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Wide Receiver Tiers - Footballguys

A look at the 2018 wide receiver landscape through the lens of tiers

Going heavy early at wide receiver had been rewarded in recent years, but 2017 was a different story. The top groups at wide receiver in drafts did not separate from the competition or provide the consistent advantage as often as they had in the past, and wide receiver starting lineups made up of mid and late-round picks, or even a waiver wire pick or two were able to hang at the position. What does the landscape look like this year, and should it along with 2017 results influence us to have a different strategy at wide receiver?

HALL OF FAME

The term “generational player” might get tossed around too often, but in Brown’s case, it absolutely applies. He’s clearly the No. 1 wide receiver in fantasy drafts, and there’s a case to be made for him over one or more of the top four running backs. Don’t feel like taking him with a top-four pick is a mistake.

ELITE WR1

This group deserves first-round consideration, but two or three of them are likely to be there in the second round. Hopkins and Beckham are in a mini-tier of their own because they have demonstrated higher weekly and season-long ceiling over the last two years than their peers, but this group could easily shuffle from conventional ADP order. Hopkins has been elite with anyone but Brock Osweiler. He didn’t need Deshaun Watson to be basically healthy to open camp to justify a first-round ADP, but it doesn’t hurt. Beckham has three good targets to share with, but that could just make him more efficient on fewer targets. Keenan Allen came alive in the second half of the season, and Hunter Henry’s injury could keep his targets sky high and make him a major value in the second. Jones contract situation is straightened out and the offense should be better in the second year under Steve Sarkisian. His touchdowns should come back to typical levels and make him a layup in the second. Green’s offense should also improve with offensive line additions and hopefully a healthy John Ross, not to mention better coaching for a full offseason and season from offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. Green and Jones are never second round picks and we may wonder why they were this year in hindsight.

STRONG WR1

There’s a small top range of outcomes for this group that puts them in the elite by the end of the year, but there are also factors that give them a lower bottom of their range of outcomes. Adams put up very similar numbers to his 2016 last year despite missing Aaron Rodgers for most of the year. If his concussion history doesn’t present issues this year, he should easily be the Packers top receiver, which presents an unknown ceiling with Jordy Nelson gone considering Randall Cobb’s injury history and Jimmy Graham’s middling game at this point in his career. Thomas had high volume last year, but he’s not an explosive playmaker and hasn’t been a top-end red zone receiver. With the additions to the Saints pass offense, he might actually take a step back in targets and at best equal his 2017 production with a jump in efficiency. He’s being overdrafted at current ADP. Evans was good, not great for fantasy last year, and with four other viable targets, don’t expect to see him take over games or tilt weeks despite having a high weekly floor.

HIGH CEILING WR2 with WR1 upside

This group can be week winners, but they could also languish with only two or three catches. Hilton gets Luck back, and that was good enough to make him a late first/early second value the last time they played together, but how is Luck’s deep arm and will a lack of weapons make it too easy to take Hilton away? Hill delivered on his ADP last year, but Sammy Watkins is in town, and will he draw the better matchups instead of canceling out the opposing CB1 in a weekly stalemate like he did for the Rams last year? Hill's ability to run under Patrick Mahomes deep ball could be combustible and turn him into a top five receiver. Speaking of Watkins role last year, can Cooks make more out of it with his speed? Either way, he’s the clear value of this tier, going at a round-or-more discount from the other two in some drafts. Baldwin is the only steady proven receiver for Russell Wilson, so unless Tyler Lockett takes a huge step forward or a surprise name posts big numbers. Baldwin drops to the bottom of this tier until his knee issue clears up. Diggs appears ready to take another step. If he stays healthy, he could deliver borderline first-round value.

HIGH FLOOR WR2

This group should get enough high percentage weekly volume to be very consistent in PPR leagues, and they all WR1 upside in addition. Thomas is getting a quarterback upgrade (yes Case Keenum is an upgrade from what they had) and the team seems more inclined to move him around. The Vikings duo could arguably be getting a quarterback upgrade FROM Keenum to Kirk Cousins. Thielen is more durable, but lacks Diggs ceiling. Fitzgerald will catch 100+ balls again and he fits the strengths of the Cardinals top two passers to a tee. Landry has newfound hope of getting back to Miami target levels with Josh Gordon’s 2018 thrown into uncertainty. Edelman comes with the suspension discount. As long as you can weather the storm without him - which is less difficult at wide receiver than other positions, you’ll get a WR2 (even WR1) level boost when he returns and have a better chance of outflanking the competition. Hogan will possibly have a bigger role with Julian Edelman out for four games, but he could also get the opposition’s No. 1 corner. He may end up being a better play when Edelman returns.

