After OTA’s and minicamps wind up, the NFL will go into one last period of hibernation for beach vacations and a deep breath before becoming consumed by the season. Us fantasy football types are no different. Before training camp and the preseason start to make us question what we think we know entering fantasy draft season, it’s good to take a snapshot of our beliefs to refer back to when August hype makes the vert and horizontal hold go wicky-wacky on our TV’s. I’ll be running down my current tiers for redraft leagues (PPR) before the earth starts to move again in late July.
Wide receiver is very strong 30-35 deep this year, with the NFL continuing to become more of a passing league. There is a bit of a dropoff after the core WR3 candidates, but still plenty of upside of chase with youth coming on the scene and lots of roles hanging in the balance in camp and the preseason. The depth early and potential late makes it easier to form your wide receiver strategy on the fly depending on what your peers leave on the board when you are on the clock. Going wide receiver with your first three picks can work, but so can taking no wide receivers in your first three picks.
The easy first-round picks in your PPR draft. Brown could shatter records this year and Jones will be right on his heels. Beckham is only a little behind them, and Green should have the target share to be the clear #4 wide receiver.
Hopkins still has a less than optimal quarterback and possibly better supporting cast and Bryant still has show us he can be his old self. Their ceilings don’t match the top four and it’s reasonable to take a top three back over them in the first.
Nelson has been a strong WR1 in the recent past and there’s no reason to think he won’t be his old self, especially after an ACL tear suffered in the 2015 preseason. Allen was on pace to lead the league in catches when he went down last year (67 catches in 7.5 games) and I can’t think of a reason he won’t be in that neighborhood this year. Pretty pret-tay good if you can start with these two at the turn in a PPR league.
LOW WR1/STRONG WR2
Hilton is my favorite of this group. He’s always available in the third round and should be the #1 in a passing offense with a top quarterback. His performance in 2015 was heroic considering the state of the offense. Jeffery will take a hit with the introduction of Kevin White and he has to stay healthy, but he has leveled off as a solid #1 on the post-Marshall Bears. Robinson’s numbers could come back to earth if the Jaguars are more competitive, so I would rather have him as my #2 than my #1. Cooks has better targets to share with than he did in 2015, but he was still a low WR1 once Drew Brees got going and that should be where he is this year.
HIGH CEILING WR2
Any of this group could reach the WR1 ranks this year, and even flirt with the top five. Evans and Cooper have trajectories pointing towards the moon if Evans can get his head in the game and Cooper can stay healthy. Watkins has his head in the game but can’t stay healthy. We’ll project him with a top 3-5 ceiling every week he’s on the field. Edelman was becoming a favored red zone target before going down last year and an offseason foot surgery isn’t that comforting, but he’ll be a high volume PPR play any time he is on the field.
HIGH FLOOR WR2
None of these wide receiver will approach WR1 status, with the exception of Marshall, who may move up a few spots once Ryan Fitzpatrick reports. Thomas might be close, but Mark Sanchez… Cobb might surprise with red zone involvement that approaches 2014 with Jordy Nelson back. Landry might drop off a bit in receptions, but hopefully make more downfield plays. Maclin is interesting to me because I expect the Chiefs to pass a lot more for as long as Justin Houston is out. No one here is going to make your draft, but they are fine WR2 types, with Maclin as the best value.
HIGH CEILING WR3
Floyd has the game and tools to become a #1 this year. He’ll still share with Fitzgerald and Brown (a fellow member of this tier), but the Cardinals offense passing pie is big enough for him to get be a very good WR2 with WR1 weekly upside. Moncrief has a big opportunity and has the second highest ceiling of this tier, and TY Hilton injury upside to boot. Benjamin has to get back from an ACL tear, although the pre-injury buzz was good about him last summer. Still, his rookie year numbers were much better than his efficiency/level of play, and that could be a problem if the time off has slowed down his growth. Baldwin isn’t in a high volume pass offense, but that didn’t stop him from being a league winner last year. What he and Russell Wilson have in the red zone is real, and putting him in the WR3 range when he finished as a WR1 could be overthinking it. Brown has the game and situation to approach WR1 numbers, just like Floyd. Hamstring issues slowed him down last year.
HIGH FLOOR WR3
Perhaps you will prefer the members of this tier over their high ceiling cousins if you didn’t take wide receivers early and want to lock in some baseline production. Tate, Crabtree, and Fitzgerald should all approach 90-100 catches this year and be more consistent from week-to-week. Sanders will take a hit a quarterback, but he is still a fine WR3 and Decker is really a high floor WR2 once Ryan Fitzpatrick officially comes back.
