Fantasy Football: Using 2024 NFL defensive schemes for IDP safety projections

2TB10G9 Pittsburgh, USA. 03rd Dec, 2023. DEC 03, 2023: Budda Baker #3 during the Pittsburgh Steelers vs Arizona Cardinals game in Pittsburgh, PA. Jason Pohuski/CSM/Sipa USA(Credit Image: © Jason Pohuski/Cal Sport Media/Sipa USA) Credit: Sipa US/Alamy Live News

• Team-by-team starter tackle projections: See which safety tandems offer the most ideal tackle rates based on expected usage in 2024.

• The top safety tackle projections are more stable to chase than big plays: Safeties like Budda Baker, Jeremy Chinn, Grant Delpit and Jaquan Brisker stand out as some of the best bets to lead the position in tackles this season.

• Get a head start on fantasy football: Use PFF's fantasy football mock draft simulator to create real live mock draft simulations to get ready for your live draft!

Estimated Reading Time: 14 minutes

After diving into defensive coordinator data and tendencies for the linebacker position a couple of weeks ago, using similar data to project out 2024 IDP safeties was naturally the next step. For the safety position, the top scorers year-to-year are wildly unstable with constant turnover among the league leaders due to so much reliance on big plays. However, there is still stable data to work with for the position, which has to do with usage and deployment within the defense. As highlighted in the tweet below, there are more favorable alignments in IDP to bank on for tackle production than others. 

This projection process takes the most recent defensive play-caller data and starting safety deployments in order to project tackle efficiency across an entire season for each team’s two starting safeties. Almost every team deploys two full-time starters at the position, so that is what we’ll bank on here, though, there are teams that use three safeties at a high rate as well, and with injuries and other factors creating more noise, this will be a simplified look at what to expect, assuming health and full-time roles for the each team’s top-two safeties.

I’ll break the teams down into three categories — the schemes that project as most efficient for the top IDP safety target, to the middle range and then least efficient for the top IDP safety target. I will also provide my top choices for who each of those safeties will be in 2024.

Key notes to keep in mind
  • These are general projections. This set of projections only focuses on past deployment data for starting safeties in the respective defensive play-caller’s past defense extrapolated over a full season's worth of snaps.
  • Some team projections are more limited due to a lack of information. For example, Jim Harbaugh hasn't coached in the NFL since 2014, leading to a lack of coverage data. 
  • Personnel can dictate usage and deployment. Defensive coordinators changing teams, for example, may not deploy the exact same defense they did with the previous team, though it’s often close. These projections will still use previous data from past defensive coordinator’s seasons, even when changing teams.
  • The NFL is constantly changing and evolving. Teams are expected to vary in usage and coverage deployment year-to-year so it needs to be expected that these numbers are not exact and just a general expectation.
  • This process is meant to give IDP managers a better feel for the teams and players that are worth targeting this season using the importance of safety alignment as it relates to average tackle efficiency for the position.

Tier 1: Ideal safety deployment and potential for IDP

These are the top defenses that project well above average in expected tackle efficiency for at least the top IDP target on each team. Average safety tackle production is closer to 9%, which provides these options as the top tackle leaders at the position, assuming a full season.

