2013 Draft Prep: Wide receiver tiers and strategies

Tiers by position: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | K/DSTs

Think for a second about the perfect Fantasy receiver. He's a beast on the field, he's a headache for defensive backs and he scores a ton of points for your teams on a consistent basis.

You'll be pleased to know that there are many very good receivers who fit that bill. Three receivers had 200 or more points last year, which is light but not exactly uncommon over the past couple of seasons. But for the second year in a row, 16 NFL receivers scored 150-plus Fantasy points over the course of the season. Of those 16, an even dozen had 10 or more Fantasy points in half of their games.

Don't turn your nose up at that -- that's a good thing.

But that's not enough receivers to cover how many actually start in your league. It's good if you have one of those receivers, it's great if you have two. The goal on Draft Day should be to get two. And figuring out who they are isn't exactly rocket science.

Most of the best receivers in the NFL, and thus in Fantasy, are big, physical specimens with great hands, speed and great quarterbacks. They're pretty easy to spot. They also dominate the top of pretty much everyone's receiver rank list year after year. On Draft Day, after everyone takes a running back and/or a Calvin Johnson (or a quarterback ... eww) in Round 1, get ready to draft a stud receiver in Round 2 or Round 3 ... both if the right combo falls into your lap.

Whatever you do, Don't get caught without "safe" starting receivers. However many you need, make sure you get them. It's a pretty straightforward rule. Even if you pass on receivers for the first three rounds, don't hope to wing it with rookies and prospective starters later on. Though there are only a handful of 150-point guys, there are more 120-plus point players that are considered safe enough to go with weekly. Find them. Live by my rule again this year.

No. 2 running backs vs. No. 1 wide receivers

The trap that Fantasy owners step into on Draft Day is looking at running backs who are second- and third-tier and comparing them to receivers who are first- and second-tier. This will happen in Rounds 2 through 4 beginning right around the time Reggie Bush, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones and even Jimmy Graham go off the board. Is it better to take the excellent player at a rapidly thinning position or the elite player at a position with some depth?

Factors like league size, scoring and lineup requirements will matter, but it really boils down to how soon you'll pick again, what's legitimately left at both running back and wide receiver when that next pick is up and who you're personally comfortable with taking. The nature of Fantasy drafts is that running backs will run thin before receivers run thin. That'll happen to you this year and it could be enough to influence you to spend a pick on Maurice Jones-Drew, DeMarco Murray or David Wilson ahead of a Demaryius Thomas, Roddy White or Andre Johnson.

I've already explained that only 16 receivers had 150-plus points last year while only three had 200-plus points, numbers that are basically consistent year-over-year. So it really comes down to this: Running backs are more prolific. They have more potential to score more than 150 points and on top of that they're harder to replace. Plus, by the time you start thinking receiver (other than Calvin), a half-dozen rushers or more will have been taken. Wide receivers, at least when we're talking about picks in the 18-30 overall neighborhood, are far more plentiful and offer some appealing choices when Rounds 3, 4 and 5 come around. So going with two running backs to start is probably a wise move.

That is, unless you're faced with an incredible value opportunity.

Such was the case in a 12-team mock draft we did in early August, where Dez Bryant fell to me in Round 2 and Brandon Marshall fell to me in Round 3. In that instance I jumped on the chance to land two Top 5 Fantasy receivers. Then I went crazy on running backs the rest of the draft since I knew I was never ever going to bench Dez or Marshall. I took one receiver with my last 12 picks. I was a happy camper, and in that instance I made an exception to starting with two running backs. You should make a similar exception if things fall the right way on Draft Day, otherwise be patient in collecting receivers.

Quality over quantity

What happened to me in our mock draft is an example of drafting what you need to get by, not drafting for talent or depth. It's a mistake to draft receiver after receiver after receiver when you can get high- and medium-upside running backs to take up those same spots on your bench.

Going cuckoo for running backs after the early rounds isn't a horrible thing at all. Each running back you take represents a chance for big numbers for your roster or a trade chip to help boost your team further down the line. Running backs are almost always in demand; receivers not so much.

