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IDP Draft Sleepers: Defensive Back

As of August 1st, several relevant fantasy defenders have decided that they rather sit out this season than have a swab shoved up their nose before they are locked in a quarantine trailer for two days. Those defenders who chose to stay home include C.J. Mosley, Dont'a Hightower, Michael Pierce, and Patrick Chung. These are all good players, and they are players who would have had some impact on Individual Defensive Player (IDP) rosters during the 2020 fantasy season.

With this kind of uncertainty and turnover sure to continue in a year with no pre-season, it is more important than ever for IDP managers to keep an eye on the state of NFL defenses and individual defenders. That is why we will spend our August running through the various defenders who stand to become booms, busts, and sleepers in this COVID-ravaged season.

We will start this dive with a discussion of which defensive backs (DB) stand to outperform their current ADP/Rank this season. In other words, who are our top DB sleepers in 2020?

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association including Baseball Writer of the Year, Football Writers of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year and many more! Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!


1.      Kyle Dugger (S), New England Patriots

Since the end of last season, the New England Patriots have lost three starting linebackers (Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy, and Dont'a Hightower), as well as their starting strong safety (Patrick Chung). Both of the McCourty brothers are possible opt-outs, too. That means that the elite defensive unit that Bill Belichick fielded last year is desperately thin in both the secondary and at linebacker.

That's where Kyle Dugger comes in.

Dugger has the frame to play linebacker, but he has the speed (4.49 on the 40) and burst (42-inch vertical) of a safety. Dugger's college film (most of it on handheld quality cameras) from Lenoir-Rhyne showed his ability to cover ground in zone coverage and fill holes against the run. This potential to play multiple positions is likely why Belichick invested the 37th overall pick in him in the first place.

For those questioning if Belichick would start a rookie like Dugger, remember that 'the Hoodie' started Richard Seymour, Devin McCourty, Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Sony Michel, Chandler Jones, Jerod Mayo, and Hightower as freshmen. A majority of those players were fantasy relevant as rookies, too.

For those of you saying Adrian Phillips' presence at safety renders Dugger irrelevant in 2020, remember three things. One, the Patriots often utilize three-safeties. Two, they invested more in Dugger (37th overall pick) than they did Phillips (a 2-year, $7.5 million deal signed in May). Three, Dugger's size and versatility mean he doesn't have to beat Phillips at safety to be a starter for you and the Patriots.

While Dugger's floor is as a third safety, he should have a shot to start at both safety and linebacker in 2020. If Dugger starts at safety, he is a deep league consideration. If he starts at linebacker while retaining DB eligibility, he is a must roster in all IDP formats.


2.      Jeremy Chinn (S), Carolina Panthers

Traditionally, the best fantasy DBs often play a cleanup role behind weak defensive fronts. Take Budda Baker, Jamal Adams, and Tracy Walker from 2020, for example. Each of those players was a talented closer, and they cleaned up behind poor play in front of them.

Why is it that the best fantasy DBs play in these situations?

Well, there are a couple of reasons that talented DBs tend to clean up in fantasy points behind weak fronts. The first reason is that bad defenses usually stay on the field a lot, and more plays means more fantasy opportunities. The second reason is that fantasy DBs get most of their points when the players ahead of them miss, or when the defense needs a DB to come down and blitz or close holes that the front seven couldn't handle on their own.

Here might be the right place to remind you that the Carolina Panthers spent their entire 2020 NFL Draft class on defense. The only free agents they signed to help replace Luke Kuechly, Bruce Irvin, Eric Reid, and Mario Addison were Tre Boston and Tahir Whitehead.

Jeremy Chinn has elite speed (4.46 forty time) for his size (6'3" and 221 lbs.), which should help him feast at the back end of a lousy defense in Carolina. Expect him to have success blitzing, while offenses focus on Brian Burns and Yatur Gross-Matos in the pass rush. This former Saluki should easily lead all rookie DBs in tackles, and he could be tops in sacks and turnovers, too. His fantasy floor is as a high upside IDP reserve, but he is worth rostering in both deep redrafts and dynasties.