WR2 ENIGMAS

This group presents season-long ceilings that can flirt with or even reside among the WR1 tiers, but the weekly floors are low and you could end up with a player that is an unreliable start. Smith-Schuster had a very small number of targets and catches for a player going as a WR2 in drafts. He is also very young and on the upslope of his career in a good offense with lesser competition for targets from the WR3 this year. He has also been banged up for most of the offseason and now in camp. Robinson was an elite WR1 with Blake Bortles, then he was near worthless with Bortles. Now, what will he do with Mitchell Trubisky in an offense that like the Rams and Eagles is unlikely to have a true WR1 by design? Speaking of the Rams, Sammy Watkins was frustrating to have on your team last year because of their multiple-threat matchup gameplan offense. Will that change on a team with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce and a young gunslinging quarterback? At least Watkins is cheaper than he was last year. Amari Cooper is cheaper than he was last year and the pass offense should go through him, but we have had similar hopes for years now, and Cooper’s arrow is actually pointing down when you look at his career trajectory. The Oakland offense doesn’t exactly look like fertile fantasy soil either. Davis was a favorite last year, but hamstring injury delayed his arrival and he never hit his stride. Rishard Matthews has been banged up for months, the offense should be a lot better under a new staff, and Davis will have his chance to shine. Gordon still hasn't been cleared by the league yet, but since he's back with the team, he seems like a much better bet than while he wasn't in camp.

It’s difficult to settle on a strong positive or negative take on any of these receivers, but Watkins and Davis are the cheapest and best targets from the enigmatic tier.

HIGH FLOOR WR3/FLEX

As the NFL becomes more of a passing league, the wide receiver position gets deeper in fantasy, and it gets easier to win with receivers taken outside of the top 50 picks. That’s where you’ll find this tier, stocked with receivers who should get enough targets each week to justify WR3/Flex starts no matter the opponent, with big week potential to encourage putting the checkmark beside their name. Crowder was banged up for half of the season, but performed up to potential in the second half of the year and meshes perfectly with Alex Smith’s strengths. The two already reportedly have a good connection. Cobb is healthy now that his ankle is cleaned up, and he should have a bigger share of the passing game with Jordy Nelson gone and lots of inexperienced receivers battling to be the No. 3. Getting a share of Aaron Rodgers on your team is never a bad idea. Crabtree should get targets by default in Baltimore, enough to catch 70-80 balls with 6-8 scores and around 1000 yards. Sanders was also hurt last year and gets an upgrade at quarterback, although he could lose some outside snaps to second-round pick Courtland Sutton. Don’t be afraid of starting two receivers from this group in PPR if you think you can lock in advantages at tight end, running back, and quarterback by forgoing wide receiver picks early.

HIGH CEILING WR3/FLEX

Our cup runneth over with wide receiver options in drafts this year. Players that can help you win are going to available into the 8th-9th round range, if not later. Golden Tate, Marvin Jones Jr, and Kenny Golladay are all in this tier together. All have big week potential and potential to post two or three catches for minimal yards. Golladay is the cheapest and best target. Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods are in this tier together. Woods will give you the higher weekly ceiling, Kupp the higher floor. Marquise Goodwin could be a stealth WR1 for Jimmy Garoppolo, although he doesn’t offer touchdown potential. Will Fuller V was a WR1 with Deshaun Watson last year, but bulking up doesn’t seem to be great for his game (the wind whispers Coutee). We are waiting on Robby Anderson’s possible suspension and to maximize his value we need Josh McCown to start, but he looked like a rising star and one that is attractive at cost no matter the specifics. Agholor continues to look like he is growing into his first-round pick paws. Stills might be the No. 1 receiver for the Dolphins with Devante Parker plateauing and Landry gone. Lockett is going to be Russell Wilson’s No. 2 receiver with little to speak of at No. 3 or tight end. He should be healthier than last year when he was coming back off of a gnarly late-season leg injury. If your entire wide receiver corps was made up of players from this group, it could still be just fine.

Jeffery was playing with a shoulder injury that he had fixed this offseason. It is cutting into his camp preparation time and might even keep him on the PUP to begin the season. He might be even better than last year with the injury resolved, but it could also be a sign that Jeffery’s body will continue to have nicks and bumps holding him back every year. The Eagles offense was ridiculously productive in the passing game and features many players, which could also hold Jeffery back for fantasy. Miller has been sensational in camp and despite the brutal math of dividing up targets in offense chock full of talent, he could be in the very valuable slot role. Taylor will be a big play No. 3 at worst, but if Rishard Matthews isn’t right, he’ll start outside. The Williamses in Los Angeles could hit - Tyrell is the likely No. 2 and Mike could take up a lot of slack in the red zone left by Hunter Henry’s injury. We shouldn’t quit John Brown just yet, his skillset is perfect for Joe Flacco and he’s healthy for now. Brown is so cheap that even if we release him one or two weeks into the season because he’s hurt, no big loss.

