Landon Collins, Reshad Jones, and Keanu Neal are well-known names in the IDP community as top-tier safeties. This article goes over other safeties you should know that have been consistently productive or are poised for a breakout that you can grab later in drafts.
J.J. Watt, Von Miller, Luke Kuechly, Landon Collins, Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa, Deion Jones, Aqib Talib, C.J. Mosley. What do these guys all have in common? They are some of the top players at their respective positions. They are also some of the most well-known names on the defensive side of the ball and in the IDP community, with good reason.
I will not waste anyone’s time listing off these players’ statistics and qualifications. The point of this series is to talk about lesser known players who have been consistently productive in their careers or are poised for a breakout and can be acquired for much cheaper. I wrote about linebackers here. This series will be more applicable to tackle heavy IDP settings. I present to you, the unsung heroes of IDP.
Tennessee Titans strong safety Johnathan Cyprien was thought of as a top-end safety before last season. Cyprien started his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars with four straight seasons of over 100 combined tackles. He averaged over 113 tackles per season over that span. For reference, Landon Collins has averaged over 113 tackles the last three seasons, Reshad Jones has averaged over 121 in his last three healthy seasons, and Keanu Neal has averaged 111 to start his career. Cyprien was great.
In the 2017 offseason, Cyprien signed with the Titans. In Cyprien, the Titans were getting a guy coming off the best season of his career. PFF rated Cyprien as the best run stopping safety in 2016. This is a great treat for a strong safety, especially in IDP, where he can play close to the line of scrimmage and rack up tackles. This also helps make up for his “pedestrian” pass coverage.
In Johnathan Cyprien, the Tennessee Titans added our highest graded safety against the run from the 2016 season. pic.twitter.com/NW8iWa7Zh3
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 18, 2017
Unfortunately, a hamstring injury derailed Cyprien’s season, resulting in only 10 games played. In those 10 games, Cyprien averaged just under six combined tackles per game, which would have resulted in 91 combined tackles over a full season. While this doesn’t match his previous four seasons, Cyprien would have finished with the ninth-most tackles at safety.
The Titans replaced the coaching staff in the 2018 offseason. New head coach Mike Vrabel tapped former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees as the new defensive coordinator of the Titans. Pees lead the Ravens defense to top 10 finishes in defensive efficiency in four of five seasons since 2013, according to football outsiders.
However, a new coaching staff also leads to questions on how Cyprien will fit. If Pees uses Cyprien in the box like he used safety Tony Jefferson in Baltimore in nickel defense, Cyprien could see a resurgence. If expected to perform in man coverage, Cyprien is in trouble. Both Vrabel and Pees have shown to be extremely capable defensive scheme, so I expect the former will be true in 2018.
Cyprien has been very successful in his career to date. He had an injury-riddled and overall subpar season in 2018. This, combined with the ascendence of young safeties like Cyprien’s teammate Kevin Byard, the Arizona Cardinals’ Budda Baker, and the New York Jets’ Jamal Adams resulted in owners forgetting Cyprien.
There are a lot of questions surrounding Cyprien in 2018. Can he stay healthy? Does he fit the defensive scheme? Do his coaches know how to use him? If the answer is yes to all of these questions, you could be drafting a tier 1 fantasy safety in IDP late in drafts.
Baltimore Ravens strong safety Tony Jefferson’s story is much like Cyprien’s. Though not nearly as prolific of a producer as Cyprien, Jefferson has consistently produced numbers over his career. Starting out as an Arizona Cardinal, Jefferson has averaged nearly 83 tackles over the past four seasons. Also like Cyprien, Jefferson is known more for his run defense and is considered a liability in coverage. Jefferson can be found in the same PFF graphic above, finishing second in run defense among safeties in 2016.
The Cyprien parallels continue with Jefferson’s career arc. Like Cyprien, Jefferson entered free agency coming off of his best year in the NFL with 96 combined tackles, 2 forced fumbles and fumble recoveries, and 5 passes defended. Jefferson signed with the Baltimore Ravens in the 2017 offseason.
