Defensive Back Player Analysis
Rewards: Wilson was one of our breakout players of the season in last year's Preseason Draft Guide so it's no surprise to see him rated high this year. With a 112 total tackle (90 solo) season under his belt, Wilson has burst onto the scene during his first two seasons. He contributes to all key statistics columns, averaging 3 sacks, 2.5 interceptions and 2 pass defenses a year during his first two seasons. He's also forced three fumbles in two years and just needs to figure out a way to start scoring some touchdowns to be the elite of the elite safeties in the league.
Risks: The Giants' secondary has two new faces this year in cornerback Sam Madison and free safety Will Demps, so there could be some early season chemistry issues while everyone gets on the same page. In terms of negatives in the stats columns, he has yet to record a defensive touchdown or fumble recovery. Overall, his turnover numbers - just two in a full season last year - are rather mediocre.
Fantasy Tip: Wilson won't be a name ignored this year, as last year's production puts him up there almost in the household name of defensive players for fantasy footballers. He's worth his weight in gold if his first year and a half of production hold true. Draft him with confidence as your No. 1 defensive back and you won't be disappointed. Wilson also believes the arrival of Demps and Madison will help him to improve on his already impressive 2005 season numbers, in which he lead the team in tackles. Which makes sense once they're all on the same page as teams won't shun throwing the ball towards Wilson because there are other quality players in the secondary.
Rewards: Looking for a beast in the secondary? Look no further. Wilson brings everything you want to your fantasy team. He's a tackle machine, averaging almost 106 total tackles each of the last two years. He was a sack monster last year, hauling down quarterbacks eight times... yes, that's not a typo - eight whopping sacks! He'll snag the occasional interception (four in the last three years) and has forced four fumbles in the past three seasons. His size reminds us of a young Rodney Harrison, he hits like a sledge hammer and nobody wants to see this guy barreling down on them over the middle.
Risks: Can he keep it up? He's been remarkably healthy the last three years, not missing a game. Hitting like he does could make him susceptible to injury problems. Furthermore, let's be realistic, another eight sack season is almost out of the question. Also, if the Cardinals' offense can improve like many believe this year, it'll be a double-edged sword for Wilson... he'll be on the field less, but he'll be fresher when he is. That will result in less opportunities to make plays due to less snaps the defense sees.
Fantasy Tip: Wilson is amongst the cream of the crop of fantasy defensive backs. His eight sacks are a NFL record. He's capable of contributing to all the key categories, while also being a tackling machine, only bolsters his value.
Rewards: The other half of the Barber brothers, Ronde has done as nice a job, as his brother Tiki has, in putting together a solid career, too. He's averaged 98 total tackles per year over the last three, while not missing a game since the 1997 season! He also contributes an average of almost two sacks, nine passes defensed and three interceptions per season. He's shown the ability to be a big-play option, too, recording 10 interceptions in 2001 and scoring three touchdowns on interception returns. He's proving the old adage of big things come in small packages correct, as he may not be the biggest corner, but his production is right up there with the best IDP players. Over the last three years, he's also had four fumble recoveries, two of which he returned for touchdowns, and five forced fumbles! He's the only corner in NFL history with at least 20 career sacks and interceptions.
Risks: His size and age. Barber has 693 career total tackles, which is a lot of abuse on his body. While he hasn't shown any signs of slowing down, when a corner goes he typically goes quickly.
Fantasy Tip: Barber, through a strong combination of tackles, sacks and turnovers is one of the most complete corners in the league today for both the Buccaneers and fantasy owners. Draft him with confidence. He's also entering the final year of his contract and the team does not appear to be in a hurry to re-sign him right away. There's more incentive for Barber to have a phenomenal season in order to see a final big contract.
Rewards: Coleman only has two years under his belt but has already made a name for himself in IDP leagues. He's gone over the 100-tackle mark in both of his first two NFL seasons and piled up a total of 121 tackles last season, including 84 solo tackles. With defensive minded head coach Eric Mangini now leading the charge, you can be assured Coleman is one of the defensive players he's going to build around. At 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, he's not quite Rodney Harrison in size, but he surely has his range from the safety position. He's averaged 1 sack, 3 interceptions, 7 passes defensed and 0.5 fumble recoveries during his first two years; clearly showing how he provides a little bit of everything across the board.
Risks: The Jets are in a rebuilding process right now and it may take Coleman some time to pick up the team's new defensive scheme, which relies heavily on the safety being the "quarterback of the defense." Despite his heavy-hitting ways, he has yet to produce a forced fumble nor has he found the end zone despite being around the ball so often.
Fantasy Tip: An aggressive, attacking style of defense led by Mangini should help keep Coleman amongst the top defensive backs in the fantasy circuit this year. He's shown he can put on a licking to opposing ball carriers and has a nose for the football. His ability to provide points from a variety of statistics columns only furthers his value. He was benched last season during a game against the Denver Broncos because of difficulty with routes Denver Broncos receivers were running. Obviously, his game still needs improving, but that is due to youth than ability at this time.
Rewards: Rhodes is another young staple in the making in the Jets' defensive backfield. Teamed with strong safety Erik Coleman, the Jets have two young safeties to rely on for many years to come. In his rookie season, Rhodes posted 105 total tackles (85 solo), had a sack, interception and forced one fumble. With head coach Eric Mangini, who is defensive minded, the Jets' safeties could be their biggest bright spot on defense this year. Rhodes has excellent size and appears more to be a linebacker at the safety position; he's more than capable of coming up and laying the smack on anyone up the middle or along the sidelines while having enough athletic ability and size to keep up with bigger wide receivers or tight ends when he's roaming the middle at free safety.
Risks: He has just one year under his belt and now he has to learn another defensive system. While he's shown he can play and be successful, constant changes in such a short period of time can be difficult for a young player. Turnovers were almost non-existent last year; which hurts his value if your league heavily focuses on them. He had just one turnover in 16 games.
Fantasy Tip: Rhodes has the potential to be a marquee fantasy safety for years to come, but his transition to the new system this year will speak volumes about how quickly he's able to live up to that potential. Nonetheless, with the way the Jets will move their safeties around this year, Rhodes is going to find his nose around the ball plenty of times again this season.
Rewards: All things considered, Collins had a fairly successful first season with the Packers, posting 84 total tackles (63 solo), two forced fumbles, one interception and seven passes defensed from his free safety position. With a year under his belt and the team's defense adding some play makers during the offseason, Collins should be able to take his game to the next level.
Risks: The Packers' pass-rush needs to improve and their linebacker play needs to be solidified. If rookie linebacker A.J. Hawk can help do that, it'll allow Collins more opportunities to play a hawk in the middle field. If not, which is likely due to Hawk being a rookie, Collins may have to help chip in more on run support along with strong safety Marquand Manuel.
Fantasy Tip: With a year under his belt and some veteran additions of Manuel and cornerback Charles Woodson to the secondary, Collins should be able to make a solid transition in his second year. He had solid tackles his rookie year, which is an area he can improve in. An area he'll need to improve in to become more respectable for your fantasy team is in the turnover department, as he recorded just one a year ago. If you're nervous because he's only entering his second season you should be. If you need someone who has a bit more of a track record then by all means pass him over. The IDP position is deep enough that there will be someone else. However, if you see him dropping, jump on him because his upside is too much!
