High Floors or High Ceilings
By Ryan Hester
August 30th, 2011

Every year leading up to draft season, there are players described as "safe" or as "players with high floors." There are others who are more risky, "high-ceiling" players. Many people single themselves or their league-mates out as the risk-averse type or as the gambling type. The risk-averse group will say that they take fliers in late rounds, but everyone does that. If we truly knew what we were getting from guys picked after the 10th round, they'd be getting picked higher (or not at all).

In this exercise, we'll examine which players of similar ADP's would be considered solid, "high-floor" guys and which are the guys who could range from winning your league to thinking to yourself, "how have I not dropped him yet?"

For the purposes of this exercise, we'll be picking 4th in a 12-team league with a standard snake draft. We'll look at players whose Consensus ADP's (average of all five fields on the 8/22 FBG ADP page) are within two slots of our pick. Therefore, in Round 1, we'll look at players 2-6 for the fourth overall pick; in Round 2, players 19-23 for the overall 21st pick; etc. In some instances, there will only be one or two players that fall those ranges so we'll stay as close as we can for those rounds.

At the end, we'll have two teams from which we'll pick the best mix of players (one per round obviously) of those. Each person that reads this article will have different views on the levels of risk taken and may even think some players I've called "high-floor" aren't really that safe at all. While not an exact science, the exercise is to give credence to my claim that there needs to be a balance. First of all, it will keep your opponents guessing. Secondly, having some high-floor players will keep your team competitive when your "boom or bust" guys don't boom. I believe a championship team can't just have safe players though. Whether it be drafting or acquiring through the waiver wire, every successful fantasy team has players that can win them a week almost on their own.

Players highlighted in GREEN are "high floor, low ceiling" players while players highlighted in PURPLE are "high ceiling but potentially low floor" guys. Please keep in mind that having Ray Rice as a GREEN player doesn't mean I think his ceiling is lower than Ryan Mathews because Mathews is a PURPLE player. The designations are simply given relative to other players in the same round. The italicized players are the actual selections used.

Rounds 1-3

Rnd
Player
Pos
Overall ADP
1
Chris Johnson
RB3
3.33
1
Ray Rice
RB5
4.83
1
Jamaal Charles
RB4
4.17
2
Tom Brady
QB3
19.17
2
Hakeem Nicks
WR5
19.67
2
Steven Jackson
RB12
20.17
2
Drew Brees
QB4
20.67
2
Greg Jennings
WR6
21.00
2
Matt Forte
RB13
21.67
3
Philip Rivers
QB5
26.50
3
Mike Wallace
WR8
27.17
3
Reggie Wayne
WR9
27.67
3
Peyton Manning
QB6
28.83
3
Miles Austin
WR10
30.00

In Round 1, any of those players would be great selections (yep, that's great insight). The general opinion, though, is that Rice is more of a known commodity and will have to share fewer carries while Charles still has Thomas Jones in his backfield. When it comes to players ranked this closely, I would tend to lean toward the player with the greater chance of becoming the #1 player at his position. For me, that's Charles due to his ability to score from anywhere on the field.

In Round 2, we find a guy as steady as it gets when it comes to running backs over the last handful of years. Barring injury, we know what we're getting from Steven Jackson. Hakeem Nicks is ranked here on one year of production but mostly potential. Nicks is a player who hasn't been around long enough to have a true track record. You'd have to search hard, but you could find some holes to poke in his game The injury last season and the fact that wide receivers are more reliant on other players (their QBs) than running backs come to mind as risks, albeit mild ones. Tom Brady is also a high-floor guy here, but with other great QBs still available, we'll wait it out one more round until...

Philip Rivers becomes available in Round 3. Rivers has become a model of consistency - even last year with journeyman wide receivers due to Vincent Jackson's long holdout. Right after Rivers is big-play receiver Mike Wallace. While Wallace isn't yet at the point of his career where he's a solid week-in, week-out #1 fantasy WR, he has the skill set to put up at least one of the top five to ten weekly point totals all year. Here are the teams so far with new additions italicized:

Team Safety
Team Optimism
Pos
Player
Pos
Player
QB
Philip Rivers
QB
QB
QB
RB
Ray Rice
RB
Jamaal Charles
RB
Steven Jackson
RB
RB
RB
RB
RB
WR
WR
Hakeem Nicks
WR
WR
Mike Wallace
WR
WR
WR
WR
WR
WR
FLEX
FLEX
TE
TE

