB1/2 with the potential to improve further.
It was another rookie defensive back though, Marcus Peters, who ended up taking the honors of being the Defensive Rookie of the Year. Picked 18th overall by the Chiefs, Peters was an impact player on the field, recording eight interceptions (tied for first in the league), a league-leading 26 pass break-ups and two touchdowns. The rookie showed his play-making ability, but also, importantly for his fantasy owners, showed he can be beaten as well, allowing eight touchdowns in his coverage, provoking teams to test him week after week. As a caveat though, including the playoffs, Peters only allowed two touchdowns over his final 13 games (104 targets), so how long opposing teams continue to force the ball in his direction is open to interpretation.
Ending his first season as a DB1, Peters is sure to be very popular in CB-required leagues next season, but I’d be keen to avoid him. Players dependent on high interception totals to bolster their fantasy value tend to be very volatile assets, and I’d rather try and find the next intriguing rookie CB than overpay for a player who could see a significant drop in the opportunities in 2016.
Two more players worth touching on for the 2015 class are Ronald Darby and Jaquiski Tartt. Darby was a second-round pick for the Bills and a starter by Week 1 at cornerback, playing well enough over the course of the season to garner four votes as the Defensive Rookie of the Year (Peters took 45-of-50 votes). Playing in front of the Buffalo home stat crew is always beneficial (he had 69 total tackles, 62 of which were solo), but especially so for corners who traditionally post low tackle totals. Ending the year as the sixth-best scoring corner, I like Darby to repeat as a low-end CB1 next season.
Tartt was a player I pushed heavily over the final weeks of the season, having not won the starting gig for the 49ers until Week 8. An in-the-box type safety, Tartt averaged 11.9 ppg from Week 7 – 14, which were low-end DB1 numbers. He does need to show some more dynamic playmaking ability to be considered a potential DB1 over the course of a season, but he is an upside player I’ll be looking at strongly as my second or third DB next year.
2015 Rookie Defensive Backs
2015 Defensive Back MVP – Reshad Jones
What a season for Jones, who recorded 136 total tackles, shattering his previous career best. It was also the highest tackle total for a defensive back since 2011 (Antoine Bethea – 139). The best thing about Jones and his scoring was his reliability, as he scored double-digit fantasy points in 15-of-16 games, and the one he missed on, he scored 9.8 points. He also broke the 20-point barrier on four occasions, and recorded five or more solo tackles in all but one game. Being the top scoring safety is impressive enough, but out-performing all other defensive players for fantasy purposes was truly exceptional, and I’d even go as far to name Jones as the 2015 IDP MVP. He was simply that good last season.
2015 Defensive Back Bust of the Year – James Ihedigbo
Plenty of players at the top of our pre-season rankings could be considered serious contenders to be the biggest bust last season, but for those that suffered injuries which derailed their seasons, that seems a little harsh. James Ihedigbo, though, had posted borderline DB1 seasons in both 2013 and 2014, with his efforts in 2014 also ranking second amongst safeties on a PPG-basis, so his fall from grace last year was a major surprise. Used in an every-down role from Weeks 1-4, Ihedigbo had a reduced snap count for the next three games before he was flat out benched for Isa Abdul-Quddus. For the rest of the season, the Lions seemed unsure of which player to utilize at safety. Ihedigbo didn’t play more than 46 snaps in a single game after Week 8, and played 12 or less snaps on four occasions, making him irrelevant for fantasy purposes, while his direct replacement, Abdul-Quddus was only a marginal fantasy play himself.
Most run snaps within eight yards of the scrimmage
|#||Name||Team||Run Snaps||% within 8yds|
Defensive Backs with over 30 pass rush snaps
Ross Miles is a Lead Writer for Pro Football Focus Fantasy. Follow him on Twitter – @RossMilesNFL
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