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PLAYING IT SAFE(TY): Late-Round DB Targets in IDP Leagues

If you’ve read any of the Individual Defensive Player (IDP) articles I’ve written over the past decade at IDP Manor and here at Fantasy Sharks, then you know I’m a proponent of waiting to draft defensive backs.

It’s no knock on New York Giants safety Landon Collins or Miami safety Reshad Jones, who were the top-scoring IDPs overall the last two seasons. But their production comes at a steep price – especially Collins, who has been among the first handful of defensive players taken in many drafts in 2017.

But there’s plenty of value to be had at defensive back later on. The talent pool in the secondary is deep – really deep. Every year there will be defensive backs who come from nowhere to become weekly fantasy starters.

Raise your hand if you thought Tampa Bay’s Bradley McDougald (now in Seattle) or Detroit’s Tavon Wilson would finish inside the Top 25 last year.

Now put your hand down – you fibber.

The thing is, while defensive backs can be unpredictable, there are certain things you can look for. Maybe it’s a young player coming into his own. Maybe it’s a change in scheme or role. Maybe it’s a combination of both.

Whatever the case, this handful of defensive backs should be on your draft-day radar as low-risk, high-reward options later in drafts – potential starters whose production can be had for pennies on the dollar.

And the best part about waiting on defensive backs is that if these guys don’t pan out you can just cut them loose and grab another one off the waiver wire. They will be there.

Like I said, the defensive backs are deep.

 Jahleel Addae, S, Los Angeles Chargers

Addae signed a four-year, $22.5 million contract extension with the Chargers last spring, but he told Ricky Henne of the team’s website that he’s far from satisfied entering his fifth NFL season.

“I’m never satisfied,” he said. “There’s always room for improvement. I have a lot of stuff I need to improve on, and there’s a lot of stuff I have to prove. I have to prove myself every day. I came from nothing as an undrafted free agent to where I am now. I still have that chip on my shoulder. I still want to show those other 31 teams that passed on me that they made a mistake.”

Injuries have been an issue with the 27-year-old, who has missed time in three straight seasons and played in just eight games in 2016. But over those eight games last season Addae put up 43 solo tackles and returned an interception 90 yards for a score. Over a four-week span last year (Weeks 12-15) Addae was a Top 20 fantasy producer in Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring, and it’s not unreasonable to expect DB2 numbers from Addae so long as he’s healthy.

Antoine Bethea, S, Arizona

Bethea is a newcomer to Arizona, but an 11-year veteran of the NFL. He told Adam Green of Arizona Sports that he thinks his experience and that of the other vets in Arizona will serve the team well in 2017.

“I think that’s the biggest thing,” Bethea said. “When you have leadership in the locker room, things just run smoothly. But then when you sometimes struggle with that leadership role, in certain cases, you can definitely see it.”

Bethea’s a veteran, but in the eyes of many his role with Arizona is a bit cloudy. After all, Arizona also has Tyrann Mathieu, Tyvon Branch and a promising rookie at the position in Budda Baker.

I’m not buying it. He’s been running as the starter at strong safety for an Arizona team that loves using its safeties (lots of them) aggressively. He’s also a player who piled up 110 tackles and ranked third in fantasy points among all defensive backs last year.

That’s worth a late look in my eyes – and then some.

Rodney McLeod, S, Philadelphia

McLeod recently got involved in a practice-field dust-up with tight end Jason Kelce, and while nothing got out of hand and all was forgiven, McLeod told Dave Zangaro of CSN Philadelphia that it was just his way of showing that he doesn’t back down from anyone – including teammates.

“I’m a smaller guy but I try to hold my own,” said McLeod, who is listed as 100 pounds lighter than Kelce. “It was just guys sticking up for one another, sticking up for their side of the ball.”

In 2016, McLeod racked up 83 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and three interceptions – good for a DB15 finish at the end of the season. Over the first half of the year, the 27-year-old ranked well inside the Top 10 at the position.

Despite that production, the sixth-year veteran has been an afterthought so far this summer in IDP drafts. I’ve been able to grab him late with regularity as a DB4 in deeper leagues.

I’ll take that action.

Eric Reid, S, San Francisco

Among the many changes in San Francisco this year is a new defensive scheme that mirrors the 4-3 “Under” front run by Seattle. As Jacob Bridges wrote for Fantasy Pros, that could mean very good things for fifth-year safety Eric Reid.

“Over the first four years of his career,” Bridges wrote, “Reid has been forced to play free safety because of a player already holding the strong safety position down. This is the first year of his career that he will play the position he was originally supposed to play, which best suits his skill set. He will be playing the Kam Chancellor role in new defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s defense, which has proven to be very productive for fantasy. This position hovers around the box and racks up tackles and with the potentially sneaky good front seven San Francisco has in front of him, he could have DB1 upside.”

As if the scheme change and Reid’s new, more fantasy-friendly role wasn’t enough, there’s also the matter of the millions of reasons Reid has to impress this season – he’s in a contract year. One season after Antoine Bethea sailed past 100 stops and posted Top 3 IDP numbers.

Reid’s one of my favorite late-round defensive backs of 2017.

Don’t tell anyone.

Keith Tandy, S, Tampa Bay

Tandy started the last five games of the 2016 season for Tampa Bay last year, amassing an eye-popping 45 total tackles and four interceptions over that stretch. Given that production, as Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reported to the surprise of approximately no one Tandy earned the right to open training camp as the Tampa Bay starter at strong safety.

“What we learned about Keith is that Keith is always ready,” head coach Dirk Koetter said. “He does a great job with his preparation and he made plays. That’s what you always want from everybody. Keith is working with the first group right now and he’s going to be a hard guy to get out of there.”

Now, with the addition of free agent J.J. Wilcox and rookie Justin Evans, the back end of the Tampa Bay defense is pretty crowded. There’s been more than a little speculation that even if Tandy opens the season in the starting lineup he might not finish it there. That may well be true.

But you can get Tandy, who was the No. 1 defensive back in all of fantasy football over that month-plus he started (by a wide margin) in the final round of many deep IDP leagues.

What do you have to lose?

About Gary Davenport

A member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and Pro Football Writers of America who resides in Columbus, Ohio, Gary has been featured on a number of fantasy websites and in nationally circulated publications. These publications include the USA Today Fantasy Football Preview and the magazines distributed by Fantasy Sports Publications Inc., for whom Gary is a both a contributing author and associate editor. Gary is a seven-time FSWA Award finalist and two-time winner who was named the organization's Fantasy Football Writer of the Year for 2017. Gary also appears regularly on Sirius XM Radio (including live from Radio Row at Super Bowl XLIX) and over-the-air stations across the country. Gary was one of the co-founders of, and Head Writer at, Fantasy Football Oasis before joining Fantasy Sharks as an IDP Senior Staff Writer in 2011. He knows football. Or so he's heard.