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Most fantasy owners are used to drafting off a simple ranking of players, but that can mask underlying differences that exist between players. For example, two players may be ranked right next to each other on a cheatsheet but there could be a wide gap in the expected production for them. In that case, you would probably want to draft the higher-ranked player a full-round earlier than the lower-ranked player. Similarly, there may be a large group of players with very similar projections that are bunched together on a ranking sheet. It may seem that a player ranked 10th is much more valuable than a player ranked 15th, but if only a few projected points separate them then they are roughly equivalent in value. Rather than force yourself to pick one, it may be best to focus on another position and then come back to this position in the next round since you’re likely to get a player of nearly identical value.
Grouping players into distinct tiers or buckets provides additional context that allows a drafter to make more informed decisions. The projections we offer at Footballguys also help a lot in this regard, but those are still static projections that may not fully indicate the range of likely outcomes for a player. For example, two players may be projected with similar numbers but one may have significantly more upside and/or a higher floor than the other. Those types of risk vs reward decisions are inherent in any fantasy draft. While drafting the safe players will typically help you build a solid team, you often need to take some chances and hit on some players who significantly exceed their preseason expectations to win.
Rankings are typically helpful in ordering players within the same position group, but tiers can help you figure out which position to take as you move through a draft. If you see a large group of linebackers that are all capable of putting up LB1-type numbers but only one defensive lineman likely to put up elite numbers, it’s wise to grab the lineman and assume at least one of the linebackers will be there for your next pick. This helps you maximize the value of your picks, and is a strategy that all strong fantasy players likely use to some extent.
How to Use the Tiers
- These tiers are based on expected performance for the 2019 season in a balanced scoring system. While dynasty owners always need to consider long-term outcomes to some extent, the upcoming season is most critical for player value.
- Positional classifications can differ depending on what your league-hosting website uses. For consistency, I will rely on the official Footballguys player classifications. For the most part, these should match up well with the major sources that exist online but there could be differences. Assigning edge rushers to linebacker or defensive end is the main area that causes issues here as the classification can have a huge impact on fantasy value.
- Look for an asterisk (*) next to players that have added value in big-play scoring systems. There is a lot of scoring variability that exists among IDP leagues, so if your league places added value on big plays (i.e., sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles, etc.), this information should help you identify some key targets in each tier.
SAFETIES TIER 1: THE ELITE
- Budda Baker, ARI
- Jordan Poyer, BUF *
- Jamal Adams, SEA *
- Jeremy Chinn, CAR
- Derwin James, LAC *
- Jessie Bates III III, CIN
While defensive backs are plentiful and therefore not nearly as valuable as linebackers and defensive linemen, these are the players who clearly stand out from the rest at the position. They should all post 75+ solo tackles while adding in enough big plays to make them nearly as productive as some of the 2nd tier of linebackers. Given the depth that exists at defensive back, most will wait until the middle or late portions of the draft to fill out these roster spots. If you do take a safety early, however, these are likely the players you’ll want to target. In tackle-heavy scoring systems, Budda Baker may warrant an earlier selection while Jamal Adams and Jordan Poyer will get a boost in big-play leagues.
SAFETIES TIER 2: LOW-END #1 OPTIONS
- Kevin Byard, TEN *
- Justin Simmons, DEN *
- Vonn Bell, CIN
- Johnathan Abram, LV
- Harrison Smith, MIN *
- John Johnson III III, CLE
- Marcus Maye, NYJ
- Malcolm Jenkins, NO
- Antoine Winfield Jr, TB *
This group has more variability than the players in the elite tier, which gives them a lower floor but they can likely be relied upon as every-week starters. All should finish with 65+ solo tackles with a number of big plays that can lead to several high-scoring weeks.
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