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Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Tiers, Rankings and Draft Strategy Discussion

Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (81) on the sidelines during the NFL game between the Detroit Lions and Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA. The Steelers defeated the Lions 37-27. November 17, 2013; Photographer: Justin Berl/Icon Sportswire

There are many worthy suitors, but can any of them unseat Lord Megatron – Calvin Johnson – as lead dog amongst a talented and deep group of wide receivers for fantasy football? Photo: Icon Sportswire

As the NFL has become more of a passing league, fantasy owners are increasingly tempted to turn the fate of their team’s success over to the wide receiver position with many owners using 1st and 2nd round picks on the position.

That doesn’t seem like a crazy proposition when you review last year’s fantasy rankings at the position and see that six players had more than 200 points (standard scoring, no points-per-reception).

Where that theory falls down is when you review this year’s ADP and take note of the running backs available in Rounds 3 and 4. At that point in the draft, the availability of running backs with strong upside potential is nearly extinct with Doug Martin, Zac Stacy, Andre Ellington, Reggie Bush, C.J. Spiller, Rashad Jennings, Toby Gerhart, Ryan Mathews, Frank Gore and Bishop Sankey going in those rounds.

And, if you were unlucky enough to get saddled with the 12th pick in a 12-team league and used your first two picks on wide receivers, you are likely looking at a duo that includes some combination of Jennings, Gerhart, Mathews and Gore.

If that doesn’t sound like a championship winning depth chart at running back, it’s because it’s not, particularly in leagues with no points for receptions. In PPR leagues, you can tend to find some serviceable running backs that are big contributors in their team’s passing game.

While there are those that advocate using both of your first two picks at the wide receiver position, and to a degree punting the RB position, we don’t subscribe to that theory. In fact, the increased production at WR should actually help devalue it.

Last season, 23 wide receivers topped 1,000 receiving yards and 30 scored more than 120 fantasy points. Based on the current ADP, this year’s 30th ranked wide receiver (currently Marques Colston, a perennial 1,000 yard receiver) is being taken with the 2nd pick in the 7th round, 72nd overall. Needless to say but necessary to point out, that is tremendous value.

Tier 1
Rank
Player
Team Bye ADP
1 DET 9 1.05
2 DEN 4 1.08
3 DAL 11 1.11
4 CIN 4 2.01
5 CHI 9 2.03
6 ATL 9 2.05

Last year, there were six 200 point wide receivers and we have six players ranked in our top tier, with Josh Gordon the only top player from last year not in the upper tier. You could certainly make the argument this should be split into two tiers with Johnson and Thomas having the upper tier all to themselves. Having any of these players on your roster should yield fruit but since they are going within the first 17 overall picks, they come at a huge cost. Nonetheless, we won’t argue with acquiring any one of them as long as you come away with a running back in the first two rounds.

Mike’s Take: For positions where I need multiple starters – RB and WR – I like to tag one of each early in the draft. This keeps things flexible later on, to support acquiring players who inexplicably drop in the draft and represent really strong value. This may also explain why I rarely draft a QB or TE in the first round, as I always feel I’m playing catch up at RB or WR. Anyway, for these Tier 1 WR in particular, you pretty much can’t go wrong. All are exceptional talents. If I start RB and get Marshall or Jones in the second round, I’m ecstatic.

Tier 2
Rank
Player
Team Bye ADP
7 GB 9 2.09
8 PIT 12 2.11
9 TB 7 3.10
10 SD 10 3.08
11 ARI 4 5.03
12 CHI 9 3.01

The second tier of wide receivers consists of six talented receivers, all supported by solid quarterbacks other than perhaps Jackson. This group is dominated by big receivers who are solid red zone threats with Brown and Allen coming up the rear in that analysis. Of this group, Nelson has the most upside and Floyd is easily checking in as the value option due to his ridiculously low ADP. As with Tier 1, you should feel very comfortable with any of these options.

Mike’s Take: Its clear we really liked Michael Floyd from the get-go this season as we had him ranked high early. His ADP has risen over the summer but he is still undervalued in many drafts. If you can get him as your WR2, that’s great. It is a pretty fine line between these guys and the tier above them. There is just a little more risk with this group preventing them from being considered elite level fantasy stars at the position, but it wouldn’t surprise if any finished as Top 3 WR by season’s end.