Rewards: Polamalu roams the defensive backfield well and contributes across the board to fantasy teams. He's averaged almost 94 tackles over the last two seasons, in addition to piling up six sacks, seven interceptions and 20 passes defensed over the last three years. Wait, it doesn't stop there. He's scored touchdowns in the last two years, with one each coming on an interception return and fumble recovery return. Speaking of fumbles, he's caused one each of the last three years and recorded two recoveries last season.
Risks: He lost his tag team partner in Chris Hope (Tennessee Titans) through free agency, so he'll have to adjust to working with free safety Ryan Clark (Washington Redskins) during training camp. The two may not be on the same page early on, which could result in some defensive miscues. This is key as Hope had Polamalu's back and allowed him to be aggressive and take risks, if failed, it would still leave Hope in position to make up for Polamalu's mistakes. If this changes, then his big play ability will take a hit.
Fantasy Tip: With solid size, speed and awareness, Polamalu is almost the complete package at the strong safety position. He rewards fantasy owners with a solid blend of statistics, especially strong in the tackle department. Not only is he rock steady in the tackle area, he's also capable of providing the key amount of turnovers, sacks and touchdowns you look for when you're thinking of an elite fantasy defensive back. He makes a solid starting option for your fantasy team again this season.
Rewards: Williams is off to a very promising young career. Toss out that he missed most of last season with a shoulder injury and look back to his rookie campaign, where he posted 103 total tackles (86 solo), two sacks, three interceptions, two fumble recoveries and an interception returned for a touchdown. In just four games last year, he averaged almost 6 tackles per game - carry that out over the year and he would have been near 100 tackles again. Taking over as the free safety this year, Williams has plenty of potential. He's a sure tackler and has decent enough ball-hawk skills to turn in some big plays through turnovers.
Risks: OK, we can't completely throw out the 12 missed games due to a shoulder injury last year. Is that the sign of things to come? Will he mentally be set back due to fears of testing his shoulder with the big hits that made him stand out in his rookie year? He's avoided contact during the summer just to be safe, but will that affect his mental game?
Fantasy Tip: Williams will probably be a forgotten man in IDP leagues this year because he missed most of last season and let's not forget he does play for the Bengals, whom have the perception of not being able to generate many fantasy stars on the defensive side of the ball. Let other's ignorance work to your advantage and snag him late as your final defensive back; he'll likely force you to start him quickly.
Rewards: Trufant is one of the up-and-coming corners in the league as he enters his fourth season with the Seahawks' defense. He's averaged 81 total tackles, 0.7 sacks and almost three interceptions. He showed some terrific coverage skills in 2004, when he had five interceptions and piled up 141 yards in returns.
Risks: Even though he only missed just one game last year, his tackles took a 32-tackle dip, which is quite sizeable. His interceptions also dropped by four last season. Was it a junior slump or was he previously playing beyond his means? He'll need to improve on the turnover department, as the whopping one he created last year simply isn't enough. Seeing his interceptions drop is actually a surprise, as the Seahawks' front line was dominating when it came to getting after quarterbacks last year. In turn, this usually leads to quarterback mistakes corners can capitalize on.
Fantasy Tip: Trufant, if he can push his tackle numbers back up this year, has a lot of potential for fantasy owners based off his previous sure-handed tackling and blend of interceptions. However, the loss in numbers in the tackle department last year has to cause some concern. Part of the reason is that Trufant has played the last two seasons hurt and has endured two surgeries as well. In the past he has missed minicamps due to injuries but this year, that changed, and he feels more confident now that he was able to fully participate in all offseason programs. Don't go overboard for him; without the tackles closer to the 100-tackle mark, he's just another run-of-the-mill option at the position. Steady, but not spectacular by any means.
Rewards: Every year you think Milloy is out of gas he finds a way to prove you wrong. This former Buffalo Bills' safety joined the Falcons during the offseason, where he steps right in as their starting strong safety. In his last two full seasons, he's averaged 105 total tackles (72 solo). With an improved Atlanta pass-rush coming in the form of defensive end John Abraham, the Falcons' secondary has the potential to be special this year and Milloy's veteran savvy allows him to be in the right place at the right time. In other words, he knows how to put himself in position to make a play on the football. He also has recorded a very healthy eight sacks in the past three seasons.
Risks: Formerly a decent ball hawk, Milloy seems to have lost those skills in recent years. He has just three interceptions in the last four seasons despite having 22 in his career. Maybe he needs to get his eyes checked? Either way, don't look for a lot of turnovers from him. On top of the three picks, he has just two fumble recoveries the last three years, too. He also hasn't found the end zone since 1998! Injury issues could start to become a factor due to age; he missed five games in 2004.
Fantasy Tip: Milloy is very much a 'what-you-see is what-you-get' kind of player. Unless your league rewards healthy points for tackles, he's probably not for you because you're not going to get a lot more than that from him. He's solid, provided your scoring format fits his style of play. If you need more than tackles and sacks, looking elsewhere would be recommended. He's a better NFL player than a fantasy player recently.
Rewards: Wesley has had some dynamite seasons in his career and has averaged 93 total tackles in his last two full 16 game seasons. In the last three years, he's piled up two sacks, 16 interceptions and 11 passes defensed to go along with six forced fumbles. With strong safety Sammy Knight next to him, Wesley has the ability to roam free and be a ball hawk while also chipping in at run support.
Risks: Despite taking part in 30 career turnovers, he has yet to score a touchdown for the Chiefs. He's also had some off-the-field issues, including recent chargers that were dismissed (allegedly threatening to punch a bouncer at a club). With a new head coach in Herman Edwards, there's a chance the Chiefs could shake up their secondary and oust Knight out of the strong safety position, creating possibly chemistry issues. While he has six career sack, he hasn't recorded any the past two seasons.
Fantasy Tip: Wesley, like many solid free safeties, brings the ability to contribute in tackles, sacks and turnovers to your fantasy team. He has a good blend across the board and is capable of contributing nicely. To make matters even better, he's not a "name" player so he's someone you may be able to acquire at a bargain on draft day. However, it should be noted that the Chiefs were considering him as a salary cap cut victim back in March.
Rewards: Want a freight train on your team? This heavy-hitting strong safety gave the Lions everything they wanted and more in his first year there last season. He had a career-high 98 tackles, including 74 solo stops. Picking off two passes, one of which he returned for a touchdown, shows the range this power tackler brings to the game. With a defensive minded head coach on staff now in Rod Marinelli and an emphasis being placed on conditioning, Kennedy could easily go over the 100-tackle mark for the first time in his career this season. He's also forced four fumbles, while recovering two, in the past three seasons.
Risks: Kennedy has range, but not to the point where he's going to be contributing a ton in the form of turnovers. He has just eight turnovers in his six years in the league, which isn't anything to write home about. Despite having five sacks in his career, he had zero during his first year with Detroit. Will the Lions utilize him as a blitzing safety in their new packages?
Fantasy Tip: Kennedy is one of those many players most fantasy owners ignore because he isn't flashy. He is, however, darn solid. He's not going to be picking off double-digit passes anytime soon or doing a lot of end zone celebrations, but this boy brings the heat when a would-be ball carrier is headed his way. If tackle points are friendly in your league, his value takes a big jump.
Rewards: Tillman is one of the cornerstones in a very strong, attacking Chicago "D" and can be an elite corner for fantasy teams, too. In his last two seasons where he's played at least 15 games, he's averaged 88 total tackles per season. He's forced seven fumbles, including a career-high four last year, while also recovering two during his career. More importantly, he has soft hands when it comes to hauling in some interceptions. He's had at least four picks in two of his three seasons, including five last year. One of those he returned for his first ever touchdown.
