We're previewing wide receivers this week at CBS Fantasy -- just like we did running backs last week -- and there's obviously an awful lot to know about the deepest position in the game. Dave Richard's updated wide receiver tiers and strategies piece can be found here, and Jamey Eisenberg, Heath Cummings and myself will have WR-centric content for you all week to make sure you're equipped with everything you need to tackle the position.
We almost had to re-rank the top end of the position this weekend, as Justin Jefferson left practice Friday with a shoulder injury that initially looked pretty serious. However, it turns out he just has an AC joint sprain and, while he'll miss some time during training camp and the preseason recovering, the injury is more of a day-to-day situation, so he should be fine for Week 1. Phew.
This, of course, highlights the risk of drafting early. I've already drafted a number of teams so far -- including the FLEX League .5PPR league on Saturday with other industry analysts, which I'll be writing about later this week -- and the last thing you want to see is a significant injury. We dodged one this time, but it's just a fact of life that, at some point, injuries will impact the landscape. We'll be right here to make sure you're up to date on all of them.
By the way, last week I mentioned the Fantasy Football Today Draft-A-Thon that will be taking place Sept. 1 on CBS Sports HQ and the Fantasy Football Today YouTube channel, and here's another reminder of what we're doing. That will be an all-day event where the FFT and some of our best friends from the Fantasy world and beyond will be talking Fantasy drafts all day long. We'll be doing some drafts of our own, we'll be answering your questions, and we'll be doing all kinds of fun stuff throughout the day -- and all for a very special cause.
We're partnering with St. Jude Children's Hospital yet again for the event, helping to raise money for an organization we all care deeply about. How can you help? Well, we're auctioning off special experiences all month long, including pre-draft zoom calls with Jamey, Dave, Heath, and myself to get some personalized time with our experts -- if you want to chat with me, you can make a donation here! And, in tomorrow's newsletter, I'll show you how you can lock in a spot in a Scott Fish Bowl league for the 2022 season with us.
Remember, it's all for a great cause, so if you can give, we'd like to make it worth your while. If you have any additional thoughts on personalized experiences from the FFT team you'd be interested in as part of the Draft-A-Thon, email us at FantasyFootball@CBSi.com.
And, as always, if you've got any questions about your draft prep or anything else, hit me up at Chris.Towers@CBSi.com. And now, here's your intro to the WR position and my thoughts on some of the biggest questions heading into drafts:
State of the WR position
Wide receiver has never been deeper. We don't see as many huge target totals as we used to -- Stefon Diggs' 166 targets were the lowest for a league leader in the last 10 seasons -- but the rise of more and more spread offenses means there are potentially more viable Fantasy wide receivers than in the past. How should that change how you approach the position?
In 2020, 60 wide receivers averaged at least 10 Fantasy points per game, compared to only 45 who did that in 2011. And, when you compare wide receivers to the rest of the position, there really isn't any comparison; just 37 running backs averaged double-digits in PPR points, and only 13 tight ends. You'll have no problem finding someone who can score 10 points in any given week on waivers.
So, that means you can wait on wide receivers, right? Well, that's one approach you can take, trying to load up on difference makers in the deeper positions. That's how Dave Richard suggests approaching it in his position tiers, and it's a valid approach. It's one I took picking from the No. 3 spot in our recent pick-by-pick series, ending up with Tyler Lockett, Diontae Johnson, Will Fuller and T.Y. Hilton as my top four with Corey Davis and Gabriel Davis as my bench options. And, I've gotta be honest … I hated it.
Because, while the depth at WR looks impressive, it also means that the position flattens out relatively quickly, and often the difference between a No. 2 WR and a lower-end No. 3 might not be very much at all. If someone else in your league has multiple high-end WR options, he's probably also got pretty good No. 3 and 4 guys, because those types just aren't that hard to replace. You probably aren't going to make up for a lack of top level production at WR with depth in the starting lineup.
Which is why that's usually the way I want to approach the position. One elite running back and two high-end WR is my preferred start, unless I can get Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, or George Kittle. In some ways, my WR strategy is dependent on how I approach RB and TE, but I'm not comfortable just playing the waiting game here, and you shouldn't be either. Don't let the depth fool you, you still want difference makers.
