Balancing Safety With Upside in Fantasy Football: Featuring Darius Slayton, Marvin Jones, and More

Darius Slayton

The fantasy football adage to remember each season is, “You can’t win your fantasy draft in the early rounds, but you certainly can lose it.” It is important to prioritize safety in the early rounds of seasonal drafts. This is where the overwhelming majority of your weekly points will be scored. Busting on a first or second-round draft pick is a death sentence for a fantasy football championship. Taking risks in later rounds, though, can help win it all. Here we will go over why that’s the case, and some good players to draft in that range–including Darius Slayton, Marvin Jones, and others.

Safety With Upside Wins in Fantasy Football: Featuring Darius Slayton, Marvin Jones, and More

Here are the biggest fantasy busts over the past five seasons:

Player Year ADP Finish Reason
Eddie Lacy 2015 RB2 RB26 Slow start caused by weight
C.J. Anderson 2015 RB10 RB30 Limited production
Andrew Luck 2015 QB1 QB28 Battled injuries behind poor OL
Marshawn Lynch 2015 RB5 RB55 Injuries
Todd Gurley 2016 RB2 RB19 Less production despite more volume
DeAndre Hopkins 2016 WR5 WR38 QBs Tom Savage & Brock Osweiler
Allen Robinson 2016 WR6 WR29 QB Blake Bortles, poor team
Brandon Marshall 2016 WR10 WR53 Fitzpatrick & Jets disappointed
Mike Evans 2017 WR4 WR20 Only 1 game > 100; 4 total touchdowns
Odell Beckham 2017 WR3 WR82 Fractured ankle after 4 games
David Johnson 2017 RB2 RB120 Hurt in first game of the season
Jordy Nelson 2017 WR5 WR50 53 recs, 482 yards, 6 TDs; A. Rodgers missed 9 games
Amari Cooper 2017 WR7 WR31 48 recs, 680 yards, 7 TDs in 14 full games
Le’Veon Bell 2018 RB1 DNP Held out entire season
Leonard Fournette 2018 RB7 RB37 Injuries; Played 8 games; No 100-yard rushing performances
Devonta Freeman 2018 RB12 RB107 Missed all but 2 games with injuries
David Johnson 2019 RB5 RB37 Poor performance, injuries
Damien Williams 2019 RB14 RB34 Poor performance, injuries
Odell Beckham 2019 WR5 WR31 Poor individual and team performance
JuJu Smith-Schuster 2019 WR6 WR66 Poor performance


Overcoming those selections proved to be almost impossible given the performance differential ceded to other players. Taking risky players with early-round redraft picks can lead to a rough fantasy season. However, in the mid to late-round selections, risking volatility for upside is the path to win a fantasy title.

Fantasy football expert Scott Barrett outlined this concept beautifully in a recent article for FantasyPoints. He explains that just like in the stock market, low-risk/high-reward stocks are the most valuable commodity. If you are trying a field of (normally) 11 other players, you need to distinguish your roster in order to gain an advantage. Drafting safe players late is a conservative and losing play.

Using current Best Ball ADP data, here are my favorite mid to late-round players that could win you a 2020 fantasy football championship.

(All statistics from PlayerProfiler).


Player:  Michael Pittman (WR)
Team:  Indianapolis Colts
Rationale:  The Colts have a new quarterback in Philip Rivers and a lot of new faces on offense. The 6-foot-4, 223 lb wideout brings a 111.2 (93rd percentile) Speed Score coupled with a 10.24 (89th percentile) Catch Radius. These are essential workout metrics when your quarterback is 38-years old with declining arm strength. Pittman is already listed as a starter opposite T.Y. Hilton and his early second-round draft capital should solidify his early-season opportunities. Head coach Frank Reich believes Pittman could be the best receiver in the 2020 NFL Draft:

Lead wide receiver T.Y. Hilton is now on the wrong side of 30-years old and has missed eight games the past two seasons with injuries. Former tight end Eric Ebron is now with the Pittsburgh Steelers vacating 4.7 targets per game, and both Parris Campbell (24 receptions) and Zach Pascal provide minimal obstacles to a Pittman ascension. Indianapolis is clearly a run-first team as evidenced by the fifth-lowest passing percentage (53.6%) of all NFL teams in 2019. However, if Pittman does ascend to the WR2 role, his opportunities will be large enough to make a significant redraft fantasy football impact.