Risks: He's had some injury issues, which cost him eight games in 2004 and one game last season. Despite having good size, the cornerback position takes a tremendous amount of pounding on the body often in high-impact situations. The team acquired Ricky Manning Jr. (Carolina Panthers) during the offseason and he could push Tillman for a starting job or steal it away if an injury bug bites Tillman again. The saving grace here is that Manning Jr. is better suited as a nickel back.
Fantasy Tip: Tillman brings a solid mix of tackles, turnovers and big plays to fantasy secondaries. Unfortunately, he also brings potential injury liability with him. The team worked with him on new technique during the offseason and were encouraged with what they saw. If he can stay healthy, his high tackle totals could make him a beast this year. The team has high expectations and based on the work they saw this offseason, believe he's ready to take his game to the next level.
Rewards: Sanders really came into his own during his sophomore season despite seeing limited time his rookie year due to contract issues. In just 14 games last year, he had a solid 91 tackles (71 solo) to go along with a forced fumble, recovered fumble and one interception. With the majority of a full season under his belt, Sanders should be ready to continue moving forward on an up-and-coming Colts' defense in his junior season. While more of a run-support ace than a pass support safety, the strong Colts' defensive line will still give Sanders opportunities to come up with some game-changing plays.
Risks: Sanders missed two games last year and has yet to play in a full 16 game season. Can he hold up for the duration of a season? He has just one interception in two seasons and, despite playing like a linebacker, he hasn't recorded a sack. He had four tackles or less in six games last year, which is far from ideal.
Fantasy Tip: Sanders has a ton of potential, but he has to gain some consistency and prove he can make it through a full season. Tackles are always a marquee part of a league's scoring system; he could pile up a ton of points this year. Right now he is recovering from offseason surgery (biceps) but is expected to be ready for training camp.
Rewards: Lewis is the other part of the solid duo of Eagles' safeties, teamed with free safety Brian Dawkins. He's really coming into his own the last few seasons, upping his tackle number every year he's been in the league. In the last three years, he's averaged about 93 total tackles and topped out at a career-high 107 last season. He's really becoming a tackling machine. He also contributed one sack and two interceptions last season. Over the last three years, he's averaged a sack per year and two interceptions per year to go along with about two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery per season. He also has been quite durable, not missing a game since 2002.
Risks: Lewis really doesn't get a ton of turnovers each season. He has just seven interceptions in four years, while recording six fumble recoveries during that time. Last year, he had just three turnovers, which is nice but nothing dynamite.
Fantasy Tip: Lewis is showing the potential to be a tackling machine and having his tackles go up each year he's been in the league is a very positive sign for fantasy owners to key on. If your league rewards steady points in the tackle column, he's a solid option. He also contributes in other key areas, but tackles are clearly where he will stand out for you along the way. A huge positive is that Lewis is heading into a contract year. The team is expected to take care of him, and Lewis is a class act and has committed himself to the team entering his final season, you should assume, he'll never quit on any play.
Rewards: McGee has come on nicely during his first few years, averaging an impressive 82 total tackles (67 solo) over his last two seasons. He had a career-high four interceptions last season, including one returned for a touchdown, and has averaged three picks per year during his career. He also averages almost nine passes defensed per season. While he didn't record a sack last season, he's averaged one per year over the course of the past three seasons. He's also forced two fumbles and recovered two others during his first three yeas.
Risks: McGee doesn't have a lot of size going for him, which makes him susceptible to potential injury problems. He's already missed three games during his first three seasons, with just one season under his belt where he made it the full 16 game season. While missing just one game last year, his tackles were 20 less than the year before (92). Is that the start of things to come or will he be able to rebound in the ever so important tackle department this year?
Fantasy Tip: If your league also rewards points for special teams returns, McGee is one of the top returners in the game today. He's scored four touchdowns via returns in the last two seasons, including three two years ago! That makes the potential for injury worth the risk. McGee contributes a little bit of everything to fantasy teams, solid in the tackle, turnover and potential big play departments. His size, however, carries some risks because he may not be big enough to withstand the continuous pounding cornerbacks receive.
Rewards: Robinson now has two years under his belt and the Texans are in a massive rebuilding phase once again; averaging nearly 88 total tackles during his first two seasons - both years of at least 87 tackles is impressive for a third year player! He's averaged two sacks, 11 passes defensed and almost four interceptions per season over the last two years. He's definitely up and coming in the rankings, as he's able to provide a little bit of everything to fantasy players. He has yet to miss a game during his first two years, despite having less than ideal size.
Risks: His interceptions dropped from six his rookie year to just one his second year, but the Texans' pass rush was nearly non-existent most of last season so he has an excuse. Cornerback is a very physical position and Robinson isn't what you'd call a big guy by any means, which could become an issue as the wear and tear begins to take its toll on him.
Fantasy Tip: With an improved pass rush from up front, Robinson could see a return to glory in 2006. With solid tackle numbers, a handful of sacks and interceptions, Robinson has the potential to quickly become an elite fantasy corner. Now, the rest of the Texans' defense is going to have to give him some help. Because of his down year with interceptions he may slip in the draft, so he's someone to keep an eye on.
Rewards: Williams is one of those "name" players that just about lives up to the hype behind his name. He hasn't missed a game during his four seasons in the league. Over the last three years, he's averaged 82 total tackles (66 solo), 1.5 sacks, two interceptions and seven passes defensed per season. He has great size, able to lay the lumber on opposing running backs and wide receivers over the middle of the field. He's forced an impressive six fumbles in the past three years, while recovering five in the process. After returning two interceptions for touchdowns his rookie year, he found glory again last year by returning another interception for a score.
Risks: His turnovers aren't spectacular, as he's only averaged three the past two seasons. That's not horrible by any means, but his fantasy value would be higher if he could improve in the turnover count.
Fantasy Tip: He plays the run and the pass well, allowing him to contribute in a variety of ways to your fantasy team. He's also in the final year of his contract with the team. While they want to lock him up to a long-term deal, he very well could enter this year playing for a contract. That can be a good thing for fantasy players, as Williams could end up playing for big bucks following the year. Williams is a solid option for your fantasy squad, capable of contributing to a variety of categories while also being very strong in the tackle department. For the record, he believes head coach Bill Parcells and wide receiver Terrell Owens will have a blowout and Parcells, as has always happened, will get his way.
Rewards: Winfield brings a little bit of everything to the table, especially in the tackle department. He's averaged 97 total tackles (84 solo), 0.3 sacks, 2.7 interceptions and 6.7 passes defensed per season over the last three years. He's also chipped in four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries over the same time span. Despite his small size, he's only missed two games in the past three seasons. He's also coming off a career-high six turnover season.
Risks: His smaller size sets him up for injury problems. Every other year, he's missed a few games due to injury problems. His games played per season career average is 15, but tell that to fantasy owners in 2000 (11), 2002 (13), and 2004 (14). While quite athletic, that 5-foot-9 size sets him back immediately against larger receivers while playing jump ball. In other words, it makes pass defenses against the big guys difficult as shown by his total of nine in the last two years. The problem for the superstitious fantasy owner, this year will be an even year so if the trend continues he's bound to miss some action this season. Despite 18 career turnovers, he has yet to find the end zone during his career so big plays aren't something you can count on.
