2nd Year Surges: Defensive Backs
By Joe Goodwin
This is part 3 of a 3 part series analyzing the potential of 2nd year defensive players as IDP contributors. Part 1 covered defensive lineman, and part 2 covered linebackers. This article will focus on players that were drafted as defensive backs. Historically, safeties dominate the rankings for defensive backs; 15 out of the top 20 IDP DB’s were safeties. However, I will cover both corners and safeties to provide as much information to our readers as possible. Last year, we saw the emergence of some impressive rookie campaigns from Sauce Garnder, Jaquan Brisker, and Tariq Woolen. The future is bright for defensive backs in IDP.
Sauce Gardner (CB, Jets)
Sauce was the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2022. He not only was an impressive rookie, he is an impressive player. He has immediately challenged Jalen Ramsey as the best cornerback in football. Last year, Gardner had 75 total tackles, 2 interceptions, and led the league with 20 passes defended. This may be a case of a player being too good too soon. NFL offenses will most likely shy away from Sauce’s side of the field and take their chances throwing the ball elsewhere. Due to that, Gardner may have less opportunities to accumulate stats to be a top IDP target, but is worthy of drafting regardless. Gardner is a top cornerback and will continue to perform that way.
Derek Stingley (CB, Texans)
After being the 3rd overall selection out of LSU, the expectations were lofty for Stingley going into his first year. After starting the first 9 games of the season, Stingley was quickly moved to IR for his hamstring. Moving into this year, those same expectations will remain for a promising 2nd season. In the 9 games he played, he amassed 43 total tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception and 5 passes defended. If we averaged those numbers out over 17 games, Stingley would have had 81 tackles and 9 passes defended. Those would have been solid IDP numbers for a cornerback; especially for a rookie. Going into this year, if Stingley wants to elevate into the top 20 of IDP DB’s, he needs to maintain his tackle and passes defended output and increase his interceptions. If he does those things, Stingley can be a valuable IDP piece where multiple players start at the position.
Kyle Hamilton (S, Ravens)
Kyle Hamilton started 4 out of his 16 games played. In those games, Hamilton notched 62 total tackles, 5 passes defended, with 2 sacks, and 4 tackles for loss; all solid numbers for a rookie safety. If Hamilton wants to be fantasy relevant, Kyle needs to see upticks in all of those areas and start adding interceptions to his stat line. Hamilton is set to start for the Ravens this year and that should provide him with plenty of opportunities to increase those numbers. Hamilton is a bit of a projection at this point. All signs point to Kyle improving those numbers this year and establishing himself as a dynasty “must have” in start up drafts. If possible, try to trade for him now. In another 6 months, he may be a tough player to trade for from other managers because his value will continue to increase and his projections will be more solid.
Trent McDuffie (CB, Chiefs)
After seeing time on the IR for a hamstring, McDuffie played in 11 games last season recording 44 tackles, a sack, 7 passes defended, and a forced fumble. Pretty solid numbers for a rookie corner who missed 6 games. If McDuffie is able to stay healthy, he should amass some quality numbers as he is set to start for the Chiefs. If he takes those steps, he will be a solid IDP depth player and if your league starts cornerbacks specifically, he provides enough upside to be considered as a starter in deeper leagues or a taxi squad player.
Kaiir Elam (CB, Bills)
Elam played in 13 games (6 started) for the Bills. After making 41 tackles, 2 interceptions, and defended 4 passes, Elam had a successful first season. However, the playing time does not appear to be increasing in year 2. With Tre’Davious White and Dane Jackson still entrenched as the starters, Elam does not have a pathway for increasing field time. Because of that, I do not believe Elam is worthy of IDP consideration until he controls a starting spot.
Daxton Hill (S, Bengals)
After playing in 15 games (2 starts), Daxton Hill goes into 2023 as the starting strong safety. In limited action, Daxton Hill recorded 16 tackles last year. In one game where Hill notched a 66% snap share, Dax recorded 8 tackles. If he maintained that level of production, Hill would elevate to the upper tier of defensive backs. However, your settings are key. If you only start 1 or 2 DB’s, Hill won’t be considered an IDP starter. If you have a deeper IDP league, he is a great stash to wait for his breakout to occur or add depth at the position.