Rounds 4-6

Rnd
Player
Pos
Overall ADP
4
Dez Bryant
WR14
43.33
4
Knowshon Moreno
RB20
43.50
4
Brandon Marshall
WR15
45.00
4
Ryan Mathews
RB21
46.50
4
Dallas Clark
TE2
46.50
4
Wes Welker
WR16
47.00
5
Jason Witten
TE3
50.17
5
Jermichael Finley
TE4
50.33
5
Mark Ingram
RB22
50.83
5
Felix Jones
RB23
51.00
5
Brandon Lloyd
WR19
52.67
5
Matt Schaub
QB8
53.83
6
Marshawn Lynch
RB27
68.67
6
Fred Jackson
RB28
68.83
6
Jonathan Stewart
RB29
69.33
6
Austin Collie
WR25
69.67
6
Mario Manningham
WR26
70.17
6
Daniel Thomas
RB30
70.50
6
Kenny Britt
WR27
71.00

These rounds are where this exercise really begins to take shape. In Round 4 are two veteran players from whom we know what we're getting in Wes Welker and Dallas Clark. Much like we did earlier with quarterbacks, we'll wait on tight end as there are still plenty of good ones left so we'll take Welker. The risky player looking to hit the home run will take Dez Bryant - who is so talented and plays in such a good offense, I'm not sure he has a ceiling.

With Jason Witten being available here, the safe player knows he'll have a tight end that should finish between second and fifth at the position. The player trying to knock it out of the park sees another young player who was a first-round NFL pick in Mark Ingram. Talk about a RBBC system with Pierre Thomas has some scared of taking Ingram, but his ceiling is a scenario where he - as the most talented back - takes at least three-fourths of the Saints' carries and scores double-digit TDs. He's truly one of the perfect players for this exercise as projections and prognostications on him have a lot of range from worst-case to best-case.

In Round 6, running back is starting to get thin. Good thing the safe player has already taken two. He'll even things out here with Kenny Britt. With news coming out that Britt won't get suspended, any concerns related to drafting him should go away. The addition of veteran QB Matt Hasselbeck should ensure that you're getting what you're paying for him (in this case a late 6th-round pick and decent #2 WR). The optimistic drafter will take either Austin Collie, a player considered a huge injury risk with a QB whose injury situation is a bit cloudy as well, or Mario Manningham - someone who hasn't played a full season as a starter yet in his career.

Here are the rosters thus far with new additions italicized:

Team Safety
Team Optimism
Pos
Player
Pos
Player
QB
Philip Rivers
QB
QB
QB
RB
Ray Rice
RB
Jamaal Charles
RB
Steven Jackson
RB
Mark Ingram
RB
RB
RB
RB
WR
Wes Welker
WR
Hakeem Nicks
WR
Kenny Britt
WR
Mike Wallace
WR
WR
Dez Bryant
WR
WR
WR
WR
FLEX
FLEX
Collie/Manningham
TE
Jason Witten
TE

Rounds 7-9

Rnd
Player
Pos
Overall ADP
7
Josh Freeman
QB11
74.17
7
Pierre Garcon
WR29
79.50
7
Santana Moss
WR30
83.17
8
Reggie Bush
RB34
90.50
8
Marcedes Lewis
TE8
92.17
8
Sam Bradford
QB14
95.00
8
Mike Thomas
WR34
95.17
9
Joe Flacco
QB15
97.33
9
Pierre Thomas
RB37
98.67
9
Jets Defense
DST3
99.33
9
James Starks
RB38
102.00

While Josh Freeman is a player on the rise who had a nice season last year, he's a risk as a #1 QB. The player looking for consistent production takes Santana Moss - the veteran receiver who likely only fell this far because his offense is weak.

There aren't a ton of truly "high-floor" players at this point in drafts, but grabbing Mike Thomas is a relatively solid pick. The top receiving option in Jacksonville, Thomas could catch 70+ balls this year but isn't a great bet to put up double-digit TDs or monster yardage numbers. On the other end of the spectrum is Reggie Bush. He hasn't shown he can handle being his team's top running back without getting injured, but Miami plans to give Bush the majority of the carries. And rookie Daniel Thomas has had a disappointing camp. Thomas has been yelled at on the sidelines by head coach Tony Sporano in the team's preseason games for not running tough between the tackles. His hesitation has been disappointing - especially considering he's the bigger of the two running backs.

Joe Flacco presents a very solid back-up QB with low-end #1 upside. James Starks is another RBBC back who could perform as a #1 fantasy RB should he earn the opportunity through performance or injuries ahead of him.

