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Avoid Drafting “Deep” Safeties

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What is a “deep” safety, why should we avoid drafting them, and who are the deep safeties to avoid for IDP leagues?


What is a “deep” safety?

I consider a safety as “deep” if their pre-snap position is outside of the “box” and not lined up as a cornerback. “Box” refers to the imaginary rectangle extending the offensive line’s width to about five feet deep on the defensive side.

In the tweet below, it appears that Johnathan Abram is lined up as a strong safety and close to the line of scrimmage (in the box) at the 34-yard line. Meanwhile, Trevon Moehrig is lined up deep in a free safety position at the 47-yard line. The defense is in a single-high or cover 1 look.

People typically refer to safeties as either a strong or free safety. A strong safety will line up on the field’s strong side, typically the side with the tight end.  A free safety will line up on the opposite side, which is the weak side of the field.

Some teams frequently use their strong safety close to the line of scrimmage, while other teams may utilize 2-high safety looks that have both safeties playing deep in cover 2.

When I was a beginner in IDP, I just thought I could look at depth charts, find the strong safety, draft him, and assume he would play close to the line. As I gained more experience, I came to understand that teams are playing a lot of different schemes. Some teams are even utilizing a left and right safety approach where each safety will line up on their designated field side for every play.

Why Should We Avoid “Deep” Safeties?

I looked over an extensive amount of data on safeties and concluded that if a safety is lined up deep over 60% of the time, he will have a very difficult time finishing in the top 12 scoring safeties. Minkah Fitzpatrick and Xavier Woods were the only two that fit these criteria in 2021.

Pro Football Focus determined that in 2021, a safety with a deep safety pre-snap alignment had a tackle efficiency of 8.8%, while a safety with a strong safety pre-snap alignment had a tackle efficiency of 9.8%. This stat indicates that “deep” safeties get fewer tackles than “box” safeties. With most IDP leagues scoring favoring tackles, safeties that play deep are at a distinct disadvantage.

Every season there will be a deep safety that will finish near the top in scoring, but it will be difficult for him to repeat this achievement. As a result, I expect a regression for several “deep” safeties in 2022.  Regression is applicable to not only running backs and wide receivers but IDP players as well.

Regression candidates will have a low average draft position (ADP) based on their prior year’s performance, but I want to avoid selecting these players unless they fall in my league’s draft.

Who are the Notable “Deep” Safeties to Avoid?

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Xavier McKinney, New York Giants

Sleeper ADP: DB10    My Rank: DB20    IDP Guys Rank: DB9

McKinney ascended the fantasy ranks in his second year in the league, and many analysts are expecting the ascension to continue in year three. However, I am taking a more cautious approach with McKinney because he lined up deep over 70% of the time in 2021. McKinney’s scoring was aided by a very high snap count, the injury to Blake Martinez, and even a defensive touchdown in Week 9 against the Raiders.

McKinney also has a new defensive coordinator (Wink Martindale) and scheme to learn this year. Last year, Martindale had his free safety (Marcus Williams) line up deep over 85% of the time. In addition, the Giants drafted a safety in the fourth round (Dane Belton) who projects to be a “box” safety.

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Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pittsburgh Steelers

Sleeper ADP: DB3    My Rank: DB8    IDP Guys Rank: DB4

Fitzpatrick finished #4 in safety scoring in 2021, after finishing #16 in 2020 and #13 in 2019.  I do not expect Fitzpatrick to have a huge drop, but I’m not prepared to put him in my top five.

Fitzpatrick lined up deep around 79% of the time in 2021. Like McKinney, Fitzpatrick’s fantasy scoring was aided by a top 10 snap count.  In addition, linebackers Devin Bush and Joe Schobert graded poorly in run defense, according to PFF.

I expect the team’s run defense to slightly improve with the acquisition of Myles Jack in the offseason, causing fewer opportunities for Fitzpatrick. I think even Ben Roethlisberger‘s retirement could indirectly impact Fitzpatrick’s production this year.

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Jessie Bates III, Cincinnati Bengals

Sleeper ADP: DB7    My Rank: DB19    IDP Guys Rank: DB17

The main reason to avoid Jessie Bates right now is his current holdout with the Bengals. Bates does not want to play on the franchise tag and would like to receive a long-term contract extension.

Bates also fits the “deep” safety category as he lined up deep over 68% of the time in 2021, according to PFF. I believe the Bengals were preparing for the eventual departure of Bates when they drafted Daxton Hill with the 31st pick in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Bates finished #27 in safety scoring in 2021, after finishing #4 in 2020, and #8 in 2019.  Typically fantasy owners draft based on prior year performance, but it appears many are still selecting Bates based on his 2020 performance.

Other Notable Safeties Lined Up “Deep” over 70%

Antoine Winfield, Tampa Bay

Quandre Diggs, Seattle

Jevon Holland, Miami

John Johnson III, Cleveland

Factors that help a “deep” safety exceed the scoring average:

  1. high total snap count
  2. playing behind poor tackling linebackers
  3. big play ability, including turnovers and touchdowns
  4. low frequency of missed tackles
  5. playing in a scheme that uses a lot of 1-linebacker looks

It is important to keep these factors in mind when analyzing past performance as well as projections for the future.


Thank you for reading!  Follow me on Twitter at @MasterIDP. For my previous work, check out my Author Page.  Please subscribe to IDPGuys.org for all your fantasy football needs and check out our customizable IDP scoring tool.

Leo McNeeley (@MasterIDP)

Leo joined IDP Guys as a writer and ranker on June 30, 2022.
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