Whether you do a full set of projections to compare players or put your rank lists together by gut feel, every cheat sheet can be broken out into tiers. The process is simple and the rewards are many. Breaking your rankings into tiers forces you to crystallize your opinions on players. It naturally lends itself to helping you make good strategic decisions during your draft. The process helps you stay on the right side of runs, shows you which positions can be sloughed a round longer than you thought or need to be targeted early. Perhaps most importantly, tiering and then running a few mock drafts leave you prepared for every contingency during your draft and will keep you from scrambling when you're on the clock in those all-important middle rounds.
This series will walk you through our tiering process position by position this summer, including IDPs, and offer our strategic insights along the way. We'll have thoughts on whether you should go with a top quarterback or QBBC, whether you should target a top TE over your RB3 or WR3, whether you should prioritize DL over LB again this year and whether there are any defensive backs worth drafting early.
In this installment, we'll cover our WR tiers. Our tiers vary in the middle ranks again, but our philosophy seems to be the same. Look to grab an upper tier WR as your WR3 this year, particularly in PPR leagues. While there are lots of upside targets in the back half of fantasy drafts, the list of wide receivers that won't give you a headache when deciding whether to start them every week is short. It's yet another example of how a strategic drafting plan jumps off the page after carefully breaking your rankings into tiers.
Sigmund Bloom's WR Tiers
Uberstuds: Andre Johnson, Randy Moss (PPR-), Larry Fitzgerald (PPR+)
Andre Johnson should be the consensus #1 WR off the board across leagues of all scoring formats, but Randy Moss is being underrated in non-PPR leagues because of his TD potential with both him and his QB coming into the season much healthier than they were for most of 2009. Fitzgerald has fallen out of favor because of the QB situation in Arizona, but he is still first-round worthy in PPR leagues because bad QBs should lean on him even more than the accomplished Kurt Warner did. If the offense sputters, Fitzgerald could be disappointing in non-PPR leagues, and he probably doesn't belong in this tier.
Uberstuds in the making?: Calvin Johnson, Miles Austin
Johnson has the talent and improved situation to make the leap to numbers like 1500 yards and 15 TDs. Austin was already an uberstud on a PPG basis last year, and he adds the most talented WR in the draft to his offense. He's a bona fide WR1 and a fine choice in the second round this year.
Solid #1s: Roddy White, DeSean Jackson (PPR-), Brandon Marshall (PPR+), Reggie Wayne, Steve Smith (CAR), Chad Ochocinco
This group makes for suitable WR1s assuming you got an uberstud RB1 at the top of the first. White has the highest floor, but maybe the lowest ceiling of the group. DeSean Jackson has a small bust risk if Kevin Kolb crashes and burns, but he also has uberstud upside if Kolb's timing and accuracy can get his run-after-catch skills into play more often. For some reason, people think Marshall can't have another 100 catch season, but if he did it with Kyle Orton, I think he can do it with Chad Henne. Wayne feels a little shaky to me, like his skills may start to erode this year, but so much of his value is tied to Peyton Manning, and that's a good thing. Steve Smith of Carolina is still the only game in town when it comes to the Panthers passing game, and his arm shouldn't worry you if you can get him in the mid-to-late third. Ochocinco should be a stud once again (even if his production is up and down as always) now that he got his P-I-C T.O. in town.
Potential WR1s/Solid WR2s : Greg Jennings, Sidney Rice, Marques Colston, Hakeem Nicks, Michael Crabtree (PPR+), Steve Smith-NYG (PPR+), Mike Sims-Walker, Hines Ward, Anquan Boldin.
This group all makes for good WR2s, but there are issues that could keep them from being WR1s. Jennings is more than talented enough to put up WR1 numbers, but his performance was inconsistent last year, and Jermichael Finley might steal a lot of red zone thunder. Sidney Rice has the Favre will-he-or-won't-he plus the mysterious hip issue. Colston had yet another knee surgery and he is in an offense without a true #1 receiver. Nicks continues to get banged up, and his breakout is based on a limited sample size. Crabtree and Smith should be #1s in PPR leagues, but TDs might be hard to come by for this duo. Mike Sims-Walker presents the largest value of this tier; he was a No. 1 last year until he wore down in the second half of the season. Ward performed at just about his ceiling last year, and the loss of Holmes could hurt, not help his numbers if Mike Wallace isn't ready for the expanded duties of a starter. Boldin was long underrated in fantasy circles, but now he might be overrated, going from a high-end passing offense to a mid-level air attack. Aim to make one of this tier your #3 WR in start 3 WR PPR leagues.
