Wide Receiver Tiers
By Sigmund Bloom and Jene Bramel
August 15th, 2012

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 tight end over your RB3 or WR3, whether you should prioritize defensive linemen over linebackers again this year and whether there are any defensive backs worth drafting early.

Note: We are assuming a 12-team league and PPR scoring when discussing draft round estimates and ADP data.

Bloom: The Gold Standard

  • Calvin Johnson
  • Nobody does it better, Madden curse be damned.

    Draft Outlook: I prefer spending my first on anything but wide receiver, but I won't fault you for taking Megatron. He's everything a first-round pick should be.

    Bramel: Agreed.

    Bloom: Strong WR1 with Low-Moderate Risk

  • Larry Fitzgerald
  • Julio Jones
  • Wes Welker
  • Roddy White
  • AJ Green
  • Brandon Lloyd
  • Brandon Marshall
  • Andre Johnson
  • Hakeem Nicks
  • All of this group have top five upside with high floors, barring injury. The "barring injury" part keeps Jones from his own "could be next Calvin" tier and puts Johnson and Nicks at the bottom of this one. Welker and White are ultra-safe but could see the edge taken off of their numbers this year. Lloyd should flourish in the old Randy Moss role, and Marshall in the old Marshall role.

    Draft Outlook: Lloyd is commonly available in the 5th, and almost surely there in the 4th. This is the reason to not spend a 2nd/3rd on any other member of this tier, unless you are in the late 3rd and no potential RB1s fall to your pick. Jones and Johnson will likely require a mid-to-late second-round pick, and the rest are consistently gone by the mid-to-late 3rd.

    Boom-Bust Week-to-Week WR1

  • Steve Smith
  • Victor Cruz
  • Jordy Nelson
  • This group doesn't give you as consistent production as the Strong WR1 with risk tier, but they make up for that with plenty of top five weeks during the season. They should be grouped with the tier above in start three wide receivers with a flex leagues because of the ability to smooth out the rough patches with depth.

    Draft Outlook: They are usually going Cruz-Nelson-Smith in the late 3rd-early 4th. Consider Smith your backup pick in the 4th if you get sniped waiting for Lloyd.

    Bramel: I'd include Greg Jennings in the lower risk tier above; I'm not overly concerned with the concussion issue yet. I've been focusing on running backs or taking a shot on the relative advantage of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski (should they fall to the second round) so the majority of these players are drafted earlier than I'm considering wide receiver. If you're planning an upside-down draft strategy, however, these tiers are more than deep enough to put together a killer wide receiver unit in the first four rounds. I agree with Bloom that Lloyd is the most likely player to still be available to those who choose to load up on running backs.

    Bloom: WR1 with Moderate-High Risk

  • Percy Harvin
  • Dez Bryant
  • Marques Colston
  • Jeremy Maclin
  • Greg Jennings
  • Miles Austin
  • This group isn't far off the previous two groups at all. Harvin's concerns about his use and the lack of a proven number two, along with his tendency to be banged up create some seeds of doubt. Bryant has durability, conditioning, and off the field behavior questions. Colston and Maclin don't seem all that durable. Jennings is slow coming back from a concussion, which is a big concern. Austin already has hamstring issues after the same thing presented problems in 2011. There's proven top 10 upside in this tier, but they may aggravate you during the season with questionable designations on the injury report and missed games.

    Draft Outlook: Harvin, Dez, Colston, and Austin are all going in the 4th round. Jennings in the late 2nd as his concussion hasn't been priced into his ADP yet. Maclin is the value here at his early 5th round ADP. Keep your fingers crossed that he falls to you in that round.

    Bramel: I love Maclin this year. If Vick plays well, he could be in for a breakout 120+ target season. He and Lloyd will likely be on many of my teams as my WR1 (and hopefully both as my WR1/WR2). I share Bloom's wariness on Austin, but he's hard to ignore if still available in the fourth round. If you miss out on the consensus top 15 targets entirely, there's a strong combination of upside in this tier and in the tier just below).

