Between significant injuries to the older receivers and exceptional play from the younger receivers, along with a record-setting campaign from Randy Moss, the players you'll take first off the wide receiver pile this summer are dramatically different than the ones from one season ago.
NFL offenses are changing. While some teams still preach balance with the run-pass ratio and others cling to the running game, a sizable amount of clubs are taking the approach of passing more to take advantage of mismatches in the secondary. It makes sense -- there's a glut of talent across the league at running back and other positions, but not so much at cornerback. In fact, an NFL team is lucky to have one talented cornerback. Some have two, a few have three or more, but by and large offensive coordinators who have the personnel to attack mediocre secondaries (or have figured out how to take down Cover-2 defenses) are now doing so at will.
Exhibit A: the 2007 New England Patriots.
Our estimation is that any team with a strong-armed quarterback and a capable corps of receivers will try to pass their way to victory more often than not in 2008.
So with that news, you'd expect there to be a bevy of reliable Fantasy receivers available, wouldn't you?
Strangely, there is a huge drop-off between the receivers expected to reach 1,000 yards this season and the ones who might have the potential to do so but aren't a lock for it. If you miss on too many of the 1,000-yard guys, you'll be struggling to fill your starting receiver spots in 2008.
Unless your league heavily tips the scales in favor of wide receivers, the only Round 1 consideration is Randy Moss, and even that is a stretch.
The player you're taking in Round 1 is supposed to be a cornerstone for your roster, a guy you can count on for at least 15 Fantasy points per week. To count on Moss for that kind of weekly production is to expect the Patriots to mimic their over-aggressive passing attack from a season ago, and for Moss to stay healthy throughout. Moss hasn't had back-to-back 16-game seasons since 2002-03 and will enter the 2008 season at 31. Moreover, expecting him to match or exceed his 1,493-yard and record-breaking 23-touchdown season is very ambitious. Your better option is to choose either a running back who has a shot at 1,400 total yards and 10 touchdowns or a stellar quarterback (Tom Brady or Peyton Manning).
In the past, maybe one or two receivers would trickle off the board toward the end of this round. This year, expect at least four wide receivers to be gone before Round 3.
Many Fantasy owners are taking a running back-wide receiver approach to their first two picks, opting to get a stud at each of the two positions that start multiple players. It's a good idea so long as there isn't a quality player being sacrificed at the cost of sticking to your game plan.
Any receiver in the top five of our draft board is worth a pick in Round 2. Anyone else would be a reach. Going two rounds without a wide receiver isn't a bad thing, as you'll soon read.
In many drafts we've seen so far this summer, this is the "get your receiver" round. As few as five and as many as nine wideouts should get snapped up here. Because of this, Round 3 will be the pacesetter for your draft.
Waiting until Round 3 to draft a receiver has its advantages. Not only should you still get a top-10 Fantasy choice, but you'll be able to pair him with the two strong players at other positions you took in Rounds 1 and 2.
Here are the various scenarios you might face at this point:
• You drafted RB-RB in Rounds 1-2: Unless Brady, Manning or Tony Romo somehow make it this far, you shouldn't think twice about getting the best available wide receiver.
• You drafted QB-RB in Rounds 1-2: Unless a quality running back (figure a Top 15 back or higher) is there, you should definitely pick up a wideout.
• You drafted RB-WR or QB-WR in Rounds 1-2 and you pick early in Round 3: Because you're up so soon and won't pick again for a while (assuming a standard 'snake' draft), your best move is to get a wide receiver before the run starts. Moreover, if you go with a running back here, you're letting all the owners after you get two shots at the rest of the great wide receivers. There are enough running backs left to pick one in Round 4.
• You drafted RB-WR or QB-WR in Rounds 1-2 and you pick late in Round 3: By the time your pick comes up, there might only be two or three truly desirable Fantasy receivers left. Take your chances that one will be around when you pick again in Round 4 and go with what should be either a stud quarterback or a quality running back with your third pick. After all, if everyone else is going wide receiver in Round 3, someone at another position will fall into your lap.
• You drafted WR-WR in Rounds 1-2: You shouldn't even be reading this.
As you can see, most of these scenarios call for getting a wide receiver. Now you know why so many people are picking them up in Round 3.
Between these three rounds, any wide receiver with relatively high expectations will be picked. Miss on them, and your receiving corps will be riddled with question marks and 'what ifs?' ... assuming you didn't load up on receivers earlier. Once you get past the top 25 receivers on our rank list, you're swimming in rough seas. Sure, there are plenty of receivers out there, but they all come with uncertainties. That's why your goal should be to shore up as many quality receivers as you can.
One of the strategies we've found useful is drafting most (if not all) of your receivers by the end of Round 7. Whether you start two receivers or three with a 'flex' for a possible fourth, your best move is to corral as much talent as you can while it's there, leaving those other receivers for someone else. Best of all, you'll pick enough prominent receivers that choosing who to start and sit won't be a weekly chore.
Trust us, you do not want to be picking receivers you're going to have to rely on past Round 7.
Round 8 and beyond
Welcome to the crapshoot that is drafting Fantasy wide receivers with middle- to late-round picks.
Last year, you were successful if you spent such a pick on Wes Welker, Bobby Engram, Greg Jennings or Santonio Holmes. But think of all the other middle- to low-end receivers that flooded drafts last year that hurt Fantasy owners (do Mike Furrey, Joe Horn, Devery Henderson, Drew Bennett, Muhsin Muhammad, Brandon Jones, Ted Ginn Jr., Hank Baskett, Dwayne Jarrett, Jerry Porter, Terry Glenn, Matt Jones, Troy Williamson, Eddie Kennison, Robert Meachem and Mark Clayton ring a bell?).
Is there a wide receiver strategy for your draft beyond Round 8? If you do your homework, there is.
Focus only on wide receivers in pass-heavy offenses that aren't injury prone. There aren't many, but there will always be somebody that fits that bill. Do not consult a depth chart and take a player just because he's the team's No. 1 receiver. Do not pick a player because you remember him getting you 1,200 yards in 2005. And, do not focus on drafting a bunch of rookie receivers -- maybe one rookie wideout each season plays big in his first year (we like James Hardy of Buffalo to be that guy this year).
Here are a couple of middle- to late-round receivers we'd suggest keeping an eye on in drafts.
|Nate Burleson||Seahawks||Might develop into Seattle's go-to WR. Still a solid deep-ball receiver.|
|Patrick Crayton||Cowboys||Will always be in single coverage in Dallas' passing game.|
|Jabar Gaffney||Patriots||If the Pats are throwing the ball again, Gaffney should post career bests.|
|Anthony Gonzalez||Colts||In addition to his QB, might see time if Harrison is still hurting.|
|Vincent Jackson||Chargers||Stepped up last postseason, has great size, will be a low-risk draftee in '08.|
|DeSean Jackson||Eagles||Played a lot this preseason with starters; WR Curtis won't start year on-time.|
The last piece of advice we can offer is that if you draft a receiver late who doesn't help your Fantasy team in the first couple of weeks of play, don't hesitate to cut him for someone who can. There seems to be at least one wide receiver that comes out of nowhere to play beyond anyone's expectations (Anquan Boldin in 2003, Marques Colston in 2006, Shaun McDonald in 2007). Don't be patient -- winning Fantasy Football is about being aggressive and making transactions. So long as the receiver you want to bail on wasn't taken with a prominent draft pick, don't be shy to cut bait for someone who might help you win.
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