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Faceoff: Early-round Risk and Safety

August 28th

Clayton Gray: Looking at our Top 25, which player stands out as the biggest risk (with a very low downside)? Which player seems incredibly safe (with very little downside)?

Andy Hicks: For biggest risk I have to go with Trent Richardson.

I have never seen a rookie go this high and cannot justify the risk that comes with taking an unproven player for a franchise that is likely to have a rookie QB, inexperienced WRs and had a poor ground game the previous season. When Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte exploded in their rookie seasons they were drafted in approximately the 4th and 5th rounds respectively, which was nowhere near the risk that drafting a rookie RB presents in Round 1. Reggie Bush and Ryan Mathews were the previously highest drafted backs at 17th and 14th in their rookie seasons and they did relatively poorly finishing 56th and near 100th respectively in their debut seasons. Everything about Richardson is sunshine and roses right now, but once the season starts and he has to face real live defenses he truly has to live up to his hype to be worth his draft slot. If there are ANY problems, he is poor value. Very rarely does a rookie season go that smoothly.

For safest pick I run with Aaron Rodgers.

Since he took over the starting job in 2008 he hasn't finished worse than QB3, and for 3 of the 4 years in the top 7 for all positions. His touchdown to interception ratio is phenomenal with 7 passing TDs for every 2 interceptions and he hasn't done worse than 28 TDs and 3900 passing yards. To add a cherry on top he averages 4 rushing TDs a year. He has 6 very capable receivers, so even if he lost 2 it wouldn't hurt a great deal and the running game has not been upgraded in any way from last years low ranked unit. Out of all the high octane offenses and QBs he is the safest by far. Tom Brady is advancing in years, Drew Brees has the whole drama of the coaching situation hanging over the team, Cam Newton will be under pressure not to have a sophomore slump as opposing defenses will have a whole off season to pick him apart and Matthew Stafford has a poor injury record and is very dependent on one guy in Calvin Johnson. The odds of a QB making it through a full season are better than at the other positions as well, so Rodgers is as safe as you can get in the top 25.

Will Grant: It's hard not to think that one of the stud tight ends is not a very safe pick, especially in a PPR league. Both Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski are guys that will post 30-40 more receptions than the #12 tight end, and that extra five or six points per game from your tight end position is too good to pass up. Both Graham and Gronkowski have very little downside as they are in stable offensive schemes that target their strengths. Tom Brady and Drew Brees are not going to suddenly forget about either of them, and you can bank on their consistent performance week after week.

As for risk, I have to agree with Marc and Darren McFadden presents a very high risk as a first round fantasy back. DMAC has never been able to stay healthy, and has never been a guy who can shoulder a 300 touch season. In fact, he's much more likely to miss four or five games and finish with under 200 touches. I love his PPG potential and if I'm sitting at #11 or #12 and he falls to me, it will be hard for me to lay off of him. However, if you take McFadden this season, make sure to handcuff him early and have adequate coverage for when he goes down.

Sigmund Bloom: At running back, Darren McFadden seems like the riskiest, while it doesn't get much safer than Ray Rice.

At wide receiver, Calvin Johnson represents a safe haven, while Andre Johnson's mounting injuries in recent times makes him risky in the second.

At quarterback, Tom Brady is the surest thing, while Matthew Stafford is still a player who missed significant time in two out of his first three seasons.

Jeff Pasquino: I have to echo the Calvin Johnson pick at wide receiver. Even if something happened to Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson has proven to be a stud WR with Shaun Hill.

Running backs can and do get hurt, but I do like Ray Rice as a solid stud RB1 who never seems to miss any time. The only downside to him would be loss of catches to an overall improved Baltimore passing game or a goal line vulture, but neither is much of a risk.

The biggest risks are at running back, as Darren McFadden has had issues staying healthy. I would circle his name as the "highest ceiling, lowest floor" guy in the Top 25. If he stays healthy I could see him pushing for RB1 overall by the end of the year, but I wouldn't be surprised if he missed 5-7 games or more.

Mark Wimer: At running back, I'd tag Maurice Jones-Drew as the biggest risk - his holdout has gotten ugly, and the team is saying they'll limit his touches even when he's back in the fold while he learns the new offense. Basically, you are guaranteed a few weeks of sub-normal (or no) touches for Jones-Drew even if/when he does report. And as I read the situation, him reporting is no sure thing.

Arian Foster and Calvin Johnson look like the sure-thing, low-downside risks to me - the Texans will run the ball tons no matter who is under center, and Johnson has proven his ability to perform no matter which Detroit QB is tossing him the football.