You can't win your league with your first pick, but you can lose it.
It's a frequently-heard statement in the fantasy world. And unlike most broad mantras, this one holds a large amount of merit.
The belief is that with everyone grabbing top players off the board in the first round, the expectation is that they will be big producers. If they have strong seasons, it's simply the status quo. It's what you paid for. But if a first round pick self-destructs, that can be catastrophic relative to the value most of the other teams will be getting off their top picks.
No player is entirely safe from injury, loss of playing time or deteriorating skills, but there is a scale for risk. And that means, at least in my book, safer plays, even those with lower upside, should be upgraded at the top of the draft. This is especially true if you are confident in your own ability to target high-upside sleepers toward the end of the draft.
Below are some of the players that I would consider the safest bets in the first few rounds.
Ryan Grant, RB
Grant is the poster boy for this type of article. He's on a very good offense, and has been a steady performer for several years. Some disregard Grant because there is essentially zero chance he explodes beyond what he already has shown--but at the same time he's the lone back on the Packers and will get his share of rushes and TDs.
Andre Johnson, WR
How obvious. The top wide receiver, Andre Johnson. But Johnson takes the No. 5 spot on my overall rankings because I'm that much more sure he's going to be solid compared with Frank Gore, Steven Jackson or Michael Turner. Johnson proved last year that even with no help from the opposite WR (Kevin Walter) he can get the job done. No reason to expect he can’t again.
Aaron Rodgers, QB
Rodgers has proved to be a very adept quarterback, even with a struggling offensive line. While there aren't many reasons to question Drew Brees, there are even less about Rodgers. The Packers are poised to be the top team in their division and Rodgers will be a big part of that.
Jonathan Stewart, RB
A slightly different scenario because he's a later draft pick, allowing for a little more risk, (Stewart is currently going 38th overall in ESPN ADP) but it's the same concept. The Panthers have been very clear in the way they split time between their two running backs, and fantasy owners neglect Stewart because he's seen as the lesser of the two. Stewart also brings upside to the table—Williams is not the most durable guy and he also is in a contract year. What if the Panthers want to see how Stewart handles the majority of the carries if they lose Williams?
Randy Moss, WR
The second WR off the charts, certainly, but it just goes to show how much safer I believe Johnson and Moss are compared with the next batch: Fitzgerald, Wayne and Marshall. Moss is older and has motivation issues, but on the whole is an incredibly reliable option.