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Fantasy Football IDP Sleepers and Busts: Defensive Backs Edition

Dallas Cowboys Defense, Trevon Diggs - Fantasy Football Rankings, IDP Targets, Draft Sleepers

With the offseason finally slipping into our rearview mirror, we at Rotoballer want to give IDP managers an early look at how each defensive position is playing out in the fantasy realm. To do that, we will look at how IDP analysts and managers value players at every defensive position. Based on that, we will tell you who is rated too high and who isn't.

Today we continue our IDP positional analysis with the Defensive Back group. Here we will go over DBs who are going higher than they should and ones who are a steal at their current ranking.

We will also consider a couple of others who fans need to know more about before their drafts. So, let's talk men in shiny helmets, shall we?

 

IDP Fantasy Football Bets to Bust

*Note our bust label does not mean a player will outright fail or disappoint. Rather, it means these players are being ranked/drafted in a place unlikely to return equal or greater value than your investment.

1. Trevon Diggs, CB, Dallas Cowboys

Trevon Diggs started 2021 on an absolute tear, registering seven interceptions and two touchdowns across his first six games. That is the definition of an unsustainable pace, but it's also the kind of thing casual fantasy managers tend to focus on and remember. Diggs didn't completely fall off the map after that hot start either, as he collected another four INTs and ten PDs over his final 11 contests. That said, Diggs' second-half pace sets a far more realistic expectation for what he should do in 2022 than his first six games did.

While Diggs has some of the best ball skills in the NFL and remains a premium option in IDP leagues that require a CB, his fantasy floor isn’t particularly high. This is because the Alabama product is a subpar tackler who collects fewer staple stats than other elite fantasy corners like Marlon Humphrey and Carlton Davis. The former Crimson Tide doesn't rush the passer either, plus there are concerns about his drop in opportunity rate.

For a player who relies on tipped balls and INTs as much as Diggs does, it should concern fantasy managers that he saw an average of just 4.8 targets per game in his final six regular-season contests in 2021. That was down from the 6.7 targets per game he saw to start the year. If teams decide to avoid Diggs, or if he simply doesn’t intercept passes at the blistering pace from last year, his turnovers and fantasy production won’t match his current rank/cost of DB24 overall.

2. Jessie Bates III, S, Cincinnati Bengals

One reason we are fading this former Demon Deacon is the mere fact he is holding out. History isn’t particularly kind to players who don’t participate in training camp or the preseason. Those who hold out into the regular season tend to struggle with injuries, conditioning, and chemistry, which leads to disappointing results. That history of disappointing holdouts is primarily why we can’t support Bates’ current DB14 ranking.

Another reason to fade Bates is the risk he misses games. He is currently in a fight against a historically stubborn (aka cheap) franchise. The Bengals do not generally set the market on player contracts, so it's unlikely they will match the record-setting deals Mikah Fitzpatrick and Derwin James just received. Worse, Bates hasn't yet signed his franchise tender, meaning he could hold out into the season without fines. This could get ugly if Cincy doesn’t reconsider its policy against trading homegrown talent.

One final reason to fade Bates is his dip in production last year. The Wake Forest product is coming off the worst statistical season of his career. In 2021 Bates saw career lows in tackles, INTs, and PDs, and now he’s missing valuable practice time with a holdout. Nothing about that profile suggests Bates is a safe bet at his current cost, even if he has the potential to return to his former top-ten status.

3. Jordan Whitehead, S, New York Jets

Our issue with Jordan Whitehead is the players he is ranked ahead of in consensus rankings. Among the DBs currently being ranked/drafted behind this former Buccaneer are Jevon Holland, Kyle Hamilton, Jaquon Brisker, and Marlon Humphrey. Each of those players carries more upside than Whitehead this season and is arguably in a better spot.

