With the NFL Draft still a couple of weeks away (why does it feel like I’ve been typing that forever?), we take another glance at some 2013 top NFL draft selections from a dynasty standpoint.
The first few evaluations we’ve seen have dealt with young players that could live up to their potential with an increase in playing time or lining up in a friendlier scheme. Those players are waiting for the opportunity to fulfill on the promise they were drafted for.
All that changes with this article as we take a look at some young men who are lining up at the fantasy friendly safety position and have begun to produce already. This edition of the Dynasty Dime Package could easily have been titled “The Kids are Alright” as all four prospects covered have very bright fantasy futures.
JOHNATHAN CYPRIEN, FS/SS, JACKSONVILLE
Despite carrying the stigma of coming from a small school (Florida International), Cyprien gave Individual Defensive Player (IDP) owners all they hoped for in his rookie campaign. He started 15 games lining up at both free safety and strong safety in the secondary and put up more than 100 total tackles along with a sack, interception and two forced fumbles. Those numbers would be good enough for a top 12 finish among defensive backs. Cyprien is now in a prime position to see those numbers rise in 2014 and beyond.
Only 23 years old, he showed the range and physicality to lead the Jaguars’ defensive backfield for years to come. Cyprien is more suited to play strong safety and showed the toughness to be an in-the-box defensive presence. He did struggle in coverage and will need to improve that facet of his game, allowing 63.5 percent of the passes thrown his direction to be completed (five went for touchdowns).
Cyprien will likely be lining up alongside fellow second-year free safety Josh Evans in 2014 and both could use an improved pass rush to ease some of the pressure on the secondary. Neither safety fared well in 2013 according to
Pro Football Focus as Evans ranked 78th and Cyprien 84th out of 86 ranked safeties. Fortunately for IDP owners those rankings have little to do with a player’s fantasy value. Cyprien figures to be on the field a lot in 2014.
Dynasty owners who have Cyprien on their roster have hit pay dirt and can expect the same top 12 totals from the hard-hitting strong safety for the foreseeable future.
KENNY VACCARO, SS, NEW ORLEANS
Vaccaro stepped in as the starting strong safety from Week 1 just as anticipated when the Saints selected him with the 15th overall pick in last year’s draft. He was having a very solid season until a broken ankle suffered in Week 16 would end his rookie campaign. With veteran Roman Harper missing significant time due to injury, Vaccaro established himself as a reliable tackler who also played surprisingly well in coverage.
Vaccaro quickly earned the trust of new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and often lined up at free safety as well as slot corner. Once Harper returned from injury, the Saints often ran a three-safety set with Vaccaro, Malcolm Jenkins and Harper all on the field. The scheme worked as the Saints defense rebounded from a horrendous 2012 season to finish as a top 3 unit against the pass. In short, Vaccaro was everything the team hoped he would be.
Further whetting the appetite of his dynasty owners is the news that Vaccaro’s ankle will be fully healed in time for training camp. The addition of ball-hawking free safety Jairus Byrd from Buffalo will also free up Vaccaro to continue his role as the in-the-box run stopping safety extraordinaire he was drafted to be. Dynasty owners are well advised to hang on to the kid from Texas and enjoy the totals he puts up in a full season.
ERIC REID, FS, SAN FRANCISCO
The 49ers found their immediate replacement for departed free safety Dashon Goldson when they drafted Reid out of LSU with the 18th overall selection in the 2013 draft. Reid racked up more than 1,180 defensive snaps as he started all 16 regular season games as well as three playoff tilts last year. While he lacked the big hit (and subsequent suspensions and fines) capabilities of Goldson, Reid showed a nose for the football by hauling in four interceptions and recovering a pair of fumbles.
Reid graded out as the 16th-best safety according to
Pro Football Focus and finished as a top 35 defensive back in most IDP scoring formats. He also showed durability by playing every game despite having suffered two concussions during his rookie campaign. Reid proved the perfect complement to strong safety Donte Whitner as he lined up high, freeing up Whitner to play closer to the line of scrimmage where he’s most effective.
Reid is a willing tackler who can also be utilized as an in-the-box option and racked up 62 solo stops on his way 77 total tackles in 2013. He also defended 11 passes, showing more than adequate coverage skills.
While Whitner has left via free agency, there will be little change in Reid’s role as San Francisco replaced Whitner with veteran safety Antoine Bethea formerly of the Indianapolis Colts. Expect Bethea to step in at strong safety and assume Whitner’s former role while also serving as an expert mentor to Reid. Due to the nature of his duties as free safety, Reid is unlikely to ever put up huge tackle totals but his big play potential makes him a solid starting option. Dynasty owners are well advised to hold on to him as he figures to start in the 49ers’ secondary for years to come.
MATT ELAM, SS, BALTIMORE
It may seem a bit presumptuous to list Elam as the starting strong safety for the Ravens in 2014 after he spent his rookie season playing free safety, but I believe that’s the way things will pan out. After free agent disaster Michael Huff washed out, Elam was forced to step in at free safety and remained there while James Ihedigbo manned the strong safety position.
Elam is more comfortable at strong safety, and, once the Ravens allowed Ihedigbo to walk via free agency, the reports are that Elam will return to a more familiar role. Despite playing for the most part out of position, Elam managed to put up 77 total tackles along with a pair of fumble recoveries and an interception.
The Ravens may need to address the safety position early in the draft as newly signed Darian Stewart, who is penciled in to start at free safety, has had trouble staying healthy. Stewart did post 84 total stops and three sacks back in 2011 so there is the possibility of production there, but he’s yet to play a 16-game season.
Originally drafted to be the replacement for Bernard Pollard after he was allowed to leave, Elam should see a definite spike in his tackle numbers. He’s a name to target in offseason trades, as some owners may be disillusioned already and not up-to-date on the plans for Elam moving forward (that’s why we’re here to give you the early skinny).
Dynasty owners who have Elam will be very happy with his numbers moving forward and savvy IDP owners should be looking to shark him away from his current teams. The kid is a keeper for sure with huge upside.
With yearly scoring at defensive back varying as much as any other IDP position (especially cornerback), it is such a bonus when a long-term solution is on board already for dynasty owners. It frees up draft selections to fortify the defensive line positions and take a late-round flyers on high upside big play candidates.
Each of the players examined in this article can be an anchor of an IDP secondary that, barring injury, will be top 20 performers in the very near future and beyond. If you have them, good for you and hang on to them while fellow owners continue to search for their defensive back help.
Keep coming back to Fantasy Sharks as the entire staff and myself provide all the information and advice needed to win your fantasy championships.
Wally Spurlin is a Fantasy Football Staff Writer at Fantasy Sharks and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writer Association. Follow Wally Spurlin on Twitter @WaltonSpurlin