Commentary

The Safety Dance: A look at who's consistent

Updated: June 19, 2008, 3:28 PM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com

I'm sure you know the feeling: It's your turn to make a selection in your fantasy football draft, and you just can't make up your mind. Do you take a chance with a guy coming back from an offseason surgery, or do you play it safe by going with a player with less upside but a better track record of being healthy come Week 17? Do you take a flier on the rookie with both star potential and bust potential, or do you go with the unflashy veteran who can be expected to perform exactly as he has every year for the past decade, but no betrer than that?

Decisions, decisions.

Fantasy football is a week-to-week affair. In order to be successful, you must have your best lineup performing at its utmost level each and every week of the season. Now let's say you are deciding which running back to draft with the second overall pick. You are debating between Adrian Peterson and Brian Westbrook. Looking at the numbers from last season, you obviously have a tough decision on your hands. Peterson rushed for eight more yards despite 40 fewer attempts and scored 13 touchdowns to Westbrook's 12 (even though Westbrook could have had another had he not intentionally gone down on the 1-yard line in Week 15 against Dallas). However, Westbrook caught a staggering 90 balls for 771 yards last season and is clearly the better pass-catcher. Fans of Adrian Peterson could point out that Peterson put up those numbers despite missing two games because of a knee injury, and would add that he could reel off a 300-yard rushing game -- and almost win a fantasy game all by himself -- in any given week.

Then again, Westbrook has the better track record of success. Peterson carries more risk because of (a) the possibility of injuries (it was his right knee last season, and his collarbone previously); and (b) the volatility of his output. Sure, Peterson racked up fine season-ending totals despite missing two games, but more than one-third of his fantasy points were accumulated in just two games. That makes Westbrook, who pretty much gave you the same double-digit scoring output nearly every week in 2007, the safer week-to-week option.

Now, I'm not telling you to pass on Peterson. I've picked him myself in several leagues already. What I am telling you is that Westbrook is the safer pick. But "playing it safe" and "winning it all" are not the same thing. In fact, they're often complete opposites. By the same token, however, if you fill your roster with nothing but risky selections, there's a far greater likelihood that you'll end up getting burned. The best strategy is to have a balanced roster, with an equal number of risky players with tons of upside mixed in with dependable, steady performers who will give you exactly what you expect from them. And that's where my "Safety Rating" comes into play.

What I did was take the Top 300 fantasy scorers from the 2007 season, using a scoring system that weighs each different position's contributions equally. I then used a formula which combined each player's durability (injury risk), opportunity (starter vs. backup) and consistency (standard deviation over each week from his personal average output) and came up with a single value called the Safety Rating. Any player not in the Top 300, or any newly drafted rookie, is to be considered a risky pick. Players such as Brett Favre and Vinny Testaverde were left on the list so that you could see where they would have fallen had they not retired, but obviously drafting them is not recommended.

I have broken down my master list by position, including each player's scoring rank from last season. Again, this list is not telling you that Jay Cutler (61.99) is a better pick than Donovan McNabb (50.10). It is definitely not saying that Samkon Gado (18.22) is a better pick than Ronnie Brown (9.80). After all, a back can be incredibly consistent at giving you bubkes. What the list is trying to impart to you is that if you do draft McNabb and Brown, you'd better hedge those bets and make some safer selections with your next couple of picks. Feel free to take a chance on Laveranues Coles (27.65) and Marvin Harrison (unrated), if you like. Just be aware that you are in fact taking a chance by selecting them.

At the same time, if you are fortunate enough to draft a Tom Brady or a Peyton Manning, then you can feel pretty secure that you don't have to rush to select a backup quarterback. Both of these signal-callers have proved they can last throughout an entire schedule of games and perform at a consistently high level. Obviously you do want to eventually select a backup, but given the safety net you've provided your team via Brady or Manning, you can afford to do so a little bit later than originally anticipated.

Quarterbacks Safety Rating (2007)
Quarterback Safety Rating Points rank
Tom Brady 128.32 1
Peyton Manning 104.27 5
Tony Romo 95.20 4
Matt Hasselbeck 91.40 11
Ben Roethlisberger 86.01 8
Derek Anderson 84.66 10
Drew Brees 81.19 7
Brett Favre 69.95 9
Jon Kitna 68.32 37
Carson Palmer 67.54 12
Jay Cutler 61.99 26
Kurt Warner 56.41 18
David Garrard 56.36 49
Eli Manning 53.78 38
Philip Rivers 52.17 50
Jeff Garcia 50.46 96
Donovan McNabb 50.10 27
Jason Campbell 39.78 107
Vince Young 36.47 98
Joey Harrington 28.58 169
Damon Huard 28.41 148
Kyle Boller 27.69 194
Sage Rosenfels 27.34 134
Tarvaris Jackson 27.19 137
Marc Bulger 26.78 141
Chad Pennington 26.34 157
Matt Schaub 24.43 158
Cleo Lemon 24.16 154
J.P. Losman 23.20 248
Rex Grossman 22.49 262
Brodie Croyle 21.44 249
Brian Griese 21.43 179
Trent Edwards 20.95 207
Josh McCown 20.53 216
Vinny Testaverde 18.74 278
Trent Green 17.85 252
Trent Dilfer 15.93 258
Kellen Clemens 15.50 236
Daunte Culpepper 14.70 211
Steve McNair 14.36 300
Todd Collins 11.94 250
Shaun Hill 11.75 279
Quinn Gray 11.64 226
Luke McCown 10.56 239
Jake Delhomme 4.80 240
Gus Frerotte 3.59 273
Chris Redman 2.42 213