Once you lock up your starting receivers and a backup or three, there isn't as much excitement shopping for a sleeper. Even if you hit, would you start the breakout sensation over the stud you picked in the early rounds (assuming the stud was performing studly)? So make the sleepers your backups. My sleeper list includes names like Josh Gordon, Michael Floyd, DeAndre Hopkins and even old man Anquan Boldin. They're more appealing to me than the likes of Greg Jennings, DeSean Jackson and Steve Johnson. Kill two birds with one stone when you hunt backup receivers: Make them your sleepers, not seemingly-safe starters in case your main wideouts go missing.

Three's a crowd?

When's the last time you remember three receivers finishing as Top 24 Fantasy options?

If you said the Colts of 2004, you'd be right. Not only did the tremendous trio of Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley each finish in the Top 24, they actually all finished in the Top 12, making them No. 1 Fantasy receivers at season's end.

No team has fielded three receivers in the Top 24 since. Going back to the year 2000 only the Cardinals of 2008, the Giants of 2009 and the Steelers of 2009 have come close with three receivers finishing as Top 30 Fantasy wideouts.

I bring this up because two teams -- the Packers and the Broncos -- have three prolific receivers that, as of this writing, all three of your trusted CBSSports.com Fantasy writers have ranked as Top 30 options. Even considering the names of the talent involved that's gutsy.

That is until you realize who is throwing them the football. Aaron Rodgers has led three Packers receivers to Top 40 or better finishes each of the last two seasons. Peyton Manning has led three receivers to Top 40 or better finishes three times in the last decade. It's not Top 12 or 24 or 30 finishes but it's proof that they can spread the ball around and make their receivers productive in the process.

Success comes in threes
Teams since 2000 with three Top 12 WRs
Colts, 2004
Teams since 2000 with three Top 25 WRs
Teams since 2000 with three Top 30 WRs
Cardinals, 2008
Giants, 2009
Steelers, 2009
Teams since 2000 with three Top 35 WRs
Seahawks, 2003
Vikings, 2004
Bengals, 2006
Lions, 2007
Colts, 2010
Packers, 2012
Teams since 2000 with three Top 40 WRs
Rams, 2000
Raiders, 2002
Cardinals, 2006
Saints, 2008
Colts, 2009
Packers, 2011
The guys in Denver are pretty much entrenched as Fantasy stars. Demaryius Thomas is exactly the kind of receiver I talked about at the beginning of this column. Eric Decker provides big size and decent speed on the other side and is a humongous red-zone target. Wes Welker does his own thing on the inside and fools defensive backs all the time -- I remain unconvinced he was brought to Denver to catch only 75 passes this year. Manning will always take what the defense gives him and if defenses play the Broncos similarly to last year, then Welker will eat them alive. Short pass after short pass, "death by paper cuts" as one of my friends puts it. Decker is the riskiest of the three in my opinion, but all should be targeted by owners before the end of Round 6 in standard leagues and Round 5 in PPR leagues.

Green Bay's situation is a little different because they have a deep speed guy in Jordy Nelson, a slot/backfield menace in Randall Cobb and an outside receiver with refined hands and so-so speed in James Jones. Most owners are sold on Cobb being a 100-catch candidate. He averaged 9.6 Fantasy points per week last season and figures to have more opportunities starting in September. Nelson's hamstring and leg injuries will always keep me up at night as does his boom-or-bust potential from week to week. It's tough to trust him. I've always been outspoken on Jones and feel he's on the verge of being used more often this season, but his track record and lack of success outside of the red zone makes people antsy. Inside the red zone he's been an animal, scoring three touchdowns on five overall red zone targets in 2011 and 12 touchdowns on 20 red zone targets in 2012 (including the postseason). But I'll admit that if there's one receiver on the Packers with potential to finish outside of the Top 30, it's Jones.

The next class

Calvin Johnson, Roddy White, Andre Johnson, Brandon Marshall and others have done their thing for years, but there is a youth movement at receiver. Half of the receivers ranked in my Top 12 as of this writing are entering their fourth year or less. Here's your reminder that sometimes it pays to go young at receiver.

When I evaluate a receiver as a sleeper or a breakout, I always consider the role of the player, the skill set of the player and the quarterback throwing to the player. There have been times where really talented receivers put up big numbers in spite of their quarterbacks, but last season Larry Fitzgerald was the poster child for a talented receiver with a really crappy quarterback situation.

