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Breaking Down the Top 10 Defensive Backs

The first week of preseason football is in the books and the Internet has been restored after a two-day hiatus due to an ‘outage.’ Yes, an ‘outage’ was the only explanation I could get from the cable company.

It smelled and sounded fishy but then again, I had just returned from a camping vacation down south that involved fishing so that smell could have been me.

This is the final installment of my updated top-10 rankings from March and April.

We have reached the defensive back position and the conundrum that ranking these players brings. With the proliferation of sub-packages that see safeties moving down in the box into a linebacker role and slot cornerbacks playing larger roles these are a bit messy to say the least.

Gone are the days when defenses mainly played a base scheme and we could figure out which defensive backs were responsible for certain duties and then draft accordingly. These days getting a solid read on which players are guaranteed three-down roles and where they will line up on a snap-by-snap basis is a lot like herding cats. We do the best we can and hope to limit the scratches.

This top-10 list consists of players that as of right now, I feel are solid every week starters that will produce at a high level.

Let’s get to it!

1) Harrison Smith, MINNESOTA VIKINGS, previous rank-1: Smith has posted at least 70 solo stops in every season he has played a full schedule (he missed eight games in 2013) and remains at the top of the rankings. While he is unlikely to ever hit the 80-solo-tackle plateau behind an improving front seven, Smith is nearly a lock to hit that 70 mark again in 2015.

What makes Smith the top defensive back in my rankings is his propensity to post big plays. In his first three seasons, he has amassed four sacks along with 10 interceptions and a pair of forced fumbles and fumbles recovered.

Even more impressive is the fact that Smith has returned three of his interceptions for touchdowns. The kid has a nose for the football and rarely misses tackles, making him an excellent dual threat for fantasy purposes.

2) Morgan Burnett, GREEN BAY PACKERS, previous rank-2: The addition of Ha-Ha Clinton Dix and his solid coverage skills allowed the Packers to utilize Burnett more as an in the box safety last season. Burnett excels in that role and finished the year with an eye popping 129 total tackles with 94 being of the solo variety.

Of course, it didn’t hurt his cause that the Green Bay linebacking situation was a mess and his presence in the run-stopping game was a must. As of right now, it doesn’t appear that much has changed in that scenario as youngsters Sam Barrington and Jake Ryan are currently battling for the starting ILB gig.

Burnett has put up triple-digit tackles in every season he has played at least 14 games and is a lock to do so again in 2015 as long as he stays healthy. He has also flashed some big-play potential picking off seven passes and forcing five fumbles in his first five seasons.

3) Johnathan Cyprien, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS, previous rank-4: The latest reports out of Jacksonville are that Cyprien will be ready for the season opener despite breaking his hand during training camp.

I had moved Cyprien up to this slot before the injury and will keep him here until we hear that he may miss regular season time. In his first two seasons, Cyprien is averaging 80 solo tackles and has racked up over 100 total stops.

He has also sprinkled in some big plays with a sack along with an interception and two forced fumbles in his first two seasons. Opposing offenses have repeatedly picked on the kid and that will equate to solid tackle numbers again.

It also helps that Cyprien plays on a defense that will likely be on the field quite a bit while the offense finds its identity.

It will be important to keep track of the medical reports regarding Cyprien as fantasy draft day approaches.

4) Reshad Jones, MIAMI DOLPHINS, previous rank-3: Jones missed four games last season due to a suspension and still managed to put up 70 solo tackles. In fact, over the last three years he has averaged 5 solo tackles per game.

Consistency at the defensive back position is something IDP owners covet and Jones offers just that. He is a three-down safety that plays behind a shaky MLB (I am looking at you Koa Misi) and holds his own in coverage.

Jones has also provided sneaky good big-play production having posted 6 ½ sacks as well as 10 interceptions since 2010. There is no reason to think that at least 80 solo tackles can’t be reached again this season making Jones a solid #1 DB for fantasy purposes.

5) Eric Weddle, SAN DIEGO CHARGERS, previous rank-5: Weddle remains in the same position he had back in March and is a solid top-5 fantasy defensive back.

Early in his career, Weddle was a bit inconsistent managing to reach triple-digit total tackles in only one of his first five seasons.

That was then and this is now, as Weddle has been a top-10 fantasy producer in each of the past three seasons, averaging 108 total tackles per year over that time. More impressively, he has been a big-play producer since being asked to assume more of a ball-hawking role back in 2011.

In the past four seasons, Weddle has picked off 13 passes and forced five fumbles while still maintaining the tackle totals mentioned earlier. While it’s not a given that players in a contract year always put up better numbers, there is that added incentive as Weddle is not happy that the Chargers didn’t extend his deal.

Look for another top tier fantasy performance from Weddle this year.

About Wally Spurlin

Wally Spurlin is a Fantasy Football Staff Writer at Fantasy Sharks and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writer Association (FSWA). Spurlin’s work has appeared in print publications, including the FSWA award winning 2014 USA Today Fantasy Football magazine as well as the 2015 edition. Wally is also a weekly co-host on the Fantasy Football Feeding Frenzy pod cast on Fantasy Sharks Radio at Blog Talk Radio.Follow him on Twitter @WaltonSpurlin