Fantasy IDP: Sophomore Safeties
There were a lot of talented young defenders in last year's rookie class. The safety position was particularly strong in 2013. I will be reviewing some of the top sophomore safeties to look out for in 2014 for all you IDP players out there. Some leagues may be broken down into safety and corners, some just defensive backs. Safeties tend to get more points overall; in keeper and dynasty leagues, young players are the way to go. Definitely keep all these guys on your radar.
Tyrann Mathieu Ranked DB #12 – Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu was a steal in both the NFL and fantasy drafts in 2013, until an ACL tear ended his season prematurely. He bounced around in the defensive backfield last season. Mathieu played everything from corner, to nickel, to free and strong safety. They lined him up all over the field, and included him in the return game. The more he produced, the more playing time he earned. Assuming he is healthy in 2014, I expect him to be a top IDP safety. Mathieu played only 13 games in 2013, and didn't get all that much playing time early in the season. He still accumulated 68 tackles (65 solo), two interceptions, and a forced fumble. He was seemingly all over the field on just about every play, I expect him to be a big time playmaker, and rack up the tackles. He has the potential to be the next great safety in the NFL.
Johnathan Cyprien Ranked DB #9 - Cyprien is the safest pick on this list due to Mathieu's ACL injury. His ADP is 192.75, which is significantly lower than Mathieu (162.25) and Eric Reid (173.25). I have no reason to believe Cyprien can't put up numbers equal to or better than both of them. Last season he had 104 tackles (87 solo), two forced fumbles, and one interception. He had the biggest fantasy impact of any player on this list in 2013, and has the potential to be a top 3 safety overall in 2014. He is a big time tackler, and is good in coverage. Another year of experience should only improve his coverage and ball skills. On a poor Jacksonville defense, Cyprien may rack up even more tackles in 2014 (especially if the oft injured linebacker Paul Posluzny goes down to injury). Cyprien is a must draft in all formats as a top 10 safety with great upside.
Eric Reid Ranked DB #10 - Eric Reid isn't quite the tackler asmuch as the previous two players on this list, but does have great ball skills, and is no slouch when it comes to tackling. Reid had 77 tackles (62 solo), four interceptions, and two fumble recoveries. Reid may have an increased role in a revamped 49ers secondary. More responsibility may lead to more big plays. Reid will benefit from all the havoc the other ten guys on the 9ers defense cause as well. With passes being affected, fumbles being forced, and balls being deflected the 9ers defense is a turnover waiting to happen. Reid is another must draft safety; if he continues to progress as expected, he will be a top 10 safety with big time upside.
Kenny Vaccaro Ranked DB #21 - Vaccaro is a big time hitter that plays the safety position with reckless abandon. He tallied 79 tackles (62 solo), a forced fumble, and an interception. If he stays healthy, I expect his numbers to increase in 2014. The main concern with Vaccaro is injury; the way he plays the game puts him at great risk. Vaccaro suffered two concussions in 2013. He was forced to leave two games, and missed an additional game. With all the attention being given to concussions, that has to be on your mind when considering drafting Vaccaro as your safety. He also broke his ankle in week 16, however that was more of a freak injury (he broke it in a pile up, and is reported to be 100% healed). Vaccaro was considered by many to be the best safety coming in to the 2013 draft, and has big time upside. If he's healthy, he could be a steal with an ADP of 209. He is a risk, but the reward may be much greater.
D.J. Swearinger Ranked DB #44 - Swearinger has big time upside, but was a bit of a disappointment in 2013. This may very well be due to immaturity and inexperience. His fantasy numbers were solid with 71 tackles (54 solo), one forced fumble, and an interception, however his overall play was a bit of an issue for the Texans. Swearinger was wildly inconsistent. He would play great for stretches, and then just look lost in the secondary. He was benched at times last year due to boneheaded play. He also was accused of being a dirty player, and racked up penalties (many coming at very inopportune times). He was criticized league wide for destroying Dustin Keller's knee on a controversial hit, and was also fined by the NFL for a facemask penalty. Still, when a guy has as much upside as Swearinger, you have to consider drafting him. I wouldn't reach though, being that his ADP (321) is ahead of players like Major Wright and Laron Landry.
T.J. McDonald Ranked DB #48 - McDonald put up very solid numbers despite missing almost two months due to a broken leg against the 49ers (a game in which Vernon Davis claims McDonald tackled him by the groin and refused to let go--not that that's particularly relevant, but it is highly amusing). McDonald still had 53 tackles (45 solo) and an interception. McDonald was a third round pick that struggled at times, but showed flashes. He is going undrafted in most leagues, but don't be afraid to take a late flier on him. He may be a big time player at a very cheap price. I really like his upside.
Matt Elam Ranked DB #58 - Elam played inconsistently in 2013, however that may be due to the fact he was playing out of position at free safety. In 2014 he will be moved back to his natural position of strong safety. He will be the Ravens' week 1 starter, and should improve both on the field and on your fantasy team. Elam had 77 tackles (54 solo), two fumble recoveries, and an interception in 2013. I would only expect his numbers to go up in 2014, especially his tackles and potentially forced fumbles. He is playing much closer to the line of scrimmage, so he may also be an option blitzing the quarterback much more often. Elam is going a little bit higher than I'd like with an ADP of 196.50, but may be well worth the reach. Don't be afraid to draft Matt Elam in 2014, as he is a low risk fantasy player.
A few other guys who may potentially win the starting safety job in camp are Duron Harmon, Earl Wolff, and Bacarri Rambo. All three of these guys showed promise last season (whether it be on field or in practice), however they all also struggled at times. They will all be battling in camp for playing time, but also have pretty tough competition. Harmon is the favorite to win the job in New England, but there are a number of players he's competing with and you never know with Belichick. Gregory is gone, but Harmon will be competing with three or four legitimate threats. Earl Wolff has to deal with Nate Allen (who has played very well at times). Right now that competition is a 50/50 dead heat. Rambo is the most interesting because he is a guy that looks very good in practice, but at times just looks completely lost on the field. He did put up decent fantasy numbers when he got an opportunity last year, but that didn't translate to real life success. Watch how these position battles go, and keep these three on your radar as deep sleepers.