Finding safe players -- those who have a high probability to be solid producers -- in the middle rounds of your fantasy drafts can give you an edge over your league-mates. There are good players who fall in drafts every year simply because they are boring or lack top-10 upside ... but you can't swing for the fences on every pick.
Here's my list of the seven safest players available in the middle rounds of your fantasy drafts in 2023, arranged by average draft position (ADP) in a 12-team league:
ADP: Rounds 5-6
Outside of Travis Kelce, it is very difficult to find a steady fantasy producer at the tight end position these days ... but Dallas Goedert was as consistent as it comes last season. Despite missing five games with a shoulder injury, Goedert still recorded 10 games with at least nine fantasy points in 2022, which was the second-most such games among all tight ends, behind only Kelce. The Eagles' entire pass offense goes through three guys: A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith and Goedert. His ceiling might not be as high as those of guys like Kelce and Mark Andrews, who are the top targets in Kansas City and Baltimore, respectively, but Goedert is extremely safe to plug into your tight end spot every week.
ADP: Rounds 5-6
Since 2021, when he joined the Cardinals as a free agent, James Conner has scored the second-most touchdowns (26) and averaged the seventh-most fantasy points per game (16.4) among running backs. In Arizona's backfield, Conner faces almost zero competition for snaps and touches in 2023. The expected absence of QB Kyler Murray, who is recovering from a torn ACL, may be pushing down Conner's draft price, but fantasy managers should not be worried about that. Last season, Conner averaged 19.8 fantasy points over a seven-game stretch in Weeks 10-17 -- and Murray missed six of those games. The Cardinals will need to lean heavily on their veteran RB, both as a rusher and receiver, for the period of time when they have a backup QB under center.
ADP: Rounds 6-7
New fantasy season, same ol' disrespect for Tyler Lockett. Every year, Lockett outperforms his draft cost, and every year, fantasy managers act like it didn't happen the year before. These are Lockett's fantasy finishes over the last five seasons:
- 2022: WR13
- 2021: WR16
- 2022: WR8
- 2019: WR13
- 2018: WR16
It truly is a mystery why he is being drafted as the 29th wide receiver off the board on average. It is fair to acknowledge that Lockett might not have the highest upside, considering his age (he'll turn 31 in September) and the added competition for targets from first-round pick Jaxon Smith-Njigba, but he is at least a very safe bet to finish as a top-20 WR in 2023.
ADP: Rounds 7-8
A fractured thumb suffered in Week 1 cost Dak Prescott five games and helped derail his fantasy production in 2022. But prior to last season, Prescott was a top fantasy performer; on a per-game basis, he was the QB9 in 2021, the QB1 in 2020 (though he was limited by injury to five games that year) and the QB3 in 2019. Head coach Mike McCarthy might want the Cowboys to run more, but in light of running back Ezekiel Elliott's departure and receiver Brandin Cooks' arrival, Dallas' makeup is better suited to support a pass-heavy attack in 2023. With many fantasy managers seemingly scared off Prescott after last season, this is the perfect opportunity to steal a great fantasy QB on the cheap.
ADP: Round 7
Diontae Johnson did the impossible in 2022, logging 147 targets, 86 receptions -- and zero receiving touchdowns. That's the highest reception total without a receiving TD in a single season in NFL history. Making this stat line even crazier is the fact that Johnson led the Steelers in red-zone and end-zone targets in 2022; his 14 end-zone targets were tied for the sixth-most among all players in the NFL.
However, despite not scoring a single TD, Johnson was still the WR28 in total fantasy points last season. Fantasy managers have been able to count on Johnson's target volume for years; he has the fifth-most targets in the NFL over the last three seasons, behind only Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, Justin Jefferson and Tyreek Hill. Teammate George Pickens may create the splashier plays, but Johnson is the safer draft pick in fantasy.
ADP: Rounds 8-9
It is rare that you can find a wide receiver in the eighth round of your fantasy drafts who has put up 1,000-plus receiving yards in six of the last eight seasons. Not only that, but Cooks is also getting a massive upgrade at quarterback after being traded from the Texans to the Cowboys this offseason. Dalton Schultz and Noah Brown switched spots with Cooks, signing with the Texans in free agency, leaving behind over 160 targets in Dallas' pass-catching corps from last year.
I know it feels like Cooks has been in the league for a minimum of 20 seasons, but he is still only 29 years old -- nearly a full year younger than Davante Adams. Cooks should still have plenty of gas left in the tank. It may not be an exciting pick, but he will likely provide great value to those who draft him at his current cost.
ADP: Rounds 9-10
Prior to last weekend, the main cause for concern when it came to drafting Khalil Herbert was whether or not he'd be the starter in a crowded Bears backfield. That issue seems to have been settled by Chicago's preseason opener, when Herbert played all seven snaps for which QB1 Justin Fields was on the field (Herbert had four carries and a 56-yard receiving touchdown over those seven snaps). Herbert has consistently shined whenever given a chance, but he finished behind David Montgomery in carries in each of his first two pro seasons. Now, Montgomery is gone, having signed in Detroit as a free agent. The Bears' heavy rush attack gives Herbert a safe floor and high upside in fantasy; there is no safer pick available this late in the draft.