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First Down: Luck, Lynch, Brown among fantasy's safest players to draft this season

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Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a fundamental theory in human developmental psychology. On a pyramid scale, it represents the necessary motivations (basic physiological needs, esteem, love and belongingness, etc.) we must address in order to reach self-actualization, self-transcendence and live a fulfilled life.

Deep stuff, bro.

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Of all its steps, none is more applicable to fantasy owners than safety.

From stepping on a plane to staking little Timmy’s college money in blackjack, we all take chances daily. Some risks result in reward. Others destitution.  Hey, it’s the game we play.

Fantasy football is no exception.

Every draft, every pick is a dice roll. No matter how good a situation or how long a player’s track-record may be unpredictable catastrophes – injuries, under-performance, failed drug tests, Ryan Lindley – happen.  In a violent sport loaded with variables, disappointment lurks around every corner, though more palpable at some positions compared to others. The record substantiates that viewpoint. Since 2009, the bust rate (Defined as players selected inside a position’s top-12, but failed to finish top-15), of RB1s is 43.1 percent. Meanwhile, WRs during that stretch broke hearts at a 33.3 percent clip, QBs only 23.6 percent of the time.

For the sake of your well-being and personal/financial security, here are six players typically going in the first three rounds of 12-team drafts who likely won’t let you down:

Andrew Luck, Ind, QB
Yahoo ADP: 13.7, QB1
History is already in the making for fantasy’s favorite Civil War general. The table is set. This offseason the Colts upgraded an already solid arsenal adding multi-time All-Pros Andre Johnson and Frank Gore via free agency and D-stretching Philip Dorsett in the Draft. Coupled with T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, Indy boasts one of the best receiving corps in the league. Statistically, Luck was a man amongst boys last year. As the pacesetter at QB, he chucked it 41.3 times per game completing a league-leading 78 passes for 20 or more yards and 15 passes for 40-plus. His 9.2 average depth of target ranked No. 6 among quarterbacks with at least 400 dropbacks. A king of consistency for fantasy purposes, he registered at least 21 fantasy points every game Weeks 1-13, eclipsing 32 big ones seven times. Though Gore makes the offense more balanced, his presence should help Luck achieve maximum efficiency, particularly on play-action. Overall, the three-to-four-wide sets Pep Hamilton plans to introduce, in the coach’s words, will exploit mismatches and create “chaos,” opening up clean pass lanes for the former No. 1 pick. Based on the nourishing environment, Indy's presumed weak D and given his scoring duality, it’s conceivable he combines for 50 TDs and 5,000 yards. Confidently spend a late first-round pick on his services. 

Antonio Brown, Pit, WR
ADP: 7.1, WR1
The secret to Brown’s remarkable success the past two years: He secretes pine tar naturally from his hands. That’s the only logical explanation for his supernatural production.  During that stretch Ben Roethlisberger’s go-to guy totaled 239 receptions (on 346 targets), 3,197 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns.  Last year, his peripheral numbers were equally impressive. The target ranked top-seven in drop rate, (Caught 129 of 134 catchable passes), yards per route run (2.66) and deep-ball catch percentage (48.0). Unequivocally, Brown is one of the league’s best route runners. His sharp cuts, quick sticks and rapid acceleration allow him to gain separation with ease, even when double-teamed. With the opposition having to account for Martavis Bryant and, once activated, Le’Veon Bell, he may not receive as much attention compared to previous seasons. Yes, the Steelers own the toughest fantasy schedule for wide receivers, but due to the club’s likely looseness on D, Brown should see another 170 plus targets. Bank on 100 receptions for 1,500 yards and a dozen scores.

