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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 top-12 numbers but only one defensive lineman likely to put up elite numbers, it’s wise to grab the lineman and assume a quality linebacker will last until your next pick. This helps maximize the value of your pick and is a strategy that all strong fantasy players use to some extent.
How to Use the Tiers
1. These tiers are based on expected performance for the 2023 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 this year and want to focus on building for the future.
2. 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 (or edge rusher) is the main area that causes issues here, as the classification can have a huge impact on fantasy value.
3. 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.
Safeties Tier 1: The Elite
While safeties 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 strong tackle numbers while adding in plenty of big plays to make them nearly as productive as 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 the players you’ll want to target. Derwin James is an immense talent and has been an elite producer in 3 of 4 seasons, with the exception coming in 2019 due to injury. Jalen Pitre is coming off an incredible rookie season (99 solos, 48 assists, 5 INTs) and should remain among the best at his position, even with some expected regression.
Safeties Tier 2: Strong #1 Options
• Jeremy Chinn, CAR
• Minkah Fitzpatrick, PIT*
• Budda Baker, ARI
• Antoine Winfield Jr TB
• Kevin Byard, TEN*
• Jaquan Brisker, CHI
• Kyle Hamilton, BAL
• Justin Simmons, DEN *
• Jordan Poyer, BUF*
• Kyle Dugger, NE
• Isaiah Simmons, ARI
If you miss out on the elite safeties, you will find a larger group of options who are all likely to finish among the top-12 at their position. These players have a slightly lower floor but plenty of upside and can be relied on as every-week starters. All should push to finish with 70+ solo tackles and post enough big plays to offer several high-scoring weeks throughout the season. Jeremy Chinn could sneak into the elite tier with more big plays, while Minkah Fitzpatrick is known for big plays and needs more tackles to reach his ceiling. Budda Baker bounced back last year and will now have to compete with Isaiah Simmons in the Cardinals secondary, which should see plenty of opportunities each week. Kyle Hamilton and Jaquan Brisker are young players on the rise, while Jordan Poyer, Justin Simmons, and Kevin Byard are reliable veterans that have a long history of production.
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