Risk/Reward WR3s: Wes Welker (PPR+), Dwayne Bowe, Jeremy Maclin, Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, Percy Harvin
This group includes players who could be a steal at their current ADP, but they could also drive you up the wall with uncertainty. Welker looks like a good bet to return for week 1, but at what level of effectiveness, and how much will the Pats tell us about his actual condition? Bowe is trying to work hard and dedicate himself, but is it the last straw if he doesn't carry that over to the regular season? Maclin is poised to put up big numbers as a #2 in a top-end passing offense, but his numbers as a rookie were uninspiring. Hester and Knox will start for Mike Martz, but which will emerge as the #1? Harvin has the Favre question hanging over him, plus a prolonged absence from camp that could be due to a lingering migraine problem. I love this group as your first WR off the bench, but they could be frustrating as every-week starters.
The Old Standbys/Dependable WR3s: Terrell Owens, Donald Driver, Derrick Mason, Santana Moss
Owens is a player I am warming to by the day. He might a member of the solid WR2/potential WR1 group by the beginning of the season. He is universally underrated because people are confusing the drop-off in his surrounding last year with a drop-off in his ability. Driver just got an extension and you know he'll be back around 1000 yards again this year. Mason's chemistry with Joe Flacco won't vanish with the addition of Anquan Boldin, and he'll grit his teeth through any injury. Moss has as much upside as anyone in this group except Owens playing with the best QB he has ever played with, but he is maddening inconsistent in the box score and his involvement in an HGH scandal hangs over his draft stock.
Standing on the Verge of Getting it On: Pierre Garcon, Mike Wallace, Kenny Britt, Mike Williams
All of these explosive young talents come with a wide span between their ceiling and their floor. Garcon could make a Miles Austin-esque leap in numbers and performance this year, but the Colts could just as easily continue to spread the ball around and short-circuit his stats. Wallace excelled as a clear-out deep-route WR3, but does he have the goods to be a do-everything starter? Kenny Britt had a terrible offseason, but if he can get out of the conditioning and consistency tailspin, he'll be a #1 WR even if it is in a modest passing offense.
Puzzles: Dez Bryant, Vincent Jackson, Robert Meachem, Nate Burleson, Malcom Floyd, Donnie Avery, Santonio Holmes, Dexter McCluster, Lee Evans, Jerricho Cotchery, Jabar Gaffney, Braylon Edwards, Eddie Royal, TJ Houshmandzadeh, Steve Breaston
You can tell a story that has any of these WRs greatly outproducing their ADP, and you can also tell a story that more than justifies the low ADP. The most underrated members of this group are Vincent Jackson, who should produce like a WR1 whenever he returns - the risk/reward makes him an easy pick where he is going these days, Dexter McCluster, who is dazzling Chiefs camp and might just have the skills to demand 150+ touches, Lee Evans, who has a head coach that made a viable offense out of meager talent in KC in 2008, and Santonio Holmes, who like Jackson, should produce close to previous levels upon his return. This group represents nice bye week/injury plays/potential trade bait to stock your bench.
Upside Fliers: Lance Moore, Josh Morgan, Josh Cribbs, Jacoby Jones, Devin Aromashodu, Laurent Robinson, Legedu Naanee, Julian Edelman, Brandon Tate, Golden Tate, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker
These end-of-the-bench WRs all have the potential to be valuable players based on promising past performances and potential opportunity in 2010. My personal favorites are Moore, Jones, Naanee and Brandon Tate, because they play with established prolific passers who can make even average WRs fantasy factors - and the talent of that group is most definitely above average.
Solid Bench Depth: Chris Chambers, Bernard Berrian, Kevin Walter, Devery Henderson
None of these guys will become every-week starters for your team, and they are unlikely to set career highs this year. Any of them could be relegated to third at best in the pecking order for targets on their team, but they all have a solid track record of production and might be good late-round picks if you prefer solid depth to upside on your bench (I don't). I think there are lots of interesting upside candidates outside the top 30 this year, but I think the top tiers are thinner than in past years. In general, unless you're sold on a player at another position or at the end of an important tier, I'd lean toward grabbing a WR in the early rounds of the draft until you're flush with solid options or your top tiers have been exhausted. That could mean preparing to draft four wide receivers in the first six or seven rounds in some league setups if things break that way.