Aaron Rodgers, GB, QB
ADP: 15.0, QB2
Rodgers might be the game’s finest quarterback, but for virtual gamers he’s 1B to Luck. Olivia Munn surely disagrees. Similar to the Colt, Rodgers is a veritable consistency king. Since overtaking some cat named Brett Favre in 2008, he’s ranked inside the QB top-five every year since. His bazooka arm, heady progressions, offensive command and shiftiness in the pocket are practically unmatched. He’s a mistake-free, first-ballot Hall of Famer in the prime of his career. Though he finished a full two fantasy points per game behind Luck, the Packer was at or near the top in QB rating, deep-ball accuracy and play-action success. His ground contributions (269-2) and insanely low interceptions thrown (5) were also appealing. Equipped with a bevy of nuclear weapons (Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams and Eddie Lacy) and operating behind the league’s stiffest offensive line in pass-blocking, per Pro Football Focus, from a season ago, he will again torment defenses en route to 4,500-plus combined yards and 39-42 total touchdowns. ‘Experts’ who continue to bypass Rodgers and Luck in the first and second rounds aren’t playing with a full deck, especially given the tremendous values (e.g. Latavius Murray, Andre Ellington and Tevin Coleman) available at RB later on.

Fantasy owners should feel the Demaryius love. (AP)
Fantasy owners should feel the Demaryius love. (AP)

Dez Bryant, Dal, WR
ADP: 9.4, WR2
Signed, sealed and delivered, Dez’s holdout threats proved hollow, as expected. With that worry dead and buried it’s time again for the Cowboy to focus on football and attempt to match, or possibly top, his stupendous production from 2014. If you think about it, what he achieved last year was nothing short of remarkable. On an ultra conservative Cowboys team (50:50 run:pass split) he brutalized defenses despite constant attention whether in the short-field or over-the-top on long passes. A prototype targets hog, he enticed 50.6 percent of WR looks from Tony Romo. Whispers from Cowboys HQ suggest Terrance Williams and slot man Cole Beasley could take a step forward in their development which could reduce Dez’s workload. Even if the complements advance, it won’t reduce the primary option’s overall value. Another 16 touchdowns are a stretch, but a final line in range close to what he tallied in 2013 (93-1233-13) feels right. Throw in Dallas’ ridiculous offensive line and the fact Bryant hasn’t missed a game over the past three years, and it’s hard to argue against the wideout’s high floor. Invest in a LeSean McCoy or DeMarco Murray over him and you might as well donate your league entry fee. 

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Demaryius Thomas, Den, WR
ADP: 13.5, WR4
Thomas, another wide receiver who helped agent Todd France secure his luxury yacht down payment, is sticking around the Mile High City for another five years after recently inking a $70 million extension. 'Steady as she goes' is DT's theme song. Over the past three years he’s averaged 99 receptions, 1,493.3 receiving yards and 11.7 touchdowns per season. His sensational skill set, favorable workload and prime age certainly play into his fantasy favor, though drops (9 in ’14) have occasionally vexed him. With Adam Gase no longer calling the shots, some are concerned a value decline may occur in Gary Kubiak’s more conservative system. A duplication of last year’s 181 targets is highly improbable, but recall he was a model of efficiency on reduced looks in 2012 (141 tgts) and 2013 (142). And we can’t forget how effective Andre Johnson was under Kubiak with inferior quarterbacks tossing the WR the rock. Also, skeptics need to relax about Peyton Manning’s abrupt drop-off last year. The quad injury he suffered down the stretch clearly played a factor. Recall from Weeks 1-12 he was the second-best signal caller in per game average. The Broncos will run more, but another 90-1400-10 campaign is on deck for Demaryius.

Marshawn Lynch, Sea, RB
ADP: 4.1, RB4
Smashing would-be tacklers as though they were Skittles, Lynch has piled up reliable RB1 numbers for four-straight seasons. Despite a rigorous workload (326.3 touches per year) and violent running style (63.3 yards after contact percentage in ’14), he missed only one game over that span. At a position where failures are commonplace (43.1 percent bust rate since ’09), Beast Mode is the object of dependability, a player who should command an exorbitant draft day premium. The blueprint in Seattle largely won’t change in 2015. Yes, Jimmy Graham could wrest away a touchdown or three from Lynch, but the ‘Hawks will continue to pound the competition with defense and ball control, leading to numerous red-zone opportunities for their rushers. Seattle’s schedule, as usual, is brutal (third-toughest among RBs), however, Lynch is practically matchup proof. Just look at what he accomplished at San Francisco (20-104-0, 1-7) and at Arizona (10-113-2) last year. Another 1,500 combined yards with 12-14 touchdowns are on the docket. 

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