Fantasy Tip: Winfield, provided your league's scoring system favors tackles, could be a gem for you this year. He's a tackle monster, just two years removed from a 107 tackle season. However, can he break the trend of being injured every even numbered year? If he can, he could provide very solid production while contributing to a variety of statistics for your squad.
Rewards: Thomas provides a lot of bang despite his small stature. Over the last three years, he's averaged 71 total tackles (60 solo), 1.3 sacks, two interceptions and almost 11 passes defensed per season. He's missed just one game over the last three years and has forced one fumble in that time frame. He's recovered an impressive five fumble recoveries over the last three seasons. In three of the last four seasons, he's recorded at least 80 total tackles, which is a very solid number to work with.
Risks: Despite 10 years of action and a fair amount of turnovers (19) recorded, he's never found the end zone on either an interception return or fumble return.
Fantasy Tip: Thomas has the ability to contribute to a variety of statistic categories for your fantasy team, but seems to be lacking the big play ability that sets the solid defensive backs apart from the elite defensive backs. If tackles are heavily awarded in your league's scoring, he's worthy of a spot. However, there are more solid options to key on for your starting lineup. Plus, it's important to remember the Saints are in a rebuilding process and you just never know what you're going to get out of their defense.
Rewards: Hall picked up his pace in his sophomore season, contributing 65 total tackles, 6 interceptions and four passes defensed. With two years under his belt, this could be the year he's really ready to make his mark on the Falcons' secondary. Furthermore, the addition of defensive end John Abraham to the Falcons' defensive line should help the team apply more pressure on quarterbacks, in turn forcing mistakes and potential game-changing plays from Hall. He's had four passes defensed in each of his first two seasons in addition to two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Risks: At 5-foot-10, he doesn't have great size and he missed six games due to injury in two seasons. Cornerbacks take a lot of abuse, setting them up for potential injury concerns throughout the season.
Fantasy Tip: Hall showed right away in his rookie year he has promise and did a good job refining that promise into production last season. Look for him to continue to climb the charts entering his third year as one of the more complete young corners in the league and as an up-and-coming one for fantasy leagues. With a good mix of tackles and turnovers, he's working his way towards becoming the complete package. He also has high ambitions as his goal this year is simple; to be the league's best corner back. He's not resting on his laurels, and that's great for you the fantasy owner. You just have to hope his diminutive size doesn't get him injured.
Rewards: With a healthy $40 million contract extension recently behind him, Reed will be looking to continue proving his worth this season. Reed's 2005 season was cut short by six games due to injury, but he's still averaged 61 total tackles per year over the last three seasons. He's also averaged one sack, six interceptions and almost eight passes defensed per year during that span. In the past two seasons, he's recorded two interception return touchdowns. Reed is one of the more marquee "name" players in the league due to his big-play, highlight reel type action. Throwing out last season's numbers, he had recorded at least 71 tackles in each of his first three seasons. He's forced four fumbles in the past three years, recovering two during that period of time and returning one of those for a touchdown.
Risks: Reed missed six games due to injury last season and he recorded just one interception in 10 games; that's a decrease of eight interceptions from the season before! While he's decent in the tackle department, a lot of his game is based around the big play turnovers and finding the end zone. Without that, he's a run of the mill safety for fantasy teams. In the end, the greatest risk on Reed isn't Reed but rather the fantasy owner's perception of him.
Fantasy Tip: Perception vs. reality and the fact Reed's a marquee name, which usually leads to jumping the gun on him too early. While he's a dominating NFL safety and a solid fantasy safety, don't get caught up in the hype and view him as elite for your fantasy squad this year. While he's worth owning, he's by no means an upper echelon option at the position so don't invest in him too early.
Rewards: Schweigert has averaged almost 70 total tackles (57 solo) per year over his first two NFL seasons. He's averaged one interception and five passes defensed per season, as well. He really made a jump in his second season, going from 52 total tackles to 87 and appears to be headed in the right direction. In his sophomore year, he also recorded the first two interceptions of his career as he has started to grow into his position with the team. He also forced two fumbles and recovered three others last season.
Risks: While he's making strides and improving, he's not really as well rounded as you'd like to see so far. He has yet to record a touchdown or a sack; plus we'd like to see his interceptions improve this year to also help bolster his fantasy value.
Fantasy Tip: He's spent the offseason improving his game and conditioning, as he's trying to prepare himself for more improvement this season while strengthening his legs. While he made great strides in just his second season, we still want to see his game improve more before he should be relied upon on a week-in and week-out basis. Bolstering his interceptions would be a good start, but if he can replicate his tackle number or improve on it, he'll be quickly headed in the right direction.
Rewards: In his last three healthy seasons, Bellamy has been a rock solid tackler, averaging about 90 total tackles (72 solo) per season. He's also chipped in an average of 0.8 sacks and two interceptions per season. He forced four fumbles during that time period while also recovering five in the same span.
Risks: Bellamy is returning from a serious shoulder injury that cost him the majority of the 2005 season. While he said he's made good progress, one has to wonder if he'll be able to take the constant pounding on his shoulder that heavy hits provide. The team is also deep at safety and he could be pushed out of the lineup if he's not at the top of his game. He's also now 34 years old and he has put on a lot of miles over the last dozen years. Could age catch up with him this year? He's not much for big plays, recording just one defensive touchdown during his career.
Fantasy Tip: Bellamy typically is a what-you-see is what-you-get, but his injury from last year causes some concern for this year as does a potential battle during training camp. He may not even be at 100 percent and won't find out until training camp, though he is expected to be ready. While he's the front runner to hold onto a starting spot that could become a dicey situation if he's not the same tackling beast he was before the injury.
Rewards: Doss has averaged 75 total tackles (56 solo) over the past three years, while also averaging 0.3 sacks, two interceptions and two passes defensed per season. Doss has forced six fumbles during his first three seasons. Solid in run support, Doss has shown he can pile up the tackles as he did during his rookie season, posting 102 total tackles that season.
Risks: Doss has yet to make it a full 16 game season during his career, missing eight games over the past three seasons (13 games played average per year). He had offseason shoulder surgery performed and was not able to participate in the team's minicamps, but he is expected to be ready for training camp. However, that's not a good sign for a player who has already missed significant time in his short career. He has yet to record a touchdown or fumble recovery during his career.
Fantasy Tip: Doss is typical of many strong safeties for fantasy teams; he contributes well in the tackle department but, after that, his numbers are hit and miss. If he can regain the form of his rookie year, 102 tackles, one interception and three passes defensed, he could be very, very solid. However, his tackles have been down each of the last two years, from 102 to 46 to 77, partially due to injury. He should be considered if your league rewards well for tackles, but he doesn't have the range of an elite safety prospect just yet.
Rewards: Gamble has been about as consistent as they come with just two seasons under his belt. Over his first two years, he's averaged about 75 total tackles, 6.5 interceptions, 6.5 passes defensed and one forced fumble per year. On an aggressive, opportunistic defense, he has plenty of opportunities at coming up with the big play. He found the end zone for the first time in his career last season with an interception return and brings plenty of big-play potential to the field.
Risks: If you're looking for complete stats, you're probably not going to find them out of Gamble. He hasn't recorded a sack during his first two seasons, nor has he excelled in pass-defenses, with just 13 in two years.
Fantasy Tip: With hands like glue, solid tackle numbers and a dynamite defense around him, it's tough not to gamble on Gamble. Yes, the corny pun was intended. He brings a little bit of everything in terms of key stats from a defensive back to your team and should only continue to improve moving forward. Don't mind the lack of sacks as his interceptions make up for that.
