The 5 Safest Players in Fantasy Football This Season
In the board game Sorry!, there were two primary objectives. The first was to piss off your friends and family members as much as possible (after all, the name of the game is a built in apology), and the other was to get to the "safety zone" so your friends and family couldn't get their revenge.
Sure, winning was nice, but winning involved moving the exact amount of spaces required to hit the finish line, one of the worst game mechanics in the history of board games. Simply getting to the safety zone and gloating to your fellow players about how they can't move you back to the start of the board or push your token back a few spots was the true victory.
Fantasy football, however, is about actual victory. It doesn't matter if there's money or pride on the line - you have to win. Your league mates and friends aren't going to praise your smart, safe picks at the end of the year when they've defeated you in the playoffs.
But safe and smart picks can be effective when building a foundation for a fantasy team. Looking for value and upside is always wise, but every now and then, it's good to get a player with a predictable range of outcomes and a much better-than-average chance to meet the value spent on acquiring him.
So who are some of the safer picks for 2014 fantasy drafts? To find that out, we'll take a look at the confidence intervals for each player projection, which determines the most likely - but not all - range of outcomes based on our math. And just like the projections, the size and span of the confidence interval, or CI, range is different for every player. (You can find them alongside our fantasy football projections by clicking here.)
Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees is a robot who works under center in the New Orleans offense. That's the only way to explain the ridiculous level of consistency he provides.
There have been eight 5,000-passing yard seasons in NFL history. Drew Brees has four, and no one else has more than one. He's led the league in passing touchdowns four times, and passing yards four times. Since 2010, he has three of the seven highest fantasy point seasons from a quarterback.
His consistency is just as good when we dig into Net Expected Points data. Among starting quarterbacks since 2008, Brees has four of the 16 best (and five of the 26 best) seasons in Passing NEP per drop back. Combine this with the incredible volume of attempts he receives in Sean Payton's offense, and Brees has been consistently at the top of our NEP totem pole despite being relied upon to do it all for the New Orleans offense.
He has largely the same cast of characters around him this season, with Brandin Cooks and Kenny Stills attempting to fill in for the departed Darren Sproles and Lance Moore. But that's never mattered for Brees before, and it won't matter this year either.
We project Brees to finish as the best scorer in fantasy football this year, and the worst possible outcome (according to CI) will still see him finish two points per game ahead of our fourth-rated quarterback, Cam Newton. The high end of his projections would see him recreate what Peyton Manning did a year ago, and I'm not going to bet against that happening for the Saints' incredible quarterback.
Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys
Put your television on mute, click the red "x" on that hot take from the Internet, and forget everything you think you know about Tony Romo. The Dallas Cowboys' starting quarterback is one of the most consistent producers in the NFL, and is as safe of a quarterback pick as you can make this season.
Take a look at this chart, which shows how Romo has fared since 2006 using our NEP data, along with some perspective as to just how consistent he's been.
|Year||Drop Backs||Passing NEP||Passing NEP per Drop Back||Where It Would Rank in 2013|
The "2013 Rank" column shows where his performances would have ranked among 2013 quarterbacks who threw more than 300 passes. Top eight, every time, for the much maligned and disrespected Eastern Illinois product.
And like Brees, Romo is asked to do a lot in the Dallas offense. The Cowboys had one of the most pass-happy play-callers in the NFL last year, calling 1.85 passes to every run, with an even bigger pass-to-run ratio in 2012. That could stay the same with Scott Linehan in town, and the consistent production is there for a drastically lower price than what Brees demands.
In fact, Romo is currently being taken as the QB12 according to Fantasy Football Calculator, a spot he's less than three points shy of in our projections. And considering that his "best-case scenario" would be to finish as the fifth-best passer while his low-end projection is 17th (which marks the tail end of a very tightly bunched group of capable "starting" quarterbacks this year.), it's really tough to say no to Romo in Round 9 or 10.
And considering that our fourth-rated quarterback (Cam Newton) and our 17th-rated passer (Andy Dalton) are separated by only 50 points (which is smaller than the gap from Newton to our QB1, Brees), waiting to take Romo is not only safe, but it's a smart value pick.
Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears
Marc Trestman is a wizard. Please, don't ever forget this.
Forte benefits from the much-improved passing game in Chicago by being allowed more room to run. But he's also an incredibly gifted pass-catching back.
Forte was on par with Jamaal Charles and Reggie Bush as a receiver last season according to our metrics, while also finishing in the top-10 in Rushing NEP per carry among backs with 150 attempts or more. He does everything well, and that's part of the reason why he's safe.
But that's not all. The consistency of his volume in the passing game gives him added safety in PPR leagues, as Forte has been targeted 70 or more times in all but one of his NFL seasons (he saw 60 looks in his off year). Last year under Marc Trestman, Forte was targeted 95 times, and should see a similarly high workload as a receiver in 2014.
Being currently selected as the fourth runner in Fantasy Football Calculator mock drafts, his current market value matches our projections at the moment. And considering that his ceiling and floor (according to CI) are within the top-10, he's the safest back (and even safer in PPR leagues) that you can take in the middle of the first.
Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Like Matt Forte, Antonio Brown is a safe player who becomes even safer if you play in a PPR league.
The Pittsburgh Steelers' star receiver broke onto the scene last season, catching everything thrown his way and providing the primary outlet for Ben Roethlisberger. His role remains the same heading into 2014, and our projections reflect that.
Brown leads all receivers in receptions in our projections, which is where his safety as a fantasy asset stems from. The ridiculous amount of passes he'll see and catch means that even a drop in per-catch production or touchdowns won't sink his value in fantasy football. The Steelers were a top-10 team within our passing metrics last season, while also being among the 10 most pass-heavy teams, meaning the Steelers move the ball through the air often and with good efficiency.
This benefits Brown, who quickly became Roethlisberger's favorite target after Mike Wallace left town. The quality of the offense and the frequency of his opportunities mean that he'll have a high floor in standard leagues, and an even higher floor in PPR leagues. His current range of outcomes span from 2nd to 14th among receivers, meaning he's a virtual lock to be a WR1 this year, making him well worth his current cost as the eighth wideout off the board.
Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina Panthers
Greg Olsen's consistency means he's by far the safest tight end pick you can make in a fantasy draft this year.
His per-target numbers have been very steady throughout his career (in both Carolina and Chicago), and he's been targeted 80 or more times in five of the last six seasons. So he'll see the looks in the passing game, and he's unwavering in how efficient he is when he's targeted.
|Year||Rec.||Rec. NEP||Targets||Rec. NEP per Target|
A look behind the scenes at our NEP data revels just how consistent Olsen has been. A steady rise in per-target efficiency along with increased targets are the only major changes, as the Miami product has been reliable, if unspectacular.
To put it bluntly, he's one of the least productive high-volume tight ends when considering our NEP data, but that's in keeping with his role. Despite being the most talented pass-catcher in Carolina, his job in the Panther offense is to provide a safety valve for Cam Newton rather than to be a big play creator like a Jimmy Graham.
And as a low-end starting fantasy tight end, he'll fill the same role for your fantasy team as he does for Cam Newton. He's a reliable, capable tight end who isn't going to set any records, but also won't give you headaches like many of the non-elite tight end options who breakout one week and post a goose egg the next.
His current ADP sees him as the eighth tight end off the board, and our projections see him as seventh, with a confidence interval spanning from 3rd to 13th. So if you wait on a tight end, and don't want to take any chances, Olsen is the perfect player to target and leave in your starting tight end slot all season long.