Defensive Back Tiers
By Sigmund Bloom and Jene Bramel
September 1st, 2011

Whether you do a full set of projections to compare players or put your rank lists together by gut feel, every cheat sheet can be broken out into tiers. The process is simple and the rewards are many. Breaking your rankings into tiers forces you to crystallize your opinions on players. It naturally lends itself to helping you make good strategic decisions during your draft. The process helps you stay on the right side of runs, shows you which positions can be sloughed a round longer than you thought or need to be targeted early. Perhaps most importantly, tiering and then running a few mock drafts leave you prepared for every contingency during your draft and will keep you from scrambling when you're on the clock in those all-important middle rounds.

This series will walk you through our tiering process position by position this summer, including IDPs, and offer our strategic insights along the way. We'll have thoughts on whether you should go with a top quarterback or QBBC, whether you should target a top TE over your RB3 or WR3, whether you should prioritize DL over LB again this year and whether there are any defensive backs worth drafting early.

Previously covered installments

  • Quarterback
  • Running Back
  • Wide Receiver
  • Tight End
  • Defensive Line
  • Linebacker
  • In this installment, we round out the defensive side of the ball with the defensive backs.

    Jene Bramel

    I approach the defensive back position differently than the others. It might be a little counter-intuitive to those that look at my rank lists, but there's a method to the madness. For any number of reasons, there's often little consensus on the top defensive backs and it seems that defensive backs either get sloughed very late in the draft by a handful of owners or the players drafted earliest are targeted on name recognition or last year's fluky numbers and aren't players I've got on my target lists anyway. Next, because the DB position sees more year-to-year turnover and isn't drafted as competitively as the other positions, there tends to be a lot of high upside options available extremely late in drafts or presenting themselves on the waiver wire early in the season. Finally, I think there's lots of relative advantage to be gained here every year.

    For that reason, I really don't want to draft a player that looks like a safe DB2 or DB3. I enter the draft with four tiers of defensive backs. And the tiers are relatively shallow. Many of the players in the top 50 on my FBG rank list won't be on these lists because they don't provide enough upside. Guys like Nick Collins or Chris Hope or Chris Harris or Tanard Jackson or any number of other guys who will probably finish in the top 25-40 defensive backs but have little chance of hitting the top 20 are going to be on my rank list but not on my draft list. I'm looking for DBs that function like LB2s for me each week and provide as much relative advantage as top offensive talent.

    It almost never happens, but if I've planned to draft four defensive backs and my list is exhausted after I've rostered just two or three, I'm done drafting DBs and I'll fill holes according to matchup considerations until and unless I find a player I don't want to cut at some point in the season. With that in mind, here's what I've gone to battle with over the past month.

    Elite Safeties

  • T.J. Ward
  • Eric Berry
  • LaRon Landry
  • Tyvon Branch
  • Yeremiah Bell
  • Patrick Chung
  • Roman Harper
  • Quintin Mikell
  • I think all eight of the above players have a very good chance at 80 or more solos this year. Many of them have added big play value. This group has much in common. Each is a talented run supporter who will usually play in the box, often behind relatively weak front seven personnel. Landry is a tough call. He would arguably belong in his own tier if there were no health concerns. With the chronic Achilles issue now complicated already by a known compensatory injury/conditioning issue, he could slot anywhere in this tier depending on your risk tolerance. I think it's worth waiting your league out a bit and taking your choice of the remaining options to anchor your lineup after five or six of the above have been drafted.

    Sigmund Bloom

    Good list of anchors here. Berry in particular is interesting if the Chiefs fall flat on their faces like I think they will, he'll be on the field a lot. I am a little worried about Branch losing his job at some point if he is exploited a lot in coverage. Mikell is the cheapest by far and the guy most likely to end up on my team.

    Jene Bramel

    Safeties With Elite Upside

  • George Wilson
  • Kam Chancellor
  • Eric Weddle
  • Troy Polamalu
  • Donte Whitner
  • William Moore
  • (Bernard Pollard)
  • I think Wilson and Chancellor will produce like elite safeties this year, but have them in this tier since they haven't established a true floor yet. I've toyed with putting Chancellor in my top six, but the small risk that the Seahawks pull him in some passing situations have tempered my expectations just enough. Still, I've been targeting him as a priority DB2 (or DB3 in some leagues) for much of the summer. Moore had a tremendous second half and would possibly rate higher if the Falcons projected to be on the field more often and his OLBs were worse.

    Sigmund Bloom

    If you draft Moore, Wilson, and Chancellor, you may well have the best DB trio in your IDP league and you probably don't need to take any of them in the first 15-20 DBs off the board. Even Whitner and Polamalu are being disrespected in drafts. You shouldn't even think of taking a DB until 3-4 names from this list are gone. I love the mention of Pollard. Take him as long as you can outside of the top 20. If he doesn't start, you drop him for the WW flavor of the week. If he does, you likely have a top 10 DB.

    Jene Bramel

    Safeties Capable of Starting Every Week

  • Antoine Bethea
  • Melvin Bullitt
  • O.J. Atogwe
  • Glover Quin
  • Morgan Burnett
  • Louis Delmas
  • Kurt Coleman
  • Amari Spievey
  • Michael Griffin
  • Antrel Rolle
  • Kerry Rhodes
  • This list will probably be different for everyone. I think each player on this list is capable of a, mostly independent of matchup, 7-8 solo week That's enough for me to consider rostering a player from this group to start the season as my DB3 in a start three DB league. But I'll be freely cycling these players on and off the free agent list as needed until I find someone valuable enough to hold onto for the longer term.

    Sigmund Bloom

    I'm liking Delmas to bounce back and have an Ed Reed kind of big play presence with that front seven - he already showed major big play ability as a rookie. Spievey, Bullitt and Atogwe are intriguing because of their potential roles. The rest are good high floor DB2s, but I won't be taking them unless they just fall through the cracks to the very late rounds of IDP drafts.

    Rosterable Cornerbacks

  • Charles Woodson
  • Cortland Finnegan
  • Charles Tillman
  • Antoine Winfield
  • Joe Haden
  • Patrick Peterson
  • Nate Clements
  • Tramon Williams
  • Jerraud Powers
  • Devin McCourty
  • Brent Grimes
  • Cedric Griffin
  • Brandon Flowers
  • Antoine Cason
  • Josh Wilson
  • I'd consider the top four on this list safe to use as DB3 or better in combined leagues. The others should be rostered in deep leagues or cornerback required leagues only. I like Haden and Peterson as potential 70 solo tackle performers with some big play upside, while I see some regression likely for McCourty and Grimes. Don't sleep on the return of Cedric Griffin, who had two consecutive 80 solo seasons in 2007 and 2008. Notably missing from this list are Alterraun Verner and DeAngelo Hall, neither of whom I trust to repeat their career seasons. Many of these guys will come off the board very late, even in corner required leagues, but if you miss, there are always top ten potentials that quickly declare themselves on the waiver wire during the season.

    Sigmund Bloom

    McCourty, Haden, Flowers, Tillman, Peterson, Winfield and Powers are my targets here. Powers in particular is being totally overlooked. I still don't mind starting two corners that aren't even on this list to open the season CB-required leagues.

    Hope you enjoyed the series. Comments, suggestions or questions are welcome below or by email at bloom@footballguys.com or bramel@footballguys.com. You can also follow our active Twitter feeds @SigmundBloom and @JeneBramel. Thanks for reading.

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