Fantasy football is a game that’s based largely on taking risks and reaping the rewards. Generally speaking, the higher the risk, the higher the reward. There’s no bigger moment in your fantasy season than your draft, so how riskier you are when you pick your players will likely determine how good or bad of a season you have. Don’t get me wrong, there is no right or wrong way to draft, and they say that you can’t win your league at the draft, but you can lose it. Drafting against your own risk tolerance can be a very bad idea, but who you target will ultimately be related to how much risk you are willing to take.
How to draft based on your tolerance of risk
Before we dive in, I want to make something perfectly clear: know your league and the other fantasy owners you’re playing against. If you want to win a league of casual players where some guys tune it out before Week 5 and no one really cares, then you should probably draft with as little risk as possible. If you’re in a league of hardcore fans where there are trades throughout the year and no one ever starts a bye week player, then it might make more sense for you to add some risk to your team to try to stand out. That being said, here are some high- and low-risk options to look out for in the first four rounds of your draft for 2019. (ADP is based on PPR scoring from www.fantasydata.com)
Round 1 – HIGH RISK – Ezekiel Elliott – ADP 1.05
This one is pretty much a no brainer. As of August 20th, running back Ezekiel Elliott clearly has one of the biggest variances in outcomes for his total scoring for the year. He could sit and get you a zero, similar to RB Le’Veon Bell from last year, or he could be a stud and be the number one overall fantasy player in your league. This means he has a very high-risk portfolio, with none of it based on on-the-field circumstances. If you’re looking to be different, he’s your guy in the first if you can get him.
Round 1 – LOW RISK – DeAndre Hopkins – ADP 1.04
On the opposite end of the risk spectrum is wide receiver, DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins has constantly produced in the upper echelon of fantasy football wide receivers, with a variety of quarterbacks throwing him the ball. He’s been going as the WR1 or WR2 overall in most drafts since last year, and his consistency is a big part of that. You just know that when you draft Hopkins, you’ll be getting a steady number of points that you can build your team around. You just can’t miss with a guy like that.
Round 2 – HIGH RISK – Todd Gurley – ADP 2.04
In the second round, there are a couple of players that are riskier, but none are as risky as RB Todd Gurley. Similar to Elliott, Gurley has a potential to get injured early and miss a lot of time, or he could show signs of 2017 Gurley and end up as the number one RB in all of fantasy. Unlike Elliott, however, all of Gurley’s risk is injury based. This is slightly better than off-the-field issues in that every player has some injury risk, and there are things teams can do to try to mitigate and manage that kind of risk. Nonetheless, if you draft Gurley, be prepared to draft a handcuff or two, just in case his knee falls apart after all.
Round 2 – LOW RISK – Mike Evans – ADP 2.08
Another receiver comes in as the least risky option for me in the second round: WR Mike Evans. Evans is quietly one of the best receivers in the game, going for at least 1,000 yards in all five years that he’s been in the league. He’s only missed a handful of games too, so you know he’ll be there for you, which is vital in PPR leagues where receivers tend to get a bump or in leagues where you need to start three WRs. Evans just does it all, and now that Bruce Arians is taking over that offense it’s entirely possible that we are talking about Evans as a top-five overall pick next year. Draft with confidence.
Round 3 – HIGH RISK – Melvin Gordon – ADP 3.10
I know, another obvious one, but as of the time this article is being written, we still don’t know whether or not RB Melvin Gordon will play this year or not. Rumors are that he could miss up to eight games before being “forced” back to the team to count it as a service year, but that doesn’t really help much when you’re drafting a guy to be an every-week starter for you. If Gordon plays, however, you could be getting a steal in your draft by taking him this late. As recently as July, Gordon was a top-five RB in ADP, but since then his draft position has fallen, and it’s hard to know if it’ll level off any time soon.
Round 3 – LOW RISK – Devonta Freeman – ADP 3.04
Finally, a running back makes the low-risk team in RB Devonta Freeman. Yes, he has injury concerns, and yes, that’s definitely a risk, but at this stage, those risks are outweighed by his reward. Similar to what I said for Gurley, Freeman’s risk is injury-related, which is easier to manage and mitigate, and in Freeman’s case, the handcuff options aren’t nearly as attractive. Add to that the fact that the Atlanta Falcons play 13 of their 16 regular-season games in domes, so weather will be less of an issue, which should help him avoid injuries more.
Lastly, the Falcons have a prolific air attack and should be scoring a lot of points in general, meaning we could see Freeman in a lot of situations where they need to run out the clock to win the game. All of that makes Freeman look very stable in the third round as your RB1 or RB2.
Round 4 – HIGH RISK – Derrick Henry – ADP 4.06
Our fourth and final addition to the high-risk team is RB Derrick Henry. For PPR purposes he’s going at 4.06 as the 22nd RB off the board. He had a stretch of amazing games to finish the season last year, but he also had a much longer stretch of disappointing games ahead of them. Henry could be a top 10 RB if used properly, but it’s anyone’s guess how he’ll be used this year with a new HC, a struggling passing game, and even uncertainty at who will be taking snaps under center. All of this makes Henry someone I’m avoiding unless I want to add some risk to my team.
Round 4 – LOW RISK – Stefon Diggs – ADP 4.01
It feels odd seeing WR Stefon Diggs go in the fourth round according to ADP as his talent is clearly better than that to most people. Diggs and teammate WR Adam Thielen split the title for WR1 on their own team, but behind them and veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph, there aren’t many options for quarterback Kirk Cousins to find. This leaves Diggs as one of the least risky options in all of fantasy, let alone in the fourth round. Drafting Diggs is like drafting your security blanket: you know it’ll always be there for you. As a starting WR on your team, you shouldn’t have to worry about matchups or previous injuries, making him a great choice if he falls to you this late.
1. Ezekiel Elliott
2. Todd Gurley
3. Melvin Gordon
4. Derrick Henry
1. DeAndre Hopkins
2. Mike Evans
3. Devonta Freeman
4. Stefon Diggs
Whether you use this list to target all of the high-risk players in a high stakes league or to target all of the low-risk options in your home league, another option would be to target a mix of risky players and steady producers. You don’t want to have a boring team with no flash, but you also don’t want to have a team that makes you pull your hair out week in and week out.
Look at how risky each player you’re drafting is, and use their risk profile as a way to help break a tie between two targets down the road. If you’ve added some high-risk players in the first three rounds, look for low-risk players in the middle rounds. Try to find a balance and you’ll have the most fun with the best chance to win your fantasy football league.
Hit us up on Twitter @PFN365 with your thoughts on who you think will be the riskiest options for the 2019 season. Also, continue to visit the Pro Football Network for NFL news and in-depth analysis while also visiting our new Fantasy Football section.
Andrew Hall is a writer for PFN covering Fantasy Football. You can follow him @AndrewHallFF on Twitter.