Tier 3
Rank
Player
Team Bye ADP
13 DEN 4 6.07
14 NYG 8 4.03
15 ARI 4 4.06
16 GB 9 3.03
17 SF 8 4.12

In Tier 3, there is a clear delineation between the risk/reward variable from this tier and Tier 2. This tier is dominated by talented wide receivers with either injury or age concerns other than Sanders who is with a new team, albeit with a great quarterback, and perhaps Cruz, who failed to top 1,000 yards last season. Cobb is a major risk at his current ADP. However, since the discrepancy between running back quality from the 3rd to 4th rounds is greater than the discrepancy between wide receivers in those rounds, you can’t argue that any of these wide receivers are being overvalued outside of Cobb.

Mike’s Take: After Wes Welker’s injury, and Sanders’ impressive preseason, it felt like the right move to swap the two of them in the rankings. Should two WR from the same team be ranked so high together as we have Demaryius Thomas and Sanders? Marshall and Jeffery think it is okay. Sanders should be a strong target in your drafts at this point. Don’t take him where we have him ranked. Like Floyd, you can usually draft him later and reap the benefits as a result. I’m not that excited by the other receivers in this tier, except Crabtree is intriguing if not for the competition for catches on the 49ers unless they really open up the offense.

Tier 4
Rank
Player
Team Bye ADP
18 WAS 10 4.04
19 WAS 10 5.04
20 ATL 9 4.04
21 TEN 9 8.01
22 MIN 10 4.09
23 SEA 4 5.06

Tier 4 features more talented wide receivers but the risk profiles increase as we move to the higher tiers. The Redskins duo has a quarterback who is prone to putting himself in harm’s way. Wright is a poor option in the red zone, Patterson is largely unproven and Harvin has missed 22 regular season games over the last two years and plays in a run based offense. Given these factors, this tier is all about value. And the value picks here are definitely White and Wright.

Mike’s Take: In a recent draft I got Julio Jones in the early second round, and then was struggling later as Roddy White represented amazing value falling in the draft, but I couldn’t pull the trigger to have two Falcon wideouts on one roster. Wright scored 2 TD last year. That has to go up, right – Wright? Patterson is the ultimate boom-bust pick. We had him higher earlier but reeled it in a bit. I’d be comfortable with drafting him about this spot. Harvin I have little interest in, and if one of the Redskins pair go crazy this season, I guess I’m fine letting someone else be right, than risk drafting either one and being wrong.

Tier 5
Rank
Player
Team Bye ADP
24 NO 6 6.12
25 HOU 10 4.10
26 NE 10 6.07
27 BAL 11 6.01
28 MIA 5 7.02
29 DEN 4 4.07

Johnson is aging, moping due to his dismal QB situation, and sliding down boards. I’m still not biting. Colston on the other hand continues to be in a great situation and represents solid value where he is getting drafted. Wallace is as inconsistent as they come and Edelman benefitted last season from injuries to Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola. Outside of Colston, if there’s a player to grab here, it is Smith who rates as the most likely to emerge as a high end WR2 even if he isn’t a great value with an ADP of 6.03.

Mike’s Take: I’m more bullish on Edelman than Dave, but for +1 PPR leagues only. He should give solid returns there, but falls down significantly in non-PPR leagues. Smith I like okay but he always seems to be over-drafted each year. Colston should give us what we normally expect, which may prove to be a decent return this year as he slides down rankings with fantasy players passing on him for youthful upside.

Tier 6
Rank
Player
Team Bye ADP
30 DET 9 7.06
31 PHI 7 6.04
32 CAR 12 8.09
33 BUF 9 7.08
34 DAL 11 7.12

If there is a wide receiver tier to avoid, this is it as there isn’t much value to be had here. It will be no surprise if Tate bombs after signing a lucrative contact with Detroit. Maclin has talent but not a 1,000 yard receiving season to his credit. Watkins is a big risk unless E.J. Manuel starts showing something. Benjamin is a fast riser after an impressive preseason, but now Cam Newton is banged up it could put the brakes on the Benjamin for ROY train. Williams might be the safest of the lot here. We’ll take him with a late 7th round pick, but second year player, new starter and third receiving option (or forth, behind DeMarco Murray) on the Cowboys is a bit of a roll of the dice week to week.

