Although finding players with league-winning upside is an essential part of a successful fantasy draft, avoiding those who have dismal seasons is equally important. The best drafters will mix in some upside picks with several players who have a high floor due to their age, skills and expected role.
Let’s take a look at the safest picks in each round of 2023 Yahoo drafts, with an acknowledgment that I included running backs whenever possible due to the annual struggle to find safe picks at a position that is inherently full of risk.
Round 1: Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns
I wanted to put Justin Jefferson in this spot, but that advice will only help those who nab the 1.01 draft slot. In a 2023 RB landscape that is full of potholes, Chubb is arguably the safest option. The 27-year-old is experienced but not yet old for the position, and he is one of the few ball carriers who has virtually no competition for touches in his team’s backfield. Chubb lacks a high ceiling due to his lack of passing game involvement, but he is the betting favorite to lead the NFL in rushing yards and will also be heavily used in the red zone.
Round 2: A.J. Brown, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
The Round 2 receivers offer terrific safety, with Brown as perhaps the safest of the bunch. The 26-year-old exceeded the 1,000-yard mark in three of his initial four seasons, with his best campaign coming in 2022 during his first year with the Eagles. Brown is the top target in an ultra-productive offense that has enough weapons to keep defenses honest.
Round 3: Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills
Due to his incredible combination of throwing and rushing prowess, Allen has arguably become the most reliable fantasy QB. Over the past three seasons, the sixth-year pro has averaged 4,411 yards and 36 TDs through the air, and 649 yards and seven scores on the ground. The 27-year-old could lead an even better offense this year if RB James Cook delivers on breakout expectations and first-round TE Dalton Kincaid hits the ground running.
Round 4: Mark Andrews, TE, Baltimore Ravens
Aside from scrambling, Ravens QB Lamar Jackson likes nothing more than directing passes to his star tight end. The Ravens have added weapons for their passing attack in wide receivers Zay Flowers and Odell Beckham Jr., but the negative impact of having more passes directed to other targets should be offset by having more passing plays overall. Having averaged over 50 yards per game in each of his past four seasons, Andrews has a high floor to go along with the ceiling he showed when producing 1,361 yards in 2021.
Round 5: Dameon Pierce, RB, Houston Texans
Pierce lacks the upside to be an exciting draft option. After all, it’s hard to envision the Texans having a high-scoring offense this year. But Pierce is undoubtedly going to have a heavy workload, which is something that can be said about few RBs at this point in the draft. Barring injury, the 23-year-old should easily top the 1,000-yard mark and get most of the goal-line work.
Round 6: DJ Moore, WR, Chicago Bears
After acquiring Moore in a trade that involved the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Bears are surely going to call the 26-year-old’s number often this season. In a worst-case scenario, Justin Fields proves that he lacks high-end passing ability, at which point Moore will be in a similar situation to his five years in Carolina, where he still averaged over 1,000 yards per season. And in a best-case scenario, Moore enjoys a career year after instantly establishing chemistry with Fields.
Round 7: Dalvin Cook, RB, New York Jets
Safety is a scarce commodity in Round 7, which led me to choose someone who has been on his current team for just a few weeks. Simply put, the Jets didn’t guarantee Cook $7 million (with $1.6 million more in incentives) to sit on the bench. And I guarantee that QB Aaron Rodgers had a hand in Cook’s signing after watching him succeed in NFC North contests for six seasons. Although Cook will share carries with Breece Hall, he is the healthier of the two backs and is more likely to be involved in the passing game.
Round 8: Pat Freiermuth, TE, Pittsburgh Steelers
I’m cheating on this pick, as Freiermuth currently comes off the board with the final pick on Round 7, but I don’t like the safety of anyone in Round 8. The third-year pro nearly reached 100 targets last year in a Pittsburgh offense that added little weaponry in the offseason and could take a step forward as QB Kenny Pickett continues to develop.
Round 9: Diontae Johnson, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Forget the fact that Johnson failed to catch a touchdown last season. That widely discussed statistic was an anomaly that will be corrected this year. With 281 catches over the past three seasons, Johnson is a reliable target hog who should score at least five times this year en route to being a low-end WR2. And as was mentioned with Freiermuth, at least one Pittsburgh weapon could have a career year if Kenny Pickett takes a step forward.
Round 10: Daniel Jones, QB, New York Giants
Jones is the safest option among a 10-pack of Round 10 picks that include three kickers and several position players who have unstable roles or brief track records. Due to his rushing prowess (708 yards, seven TDs in 2022), Jones has a high floor. And with a meager career-high of 3,205 passing yards, the 26-year-old has plenty of room to take his fantasy production to a higher level.