Do you remember the term "safety school"? While deliberating on how you wanted to spend your post-high school educational life, it was the one college/trade school/certification program you knew you could get accepted into if you applied, even if it wasn't your ideal choice—a safety net, of sorts. A similar concept applies to fantasy sports.
I broke out the idea of “safety school” players over on Sports Illustrated earlier this year for fantasy baseball, but it can apply to the football world as well. Who is the lowest-ranked player that you'd be willing to begin the season with as a starter? That's your "safety school" player.
Let’s go position-by-position to determine that player, assuming your roster consists of one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight end, and one flex in a 12-team PPR league. Players must have an ADP outside of the top 12 QBs/TEs and top 30 RBs/WRs to qualify.
Quarterback: Kirk Cousins (ADP: QB24; TDN Rank: QB16)
Far from a sexy name that has fantasy managers clamoring to draft him, Cousins has been a very solid value over the last couple of seasons. He’s finished as a top-13 fantasy QB in both 2018 and 2019 and should see a slight boost in passing volume this season compared to last with former offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski in Cleveland as the Browns’ new head coach. Cousins should be north of 500 pass attempts again, which means he’ll be pushing 4,000 yards and will continue to be in the 25-30 touchdown range. Taking potential league-wide injuries into account, Cousins is currently projected to finish with the 13th-most total fantasy points among all quarterbacks in The Eisner Board projections. If your league gets QB-happy and you find yourself loading up at the skill positions, Cousins is a great fallback option.
Running Back: Matt Breida (ADP: RB42; TDN Rank: RB30)
Keep in mind this is a “safety school” player for your RB2 spot. While I don’t advocate for fantasy managers to take too many chances with running backs this season, drafts can be unpredictable. Depending on your draft slot, you may be forced to go WR-WR early on if you don’t want to reach for a player during an early run on running backs. In that or a similar scenario (maybe you took a top QB or TE), Breida is an unproven but high-upside option as a safety net. One of the fastest players in the NFL, Breida will assume passing-down duties for the Miami Dolphins this season with Jordan Howard getting the early-down and goal-to-go work. The pass-catching role could prove to be a large one, especially when Miami is down in the second half of games. Patrick Laird, a player who isn’t nearly as talented as Breida, found his way into the top 40 running backs over the final month of the season in a similar role.
Wide Receiver: Jamison Crowder (ADP: WR41; TDN Rank: WR30)
Keep in mind this is a “safety school” player for your WR2 spot. Often forgotten about despite playing in New York, Crowder is a tailor-made PPR wide receiver. He gets a high volume of targets in the slot and piles up catches. His low ADP landed him on my sleepers list. In the 13 games Crowder played with Sam Darnold last season, he received 108 targets, good for a 24.5% target share. There’s little reason to expect that to change in 2020. The addition of Denzel Mims and the Breshad Perriman for Robby Anderson free agency swap shouldn’t change the look of the Jets’ offense much. When things get hairy, Darnold looks to Crowder. Style points don’t matter, fantasy points do.
Tight End: Blake Jarwin (ADP: TE20; TDN Rank: TE14)
Outside of the top five tight ends, it’s really a crapshoot. Does Player X stay healthy? Will Player Y’s role be any different on a new team? Will Player Z be as good as he was late last season and/or the last time we saw him on the football field prior to retiring? There are so many question marks that it’s easy to find yourself filling out your top bench spots before taking a tight end. But, you have to take one eventually and when the top options are gone, I love the opportunity Jarwin has to succeed. Former Dallas Cowboys starter Jason Witten now plays for the Las Vegas Raiders and Jarwin now assumes the TE1 role. In Witten’s three years with Dak Prescott, he averaged 88.3 targets per season. That workload might be tough to reach, but even around 80 targets will put Jarwin in TE1 contention.