Defensive back is always the toughest position to rank for me every year. The scheme changes and shifts in the depth charts can make it difficult to see which players will flourish. This year is no different.
There are quite a few position battles at strong safety on teams that project to have productive safeties from an IDP standpoint, so it's certainly not far-fetched to think some gems will be unearthed on the waiver wire. Generally, I'm going to grab an elite safety once they start coming off the board. Linebackers seem deep enough where I'd feel comfortable waiting, but if you need to have two defensive backs, you might not want the first wave of the DB rush to pass you by (more on this below).
As usual, there has to be value in selecting your DBs. I am never the first person to take a DB and as much as I love Kam Chancellor this year, if someone else agrees with me and wants to take him as the first DB, then good luck. It's with that idea in mind that I added a small section on tiers in the paragraphs below the rankings, so hopefully that can help your strategy on when to pounce.
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Tiers: When it comes down to the DBs this year, there are really five elite safeties at the top of the rankings. Kam Chancellor, Eric Berry, George Wilson, Roman Harper and Tyvon Branch are all also 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D and 1E. Berry is certainly the riskiest and I have Kam ranked highest based on his built and how he looks like he'll be extremely durable. Oh, and he's a beast.
The second tier really consists of the bottom ten. Any of those safeties could move up to six.
Beyond those 10, it's basically a crap shoot. There are some sleepers (discussed below) mixed in and I tend to rank higher upside guys above guys that are safe. Ya might as well go for the gold.
Players Worthy of Discussion
Mark Barron- It's setting up awfully nice for Mark Barron in IDP. First and foremost, he's going to get a full allotment of snaps. As we all know, Barron has all the tools to be a big playmaker in the secondary. He should have a lot on his plate with Tampa Bay having one of the worst linebacker corps in the league. Another interesting selling point is that his schedule bodes well for a DB. All of his divisional foes (NO, ATL and CAR) have all gone on record saying they're going to be a pass-first offense. What's more, they also will take on the Giants, Cowboys, Chargers, Broncos and Eagles. Tampa also gets some matchups with some turnover-prone offenses, too. The upside on Barron is just as high as any other player on this list, but he's a rookie and is far from a safe pick.
LaRon Landry- The Jets got the former most-valuable DB in IDP at a heavily-discounted $4 million for 2012. Landry made a bit of a head-scratching decision by opting not to get surgery on his troublesome Achilles. Several reports suggested that NFL teams would have liked him to go under the knife and justifably so since the Achilles' tendon is one of the most debilitating injuries a player can suffer. As for the Jets, free safety has been a black hole for Gang Green and most Jets fan will tell you that Eric Smith --last year's free safety-- was the most frustrating player on the team last year (honorable mention: Matt Mulligan). I'm sure you've probably seen Tebow run by Eric Smith for the TD about 80 times by now. If Landry's Achilles can hold up, it's really a nice fit for the Jets. He has plus skills at covering tight ends and is quick of the edge as a blitzer. Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine have also indicated that they'll be using plenty of blitz packages. This could open up the possibility of LA-Squared to create some big plays in fantasy. He might be in a lot of zero coverages. Yeah, there's risk. There's also huge reward.
T.J. Ward- T.J. Ward might have been the biggest bust among DBs last year in Fantasyland. The Oregon Duck flew south for the winter in 2011 after his rookie year was headlined by a monstrous 123 tackles (95 solo) in 2010. 2011 was marred by injuries and his eight games only led to 39 tackles.
DeAngelo Hall- You won't have to listen to a DeAngelo Hall post-game interview long to know that D-Hall loves to make plays. He baits QBs almost as much as any other player even though he has lost a half-step at 28. Wisely, the Redskins plan to use the Hokie in a Charles Woodson capacity. In other words, they're going to line him up all over the field in multi-WR sets and use him as a pass rusher as well. Although, change might actually be a bad thing for Hall since his last two seasons he has averaged 92.5 tackles. He has played in 15 games or more in six of his last seven seasons and is a fairly safe pick as an elite corner in IDP.
Terrell Thomas- ACLs are the worst. The Giants got bit by the ACL bug more than any team I could remember in the preseason. Thomas was arguably the most important player since he led the team in tackles in 2010 with 101. His 101-tackle mark was obviously the most by any CB and ranked him eighth among all defensive backs. He also had five picks that year, too. It was a monster year for the Trojan. Just to be clear, I'd say there's almost no chance he can repeat his 2010 numbers, but there's a vaulted ceiling of potential for the 27-year-old corner.
Malcolm Jenkins- Teams don't really run against the Saints. They allowed the least amount of rushing attempts in the league and the third-most passing attempts in 2011 (GB was one, CHI was two). We all know that it has very little to do with their personnel and it's more about having to play from behind to keep up with the $100 million man. Jenkins had a strong finish last season with 6.1 tackles per game in his last eight games (including a one-tackle Week 17, a two-tackle Week 16 and the playoffs). He has a good shot to crack 90 tackles, but he absolutely will need to have some picks to follow up his goose egg in the interception category.
Patrick Peterson- P2's maturation process at corner may have been the most impressive of any player through the course of the season. We're talking at any position. The LSU product was put on an island quite a bit in coverage in his last four games and his use of the sideline was Revis-like. Of course, that suggests he'll be covering his man much better which consequently means he won't be able to make tackles or pass deflections. However, we all know that Peterson's value doesn't lie in tackles and tips. This man makes plays and his special-team skills will likely translate into some picks and maybe a score or two. Don't forget that if your league counts return yardage, number 21 will come at a premium in your league. He might be worth it.
Thanks for reading!