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 obviously 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 2018 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
These are the players clearly stand out from the rest among all defensive backs. They should all post 80+ solo tackles while adding in some big plays to leave them nearly as productive as some of the top linebackers. Given the great depth at defensive back, you can usually wait until late in your draft to fill out these roster spots. If you decide to take a safety early, however, these are one of the three you’ll want to target. Landon Collins could see a subtle drop-off as the Giants move to a new scheme, but he is just a year removed from a 100-solo, 5-INT season and likely has the highest upside of this group. Keanu Neal a big hitter with a knack for forcing fumbles but doesn’t offer much else in terms of sacks or interceptions. Reshad Jones has the longest history of consistent success but makes few big plays and therefore has the lowest upside in this group.
SAFETIES TIER 2: LOW-END #1
- Kevin Byard, TEN (* big play bonus)
- Budda Baker, ARI (* big play bonus)
- Harrison Smith, MIN (* big play bonus)
- Jamal Adams, NYJ
- Sean Davis, PIT
- Micah Hyde, BUF (* big play bonus)
- Jordan Poyer, BUF (* big play bonus)
- Jaquiski Tartt, SF
This group has more variability than the players in the elite tier so they have a lower floor but they can likely be safely relied on as every-week starters. All have the potential to hit 70 or more solo tackles with a number of big plays that can lead to huge scoring weeks. Kevin Byard broke out with eight interceptions last year and the upgrades at corner should keep him very active. Budda Baker is an excellent young all-around safety who could push for the lead in tackles on his team. Harrison Smith is an elite talent who makes up for low tackle numbers with his big-play instincts. Sean Davis may see more time in coverage this year with the signing of Morgan Burnett and drafting of rookie Terrell Edmunds. The Bills tandem of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are relatively interchangeable and should benefit from playing behind a young linebacker group with a favorable stat crew. Jaquiski Tartt is the one player in this group who doesn’t yet have a proven track record but he looked very promising before suffering a broken arm last year.
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