WR Preview Q&A
CBS Sports Fantasy editor Dan Schneier is going to be putting together a survey every week during the preseason and into the season to ask some questions about whatever the topic du jour is, and since this week is all about wide receivers, that's what he's asking about this week. You can check out the rest of Jamey, Dave, Heath, and Adam's thoughts here, but here are my responses to his five big questions:
1. Which WR has an ADP that makes the least sense to you?
I understand that the hype machine can kick into overdrive during training camp, but the way CeeDee Lamb's ADP has taken off like a rocket ship just feels like a bad process to me. Maybe if we were a week away from the start of the season and Amari Cooper still wasn't practicing you could justify a pick in the middle of the third round for Lamb, but we have every reason to believe Cooper is going to be there to start the season. And yes, I know Lamb was on an incredible pace (93-1,386-6) with Dak Prescott healthy, but he also had a target share in the 16% range during that time; if you don't think Prescott is going to keep up that 6,000-yard pace, Lamb's numbers with him don't mean all that much. Lamb is an excellent prospect in a good offense, but taking Lamb a full round ahead of Cooper -- who was the much better player in 2020 -- just doesn't make any sense to me.
2. Which WR (outside the first two rounds*) has an ADP that makes the most sense to you?
I think D.J. Moore is being valued perfectly. He's a rock-solid No. 2 Fantasy WR being drafted as WR19, who has proven he can overcome poor QB player to be a must-start player. And there is enough upside there to make him arguably the last player I'd be comfortable with as my No. 1 if I waited. He's not enough of a sure thing to be in the WR1 conversation, but he's better than the Diontae Johnson/Adam Thielen types who go after him. This porridge is just right.
3. Which WR have you been drafting the most of so far?
Robert Woods. I love wide receivers who can score in a bunch of different ways, and Woods is one of the most versatile out there. He's an excellent playmaker with the ball in his hands, and the Rams love to scheme stuff up for him in the rushing game and in the short areas of the field, however, he also figures to be a better deep-ball receiver with Matthew Stafford under center. I usually snag him as my No. 2 WR, but he's a top-12 guy for me.
4. Which WR have you been drafting the least of so far?
Besides Lamb, you mean? I'll say it's Thielen, who seems like he could be on the verge of falling off the cliff here. He turns 31 in a few weeks and has seen a significant dip in his production, going from 85.8 yards per game in 2018 to 41.8 in 2019 and just 61.7 in his bounce back 2020. You might not have noticed because he scored 14 touchdowns, but that's a pace he definitely won't be able to sustain, and he's now clearly the No. 2 WR on his own (low-volume) team. I wouldn't be surprised if Thielen doesn't break 900 yards this season, and I can't go into the season with him as my WR2.
5. Which WR do you have the biggest target/volume concerns about
Besides Thielen? I'll go with Diontae Johnson as an extension of my concerns about the Steelers' offense. Johnson needs to either remain the No. 1 target in this offense or he needs to become more efficient with the targets he does get to be a must-start Fantasy WR, and neither is guaranteed. I'm not sure he's a markedly better player than Chase Claypool or JuJu Smith-Schuster, and the re-worked Steelers offense could have some growing pains as Ben Roethlisberger gets acclimated to playing under center more often. Those short, quick targets Johnson lived off last season may not be there in as plentiful numbers if Roethlisberger isn't in the shotgun full time.
Injuries, News and Notes
- Dak Prescott did "light throwing' Saturday -- This is the first time since the injury Prescott has been able to throw, and it represents some promising progress in his recovery. Prescott was shut down and will continue to be brought along slowly, but at this point the team has maintained they expect him to be ready for the start of the regular season. It's not clear when he will return to practice, but I would bet against him playing in the preseason at this point.