Here are some names to keep in mind on Draft Day.

DeAndre Hopkins, Texans: Rare is the receiver who puts up big stats in his first year, but all indications through the offseason and training camp suggest that Hopkins will have a similar effect on the Texans as Julio Jones did on the Falcons his first year. That's a very, very big statement but the Texans have been desperate for receiving help opposite Andre Johnson. Hopkins has huge hands, a big body and very good speed. Matt Schaub isn't the greatest quarterback entering 2013, but if there's anything he's proven with Johnson it's that he can hit his big targets. I'm looking for Hopkins in every single draft I'm in.

Michael Floyd, Cardinals: New Cardinals coach Bruce Arians likes to throw the ball downfield. To accomplish this he and the Cards acquired Carson Palmer. Linking Palmer with Fitzgerald and a physical menace like Floyd should make the offense pop. Floyd finished last season strong after struggling in a totally different scheme and has drawn rave reviews in training camp. He's the perfect type of reserve/sleeper receiver to nab on Draft Day.

Rueben Randle, Giants: Taking receivers without a great opportunity is a risk but with the Giants, they are a Hakeem Nicks injury away from opening a door. Giants coaches have been going nuts over Randle since the offseason program started -- really since he joined Eli Manning for a workout in North Carolina before the OTAs began. Many see him poised to make the leap from his first year to his second and after scoring three touchdowns on 19 catches last year, it's not tough to imagine. He's an easy late choice to make because if he struggles early you can cut him without much risk.

Missing in action

Percy Harvin and Michael Crabtree aren't expected back until Thanksgiving-ish. Justin Blackmon is suspended for the first four games. Josh Gordon is suspended for the first two games. Do these guys represent Fantasy bargains or Fantasy ripoffs?

Normally I don't want to clog valuable roster spots with players I have to wait for. In Gordon's case the wait isn't that long so I could see myself taking him (he's got some amazing potential), but for Blackmon you won't get him back until Week 5 and then a few weeks later he's on a bye. He's a late-round pick for me, nothing more. Harvin and Crabtree are expected back by late November but there's no guarantee that they will be back then or that they'll be as effective as they have been in the past. I'd much rather spend my picks on players who I can make a decision on within the first few weeks of the season than a receiver I have to wait for.

Conversely, I am the Fantasy owner who will pounce on these guys on waivers when they're two or three weeks away from returning. That's a different story -- someone else is drafting them and waiting for them. Not me. I like getting these kinds of receivers via waivers a lot better.

Get your mitts on these tiers

Tiers are created to help you on Draft Day, whether you're in a snake draft or an auction. We've grouped players with similar expectations; when you build your team you can see rather easily when a tier is disappearing. That will let you know to act fast and get one of them, or to wait on the position and pick at another spot.

Megatron Tier Elite Tier Near-Elite Tier Excellent Tier
1,500+ yards, 12+ TDs 1,300+ yards, 10+ TDs 1,250+ yards, 9+ TDs 1,000+ yards, 8+ TDs
Calvin Johnson A.J. Green Andre Johnson Marques Colston
  Dez Bryant Larry Fitzgerald Pierre Garcon
  Julio Jones Roddy White Wes Welker
  Demaryius Thomas Vincent Jackson Dwayne Bowe
  Brandon Marshall Randall Cobb Reggie Wayne
    Victor Cruz Cecil Shorts
      Eric Decker
Very Good Tier Good Tier Upside Tier Sleepers
900+ yards, 7+ TDs 900+ yards, 6+ TDs 800+ yards, 6+ TDs  
Steve Smith Jordy Nelson Kenny Britt Michael Floyd
T.Y. Hilton Tavon Austin DeSean Jackson Chris Givens
James Jones Josh Gordon Mike Wallace Golden Tate
Danny Amendola Antonio Brown Steve Johnson DeAndre Hopkins
  Mike Williams Hakeem Nicks Justin Blackmon
  Torrey Smith    

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Senior Fantasy Writer

Dave Richard has spent nearly his entire career covering the National Football League. Beginning with NFL.com at the boom of the Internet, Richard was that site's first Fantasy Football writer before transitioning... Full Bio

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