3.     Emmanuel Moseley (CB), San Francisco 49ers

When people draft cornerbacks in fantasy, they often gravitate towards the biggest and best names at the position. After all, doesn't it make sense for fantasy managers to want the best overall players? Shouldn't they want shutdown guys like Jalen Ramsey, Richard Sherman, and Patrick Peterson?

The answer to that question is yes; you want the best players at their position in fantasy… unless you're talking about cornerbacks.

You see, NFL quarterbacks often avoid throwing anywhere near the best shutdown corners in football. In fact, good quarterbacks will typically avoid throwing the ball to the side of the field that players like Sherman and Peterson are on. When balls don't come the way of your fantasy corners, they won't get any tipped passes, tackles, or interceptions.

Opportunity is crucial in fantasy, and it is the reason that a player like Moseley has sneaky fantasy value in deep IDP leagues.

Moseley started 11 of the 49ers' 19 games last season, including their two most important (the NFC Championship and Super Bowl). During those starts, opposing quarterbacks targeted Moseley often because he was considered the weakest link on a 49ers Defense that sported Richard Sherman across the field and the underrated K'Waun Williams in the slot. Despite being targeted frequently, Moseley held up and produced decent fantasy stats. As a starter, he averaged 4.1 tackles per game while racking up two interceptions and nine passes defensed in 11 games. These are solid stats that could prove valuable in deep fantasy leagues that require you to start multiple CBs.

Consider Moseley only in deep leagues that require you to start a CB specifically, but know that he may end up a top-15 fantasy CB in 2020.


4.      Marcus Maye (S), New York Jets

With Jamal Adams traded to Seattle and C.J. Mosley opting out of this season, no one can blame fans for thinking that the New York Jets Defense is a dumpster fire. When you look at that unit, the only names most fans will even recognize are probably Jordan Jenkins, Marcus Maye, and last year's disappointing #3 overall NFL Draft pick Quinnen Williams. So it's entirely reasonable to say that this entire defensive unit should be ignored in IDP redraft leagues, right?

Wrong. I mean, someone has to tackle and cover for this team, right?

While Maye isn't a shiny new toy, nor is he anything to get too excited about, he is a sturdy defender who has shown flashes over three years. He has always earned positive grades for both his run defense and coverage skills, and he showed glimpses of pass-rush potential during his injury-shortened 2018 season. With their defensive leader (Adams) now gone, it is perfectly reasonable to expect the Jets to use Maye similarly to how they used Adams, simply because they have no better options. Expect this former Seminole to lead his woeful defense in tackles, passes defensed, and interceptions in 2020. He is worth rostering in deep IDP leagues, and fantasy managers should keep an eye on him as a possible waiver steal as the season progresses.


5.     Carlton Davis (CB), Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

Coming out of Auburn in the 2019 NFL Draft, Davis was considered a promising but flawed cornerback prospect. While he had great size and length, his inconsistent film and average Combine numbers caused him to fall to the Bucs at the back of the second-round. Despite the concerns that some teams had about him, Davis performed admirably as a rookie against high-powered NFC South offenses. He went a long way towards establishing himself as a long-term IDP fantasy asset, too.

In 2019, the former Auburn Tiger netted a terrific 19 passes defensed and a solid 60 tackles in just 14 games as a rookie. If Davis can continue this pace of 1.3 PDs and 4.3 tackles per game, he will be a perennial top-10 fantasy CB even if he doesn't net very many turnovers. This talented sophomore should be rostered as a legitimate top-12 fantasy CB in leagues that require you to start a CB, even if he isn't on many of the top rankings/ADP lists.


Honorable Mentions

  • Antoine Winfield Jr. (S), Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Johnathan Abram (S), Las Vegas Raiders
  • Xavier McKinney (S), New York Giants
  • Juan Thornhill (S), Kansas City Chiefs
  • Damontae Kazee (S), Atlanta Falcons

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