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2021 Positional Tracker: Defensive Backs

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2021 Positional Tracker: Defensive Backs

Justin Varnes and Tom Simons are covering every major defensive transaction from the 2021 off-season in our Off-season Tracker articles. We broke down all the important free agency signings and trades from a fantasy perspective in articles sorted by position. The articles are ordered by players changing teams ("New Homes") and by players sticking with their 2020 teams ("Staying Put"). The players are also ordered by their potential fantasy impact for the 2021 season in each section.

New Homes

John Johnson (Cle) — Johnson brings leadership and versatility to the Cleveland secondary, signing a three-year, $33 Million deal.

Fantasy Points: Johnson is a playmaker who can be a TE-killer or a run-stuffer and Cleveland’s lack of elite LBs put them in desperate need of a third safety. Johnson fits the role perfectly, though Cleveland hasn’t been a boon for safeties in recent years. Johnson is the man who could buck that trend though. The 25-year-old has eclipsed 100 tackles in each of his last two full seasons.

Keanu Neal (Dal) — Neal follows DC Dan Quinn to Big D on a one-year, $5 million deal.

Fantasy Points: When healthy, Neal has proven to be a great fit for Quinn’s defensive scheme. He’s hit 100+ tackles in each of his three healthy seasons and will likely continue to play a similar box role in Dallas. Donovan Wilson is still there and played well last season, while Dallas is likely still going to add another veteran safety (presumably to play deep). It’s possible that both Neal and Wilson will be top-25 DBs next year, with the nod going to Neal.

Anthony Harris (Phi) — The Eagles add a big piece to their defense with a one-year, $5 million contract for Harris.

Fantasy Points: Philly replaced Jalen Mills with one of the best safeties on the market. Harris is 29, hence the lack of a long-term deal but as a Viking, he and Harrison Smith had been one of the best safety duos in the league. His role and production had grown considerably over the last few years. Harris went from 45 to 60 to 104 tackles in the last three seasons. Triple digits might be hard to reach in Philly’s scheme, but 80-90 is a solid bet.

William Jackson (Was) — Mr. Jackson goes to Washington for three years and $42 Million.

Fantasy Points: This is a great landing spot for Jackson, as he will likely be asked to tackle more and will replace Ronald Darby who was productive in this role last season. He should leave behind the seasons of 30-40 tackles and take the elevator to the 50-70 tackle range in Washington.

Shaquill Griffin (JAX) — Griffin moves to the East Coast on a three-year deal worth $44.5 Million.

Fantasy Points: Griffin has been a consistent tackle producer in Seattle, despite playing in front of the worst tackle crew in the galaxy. He’s pegged 60 tackles almost on the nose in each of his first four seasons, but that number should increase in Jacksonville under Urban Meyer. That’s great news for his fantasy value, as Griffin already boasts a strong big-play game. Griffin has hit double-digit PD in three of his four seasons and pulled down 3 INTs last season.

Rayshawn Jenkins (Jax) — Jenkins signed a four-year deal to help plug Jacksonville’s leaky secondary.

Fantasy Points: Jenkins was thrust into heavier duty last season with the Chargers, as their secondary was decimated with injury (including losing stud safety Derwin James). He’ll now be thrust into heavier duty in a secondary that saw Jarrod Wilson routinely get roasted. Jenkins should fit in next to box-safety Josh Jones and could replicate his 2020 production of 81 tackles, 2 INTs, and 4 PD.

Mike Hilton (Cin) — Hilton stays in the NFC North as the Bengals signed him to a four-year contract for $24 Million.

Fantasy Points: Hilton was the #1 DB for the first part of 2020 before losing time to injury. Operating as a slot corner with safety and pass-rush duties, Hilton has been a 60-tackle, 2-4 sack guy for Pittsburgh. Cincinnati needs all the help they can get in the MOF, so we expect to see a similar role for Hilton in Cincy.

Kyle Fuller (Den) — The CB-needy Broncos scooped up Fuller for one-year/$9.5 million.

Fantasy Points: Well THAT was quick. I was reading the breaking news of Fuller’s release from Chicago when I received an alert that Denver had signed him. Fuller thrived in Chicago when Denver HC Vic Fangio was running the defense. Fuller was a 60-80 tackle producer under Fangio as well as a 20-PD guy. This is about as good a fit for Fuller as we could have hoped for.

Lamarcus Joyner (NYJ) — The Jets add a third safety with a one-year, $4.5 million deal.

Fantasy Points: Joyner’s fantasy value rests largely on how new DC Robert Saleh uses the veteran. As a deep safety, Joyner was one of the best in the game. As a nickel corner (as he was used over the last two seasons), his results were inconsistent. The Jets already have Marcus Maye and sophomore Ashtyn Davis, so adding a third safety gives them more flexibility in Dime and Dime+ packages. If he sticks on the field for 60% or above, he’s got 60-70 tackles in his future. Joyner has never been much on big plays, though. He has just 4 INTs, 5 sacks, and 2 fumble recoveries over his seven year career while averaging just 3-5 PD per season as well.

Jalen Mills (NE) — The Patriots snag an underrated safety, inking the 26-year-old to a four-year, $24 million contract.

