Norman-OBJ Rivalry Renewal and Other Impact Defensive Back Moves
In the second half of impact free agency moves, we move onto the secondary, where a ton of names changed teams. There were so many impact moves, it was hard to choose just fifteen. Arguably the most surprising move was Norman to the Redskins, where he is gonna have some choice words for one Odell Beckham Jr. as they now play twice a season. The riskiest of the moves has to be the Giants giving Janoris Jenkins a whopping 5 year $62 million deal. Granted, the Giants need help in the secondary (and allover the defense) and an answer for the Redskins signing Norman, but some comparable talent to Jenkins went for less, so it remains to be seen if the price is right for the Giants at the end of the day. Will all these signings be a perfect match? No, but two really intriguing matches are Gipson in Jacksonville (opposite Cyprien) and Nelson alongside rookie Joseph and emerging star Amerson. Remember guys, in fantasy, cornerbacks are often overlooked by a majority of owners, so don’t be that knucklehead that waits until late in the draft to grab your first corner, as they make or break teams and championship runs. OK? Good. Now onto the rankings.
- Josh Norman- The Redskins got an All-Pro corner at a decent price, and now we will all see if Odell Beckham Jr. wants to continue running his yapper. By signing Norman, the Redskins shored up a secondary unit that had been getting torched last season, and now they have arguably one of the best CB duos in Norman and Breeland, which will free up real estate for safety starters Su’a Cravens and DeAngelo Hall to make plays and play the more traditional safety positions. Now, if Chris Culliver is healthy and ready for the season, the Redskins will be one of the deepest teams at corner, which will boost their chances of winning the division once again. Last season, Norman was a nightmare in the NFC South, posting 18 passes defensed, two interceptions returned for a touchdown, three forced fumbles and two recovered fumbles, and was one of the best real life and fantasy corners and should once more be a top five corner in Washington as he and Breeland wreak havoc on the NFC East. Norman didn’t finish the season allowing the lowest QB Rating versus him, at 54.0 for no reason.He should be the top corner off the boards and try to get his counterpart as well as they will be a high scoring duo.
- Janoris Jenkins- When the Giants signed Jenkins to a five year, $62.5 million dollar deal in the offseason, they made a very high risk/reward signing, because Jenkins is one of the most explosive corners in the league, but also one of the most targeted corners as he has allowed 22 touchdowns and 2989 yards since he entered the league in 2012. The Giants hope Jenkins can team up with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to shore up up a secondary and defense that was absolutely gassed by every team they played in 2015. The Giants allowed a whopping 4,783 yards last season through the air, or 299 yards/game and only posted 23 sacks. The good news here, is the only direction their defense can go, is up. The bad news is, the secondary will once more be oft-targeted as Jenkins will allow huge plays despite making big ones. Overall, the Jenkins signing upgrades the Giants defense, but only slightly, as they will need contributions from rookie Eli Apple and for Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre Paul to produce on the pass rush. Jenkins is going to be a high scoring corner in fantasy and should be a top 7 corner off the board as he is one of the most explosive corners and the Giants paid him handsomely in the offseason. Hey, when you have five kids with four different women, you need all the money you can get because that’s a lot of mouths to feed.
- Reggie Nelson- When Charles Woodson retired after the 2015 season, the Raiders had a gaping hole at free safety, and they were wise to sign the former Bengal to a two year contract, as he is a rangy, tough safety to throw on and finished 9th in Pro Football Focuses rankings for safeties last season (89 qualified safeties). What Nelson brings to Oakland is above average cover skills and someone who can help out in the run game, and continue the upswing in Oakland’s ascent in the AFC West (yes, they are coming back). Over the past three seasons alone he has posted 14 interceptions and been the best secondary player on the Bengals. With the addition of Karl Joseph in the NFL Draft, the Raiders should have at least a decent safety tandem, and if they can continue to get solid production from David Amerson, the secondary could be a very aggressive one in 2016. With all of their additions this offseason, which included pass rusher Bruce Irvin, I would not be surprised if the Raiders defense finished in the top 12-15 range this season, as they are a young, aggressive unit poised to make noise in the coming years. Target Nelson as your S2/high-end S3 and he will continue to produce very respectable fantasy numbers for a safety.
