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. I’ll highlight some dynasty stash options in a separate tier that you can focus on if you are less concerned about 2018 and want to focus on 2019 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 DE1
- Joey Bosa, LAC
- Cameron Jordan, NO
- Chandler Jones, ARI (* big play bonus)
- Calais Campbell, JAX
- Demarcus Lawrence, DAL (* big play bonus)
- J.J. Watt, HOU (injury risk)
- Khalil Mack, OAK (contract holdout)
There has been a changing of the guard at the defensive end position recently as there are major question marks with several of the elite options in this group. J.J. Watt used to be in a tier of his own, but is now trying to come back from his second season-ending injury in a row and there are doubts about whether he can return to form. Khalil Mack’s tackle numbers help set him apart from the field but he continues to sit out in a contract dispute, which could result in him missing time or even being traded. Joey Bosa has been an elite performer since entering the league 2 years ago but he has missed time in camp with a foot injury. Cameron Jordan joined the ranks of the elite after the Saints moved to a 4-3 and finally upgraded their secondary. Calais Campell was always one of the most productive tacklers at the position during his time in Arizona, but he found a new gear and led the talented Jaguars front with 14.5 sacks in 2017. Chandler Jones joins the ranks of the elite this year as he will move from outside linebacker to defensive end in the Cardinals new 4-3 defense. What Demarcus Lawrence lacks in tackle production, he makes up for with a relentless pass rush that saw him average nearly a sack per game last year. Assuming health concerns and contract issues get resolved before the season opens, each of these players is a sound DE1 to build your team around.
DEFENSIVE ENDS TIER 2: LOW-END DE1
- Melvin Ingram III III, LAC
- Jason Pierre-Paul, TB
- Everson Griffen, MIN (* big play bonus)
- Ezekiel Ansah, DET (* big play bonus)
- Aaron Donald, LAR (contract holdout)
- Myles Garrett, CLE
- Trey Flowers, NE
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