In today’s pass-happy NFL, the defensive back (DB) position is one of the most important – and therefore most valuable. In Individual Defensive Player (IDP) fantasy football, however, the position is one of the most easily-filled spots on anyone’s rosters.
Why, you might ask? A little concept known as “replacement-level value” helps us compare players at different positions by looking not just at the raw points they produce, but by looking at their points above or below the last rosterable player at their position. Last season, in a 16-team balanced scoring league where you start two safeties and two cornerbacks, the top options at each position were +59.0 points above replacement (PAR) and +55.0 PAR, respectively.
Compare that to defensive end Chandler Jones (+131.0 PAR) or linebacker Bobby Wagner (+114.5 PAR) in 2017, and you can understand why DB’s – and unproven rookies especially – are devalued. I wouldn’t look to draft defensive backs until the middle rounds of a deeper dynasty league’s rookie draft, and even there I’m only targeting out-and-out studs. This year, you’re simply not likely to find many of those.
In addition, you’ll notice on this list that rookie cornerbacks are very lowly ranked. There simply is not as much tackle opportunity (the bread-and-butter of DB fantasy points) for cornerbacks due to them often being in coverage on one player or area, as opposed to safeties who have a variety of responsibilities and tend to score higher and more consistently.
Terrell Edmunds, SS
6’1”, 217 lb. from Virginia Tech
1st Round, 28th pick (28), Steelers
The Steelers added strong safety Morgan Burnett in free agency this year, but it’s telling that they selected Terrell Edmunds as high as they did – when he was projected by NFL.com in the third or fourth round. They’ve also mentioned that they will move 2017 strong safety starter Sean Davis to free safety, freeing up the prime IDP spot for the rookie. Edmunds will be a Week 1 starter, and should earn a line close to 60 solos, 15 assists, 6 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks, and 2 interceptions.
Derwin James, SS
6’2”, 215 lb. from Florida State
1st Round, 17th pick (17), Chargers
Derwin James has one of the best prospect profiles in this rookie class, but couldn’t have asked for a muddier landing spot for fantasy purposes. The Chargers have a loaded safety depth chart, including long-time starter Jahleel Adda. James should start immediately, but what his duties will be is a question. The Chargers like to split safety roles fairly evenly, with Addae usually playing a strong safety role more than others. Addae could shift to free safety more full-time, which would allow James a stat line close to 60 solos, 20 assists, and 4 passes defensed.
Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB
6’0”, 204 lb. from Alabama
1st Round, 11th pick (11), Dolphins
Everything you’ve loved about Micah Hyde is what we can expect from Minkah Fitzpatrick in the NFL. Fitzpatrick has the potential to work as a hybrid safety/cornerback that can move all over the field, and the Dolphins seem to see that too; he was announced simply as a non-specific “defensive back” on draft day. Unfortunately, that means he won’t have the specific duties of a strong safety that we covet in IDP. 55 solos, 10 assists, 3 interceptions, and 8 passes defensed are within reach.
Tarvarius Moore, S
6’2”, 190 lb. from Southern Mississippi
3rd Round, 31st pick (95), 49ers
Tarvarius Moore is a physical marvel with the size, speed, and technique to play either free or strong safety, but he will likely be consigned to the single-high free role in San Francisco, due to Jaquiski Tartt’s presence. Still, he’ll see his fair share of opportunities and might make some for himself anyway. A line of 60 solos, 15 assists, an interception, and 6 passes defensed is possible if he earns the starting job.
Jessie Bates, S
6’1”, 200 lb. from Wake Forest
2nd Round, 22nd pick (54), Bengals
Jessie Bates has the physical profile we want from a safety, with a big-hitting style and a propensity for playing close to the line that racks up fantasy points in IDP leagues. The only problem for him is that the Bengals have two locked-in starting safeties in Shawn Williams and George Iloka. It’s possible the Bengals look to cut one of these veterans next season and save some money against the cap, but you’re therefore drafting Bates for his 2019 impact and beyond. He should earn 50 solos, 20 assists, 2 interceptions, and 5 passes defensed if granted a starting role next year.
Jordan Whitehead, S
5’10”, 198 lb. from Pittsburgh
4th Round, 17th pick (117), Buccaneers
For some unknowable reason, Chris Conte has been able to string together a seven-year career, despite grading out as mediocre to terrible as a starter on Pro Football Focus. Jordan Whitehead is a good candidate to displace him. Whitehead doesn’t have the size or strength to play a traditional strong safety role, but could play a hybrid slot cornerback/safety role that would make him reasonably valuable for fantasy. 45 solos, 10 assists, 2 interceptions, and 5 passes defensed could be a reasonable line in this role.
Ronnie Harrison, SS
6’2”, 207 lb. from Alabama
3rd Round, 29th pick (93), Jaguars
Ronnie Harrison is another classic strong safety big-hitter who just happened to fall into an unlucky 2018 fantasy situation. Barry Church is locked-in at strong safety, and it’s unlikely the team moves on from deep man Tashaun Gipson this year. Harrison has range and aggression to spare, but he could also whiff on tackles a fair amount too. He’ll need to clean up his technique, but 2019 could see him snag 45 solos, 8 assists, 2 interceptions, and 4 passes defensed.
Kyzir White, S
6’2”, 218 lb. from West Virginia
4th Round, 19th pick (119), Chargers
If Fitzpatrick is the Micah Hyde of this draft class, Kyzir White is the versatile linebacker/safety Deone Bucannon/Mark Barron of it. White dropped to the fourth round, not because of his potential but due to his rawness and lack of production so far; he grew into his current frame late, and had to transfer to West Virginia from a junior college first. He has a ton of power and enough range to play a coverage linebacker role, but he’ll need to break through a log-jammed depth chart first. If and when he does, we could see 65 solos, 25 assists, 6 tackles for a loss, and 2 passes defensed. He has a high ceiling, but a very low floor.