Lewis Cine (S, Vikings)
Lewis Cine’s rookie campaign with the Vikings did not go as planned. Cine only registered action in 3 games before a compound fracture ended his season; and in those 3 games, he registered just 20 special teams and a handful of defensive snaps. Heading into year 2, Cine hopes to avoid any injuries and make his mark in the league. Unfortunately, Cine is still behind Cameron Bynum on the depth chart. Since Cine was a first round pick, it can be assumed the Vikings would love to receive some value on their investment. However, that remains to be seen. Keep a close eye on the Vikings DB depth chart during preseason as the team may look to find ways to get Cine on the field.
Roger McCreary (CB, Titans)
Roger McCreary was an instant starter for the Titans in his rookie year; starting all 17 games. In those contests, McCreary recorded 84 total tackles, 8 passes defended, 1 interception, and 2 tackles for loss. Those 84 tackles ranks McCreary 5th among cornerbacks (excluding players that log time at both safety and corner). For a rookie cornerback, those numbers are fantastic and bode well for his future IDP success. However, one statistic that has nothing to do with IDP, but has plenty to do with playing time, Roger McCreary gave up 7 touchdowns. McCreary is a must start if your league requires cornerbacks to start. If your league just starts DB’s, he’s only useful in deeper leagues as there are just too many safeties that log as good or better tackle numbers, and provide extra in the sacks and interception categories.
Kyler Gordon (DB, Bears)
Kyler Gordon started all 14 games he played in last year. In those games, Gordon amassed 71 total tackles, 6 passes defended, and 3 interceptions. Those numbers are solid statistics for any season, let alone a rookie season. As with most cornerbacks, Gordon’s upside is limited compared to safeties that are more free to roam the field for sacks, interceptions, and fumble recoveries. In deeper leagues, Gordon offers enough upside to warrant strong consideration of a roster spot or at least a home on your taxi squad. The Bears are quickly assembling a solid defense and Gordon appears to be a main contributor for years to come.
Andrew Booth (CB, Vikings)
Like Lewis Cine, Andrew Booth’s rookie campaign for the Vikings ended early due to injury. Unlike Cine, heading into 2023, Booth is set to start for the Vikings. Booth’s sample size is extremely small; he only saw action in 2 games. With a 68% snap share in week 11 against Dallas, Booth recorded 9 tackles. Those types of numbers over the course of an entire season would make Booth a “must start.” I worry the Vikings might not stay pat at the position and add a veteran to the depth chart. I love Booth’s potential and would suggest adding him to your taxi squad and hope the Vikings allow Booth to grow into the position.
Jaquan Brisker (DB, Bears)
Jaquan Brisker was a breakout IDP rookie last year. In 15 games (all starts), Brisker tallied 104 tackles, 4 sacks, 3 interceptions, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovered. Brisker is on his way to the IDP elite and should be drafted accordingly. You may have to invest some serious draft capital to get Brisker; for context, in my latest C2C startup draft, I took Brisker at 15.9. He is an easy start in just about every IDP setup and your draft plans at DB should include him!
Alontae Taylor (CB, Saints)
Alontae Taylor had some injuries in his rookie year that made his numbers look less impressive. He played in 13 games (9 started) while recording 46 total tackles with 11 passes defended; that’s a 0.846 pd/g. For context, the league leader, Ahmad Gardner, had a 1.17 pd/g and Darius Slay (12th) was at .823 pd/g. Taylor is keeping good company as a top 12 performer in passes defended per game. Of the top 12, Cam Sutton had the least amount of tackles at 43. So, Taylor’s 46 tackles are solid for only playing in 13 games. In all, if your league starts cornerbacks and scores passes defended, Taylor is a solid starter who provides top 12 potential and if he plays a full season, Taylor can easily be a top 10 performer in your IDP leagues. If your league is just tackles and interceptions, Taylor is worth a bench spot if you can afford the space. Taylor is an ascending player that I believe can be a valuable IDP player.
Cam Taylor-Britt (CB, Bengals)
Cam Taylor-Britt had a slow start to the season after seeing no action in the first 6 games. However, an injury to Chidobe Awuzie opened up the field for Taylor-Britt and he performed admirably. Taylor-Britt had 55 total tackles with 6 passes defended. Solid NFL numbers, but not enough for true consideration for IDP. It appears Taylor-Britt enters the 2023 season as the starter opposite Chidobe. Again, the playing time is there, so the opportunity is present for Taylor-Britt to notch solid counting stats, but just not enough to warrant a roster spot at this point.
