NFL Media and offense-only fantasy writers alike are bemoaning an uneventful start to the 2023 league year. While they await the fates of Aaron Rodgers and Lamar Jackson, fans of defense are reveling in the news of huge contracts for Pro-Bowl tackles, high-risk bets on pass-rushers, movement of blue-chip fantasy linebackers, and trades of big-name cornerbacks.
These players not only dominate the headlines but also pose opportunities for teammates left behind. Incoming free agents can question some veterans’ roles while complementing others’. IDP fantasy gamers can increase the value of their rosters by recognizing these changes and acquiring players before coverage intensifies in August. IDP gamers need not await observations of preseason games before placing bets on players in new situations.
This article is one of two pieces covering veteran players whose situation and opportunity will be impacted arrivals and departures of teammates. Each profiled veteran is preceded in the header by the impactful player on the move.
On the Move: SAF Vonn Bell (Signed from the Bengals)
Riser: SAF Jeremy Chinn, Panthers
Alarm bells rang throughout the IDP community last August when Jeremy Chinn played most of his snaps deep in preseason games. Then-defensive coordinator Phil Snow reported that Chinn would focus on being a Pro-Bowl safety. Snow and head coach Matt Rhule were fired midway through the 2022 season.
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Interim head coach Steve Wilks, a defensive assistant, changed Chinn’s role. He rarely played deep, instead splitting most of his snaps between the slot and the box. The deployment was not unlike Shaq Thompson’s in 2015 and 2016 when Wilks and Thompson worked with linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis.
Vonn Bell and Xavier Woods are the primary safeties in the Panthers’ 2023 defense under new coordinator Ejiro Evero. Carolina allowed its primary 2022 nickelback Myles Hartsfield to walk in free agency. Chinn will be free to operate in Evero’s STAR position and flex into the box in the former Denver coach’s frequent penny personnel packages.
Under Evero, the Broncos ranked among the top ten in blitzes in 2022. Evero not only likes to blitz from the box but also simulates pressure by dropping an edge defender into coverage, making the box defender a fourth rusher.
According to Pro Football Reference, Chinn blitzed 111 times in his first two seasons (2020-2021). He maintained his strong tackle rate in 2022, collecting a tackle on 11 percent of his snaps. Provided Chinn – rather than Woods – occupies a full-time role in 2023, Chinn’s deployment could be the league’s most advantageous for fantasy production from a defensive back.
On the Move: SAF Julian Love (Signed by the Seahawks)
Riser: SAF Xavier McKinney, Giants
The Giants’ hiring of former Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale had fantasy gamers oozing with excitement for safety Xavier McKinney. Martindale’s aggressive defense with man coverage looks, including one high safety, would breed opportunities for the other safety to make plays.
Unfortunately, the strong safety was often Julian Love. Love, the player fantasy gamer saw coming, was a college cornerback and part-time player through three years going into the 2022 season. He collected 124 tackles, including 6 for loss, and finished as a DB1.
The Giants signed former Commanders free safety Bobby McCain to take Love’s roster spot. McCain is 5-foot-9 tall and has great range. He’ll play primarily deep and in the slot, leaving the plum duties closer to the line of scrimmage to McKinney.
On the Move: SAF Devin McCourty (Retired)
Riser: SAF Kyle Dugger, Patriots
Thirteen-year pro Devin McCourty retired from the Patriots this month, and few outside New England seemed to notice. The team reportedly cut, then re-signed cornerback Jalen Mills and will move him to free safety, where he played for the Eagles in 2020. The news cleans up what had been a crowded, then uncertain depth chart.
Former second-round pick Kyle Dugger, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound specimen from Division II Lenoir-Rhyne, has collected 234 tackles, including 11 for loss in 2003 snaps. The only problem with these numbers is that he played part-time for three years.
McCourty himself is advocating for “Dug” Dugger, Jabrill “Pep” Peppers, and Adrian “AP” Phillips to man the safety rotation. The 29-year-old Mills, with just that one year of safety play to his credit, fits best as a part-timer. Dugger will push to finish 2023 as a DB1 with a larger role.
Everyone in NE wants a big name signed for safety but Dug Pep and AP have played GREAT BALL. LET THEM COOK!!!!!— Devin McCourty (@devinmccourty) March 18, 2023
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