Jalen Thompson and Budda Baker, Arizona Cardinals
  • Thompson had more of an ideal deployment in 2023 thanks to his heavy usage in the box and slot, even over Baker. 
  • With Nick Rallis returning as defensive coordinator, IDP managers may expect similar usage with Thompson getting the more favorable deployment.
  • However, the 9.5% tackle efficiency projection for Baker is still a good mark for one of the best tacklers at the position.
Jeremy Chinn and Darrick Forrest, Washington Commanders
  • Chinn made the bounce-back list this week for this exact reason. 
  • The Commanders under Dan Quinn are expected to be one of the top single-high defenses in the league, which is great news for one safety (Chinn) to rotate down and play in the box for that ideal safety deployment.
  • Because of that single-high expectation, the tackle projection is far less exciting for Forrest in this defense.
Julian Blackmon and Rodney Thomas II, Indianapolis Colts
  • Blackmon was deployed in the ideal safety alignment in Gus Bradley’s defense in 2023.
  • With no significant changes to the defense or personnel, expect Blackmon to still be the safety to target in Indianapolis for IDP.
  • Thomas, much like Forrest in Washington, is expected to suffer in tackle efficiency based on this single-high scheme.
Grant Delpit and Juan Thornhill, Cleveland Browns
  • Delpit is the Browns' safety to target for IDP with his expected usage around the line of scrimmage in Jim Schwartz’s defense being the key.
  • Thornhill joins other deep safeties in single-high schemes as less exciting IDP options to consider in 2024.
Kyle Dugger and Jabrill Peppers, New England Patriots
  • Both Dugger and Peppers received their share of ideal deployments in Bill Belichick’s defense last season. With Belichick gone, it’s unclear how much the defense will change but with mostly internal hirings at key coaching positions, we could be looking at something similar in 2024.
  • Dugger had a slightly better deployment and the same should be expected for him this season as the top Patriots safety to target for IDP.
Jaquan Brisker and Kevin Byard, Chicago Bears
  • Brisker should continue to be the top IDP safety to target in Chicago, though Byard has the potential to eat into this usage a bit more as one of the better versatile safeties in the league.
  • Brisker should still be a strong IDP option but that second safety tackle projection shouldn’t be as low as it looks here (8.9%) with Byard likely to get more versatile usage.
Taylor Rapp and Mike Edwards, Buffalo Bills
  • Rookie second-round pick Cole Bishop could emerge as a starter here at some point, but right now, the nod goes to the veterans.
  • Rapp figures to play the Jordan Poyer role, which will be more ideal for IDP than the Micah Hyde role that Edwards expects to play, assuming this defense projects similarly.
Justin Reid and Bryan Cook, Kansas City Chiefs
  • Reid is the favorite to get the ideal usage, as he has in years past with the Chiefs.
  • Cook will likely absorb the Mike Edwards role as the primary deep safety in this defense.
  • Reid will be the top IDP target of the group.
Amani Hooker and Elijah Molden, Tennessee Titans
  • Dennard Wilson comes in as the new defensive coordinator, so this projection is more than likely to change. There isn’t any play-calling data for Wilson to pull from yet, unfortunately.
  • This was a positive defense for both safety’s tackle potential last season, but that is unlikely again. 
Tyler Nubin and Jason Pinnock, New York Giants
  • Both Nubin and Pinnock should have solid tackle efficiency under new defensive coordinator Shane Bowen.
  • There isn’t a clear top safety role for the Giants in IDP like there was last season under Don Martindale, but either starting safety could end up being a nice value in IDP if this deployment projection comes close to repeating.
Antoine Winfield Jr. and Jordan Whitehead, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Winfield is going to be the first Buccaneers safety taken in every single draft, however, there is a potentially nice role for Whitehead.
  • Winfield’s usage projects as less ideal for IDP, but IDP managers are fully aware of his big-play upside, which keeps him near the top of many rankings. 
  • Whitehead’s usage is based on Ryan Neal‘s last season, extrapolated over a full season, making him a great value to target this season.

Tier 2: The happy medium

This middle group projects closer to average safety tackle production for the top IDP safety to target. 

Jordan Battle and Geno Stone, Cincinnati Bengals
  • The Bengals may be a team that deploys fewer than two full-time safeties after bringing in Vonn Bell and Geno Stone this offseason to pair with Battle and Dax Hill.
  • Hill is likely going to move to more of a slot-only role while Bell could work in enough that he cuts in on Battle’s opportunities, who wasn’t unleashed in a full-time role even last year, despite being clearly an upgrade at the position. 
  • There isn’t enough of a projection advantage to rush in and draft one. Wait for more clarity before investing too heavily in this group.
Tony Adams and Chuck Clark, New York Jets
  • The Jets missed Clark for all of last season after he tore his ACL in the offseason. He hasn’t played a snap yet for the team but either him or Adams project as similarly mid-range options.
Xavier McKinney and Javon Bullard, Green Bay Packers
  • McKinney will be the top-drafted Packers safety, which is understandable considering his strong season in 2023
  • That second safety spot could be just as good for tackle production, however, making Bullard or potentially Anthony Johnson Jr. – whoever emerges – perfectly fine options as well.
Rayshawn Jenkins and Julian Love, Seattle Seahawks
  • This defensive scheme projection uses the 2023 Seattle defense.
  • New defensive coordinator Aden Durde doesn’t have any play-calling history to pull from so there is likely to be a more drastic shift than the current projection.
  • Jenkins is much more likely to play closer to the line of scrimmage than Love considering his past usage history, which makes him the IDP to target first of the two, though it’s unclear how favorable that role will be in 2024.
Jordan Fuller and Xavier Woods, Carolina Panthers
  • Fuller should likely absorb the Vonn Bell role from this defense last season, which allowed for a slightly more favorable deployment.
  • Xavier Woods’ usage was relatively close, however, and can also be a fine IDP option.
Derwin James and Alohi Gilman, Los Angeles Chargers
  • James is the clear IDP favorite from this duo, with an obvious shift in ideal deployment when compared to Gilman’s projected role.
DeShon Elliott and Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pittsburgh Steelers
  • The ideal role has changed in Pittsburgh’s offense from year to year with Fitzpatrick in the lineup, and he’ll be the first Steelers safety drafted every time because of his history of strong production.
  • Last season, there was a more ideal deployment for IDP than Fitzpatrick’s role, however, it wasn’t a full-time role so production was spotty at best. Elliott should play closer to a 100% snap role in 2024.
Harrison Smith and Camryn Bynum, Minnesota Vikings
  • The Vikings actually have a third safety, Josh Metellus, who averages a slightly lower snap share than Smith and Bynum, but he is the clear favorite IDP to target when considering his deployment.
  • Metellus played over 1,000 defensive snaps in 2023, as did Smith and Bynum, but only 5% came from a deep alignment, compared to Smith (31%) and Bynum (50%).
  • If that usage holds true in 2024, Metellus projects as the best IDP safety in Minnesota followed by Smith and a likely regression year for Bynum, who scored the best of the three last year, despite just average to below-average deployment for IDP.
Jevon Holland and Jordan Poyer, Miami Dolphins
  • Holland’s role last season allowed him to play more in the box and the slot than he had previously, which, if that happens again in 2024, he is still the top Miami safety to target in IDP.
  • Poyer may not have the versatility at this stage in his career to hold up in those alignments, which makes him the second-best option, in my opinion.
Kyle Hamilton and Marcus Williams, Baltimore Ravens
  • Hamilton owns a clear path to favorable alignments over Williams. There’s no doubt that he’ll be the top IDP safety target in Baltimore this year.
Jimmie Ward and Jalen Pitre, Houston Texans
  • Should DeMeco Ryans and company deploy their safeties as they did last year, Ward’s role actually projects slightly better for IDP than Pitre.
  • Pitre will be drafted first, as he was last year, but expectations should not be anywhere close to what they were during his rookie season.
Donovan Wilson and Malik Hooker, Dallas Cowboys
  • Dallas was another team that previously utilized three safeties on a regular basis, which had previously cut into the playing time of the more ideally deployed safety — either Wilson or Jayron Kearse.
  • However, with Mike Zimmer taking over and Kearse still unsigned, there could be an opportunity for Wilson to get back into a full-time role and be a more consistent IDP producer in 2024.
C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Reed Blankenship, Philadelphia Eagles
  • The Eagles' defensive back situation could change quite a bit depending on how they utilize certain personnel like Cooper DeJean, and with rumors of James Bradberry moving to safety
  • Either way, with Vic Fangio taking over it’s not a perfect IDP situation for the safeties, but Gardner-Johnson should be the favorite to get the best usage for tackle production.

