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2014 IDP Free Agent Preview: Defensive Backs

With the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine wrapping up in Indianapolis, the eyes of most Individual Defensive Player (IDP) enthusiasts have been on Lucas Oil Stadium, where young defensive stalwarts such as South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack displayed their skills for NFL scouts.

However, before we find out where those youngsters will ply their trade in May’s NFL draft, there’s another matter to attend to.

Free agency.

We’ve already taken a look at the
defensive linemen

and the

, so let’s wrap up this year’s guns for hire by examining the top free agent defensive backs in 2014.

Before we get rolling, two notes. The first domino has already fallen (or didn’t fall, as the case may be). Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall re-upped with the Redskins for four more years, so Hall’s DB2 (and elite CB1) value in IDP leagues appears stable, at least where 2014 is concerned.

Also, I could write about 47,000 words on free agent defensive backs that might have an IDP impact this year and still leave guys out. Just because names like Roman Harper and Jairus Byrd (a much better NFL player than IDP, at least in Buffalo) aren’t mentioned here doesn’t mean they won’t have fantasy value in the upcoming season, especially should they land in a favorable spot.

T.J. Ward, SS, Cleveland

Ever since Ward’s 123-tackle rookie season in 2010, IDP owners have been waiting (with growing impatience each successive year) for Ward to backup his top 5 finish among defensive backs.

Well, Ward came pretty close in 2013. For the first time since his rookie season, Ward topped the century mark, notching 112 stops. Toss in the two interceptions and 1.5 sacks and the 27-year-old finished the year third among all defensive backs in
Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring


Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland 
reports that despite the recent regime change (again) in Cleveland, the Browns still intend to make bringing Ward back to Northern Ohio a priority.

With the franchise tag for safeties a relatively palatable $8 million in 2014 and Ward a key piece of the Cleveland defense, it’s pretty unlikely he’s going anywhere. That leaves Ward a solid (if a bit risky) DB1 in 2014, although it’s possible we’ll be right back in this same spot a year from now.

Antoine Bethea, FS, Indianapolis

With LaRon Landry joining the Colts in 2013, many IDP pundits (myself included) thought Bethea was in for a dip in stats.

Yeah, about that.

For the fourth straight year (and fifth time in six seasons), Bethea topped 100 total tackles. His 80 solos tied a career best. Bethea finished the season 12th among defensive backs, the ninth-year veteran’s second DB1 finish in three years.

With that said though, Bethea graded outside the top 50 safeties at 
Pro Football Focus in 2013 for the second straight year in 2013, and given that the Colts already have a lot of money wrapped up in Landry and that Bethea told the
Indianapolis Star he’s “keeping his options open,” the 29-year-old’s return to the Colts in 2014 is by no means a slam dunk.

Bethea will likely land somewhere in DB2 territory, but until we see how things shake out it’s hard to say whether it’s in the top 15 or just inside the top 25.

Bernard Pollard, SS, Tennessee

There are two things you can count on from Pollard. The first is that Pollard has a penchant for
hurting New England Patriots


No, really

He does

The second is that just like blasting Patriot players, whether it’s in Kansas City, Houston, Baltimore or Tennessee, Pollard has been about as consistent as fantasy defensive backs get throughout his career.

Pollard’s DB14 finish in 2013 was the third time he’s placed among the top 20 defensive backs since 2008, and the 29-year-old hasn’t finished outside DB3 territory over that stretch.

Still, Pollard is very much a classic “in-the-box” strong safety in an NFL where those are going the way of the fullback, and the nine-year veteran has developed something of a reputation as a player who wears out his welcome quickly.

It’s very possible that Pollard could return to the Titans or sign elsewhere and start and function as a high-floor DB2 in 2014. There’s also a chance, however, that Pollard could have some trouble drumming up interest, which will make for a bumpy summer for Pollard’s dynasty IDP owners.

Charles Woodson, SS, Oakland

Heading into 2013, not a whole lot was expected from Woodson. After all, he was 36 years old, coming off a season in which he missed nine games, and moving back to Oakland after seven seasons with the Green Bay Packers.

Well, all Woodson did in his first year as the Raiders strong safety was post a career-high 97 tackles, while adding his usual assortment of big plays with two sacks, an interception and three forced fumbles.