Rewards: Archuleta hit the free agent jackpot during the offseason, latching on to a Daniel Snyder paycheck en route to leaving the St. Louis Rams to be the veteran leader of the Redskins' secondary. Paired with youngster Sean Taylor in the Washington backfield, Archuleta will be part of a talented group that will be able to move around and confuse opponents. With solid range in both pass coverage and run support, Archuleta is capable of piling up a variety of stat categories for fantasy owners, ranging from sacks where he's averaged 3.5 per season the last three years to tackles where where's averaged 79 total tackles (66.7 solo) per season. He's also good for the occasional interception, where he returned one for a touchdown last season.
Risks: He's not a big turnover guy. In his career, he's forced just three fumbles and three interceptions, so don't expect a lot of bonus points coming in the form of turnovers. Beyond that, his biggest liability is his health. He's played just two full seasons in five years. Will that change this season? Probably not.
Fantasy Tip: Archuleta is capable of providing a little bit of everything to fantasy teams, but nothing spectacular in terms of high counts in any single category. He has good range, but does not stand out in any single area you may want to key on. Early word is that he is not struggling, but the defensive schemes the Redskins employ are taking him a bit to learn. He could start out slow and with his lack of interceptions and fumbles, and make the perfect trade candidate to your team.
Rewards: Knight has excellent size for a strong safety and knows how to throw his size around on the field. He's averaged 94 total tackles (62 solo), 0.7 sacks, three interceptions and almost five passes defensed over the past three seasons. Entering his second season with the Chiefs, he should be more comfortable with the defensive scheme and be ready to continue contributing well to any fantasy squad. He's forced at least two fumbles each of the past five seasons while recovering two - including one he returned for a touchdown - last season. Furthermore, he's been remarkably durable and has not missed a game since 1998.
Risks: There has been a story circulating that safety Bernard Pollard could push him for playing time or even his starting job. This would appear to be a reach seeing how solid Knight is most of the time. Last season was his worst in total tackles since his second season back in 1998, and one must wonder if age could be creeping in.
Fantasy Tip: You really know what you are receiving when you select Knight. He's a sure tackler with a handful of turnovers each year; but, for the most part, that's as far as it goes. He doesn't have the explosive ability he had in his younger days and playing the strong safety role limits the turnovers he can come up with each season. While he's had 37 interceptions during his career, he's had no more than four in a season the past three years. His drop in tackles is easily explained with the fact he's in a new scheme. His solo tackles actually went up from the previous two seasons (64 to 52 to 70) while his assists dropped (32 to 46 to 19). In the end, in many fantasy leagues, his numbers either improved or stayed relatively the same. He's able to contribute to most statistics categories and is a stable option.
Rewards: Whether he deserves it or not, Bailey is thought of often as the poster boy for the "shut down corner" moniker and actually looked like a solid fantasy producer last year due to having a career-high eight interceptions and scoring two touchdowns in the process. He did this while missing two games and being slowed by a shoulder and hamstring injury for parts of the season! In addition to the strong turnover count last year, he also has averaged 72 total tackles per season over the last three years. That number is a little skewed due to his 64 tackles in 14 games last year and don't forget the shoulder injury prevented him from sticking opponents like he would have before the injury.
Risks: Bailey hasn't been a big turnover guy. In the four years previous to last season, he never had more than three interceptions in a season and hadn't scored a touchdown since 1999! Will his shoulder injury be a problem going forward?
Fantasy Tip: Bailey is often a "name" player that goes far higher than he should due to his name, not his on-field production, which has typically been lacking for fantasy owners. If he can replicate last year's production - and history shows us it was an aberration in the turnover and touchdown columns - he'd be rock solid. However, it may be better to let someone else invest a higher pick on him. One note on the term "shut down corner." Bailey since coming to Denver, has been beaten many times by quality wideouts. The team will usually be quick to blame other players insisting he did not receive help. Either way, he does not deserve the term "shut down corner" as it's overused and not valid for any player since defensive back Deion Sanders played the game. In fact a true shut down corner will force a quarterback to throw to the opposite side not just once or twice a game. They only throw to that side of the field once or twice and Sanders is the last player to be able to force teams to do that. That stated he plays in a division with quarterbacks Aaron Brooks and Philip Rivers this year, so he may be able to showcase his interception skills again.
Rewards: Dawkins has been a staple in the Eagles' secondary for almost a decade, as well as one in the secondary for fantasy teams. He brings a little bit of everything to the table, as he's averaged 73 total tackles, 3 sacks, 3 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles and 1 fumble recovery per year the last two seasons. Solid in run support, he's equally as adept to playing man-to-man with receivers and tight ends. He had 19 passes defensed last year, his highest total since posting 20 in 1999.
Risks: Durability is starting to be a factor, he's played a full 16 game season just twice in the last six seasons. Age and miles may be starting to catch up with him. Don't look for too many huge plays, though, as he hasn't found the end zone since 1999.
Fantasy Tip: The team was also slow to offer him a contract and due to his age and dwindling skills it's probably not a huge offer. A sign the team also believes his career's coming to an end. Regardless, Dawkins is a solid starter for most scoring formats, as he provides a little bit of everything to the fantasy roster. While his tackles have been down the last couple of years, the Eagles' offense is somewhat rebuilding this year due to the departure of wide receiver Terrell Owens, which could lead to the defense seeing more time on the field and more opportunities for Dawkins to produce. Defensive coordinator Jimmy Johnson also stated, Dawkins still plays like a 20-to-25-year-old.
Rewards: Parrish, who was limited to just nine games last season, averaged 79 total tackles (61 solo), 0.3 sacks, seven interceptions and almost eight passes defensed in his last three healthy seasons. He also recorded three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries during that period of time. Prior to last year's injury, he had never missed a game during his career. Despite being a heavy hitter, Parrish also has good range and soft hands, able to contribute in the turnover columns. In limited play last year, he contributed 44 total tackles (extrapolates to 78 tackles) and two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown.
Risks: Parrish suffered a broken leg last season, which cost him seven games. Whether or not he'll be able to make a full return and not lose anything from the injury has yet to be seen, as he was limited during the offseason due to his recovery from the injury.
Fantasy Tip: Parrish, when healthy, is a very strong option at the strong safety position. However, his injury last season casts some shadows of how effective he will be in his return this year. He may start off slow while he rounds back into form and snagging him as one of your top backups would be the best direction to take while he works on rebounding.
Rewards: Tremendous range, power, size and athletic ability are good ways to characterize Taylor on the field. In his first two years, he's averaged 73 total tackles (60 solo), one sack, three interceptions and almost 10 passes defensed per year. He's a big, powerful hitter and makes receivers coming over the middle have to account for where he is at all times. He's also forced two fumbles each of his first two seasons, while recovering one and returning it for a touchdown.
Risks: Taylor, himself, is the biggest risk. So much talent but no common sense. He's had a grocery list of off-the-field incidents and, for the most part, has been a real pain in the tail for the Redskins since they took him in the first round. From issues over his contract to avoiding the team during the offseason, it's been a lose-lose situation for the Redskins most of the time. Based of previous problems, he's already been fined by the team seven times in his short career and there remains a chance the league could step in and fine or suspend him. He's also missed two games over his first two seasons.