- Joe Burrow will not play in the preseason opener -- No decision has been made as to whether the second-year QB will play in the other two preseason games as he continues to work his way back from a torn ACL. Barring an aggravation of the injury, Burrow will be in for Week 1 against the Vikings, but given that there have been some pretty discouraging reports about Burrow's play in practice so far, so we wouldn't mind getting a chance to see him in real action before we have to make a decision about how much we want to invest in him.
- Matthew Stafford won't play in the preseason -- Pretty standard operating procedure for Sean McVay's teams in the preseason, frankly. He just doesn't see much reason to put his starters at risk of injury in the preseason, so we won't get our first look at how the offense looks with a new QB until Week 1 against the Bears.
- Lamar Jackson (COVID-19) returned to practice -- Jackson had been out since the start of camp following a positive test, but he'll still get a full month to prep before the season begins. No worries here.
- The 49ers are looking to use Trey Lance "situationally" -- Kyle Shanahan has been consistent in saying that Lance doesn't really have a chance to earn the starting job, despite how impressive Lance has been in practice, and he reiterated that Sunday, telling MMQB's Albert Breer, "I'd be very surprised if he did with the way [Jimmy Garoppolo] is playing. It'd put a lot on a kid to do that. He's doing everything he can. I'm very impressed with him so far, but I'd be very surprised if that happened." Still, Lance will have a role in the offense, as they are installing a package of plays for him and have put him in with the first-team offense for those plays occasionally. I still think there's a chance Lance ends up the starter early on in the season if Garoppolo stumbles, but it also wouldn't surprise me if it ended up being an Alex Smith/Patrick Mahomes situation, where the veteran is good enough to keep the team in contention and the rookie takes over next season.
- Saquon Barkley (knee) will practice Monday -- Barkley was activated from the PUP list and is expected to practice for the first time, though it's not clear if he will be a full participant just yet. There has been an awful lot of uncertainty around Barkley's potential availability for Week 1 -- neither he nor the team has been willing to commit to him being available -- but this is obviously a great sign. Barkley has been mostly limited to individual work so far in camp, but if he starts working in 11-on-11s soon, that would be a good indicator that he is going to be ready. Arrow is pointing back up, but my preference would still be the wait until the second round if possible.
- Gus Edwards was removed from the COVID-19 IL -- Edwards had been out since the start of training camp, but I can't imagine that's going to cost him much in terms of his role. The Ravens signed him to an extension this offseason and he figures to continue to see 8-10 carries per week as the third wheel in the Jackson-J.K. Dobbins-led rushing game.
- The Falcons signed D'Onta Foreman -- A mid-training camp signing usually doesn't make much of an impact, and there's no guarantee Foreman even makes the Falcons roster. However, this is a somewhat interesting signing, because Foreman is just a running back; he's not going to be a third-down option or play on special teams, so if he's going to have a role, it will be as a rusher. Mike Davis is the presumed starter for the Falcons, but if he falters, maybe Foreman can step in. Foreman hasn't done much since being a third-round pick in 2017, but he did look decent in a limited role for the Titans in 2020, rushing for 95 yards on 22 carries, but he doesn't have much Fantasy appeal at this point. Javian Hawkins is still my preferred late-round target from this offense.
- Curtis Samuel (groin/COVID-19) has no timetable to return to practice -- Coach Ron Rivera doesn't make it sound as if there's much of an issue with Samuel missing this time since he is familiar with the playbook from their time together in Carolina, but seeing as he's been out since OTAs with the groin injury, it's hard not to be concerned at this point. I think Samuel can be an excellent do-it-all option for the Washington Football Team, but I'd like to see him at a full-go well before Week 1 to feel confident in it. Rivera indicated it's no guarantee that Samuel will be able to play in the preseason.
- D.J. Chark had surgery for a broken finger -- Chark is expected to be ready for Week 1 according to coach Urban Meyer, but we don't know much more about a potential timetable outside of that. Chark could be the No. 1 WR for Trevor Lawrence, but my expectation is there is a pretty even split between he, Laviska Shenault, and Marvin Jones for targets. Chark missing significant time in training camp and the preseason wouldn't make me feel any better about him. He's not in my top-36 WR, despite an ADP as WR31.