    Bloom: Potential WR1 with Questions

  • Antonio Brown
  • Eric Decker
  • Stevie Johnson
  • Vincent Jackson
  • Mike Wallace
  • Dwayne Bowe
  • Consider this tier broken into two mini-tiers - the safe week-to-week plays in PPR leagues (Brown, Decker, Johnson), and the boom-bust week-to-week plays (Jackson, Wallace, Bowe). Brown was mostly absent in the red zone and could be hurt a bit by a Wallace holdout that extends into the season. Decker theoretically should be a 100 catch guy, but it's purely theory right now. Johnson needs his groin to stay healthy to hit his WR1 ceiling. Jackson flashes top 10 upside, but seems to be nagged by injuries and who knows how he'll riff with Freeman. Wallace and Bowe have looming holdouts, but both jump up a tier as soon as those are resolved. They also fall a tier if the holdouts get uglier. That these names are still available this far into your draft should underscore how deep wide receiver this year.

    Draft Outlook: Wallace is still going in the fourth, where he should if he reports to the team. Bowe, Johnson, Brown, and Jackson are all 5th round picks, which is solid value and reassuring if you only take one wide receiver in your first four picks. Decker is the value here in the sixth round.

    Bramel: Bowe feels low here, but overall I think this group is very similar to the group just above. I'd include Demaryius Thomas in this group, and Pierre Garcon may belong, too. That's over 25 names with top 15 potential and, again, the basis for our argument that letting the wide receiver position slide a tier or two is a better risk than letting the running back position slide. I think Brown is currently undervalued and will remain undervalued even when Wallace returns.

    Boom-Bust WR2 with WR1 Upside, Available as WR3s

  • Pierre Garcon
  • Demaryius Thomas
  • DeSean Jackson
  • Torrey Smith
  • Kenny Britt
  • Denarius Moore
  • Any of this group could join the Steve Smith/Victor Cruz/Jordy Nelson group this year. They have the quarterbacks and talent to do it. Even though they are going rounds later, it is really only a long-term proven track record or demonstrated upside issue that keeps them down in the sixth round or later. I would feel okay about any of them as a WR3, thrilled to have them as a WR4.

    Draft Outlook: Thomas is going late 4th/early 5th, which is too early because of the risk of him not having chemistry with Peyton Manning, especially early on. Jackson is going in the 6th, Smith and Britt in the 7th, and Garcon, Moore in the 8th. Garcon is the clear value and wide receiver to target in the 80s.

    Bramel: I think there's a sizable gap between Garcon and Thomas and the other four names in Bloom's tier here. I'd also shuffle Reggie Wayne up alongside those two players. I'd rather not yet rely on Jackson, Smith or Moore as my WR3, though I see the upside in Smith. Britt has plummeted to the ninth round and later in some drafts and he's all upside in that range.

    Bloom: WR3 with Strong WR2 Upside

  • Austin Collie
  • Reggie Wayne
  • Greg Little
  • Malcom Floyd
  • Anquan Boldin
  • Titus Young
  • All of this group has top 20 upside. Collie and Little could easily eclipse 90 catches, and Young could be more like Cruz/Nelson than anyone is expecting. Boldin will no longer be the focal point of the opponent's coverage, and Floyd will be Philip Rivers number one receiver as long as he is healthy. With this kind of depth (we're in the 30s now) at wide receiver, you can even feel comfortable taking only two in the first eight rounds.

    Draft Outlook: Collie is must draft in the 11th/12th until his 13th/14th round ADP catches up with reality. Wayne is heavily overpriced in the 6th/7th by comparison. Drafters are catching on to Floyd in the 8th/9th, so expect to get Little at his 9th round ADP or Boldin/Young in the 9th/10th as better values.

    Bramel: I prefer Wayne he's the very definition of the veteran WR who feels overpriced but is potentially undervalued over Collie, but both players are WR3 caliber starters or better. Little has started slow in camp, but is a very good WR4 target. I expect the news on Young to continue to get better, but I still have reservations about the consistency of his target counts and likely lack of red zone usage.

    Bloom: Upside Bench Plays

  • Randall Cobb
  • Nate Washington/Kendall Wright
  • Michael Crabtree
  • Sidney Rice
  • Lance Moore
  • Robert Meachem
  • I wouldn't want to have to rely on any of these wide receivers out of the gate, but either their talent, the quality of their passing game, or both makes me want to stash them on my bench to see if they can stay healthy and get the opportunity to put the kind of numbers up that they are capable of.

