Dynasty Nerds

Hindsight 2021: Defensive Backs- Preseason Top 10

SEATTLE, WA - OCTOBER 07: Seattle Seahawks Safety Jamal Adams (33) during a game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks at Lumen Field on October 7, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire)

We are finally getting around to reviewing last season’s Defensive Backs. We saw some perennial top players fall short, while others surprised their managers with Top 10 performances. Two of the top preseason defensive backs missed significant time because of injury. Let’s look at how the 2021 Preseason Top 10 Defensive Backs faired last season!


**All rankings and ADPs will be based on Sleeper stats, and scoring is based on IDP123 scoring. All positional designations are based on Sleeper as well.**

Where We Started…

We’ll compare where defensive backs finished in 2020 and where they ranked (by ADP) in 2021…

Top 10 in 2020

  1. Budda Baker
  2. Jordan Poyer
  3. Malcolm Butler
  4. Jessie Bates
  5. Malcolm Jenkins
  6. Jeremy Chinn
  7. Justin Simmons
  8. Jamal Adams
  9. Marlon Humphrey
  10. Kenny Moore

Top 10 Preseason ADP

  1. Budda Baker
  2. Jamal Adams
  3. Jeremy Chinn
  4. Minkah Fitzpatrick
  5. Derwin James
  6. Jordan Poyer
  7. Jessie Bates
  8. Jabrill Peppers
  9. Antoine Winfield
  10. Tyrann Mathieu

Several top defensive backs in 2020 were who you’d expect to see, while others snuck into the Top 10 with breakout seasons.

Baker, Poyer, and Adams always find themselves in the conversation of top drafted defensive backs and were drafted accordingly in 2021. Several new players (Winfield and Chinn) found themselves in the Top 10 because managers expected continued improvement on good seasons or players returning from injury (James) to reestablish themselves as top IDPs!

…Where We Ended Ip!

Only three players from the preseason Top 10 finished the season there. James, Poyer, and Fitzpatrick met and even exceeded expectations in some cases. The rest of the Top 10 either underperformed or were injured.

Budda Baker ARZ

For the first time since his rookie season, Baker failed to hit the 100 tackle mark, despite playing 95% of Arizona’s 1,000+ total defensive snaps. Is this slight dip in production (<10% tackle rate and <0.30 points per snap (PPS)) a sign of things to come, or can Baker elevate his game in 2022? Early indications from training camp seem to indicate that Baker will be resuming his “green dot” role in the Cards’ defense. This means he’ll be playing closer to the action and should see his numbers go back up. If you can fool a fellow manager into trading Baker to you on a discount, then do so! He will be just fine and will be a DB1 again in 2022.

Jamal Adams SEA

2021 was a weird season for Adams. Adams disappointed his fantasy managers from his blunder on Sunday Night Football, claiming he was the “best in the nation” to his season-ending shoulder injury in week 13. Even before then, he was underperforming compared to where managers drafted him. He recorded zero sacks after having 9.5 the previous season, which is unheard of from a defensive back. Managers still expected something in the pass rush category. He only had three weeks above 20 fantasy points. As someone who rosters Adams in many leagues, it was frustrating.

2022 looks like it might be filled with more concerns for Adams managers. Reports from Seattle indicated that his shoulder healed well, but he injured his hand/finger in practice and will wear a cast for a few weeks. While a hand/finger injury isn’t crucial (e.g., Jason Pierre-Paul), it can impact his ability to make plays, especially in the passing game, where he was already weak at.

Dynasty managers might want to take this opportunity to acquire Adams at a discount because of his injury concerns. I believe he still has DB1 upside, mainly if Seattle uses him in pass-rushing situations. Current Adams managers, don’t fall into the “sell low” trap with Adams. Be patient!

Jeremy Chinn CAR

After a stellar 2020 rookie season, Chinn stumbled out of the gate in 2021. He recovered by Week 6. His impact plays, tackle rate, and points per snap dipped, but not enough to be too concerned.

Chinn is still playing behind a sub-par linebacking group and will have ample opportunity to soak up tackles at the second level.

If you roster Chinn, hold onto him. I see his numbers increasing this season. He now has a low-end DB1 value but can easily elevate into a top safety in fantasy.