Fantasy Tip: He's looking to improve this year to work is way into the 'elite' safety class. One area he's looking to improve is his interception total, which would be music to the ears of fantasy owners. He has a ton of potential, but there is also a ton of potential risk when it comes to him. You just never know what stunt he's going to pull next or what off-the-field saga he'll become involved in. The talent is there, unfortunately the maturity is not. With Taylor, unless he chooses to change his ways, it's not a matter if something happens but when and how serious. If he can get his head on straight and focus on his on-field play like he's said he plans on doing, he could easily become a top 10 fantasy defensive back.
Rewards: Spencer has put together back-to-back solid seasons, especially in the tackle category. He's averaged almost 77 total tackles (68 solo), two interceptions and 11 pass defensed over the past two seasons. He is coming off of a career-high four interception season, one of which he returned for a touchdown.
Risks: He has yet to record a sack, force a fumble or fumble recovery. The 49ers lost both Andre Carter (Washington Redskins) and Julian Peterson (Seattle Seahawks) during the offseason, which will hurt their pass rush and could put Spencer on an island in coverage longer if the team cannot apply enough pressure from up front.
Fantasy Tip: The 49ers' offense remains in rough shape, which puts the defense on the field an awful lot. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing, as it'll wear the defenders out quicker but it will also give Spencer more opportunities to make plays and pile on the tackles. He spent some time in the offseason working as a wide receiver to help better understand his opponents and the routes they run. Spencer is definitely headed in the right direction, but isn't quite to the "elite" level yet. Improving on his turnovers, sacks and fumbles could quickly change that, as he's already fairly solid in the tackle department. Last but not least, head coach Mike Nolan showed us last season his defenses are aggressive and attacking. That will pay dividends for Spencer.
Rewards: Brown's entire career has been surrounded with big plays, making him one of the more exciting safeties in the game today. In six seasons, he's scored six defensive touchdowns - four via interception return and two via fumble recovery. In just 12 games last year, he had 72 total tackles, three interceptions, one sack, one forced fumble and one interception returned for a touchdown. He's capable of adding numbers to your fantasy squad in a variety of categories and is one of the more well-rounded safeties in the league playing on an aggressive, attacking defense. The team plans to handle him differently this year, giving him more time off to help keep him healthy and fresh. When on the field, he's one of the more dynamic safeties in the league.
Risks: Brown has been far from durable the last two years, missing 14 games in 2004 and four games last season. His tackles have taken a dramatic drop in recent years, too, after being a 101 tackle machine his rookie year he has only come close to approaching that number once since then. Excluding his 100-tackle season and his two-game 2003 season, he has averaged 76 tackles per year. Clearly his tackles have taken a drop.
Fantasy Tip: On defense, if there is one player you'd want to watch due to highlight reel plays, Brown would have to be on anyone's short list! He has huge upside, but he has to stay healthy in order to fulfill that potential. Being as well-rounded as he is, he's capable of giving you solid weekly points in the tackle column while also bringing the potential for a touchdown or two along the way. However, due to his recent health issues, do not overreach for him unless you're already rock solid at the position already.
Rewards: Allen, who spent his entire career with the New York Giants, is expected to step in as a starter for the Dolphins this season. In his last two seasons, he's averaged 76 total tackles (69 solo), 0.5 sacks, 0.5 interceptions and almost 15 passes defensed per season.
Risks: While he's been healthy the past two seasons, making it a full 16 games, he previously missed time during his first three seasons (eight games missed). He doesn't have great size, nor has he been a big turnover player during his career. He had just one turnover in each of the past two seasons. Plus, moving over to the Dolphins means he's going to need to learn a new system and gel with his secondary counterparts.
Fantasy Tip: Allen is decent in the tackle department, but that's about where it starts and ends. You're not going to see many turnovers out of him and his tackles aren't high enough to justify playing him on a week-in and week-out basis alone. He's a better backup than starter entering the season, but has potential on a match up basis.
Rewards: Baxter has excellent size for the corner position, as his 6-foot-2 frame makes it difficult for even the largest of receivers to manhandle him. It's also helped lead to him forcing three fumbles over the last two years. Entering the second season under a Romeo Crenell-led defense will only help the Browns' defense move forward, as will the addition of pass-rush specialist Willie McGinest during the offseason. With an improved pass-rush, it could set Baxter up to see more than just tackles come his way this year. He's averaged two interceptions per season the last three years. His true value comes in tackles. Throwing out last year's five games, he averaged about 82 total tackles per year from 2002-04, all full seasons of production.
Risks: Baxter missed 10 games last season with a pectoral injury and there has been some speculation he'd be better suited to play safety rather than cornerback. If your league rewards "mucho" points for turnovers, you may want to look elsewhere. Baxter has just seven career interceptions - with a high of three in a season - and has yet to make a fumble recovery or score a touchdown. Basically, you won't be hearing anyone call him "Big Play Baxter" anytime soon in the fantasy ranks.
Fantasy Tip: Baxter can be rock solid if your league rewards heavily in the tackle department. Beyond that, beggars cannot be choosers because sacks, interceptions and fumble recoveries aren't going to be a steady feed in his stats line. There are some that believe Baxter makes a better safety than corner back and he vehemently rejects the idea and states that will not happen. As long as he produces he has no worries but when a head coach who has been to six Super Bowls, triumphant in five of them states a move is going to take place, then that move will take place.
Rewards: Hope made a name for himself with the Pittsburgh Steelers the past two seasons and now the Titans are hoping he'll be a key addition to their ailing secondary and not another of the many free agent busts they've brought on board. He's been a tackling machine the past two years, recording a career-high 96 (69 solo) tackles last year. Over the last two, he's averaged almost 93 tackles per season. While he's had four interceptions the last two years, he's more solid in run support than he is in pass coverage. However, strong tacklers like him can still post solid fantasy numbers! He's forced two fumbles the past two years, while recording one during that span.
Risks: As alluded to previously, don't read too much into his four interceptions the last two years. Despite being a free safety, he has just five passes defensed during his career and is more of a run-support safety than a pass-coverage defensive back. In other words, don't look for a lot of turnovers through the form of interceptions. Can he get the job done on his own after being teamed with Troy Polamalu the past few seasons? The pressure will definitely be on.
Fantasy Tip: Hope has the potential to be a tackle machine for the Titans, as the Titans' offense will likely struggle this year and force the defense on the field quite a bit. There's definite talent and stat potential here; if your league is heavy on tackle points, he could be a solid option. As stated the pressure is there as the Titans are looking at him as a team leader in the locker room. He's been working hard with strong safety Lamont Thompson to work on their chemistry during mini-camps.
Rewards: Darius appears to be well ahead of the game in terms of his recovery from a torn ACL and is looking forward to returning to his strong safety position this year. Prior to his injury, which he suffered in the second game of the season last year, Darius was a steady tackling machine from his safety spot. He averaged 84 total tackles (56.5 solo) per season from 2003-04, while hauling in six interceptions and eight passes defensed. His 6-foot-1, 225 pound frame is tough on opponents and it has helped him force eight fumbles during his career, including six fumble recoveries.
Risks: How well will his surgically repaired knee hold up? He's a big safety and a powerful hitter, which puts a tremendous amount of pounding on his wheels. If his wheels are not 100 percent, he'll be a liability on the field. Other than five interceptions in 2004, he's never been much for picking the football off - he has just 14 interceptions in seven NFL seasons. In addition to last year's injury, he's only played a full 16 game season four times in his career.
