The defensive back position is perhaps the most difficult of all Individual Defensive Player (IDP) positions to predict on a year-to-year basis. There is more fluctuation in the rankings at this position than any other defensive player alignment. Obviously, scoring systems from league-to-league make a huge difference in a player’s fantasy worth as cornerbacks will not have the tackle numbers that safeties are able to amass, and safeties, will, on average, not get the interception opportunities that a lot of cornerbacks are afforded. Always know your leagues scoring nuances when putting together your draft boards.
1) Tyvon Branch, S, Oakland: Extremely consistent tackle numbers every season, averaging more than 110 tackles a season over the last three years. Had a career-high four sacks in 2010, would see that total dip to one last year, and has picked off four passes during his four years in the league. He is an elite fantasy defensive back and capable of putting up big plays while providing 100 plus tackles every year.
2) Eric Berry, S, Kansas City: Berry is returning from a torn ACL suffered in Week 1 last season, and that is the only reason he isn’t the top name on this list. As a rookie he had more than 90 tackles and four interceptions to go along with two sacks. He is a dynamic player that does it all for the Chiefs in their secondary, and while it may take a few games for him to shake off the rust and test the knee, he will provide top-end fantasy production.
3) Kam Chancellor, S, Seattle: Chancellor is a beast for the Seahawks as a premier tackling safety. Often used in the box as what amounts to another linebacker for Seattle. He possesses the quickness to be effective in coverage while amassing elite tackle numbers. He is an ascending talent that will finish the season among the Top 10 fantasy defensive backs.
4) Morgan Burnett, S, Green Bay: Burnett is solid defending the run while versatile enough to play either safety position for the Packers. Had three interceptions last season, added a sack, and forced two fumbles. He has big-play potential, and the loss of Nick Collins from the secondary makes him even more valuable.
5) Antoine Bethea, S, Indianapolis: Bethea is an overlooked fantasy gem for the Colts. Consistently produces high-end tackle numbers and has 12 career interceptions. He is a fantasy stud on a rebuilding team, so he figures to be on the field a lot in 2012. That means another Top 10 fantasy finish for Bethea this season.
6) George Wilson, S, Buffalo: Wilson played in only 13 games last season and still managed to put up elite fantasy numbers. More than 100 tackles, four interceptions and two forced fumbles. Puts up linebacker stats from the safety position for the Bills and is fantasy gold.
7) Roman Harper, S, New Orleans: Harper had an impressive 7 1/2 sacks in 2011, and while that number may be difficult to duplicate, he has averaged more than 95 tackles a year over the past five seasons. Saints defensive backs historically score well in fantasy, and Harper will lead the charge in 2012.
, CB, Chicago: Tillman produces an average of 80 tackles a season and has done so since 2003 for the Bears. He is a big-play machine, registering 26 forced fumbles and 30 interceptions in his career. High-level fantasy production on a yearly basis which will continue in 2012.
9) Patrick Chung, S, New England: It is all about staying healthy with Chung as he struggled with injuries throughout last season. When he is on the field he can be a fantasy force. He has averaged more than 65 tackles a season during his three years in the league. He has missed 10 regular season games to date since joining the league in 2009. I hope I’m wrong but there is a Bob Sanders vibe to him.
10) Bernard Pollard, S, Baltimore: Pollard may be overlooked on fantasy draft day due to the dip in his final stats from 2011 as compared to his last two seasons in Houston. Don’t be fooled. The Ravens finally wised up and got Pollard on the field consistently at the end of last season. Size, speed, solid tackler and big-play producer that will excel in 2012.
11) Eric Weddle, S, San Diego: Weddle saw a dip in tackles in 2011 as he played more of a ‘center field’ position in the San Diego secondary. As a result, he had a career-high seven interceptions last year and averages nearly six tackles a game for his career. High-end fantasy production is on tap again as he has added that big play dimension to his game.
12) Jason McCourty, CB, Tennessee: McCourty is solid in run support and put up more than 100 tackles last season for the Titans. With Cortland Finnegan now in St. Louis, McCourty is the man in the Tennessee secondary, and after a breakout 2011 season will remain among the fantasy elite this season.
13) Mark Barron, S, Tampa Bay: The first rookie to make the list will immediately step in as a run-stuffing safety in the Tampa Bay defense and produce solid fantasy numbers. Barron has a legitimate shot at finishing the season in the Top 10 of fantasy defensive backs in fantasy scoring.
14) LaRon Landry, S, New York Jets: Another name whose value depends entirely on his health status. When he plays he is extremely productive and a disruptive force from the safety position. That being said, he decided against suggested offseason surgery and has yet to show that he will be ready for training camp. High-risk/high-reward option for 2012. Monitor any and all health reports on Landry before investing a pick on him.
15) Dawan Landry, S, Jacksonville: Landry quietly has more than 200 tackles over the past two seasons. He is an under-the-radar, high-level fantasy producing player lost in the shuffle on a miserable Jaguars pass defense. Of course, a good player on a bad team equals nice fantasy IDP selection in drafts.
16) Quintin Mikell, S, St. Louis: A steady tackle producer who averages nearly 88 tackles a season since 2007. He is a fantasy stud patrolling the secondary for the Rams, and he also forced five fumbles in 2011. As always, follow the plan of stocking up on good players on bad teams. Mikell fits that bill perfectly heading into 2012.
17) Charles Woodson, CB, Green Bay: Woodson is the ultimate big-play corner back in the NFL and fantasy. He is a master at baiting quarterbacks into interceptions and so very adept at stripping the ball out during tackles. Woodson also averages 64 tackles a season over his 10-year career. He remains a top IDP performer heading into 2012.
18) Earl Thomas, S, Seattle: This kid is a fantasy star on the rise. He has already put up more than 170 tackles and seven interceptions in only two seasons in the league. He is an elite safety in the NFL as well as fantasy, and is drawing favorable comparisons to Troy Polamalu. The sky is the limit for Thomas moving forward.
19) Jairus Byrd, S, Buffalo: Nabbing nine interceptions as a rookie thrust Byrd on to the fantasy radar back in 2009. He has developed his game into one of an all-around defensive back for the Bills. He has totaled 187 tackles the last two seasons, forced six fumbles in that same time span and picked off four passes. He’s a stalwart fantasy defensive back moving forward into 2012.
20) Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh: Once a fixture in the Top 10 of fantasy defensive back rankings, his age and threat of missed games land Polamalu here in the rankings. Still a force in the secondary and flies around the field, but his reckless style has led to concussion concerns. Nearly 600 tackles and 29 interceptions in his career speak to his overall game.