The first week of free agency is winding down and it looks like the Peyton Manning sweepstakes has finally come to an end, to the delight of everyone in Denver, so let us turn our attention to some IDP affairs. More precisely, we will be taking a look at the top 20 fantasy defensive back options heading into the 2012 season.
#1 Antoine Bethea , IND: A surprise name at the top of the list, a consistent fantasy producer year after year. Racked up a career high 139 tackles in 2011; while he had no interceptions last season, Bethea did force two fumbles and recover another. Opportunities to make plays again in 2012 will be there as the Colts appear to be in full on rebuilding mode. An average of over 105 tackles per season from 2008 to 2011 make Bethea fantasy gold.
#2 Eric Berry , KC: Possibly the best all around defensive back in fantasy football, but must prove he is back from injury suffered in week one last season. Nearly a full year to recover by the time the Chiefs kick off the 2012 season, look for Berry to build on his huge rookie season fantasy production. As long as he checks out health wise, he is a fantasy stud.
#3 Tyvon Branch, OAK: Raiders placed the franchise tag on Branch to keep his services through 2012. Sacks (1), and forced fumbles (0) numbers dipped last season, but he remains a tackling machine, tallying 109 in 2011. Is a premier fantasy option at the safety position and guaranteed fantasy point producer.
#4 Morgan Burnett , GB: Burnett had 107 tackles, 3 INTs, and 14 passes defended after taking over the strong safety position in Green Bay last season in only his second season. The kid is for real and Burnett is going to be a top fantasy producer for years to come.
#5 Jason McCourty, TENN: With Finnegan gone to St Louis, it is now the McCourty and Verner show in Tennessee. McCourty is above average in run support, posting over 100 tackles last year, along with a forced fumble and 15 passes defended. Looks to be tested often again in 2012 and is ripe for prime fantasy production.
#6 Charles Tillman, CHI: "Peanut" is reliable for fantasy points year after year. A big play producer with 99 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, and 2 defensive scores last season. The NFC North is a pass happy division and Tillman will put up big numbers again in 2012.
#7 Kam Chancellor, SEA: Big, physical safety who broke out in 2011. Snagged 4 interceptions last season, plays like a linebacker for the Seahawks from the secondary and added 97 tackles. The sky looks to be the limit for Chancellor fantasy wise as he enters his 3rd season.
#8 Jairus Byrd, BUFF: Has developed from a ball hawking free safety to a more complete player, improving his tackle numbers in each of the last two seasons. Interceptions have dropped off from 9 in his rookie campaign (2009) to 3 last season. Has forced 6 fumbles over the last 2 seasons, and he remains a big play threat despite the drop in interception totals.
#9 Ladarius Webb, BAL: The Ravens have tendered Webb at the highest level and will do all they can to retain his services. Great in coverage, has a nose for the ball with 5 interceptions last season. Tackle numbers have increased in each of his 3 seasons and is an added threat in leagues that reward special team TDs to individual players as he is the Ravens' primary punt return man.
#10 Charles Woodson, GB: Year after year, Woodson sharks interceptions and forces fumbles at a high rate for the Packers. Has had less than 4 interceptions only once since the 2006 season. Remains a fantasy stud until age slows him down and he has shown no signs of that happening anytime soon. Woodson has been a top 10 fantasy defensive back 5 of the last 6 seasons.
#11 Patrick Peterson, AZ: Tested often in his rookie season and was up and down in coverage with 13 passes defended and 2 interceptions. Will continue to improve as he gets more comfortable in the Cardinals secondary. Once he can translate some of his punt return moves (4 punt returns for TDs in 2011) into his interception return abilities, will be a big play demon.
#12 LaRon Landry, NYJ: Landry would be top 5 on this list if not for his health concerns. He is the epitome of high risk/high reward fantasy option. Landry has played in only 17 games the last two seasons, but still managed 133 tackles and 2 ½ sacks during that span. The Jets signed him for one year at 4 million, which appears to be a show me what you have type of deal. If Landry can play a full season then he is a fantasy steal at this position, but with his health issues I can't put him higher as of now.
#13 George Wilson , BUFF: Reports of his demise are greatly exaggerated. Wilson will keep the starting safety position in Buffalo and continues to rack up the tackle numbers. Wilson is fantasy gold that flies under the radar, he amassed over 100 tackles in 2011 as well as 4 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles.
#14 Eric Weddle, SD: Was asked to be more of a ball hawking defender last season and saw his tackle totals dip in 2011, but off set that by picking off 7 passes. Weddle has not had less than 70 tackles in a season since his rookie year when he managed only 42, and if he continues to snag interceptions will be even more valuable fantasy wise.
#15 Patrick Chung, NE: Should be higher on this list, but has struggled with staying healthy as of late. There is starting to be a Bob Sanders vibe when evaluating Chung, and that worries fantasy owners. Chung is ultra productive when on the field: 62 tackles, 1 sack and an interception in only 8 games last season. Has top 5 potential but also carries the high risk/high reward label heading into 2012.
#16 Bernard Pollard , BAL: Pollard will roll up monster fantasy points as a full time safety in Baltimore in 2012. Pollard racked up 75 tackles after being used sparingly the first few weeks of last season. Pollard is fantasy gold in run support and also had 2 sacks in 2011, being used often in the blitz game. He is a top end fantasy value.
#17 Courtland Finnegan, ST LOU: After being signed in free agency, Finnegan is now the man in St Louis. Modest numbers last season in Tennessee as teams chose to throw at McCourty and avoid Finnegan. Averages 78 tackles and over 11 passes defended a year throughout his 6 seasons. A return to his 2010 numbers (100 tackles/2 INTs) can be expected in 2012 as he reunites with former coach Jeff Fisher.
#18 Roman Harper, NO: "Bounty Gate" hangs over the entire Saints defense and possible suspensions could alter their defensive unit. The change at D-coordinator will bring Harper's sack total back down to earth, but he remains strong in run support with 96 stops in 2011 and 2 forced fumbles. Remains a high end fantasy producer.
#19 Antrel Rolle, NYG: Had a career high in tackles last year and is a solid run supporting safety, averaging over 90 tackles a season since joining the Giants. Will not reach the interception totals he put up while in Arizona, but does have a nose for the ball and loves to hit people.
#20 Yeremiah Bell, FA: Miami released Bell a week into free agency in a cost cutting move. His age could be a factor at 34, but remains an elite, in the box, run stuffing safety. Bell led the Dolphins in tackles every season since 2008. A top 15 fantasy scorer the last 4 seasons and teams such as Arizona or Atlanta may come calling soon for Bell.
Variances in the scoring format of IDP leagues can differ greatly, and defensive backs are the hardest to project from year to year. A standard scoring system with equal points for assisted and solo tackles with higher point bonuses for sacks, forced/recovered fumbles, interceptions etc was used for this list. The draft and more free agent moves will keep these rankings fluid.