Fantasy Tip: Darius is steady, but carries baggage this year. How well his surgically repaired knee responds will truly dictate his fantasy potential for this year. If his timing or speed is off, he's not going to be able to lay the lumber on opposing running backs like he has in the past. If he can't do that, he's not worth time on your fantasy roster. Use caution when approaching him this year.
Rewards: Law has signed with the Kansas City Chiefs, who were the front-runners for his services while he was a free agent. Law proved last year he still had gas left in the tank, posting 62 total tackles (45 solo), 10 interceptions, one fumble recovery and eight passes defensed with the New York Jets. Excluding his 2004 injured season, in those 10 years he's averaged 67 tackles, 4.5 interceptions and 10 passes defensed. Those are steady numbers indeed.
Risks: Law didn't join the team until late July. How good will his conditioning be? Will he be able to quickly pick up a new defensive scheme? Was last year an aberration due to being fresh after playing in only seven games in 2004? Will age catch up to him? Prior to last year's 10-interception season, he only averaged 3.5 interceptions per year with a high of nine in 1998.
Fantasy Tip: A veteran like Law does not need offseason programs and minicamps as he's well-versed in conditioning. He's currently working out with famous track coach Bob Kersee to stay in shape. Law should have enough time to develop the necessary chemistry needed. Law is worthy of a selection for your team, as he provides a decent blend of tackles and turnovers with big-play potential. He's returned interceptions for touchdowns in two of his last three seasons and has 46 career interceptions, seven of which he's brought back for scores.
Rewards: Sharper used to be a monster at the free safety position, but age has taken some of that away. Nonetheless, he's still more than capable of producing for fantasy owners and started showing some signs of his old level of play during his first season with Minnesota. He picked off nine passes last year, tying a career high, and returned two of them for touchdowns. He has four interception return touchdowns in the last two years and a fifth on a fumble recovery, while averaging six interceptions per year over his last three. He's averaged 68 tackles over the last three years as well.
Risks: Sharper has not played a full 16 game season since 2001 and he's moving over to the strong safety position. That's four seasons in a row he's missed at least one game, sometimes more. For the second time in as many years, he'll have a new partner in FS Dwight Smith. Will they have the necessary chemistry in place? Sharper's tackles have dropped each of the past two seasons, bottoming out at 51 total last year. Is that the sign of things to come moving forward? Despite having six sacks in his career, he hasn't had one the past two years.
Fantasy Tip: Don't overvalue Sharper based off of last year's numbers, as the two touchdowns skewed his overall performance as did the nine interceptions (he averages four per year for his career). Granted he's had back-to-back two interception touchdowns, but that's unlikely to continue. Don't get us wrong, Sharper is a solid player to have if he can push his tackle number back up this year, but look beyond the numbers. Especially with the fact he's played nine seasons already, what you see is what you get. Don't look for much if any upside.
Rewards: Minter is the quarterback of the Panthers' defense. Starting all 16 games the past four years, he hasn't missed a game since 2001. In that time, he's been fairly strong while averaging almost 80 total tackles (59 solo), 1.2 sacks, 1.3 interceptions and almost eight passes defensed per season. He's scored four defensive touchdowns during his career, including two in a season back in 2003. In the last three years, he's forced four fumbles and recovered two.
Risks: Interceptions aren't something Minter sees a lot of, nor are turnovers in general. In the last three years, he has recorded just six turnovers (two per season). His tackles also took a sizeable dip last year, dropping to 62 from 81 the pervious season. With improved play up front, it could leave less tackles for Minter to pile up again this year. We have to ask; at the age of 32 and with nine seasons under his belt, maybe he's slowing down?
Fantasy Tip: Minter is another one of the many what-you-see is what-you-get defensive backs in the league. He's fairly solid in the tackle categories, tosses in a few sacks, interceptions and fumbles each year. While he has some big play capability, it's been three seasons since he scored a defensive touchdown. With the aggressive style of play the Panthers' "D" utilizes, he's often put in position to make a play. The only problem, the team has plenty of other playmakers that can beat him to the punch. He's best viewed as a solid depth player entering 2006.
Rewards: Newman hasn't missed a game during his three-year career, while averaging almost 68 total tackles (62 solo), 0.7 sacks, 3.7 interceptions and 14 passes defensed per year. He has forced three fumbles, while recovering two during the same time period. He's had at least three interceptions in each of his seasons. He could provide an extra spark, provided your league's scoring system gives bonus points for returns, as he's been working on punt returns this summer.
Risks: Newman is a solid cover corner, but has mental lapses at times on the field. His tackles have decreased each of the last three seasons, bottoming out at 59 total last year. The Cowboys' defense can be stingy, but they've also failed to be a "big play" defense by nature. Will this be the year head coach Bill Parcells is able to put everything together? Despite his talent, where are the big plays? He has yet to record a defensive touchdown.
Fantasy Tip: The Cowboys' offense has the ability to be quite special this year with the addition of wide receiver Terrell Owens. If they are able to up their scoring and consistency, it could play into the hands of the defense. With Newman's tackles decreasing, so is his fantasy value. While he contributes to a variety of statistical categories, tackles continue to be the money category in most league scoring systems. Without them, he's just another run of the mill fantasy option.
Rewards: Smith is a solid tackler, averaging 76 total tackles (65 solo), 0.3 sacks, 3.3 interceptions and 6.7 passes defensed per season over the last three years. He's forced six fumbles in the last three years, too. He went one and done with the New Orleans Saints, as they released him shortly before training camp. The Minnesota Vikings quickly stepped up and added him, where he will step in as their starter at free safety.
Risks: He could be behind the eight ball early in the year if he's not comfortable with the Vikings' defense. Smith hasn't recorded a touchdown during his career and his interceptions have decreased each of the last two seasons, dropping to just two last year - his lowest total since 2001.
Fantasy Tip: Smith has plenty of potential to contribute to a number of categories for your fantasy team. However, he will need to gel with his new teammates and system since he did not arrive with the team until late in the summer. However, he's reunited with his former position coach so the team has a good understanding of how to utilize him on the field along with what his key strengths are in play.
Rewards: Crocker is yet another new face to the Falcons' secondary during the offseason, coming over through a trade with the Cleveland Browns. He started to put together his game last year, totaling 81 tackles (50 solo), two sacks, two interceptions and two passes defensed. Working as the team's starting free safety, Crocker will benefit playing next to veteran Lawyer Milloy, who will be able to teach him some tricks to the trade. Crocker has forced two fumbles during his three-year career, recording one fumble recovery. He also returned his only interception in 2004 for a touchdown.
Risks: Crocker has to adjust to a new team and system. He's missed four games in the past two years and last season was the first time he posted respectable tackles, as he had just 91 total tackles the previous two seasons combined. Turnovers aren't a big part of his game, as he's recorded just four during his first three seasons, with three of them coming last season.
Fantasy Tip: Crocker is going to need some time to adjust and could start off slow this year as a result. If he can continue building on last year's numbers, he'll quickly shoot up the charts. With the attacking style of the Atlanta defense, which seems to be rapidly improving on paper with the additions of Milloy, Crocker and defensive end John Abraham, will benefit his play. However, there will probably be some growing pains along the way as this will be the third different defensive system he's learned in as many years. On a side note, Crocker back in May, working out with the team, lined up against the wide receivers in one-on-one reps. It shows he's still working hard to gain an edge and continue growing.