Tier 3: Unideal IDP safety usage

Kerby Joseph and Ifeatu Melifonwu, Detroit Lions
  • With Brian Branch taking the majority of slot snaps and getting more work in the box, it doesn’t leave a lot of prime alignments for Joseph and Melifonwu.
  • Both Joseph and Melifonwu are likely to be more big-play-dependent options for IDP this season.
DeMarcco Hellams and Jessie Bates III, Atlanta Falcons
  • Hellams takes over for Richie Grant, who lost his starting job last season to Hellams. 
  • Jimmy Lake takes over as the new defensive coordinator for Atlanta, so these projections aren’t going to be as close as we’d like them to be.
Andre Cisco and Darnell Savage, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • The Jaguars take on Ryan Nielson as the new defensive coordinator this season, so Atlanta’s 2023 defensive data is used for this projection.
  • Both Cisco and Savage are close in expected production, which isn’t all that exciting for IDP.
Tre’Von Moehrig and Marcus Epps, Las Vegas Raiders
  • Moehrig and Epps also project on the lower end of tackle production due to the Raiders' defensive scheme.
  • Moehrig should likely get slightly better usage for IDP, but it’s nothing worth investing too heavily in for 2024.
Kamren Curl and Russ Yeast, Los Angeles Rams
  • Kamren Curl is likely to be a highly-drafted IDP safety after finishing as SAF8 last season but this scheme isn’t as strong for safety production as Curl had in Washington.
  • There is some hope that Curl can help play more linebacker in this defense next to Ernest Jones due to a lack of other options at that position, and that’s where he can help make up significant ground here. That isn’t a role that existed on the team last year for the team’s safeties, however, so it is more of a hopeful thought than anything.
Tyrann Mathieu and Jordan Howden, New Orleans Saints
  • Mathieu has never been a high-end tackler for IDP, and it’s easy to see why with this projection. He’s still the favorite to get the more ideal IDP usage, but it’s not that strong overall.
  • Howden takes over as the starter this year, but will likely play much more deep which doesn’t help his overall potential.
P.J. Locke and Brandon Jones, Denver Broncos
  • Two new starting safeties for Denver have both been productive IDPs in the past, but this defense doesn’t necessarily play to their strengths based on last year’s usage.
  • Locke and Jones are likely to split ideal IDP alignments evenly throughout the year which hurts the potential ceiling for both, though it isn’t impossible for one to break out, it’s just harder to bet on both doing so if this defense remains similar to 2023.
Talanoa Hufanga and Ji’Ayir Brown, San Francisco 49ers
  • Hufanga and Brown have both had small spurts of high-end IDP production but nothing consistent and the 49ers' defensive scheme plays a big part of that.
  • Neither player is getting ideal IDP usage in this defense on a weekly basis and as a result, they aren’t likely to be high in the safety rankings for this year on

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