It’s time to look at the perennial late-round selection section known as the defensive back position from a rookie perspective. As my esteemed colleague Gary Davenport often points out (and correctly so), it is wise to wait on drafting the defensive back position.
There is the biggest swing from year to year in the top scorers, and on a weekly basis there is no easier position to find plug-and-play options on the waiver wire. The defensive back position is the hamster (disposable pet) of Individual Defensive Player (IDP) formats, so go ahead and stock up on linebackers and defensive linemen before drafting the cornerback or safety position.
That being said, there are some very intriguing rookie defensive back options heading into the 2013 season that should be solid dynasty selections as well as able to immediately contribute for their IDP owners. So let’s get to it!
1. Jonathan Cyprien, SS, Jacksonville:
Forget about the ‘he played for a small school’ stigma that some have attached to Cyprien because the kid is the real deal. Cyprien is an aggressive ball hawking defensive back with the size, athleticism and willingness to come down in the box as a run-stopping safety.
Big school, small school or no school, Cyprien was selected at the top of the second round by Jacksonville and will immediately assume a huge role on the defense. He steps right in as an every-down player for a defense that will be on the field plenty in 2013 and could realistically lead the Jaguars in tackles as a rookie.
Cyprien has the range to handle coverage responsibilities in the middle of the field and flies to the ball with bad intentions. Cyprien has Top 15 fantasy defensive back potential in all IDP scoring formats while manning the middle of the Jaguars secondary in 2013.
2. Kenny Vaccaro, FS/SS, New Orleans:
The Saints’ safety duo of Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper struggled mightily last season and were repeatedly abused in coverage. Vaccaro offers an immediate upgrade in that department for the New Orleans secondary as well as the ability to be an in-the-box run-thumping safety.
New defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will look to generate pressure with a myriad of blitz packages that will require the Saints secondary to be able to hang tough in coverage on an island. Vaccaro has that capability and will see the field a lot from Day 1, as early indications are that he will supplant Jenkins as the starting free safety in 2013.
Eventually Vaccaro should slide into Harper’s strong safety position and man that position for years to come. As a rookie he will put up very nice fantasy numbers on a defense that has nowhere to go but up. Vaccaro is among the Top 20 defensive back selections in redraft leagues and could finish the season with Top 10 fantasy numbers.
3. Matt Elam, SS/FS, Baltimore
: While I believe his future with the Ravens lies at strong safety, I listed Elam as both safety positions because he ran from the free safety position in their recent rookie mini-camp. Elam may be a bit undersized but he plays with reckless abandon, hits like a hammer from the secondary and will be a three-down player from Day 1 in Baltimore.
He will struggle in coverage against the big tight end and wide receiver options that are flooding the NFL of late and may not rack up big interceptions numbers but it won’t be because of lack of effort. Elam flies to the ball (sometimes a bit too wildly) and will post above-average tackle numbers while also forcing his share of fumbles.
On a team that lost both starting safeties following the Super bowl victory, Elam finds himself in a prime position to contribute excellent fantasy stats as a rookie in 2013. He’s a Top 40 defensive back selection in redraft leagues for 2013 and about that same range in dynasty formats as his reckless style of play combined with his smaller stature could lead to some injury concerns in the future.
4. T.J. McDonald, SS/FS, St. Louis:
McDonald finds himself in a very fantasy-friendly position in his rookie campaign, as the Rams need at safety is a priority heading into 2013. Some early depth charts list him as the starting free safety for St. Louis but the feeling here is that he will be the starting strong safety Week 1 for St. Louis as his skill set is tailor made for that position.
McDonald is an in-the-box safety that struggles in coverage who has ideal height and length to develop better coverage skills with some intensive coaching. In the mean time, he will post very nice tackle numbers for the Rams, and, with their lack of depth at the position, should see a lot of snaps.
McDonald posted 112 tackles his senior season at USC with 6.5 of those being for a loss, and added a pair of interceptions. Fantasy owners may have the inclination to view McDonald skeptically after the disappointment that Taylor Mays (another former USC safety) has been, but McDonald has landed in a much better situation.
The combination of team need and the history of fantasy scoring for the strong safety position on Jeff Fisher coached teams makes McDonald a prime candidate for an above-average rookie season that could see him finish with DB2 numbers.
5. Xavier Rhodes, CB, Minnesota:
There is a huge hole to fill in the Vikings secondary with the loss of veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield, and Rhodes is in line to compete for the first crack to fill it. He is a physical press coverage cornerback with the size (6-foot-1 and 210 pounds), and nose for the ball to have an immediate impact for the Minnesota defense as well as fantasy owners.
Rhodes has the skill set of a free safety with a willingness and skill set to help out against the run, which further increases his fantasy value. He picked off eight passes in his three seasons at Florida State and was credited with 31 passes defended. In the pass-happy NFC North division, Rhodes will find himself tested often (the rookie corner rule) and will have the chance to put up excellent tackle numbers as well as big plays.
When all is said and done, Rhodes could end up being the best defensive back of the 2013 draft and will be a mainstay in the Vikings secondary for a long time. His value is exceptionally high in formats that differentiate between the cornerback and safety position and he is solid DB3 with high-end DB2 value in standard IDP formats.
Each of these rookies are in a prime position to step in immediately and produce nice fantasy numbers. While this is how I have them ranked in mid-May, I would predict that there would be some jockeying for position as OTAs and training camps unfold.
For now, this is a solid starting off point in examining some of the top rookie defensive back prospects as we begin our 2013 IDP draft preparations in earnest. Keep checking in as the entire Fantasy Sharks crew and myself continue to bring you the most complete fantasy football coverage from every angle.
As always … have fun!!