Mike’s Take: This is a, “if they fall far enough, I’ll take them”, category. Jump on Benjamin if he drops to his ADP as that is rising quickly, but more than likely I’m looking at other positions around the time these guys are getting drafted.

Tier 7
Rank
Player
Team Bye ADP
35 JAC 11 11.12
36 HOU 10 10.08
37 SF 8 11.02
38 IND 10 10.02
39 NO 6 11.07
40 IND 10 5.08
41 NYJ 11 8.09
42 KC 6 9.08
43 SEA 4
44 TB 7 10.05
45 TEN 9 10.06

Cecil Shorts in the 11th round? Sign me up. Tier 7 features a plethora of wide receivers capable of big years (as in 1,000 yards and six touchdowns) but who we would all make us mildly surprised if they managed to pull off that feat. That means we need to dig a little deeper here to find the value. As in, who figures to get the most targets, who has competition for those targets, who plays with a solid quarterback and who plays in an offense that should score lots of points. Let’s go with Hopkins and Bowe as the players to nab here. And if I can get Nicks at the top of the 10th round or Hilton with a late pick in the 5th round, Nicks is clearly the value option. The balance of this tier should be avoided based on their ADP.

Mike’s Take: So Dave likes Shorts, Hopkins and Bowe. Think I prefer Nicks, Stills (depending on severity of his quad injury) and Hunter, not necessarily in that order. That kind of describes this tier. Everyone is going to have a different opinion on who they prefer from a group of wideouts at this stage of the draft. We’ve tried to balance risk and reward in differentiating between our Tiers 6 through 10.

Tier 8
Rank
Player
Team Bye ADP
46 NYG 8 9.06
47 NO 6 6.09
48 MIN 10 13.03
49 PHI 7 9.05
50 STL 4 9.12
51 PIT 12 12.01
52 PHI 7 11.10

This is where the risk-reward starts to tilt heavily to the risk side. Where does opportunity reside in this Tier? Randle has decent talent but struggled with mental lapses last season. However, if he can hold off Odell Beckham, Jr., he has an opportunity to put together a solid season and is far and away the team’s best target in the red zone. In Philadelphia, we expect the impressive rookie Matthews to siphon enough targets away from Riley Cooper to render both of them essentially irrelevant for fantasy purposes. Pittsburgh’s Markus Wheaton boasts impressive credentials but backed up with little production, making him a boom or bust proposition in 2014. He is worth a flier and definitely worth a mid-12th round draft pick.

Tier 9
Rank
Player
Team Bye ADP
53 BAL 11 12.07
54 STL 4 11.08
55 IND 10 7.09
56 NE 10 10.09
57 OAK 5 14.03
58 CLE 4
59 CIN 4
60 GB 9 11.12
Tier 10
Rank
Player
Team Bye ADP
61 CAR 12
62 OAK 5
63 MIA 5 14.01
64 NYG 8
65 NYG 8
66 SF 8
67 CIN 4 13.08

Once bitten, twice shy. Or is that constantly bitten and should know better but can’t resist? Reports out of St. Louis indicate that Britt is having an outstanding camp but his history of off the field issues and lack of productivity mean you should only grab him very late, which is where he is being drafted. Wayne is ridiculously overvalued at the moment and Amendola is hardly worthy of a selection in the 10th round. Hawkins is an intriguing PPR prospect given the current state of the Browns wide receivers and how Streater’s ADP is so far below James Jones’ is definitely interesting.