HIGH SEASON-LONG CEILING QUALITY DEPTH
You might not want to rely on any of these player Week 1, but they have unknown ceilings and some wind at their back. Treadwell will likely be his team’s #1 option in the passing game right away. Parker will be the #1 downfield option in an Adam Gase-led offense. White has top-end ability and a good quarterback. Coleman, like Treadwell, should start out as his team’s #1 receiver. Shepard is almost assured of being his team’s #2, with Odell Beckham hypnotizing defenses on the other side. Thomas stands to inherit a role that Marques Colston turned into over 1000 yards and eight scores as a rookie. This tier builds upside into your draft.
HIGH SEASON-LONG FLOOR QUALITY DEPTH
All of these players can contribute solid, if not big, weeks to your lineup. They are terrific bye/injury options, and if things break right, they can be more. Hurns needs the Jags to be bad and have injuries/problems with the options after him in the pecking order like they did last year. Jones needs to take advantage of his opportunity as a starter in Detroit. Matthews needs to click with Sam Bradford or whoever is playing quarterback for the Eagles. Snead needs to grow in his third year and become one of his most trusted targets. Jackson and Smith need to stay healthy in their old age. Snead is probably my favorite of this group, if only because of the quality of his quarterback/offense.
HIGH WEEKLY CEILING QUALITY DEPTH
Any of these receivers can serve as a #3 or flex in any given week, but they are high ceiling/low floor options who are as likely to finish with two catches as they are to catch a long touchdown. Jackson could be freed up even more in a Washington pass offense that is growing. Lockett has year two upside, but the Seahawks pass volume could limit his season-long ceiling. Smith might be revived by Chip Kelly, but his quarterback is still Blaine Gabbert - at best. Benjamin might surprise taking over Malcom Floyd’s old role, and Wheaton might do better the second time around auditioning to be the second option in the Steelers potent pass offense. Dorsett will be another target for Andrew Luck, and Austin’s role should be solid as long as he still get red zone carries and looks. There’s upside in this tier, but it lacks week-to-week consistency.
HIGH CEILING FLIERS
This group is full of players who have the potential to settle in as high ceiling weekly plays, but they also might not see your lineup once unless things fall into place for them. Doctson is the easiest pick of the group, with prodigious talent that should fit in on red zone plays immediately. Coates has a chance to win Martavis Bryant’s old role with high value deep targets and screens that play to his strengths. Funchess had a great offseason and should see his targets and production go up in his second year. Green-Beckham is not creating momentum this offseason, but he is the easily most talented receiver on his roster. Gordon might get reinstated, but would likely have to find a new team. Perriman and Janis probably won’t be full-time players, but if they can get on the field, they’ll be designated deep targets.
MID CEILING FLIERS
Now we’re getting to last spot on the bench picks. Adams, Coleman, and Mitchell could win nice roles in great pass offenses. Fuller could get deep targets in an offense that will keep defenses thinking run and Nuk Hopkins.
HIGH FLOOR BYE/INJURY FILLER
This group is terrific depth in leagues that don’t have fat waiver wires and should be given a premium in larger leagues. Any of them could be reliable starters for a stretch, and Diggs has second year upside after a rookie year outburst fizzled out late. Aiken and Johnson were both solid starts for a while last year, but they are in crowded passing games.
HIGH WEEKLY CEILING BYE/INJURY FILLER
This tier could save your butt in a bye/injury week with a long touchdown. All should be used as downfield targets, but monitor camp and preseason to see just how big their roles will be. Williams has to hold off Brice Butler, Wallace still has Breshad Perriman looming if his knee holds up, Randle needs to beat out Chris Givens, Ginn needs to carve out with a Kelvin Benjamin back and Devin Funchess on the rise, and Stills has rookie Leonte Carroo to contend with. We could be changing the names here as the summer progresses.
DEEP LEAGUE DEPTH
Strong is the name to watch here. He is a new man by most accounts and could hold off first-round pick Will Fuller to start outside opposite DeAndre Hopkins. Some like Sanu, Matthews, and Hogan more than I do. They look like bye/injury/emergency filler at best, but I’m open to revising my opinion if they start strong. Garcon, Britt, LaFell, and Woods are technically starters, but their week-to-week production could be very inconsistent. Shorts and Crowder are quality slot receivers, but they aren’t in situations where the slot receiver could become a primary target.
DEEP LEAGUE FLIERS
Watch out for Nelson if the Cardinals suffer a key wide receiver injury in the preseason.