Team Safety
Team Optimism
Pos
Player
Pos
Player
QB
Philip Rivers
QB
Josh Freeman
QB
Joe Flacco
QB
RB
Ray Rice
RB
Jamaal Charles
RB
Steven Jackson
RB
Mark Ingram
RB
RB
Reggie Bush
RB
RB
James Starks
WR
Wes Welker
WR
Hakeem Nicks
WR
Kenny Britt
WR
Mike Wallace
WR
Santana Moss
WR
Dez Bryant
WR
Mike Thomas
WR
WR
WR
FLEX
FLEX
Collie/Manningham
TE
Jason Witten
TE

Round 10 through End of Draft

The late rounds are difficult to project. The longer a draft lasts, the more volatility there is with picks and ADP's. Also, for the purposes of this examination, it's pretty hard to find "high-floor" players this late in the draft. Anyone with whom we "knew" what we were getting has been drafted already. One can easily see, though, how these teams are coming together. Continuing to use ADP, here are a couple more decisions that did spring up though:

In Round 14, a few interesting players presented themselves. Donald Driver (safe), Colt McCoy, Demarco Murray, and Nate Burleson (potential up-side sleepers) were all around our draft slot. Driver is the #2 WR on one of the best pass offenses in the league. He's also aging and surrounded by other younger and faster options. Demarco Murray has the talent to be a great running back in this league, but injuries and his spot on the depth chart are keeping the hype level low.

In Round 16, Devin Hester and Arrelious Benn are available. Hester is arguably the #1 target on the Bears while Benn is the #2 in Tampa but has speed to burn, is young, and is on an emerging offense (as discussed in my WR Wakeup Calls article).

Round-by-Round Breakdown

Because we left "Team Optimism" without a starting tight end, we'll assume they went for Greg Olsen in the 12th round so we can compare starting lineups (minus kickers and defenses) of these teams. This time, we'll sort them by round drafted instead of by position.

Team Safety
Team Optimism
Rd
Player
Rd
Player
1
Ray Rice
1
Jamaal Charles
2
Steven Jackson
2
Hakeem Nicks
3
Philip Rivers
3
Mike Wallace
4
Wes Welker
4
Dez Bryant
5
Jason Witten
5
Mark Ingram
6
Kenny Britt
6
Mario Manningham
7
Santana Moss
7
Josh Freeman
8
Mike Thomas
8
Reggie Bush
9
Joe Flacco
9
James Starks

Because it's a widely-accepted line of thinking that it's a "must" to have a top-7 QB, we'll use the selection of Philip Rivers by Team Safety. Players whose names have been italicized are the ones who we'll choose for our "super-team." You can flip a coin with Rice and Charles in the first, but all of the other selections make up a great mix of solid, every-week performers and players who can go off at any time.

Tight end was a difficult choice because Jason Witten is a known commodity and elite at the position, but since we already have Dez Bryant as part of the potent Cowboys attack and we don't want to be thin at a position as important as running back, we'll pass on Witten for Ingram and go with the Olsen selection in the 12th as part of a TE by committee with another post-10th round pick.

"Super Team" Final Roster
Pos
Player (Round Picked)
QB
Philip Rivers (3)
RB
Jamaal Charles (1)
RB
Mark Ingram (5)
WR
Hakeem Nicks (2)
WR
Dez Bryant (4)
FLEX
Mario Manningham (6)
TE
Greg Olsen (12)
WR
Santana Moss (7)
WR
Mike Thomas (8)
RB
James Starks (9)

While fictional, this team could actually be drafted in a 12-team league. A top-5 QB in Rivers, a top-4 RB in Charles, and a top-4 WR in Nicks all provide safety AND upside while emerging talents with potential for top-5 weeks at their positions (Bryant, Manningham, Ingram) are also littered throughout.

The bench players - especially the wide receivers Moss and Thomas - are great bye-week replacements or matchup plays as they're all but guaranteed to provide a half-dozen points as a worst-case scenario in nearly all formats. Olsen, paired with another tight end will provide the ability to play matchups and have chances at another double-digit scoring day depending on format.

Summary

I'd recommend doing an exercise like this - and/or one of the many, many others provided by the Footballguys staff in the past few weeks - before your draft. Get to know your opponents and what rankings lists they prefer, grab an ADP list (there's one sortable and customizable by multiple sources available here on the site), and perform this exercise for your draft slot. If you're 4th or close to it, I already did it for you. If you're not, pick an acceptable range such as one or two slots either way around your pick and determine the range of players that will most likely be available to you.

While many things change during a draft, you'll find that most of your preparation will help you. For instance, there will inevitably be more than one player you like in a certain round. Should the one you don't pick slide, you'll definitely know who to pick at a great value in the next round. Preparation leads to domination!

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to hester@footballguys.com.

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