In this series, we are going to look at the top 3 rookies from each position that will make their mark on the league from year one. From the Dynasty perspective, we focus mainly on talent, but if you need a contributor right away from this rookie class, you need to look for opportunity. We will focus on the guys charged with covering the best receivers in the league, the cornerbacks that have the best chance to make an impact this season for your IDP squads.
Denzel Ward was the clear-cut number 1 CB in a class that saw seven go in the top 55 selections. Because he has the highest draft equity (fourth overall pick), he is most likely to see the field early and often. Because of his high draft position, talent, and the Browns’ strong run defense which will cause teams to throw more, he has CB1 potential in deeper leagues if he can rack up passes defended and bring back a few interception returns (an area where he was electric in college).
The Browns have fully retooled their secondary ahead of the 2018 season. Their decision to move on from Jason McCourty, who played 903 defensive snaps last year (100 percent of the snaps he was healthy for), creates natural opportunity for Ward to take his spot starting on the outside. Another 967 snaps were lost when the Browns traded Jamar Taylor to the Arizona Cardinals. The opportunity available for Ward is great for his fantasy value early in the season because he is nearly guaranteed playing time as he grows into the top corner on the team. There is no doubt in my mind, that, barring injury, Ward plays 900 snaps easily and is seen as a top 20 corner by the end of the season.
I expect Ward’s rookie season to go drastically differently than the last highly drafted Browns rookie (Justin Gilbert). Based on his level of play in college and Gregg Williams’ aggressive scheme, Ward will often man up against the opposing teams’ top receiver. This creates opportunity for him to be targeted frequently which will allow him to knock down passes and the occasional interception, but most importantly, it will give him the opportunity to make solo tackles, which is how a CB like Ward can compete with a safety in leagues where you have a DB slot instead of individual corner and safety spots. I project Ward to accumulate 55 solo tackles and 4 interceptions, which would put him in the high end CB2 range and as DB3 or 4 when you add in the safeties in 12 team leagues
The Buccaneers drafted two corners in the second round, but I was much more excited about the Carlton Davis pick. An aggressive, ball-hawking corner, the Bucs made him the 63rd pick in the draft and the 9th cornerback off the board. However, because they had one of the worst defenses in the league last year, Davis may be asked to do more early than other cornerbacks drafted higher than him. Additionally, I thought he was a steal as the 63rd overall pick and had the talent to potentially slip into the first round.
For the past few years, the Buccaneers have had a revolving door at the second outside CB spot accompanying Brent Grimes. Last year, they tried a combination of Robert McClain, Robert Smith, and Vernon Hargreaves III. With Hargreaves headed toward the slot and McClain no longer employed by the Buccaneers, all Davis has to do is fend off the less talented Smith, who was a fourth-round pick and recorded zero interceptions in just shy of 600 snaps last year. Also, as the hardest-hitting cornerback on the Bucs’ roster, he will have plenty of opportunity meet running backs on outside zone handoffs and tosses.
The expectation for the Buccaneers as a team this year is that they will be in a bunch of high scoring games. While they made improvements to their defensive line and secondary, I still expect that to be the case, especially starting the season with matchups against the Eagles, Saints, and Steelers. Even if he only plays 75 percent of snaps available on the outside (Smith getting the other 25 percent), Davis has the potential to rack up solo tackles and the chance to knock passes down. However, because Mike Smith does mix in a fair amount of zone coverages in his scheme, Davis’s fantasy value has the potential to be somewhat interception dependent. A realistic expectation, assuming he plays about 700 snaps or maybe a little less, would be in the neighborhood of 40-50 solo tackles and 3-6 interceptions.
The Packers doubled up on the cornerback position in the 2018 draft. After drafting Jaire Alexander in the first round, they dipped again into the pool to select Josh Jackson 45th overall. A corner with a great feel for zone coverage and tackling, his skillset mimics a new wave of physical zone corners we have seen with Richard Sherman and Josh Norman. Like Carlton Davis, he has the potential to outperform the more highly drafted Alexander because he will be given permission to roam his third of the field and go after the ball. Also, in zone he can keep his eyes on the football and come up in run support more easily because his eyes aren’t locked on his man.
Last year, the only two cornerbacks on the packers that played more than 60 percent of the team’s snaps were Davon House and Damarious Randle. Fortunately for Jackson, Randle is now employed by the Cleveland Browns. Although Kevin King, a high draft pick from the previous year, will likely see a role increase, look for Jackson to play between 350 and 400 snaps and to cement his role as a starter as the season progresses. It would not surprise for the Packers to shake up the personnel in their secondary that was third-worst in the league in yards per attempt allowed and tied for second to last in passing TDs allowed.
Because he is likely to play less snaps than the two CBs previously highlighted, it would be wise to temper fantasy expectations. That being said, he has the potential to rack up interceptions because of what his role in the defense will be. While he may not accrue more than 30 solo tackles, if I was a betting man (which I am) and I wanted to take a flier on the rookie CB with the most interceptions in 2018, I may put a wager on Jackson.
We will move onto Safties to round out the IDP Rookie Impact series. If you would like to read up on the other rookies or look ahead, you can download the IDP Rookie Roundup for FREE.