Rankings are a good place to start your fantasy football draft preparation, but they don't convey the true landscape of a group of a players at a position without the added dimension of tiers. Tiers collect players of similar expected value and show how the difference between #10 and #20 on a list is bigger than the difference between #20 and #30. An early look at the wide receiver tiers this year reveals an unpredecentedly large group of WR2 candidates and a lot more than can give your strategy at the position much more nuance in early drafts.
- Calvin Johnson, DET
Johnson has set the bar higher than any wide receiver has in receiving yards over the course of a season, but he was tackled at the one-yard line six times, suggesting that he can create an even larger gap between him and the very talented pack of WR1s. I wouldn’t take him until the top eight running backs and Jimmy Graham are gone in PPR leagues, but I understand if you choose to take him before that.
If there was no Calvin Johnson, this group would be vying to be the first wide receiver off of the board. All are already strong WR1’s and they are still on the upslope of their career. I prefer going running back (or Jimmy Graham if he is absurdly still there) in the second, but I won't fault owners who take one of these cornerstones instead - as long as they go running back in the first and third.
Strong WR1 with elite upside and some risk
Jones and Johnson are strong WR1 starts any time that they are healthy, but that hasn't been a given in recent years. Jones has year three breakout factor in his favor, while Johnson had an insane 70 catches for 1036 yards (but only two touchdowns) in the second half of 2012. I would consider either in the third round, assuming I started RB-RB. Jones won't be there, but Johnson could be.
- Brandon Marshall, CHI
- Roddy White, ATL
- Randall Cobb, GB
- Victor Cruz, NYG
- Larry Fitzgerald, ARI
- Jordy Nelson, GB
Count me among the group that thinks new head coach Marc Trestman will not want Jay Cutler zeroing in on Brandon Marshall like he has in the past. This group is full of solid WR1 producers (Cruz and Nelson produced at that clip for the first half last year before a Nelson injury and Giants collapse slowed them down). I have been consistently getting Nelson in the fourth round of 12 team leagues, which makes waiting until then to get your WR1 a solid gameplan.
Strong WR2 with WR1 upside
If Nicks can stay healthy, Jackson (or is it Josh Freeman?) can be more consistent, Harvin can get close to the targets he got in Minnesota, any of them could put up WR1 numbers this year. Colston could be a WR1 this year if any of the wide receivers listed above falter. With 20+ running backs and a handful of quarterbacks and tight ends going in the first three rounds this year, one or two of this group could slip to the fourth along with Nelson to give you a viable WR1 if you don’t take one in the first three rounds.
- Danny Amendola, NE
- Pierre Garcon, WAS
- Torrey Smith, BAL
- Mike Wallace, MIA
- Eric Decker, DEN
- Miles Austin, DAL
- Cecil Shorts, JAX
- Tavon Austin, STL
- Kenny Britt, TEN
- Josh Gordon, CLE
- TY Hilton, IND
The ratio of risk to reward gets higher and less compelling as you go down this list, but any of this group could be a go-to WR2 (in Amendola and Britt's case, even a WR1) for your fantasy team. Some of these names offer more consistency from week to week, others are even boom/bust within the season. The beautiful thing about taking one of this list as your WR2 (or WR3) is that the next list of safe WR2 is almost as long. Miles Austin and Pierre Garcon are the ones I am consistently getting in early drafts, with Garcon in the fifth, and Austin as late as the eighth round.
High Floor WR2
- Reggie Wayne, IND
- Dwayne Bowe, KC
- Antonio Brown, PIT
- Wes Welker, DEN
- Steve Smith, CAR
- Greg Jennings, MIN
- Steve Johnson, BUF
- Anquan Boldin, SF
- Mike Williams, TB
This tier is not below the boom/bust tier as much as it is an alternative to boom/bust WR2 options. The ideal approach is dependant on how good your WR1 is and your philosophy as a fantasy player. I have gone with a mix-and-match strategy, following up a Pierre Garcon pick with Greg Jennings in the next round, or following Miles Austin with Anquan Boldin. The very strong depth of safe WR2 options makes it much easier tolerate risk at WR1 and WR2, because you can start a solid WR2 as your WR3, and have them as a viable WR2 if your boom/bust WR2 does indeed bust. If you’re keeping count, that's 23 WR2 level options to fill 12 WR2 spots in a typical league. If you are in a 10-team league, waiting at wide receiver looks even better. Boldin is the big value play in this tier, with Williams right behind him. Both are usually available in the eighth round or later.
