Who is your top defensive back on a different team in 2020? Are you targeting this player in a normal redraft league? Do you think they might be underrated by most of the fantasy community?
There are three choices, as I see it -- Malcolm Jenkins' return to the Saints after years in Philadelphia, Vonn Bell joining the Bengals, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix signing with Dallas. I wouldn't be surprised to see any of them finish as top-10 fantasy defensive backs this year. Jenkins is the safest choice and will be the consensus pick with the highest ADP. But I'll throw my lot in with Clinton-Dix. The Cowboys need an enforcer in the backfield to take advantage of a punishing pass rush, and Clinton-Dix should be able to rack up the tackles and garner his share of big, tempo-changing turnovers.
Looking deeper at just the cornerbacks who changed teams, I like James Bradberry in New York (Giants). He isn't a big ball-hawking corner, so his interception count won't be too high, but he'll be on the field all the time and he should rack up the tackle totals. In IDP leagues that require a cornerback starter, Bradberry will be one of the better, more consistent options in 2020. He also is capable of competing with safeties for point production in leagues that offer any defensive back starter.
Another player I see making an impact that is flying under the radar is Sean Davis, formerly with Pittsburgh, now with Washington. Davis suffered a shoulder injury (torn labrum) early in 2019. He signed a one-year, $5 million dollar deal to prove his worth. Davis was routinely in the 80-90 tackle range and is capable of popping a ball loose or making an interception and given week. Some may be turned off due to Landon Collins' presence in the secondary, but Davis will likely be a three-down player as well and will get his share of tackles. The beauty of under the radar defensive backs is that if he doesn't pan out, you can exchange him for a waiver claim of the week with a positive matchup. Davis is only 26 years old so if he proves worthy, he'll be able to cash in on a more lucrative deal for the 2021 season.
Let's go with Trae Waynes in Cincinnati. He'll likely start for the Bengals this year opposite William Jackson III and struggle just enough against top receivers to earn a lot of target against him. His tackle totals will likely be in the range of 55-75, depending on how well these rookie linebackers perform for the Bengals. He's also good for 8-12 pass defenses and 1-2 interceptions. This should make him no worse than a low-end CB2 in IDP formats that require two starters.
Add to the fact that the Bengals have added D.J. Reader to the front alongside the venerable Geno Atkins and we should see an enhanced pass rush that can result in easier plays for the back-end fo the defense. Add a few more interceptions to Waynes' totals and he could be a top-10 option this year--especially for a young offense that may be less efficient this year under rookie Joe Burrow and leads to the defense spending more time on the field.
Jason threw out some good names. Of his choices, I like Bell, who could play a lot of quasi-linebacker because the Bengals have an inexperienced group there. The Bengals defense produced two top 15-20 safeties last year, which gives Bell good odds of being an every-week starter in IDP leagues.
I'll add a few more names to the conversation:
- Tashaun Gipson Sr, who was quietly signed after the draft to occupy a potentially valuable strong safety role in Chicago next to Eddie Jackson.
- A.J. Bouye, who was traded for a fourth in a firesale by Vic Fangio's Broncos. The Bears reportedly offered Bouye the most money of any suitor in 2017 when he was a free agent, so Fangio likely sees Bouye as a good fit for his defensive system.
- Quinton Dunbar, who fetched a fifth from Seattle and was set to be an every-down player. He has had a nose for the ball and isn't afraid to get his hands dirty as a tackler with Washington over the last two years, but also has only played in 18 games because of injuries. Now he's facing armed robbery charges along with the corner set to start along with Bradberry with the Giants, 2019 #30 overall pick DeAndre Baker, so who knows when or if he'll take the field for the Seahawks.
- I'm also still interested to see where Logan Ryan lands in free agency. The Giants seem like a logical possibility pending the outcome of Baker's case.
Malcolm Jenkins is the low hanging fruit here. He was relatively productive in his first stint with the Saints and had some highly productive years with the Eagles, including a pair of top-10 finishes among defensive backs in 2015 and 2018. Jenkins should step into a full-time role at strong safety where his willingness and dependability in run support will go a long way toward providing quality fantasy numbers and his ability in coverage will make him an upgrade for the Saints. We should not overlook the fact that Vonn Bell had the best statistical production of his career at the position in 2019 before moving on to Cincinnati via free agency.
While Jenkins is the more safe target, there are some other players to keep an eye on. Karl Joseph and Damarious Randall switched teams this offseason. Joseph never lived up to the expectations of his first-round draft status while with the Raiders but did show signs of fantasy potential. The change of scenery could be just what he needs and his skill set could be a great fit for the Browns. Working behind a thin and unsettled group of linebackers could prove a box score bonus as well. Randall had 71 solo tackles in 15 games for Cleveland in 2018 and was on track for similar numbers last year had he not missed five games. The safety position is a bit crowded in Las Vegas, but if he lands in the right role, Randall could be a pleasant surprise.
Vonn Bell moved to the Bengals without much fanfare, and I love the landing spot. Bell has never carried much fanfare, honestly, despite being a second-round pick from Ohio State four years ago. But he's a strong NFL role player, and Cincinnati clearly envisions a spot for him as they remake one of the game's worst secondaries. Bell isn't much to look at in coverage, but he's a punishing missile in the box, and he has the playmaking numbers to prove it. He's topped 85 tackles in each of his four seasons, averaging a career-high 6.8 a game last year, with a smattering of sacks and forced fumbles along the way. Besides, being targeted a bunch actually provides a boost in fantasy circles - more targets mean more tackle and interception opportunities - as long as a guy can stay in the lineup. And Bell has seen no fewer than 752 snaps in each of his four NFL seasons. For the Bengals, he'll likely slot in ahead of strong safety Shawn Williams, who was mostly a disaster in 2019 but managed to finish DB18 last year in standard IDP leagues. Many drafters will forget about the unspectacular Bell, but shrewd ones will pounce at a hefty discount.