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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.