- Eric Weddle- Weddle left San Diego, and he reportedly stated “I may never speak to them again.” This means he felt unwanted in San Diego, and was more than happy to sign with the Ravens. The Chargers loss is the Ravens gain as Weddle is one of the most prolific tackling safeties in football and was arguably the top safety available in free agency. Weddle is the only safety to have been named to five consecutive first or second team All Pros, between 2010-2014 and is the big name safety the Ravens have needed since losing Ed Reed in 2012. After the team allowed a franchise worst 30 touchdown passes in 2015, Weddle will immediately step in and help improve the secondary and be a constant interception threat in the secondary. He has the upside to be an S1, but draft him as an S2, if you can and enjoy the production as he will contribute all across the board in Baltimore.
- Rodney McLeod- The Eagles are hoping Mcleod can continue to emerge as a physical safety as they will be in dire need of secondary help since they got gutted last season in the pass game, finishing 28th in receiving and passing defense. Mcleod was an absolute steal, and he will make a damn formidable duo with Malcolm Jenkins as the Eagles starting safeties. McLeod is a smart, rangy centerfielder who is hard to beat and is willing to help in the run game. This will allow Jenkins to play closer to the line and take some pressure off the Eagles corners, as McLeod will have the whole field to make plays in. Yes, McLeod is an extremely physical safety, that will lower the boom and get the ball on the turf, and that is exactly what Jim Schwartz wants as a safety. A player who can cover and deliver the blow, while allowing the rest of the secondary to do their job. Fantasy owners should have their queues ready to grab him as he is very underrated and will be a steal on draft day.
- Tashaun Gipson- Another savvy signing by the Jaguars, Gipson is a fast, instinctual free safety, whom Gus Bradley covets as he seeks to recreate the Earl Thomas-Kam Chancellor duo he had back in Seattle. Make no mistake about it, this may have been one of the smartest moves the Jaguars made this offseason because he can cover the whole field and is THE answer at free safety Gus Bradley has coveted. Put it this way, in the scheme Bradley runs, free safety is the most important position, as the FS frees up the strong safety to play closer to the line as a more traditional hybrid safety/linebacker role. Quick question: Since Gus Bradley took over in Jacksonville in 2013, how many interceptions do the the revolving door of free safeties in Jacksonville have? If you said one, that’s correct. Gipson, since entering the league in 2012 has quattuordecuple (that’s Latin for 14) times the interceptions of the Jaguars free safeties. So, yes, Gipson was a must for the Jaguars and Bradley now hopefully will have Batman and Robin back in Jacksonville, which would allow Jonathan Cyprien to play his role as the punishing safety who also contributes in the run game while Gipson mans centerfield and eyes the quarterback to make plays.
- Tyvon Branch- Talk about a match made in heaven. Tyvon Branch is a ballhawk, and he won’t merely take the ball away from you, he’ll knock you sideways, strip the ball, finish the tackle, pick the pigskin up and go bye bye. Kansas City only started Branch in two games last season, though he played every game, but he he still had two turnovers (recovered fumble and a pick), and both went for 6. As a unit last season, the Cardinals secondary had 17 of the team’s 19 interceptions, forced six of its 19 fumbles, accounted for four of its 12 fumble recoveries and scored four of its six defensive touchdowns. Enter ballhawk, heavy hitting Branch at free safety (strong safety HoneyBadger injured ACL in Week 15), and this secondary will be even nastier this season. Granted, he has competition at the FS spot from D.J. Swearinger and Tony Jefferson, but he will make a huge impact, regardless of his role.
