Trend Checker - Defensive Backs
The steepest learning curve for new IDP owners is dealing with the defensive backfield. Corners and safeties have positional value in the NFL, but this just doesn’t translate onto the virtual fantasy football field. In the final article of this series, we’ll analyze a few trends that will help you prepare your defensive back strategy for 2014.
When examining trends with the defensive line and linebackers, many aspects of those positions work together based on 3-4 or 4-3 schemes. When looking for trends, it’s fairly evident that the front seven scheme really has no impact on the defensive backfield. But here are some trends that we’re seeing across the league.
Land of Opportunity
The NFL is a passing league. Even run-first teams are throwing the football more than ever. Pass attempts across the board are at record levels. This creates more opportunities for defensive backs to make tackles and translates to more defensive backs with significant tackle numbers in the league.
Higher passing attempts and completions works two ways for fantasy football. First, the increased tackle opportunities devalue the pool of defensive backs. There are countless corners and safeties racking up tackles. Even in the deepest leagues you can usually find help at these positions off the waiver wire during the season.
Second, it does create an opportunity for the top tier players to really rack up monster numbers, usually strong safeties. The problem still remains that identifying which safeties will post those great numbers is extremely difficult and usually not worth even a mid-round draft pick to try.
Despite the fact that some defensive backs will score big this season, I’d still wait as long as possible to select them in your fantasy football draft. There’s just not that big of a difference between tiers and even when there is, the turnover from year to year is hard to project.
Slot Corners and Third Safety
In the linebacker article, we looked at how often teams are in their subpackages. The nickel corner is basically a starter for NFL teams these days. There have even been times where I’ve seen nickel corners started, with some success, in really deep IDP leagues. This isn’t recommended because you can usually find an outside cornerback who plays more snaps and has more upside.
However, some NFL teams are starting to get more creative on how they handle the slot. The safeties coming into the league are more versatile than ever before. We’re seeing teams use three safeties at times to combat multiple formation no-huddle offenses.
The important thing from a fantasy football standpoint is to know how each team is handling it’s subpackages. Do they just use an extra corner every time they’re in the nickel? Or are they mixing in other personnel. Snaps equal opportunities for IDPs to make tackles and tackles equal points.
Talent Means Nothing
Last season’s number one defensive back was Barry Church of the Dallas Cowboys. He graded out as the 39th best safety in the league with a minus-0.5 overall rating for the year. Try to turn off your NFL brain when evaluating fantasy football defensive backs. Name value means nothing.
Church played 1048 snaps and racked up over 100 solo tackles. Draft players late in your fantasy draft who have similar profiles. Just make sure your defensive backs are good enough to keep their starting job throughout the season. Or at least that there’s no one else on the roster that presents a real threat.
Strong versus Free
The strong safety is still the premium position for IDP fantasy football success. In most schemes, this player is closer to the line of scrimmage or “in-the-box” and can make more tackles in the run game.
But we are seeing more free safeties score big fantasy points. One example is Harrison Smith of the Vikings. He’s able to post big tackle numbers due to Minnesota’s saftey usage. In an interview with him last year, he explained that both safeties in the scheme have to be able to play close to the line or as the deep center fielder.
Of course, now that scheme has changed with a new coaching staff. Coaching changes are another reason it’s so hard to project defensive back success from year to year.
New coaches may think very differently about their players’ strengths and weaknesses or may just choose to use them in a different role, changing their fantasy football value. Don’t fall into the trap of looking at last year’s stats to project this year’s potential. Use all the wonderful tools here at Pro Football Focus Fantasy to identify the best IDP values for your league draft.
Nate Hodges is a lead writer for PFF Fantasy and radio host for Tennessee Sports Radio (Saturdays at noon eastern). Listen at TNsportsradio.com. His work can also be found at TopTierFootball.com. You can follow him on Twitter – @NateNFL