HIGH WEEKLY CEILING BYE/INJURY DEPTH/bench STASH

Get your bench receivers from this tier and the next. Both are chock full of young receivers with paths to value. This tier has value right out of the box because of defined roles that could make them great Week 1 flex plays. Doctson will be a red zone specialist and benefit if Jordan Reed goes down again, while Richardson will harvest the value from Alex Smith’s newfound deep passing effectiveness. Shepard will often get the best matchup in the Giants offense. Funchess will probably be the No. 3/No. 4 target in Carolina, but he has weekly touchdown potential. Ross is looking like a dynamic top 10 pick again. He’s more exciting for his effect on the whole Bengals offense, but his deep speed could make him a great matchup play, including Week 1 against the woeful Colts secondary - with Brandon LaFell's release, he has a much higher ceiling this year. Gallup has that Crabtree game that Dak Prescott should riff with, but the targets might not be there for a rookie breakout.

HIGH FLOOR BYE/INJURY DEPTH

This group is probably best as your bye/injury depth, but there’s potential for consistency and solid flex/WR3 numbers. Garcon seemed set for the WR1 job in San Francisco, but Marquise Goodwin has been that guy for Jimmy Garoppolo, and Garcon is in the autumn of his career coming off of a neck injury. Benjamin and Hurns will get targets by default but they are in uninspiring pass offense and have had trouble staying healthy. Lee has his own long injury history and he’ll share with multiple wide receivers in Jacksonville. Sanu might take a small step back with the addition of Calvin Ridley. Amendola is projecting as the No. 1 slot in Miami, but the question just how much less than Jarvis Landry’s value in that role will Amendola have?

SHRUG

This group is tough to solve. Matthews has been hurt for two months and is still not practicing which is ominous. Parker has a big opportunity with Jarvis Landry gone and Xavien Howard is taking his lunch money every day at camp which is ominous. Gordon has the highest reward and highest risk. Parker has the next highest reward, but a disappointing track record. Matthews has the best track record, but he is getting a lot more competition for targets, and this lingering injury from the summer scenario never seems to work out.

SPECULATIVE BENCH STASH

This group is just as likely to produce players that we can use in fantasy leagues as the high weekly ceiling group, but their roles and volume are a little harder to get a grasp on early. The point remains the same, you want to be stocking your bench from this tier. Meredith is set to play the Marques Colston role in the Saints offense, but Colston never had this kind of competition for targets. Godwin should start outside for Tampa, but are there enough balls to go around to make him a relevant weekly play? Enunwa could be anywhere from the No. 1 to No. 3 receiver depending on how his neck is doing. Moore will likely be behind McCaffrey and Olsen in the pecking order but can increase his role with good play. Ridley will be a big play No. 3. Pettis has made good on the opportunity opened while Trent Taylor was out in camp, and he should mix in and be ready to play if injuries thin the 49ers wide receiver group. Allison and Moore are battling to be the No. 3 receiver and No. 2 outside for Aaron Rodgers, which has been a relevant role in the past. Allison has the experience in the system, but Moore is superior physically and has already turned heads in camp. Washington is having an excellent summer and could be a high ceiling matchup play. Bill Belichick might unlock the value in Patterson that other teams couldn't.

BIG PLAY BENCH FILLERS

This group is liable to score in any given week, but they could also go catchless. If Josh Gordon’s outlook dims , move Callaway move him up a tier. Otherwise, this is mostly desperation play material.

INJURY UPSIDE SPECULATIVE BENCH WR

This group of young receivers (and Terrelle Pryor) has the talent and situations to be fantasy relevant, but they’ll likely need an injury in front of them to be relevant in fantasy leagues. Smith had a great camp to date, and two of the receivers in front of Westbrook and Chark are dinged already. Treadwell is only 23, don’t forget about him if Diggs or Thielen miss time. If you have to ask about Coutee, you haven’t been listening to The Audible. He’s set to be the slot in Houston and one of Deshaun Watson’s favorites, with outstanding deep speed and excellent run after catch ability.

HIGH FLOOR BENCH FILLERS

These receivers all have solid roles, but their weekly and season-long upside is limited. It would be surprising if they become more than desperation plays, but the potential is there for some consistency and a decent hit in any given week.

SOMEONE HAS TO PLAY

The Cardinals have an opening at No. 2 receiver. The eventual winner may have some marginal value.

DESPERATION PLAYS

The upside in any given week and over the season is hard to find, but this group has some weekly role in their offenses and can save your bacon if you have to go to the waiver wire for an emergency play.

DEEP WAIVER WIRE WATCH LIST

For the deepest of deep leagues, here’s a list of players who could matter with good health, a few injuries in front of them, and steady development in 2018.