- George Iloka- With Reggie Nelson out of Cincy, the Bengals will need Iloka to be a mentor and the playmaker at safety for the team. Since entering the league in 2012 with the Bengals, he had been mentored by Reggie Nelson, and he saw a breakout season in 2014 where he posted three picks and ten passes defensed, but his numbers regressed last season and he only played in twelve games due to injury. However, when he was on the field, he graded out positively versus the run and the pass and is big enough to cover opposing tight ends. With a new five year contract, it is now up for Iloka to prove 2014 was the real deal and that he will be the Bengals anchor at safety for the duration of his contract while starting at strong safety.
- Prince Amukamara- Price is very talented, but he never seems to stay healthy. The Jaguars gave him a one year “prove yourself” contract, and that may be what gets Prince going once again as he has all the talent in the world. He just needs to stay on the field. A truly healthy Amukamara baits quarterbacks into making throws they should not, takes the ball out of receivers hands and plays very well on islands versus WR1s. While the Giants will hope Janoris Jenkins can be the piece they need opposite Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the Jaguars may have gotten the better player-IF he stays healthy, in Amukamara. Fantasy owners should target Amukamara as their CB2, with his upside being a CB1, but downside-err missing half the season. in other words, draft him and have a backup plan. The AFC South is soft, so this could be the season Price proves he CAN stay healthy. With Aaron Colvin best suited for dime packages, it is feasible that Amukamara and Ramsey (if ready for start of season) could form the outside corners and Colvin slot/dime man on a defensive unit that seems to be modeled after the Legion of Boom in Seattle. This is an ultra-talented, young defense that will be a force in the coming seasons.
- Adam Jones- Jones is the cornerback that is always forgotten by owners on draft day, and then they pay for it when an opponent grabs him. Don’t be the fool that lets ‘PacMan’ Jones go this season as he is very solid, allowing the fifth lowest QBR last season, 60.7, while also contributing in the return game and the smack talk game (check league rules for that category). By signing both their top safety (Iloka) and corner (Jones) the Bengals have a foundation on which to build a hopefully better secondary that finished 20th versus opposing passers and 22nd versus receivers. Jones, has registered double digit passes defensed each of the past three seasons and should be a decent bet to at least tie his career high in interceptions (four, 2006-TEN) in 2016 coming off a brand new contract with his old team, and the team that revitalized his career in Cincy.
- Sean Smith- Sean Smith was the smart signing of the Raiders offseason because he will not get beat on plays, knows his role and can make plays when he needs. He is not flashy, nor is he a big playmaker. But he has the size to cover larger receivers and contain. Over his career, he has allowed just 60% of passes to be completed against him, and will form a nice tandem with Amerson. This upgrade over D.J. Hayden who was atrocious in coverage last season, gives the Raiders the second solid corner they need and someone who will also be able to help the younger players adjust to the NFL style. While he may not be a ballhawk, he will get his hands on a fair number of balls, and break up passes and was a bargain, compared to the Jenkins deal the Giants gave out. With two bona fide bookend corners, the pressure will be on the safety duo of rookie Karl Joseph and veteran Reggie Nelson to hold up their end and be bookends for the safety positions for Raider Nation. While he may not be more than a CB3, Smith is definitely worth a look and should post decent PD numbers.
- Casey Hayward- After losing safety Eric Weddle, the Chargers needed a ballhawk to fill his role, and Hayward could be the answer. Hayward has great cover skills and can play out wide or in the slot, as well as blitz, when needed. He will join the Chargers duo Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett, and likely play the nickelback and slot assignments. The loss of Weddle is huge because the Chargers now lack a physical presence in the secondary that receivers always had in the back of their minds. But if Hayward can prove he is the ballhawk the Chargers envisioned they were getting, the corner trio could be very nasty this season as Verrett and Hayward are still young enough to further develop their games. Fantasy-wise, Hayward is worth drafting as a low-end CB2, but could be more than that as the season wears on, depending on his usage.
