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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. I’ll highlight some dynasty stash options in a separate tier that you can focus on if you are less concerned about 2019 and want to focus on 2020 and beyond.
- 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.
- Will add an asterisk (*) for any 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.
DEFENSIVE ENDS TIER 1: ELITE OPTIONS
These are the players that clearly stand out above the rest and are the ones to target in your draft if you want a clear edge at the position. Danielle Hunter wound up missing all of 2020 with a mysterious neck injury but has recovered from surgery and hopes to return to form. Myles Garrett is still just 25 years old and has averaged nearly a sack per game over the prior 3 years. Aaron Donald is just a few years removed from a 20-sack season and remains one of the most dominant pass rushers in the league. Chase Young is the least proven player in this group but was drafted 2nd overall last year and looks ready to establish himself as one of the best defenders in the league.
DEFENSIVE ENDS TIER 2: VERY GOOD TARGETS
- Haason Reddick, CAR
- Joey Bosa, LAC
- J.J. Watt, ARI
- Brian Burns, CAR *
- Cameron Jordan, NO
- Montez Sweat, WAS *
- Sam Hubbard, CIN
These are the value picks among DE1 options if you are willing to wait and take a player a step below the elite. This group includes some of the best pass rushers in the league, but they carry slightly more risk and therefore come at a discount. Players like J.J. Watt, Joey Bosa and Cameron Jordan have put up elite numbers in the past but were also disappointing in 2020. Haason Reddick will try to replicate his breakout season on a new team alongside the emerging Brian Burns. Montez Sweat is also a talented young pass rusher with upside while Sam Hubbard needs to bounce back from a year that saw him record just 2 sacks in 13 games.
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