13 Rookie Defensive Backs To Target In IDP Leagues
Much like the rookie defensive lineman and linebackers I’ve discussed recently, there are some first-year defensive backs that have found themselves in favorable positions to produce in the 2016 fantasy season.
In the last of three IDP rookie articles, I’ll look at the defensive back class of 2016.
Of all the positions, defensive back is the one you can wait the longest on. Even if you don’t land one of the top guys, you can count on a few defensive backs to emerge throughout the season. As the NFL becomes more pass-happy, corners and safeties are recording more tackles and defended passes. I will let you in on which backs to target for IDP success in re-draft and dynasty leagues.
Jalen Ramsey, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars couldn’t get to the podium fast enough to announce their selection of Ramsey. He’ll be one of the top targets not only in leagues requiring cornerbacks, but also in defensive back mixed leagues. He appears ready to start on the outside and will play press-man.
Ramsey started 41 games in three seasons at Florida State, producing 181 total tackles, 22 defended passes, and three interceptions. He’s not a ball hawking corner, but does offer outstanding speed and has the ability to take his opponent out of the game -- he allowed fewer than 40 percent of the passes thrown his way to be complete. His ability to play corner and safety offers versatility as well.
Update: Another rookie bitten by the injury bug. Ramsey suffered a knee injury on May 19th, which was the same knee that underwent microfracture surgery while he was in high school. Depending on the severity of the injury, knock him off your re-draft board. He's worth adding as a CB2 in dynasty.
Keanu Neal, SS, Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons made Neal their first round pick to bolster their defensive backfield. He’s going to provide an immediate upgrade over Kemal Ishmael and has been slotted at the top of the depth chart. Neal is a big hitter and the Falcons are counting on him right away.
In 2015, Neal notched 96 tackles in 12 games and also recorded four interceptions in three seasons. He is a vicious hitter and will look to set the tone for a Falcons defense that needs some aggressiveness. Neal possesses decent range that will allow him to be solid in coverage, but he should see most of his snaps near the line of scrimmage. He’s a tackle machine that knows how to finish the play, and he’ll be able to play every snap.
Head coach Dan Quinn is already envisioning Neal as his version of Kam Chancellor -- he’d love if the Falcons defense resembled his former Seahawks defense. Neal and Cravens should be the top-two safeties taken in rookie drafts, and Neal has fringe-DB2 upside in re-draft leagues.
Karl Joseph, SS, Oakland Raiders
With Charles Woodson retiring, the Raiders had a gaping hole at strong safety. Oakland did a good job of improving their secondary over the offseason, adding Reggie Nelson and Sean Smith. The addition of Joseph out of West Virginia should only help.
Joseph plays with a reckless-abandon style, but it was a non-contact injury that caused him to tear his ACL last October. As a freshman in 2012, he notched 104 tackles in 13 games before recording another 150 as a sophomore and junior. He was on his way to a huge season as a senior, producing 20 tackles and five picks in five games before the injury put a halt to his year. Joseph is an impactful player that shouldn’t find any problems acclimating himself to the locker room, as he displays good leadership qualities. When on the field, Joseph has a nose for the football, always looking to turn it over rather than deflect it away. He can play in the backfield or in the box and has great instincts for the ball.
Joseph won’t participate in rookie activities but should be good to go for training camp, barring any setbacks. Injury concerns could cause him to fall further than he should in drafts, but I view him as a DB3 or bench depth in re-draft and as a top-five defensive back in rookie drafts.
Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Hargreaves was the third corner taken in the draft and offers quite a bit of upside in Tampa’s defense. At Florida, he established himself as a shutdown corner in the mold of Joe Haden and can take away one side of the field.
Even though Hargreaves is less than six feet tall, his 39-inch vertical allows him to make plays on the ball at its apex. He’s an explosive playmaker and isn’t afraid to play the run or come up and tackle on receiver screens. After recording six interceptions and 24 defended passes during 2013 and 2014, opposing offenses started to go away from him -- his deflections fell to four in 2015. His instincts should allow him to be a premier corner.