Despite starting 55 games in four seasons for an elite Tampa Bay defense, Whitehead has never eclipsed 76 tackles, two forced turnovers, or nine pass deflections in a season. That is a low ceiling for a player who appears to be stepping into a worse position. In New York, we expect Whitehead’s opportunities will decrease thanks to a scheme that has limited the fantasy production of elite safeties in the past (see Earl Thomas), and a Jets roster that should still be playing from behind in most contests.

With Whitehead entering a worse situation in 2022 after four years of decent but unspectacular production in a premium situation, we have to question his current ranking (DB25 overall). For that price, we'd much rather gamble on the upside of one of the players mentioned above.

4. Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Pittsburgh Steelers

Minkah Fitzpatrick took a big step last year in fantasy value, rising from a borderline DB2 to a trustworthy DB1. This rise came despite Fitzpatrick tying his career low in INTs while posting career worsts in PDs, return yards, and touchdowns. The Alabama alum produced those career fantasy numbers because his tackle production rose significantly. There is reason to think that tackle uptick is unsustainable, though.

Before last season, Fitzpatrick averaged 76 total tackles and 51.6 solo tackles per year across three seasons and 48 games. Those averages were obliterated in 2021 when the former Dolphin exceeded his career highs by 44 total tackles and 24 solos. There is no obvious explanation for this uptick, though. Last season Fitzpatrick took just 10.3% of his snaps near the box, while his usage as a blitzer and in run support didn’t increase much. Those are some of the strongest prognosticators of DB tackle production.

With Fitzpatrick’s usage in Pittsburgh remaining stagnant while his production swung significantly last year, it is fair to wonder whether his floor is as high as it looked in 2021. That is why we consider him a DB2, rather than the consensus DB6 overall that the industry has made him.

5. Taylor Rapp, S, Los Angeles Rams

Taylor Rapp's star was on the rise two years ago, with the former Husky putting up elite tackle production in the back half of his rookie season. However, that honeymoon didn’t last long, as Rapp fell into Sean McVay's doghouse early in his sophomore season and he struggled to get out before succumbing to injuries. Things started to turn around for him in Year 3, but Rapp again struggled with injuries, which allowed another safety (Nick Scott) to thrive in Rapp’s role.

As of now, Rapp hasn’t lost his starting role on LA’s depth chart, and he’s the consensus DB21 amongst IDP rankers. However, the presence of Scott and Rapp’s injury potential both still loom large in our minds. While the Washington product has produced solid fantasy outings in two of his first three seasons, there is a real risk he shares snaps with Scott this season or that he misses more time (he’s missed 13 of 55 games in his career). Those possibilities are enough to consider Rapp a risk at his current cost.

 

Fantasy Football Draft Day Bargains in IDP

1. Kyle Hamilton, S, Baltimore Ravens

Kyle Hamilton has had some hiccups in training camp, which have caused his fantasy stock to plummet. Currently, his consensus ranking is as DB32 overall, which is shockingly low given the talent he displayed in college. The only logical reason for this low ranking is IDP analysts are concerned with the big plays he’s given up early in camp.

Over the past week, things are looking up as camp reports on the Notre Dame product have been increasingly positive. Ravens beat reporters are noticing Hamilton being deployed in a variety of roles, including shadow coverage and box duty while playing with the starters. Those are terrific indicators of fantasy value, as the well-rounded rookie should see ample playing time and fantasy opportunities early. This former Fighting Irish should be considered a top-ten DB based on his upside alone.

2. Kamren Curl, S, Washington Commanders

Another favorite from years past, Kamren Curl finally finds himself as a centerpiece of Washington’s secondary. As we predicted last year, Curl was a far superior safety compared to Landon Collins, and he ultimately forced Collins out. Now that the former Razorback is a focal point, the camp reports out of Washington are unsurprisingly glowing. Many are calling Curl the defense’s “chess piece” and a “breakout” candidate. We couldn’t agree more.