Rewards: Lucas is in a good situation. Not only does he play on an aggressive, attacking defense, his team has a solid pass-rush and his counterpart, Chris Gamble, is coming into his own well to the point where opposing quarterbacks can't pick on one or the other with ease. In his first year with Seattle, he had 69 total tackles (62 solo) to go along with a solid six interceptions. Over the last three years, he's averaged almost 67 tackles, 4 interceptions, 11 passes defensed, 0.3 forced fumbles and 1.3 fumble recoveries per season. He's also scored one touchdown during that span, via an interception return. With a year under his belt in Carolina, he could easily start improving those numbers as he becomes more comfortable within the system.
Risks: Lucas has missed three games in the past three years, which is common for cornerbacks due to the physical game they play. Sacks have been a non-factor, as he has yet to record one during his NFL career.
Fantasy Tip: Lucas is one of the more solid fantasy corners in the league when it comes to a combined approach. While he's not fantastic in any certain category, he's tremendously solid across the board. He's a solid and steady contributor for your squad again this season. Recently he and teammate wide receiver Steve Smith have been challenging each other in practice to the point a scuffle erupted once. To get better, there is no other receiver right now that can help with that than Smith.
Rewards: Russell has tremendous size and should continue to improve entering his second season under defensive-minded head coach Romeo Crenell. He's averaged 82 total tackles (62 solo), 0.3 sacks, 4.3 interceptions and 3.7 passes defensed the past three years. He's forced one fumble while recording two fumble recoveries. Three years ago, he set a career-high nine interceptions and 95 tackles, showing he definitely has the ability to post some upper-echelon fantasy production for your team.
Risks: His tackles have dropped each of the last two seasons, all the way down to 70 last year. Despite having nine interceptions in 2003, he has just four since then. He's never scored a defensive touchdown.
Fantasy Tip: Russell has shown the ability to be an elite defensive back for fantasy teams; the problem, he hasn't shown it recently. Can he return to his 2003 form in a different system that is productive for safeties? He made the right steps towards it last year, but he'll need to improve his turnovers and up his tackle totals to really emerge once again. Until that happens, he's a solid backup with upside potential.
Rewards: Clements is coming off a career-high 99 total tackles (78 solo) and continues to prove his worth for both the Bills' defense and fantasy owners. Rock solid in the tackle department, Clements has good size to hang with receivers and solid coverage. He's one of the more complete fantasy corners out there today, as he's averaged almost four interceptions, seven passes defensed, almost three forced fumbles and 0.6 fumble recoveries the past three seasons. He has yet to miss a game during his career and has never had less than 62 total tackles in a season. Previous to last season, he had returned an interception for a touchdown for four years in a row; thus, he has big-play ability to go along with his steady, quiet play, too.
Risks: The Bills' defense as a whole struggled last year and the loss of weakside linebacker Takeo Spikes to injury was a big reason. That may also have been the reason Clements posted 99 total tackles... 26 more than his previous high. Don't be surprised to see his tackles decrease this year provided Spikes returns to health and the Bills' defense improves. He's not used as much on punt returns anymore, where he also previously scored two touchdowns during his career.
Fantasy Tip: Clements is quickly becoming one of the upper echelon fantasy defensive backs in the league. Not only is he a sure tackler, he's solid in the turnover department (10 in the last two years) and can provide the big touchdown plays from time to time, too. Draft him with confidence as one of your starting defensive backs. He's going to compete for punt return duties, and that has both an upside and downside. The upside is the potential return touchdowns, if your league counts those for individual players, but the downside is injury. Finally, he's playing for a contract. Clements was "franchise tagged," signing the one-year deal worth $7.2 million. The team cannot franchise tag him next year as part of his contract, so he will have something to play for.
Rewards: Kiel should be ready to step forward as a solid force in the Chargers' secondary this season, his fourth in the league. He's just a year removed from a 97 tackle season. Over the last three years, one of which he missed time due to injury, he's averaged 74 total tackles (60 solo), 0.7 sacks, 1.3 interceptions and five passes defensed. He's recorded one forced fumble and recovered two fumbles during that span.
Risks: The Chargers' secondary has had great trouble creating turnovers or big plays in recent years and Kiel has been part of the problem. There's also a possibility he could lose his starting job at strong safety to Clinton Hart, who has impressed during the offseason and may be ready to emerge in training camp as the No. 1 option. Kiel missed four games last year with an ankle injury, the first time he's missed time in his career. In 12 games played, his tackles were way down and he failed to record an interception for the first time in his career.
Fantasy Tip: The Chargers' secondary is an enigma, they have tons of talent back there but the talent rarely lives up to their potential. Can Kiel fend off competition and elevate his game? If not, his fantasy value will take a huge dip. He'll also need to push his tackles back near the 97-mark from 2004 in order to truly benefit fantasy teams, as his numbers in the sacks, turnovers and touchdown columns are all grossly lacking. To end it on a positive note, Kiel was hurt pretty much most of the season, and if he has the ability, maybe he can take it up a notch.
Rewards: O'Neal has done a good job making a name for himself with the Bengals the past two years. The Bengals' defense is slowly starting to come together and O'Neal is one of the reasons why. Last year, he had a solid 65 total tackles and 10 interceptions. Since joining the Bengals, he's had 14 interceptions and brought one of them back to the house. He's also averaged about nine passes defensed the past two years while recording one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Risks: A lingering knee injury is worth keeping an eye on. He had it scoped after last season and it was still slowing him this summer. As of this writing, he's had a second opinion with results not yet known. Could that be the sign of things to come? He hasn't played a full 16 game season since 2002, making it tough to depend on him.
Fantasy Tip: O'Neal added a great blend of tackles and turnovers last year to produce one of his better fantasy campaigns in recent years. He'll need to keep it up while staying healthy in the process to continue. With the Bengals' offense so potent, it often puts opponents in a catch-up mode, allowing him to play the pass. With 29 career interceptions, he's showing a knack for coming up with the football for your fantasy team. He'll possibly be undervalued in your draft this season. It's imperative for you to stay on top of his injury situation (through KFFL) in order to determine his final value for you.
Rewards: Chavous moves over to the strong safety role in St. Louis after previously playing with the Minnesota Vikings. He's been remarkably solid since being converted from corner to safety. During the last three years, he's averaged 79 total tackles, almost 4 interceptions and 5 passes defensed per season. He's also been remarkably healthy, not missing a game since 2001.
Risks: Don't get too excited about his interception average. He's only had three picks in the past two seasons, with his numbers being skewed by an eight interception season back in 2003. Considering he's recovered just one fumble during his career, he's not much for turnovers - just four the last two years - and he hasn't scored a touchdown since 2003.
Fantasy Tip: The Rams' defense is in a flux again, but that could be good for Chavous because he'll be needed - and often - in run support. He's a sure tackler and could push his tackle numbers above his recent average this year because the Rams are questionable at defensive tackle and are moving outside backer Will Witherspoon into the middle, which could be an issue. The fact he's in a division (NFC West) that throws a lot will help as well with tackles in the secondary.
About Ryan R. Bonini
Founding KFFL in 1996, Bonini serves as VP of technology for KFFL's parent company, USA TODAY SPORTS. Bonini was named the 2009 Fantasy Football Writer of the Year by the FSWA and received honors with the Best Fantasy Football Series in '10.
His work has been found in USA TODAY Sports, Yahoo! Sports, FOX Sports, CBS Sports, NFL.com, and many others. He has also been featured on numerous radio programs around the country. Bonini is a member of the PFWA, FSWA and FSTA. Follow @RyanBonini
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