The quest for "upside" can lure even the most experienced fantasy football owner into making costly mistakes at the draft table.
Everyone wants to be the first to discover the next big star, but adding balance to your roster is every bit as important. Chasing profit is fine -- it's the big paydays that often make the difference between league champion and runner-up -- but without reliable (if a tad unexciting) players to keep you in every weekly matchup, you might struggle to win enough games to get there in the first place.
Players who fit the description of "steady" performers aren't merely those who grade well in terms of consistency metrics, such as those found in my Consistency Ratings. Those measures do generally identify the game's most reliable players, but role changes and injuries have an impact, so each player's entire profile should be considered.
Each steady performer includes "Tristan's ADP take," listing the player's ADP in ESPN leagues as of July 24, as well as my opinion on how worthy the pick is at that spot.
Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons: Since taking over as the Falcons' starting running back in Week 3 of 2015, he has scored the second-most non-PPR (456.9) and PPR (576.9) fantasy points. Freeman's path to getting there, however, reveals the kind of consistent approach that made him an underappreciated yet reliable weekly RB1 last season. Only six times in his 29 career starts has he posted a PPR score in single digits (with only three of those beneath eight points), and only four of Freeman's non-PPR games have resulted in fewer than five fantasy points. His receiving ability, which fueled the third-best target total among running backs during that same time span, makes him one of the position's most reliable weekly plays despite the presence of Tevin Coleman.
Tristan's ADP take: 10th overall (10.6 average) is a completely fair spot to select Freeman, as he's absolutely first-round material.
Pierre Garcon, WR, San Francisco 49ers: This one is speculating ahead more than it is drawing upon last season, though in Garcon's defense, he was consistently closest to his fantasy points-per-game average (7.6 in non-PPR, 41st; 12.6 in PPR, 31st) among wide receivers in 2016. He's highly likely to capture the team lead in targets in San Francisco. In fact, he could rival his numbers from 2013, when he finished as the No. 13 wide receiver in non-PPR and No. 11 in PPR fantasy points. Garcon is one of the more obvious low-ceiling, high-floor receivers on draft boards this year.
Tristan's ADP take: 64th (69.0) is about right for Garcon.
Frank Gore, RB, Indianapolis Colts: He's now 34 years old and is coming off consecutive years with a yard-per-carry average below 4.00, but a look at the Colts' running back depth chart shows a remarkable lack of competition for Gore's carries. He has managed at least 15 carries in 20 of his 32 games since joining the Colts after the 2014 season, and is the only running back in football to have started all 32 games over the past two seasons. Despite his so-so rushing rates, he finished 10th in non-PPR and ninth in PPR fantasy scoring at his position during that two-year span. When it comes to Gore, the perception is that (mostly due to age) he's a low-ceiling, low-floor performer. The truth is that he's actually one of the higher-floor players at his position.
Tristan's ADP take: 61st (66.5), or in the middle of the flex-play tier, is just about right.
Jarvis Landry, WR, Miami Dolphins: In the past two seasons, he has finished 13th and 16th among wide receivers in non-PPR fantasy points (and eighth and 14th in PPR fantasy points) despite the fact that he scored exactly four receiving touchdowns in each of those years. That's a challenging feat to accomplish -- only five other receivers this century have scored at least as many PPR fantasy points in a season with four or fewer receiving touchdowns -- and it shows how stable a WR2 Landry can be on a weekly basis. It also demonstrates how much profit potential he has if he's just a little bit luckier in the touchdown department in 2017.
Tristan's ADP take: 34th (36.3) is solid value for Landry, who makes a case for a third-round pick in PPR.
Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons: He's an obvious candidate for regression in 2017: Ryan put up a 69.9 percent completion rate, 7.1 percent touchdown rate and 9.3 yards-per-attempt rate last season, all of which were well above his career numbers (64.9, 4.7 and 7.4). The appeal with Ryan, however, is his consistency. From 2014-16, he managed a fantasy point total between 15 and 22 on 20 occasions, third-most among quarterbacks; 13 of those occurred in 2014-15, good for sixth-best at the position. Although he'll have a new offensive coordinator this season in Steve Sarkisian, Ryan shouldn't see much change in an offense that returns most of its primary playmakers.
Tristan's ADP take: 36th (42.3) is far too early a pick for my taste, as weekly upside rather than consistency is paramount in single-quarterback leagues. In leagues where Ryan lasts three-plus rounds longer, he'd be a welcome pick.
Delanie Walker, TE, Tennessee Titans: With many leagues moving to some variety of PPR (half- or full-point) scoring in recent years, Walker has become an increasingly handy and often underrated asset in such formats. In the past three seasons combined, he has 333 targets, 38 shy of Greg Olsen for the position lead despite playing three fewer games than Olsen. What's more, Walker has managed at least five targets in 37 of 45 games played during that time, and at least eight targets in 21 contests, showing how high his weekly statistical floor is. Though the Titans have added some weapons to their receiving corps during the offseason that could cut into Walker's target total, he's still an integral part of their game plan. Moreover, a healthy year from Marcus Mariota could result in a sizable step forward in terms of team pass attempts (504 last season, 28th in the NFL).
Tristan's ADP take: 59th (63.5) is great value for Walker, who annually seems to get overlooked.