Post-NFL Preseason Week 3 Projections and Rankings Update, Team Notes

Doug Martin (22) of the Buccaneers runs the ball during the NFL regular season game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. October 13, 2013; Photographer: Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire

Rookie Charles Sims looked good through training camp, threatening our relatively high ranking on Doug Martin. Now Sims is out injured and Martin has a more solid hold on a heavy workload out of the Bucs backfield. Photo: Icon Sportswire

The late nights are catching up with me, but before we know it, football will officially be here! Many fantasy football drafts are done, and still many more to go. There was a lot of news and value changes – some big, some small – as a result of Week 3 NFL preseason games, including another concussion for Wes Welker and another ACL tear for Sam Bradford. Without further adieu, here are the notes to accompany our newly updated player projections and cheatsheet rankings.

A new copy of Projection Pal with the updated projections will be available shortly for Draft Buddy users.

Buffalo Bills

WR Sammy Watkins was inactive for the Bills less than stellar preseason performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He has sore ribs. The wilder E.J. Manuel looks, and now this, the more difficult it is to get excited about Watkins to start the season.

Baltimore Ravens

All this while it was looking promising Bernard Pierce would open the season as the starter while Ray Rice sat out, suspended. If Pierce impresses during his short stint, then who knows what could happen. However, Pierce suffered a head injury in preseason action against the Washington Redskins. They are not calling it a concussion, which is positive, but there is some added risk here.

Carolina Panthers

Cam Newton has a hairline fracture to one of his ribs. Sounds painful! But, I expect Cam will tough it out and start Week 1. We aren’t adjusting our already low ranking, but fantasy owners will surely be wincing every time he takes off to run for the next little while. This puts a small damper on the Kelvin Benjamin hype building from the Panthers last preseason game.

Cleveland Browns

After a lackluster Week 2 preseason game by both quarterbacks, the Browns named Brian Hoyer their regular season starter, and Johnny Manziel will sit, learn and bide his time. For the significance of the news, there won’t be much of a rankings change. Hoyer jumps from Tier 8 to the bottom of Tier 7, while Manziel holds steady.

Denver Broncos

WR Wes Welker suffered a concussion in the Broncos Week 3 preseason game on a hit by safety D.J. Swearinger of the Houston Texans, and on a poor decision by Peyton Manning to throw it to him in heavy traffic. Welker’s value now plummets. The team line is they hope he is cleared to play Week 1, but on his third concussion in recent memory, don’t count on it.

K Matt Prater is suspended for the first four games of the season. Great offense, but still, just a kicker. The Broncos have a bye in Week 4, so he can return prior to Week 6. Maybe pick him up off waivers before Week 5 if your kicker isn’t cutting the mustard.

Green Bay Packers

TE Brandon Bostick has a slight fracture of his fibula and will be on the shelf at least a few weeks into the regular season. Some more clarity of the tight end situation in Green Bay through attrition. It won’t be Bostick and it won’t be Colt Lyerla, out for the season. Richard Rodgers appears to be the guy if you have to have a piece of this action. Andrew Quarless, who is not good (for fantasy), but a veteran, is still kicking around.

Miami Dolphins

UDFA RB Damien Williams is ahead of Daniel Thomas and Mike Gillislee on the depth chart. Considering what little we’ve seen from Knowshon Moreno so far, and it is late in the preseason, this is somewhat significant. A name to keep in mind.

Update – I started to write this prior to the Dolphins-Dallas Cowboys game – Moreno ran 10 times for 64 yards. Nice stat line.

TE Charles Clay is expected to play in the Dolphins third preseason game. Keep on eye on it. We’ve got him down the rankings from a bunch of places since he’s been sitting out with a knee injury. Update – he did play, so that is good news.

Minnesota Vikings

New report the Vikings just officially named Matt Cassel their starting QB. Don’t draft Cassel. Drafting Teddy Bridgewater is highly speculative in redraft leagues unless it is of the 2QB variety or with exceptionally deep rosters.

New England Patriots

RB Shane Vereen is rising up boards with his continued strong preseason play. He looks good. I was ready to take him in the early 4th round in a draft on Saturday night (some keepers in play, but not a lot) when he was snapped up a pick before me.

New York Giants

WR Odell Beckham Jr. missed the Giants third preseason game with a hamstring injury. This is the same hamstring he’s dealt with most of preseason. He’s behind the curve now and probably shouldn’t be drafted in most redraft leagues unless they use fairly deep rosters.

