The 2012 edition of free agency in the National Football League is just about a month old, and while the biggest splashes so far this year may have been the megadeals signed by the likes of quarterback Peyton Manning and wide receiver Vincent Jackson, there’s been plenty of changes on the defensive side of the ball as well.
Let’s take a look back at some of the prominent free agent signings on defense so far this year and what they could mean for the fantasy prospects of these players, finishing our free agency wrap up with a look at a defensive back market that hasn’t exactly been eventful.
The most prominent Individual Defensive Player (IDP) defensive back that changed locales is likely strong safety LaRon Landry, who is headed to the Big Apple after inking a one-year contract to join the three-ring circus that is the New York Jets.
Landry’s one-year deal speaks to the elephant in the room where his is concerned, that being the troublesome Achilles that has cost the sixth-year pro 15 games over the past two years and which Landry, to this point, refuses to address with surgery.
Those durability concerns take a huge chunk out of the fantasy value of a player who was leading all IDPs in fantasy points per game in Default IDP Manor Scoring in 2010 before getting hurt. However, given the uncertainty that now surrounds Landry’s weekly availability it’s hard to trust him as more than a fantasy DB3, talent or no.
There wasn’t a whole lot more movement among safeties this season, although there was a changing of the guard in Tennessee that could have IDP implications, as the Tennessee Titans decided to retain strong safety Jordan Babineaux over longtime starter Chris Hope.
The 29 year-old Babineaux had 93 tackles, a forced fumble, and an interception filling in for an injured Hope in 2011, good for a Top 25 fantasy finish at his position. That’s Babineaux’s second Top 25 finish in three seasons dating back to his time with the Seattle Seahawks, and if Babineaux sticks in passing subpackages for the Titans in 2012 he could easily outperform his DB3 price tag.
Fantasy owners looking for a deep sleeper at defensive back may want to cast their glance towards the Carolina Panthers, where former Baltimore Ravens safety Haruki Nakumura recently signed a three-year free agent contract.
A never-ending litany of linebacker injuries and soft defensive tackle play has led to boatloads of tackle opportunities for Panthers safeties over the past several seasons, and while there’s no guarantee that that will be the case in 2012, Nakamura’s at least worth adding to the early “watch” list as OTAs get underway.
There was plenty of movement at the cornerback position of importance to owners in IDP leagues as well, beginning with cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who cashed in big time by inking a five-year, $50 million contract with the St. Louis Rams.
Finnegan, who is solid in run support, has averaged nearly 80 total tackles a year over his six-year career and has logged three Top 20 IDP finishes over that stretch. However, his improved coverage skills may actually hurt his fantasy value, as opposing quarterbacks have grown wary of throwing at Finnegan, dropping him into lower-end IDP DB3 territory.
Another cornerback who has been something of a fantasy football darling is also on the move, as Richard Marshall has traded in the dry heat of the Arizona Cardinals for the humidity and ocean views of the Miami Dolphins.
The 27-year-old Fresno State standout has never logged less than 75 tackles in a season even in a part-time role as a slot corner with the Carolina Panthers, and those consistent tackle numbers have made the seventh-year pro more of a household name with IDP enthusiasts than the general public, as have his four Top 25 fantasy finishes.
Marshall played some free safety last year for the Cardinals and may find himself in a similar “hybrid” role in Miami in 2012, and while the picture will likely clarify more as camps get underway, it seems reasonable to slot Marshall as an upside DB3 play at this point.
Finally, if you play in a very deep IDP league that requires cornerbacks and you’re looking for an end-of-the-bench stash, you may want to consider Zackary Bowman, who fell out of favor in Chicago last season but has found a new home with the division rival Minnesota Vikings.
The fifth-year pro has made only four starts since 2009, but in that season Bowman managed 66 tackles and six interceptions in nine starts, and if nothing else given the horrid state of the Vikings secondary, Bowman’s name is worth keeping in mind in a division that contains both Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford.