The 2018 draft boasted a very talented class and many rookies showed out last season. Here I will tell you which second-year defensive backs are going to make the leap for 2019.
There are a group of talented second-year defensive backs poised to break out. The 2018 draft class had rookies who were able to contribute right away, and contribute they did. Denzel Ward showed true lockdown capability with the Browns legitimizing their decision to make him the #4 overall selection. Derwin James, although going 17th overall, may be considered the steal of the draft showing top of the line ability in coverage, run-stopping ability and ability to force turnovers. Jaire Alexander had himself a great rookie season proving whoever doubted his first-round pedigree wrong.
Jessie Bates III turned in a 100-tackle season next to fellow top tier safety Shawn Williams, forming one of the best safety tandems in the NFL. Justin Reid was an excellent 3rd-round selection for the Texans seeing his playing time spike as the season went on to becoming an every snap player. Donte Jackson formed a great cornerback duo with James Bradberry with his second-round draft capital. With plenty of talent left in the draft class, let’s see who will break out in their second season.
Levi Wallace – Cornerback Buffalo Bills – Undrafted
Levi Wallace was a wonderful surprise for the Bills in 2018. Wallace signed with the Bills as an undrafted free agent after the 2018 draft. Not that he was not a coveted recruit in college as he went to Alabama which routinely grabs top recruits. That was the problem for Wallace, there was too much talent on the team. At Alabama, he was only a full-time starter for his senior season and played only six other games. The Bills took a chance on him and boy were they happy.
Wallace started the last seven games of the season and made a great impact. Going undrafted, Wallace graded out better than two first round picks per Pro Football Focus:
A strong end to the season sees undrafted free agent Levi Wallace earn the title of highest graded rookie cornerback. pic.twitter.com/L3vdSULPz0
— PFF (@PFF) January 2, 2019
Because of Wallace’s great play, he has been awarded a starting spot this season. For fantasy purposes, this is great because he plays across from one of the best lockdown corners in the game in Tre’Davius White. Expect Wallace to be peppered with targets and put up some solid numbers.
Minkah Fitzpatrick – Safety Miami Dolphins – Drafted 1st Round, 14th overall
This one here is a bit of a no brainer as Fitzpatrick had himself a rock-solid rookie year. Even so, I expect him to improve his fantasy production vastly in his second season. In Minkah’s rookie season he combined for 80 total tackles, nine passes defended, two interceptions and a touchdown. Fitzpatrick fits the Tyrann Mathieu mold at safety and is a jack of all trades. He is a glue cover guy, a solid blitzer and fantastic tackler as shown here:
Minkah Fitzpatrick showing you should never go across the middle against a cat from New Jersey pic.twitter.com/aQxSUQwcFy
— Braulio Perez (@BraulioEPerez) August 23, 2019
The Dolphins have had Reshad Jones on the trade block since last season and just released T.J. McDonald. The release of McDonald opens up a void of 86 tackles in the secondary and Fitzpatrick should be the main beneficiary. Add the possibility of over 100 tackles to his playmaking ability and we are looking at a potential top 10 safety.
Tracy Walker – Safety Detroit Lions – Drafted 3rd Round, 82nd overall
The Lions parted ways with veteran Glover Quin this offseason after six seasons with the team. Walker did not play much his rookie season but when he did his impact was felt.
In limited snaps last season, Tracy Walker flashed for the Lions defense and could be in line for more work in 2019! pic.twitter.com/rvb9d8tjKJ
— PFF (@PFF) June 19, 2019
He has very good cover skills as you can see here. Walker reads the quarterback all the way to jump the route and make the interception.
— Mike A #OnePride #DetroitLionsVsEverybody (@archambeaum3) May 30, 2019
Walker will be the last line of defense for the Lions as I think Quandre Diggs will be spending a lot of time playing in the box this season. Quin who was released is leaving behind 74 tackles from last season and it would be easy to see Walker come up with most of those tackles. Walker showed great tackling ability during his final collegiate season almost eclipsing the 100 tackle mark. He should be able to come close to that mark in 2019.
Ronnie Harrison – Jacksonville Jaguars – Drafted 3rd Round, 93rd overall
Ronnie Harrison should be on most people’s radars due to pure opportunity. Harrison is going to be the starting strong safety and a very good defense. The defensive line is one of the best in the league, Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye make up one the best corner tandems in the NFL, and the linebacker corps was at one point an area of strength. That area has now been weakened at least for the 2019 season.
Telvin Smith said that he will not play in 2019 for personal and mental health reasons. That vacates 134 total tackles and his replacement for the season, rookie Quincy Williams, is also on the shelf for a couple of games with a knee issue. Ronnie Harrison is probably the teams next best tackler, at least the most aggressive tackler. With all of the tackle opportunity and help he will be giving in run defense, the 100 tackle mark should not be difficult to reach. That is the only thing Harrison can do though. He can keep up with tight ends in coverage as well. Watch here as he is in coverage on former first rounder Hayden Hurst:
Hayden Hurst vs. Ronnie Harrison pic.twitter.com/ZV7Ah09bxr
— Kyle P Barber (@BB_KylePBarber) August 5, 2019
Harrison has all the opportunity int he world to make a huge impact this season. He could easily be a top 15 safety for 2019.
Tarvarius Moore – Safety San Francisco 49ers – Drafted 3rd Round, 95th overall
I do not think there is anybody else in the fantasy football community pumping up the Tarvarius Moore hype train more than I am. I have drafted him as a sleeper in multiple leagues, written an entire article on him, and now including him as one of my year two breakouts. Moore was a little raw out of college but his athleticism was off the charts. the 49ers loved his length and speed and wanted to convert him to cornerback which they did for his rookie season. Towards the end of the season he played quite well coming up with 19 tackles, two passes defended and a forced fumble in his last four games.
Moore has used his single season at corner understanding coverage better. All the skills he learned from last season he has taken and used as a free safety. Due to all the injuries in the 49ers safety group, Moore has an instant opportunity to start. Jimmie Ward was resigned int he offseason to a one year deal and was penciled in as the starter. Ward then needed surgery once again and missed all of OTA’s and some preseason time. Moore stepped in as the starter and hasn’t looked back. Now there is a true battle at who will become the starter.
Moore’s athleticism allows him to be a contributor in run defense. He shows his 4.30 40 second speed here against the Broncos. Watch as he comes out of nowhere to make the stop:
— John Chapman (@JL_Chapman) August 20, 2019
I think Moore can win the free safety job and if he does there are plenty of numbers up for grabs.
The defensive back group was quite deep in last season’s draft. All these guys saw playing time last season, some more than others, and showed great potential. Now, this season they should all thrive, whether it be due to the release of previous veterans, injury, or being surrounded by a lack of talent. Some of these players are being completely overlooked in drafts and could be huge steals in late rounds.
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