Philadelphia Eagles

RB LeSean McCoy sprained his thumb during the team’s Week 3 preseason game. Doesn’t look serious but wanted to mention it.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount are in trouble with police – charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana, and Bell is also being charged with driving under the influence, since it was his car and he was behind the wheel. Nice job, L.B. and L.B. No news on punishment from the team or league right now. Should be minimal, and potentially take a while, so no change in rankings really but understand there is an element of risk hanging over Bell in particular.

St. Louis Rams

Much to the chagrin of our own Dave Stringer, die hard Rams fan, QB Sam Bradford was diagnosed with a torn ACL and is out for the season. Backup Shaun Hill takes over. NFL AM on NFL Network can’t help themselves bringing up the flimsy parallel between this and the Trent Green-Kurt Warner circumstances from 1999. Stealing a line from another oft-annoying network, “C’mon Man!”

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Since our last update, rookie Charles Sims hurt his ankle in practice and will miss significant time. Although the Bucs still have decent depth behind Doug Martin in Mike James and Bobby Rainey, they will lean more on Martin. Fantasy owners were down on Martin all preseason for different reasons, including more even splitting the workload in Tampa than we would hope for from an RB1. Now that is off the table, he should move up in drafts. We consistently had him higher than most, currently RB8, so no move necessary in our rankings.

Fantasy Football Tight End Tiers, Rankings and Draft Strategy Discussion

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) reacts after a big gain in the New Orleans Saints 17-13 victory over the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta Georgia. November 21, 2013; Photographer: Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire

New Orleans Saints TE Jimmy Graham is The Man, no doubt about it. Fantasy football players are showing Graham lots of love, drafting him in the 1st round. If you don’t snag Graham, here is how every other fantasy worthy TE shakes out. Photo: Icon Sportswire

Once upon a time, there was a tight end named Antonio Gates, who was head and shoulders above the next most valuable fantasy football tight end.

That scenario may repeat itself if New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham can continue his strong performance and couple that with an ability to stay healthy. Last season, Graham scored 54.5 more fantasy points than the 2nd ranked tight end, San Francisco 49ers Vernon Davis.

While you are going to read that the New England Patriots Rob Gronkowski offers more upside than Graham does, we would like to note that Graham has outscored Gronk 566.7 to 469.1 over the last three seasons and 369.7 to 228.2 over the past two.

Staying healthy counts, and is the reason for the large difference in fantasy value between the two über-talented tight ends. In fact, those health concerns are reason enough for us to vault Denver Broncos Julius Thomas ahead of Gronkowski, who is coming off a torn ACL suffered in Week 14 last season.

Tier 1
Rank
Player
Team Bye ADP
1 NO 6 1.08
2 DEN 4 3.06
3 NE 10 3.05
4 CLE 4 5.12

There are four tight ends this year who have the potential to be major difference makers and it wouldn’t be an earth rattling surprise. That being said, Graham is the BMOC out of this group and to snag him, it will cost you a mid to late 1st round draft pick in a league of halfway progressive thinking owners. We’re fine with that price. The issue then becomes where the value is in drafting the others since we agree with the premise that you can get a big leg up on the competition by having a Tier 1 tight end.

Gronk is the boom or bust pick but with a high 3rd round ADP, the cost seems to be a tad rich. Thomas is the better value with a mid 3rd round ADP and huge touchdown upside in the Broncos offense since Eric Decker left town. With no proven quarterback in an offense that may struggle to move the ball, Cameron brings up the rear of the Tier 1 tight ends, but he may bring the most value with a late 5th round ADP. He is the Cleveland Browns’ primary receiver for as long as Josh Gordon is suspended.

Mike’s Take: Maybe we should have Graham in a tier by himself, but I don’t like doing that because raising a single player on a pedestal above all others at his position will invariably lead to disappointment. Always bet the field. I discussed Gronk in last week’s projection update notes. I do feel Thomas is a safer pick than a lot of experts are giving him credit for. Short of injury, could he possibly not hit double digit touchdowns? Only 13 receivers – WR and TE – hit that mark last year. I’m souring on Cameron, slightly.