Running Backs Safety Rating (2007)
Running back Safety Rating Points rank
LaDainian Tomlinson 98.48 2
Brian Westbrook 95.17 3
Clinton Portis 85.19 13
Edgerrin James 75.93 42
Willis McGahee 73.62 36
Joseph Addai 73.52 14
Willie Parker 65.12 70
Thomas Jones 60.96 85
Jamal Lewis 56.42 17
Marshawn Lynch 56.28 54
Fred Taylor 55.55 104
LenDale White 55.52 79
Marion Barber 54.93 47
Frank Gore 54.87 34
Maurice Jones-Drew 54.32 67
Earnest Graham 51.42 45
Reggie Bush 51.23 64
Steven Jackson 45.44 58
Kenny Watson 41.50 74
DeShaun Foster 41.31 127
Warrick Dunn 41.23 123
Julius Jones 39.80 206
Adrian Peterson 39.55 22
Shaun Alexander 39.14 146
Cedric Benson 38.81 163
Justin Fargas 38.76 108
Adrian Peterson 38.71 128
Laurence Maroney 38.01 130
Ryan Grant 37.92 93
Brandon Jacobs 37.59 90
DeAngelo Williams 36.15 143
Kevin Jones 36.04 125
Ron Dayne 35.69 131
Maurice Morris 35.63 152
Kevin Faulk 33.15 224
Jerious Norwood 32.86 215
Selvin Young 32.84 165
Chris Brown 32.08 219
Travis Henry 31.21 172
Ladell Betts 30.87 268
Leonard Weaver 30.47 282
Chester Taylor 30.44 110
Musa Smith 28.79 274
Jesse Chatman 27.88 210
Michael Pittman 27.06 269
Brian Leonard 26.85 255
Correll Buckhalter 26.68 261
Reuben Droughns 26.05 247
Leon Washington 25.25 204
Derrick Ward 25.24 160
Rudi Johnson 24.61 196
LaMont Jordan 24.36 161
Pierre Thomas 24.04 241
Larry Johnson 23.22 142
Lorenzo Booker 23.14 286
Jason Wright 22.37 270
Ahman Green 21.77 263
Brandon Jackson 21.61 292
Fred Jackson 21.24 257
Aaron Stecker 20.14 185
DeShawn Wynn 19.55 271
Najeh Davenport 19.15 181
T.J. Duckett 18.39 272
Samkon Gado 18.22 264
Dominic Rhodes 17.72 289
Kenton Keith 16.14 217
Darius Walker 15.73 265
Kolby Smith 13.63 222
Ronnie Brown 9.80 103
Darren Sproles 8.99 297
Sammy Morris 8.59 243

Wide Receivers Safety Rating (2007)
Wide receiver Safety Rating Points rank
Randy Moss 86.42 6
Reggie Wayne 78.58 15
T.J. Houshmandzadeh 76.57 19
Brandon Marshall 73.22 33
Torry Holt 72.37 53
Braylon Edwards 71.82 20
Derrick Mason 69.24 76
Bobby Engram 64.84 62
Larry Fitzgerald 60.31 24
Greg Jennings 59.29 77
Terrell Owens 58.47 16
Marques Colston 57.24 35
Wes Welker 56.72 30
Donald Driver 53.85 113
Chad Johnson 51.84 28
Roddy White 50.26 72
Shaun McDonald 50.15 114
Bernard Berrian 50.03 119
Chris Chambers 48.78 132
Jerricho Cotchery 48.54 105
Dwayne Bowe 47.94 109
Jerry Porter 42.86 175
Joey Galloway 42.39 117
Josh Reed 42.18 228
Plaxico Burress 41.86 65
Brandon Stokley 41.33 186
Calvin Johnson 40.12 159
Reggie Brown 39.63 155
Mike Furrey 39.35 187
Arnaz Battle 39.26 193
Nate Burleson 39.22 133
Santonio Holmes 38.51 116
Joe Jurevicius 38.12 208
Dennis Northcutt 38.03 200
Steve Smith 37.30 75
Kevin Walter 37.07 140
Amani Toomer 36.84 168
Reggie Williams 36.43 156
Hines Ward 36.28 118
James Jones 35.95 212
Isaac Bruce 35.85 164
Antwaan Randle El 35.32 192
Darrell Jackson 35.15 229
Ike Hilliard 35.01 197
Ronald Curry 34.43 171
Bobby Wade 34.03 201
Vincent Jackson 33.53 218
Roydell Williams 33.35 177
Justin Gage 32.85 183
Bryant Johnson 32.39 238
Roy Williams 32.15 126
Marty Booker 32.12 235
Santana Moss 31.96 153
Devery Henderson 31.81 266
Kevin Curtis 31.59 81
Muhsin Muhammad 31.29 227
Brad Smith 31.09 281
Ernest Wilford 30.83 232
Drew Bennett 30.76 253
Roscoe Parrish 30.64 260
Donte' Stallworth 30.16 202
Mark Clayton 29.21 244
Andre Johnson 28.47 102
Ted Ginn Jr. 28.43 254
Lee Evans 28.41 147
Deion Branch 28.34 174
Andre Davis 28.31 203
Robert Ferguson 28.15 291
David Patten 27.66 178
Laveranues Coles 27.65 149
Lance Moore 26.44 287
Matt Jones 26.13 275
Nate Washington 25.76 233
Derek Hagan 25.66 284
Devin Hester 25.36 230
Brandon Jones 24.20 295
Drew Carter 24.11 234
Patrick Crayton 23.69 145
Michael Jenkins 22.41 205
Anquan Boldin 22.26 95
Sidney Rice 21.10 242
Laurent Robinson 20.53 277
Devard Darling 20.45 293
Chris Henry 19.20 288
Jabar Gaffney 19.15 225
Anthony Gonzalez 16.70 221
Jerheme Urban 13.01 290
D.J. Hackett 12.01 237