Minkah Fitzpatrick PIT

Fitzpatrick is one of those fantasy players you’re either really high on, or you fade him because he’s more of a cover safety. Year after year, he surpasses expectations. Each year, his tackle numbers increase. From 2020 to 2021, they increased almost 60%, which is enormous, and I believe it’s sustainable. Couple that with a sizeable handful of impact plays, and you have the makings of a mid-high DB1.

You’d like to see Fitzpatrick’s points per snap a little higher, but where he lacks in that category, he makes up for volume. He also got paid this offseason, so look for him to play like the highest-paid safety in league history.

Derwin James LAC

Let’s take a time machine back to 2018… the then San Deigo Chargers selected James with the 17th overall pick. I remember distinctly reading an article that said he was going to be the next big thing, so I took a late-round flyer on him in my home league. Couple that with a surprise linebacker, Fred Warner, and a stud duo at running back with McCaffery and Barkley, and I strolled my way to a championship.

Then 2019 rolls around, and James goes down with a season-ending foot injury, followed by a shortened 2020 season with a meniscus injury in his knee. I hated to see something like that happen to such a unique talent. Going into the 2021 draft season, I was skeptical he would stay healthy enough to return to form. I avoided James in every draft because of his ADP, and boy was I wrong! He proved doubters wrong by ending the season as the overall DB2. He would’ve been DB1, but he missed three games with a shoulder injury.

All indications point to James being the top defensive back in 2022. That being said, if someone in your league wants to acquire him, then they’re going to have to give up a lot, and you should let them do it. If history has shown us anything, defensive backs can be relatively easy to replace, and very few repeat top 10 performances.

The Rest of the “Best”

The remaining Top 10 either failed to live up to their rankings, were injured, or are aging out of Top 10 relevance.

Jordan Poyer (DB6/DB3) continues to play at a high level and is one of the few perennial top performers at defensive back. He is entering his tenth season and is on the wrong side of 30, but we’ve seen players like Poyer play well into their thirties. That being said, Poyer likely only has a couple more years left playing at a high level. Hold on to him if you’re contending, but look to trade him if you need to add youth to your team.

Jesse Bates (DB7/DB47) had a down year, failing to tally 100+ tackles for the first time in his career. His rookie contract is now expired, and the Bengals and he aren’t coming to terms. Bates is currently holding out for that “Fitzpatrick Money,” but I doubt the Bengals are willing to pay him that much and even spent high draft capital on Dax Hill. He still has name recognition, so now might be the time to move on if you can’t afford to wait.

Jabrill Peppers (DB8/DB208) played well enough until Week 7, when he went down with an ACL injury that cut his season short. Many disagreed with his high ADP in the first place, and those who drafted him were heartbroken when he went down. After the 2021 season, Peppers was traded to the Patriots, where he joins a relatively crowded defensive backfield. He may succeed in New England, but I’m not counting on it.

Antoine Winfield (DB9/DB15) also fell out of the Top 10, but not by much. He’s still young, but with Keanu Neal and Logan Ryan being added to the team in the off-season, Winfield may miss out on some snap share. There are indications that Tampa still plans to rely heavily on the young safety but proceed with caution if you’re relying on him as your DB1.

Tyrann Mathieu (DB10/DB27) is honestly one of my least favorite fantasy IDPs. I do, however, love him for his “on the field” performance. He’s just too reliant on big plays for me to trust him every week. He’s now playing with the Saints, who appear to be retooling their defensive backfield with Malcolm Jenkins retiring and bringing in Marcus Maye from the Jets. I would count on him as a DB3/flex for streaming opportunities against less-than-accurate quarterbacks, and I hope he snags a pick.

Moving Forward

Defensive backs are one of the most volatile positions in IDP fantasy football. Several players from the 2021 Top 10 ADP list are back on the 2022 Top 10, but, as we saw here, less than half finished in the Top 10. I imagine we’re going to see a few new faces here by the end of the season.

Stay tuned for the next article in the series, where I cover some surprises and “one-hit wonders” at the defensive back position.

For my previous series on Linebackers and Defensive Linemen, check out…

Hindsight 2021: Linebackers – Preseason Top 10

Hindsight 2021: Linebackers – Surprises and One Hit Wonders

Hindsight 2021: Linebackers – Where Are They Now???

Hindsight 2021: Defensive Linemen- Preseason Top 10

Hindsight 2021: Defensive Linemen – Surprise!

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