Jene Bramel's WR Tiers
Elite WR1: Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Randy Moss
I've wavered on the positioning of the first two tiers repeatedly over the past month. Arguably, Johnson could be the only wideout deserving of this tier. A case could also be made for any of the three players in the tier just below as 90/1400/10 or better talents. In the end, Johnson and Fitzgerald are the only two receivers I'm comfortable drafting ahead of my RB1- tier, so they get the nod here. I'm not a big Matt Leinart fan, but I think Fitzgerald's targets and catch percentage should be good enough to keep him in the 90+ catch range. With his red zone ability, he should remain an elite option. Moss is assured of approaching 140 targets and converts such a high percentage of his red zone opportunities that he's hard to drop out of this tier despite concerns about the New England offensive line, a tough schedule, Wes Welker's health and a RBBC with a number of questions.
Strong WR1 With Elite Upside: Miles Austin, Roddy White, Calvin Johnson
I really like the upside of Austin and White this year. The Cowboys may be loaded with skill position talent, but the Cowboys' offense will easily give Austin enough targets and red zone chances to hold top five value. Early reports that Dez Bryant is the real deal should only help Austin in the long run. White's yards per reception dropped some last season, but it should move back toward 14.5 or better in 2010. His WR6 ADP is legit. Johnson could make the leap this year if the Lions' offensive line holds up. If not, he'll struggle to get enough quality targets to make enough catches to deserve a spot in this tier.
Safe WR1: Reggie Wayne, Greg Jennings, Brandon Marshall, Marques Colston
Wayne was a major disappointment during the second half of 2009. He holds some risk of going quiet during the fantasy playoffs and doesn't have the explosive upside of the others in this tier. Still, you could do worse than penciling in his 90-100/1200/8-10 in your lineup. I think he's overvalued at his current ADP of WR4, but wouldn't have any qualms grabbing him with a late second round pick if the rest of this tier is already off the board. After Wayne, I think this tier is loaded with value. Jennings, Marshall and Colston are falling to the early-middle third round according to the latest ADP data. I'm not one for scripting a draft ahead of time, but unless you've got a late first round pick and are planning to go WR/WR or know that you want to lock up a top four QB, I'd strongly suggest targeting a WR from this group (or one from the tier above should they fall) in the third round.
I see Jennings with more targets, more quality downfield chances with Jermichael Finley attracting attention over the middle and more red zone chances than he had in 2009. He's very likely to be back to his 80/1200/10 of 2008. Marshall won't be in the doghouse, will be the focus of the passing game and has a quarterback accurate enough to get him the ball consistently. It's hard to look at Colston's target counts in recent seasons and not worry that the Saints have too many options to allow him to put up stud WR1 numbers. I don't think there's anything in the gameplan that prevents Colston from those targets, however, and last season showed that he's durable enough to trust as a WR1. I think it's just as likely that he sees 135 targets as 100 this year and his frequent usage in the red zone makes him a solid option.
Strong WR2: Steve Smith (CAR), Chad Ochocinco, DeSean Jackson, Michael Crabtree, Hakeem Nicks, Steve Smith (NYG)
Ochocinco's ADP is creeping up (WR16 at last update), but he and Carolina's Steve Smith still feel underrated. Ochocinco still managed 128 targets, 1047 yards and nine touchdowns with the deck stacked against him last season. That's a reasonable floor for him this year. I think Crabtree and Nicks are this season's two best candidates to explode toward 80+/1200+/10 seasons. Crabtree has a strong chance at 130 or more targets and I can't see the Niners relying on Josh Morgan as much in the red zone this year (he led the team with 15 RZ targets in 2009). It's a fantastic setup for a breakout season. If you listen to the Audible, you know the argument on Nicks: 790 yards, 16.8 yards per reception and six scores as a part-time player with a broken toe. I'm avoiding Jackson this season. He's a nice fantasy option but carries too much risk as your cornerstone WR1. Eight of his nine scores came on plays longer than 50 yards, his 118 targets and 63 receptions aren't WR1 quality and he ranked sixth last season among Eagles' skill position players in red zone targets. That's a worrisome combination of statistics.