- Jeremy Maclin, PHI
- Desean Jackson, PHI
- James Jones, GB
- Danario Alexander, STL
- Denarius Moore, OAK
- Sidney Rice, SEA
- Justin Blackmon, JAX
- Vincent Brown, SD
- Ryan Broyles, DET
- Kendall Wright, TEN
Any of this group could be your WR3, or even become WR2. They have various risk factors, but all have great talent and opportunity ahead of them. In some years, you would be satisfied to trot a Maclin or James Jones out as your WR3, but with such a huge group of WR2 candidates, you don’t need to this year. Rice, Brown, and Broyles are all presenting excellent value from the tenth round on this year.
Low Ceiling WR3
Players like Hartline and Moore are firewalls for your wide receiver corps. Neither have much chance of exceeding their WR3 upside, but both carry little risk and should be very solid options for byes, injuries, and other emergencies. Wide receiver is deep enough this year that you might not have much use for a solid WR3 when you have four or even five receivers with more upside ahead of them.
Upside Bench WR
- Michael Floyd, ARI
- Greg Little, CLE
- Chris Givens, STL
- Emmanuel Sanders, PIT
- Alshon Jeffery, CHI
- DeAndre Hopkins, HOU
- Cordarrelle Patterson, MIN
- Rueben Randle, NYG
- Joseph Morgan, NO
- Josh Morgan, WAS
- Darrius Heyward-Bey, IND
None of these wide receivers are sure things to even be startable at any point this year, but most of them have the immediate opportunity to make a big leap this season, and they have displayed the talent (either in college or the pros) to take advantage of the opportunities they have earned. Floyd's ADP is on the rise, but the rest are players that you can usually get in the double-digit rounds with no problem. The two Morgans are excellent wide receivers to earmark as picks in the 15th or later, as the fantasy world appears to be mostly unaware of the upside they present. Josh will be starting in Washington opposite a possibly gimpy Pierre Garcon. Joe should win the Devery Henderson role and could do more with it than Henderson ever did.
Upside Bench WR (deep leagues)
- Brian Quick, STL (Stedman Bailey)
- Robert Woods, BUF (Da’Rick Rogers)
- Julian Edelman, NE
- Malcom Floyd, SD (Keenan Allen)
- Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill, NYJ
- Dwayne Harris, DAL
- Rod Streater, Juron Criner, Jacoby Ford, OAK
- Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, CIN
- Brandon LaFell, CAR
- Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, NE
By no means is this list exhaustive, but these are some good names to start with when targeting wide receivers with late picks in deep leagues. You shouldn't feel attached to any of them. Be willing to cut them after week 1 if they don’t show something, and be willing to go with rookie alternatives in the Rams, Bills, and Chargers wide receiver corps if Quick, Woods, and Floyd are falling behind in camp and preseason. I prefer running backs to wide receivers at the end of my roster, just because they can experience much more sudden and explosive value growth, but all of the players on this list have either demonstrated rosterable fantasy value in the past, or shown the potential for rosterable fantasy value this season.
More from Sigmund Bloom:
The 2014 Draft All-Overrated Team: Louisville S Calvin Pryor - March 6
This Week in NFL News - 3/6 - March 6
The 2014 Draft All-Overrated Team: Alabama QB AJ McCarron - February 28
Pre-Free Agency Buy Low, Sell High: QBs - February 27
The 2014 Draft All-Overrated Team: Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews - February 26
Setting the Record Straight on Johnny Manziel - February 25
Free Offseason Content Menu - February 19
Top 50 Dynasty Wide Receivers - February 17
This Week in NFL News - 2/14 - February 14
2013 Fantasy Year in Review: Miami Dolphins - February 11