    Draft Outlook: Scratch Meachem off of your list, he's going way too high in the 7th/8th. Likewise with Rice in the 9th/10th. Washington, Moore and Crabtree become worth a look if they fall to the 11th, but Wright and Cobb are the clear values here in the 12th.

    Bramel: I've been overvaluing Cobb this year, but he's one of those players who you have to set ADP aside and take a round or two early if you like him. Cobb has tremendous flex potential if things stay status quo in Green Bay, but an injury or stellar play would make him a borderline elite fantasy option. Rice's average draft position in around the ninth round, but he's sometimes available much later. If you can get him as a WR5 or WR6, it's a great gamble.

    Bloom: Secondary Wide Receivers with Potential

  • James Jones
  • Emmanuel Sanders
  • Vincent Brown
  • All of these guys are third on the depth chart (assuming Jennings head is ok and Wallace shows up), but if they get thrust into the starting lineup, any could be a top 20 play week-to-week. All are great handcuffs - Jones to Jennings, Sanders to Wallace, and Brown to Floyd.

    Draft Outlook: All are going 15th round or later. Candy from a baby.

    Bramel: I've always been a Jones fan, but I'm not buying him as a WR5 this year. If you're planning on holding off until late for your WR5 or have room for a WR6 or WR7, I see Sanders and Brown as much better targets.

    Bloom: Potential Producers in Theory

  • Randy Moss
  • Darrius Heyward-Bey
  • Santonio Holmes/Stephen Hill
  • Santana Moss
  • Mike Williams
  • Laurent Robinson/Justin Blackmon
  • Steve Smith
  • I can tell myself a story where any of these guys have fantasy relevance, but my gut doesn't totally believe it.

    Draft Outlook: Holmes. Randy Moss and Heyward-Bey are going 10th round or earlier, no thanks. Likewise with Blackmon and Williams in the 11th. Santana Moss is okay value in the 12th, but members of the earlier tiers will surely be there, too. Laurent Robinson is probably an avoid in the 12th. Hill and Smith are going 15th or later and should be your targets to fill out your bench.

    Bramel: I'm not touching Randy Moss anywhere near his current ADP. Holmes and Heyward-Bey are worthwhile risks as a WR4/WR5 if you can get them at value, but like Sig, I prefer a little more upside than either brings.

    Bloom: PPR Bye Week / Injury Plays

  • Davone Bess
  • Doug Baldwin
  • Earl Bennett
  • Danny Amendola
  • This tier of slot wide receiver types could give you that 8-10 point floor you need in deep PPR leagues to get through the bye week gauntlet. Any of them could catch 80 balls and even be strong WR3 plays all year. They are an underrated group even though they probably lack WR2 upside.

    Draft Outlook: Baldwin is going in the 14th. Bess and Amendola in the 15th, and Bennett undrafted. If you are in 14+ team or deep bench leagues where the waiver wire is thin all season, Take one of these guys in the late rounds.

    Bramel: It's hard to get excited about a PPR-only WR with variable upside and a low ceiling in any given week. I'm passing on these players (with the possible exception of Baldwin) for a lottery ticket from the tier below.

    Bloom: Bench Flyers

  • Brandon LaFell
  • Jon Baldwin
  • Josh Morgan/Leonard Hankerson
  • Nate Burleson/Ryan Broyles
  • Alshon Jeffery
  • Greg Salas/Brian Quick
  • Jacoby Ford
  • Andre Caldwell
  • Josh Gordon
  • Any of these players have the potential role and talent to have fantasy relevance this year. LaFell and Baldwin lead the pack in terms of opportunity, although Burleson/Broyles have the best situation. In very deep leagues, fill your bench out with names from this list, but be ready to cut them early in the season for hot waiver wire pickups.

    Bramel: I like Jeffrey and Baldwin, but I like Jerome Simpson, Michael Floyd and Brandon LaFell in this range as well.

    Comments, suggestions or questions are welcome below or by email at bloom@footballguys.com or bramel@footballguys.com. You can also follow our active Twitter feeds @SigmundBloom and @JeneBramel. Thanks for reading.

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