WR3 with WR2+ Upside: Sidney Rice, Wes Welker, Anquan Boldin, Mike Sims-Walker, Johnny Knox, Jeremy Maclin, Dwayne Bowe
Choose wisely among this group and you'll have a huge advantage every week. Boldin is being overdrafted as the WR12. He's a much better fantasy fit as your WR2 or WR3 than borderline WR1. The others would likely rank in the WR2 already if they were assured of getting the targets necessary to hit their ceiling. The uncertainty surrounding Brett Favre and a hip injury make Rice a risky pick before the fifth round right now. Welker will deserve a higher tier ranking by year's end, but he's hard to rely on until he proves he's ready to hold up for 60-70 snaps a game. Sims-Walker is injury prone and subject to the inconsistencies of David Garrard, but could be a top fifteen receiver if he reaches 125+ targets. Knox looks like the most exciting prospect in the Chicago offense. Bowe has been very impressive in camp and could rebound with a huge target number with strong red zone value. I think Maclin may already be the WR1a in Philadelphia, but route running consistency and competition for targets are keeping me from pushing him harder.
WR3: Hines Ward, Devin Hester, Donald Driver, Percy Harvin, Santana Moss, Jabar Gaffney, Terrell Owens, Mike Wallace, Derrick Mason, Malcom Floyd, Dez Bryant, TJ Houshmandzadeh
I think this group represents safe WR3 value. Each of them have relatively high floors and are unlikely to be major busts at their current ADP. Still, there's not a lot of upper-tier upside here, and I'd recommend drafting heavily from the higher tiers where you can. There are 23 WRs in the tiers with WR2+ upside or better and 13 WRs in this tier. Barring a big value at the QB or RB position, I'll likely be looking to draft a receiver in the tier just above as my WR3 (likely MSW, Knox or Maclin based on current ADP) in the 5th or 6th round and coming back to this tier a couple of rounds later to find a WR4.
Ward, Driver and Mason remain very strong veteran options. I'd like all three better than Moss and Houshmandzadeh. I think Floyd and Gaffney have the best breakout potential of this group. Gaffney's ADP is correcting quickly over the last month, but he's still available as a WR4 in most leagues. His chemistry with Kyle Orton, knowledge of the offense and lack of competition for targets should lead to a big year. I have been very happy to see Dez Bryant sliding down draft boards lately. Bryant carries an ADP of WR30 as of the last update, but he's been available after the 8th round in some drafts. Good new about his ankle rehab could reverse the current trend, but he's a great risk as a high upside WR4 if you slough that roster spot until later in your draft.
Flex WR/Top Depth: Vincent Jackson, Santonio Holmes, Pierre Garcon, Kenny Britt, Lance Moore/Robert Meachem, Jerricho Cotchery, Mike Thomas, Lee Evans, Mike Williams, Braylon Edwards, Chris Chambers, Austin Collie, Donnie Avery, Bernard Berrian, Steve Breaston, Eddie Royal, Nate Burleson, Dexter McCluster
Jackson is a huge risk, but a worthwhile one if you can get him toward the back half of this tier. Holmes is a strong play as a high upside WR5 in the 10th round or later. None of the players in this tier should be drafted for use as a clear starter, but Pierre Garcon, Lance Moore and Mike Williams have my attention as potential WR3 or better if they solidify their team's WR2 role. Conversely, I think the floor on Bernard Berrian, Steve Breaston and Eddie Royal is too low to risk right now.
Upside Depth: Anthony Gonzalez, Chaz Schilens, Jacoby Jones, Golden Tate, Malcolm Kelly, Brandon Tate, Devin Aromashodu, Demaryius Thomas, Laurent Robinson, Golden Tate
The situations in which the players in this group currently finds themselves in (nagging injury, positional competition, etc) makes it impossible to trust any of them as flex options yet. But each player in this group has the talent and/or situation to become a viable flex option if things break right. With just a few camp practices behind us, I'd be most likely to take a chance on Anthony Gonzalez, Jacoby Jones and Brandon Tate.