Woodson finished eighth among defensive backs in fantasy points last year, and, according to Scott Bair of Comcast Sports Net California, 
there’s mutual interest between Woodson and the Raiders in him coming back to the team in 2014. With the Raiders having more cap space than any team in the NFL, finding the money certainly won’t be a problem.

Yes, there will always be some risk in drafting an IDP that’s as long in the tooth as Woodson. But, the fact remains when Woodson is on the field he continues to make plays, and if he’s undervalued half as much in IDP leagues as he was in 2013, the modest risk with Woodson is more than worth the potential reward.

Alterraun Verner, CB, Tennessee

Bernard Pollard isn’t the only impending free agent in the Titans’ secondary, and after the 2013 season, cornerback
Alterraun Verner

just gave the Titans a very difficult personnel decisions to make in the near future.

While batterymate
Jason McCourty

struggled mightily opposite him a year ago, Verner had the best overall season of his four-year NFL career, notching a career-high five interceptions and finishing as the NFL’s 12th-ranked cornerback at
Pro Football Focus.

Verner was also a top 20 fantasy cornerback, despite the fact that his 57 tackles were the second-lowest total of his career. With that said, there’s a new defensive coordinator in Nashville in 2014, and more man coverage should mean more tackle opportunities for Verner and McCourty.

However, Verner’s big year and age (25) will make him a hot commodity on the open market, and Jim Wyatt of the
Nashville Tennessean 

recently reported Verner may be out of Tennessee’s price range, especially with more than $8.5 million annually already tied up in McCourty.

A return to Nashville and new defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s aggressive defense would likely be best from an IDP standpoint, but frankly at this point it’s looking more like Verner will be donning a new hat next year.

Best Of The Rest

Charles Tillman, CB, Chicago:
After an injury-marred 2013, Tillman has said he has no intention of switching to safety 
and will test free agency. Some pundits have theorized that the 33-year-old could be reunited with former head coach Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay opposite
Darrelle Revis
an interesting landing spot given Tillman’s IDP success while Smith coached Chicago.

Stevie Brown, SS, New York Giants:
Brown didn’t ever get a chance to backup 2012’s eight-interception explosion, as a torn ACL ended his 2013 season before it started. Brown and the Giants 
have reportedly discussed his return in 2014, but Antrel Rolle played well at strong safety in his stead last year. For the right price a return sounds right, and if Brown’s starting and the knee checks out, the 26-year-old could have some real value in IDP drafts this summer.

Major Wright, SS, Chicago:
One of the handful of defensive backs who annually come from nowhere, Wright was a top 15 defensive back in 2013 on the heels of a career-best 100 stops. Of course, Wright made 100 tackles because the Bears defense was an exploding toilet, and Wright ranked dead last among all safeties at
Pro Football Focus
. In other words, last year was just one of those one-shot deals. The Bears aren’t going to overpay for Wright, and neither should you.

James Ihedigbo, SS, Baltimore:
Entering 2013, the assumption was rookie Matt Elam would open at strong safety, but it was career special-teamer Ihedigbo who held down the spot all season long. Not only did Ihedigbo top 100 tackles and finish 16th among defensive backs, but that was also his ranking among safeties at
Pro Football Focus. However, with very little cap space and Elam waiting in the wings, the 30-year-old Ihedigbo is probably moving on to an uncertain future.

Mike Mitchell, SS, Carolina:
Mitchell may never justify the bizarre second-round pick the Oakland Raiders used on him in 2009, but for the first time in six NFL seasons Mitchell finally made a difference for NFL teams and IDP owners in 2013. The 26-year-old set career-highs across the board last year en route to a top 25 fantasy finish among defensive backs. Still, Mitchell isn’t so good a player that teams will be beating down his door, and assuming a return to Charlotte, Mitchell could be an OK late-round DB2 pick in 2014.

Finally, as I mentioned earlier, there are any number of players not listed here who could easily have quite a bit more IDP value in a couple of months, so don’t be surprised if names like
Brent Grimes

and Chris Clemons enter the conversation more as we move into spring.

Be sure to check back here at Fantasy Sharks throughout the offseason for all your IDP needs. Whether it’s information on free agency and the 2014 NFL draft, updated dynasty and redraft player rankings or strategy tips and sleepers, Fantasy Sharks has everything 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. 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.

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