- Isa Abdul-Quddus- This is a huge gain for the Dolphins, as from Week 10 on after Ihedigbo went down for the Lions, Isa was the top rated safety, according to PFF. He began his career as a special teamer, but when the Lions gave him a starting gig in 2015, he took it and ran, and has above average cover skills. Miami will look to deploy him as their starting free safety, while Reshad Jones plays strong safety using his range and coverage abilities to allow Abdul-Quddus to thrive playing close to the line. Isa is a very physical safety that attacks the ball, and will strip it if he gets the chance. Coming out of Fordham University, Quddus ran a 4.47 40 yard dash at the 2011 NFL Combine and and possess fluid hips that enable him to change direction and assist corners in coverage. He does need to work on getting his head around to the ball, as he sometimes loses sight of the ball, thus blowing the assignment. He plays better zone than man coverage and needs to improve his abilities there, but he is very instinctual and physical and will challenge everyone for the ball. He brings the type physicality the Dolphins need as the defense had a tendency to only be able to tackle between ten and twelve yards down field, as opposed to at the point of contact or line of scrimmage. Now, if the Dolphins could fix that horrendous linebacker group, they’d be in better shape.
- Leodis McKelvin- McKelvin broke in with Buffalo, and had arguably his best season in 2014, under Jim Schwartz where he posted four picks and a forced fumble in ten games, before losing the last six games to a broken ankle that lingered into the 2015 season. 2015 saw his role being phased out as he played second fiddle to one of the best CB duos in Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby, and he was promptly cut after the season. Reunited with Schwartz in Philadelphia, McKelvin should compete for the starting gig opposite Malcolm Jenkins, and he is versatile enough to play corner and safety. The Eagles sent Byron Maxwell to Miami, and now McKelvin will have an opportunity to make a name for himself in the City of Brotherly Love as he competes for a starting role either at safety, or at corner, where he will have to beat out Nolan Carroll, from Miami for the gig. Whatever his role may be, he will bring versatility and consistency to an Eagles unit that allowed a murderous 36 receiving touchdowns last season, topped only by the Saints, who ran around like headless chickens in the secondary (45 receiving TDs allowed). Fantasy owners need to nab McKelvin as he will be a nice fantasy contributor and adds a boost in the return game where he has over 3000 career yards in punt and kick returns and four return touchdowns.
- Michael Griffin- Griffin may be in the twilight years of his career, but he is a good safety, who was asked to do too much on a Tennessee defense that deteriorated quickly after he was drafted. His finest days were when the Titans defense featured big names as Albert Haynesworth, Keith Bulluck, Cortland Finnegan and Chris Hope, but as the talent dwindled, Griffin’s production suffered and he was asked to play strong safety, when his more natural position was free safety. Minnesota will let Griffin battle strong safety Andrew Sandejo for the starting gig opposite free safety Harrison Smith, but he will still have ample opportunity to play loosely in a talented Vikings defense, and get back to his natural game of using his range and ball skills to pick off passes. He won’t post seven interceptions, like he did back in 2008, but he should be able to pick off a few passes and rack up some tackles, making him a low cost option on draft day.
Yeah…the JAX and OAK defenses are really loaded and dangerous, and they will feature some of my corners and safeties this season for fantasy, so if you play in my league, ya better grab em before I do, because I love the talent I see in those two defenses. Other than that, I’m not saying who I have queued and targeted. There is tons of talent and diamonds in the rough in the secondary, it’s all about finding the right player in the right scheme. But what do I know? I only make a living building stout defenses in fantasy leagues. Could we please get some convos started on these posts? It sounds like crickets out there. JK, y’all are awesome!
Bud-Weis-er croaks cricket.
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Our guests this week are Lenny Melnick and Zak Sauer. Lenny Melnick is a fantasy baseball legend and a pioneer in the business. He is credited with starting the very first fantasy baseball show in 1993 along with Irwin Zwilling and Sandy Stolle. He also has a website which you can find at lennymelnickfantasysports.com where you can find all his work, and it is a great overall free community. Zak is a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com, a co-host of our Saturday football shows starting June 4th, and the co-host of Sports Buffet’s radio show “Sports Talk” every Monday with Lou Landers.
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