Player:  Darius Slayton (WR)
Team:  New York Giants
Rationale: The Giants poor defense should provide ample fantasy opportunities for all offensive players. Quarterback Daniel Jones showed instant chemistry with fellow rookie wide receiver Darius Slayton. On just a 79.4% Snap Share, the speedy wideout finished Top 20 among all wideouts in Deep Targets, Yards Per Reception, and Fantasy Points Per Target. His 10.32 (95th percentile) Catch Radius and 87th percentile hand size make him a consistent field stretcher the Giants offense.

Darius Slayton produced three Top 12 WR fantasy performances including the overall WR2 and WR3 performances in Weeks 10 (New York Jets) and 14 (at Philadelphia Eagles) respectively. In many ways, Slayton’s contributions were overshadowed by other rookies, suppressing his current ADP.

Darius Slayton will be available outside the Top 36 WRs in redraft leagues, and he has the upside to finish as an overall WR2 or possibly better. Fellow wide receivers Golden Tate and Sterling Shepard prefer operating in the short to intermediate areas of the field, leaving Slayton for the big play targets down the field. His athleticism combined with the Giants need for offensive production makes Slayton a massive upside target in seasonal leagues.


Player: Derrius Guice (RB)
Team:  Washington Redskins
Rationale: Robust RB drafting is coming back en vogue, but if you pick at the back end of Round One, you may find better value in a WR/WR start. This will lead you scrambling for a mid-tier running back with Top 12 potential. Look no further than Washington’s Derrius Guice.

I never subscribe to the “if he can only stay healthy” caveat. Injuries to running backs happen every year, and spending a Round 6 or 7 pick on Guice is a low-risk proposition. In 42 carries last season, Guice averaged a robust 5.8 yards per carry along with seven receptions for 79 yards, producing three total touchdowns.  He is being selected near running backs that are relegated to a time-share situation like Marlon Mack, Ronald Jones, Damien Williams, and Matt Breida.

Guice suffered a torn ACL in his left knee prior to the 2018 season, and then had surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his right knee last season. While frustrating to fantasy owners, this does not appear to be a degenerative knee condition like Todd Gurley. Still just 23 years old, Guice’s 4.49 40-Yard Dash speed at 224 lbs translates to a 110.2 (91st percentile) Speed Score. In just a five-game sample size last season, he proved elusive (34.2% Juke Rate) and efficient with 3.33 Yards Created Per Touch (second among all running backs). Here is a sample of what Guice did on the field just six months ago:


With only 35-year old Adrian Peterson and third-round rookie Antonio Gibson (33 rushing attempts last season) as the main competition, Washington will give Guice every opportunity to earn the majority of backfield touches. He represents the exact type of risk/reward balance that wins fantasy football championships.


Player: Marvin Jones (WR)
Team:  Detroit Lions
Rationale: Recency bias provides a great buying opportunity for Detroit’s veteran wide receiver Marvin Jones. The 30-year old wideout missed the last three games of the 2019 season with an ankle sprain after contending with poor quarterback play after Matthew Stafford missed the final eight games with a back injury. When Stafford was healthy, Jones consistently produced at a WR2 level last season.

The suppressed ADP provides a perfect opportunity to grab a mid-round wideout with high-WR2 potential. Currently, Jones is being drafted after unproved rookies CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy, as after older veterans in worse offenses such as Julian Edelman. When he is healthy, Jones is a solid WR2 that is being drafted well outside the Top 36 pass catchers, much like Darius Slayton.


Player: Chris Thompson (RB)
Team:  Jacksonville Jaguars
Rationale: It doesn’t get much cheaper than new Jacksonville running back Chris Thompson, who will likely be available with your last pick in seasonal leagues. He is reunited with offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and could be the beneficiary of continual contract issues between lead running back Leonard Fournette and Jaguars management. Jacksonville declined Fournette’s fifth-year option valued at $8.4 million, and then openly discussed trading Fournette in April. If Fournette was cut, Thompson would compete with Devine Ozigbo and Ryquell Armstead for backfield touches on a team that projects for several negative game scripts.


While only tallying a 47.8% Snap Share behind Adrien Peterson and Guice last season, Thompson still finished Top 20 in receptions among all running backs. Over the past two seasons, Thompson has averaged at least four receptions in every game played.

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