Safeties – Finding The Next Derwin James

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Which safeties have the potential to be top-scoring IDP defensive backs in 2022? Let's find out.


What Makes Derwin James a Great Fantasy Performer?

Before we can start to identify the next Derwin James, we first need to analyze what makes James a league winner in the safety position. Most IDP scoring systems favor safeties that can accumulate many tackles, and James found a way to put himself near the top of this statistical category in 2021.

I believe four main factors contributed to his tackling success:

  1. Scheme: James played more than a third of his time "in the box" lined up near the linebackers.  Data suggests a strong relationship between safeties playing "in the box" and tackle production.
  2. Tackling Efficiency: James was efficient with tackle opportunities and had a tackle grade in the top 25%. In addition to being in the right spot for tackles, defensive players need to make the play when given the chance and avoid the dreaded missed tackle.
  3. Snap Counts: James stayed relatively healthy this past year. Even though player injuries may be hard to predict, snap counts and availability remain very important factors in fantasy success.
  4. Versatility: James split his time between the slot, box, and playing deep, and he grades out well in all three phases: run defense, pass rush, and coverage. If a safety can only defend the run or pass, it will limit the player's opportunities for tackles and eventually his time on the field.

I am projecting another top-five season for Derwin James, but if you are not willing to invest in an early draft pick on a safety, I have identified several players you should consider. I have broken these players into three categories: DB1 Potential, Rookies, and Sleepers.

Top Safeties in IDP with DB1 Potential Outside the Top 15

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Jayron Kearse, Dallas Cowboys

ADP: S34

It wasn't until his sixth year in the league, and his first season in Dallas, before Kearse became a full-time starter, but he proved he was well worth the wait. Not only did he become a starter, but Kearse also took over the defensive play calling during the year and wore the "Green Dot" helmet, just like Derwin James.

The similarities to James don't end there. Kearse also plays a lot of box safety, has a high tackle grade, and is even slightly taller than James at 6'4".

Kearse did such a great job that he was re-signed to a new two-year contract in the offseason. Two areas that may slightly hold back his fantasy production are playing next to Micah Parsons and a higher-than-normal number of snaps at the defensive line position.

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Kamren Curl, Washington Commanders, ADP: S28

Many will remember Curl as being a key IDP waiver add in the 2020 season, but in 2021 Curl proved that his prior success was not a fluke.   I am expecting even bigger things for Curl in 2022 due to the departure of Landon Collins.  Curl's production was limited by Collins' return from injury in 2021.

Like Derwin James, Curl has high tackle and run grades, limited deep safety snaps, and is 6'2". The sky is the limit for this 23-year-old former seventh-round draft pick.

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Vonn Bell, Cincinnati Bengals, ADP: S20

Bell has been one of the more consistent safeties in the last several years. With Jessie Bates currently holding out, Bell has the potential to climb even higher in the IDP rankings. The Bengals drafted rookie Daxton Hill in the first round, but Hill is probably better suited to play in the slot corner and deep safety.

Meanwhile, Bell can continue to be featured in his box safety role. Vonn Bell has decent tackle and run grades, as well as a low % of deep safety snaps. Bell is only 5'11," and his tackles per snap ratio isn't top tier, but he is a steal at his current draft slot.

Rookie Safeties with Future Derwin James Potential

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Kyle Hamilton, Baltimore Ravens, ADP: S7

Round 1, Pick 14    Height: 6'4"    Age: 21    40 time: 4.59

Hamilton is my top rookie safety draft target in dynasty leagues. I am excited about his versatility and scheme fit. Hamilton even has the potential to earn the play calling for the Ravens in 2022. I view Baltimore's acquisition of Marcus Williams in the offseason as a positive for Hamilton's future since Williams played over 88% of his time as a deep safety in 2021.

The fact that Baltimore doesn't use any of their linebackers on a full-time basis also helps Hamilton's IDP potential. The only thing that prevented Hamilton from being a top-five pick was his slower-than-expected 4.59 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. For reference, Derwin James ran a 4.47 in 2018.