Bryan Cook (S, Chiefs)
Along with McDuffie, Bryan Cook gives the Chiefs some hope their defensive backfield will be in good hands. Last season, Cook tallied 33 total tackles, with 1 sack, and 2 passes defended. It still appears the Cook will only be used as a situational player and does not have a clear path to playing time. Cook is a pass in fantasy for now, but if his starting situation were to change in the offseason, he may be worth some consideration as a taxi squad player.
Martin Emerson (CB, Browns)
Having played in all 17 games last year (with 6 starts), Emerson had 63 combined tackles and 15 passes defended (tied for 6th in the league). Emerson is an elite corner defending the pass, the only knock on his fantasy potential is the ZERO interceptions he had last year. As Emerson enters his 2nd season, he will need to convert some of those passes defended to interceptions. If that happens, Emerson will turn into an elite fantasy contributor. If your league does not count passes defended, his value is diminished a lot. Pay attention to your league’s settings!!
JT Woods (S, Chargers)
Woods saw action in 10 games last year, with 1 game started. In those 10 games, Woods made 3 combined tackles. At this time, Woods still does not have a clear path to playing time for the Chargers. Without a solid snap share to boast, Woods is not currently a viable IDP roster player. Hopefully, he can continue to learn from one of the best in Derwin James, and eventually make an impact when his playing time increases. Until then, he is not worth keeping on your roster.
Cordale Flott (CB, Giants)
Cordale Flott was hit with the injury bug in his first year, as he only played in 11 games due to a calf injury. In those 11 games, Flott tallied 26 total tackles and 2 passes defended. Flott is currently listed as a starter on the Giants defense, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Giants try to add some experience to the position. Until then, Flott will have modest success on the field, but will not amount to enough success to warrant consideration on your IDP roster.
Marcus Jones (DB, Patriots)
Jones logged playing time in 15 games, with 4 starts, for the Patriots in 2022. In those games, Jones notched 39 total tackles, 7 passes defended, 2 interceptions, and 1 touchdown. As it stands, Jones does not warrant consideration for one of your roster spots solely based on his abilities as a cornerback/safety. However, if your league also values special teams, then Jones has some upside in that area. Last year, Jones was voted as an All-Pro player on special teams. If your league rewards special teams touchdowns (and especially yards), Marcus Jones is a nice lottery ticket on your bench. Check your league settings on special teams scoring. Otherwise, a backup safety for the Patriots does not have enough field time to amass points in IDP.
Nick Cross (S, Colts)
Nick Cross played in 16 games last year, but logged very little field time after the first 2 games when Rodney McCleod took over on the field. Cross had 8 total tackles in those first 2 games, but had only 1 more tackle the rest of the season. Could be a variety of reasons why Cross didn’t see the field, but in IDP, being on the field is the first skill needed to be successful. Currently, Cross does not boast that skill and should be skipped in all formats.
Tariq Woolen (CB, Seahawks)
If it wasn’t for Sauce Gardner grabbing all the spotlight, Tariq Woolen would have been the “star of the rookie class” in the defensive backfield. Woolen totaled 64 tackles, 16 passes defended, and 6 interceptions. Interceptions are a stat similar to touchdowns for offensive players that will see ebbs and flows as opportunities arise. However, the 16 passes defended is evidence that Woolen is around the ball all the time. So, I don’t see a massive reduction in interceptions unless opposing offenses just avoid Woolen’s side altogether. You will need to dedicate some draft capital to land Woolen on your team, and I think that is warranted. It appears the Seahawks are starting to rebuild a solid defense and Woolen is a part of that plan.
Did I miss a 2nd year defensive back you wanted to hear my thoughts on? Drop me a line on twitter @JGoody77 and let’s dig into the diamonds in the rough!
Full time teacher, full time fantasy sports enthusiast. I try to look at fantasy sports through my own lens and share that vision with my readers I love to explore and find new, and exciting fantasy football options including: C2C, dynasty, IDP, and Devy. See me on Twitter @JGoody77
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