Hargreaves should be one of the top targets this season in leagues where cornerbacks are required. Take advantage of the potential for production that should come his way -- opposing quarterbacks could look to target him to see what kind of plays he can make. Hargreaves plays in a division with Julio Jones, Kelvin Benjamin and Brandin Cooks, and the top-level talent could cause him to see a lot of work on a weekly basis.
Sean Davis, SS, Pittsburgh Steelers
Shamarko Thomas had been a disappointment thus far, and so the Steelers pulled the trigger in the second round on Davis. Davis has a chance to be a contributor at the beginning of the season, as the Steelers see him as their strong safety alongside a roaming Mike Mitchell at free safety. Davis notched 75 solo tackles as a senior at Maryland and could be one of those first-week waiver adds that pays dividends in re-draft leagues. In dynasty formats, I look at him as a top-five or top-six safety.
Deon Bush, SS, Chicago Bears
As of now, Bush is second on the depth chart behind Harold Jones-Quartey. The Bears envision Bush as a starter, so it could be just a matter of time before the fourth-rounder out of Miami is getting major playing time. He could wrestle away the starting job as early as training camp, and if he can produce, he’ll be worth adding in waivers in deep re-draft leagues.
Miles Killebrew, SS, Detroit Lions
Killebrew is another defender that fits the linebacker-safety hybrid role. The four-year starter at Southern Utah is an imposing player that forces his will on the ball carrier. Killebrew, who had a huge Combine, will be an intimidating presence in the box and can make bit hits. He is average in coverage, however, with a similar game as Landon Collins. In Detroit, Killebrew will have the chance to compete for the starting strong safety spot. If he wins it out of training camp, I’d make him one of your top targets in dynasty drafts. Definitely consider Killebrew with an in-season waiver pickup if he gets those snaps at the line of scrimmage and produces.
William Jackson, CB, Cincinnati Bengals
A couple of things are working against Dre Kirkpatrick: he’s still recovering from shoulder surgery and the Bengals made Jackson a first-round pick. Jackson’s 2015 at Houston stands out; he picked off five passes, defended 23 passes, and allowed fewer than 40 percent of targets at him to be completed. Possessing elite speed, all Jackson needs to do is bulk up. He should be playing significant snaps at some point this season.
Darian Thompson, FS, New York Giants
The Giants are developing a solid defensive backfield. Thompson finished up a solid senior season at Boise State with 65 tackles and five interceptions and could battle for the starting free safety spot in New York. The concern is that Thompson plays too similarly to Landon Collins -- they both are at their best near the line of scrimmage. Thompson is going to have to play more of an outfielder-type role to allow Collins play in the box.
Long-Term Dynasty Targets
Vonn Bell, FS, New Orlean Saints
Bell, a second-rounder out of Ohio State, could be a contributor starting in 2017. He’s behind Jairus Byrd, but with Byrd has been suffering from declining play and injuries. However, Byrd’s contract isn’t up until 2020, which is something to keep in mind.
James Bradberry, CB, Carolina Panthers
It doesn’t appear that Carolina will sign any veteran depth at corner, but it looks like Bradberry will be fourth on the depth chart. The second-rounder out of Samford is a long-term chip in dynasty leagues.
K.J. Dillon, FS, Houston Texans
If Dillon carves out a role with Houston, it’ll be mostly as a special teamer. The fifth-rounder out of West Virginia may not be given a chance to contribute on defense until 2018.
Jeremy Cash, LB/S, Carolina Panthers
Cash is buried in Carolina’s linebacker depth chart. However, if converted to safety, the undrafted rookie free agent out of Duke could be useful at the strong side and will have a shot at playing time. If he does remain at linebacker, Cash’s best bet might be getting cut and landing on a team with more playing time available at the position.
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