The calendar has flipped from May to June. Temperatures are climbing, grills and swimming pools across America have sprung to life, and kids across the land are beginning to enjoy the annual freedom that comes with summer vacation.
There’s no such break for NFL players, though, as summer brings with it organized team activities (OTAs), followed by training camp and the preseason. Before you know it, it’ll be the first week of September and they’ll be playing games for real.
Among the young men getting their feet wet in OTAs, the pressure is greatest on the rookies, who have been thrown into the deep end of the pool. Whether it’s early-round picks trying earn a starting job or late-rounders trying to earn any job at all, every rep counts.
Of course, the summer brings with it different things for Individual Defensive Player (IDP) owners. For those in dynasty leagues, it means rookie drafts. In turn, that means examining the landing spots of this year’s incoming class in an effort to determine how their destination affects their fantasy football value, both in 2014 and beyond.
Before we get to the defensive backs, an important note about that maddening inconsistency. The defensive back position is both ridiculously deep and incredibly hard to predict. With the exception of very deep dynasty leagues, there isn’t much point to drafting a defensive back in the hopes he’ll contribute at some mythical point “down the road.”
If they can’t help you now, odds are there are plenty of other defensive backs available who can.
With that in mind, before we look at the players featured in this year’s
IDP Draft Preview Series at IDP Manor
, here’s a video breakdown of the top rookie fantasy defensive backs of 2014.
Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
(New York Jets – Round 1, Pick 18)
The New York Jets were a surprising 8-8 last year, in part to due to a stout defense. However, the safety spots were a weakness, with starters Dawan Landry and Antonio Allen each ranking outside the Top 50 at their position
Pro Football Focus
. That led Gang Green to turn a few heads with their first pick, using it on hard-hitting Louisville safety Calvin Pryor.
It’s a pick that met with the approval of last year’s first-rounder,
according to Dom Cosetino of NJ.com
“It’s great,” cornerback
said of Pryor. “Receivers are going to know where he’s at at all times. Certain routes they run, they know he’s going to be around, so they might get little alligator arms or not want to do as much. That helps a lot, knowing that you’ve got a killer-instinct-type of guy in the back.”
Landry is an experienced veteran who has a long history with head coach Rex Ryan, but in the best of days he was a liability in coverage. The general expectation is that it will be Pryor starting at strong safety when the Jets open the season against Oakland. Assuming that’s the case, Pryor’s an upside IDP DB2 pick, and one that merits a long look as the first rookie defensive back off IDP draft boards this summer.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
(Green Bay Packers – Round 1, Pick 21)
Leading up to the 2014 NFL draft, the prevailing school of thought was that either Pryor or Clinton-Dix would be the first safety selected. Pryor may have won that “race” by a few picks, but in the long run it’s Clinton-Dix who probably got the better end of the deal from an NFL perspective.
The Packers’ selection of Clinton-Dix at No. 21 drew raves from
Mike Mayock of the NFL Network
“That pick made a ton of sense for the Packers,” Mayock said. :Of all the safeties in draft, this guy had the best range. He plays faster than his NFL Scouting Combine 40-yard dash time (4.58 seconds). He misses surprisingly few tackles, and as a center fielder he’s a natural. For a big guy, his movement skills are very natural.”
Unfortunately for IDP owners, given Clinton Dix’s skill set and the presence of Morgan Burnett in Green Bay, the rookie is going to be spending a lot of time prowling the back end rather than “in the box.” That’s going to make Clinton-Dix big reliant on big plays for IDP production a la Jairus Byrd of the New Orleans Saints, and leaves Clinton-Dix a streaky IDP DB3 pick for fantasy owners.
Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State (Cleveland Browns – Round 1, Pick 8)
The Cleveland Browns hopped around like a pogo stick in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, dropping back from fourth to ninth and then up to eighth, where the Browns became the first time to pick a defensive back by selecting Oklahoma State cornerback
Gilbert gave fans a scare by suffering a minor knee injury in OTAs, but he’s expected to be fine and drew the praise of defensive coordinator Jim O’ Neill during workouts according to
Mary Kay Cabot of The Northeast Ohio Media Group
“(He’s) obviously great looking corner, he’s got great speed, great athletic ability, has length to recover,’’ O’Neill said. “I’ve been really impressed with his work habits in the classroom. He’s done a really good job throwing himself into the scheme and trying to learn it.
’s done a really nice job kind of big-brothering him and helping him along in the defense. So I’ve been really impressed by him.”
Odds are good that Gilbert opens the season starting opposite Haden, which should mean more than a few passes will be headed the rookie’s way in 2014. That gives Gilbert a pretty good shot of being the first cornerback since
to be both the first player at his position selected in the NFL draft and the top-scoring rookie cornerback in IDP leagues.
Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State
(Arizona Cardinals – Round 1, Pick 27)
In IDP, defensive backs are like sports bars. It has every bit as much to do with location as it does with anything on the menu. In that regard, Bucannon may be the biggest “winner” of the 2014 draft.
The Cardinals raised a few eyebrows by taking Bucannon in the first round, but general manager Steve Keim indicated to
Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com
that the Cardinals’ were happy to land the 6-foot-1, 216-pounder, calling Bucannon the team’s “answer to Kam Chancellor.” In fact, Rosenthal goes so far as to call Bucannon a “dark-horse Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate.”
What should be of even more interest to IDP owners is the clear path to the starting job at strong safety for Bucannon. Yeremiah Bell posted DB4 numbers in that spot last year in
Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring
, and Bell was like 58 years old. It isn’t at all unreasonable to think Bucannon will better that finish by leaps and bounds, and it’s Bucannon who’s our pick as this year’s top rookie IDP defensive back.
Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor
(Dallas Cowboys – Round 7, Pick 248)
Given that to this point every player we’ve discussed was taken in the first round, it would seem at first glance that Dixon doesn’t have much to offer IDP owners in 2014. After all, the 6-foot, 212-pounder was barely drafted at all.
Head coach Jason Garrett’s statements to
Jon Machota of
The Dallas Morning News
just after Dixon was drafted would seem to bear that out as well.
“He’s a really fast, hard-hitting safety,” Garrett said. “A guy who we think can come in and really contribute on special teams, but also the right kind of guy to develop and compete as a position player as well.”
Still, it’s worth pointing out that the situation at free safety next to Barry Church in Dallas is uncertain at best. This isn’t to say that Dixon merits a draft pick in IDP leagues as things stand today, but he’s a player we may well be revisiting in short order if the youngster can turn some heads at training camp.
Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois (San Francisco 49ers – Round 1, Pick 30)
“He’s a true free safety. He can play strong safety,” Mayock said. This is a kid who’s a natural center fielder, but he’ll move up to make a play (against the run).”
Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area
points out, the 49ers may have something else in mind, with head coach Jim Harbaugh suggesting that Ward will compete for snaps as the slot corner as a rookie.
Ward’s NFL future may well be bright, but between established starters in front of him at safety in Antoine Bethea and Eric Reid, a potential part-time role as a rookie and an injured foot that’s hampering him in OTAs, it isn’t wise to count on Ward to make much of a fantasy contribution this season.
Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State (Cincinnati Bengals – Round 1, Pick 24)
Cornerback was one of the biggest needs facing the Cincinnati Bengals in this year’s draft, and
the Bengals got a steal by taking Dennard at No. 24.
“I don’t think the Bengals expected him to be available,” Mayock said. “Dennard is the best press cornerback in this draft. He fits what defensive coordinator Paul Guenther wants to do. He is one of best pure football players in this draft.”
Dennard has yet to sign his rookie deal, but that hasn’t stopped him taking the practice field for OTAs. He told
Coley Harvey of ESPN
so far, so good.
“Everybody says it’s faster [in the NFL], but I don’t really think it is,” Dennard said. “Everybody can run the same and everybody can jump as high. The difference is your mindset and how fast it’s going in your brain. That’s what I’m trying to adjust to right now. Everything is still going 100 mph. I’m just trying to slow it down.”
Dennard may not think the NFL’s faster, but odds are if he earns a full-time role he’ll found out he was wrong pretty quickly. That’s actually what IDP owners should be hoping for – enough snaps for Dennard to become a “rookie corner” candidate who could have some value in cornerback-required fantasy leagues.
Craig Loston, S, LSU
(Jacksonville Jaguars, UDFA)
Sure, Loston wasn’t considered an NFL prospect on the level of Calvin Pryor or Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, but it was still something of a surprise when the 6-foot-1, 217-pounder wasn’t drafted at all.
Loston eventually latched on in Jacksonville, and head coach Gus Bradley told
Hays Carlyon of
The Florida Times-Union
Loston is doing his best to make a good first impression.
“There were a couple of times where we thought he got on course and would’ve had some nice plays in the field, but obviously we’re not in pads,” Bradley said. “He’s already talking to Johnathan Cyprien and Josh Evans about what they went through last year and that’s good, that’s what we need our locker room to do.”
The Jaguars aren’t exactly loaded for bear at the safety position, but, before Loston can even think about unseating Cyprien, he needs to make the team. That’s no sure bet, and it leaves Loston with no real IDP value in 2014.
Finally, before we slap a bow of the 2014 IDP Draft Review and move on to a whole different sort of draft(s), here’s a quick recap of the Top 10 rookie defensive backs in 2014 in dynasty IDP leagues for those of you who are video-averse.
Come on. Watch it. You know you want to.
1.) Deone Bucannon, SS, Arizona:
Clear path to starting job and IDP DB2 production from Day 1.
2.) Calvin Pryor, SS, New York Jets:
Will vie for top spot if he beats out Dawan Landry (as expected) to start in 2014.
3.) Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Green Bay:
A centerfield role isn’t going to help IDP value one bit.
4.) Justin Gilbert, CB, Cleveland:
Last time the first cornerback drafted was the top rookie IDP cornerback? Back in 2011 (Patrick Peterson, Arizona).
5.) Jason Verrett, CB, San Diego:
Not much in front of him on the depth chart in San Diego (like, nothing).
6.) Darqueze Dennard, CB, Cincinnati:
IDP value in short-term will depend heavily on early snaps.
7.) Kyle Fuller, CB, Chicago:
Solid tackler, won’t have to wait too long for starting job behind aging Bears cornerbacks.
8.) Dezmen Southward, S, Aatlant:
Could be sneaky late pick that winds up with real value in 2014.
9.) Jimmie Ward, S/CB, San Francisco:
Talent’s there, but role is uncertain and depth chart is crowded.
10.) Bradley Roby, CB, Denver:
Uncertain if Ohio State star will see enough snaps to make a rookie dent.
As IDP Draft Season gets underway in earnest, Fantasy Sharks has you covered. Whether it’s player rankings for Redraft and Dynasty leagues, projections, player spotlights, sleepers and busts or strategy tips, IDP Staff Writers Walton Spurlin and Mike Woellert and IDP Senior Staff Writer Gary Davenport have all the information you need to dominate your IDP league in 2014.
Gary Davenport is the IDP Senior Staff Writer at Fantasy Sharks and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and Pro Football Writers of America. Davenport’s IDP work has been featured in a number of national print publications and on both satellite and terrestrial radio, and he was a finalist for the FSWA Web Article of the Year in 2013.