Though Jefferson’s 2017 season was also disappointing after his breakout 2016 campaign, he was still relatively productive. Struggling in the first half of 2017, Jefferson showed improvement in the second half. Ultimately he produced 79 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 interception, and 2 passes defended. PFF gave both Jefferson and his fellow safety Eric Weddle a grade of 82.4, and above average grade and a tie for the 24th ranked safeties.
In the 2018 offseason, the Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees retired (he has since unretired and joined the Tennessee Titans). To fill the vacancy the Ravens promoted linebackers coach Don “Wink” Martindale. This means that Jefferson should play relatively the same role as he did last season. If that is the case, Jefferson looks to build on his second-half improvement in 2017.
Regardless of if he continues to improve in the Ravens defensive scheme, Jefferson has shown to have a relatively stable base production. While you probably won’t get elite numbers from Jefferson unless he takes a step forward in the Ravens defense in 2018, you are almost guaranteed good production. Jefferson is a depth pick in the later rounds at safety.
Denver Broncos free safety Justin Simmons took a step forward in his second season. In the 2017 offseason the Denver Broncos showed confidence in Simmons by cutting former strong safety T.J. Ward and moving free safety Darian Stewart to strong safety. The Broncos were rewarded for the moves with Simmons grading out as the 37th ranked safety with a PFF score of 80.2. A further breakdown of his PFF grade shows that he is an asset against the run with a grade of 86.1 and an average pass coverage grade of 68.7.
In terms of Simmons production, he was able to produce 68 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 interceptions in an injury-shortened season. Having only played 13 games, this amounts to 84 tackles over a full season. Very respectable numbers for second-year pro in his first season as a starter. Simmons will look to continue to improve as he enters his third season in the same defensive scheme, where he should improve his knowledge as well as efficiency.
A couple things are working against Simmons in 2018. First, is the trade with the Washington Redskins for S’ua Cravens. Su’a looks to take the role of safety/linebacker hybrid. This hurts Simmons when the Broncos play in their sub-packages (80% of the time). Cravens will play more in the box, which takes away tackle opportunities from Simmons. Side note: this makes Cravens a bit of a sleeper at safety as well. On the flipside, this will allow Simmons to roam as a traditional free safety, giving him more opportunity for interceptions and defended passes.
Second, the Broncos seemed to have improved tremendously on offense. They added Case Keenum at quarterback, their biggest weakness, as well as improved their offensive line. On paper, this means that the defense will see less time on the field. But, this could also result in the Broncos are playing from ahead or at least within one score. Meaning that the Broncos defense could face more passes and Simmons again given more opportunity for interceptions and defended passes.
Simmons took a major step forward in 2017. Generally, the third season is seen as when everything clicks for a player and they break out. This could be the case for Simmons in 2018. The Broncos improved in all facets of the game in the offseason. This can affect Simmons both positively and negatively. I choose to think this will positively affect him. If Simmons does take that next step and improve on his 84 tackle, 1 sack, 2 interceptions, 5 passes defended line from 2017 and the Broncos’ changes do affect him positively, Simmons could be pro bowl caliber, tier 1 IDP safety found in the later rounds.
The main goal of all fantasy football players is to find value. Guys like Landon Collins, Reshad Jones, and Keanu Neal will lead safeties in terms of fantasy points. But there are only a handful of elite safeties. If you miss out on them, you need to find elite production at other positions and find value late at safety. The guys listed above have things working against them. Found in the later rounds though, they are worth the risk because they have the chance to put up good to even great IDP numbers. Consider the above safeties late in your drafts for the chance that they can help you dominate your leagues.
You can find the unsung heroes at linebacker here. Look out for future articles in the unsung heroes series. For more tips and analysis, follow Sam on twitter here. Listen to the guys talk about news, analysis, and strategy on the podcast, and follow the show on twitter @IDPGuys.