Fantasy Points: Mills is coming off his best year statistically: 74 tackles and his first 2 sacks of his career. He made the transition to safety with relative ease and - with his cornerback pedigree - fits perfectly into Bill Belichick’s versatile scheme. Whether his hybrid CB/S skills translate to enough fantasy consistency in New England remains to be seen.

Patrick Peterson (Min) — The once-dominant veteran moves to a CB-needy defense with a one-year, $10 million contract.

Fantasy Points: PP can still ball. His best years may be behind him, but he will likely be a huge presence in an inexperienced secondary. Peterson hasn’t been fantasy relevant for a while, the curse of being so good that no one throws your way. But as he slipped last year, his tackles finally crossed into the 60s (the first time since his rookie season). He’s still good for a few INTs and near double-digit PD and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he might convert to safety if the young CBs pull it together. The Vikings just lost safety Anthony Harris.

Erik Harris (Atl) — The Falcons add a veteran piece to the safety room.

Fantasy Points: Harris played solid ball in Vegas, totaling 73 tackles in 2019 and 60 tackles in an injury-shortened 2020. He’ll likely play deep safety (where he played his best as a Raider), so a 60-70 tackle season would be about as good as we could hope unless he takes over the role vacated by Keanu Neal. He'll be more valuable if he can get his big plays back up. He tallied 5 INTs and 15 PD in his first two full seasons. Last year, he had 0 INTs and just 5 PD.

Staying Put

Justin Simmons (Den) — The Broncos used their Franchise tag on arguably the best safety to potentially hit the open market.

Fantasy Points: Simmons has ascended into a DB1 over the last few years, proving he can produce in multiple alignments and produce both tackles and big plays. Simmons has posted at least 90 tackles in each of his last three seasons while grabbing 5 INTs in 2020 after 4 INTs in 2019. Staying put in Denver will likely keep him in the DB1 bracket.

Marcus Maye (NYJ) — The 28-year-old gets the Franchise tag to go along with his new defensive coordinator.

Fantasy Points: Drafted alongside Jamal Adams as the 1A to Adams’ 1, Maye has flashed when given the multi-level roles that Adams and other top fantasy safeties get. With a new DC in Robert Saleh, Maye may get his shot to produce more consistently in the Jets secondary. Maye hit career-highs across the stat line last season, including 88 tackles (52 solo), 4 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 INTs, 2 FF, and 11 PD.

Cameron Sutton (Pit) — Sutton re-signed with Pittsburgh for two years and $9 Million.

Fantasy Points: Sutton slots into the slot role vacated by Mike Hilton. This is significant because Hilton’s role was a productive one. As the primary slot man in 2020, Hilton produced big plays along with a solid tackle rate. Sutton has flashed his big-play skillset (3 FF, 1 FR, 1 sack, and 1 INT in limited playing time last season), so if he can duplicate Hilton’s production he’ll be a valuable asset in IDP leagues.

Michael Davis (LAC) — Davis and the Chargers agreed on a three-year/$25 Million deal to keep Davis in L.A.

Fantasy Points: Davis played his way into a prominent role on a defense that has featured studs like Casey Hayward, Chris Harris, and Jason Verrett over the last few years. He was a sneaky CB2/DB3 last season, primarily due to his upped big-play production. Davis posted 3 INTs (including a pick-six) and 14 PD to pad his 63 tackles. He’s now the man in Los Angeles.

Marcus Williams (NO) — Williams was Franchise-Tagged by the Saints after proving effective as their primary deep safety.

Fantasy Points: Williams hasn’t had much opportunity to produce for fantasy, leaving the grunt work to veteran Malcolm Jenkins and Swiss-Army Knife C.J. Gardner-Johnson. But at just 24-years-old, there’s potentially a larger role for him if they elect to rotate their secondary more often. But unless that happens, Williams will likely continue his 55-60-tackle production.

Vernon Hargreaves (Hou) — The former 1st-rounder re-signed with Houston on a one-year deal.

Fantasy Points: The Texans gave Hargreaves a shot after he was jettisoned from Tampa Bay (the team that drafted him 11th overall in 2016) and while the move hasn’t proven to be a stroke of genius, the 25-year-old seems to have found his legs in Houston. Hargreaves had a decent season in 2020, posting 72 tackles, but he’s yet to regain the aggressiveness of his ball-hawking days in college. After being an aggressive playmaker at Florida, Hargreaves has just 2 INTS and 3 forced fumbles in four years. Perhaps he can build on his solid-if-unspectacular 2020 campaign and increase his big plays. Otherwise, he’s CB3/DB5 material.

Jason Verrett (SF) — The 49ers retain the veteran cornerback on a one-year deal for $5.5 Million.

Fantasy Points: Verrett was a dominant corner for the Chargers before injuries cost him a few of his prime seasons, but he still flashed some elite skills last season for San Francisco. He tallied 60 tackles along with 2 INTs and 7 PD in 13 games last season. A full season could produce double-digit PD and make the 29-year-old former 1st-rounder an upside CB2 if he can remain healthy.

Justin has been holding down the IDP fort for John Hansen and the crew since 2015. In addition to projections and articles, he also hosts an all-IDP podcast called “The IDP Corner,” where he is joined by his fellow FantasyPoints IDP contributor Thomas Simons, along with other special guests.

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