NFL Players Comparisons:

  • Derwin James - Matt Miller, NFL Draft Analyst for ESPN
  • Kam Chancellor - Lance Zierlein, NFL Media Draft Analyst for NFL.com

High-impact safety with unique blend of traits and characteristics that make him a bit of a unicorn at the position. Hamilton has the eyes and speed to play over the top, the strength and toughness to play near the line, and coverage length to guard elite pass-catching tight ends who often mismatch opposing defenses. It's rare to find such a ferocious striker and intimidator who has the football intelligence and athletic prowess to go make plays in the passing game, but Hamilton provides it all. He thrives playing downhill or sinking into a robber alignment on the back-end but will have occasional missteps in coverage when in retreat from his pedal. Hamilton has the traits and football character to transition from standout college moments to a standout pro career as a future Pro Bowler with All-Pro potential. -Lance Zierlein   NFL.com Source   ESPN.com Source

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Nick Cross, Indianapolis Colts, ADP: S60

6'1" Round 3, Pick 32    Height: 6'1"    Age: 20    40 time: 4.34

Cross is a rookie draft target for me in dynasty leagues as DB4, even though he was the ninth safety off the board in the 2022 NFL Draft.  The Colts and GM Chris Ballard usually prefer to trade down, but in this year's draft, they traded up with the Denver Broncos to make sure they were able to select Cross, so this lessens my concern over Cross being selected late in the third round.

I will closely watch the training camp battle to see if he can claim the old strong safety spot of the recently-retired Khari Willis.  Gus Bradley will be the new defensive coordinator for the Colts and is one of the few DCs that still uses the strong safety in a traditional “box” role.

NFL Player Comparison: Kamren Curl  - Lance Zierlein, NFL Media Draft Analyst for NFL.com

Cross operated as the bouncer of the Maryland defense, playing with the aggression and explosiveness to throw opponents out of the club. He is a chase player who seeks to make a statement upon impact and has impressive stopping power near the line or as an open-field tackler. He's a tight-hipped, linear mover, so flipping and flying are not his strong suit. He's capable of matching with most flavors of tight end and will be most comfortable in coverages that allow him to play with a downhill trigger. He has the temperament, size and toughness to become an eventual starter in the league. -Lance Zierlein  NFL.com Source

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Jaquan Brisker, Chicago Bears, ADP: S40

Round 2, Pick 16    Height: 6'1"    Age: 23    40 time: 4.49

Brisker is my rookie DB2 draft target in dynasty leagues, even though he was the fifth safety off the board in the 2022 NFL Draft. I am excited about Brisker's potential to play for the Bears' new head coach, Matt Eberflus.  Eberflus came over from the Colts, and I envision Brisker being utilized in a Khari Willis-type role.

NFL Players Comparison: Justin Reid  - Lance Zierlein, NFL Media Draft Analyst for NFL.com

Brisker is one of two FBS players to have played 400 snaps at safety, 100 snaps at inside linebacker and 100 snaps at slot corner in 2021, according to ESPN Stats & Info. He closes well breaking on passes in front of him and limits production after the catch. He has big hands and tracks the ball well, and he picked off five passes over the past three seasons. Brisker is an instinctive and tenacious run-defender who is an effective tackler. -Steve Muench, NFL Draft Analyst for ESPN   NFL.com Source    ESPN.com Source

 

Sleeper Picks at Safety

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Jordan Whitehead, New York Jets, ADP: S31

Whitehead was a key offseason acquisition for the Jets while starting strong safety Marcus Maye left in free agency. I am encouraged with the opportunity for Whitehead as Maye spent a great deal of time as a "box" safety.

The Jets spent a lot of time on defense in 2021, and more snap counts mean more chances for fantasy points. Whitehead goes into my sleeper category because I like the defensive scheme and opportunity, but I have concerns about his size (5'10") and history of missed tackles.

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Brandon Jones, Miami Dolphins, ADP: S36

In his second year in the league, Brandon Jones increased his playing time and became known as one of the better blitzing safeties.  In addition, Jones was one of the best scoring safeties on a point-per-snap basis. If, in year three, Jones can improve his coverage ability and cut down on missed tackles, he should be able to get his snap counts to 100% and reach the top safety tier.


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 (@MasterIDP)

Leo joined IDP Guys as a writer and ranker on June 30, 2022. He is passionate about IDP and helping you win your fantasy leagues. Leo has been competing in IDP since 2013 in the Brooklyn Fantasy Football League (Ohio league established in 1991)
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