In 2021 Curl spent a solid 32.7% of his snaps near the line of scrimmage, but that rate rose to a whopping 83% in Week 1 of this preseason (per Jon Macri of PFF). While that number is bound to decline, it is likely Curl will spend at least 40% of his snaps in the box this year as he takes on more of Collins’ thumper duties. If Curl can see that kind of usage, his tackle rates should continue to improve, and his fantasy value should soar. We see no reason the Arkansas product shouldn’t outperform his current rank of DB20.

3. Jevon Holland, S, Miami Dolphins

Another favorite of ours from last season, Jevon Holland entered the NFL with the profile of a ballhawk who could struggle in run support. As a pleasant surprise, Holland exceeded expectations by showing he was nearly as adept in run support and blitz packages as he was in coverage. In fact, Holland finished 46th in tackles amongst true defensive backs (i.e., DBs who didn't play a hybrid LB role) despite starting only 13 games and seeing just 19% of his snaps come in the box.

Last season Holland's 17-game pace as a starter was 90 tackles, 3.2 sacks, and 6.5 turnovers. That pace would have placed Holland ahead of players like Jamal Adams, Justin Simmons, and Jessie Bates III in most IDP scoring formats. Despite that, most rankers have Holland behind each of those players this season, and his overall rank is at DB30. We anticipate Holland will not only match his pace from last year but will improve upon it on his way to a top-20 finish at his position.

4. Carlton Davis, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Carlton Davis could be one of the better IDP values this season, especially in formats that require you to start a CB. The Auburn product is currently ranked as the 57th overall DB in fantasy, and he isn’t currently treated as a CB1 despite finishing second in the NFL in PDs in two of the past three seasons.

Many will discount Davis because of his injury history, but reports out of camp are this Auburn alum is healthy and performing well. That's good news when you consider that opposing quarterbacks don't tend to avoid Davis like they do some elite corners. Davis’ consistent opportunity rates have helped him post elite PD numbers and respectable tackle totals whenever he’s on the field. Expect the former Tiger to put up his usual DB3 or CB1 stats this year, despite his current rank.

5. Dax Hill, DB, Cincinnati Bengals

Dax Hill is a deeper sleeper who’s unlikely to offer consistent fantasy value in shallow IDP formats this year. Still, the upside is tremendous if you can manage to stash him in dynasty or deeper redraft formats. The rookie came out of college with the profile of a fast and agile defensive back capable of starting at safety or nickel corner. So far, Cincinnati has allowed him to shine in both roles this preseason.

It's easy to imagine Hill stepping in as a starter if there's an injury to Mike Hilton, Vonn Bell, or Jessie Bates III. It's also a distinct possibility that Bates holds out into the season, or that the franchised safety is traded. In either of those scenarios, expect Hill to step into a fantasy-friendly role. With the former Wolverine’s speed and ball skills, he is worth a stash if you have a deep bench or an empty TAXI spot.

 

Additional Notes on IDP For Fantasy Football

Samuel Womack III is one name to keep an eye on in very deep IDP leagues. The rookie out of Toledo is a little-known name, but San Francisco has seemingly handed him the keys to their nickel job. Womack registered an incredible 39 pass deflections in college and collected two quality interceptions against Jordan Love in his preseason debut, showing tenacity on a ball he ripped away from Romeo Doubs. There is Mike Hilton level upside for this unknown slot, and he’s worth a stash in the deepest of IDP formats.

Bryce Hall was an ironman for the Jets last season, and he was a deep sleeper for us coming out of Virginia. That said, New York added serious talent to their secondary this offseason with the additions of D.J. Reed and Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner. Those additions could seriously cut into Hall's playing time, making him a riskier option than his 2021 statistics suggest.

It is worth monitoring the preseason usage and conditioning of Derwin James. As we noted when discussing Jessie Bates III, we are always skeptical of players who sit out large chunks of the preseason. That said, James has remained my top-overall fantasy defender because the talent gap between him and all other DBs is far greater than the gap between any other fantasy defender and the rest of his position. However, that top-overall ranking could change if James is “eased in” or if soft tissue issues start to pop up.



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