Tight Ends Safety Rating (2007)
Tight end Safety Rating Points rank
Kellen Winslow 59.67 87
Jason Witten 58.23 63
Tony Gonzalez 56.50 61
Chris Cooley 46.83 120
Owen Daniels 46.30 166
Antonio Gates 45.03 83
Donald Lee 41.12 190
Heath Miller 37.96 182
Chris Baker 36.54 245
Dallas Clark 35.75 122
Desmond Clark 34.65 214
Randy McMichael 33.29 251
Vernon Davis 32.99 209
Bo Scaife 31.95 280
Eric Johnson 31.78 259
Marcedes Lewis 31.27 267
Jeremy Shockey 30.63 188
Ben Utecht 30.51 298
Billy Miller 29.82 296
Alge Crumpler 29.70 220
Zach Miller 29.51 246
Greg Olsen 26.57 256
Jeff King 26.52 283
Tony Scheffler 25.76 195
Alex Smith 25.01 276
Leonard Pope 23.65 285
Benjamin Watson 20.89 231
Jerramy Stevens 17.49 299

Kickers Safety Rating (2007)
Kicker Safety Rating Points rank
Stephen Gostkowski 86.03 31
Nick Folk 77.31 32
Mason Crosby 71.90 23
Shayne Graham 69.30 51
Robbie Gould 67.86 43
David Akers 65.90 97
Lawrence Tynes 65.29 84
Matt Bryant 64.22 68
Adam Vinatieri 63.38 91
Jason Elam 62.97 66
Phil Dawson 62.51 56
Rob Bironas 62.43 29
Josh Brown 61.97 39
Jeff Reed 59.18 73
Jason Hanson 57.97 40
Nate Kaeding 57.75 60
Ryan Longwell 57.32 71
Kris Brown 56.51 57
Shaun Suisham 55.27 69
Neil Rackers 55.26 78
John Kasay 55.10 99
Jay Feely 49.61 115
Sebastian Janikowski 46.37 82
Jeff Wilkins 45.98 106
Mike Nugent 45.94 100
Morten Andersen 45.19 111
Matt Stover 42.91 92
Joe Nedney 42.88 139
Rian Lindell 42.86 112
John Carney 39.12 191
Olindo Mare 38.55 167
Dave Rayner 28.21 199
Josh Scobee 20.78 180
Martin Gramatica 11.74 294

Team Defense Safety Rating (2007)
Defense Safety Rating Points rank
New England Patriots 66.12 21
Indianapolis Colts 63.74 48
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 62.49 44
San Diego Chargers 54.02 25
Green Bay Packers 51.39 88
Tennessee Titans 46.74 46
Dallas Cowboys 44.35 52
Pittsburgh Steelers 43.20 41
Jacksonville Jaguars 42.73 86
Arizona Cardinals 41.39 101
Chicago Bears 40.57 89
Kansas City Chiefs 40.44 124
Philadelphia Eagles 40.23 121
San Francisco 49ers 37.37 176
Baltimore Ravens 36.01 129
Seattle Seahawks 34.55 55
Minnesota Vikings 33.97 80
New Orleans Saints 33.78 144
Oakland Raiders 33.43 198
New York Giants 31.66 59
Washington Redskins 30.24 94
St. Louis Rams 29.82 173
Miami Dolphins 26.10 184
Houston Texans 23.94 162
New York Jets 22.10 150
Cleveland Browns 21.06 170
Atlanta Falcons 20.88 223
Cincinnati Bengals 19.11 138
Carolina Panthers 16.26 135
Denver Broncos 13.49 136
Buffalo Bills 4.46 189
Detroit Lions 3.02 151

AJ Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.

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