- Marquez Callaway expected to replace Michael Thomas? -- With Thomas recovering from an ankle injury and Tre'Quan Smith dealing with a leg injury, Callaway has been the top option in the passing game recently and is drawing very positive reviews from camp. Per NOLA.com, Callaway has been the "breakout star" of camp and is playing a part in the team reportedly believing they'll be fine without Thomas. Add Callaway to your sleeper list, for sure.
- Marquise Brown (hamstring) has been cleared for conditioning -- Brown hasn't been cleared to return from the injury yet, but this is a good sign that he is making progress. He has plenty of breakout potential if he can emerge from camp as the top option in the passing game, but he's more of a WR4 with upside even when healthy.
- Denzel Mims' roster spot could be in jeopardy -- Mims has mostly been working with the second-team offense since OTAs, and ESPN's Rich Cimini notes he is sixth or seventh in the WR hierarchy right now. Mims is a big, fast receiver who may not fit into what the Jets are looking for from their receivers, and he struggled to establish himself as a rookie while dealing with injuries. It seems like Mims may need a trade to have any Fantasy relevance for 2021.
- Michael Gallup won't get a contract extension -- That's not necessarily a surprise, given how much they are paying Amari Cooper along with Lamb's emergence. Still, Gallup could be in line for a big payday next offseason with a good season, and he has quite a bit of upside as a WR4.
- James Washington has reportedly asked for a trade -- Washington finds himself No. 4 on the depth chart, and the former second-rounder is reportedly hoping to find a new home heading into a contract season. Washington has shown some upside as a big-play guy and would certainly have some Fantasy appeal if he landed in the right space. In Pittsburgh, he effectively has none.
- Nico Collins is seeing first-team reps -- Collins worked his way into the third round despite somewhat underwhelming college production, because he's a big, fast receiver with a knack for making big plays. And, given the Texans' lack of talent on offense, he has a chance to emerge as the No. 2 WR and be a Fantasy sleeper, so consider him as a possible last-round pick.
- Bryan Edwards has been practicing with the first team offense -- Edwards ended up making almost no impact as a rookie, but remember, he was the starter for the Raiders in Week 1 before injuries derailed his season. He continues to impress in camp and it seems like he's going to be out there for the first snap in Week 1 again. The question is whether the South Carolina product can turn his practice performance into actual production. He's an intriguing late-round sleeper, though I would rather have Henry Ruggs if I'm speculating on the Raiders passing game late.
- Darren Waller has missed five straight practices -- Of course, if something's up with Waller, that could change the outlook for the entire offense pretty significantly. It's not clear what Waller has been out or when he might return, but I haven't seen any reason to think this is something to be too concerned about. We'll monitor and keep an eye for details, but right now, it doesn't seem like much.
- Hunter Henry left practice Sunday with a shoulder injury -- At this point, the injury isn't considered serious, but he is set to undergo an MRI Monday to determine the full extent. According to ESPN, Henry could miss time in the preseason as a result of the injury, though we'll obviously know more once we know about the MRI results. Henry is a low-end TE1 for me -- ahead of Jonnu Smith, actually -- but if he misses time, that could push Smith into the mid-range TE1 discussion for as long as Henry is sidelined.
- Pat Freiermuth has been seeing first-team reps lately -- The second-round pick has drawn very positive reviews from Steelers camp and seems like he might be capable of pushing Eric Ebron for playing time. It's unlikely he'll be much more than a streamer at any point as a rookie, but Freiermuth looks like he's going to have a role this season, so keep an eye on him.
- Will Lutz (groin) could miss the start of the season -- Lutz may require surgery to repair a core muscle injury, and that might carry with it at least an eight-week recovery time. We're about a month away from the start of the regular season, so we could be looking at Lutz missing three to four weeks, again, at least. This could continue to be a pretty good offense for kicking opportunities, so whoever replaces him may end up being useful in the right matchups as a streamer.
So which sleepers, breakouts and busts should you target and fade? And which QB shocks the NFL with a top-five performance? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy cheat sheets for every single position, all from the model that called Josh Allen's huge season, and find out.