Tier 2
Rank
Player
Team Bye ADP
5 CAR 12 8.01
6 DAL 11 6.10
7 SF 8 5.09

Tier 2 features a trio of players not easily lumped together. While Olsen has never had a true breakout season, both Witten and Davis have, but expectations are lowered this season as Witten approaches the end of his career and Davis fights for touches in an improved 49ers receiving corps. At their current ADP and given the upside of players in the lower tiers, none of these players will be on my fantasy teams in 2014.

Mike’s Take: That is Dave talking. I will draft Olsen, if the price is right. I’ve never targeted Davis for my fantasy football teams, and I don’t see why I would start now. Witten I do have on one dynasty team and I’ll ride into the sun with him for old times sake. That said, if Witten comes at a reasonable price, I wouldn’t avoid him. We keep talking up how much passing the Cowboys are going to do this year in lieu of the apparently dismal defense they are going to trot out, and the receivers aren’t that deep Tony Romo can forget his good buddy. Just expect a low YAC from Witten. He’s better suited for PPR leagues.

Tier 3
Rank
Player
Team Bye ADP
8 BAL 11 9.01
9 WAS 10 7.06
10 PHI 7 9.05

This is where the decisions get tougher. While Reed has tremendous upside, his history of concussions and the plethora of receiving options in Washington make his current ADP of 7.05 somewhat questionable. Pitta rates a solid value as concerns about Owen Daniels eating into his target count seem overblown. Ertz has breakout potential in a solid offense. This just might be the sweet spot at tight end in 2014 since grabbing an option here allows you to stockpile running backs and wide receivers in the earlier rounds of your draft.

Mike’s Take: I dig what Dave is putting down here. This is the sweet spot if you passed on a Tier 1 tight end. Ertz is ending up on a lot of my teams. While you can expect one, maybe two, of the tight ends ranked below here to get drafted ahead of Ertz, don’t get too cocky and miss out on him, because we aren’t the only ones hip to his potential.

Tier 4
Rank
Player
Team Bye ADP
11 SD 10 11.02
12 IND 10
13 CIN 4
14 MIN 10 8.02
15 KC 6 13.07
16 CHI 9 11.08

At this point in your draft, if you haven’t acquired a tight end, there just isn’t much point in reaching for one of these players. It’s a mixed bag of tantalizing skill, unproven players, players with injury risk, and Martellus Bennett.

Of particular interest here is Rudolph’s ADP in the late 8th round. Just because OC Norv Turner has helped talented tight ends reach their potential doesn’t mean he can turn a middling talent like Rudolph into an upper echelon threat. It’s also worth noting that while Antonio Gates (top of the next tier) may open the season as a decent fantasy starter, it won’t be a shock if he loses more and more touches to Green as the season progresses.

Mike’s Take: Green and Gates are an interesting case study this year. Those drafting Green on his potential may be in tough early in the season. Green may win some titles late in the season, but I think it is certainly plausible fantasy players are a year too early on a guy like Green while Gates is still in the picture. Dave and I are singing the same tune on Rudolph, but he’s looked good in preseason, so I’ll give him that. Another guy who looks really good is Travis Kelce. For a good team the receiving options on the Kansas City Chiefs are terrible. Good upside backup selection. Kelce’s value might spike as early as Week 1 with Dwayne Bowe out, suspended.

Tier 5
Rank
Player
Team Bye ADP
17 SD 10 13.07
18 TEN 9
19 PIT 12 13.12
20 MIA 5 13.04
21 JAC 11
22 STL 4
23 IND 10
24 OAK 5
25 DET 9 12.10
26 ATL 9

The upside for this group of pass catchers is as a back end TE1 but it is also a group loaded with risk. If you wait too long on tight end need to grab your starter out of this tier, Clay seems the safest bet after a solid season in 2013.

Mike’s Take: I prefer Delanie Walker and Heath Miller to Clay. Neither is too exciting and may not propel you to win you many games, but they should be fairly reliable and not lose them for you, either. Clay is ranked down here because he’s dealt with a knee injury all of training camp and preseason. As of a few days ago, he was still only 50-50 for the Dolphins next preseason game. Let someone else take the risk. You are close to punting the position if you are pulling your starter from the rest of this group.