Wide Receiver Tiers

A look at the 2015 wide receiver crop for fantasy leagues through the lens of tiers

As the NFL continues to become a passing league and PPR continues to be more prevalent in fantasy leagues, wide receiver continue to invade the first round of fantasy drafts. This year there is such a glut of first-round quality fantasy receiver that you can get them in the second round. Likewise, viable WR2 options are around well into the fifth round, and you can get a WR3/Flex in the 9th/10th. We know wide receiver is deep, but how do we carve up the choices ahead of us into groups to craft a receiver corps with complementary strengths and weaknesses?

SUPER ELITE

Antonio Brown, PIT
Julio Jones, ATL

Brown might not make the Hall of Fame, but his level of play the last two years is worthy of Canton. Jones has a chance to reach Brown’s ridiculous 2014 numbers with Kyle Shanahan running the offense in Atlanta, Roddy White a year older, and the running game still under construction. If you’re going to go wide receiver in the first, these two are the best candidates.

ELITE

Dez Bryant, DAL
Demaryius Thomas, DEN
Odell Beckham, NYG
Calvin Johnson, DET

I won’t blame you for taking any of this group in the first, but know that one or more is likely to be there in the early second with the stress on backs in the first. I won’t blame you for reordering them, either. There’s an argument for each as the top of this tier, or even joining the super elite tier. I like Bryant’s room for growth if the Dallas offense becomes more balanced. Thomas could be even more prominent in the red zone with Julius Thomas gone. Beckham could actually be as good as 2014, which would put him in the super elite tier. Johnson is reportedly on a mission in camp and if he just stays healthy, you’ll probably wish you had taken him. Going WR/WR near the turn with two of this group could be a winning strategy if you take the right running backs at the 3-4 turn.

STRONG WR1

AJ Green, CIN

Randall Cobb, GB

Only the towering top six at wide receiver pushes Green to the second round (which is a good reason to err on the side of running back in the first). Green has a high floor and has demonstrated elite production before, but all hands on deck in the Bengals offense could limit his season-long ceiling. Blue chip second-round picks. Cobb is going to likely get more targets with Jordy Nelson out, but he is also going to get more attention. He moved up in projections and overall ranks with Jordy Nelson's injury, but not WR ranks.

STRONG WR2

T.Y. Hilton, IND

Mike Evans, TB
DeAndre Hopkins, HOU
Brandin Cooks, NO
Alshon Jeffery, CHI **Injured**

Your third round wide receiver targets, if you choose to go that direction. Hilton also has more viable receivers to share with this year, but that offense, y’all. Hopkins looks ready for war, but has no help in the passing game. He could have wild swings week to week on way to low WR1 numbers. Evans has an elite ceiling, but a lower floor because of his and his quarterback’s inexperience, and one of the cornerstones of the already weak offensive line is already hurt. Cooks, like Hopkins should see a big increase targets. The big question is whether he is miscast as an offense’s WR1. Jeffery would have been near the top of this tier before his calf injury that we are waiting for more information on - information that we might not get from the Bears. So he moves to the bottom of the tier.

HIGH FLOOR WR2

Andre Johnson, IND
Julian Edelman, NE
Emmanuel Sanders, DEN
Keenan Allen, SD
Jordan Matthews, PHI
Jarvis Landry, MIA
Allen Robinson, JAX
Brandon Marshall, NYJ

This group makes it easy to only take one wide receiver in the first four rounds. You are guaranteed one of them in the fifth, and you can often get another in the sixth to have a WR2 as your WR3. Johnson is the most exciting because of the possibilities with the best quarterback in the best offense of his career. Edelman could benefit from inexperience at running back on passing downs and get more targets, especially if Brandon Bolden wins that job. Sanders has told us that his numbers are coming down, but he’s still a very good #2 in a very good offense (assuming the offensive line is functional). Allen was ticketed for the WR1 echelon last year and struggled with injuries and an uneven approach. This year could bring his delayed arrival to at least outperform his late 4th/early 5th ADP. Matthews could easily have top 15-18 numbers at the end of the season, but the Eagles will have 7-10 players potential play decent-sized roles every week. I love Landry and might be underrating him. He had 54 catches in the second half of 2014 and should only build on his chemistry with Ryan Tannehill as the only incumbent player among his primary targets. Robinson should lead the Jaguars in receptions, but big plays and scores could be limited because of his quarterback and offense. Then there’s Marshall. He has been a WR1 in the past and Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn’t really hurt his outlook, but you can’t help but feel like the slide is on. We’re just not sure how steep and fast it will be. Marshall could bea profitable pick but I prefer Decker among Jets WRs at ADP.

HIGH CEILING WR2

Davante Adams, GB

Vincent Jackson, TB

Adams takes over a starting spot in a great offense, although he was uneven last year before generating a lot of camp hype this year. Jackson could bounce back big with Jameis Winston, but Mike Evans should also surpass him in target share. I love either of these guys as a WR3 where you can afford more ups and downs.

HIGH FLOOR WR3/FLEX

Amari Cooper, OAK
Golden Tate, DET
Roddy White, ATL
Larry Fitzgerald, ARI
Eric Decker, NYJ
Marques Colston, NO
Steve Smith, BAL
Steve Johnson, SD
Anquan Boldin, SF

Other than ADP arbitrage, this is a somewhat unexciting tier. The top 20 is going to be tough for this group to reach without a few breaks, but they all offer decent floors week-to-week and over the course of the season. Cooper needs Derek Carr to be a lot better. Golden Tate needs another Calvin Johnson injury. Roddy White needs to stay healthy all year. Larry Fitzgerald needs one of John Brown or Michael Floyd to miss significant time. I might be underestimating Decker’s ability to have the same numbers as Marshall, but rest assured he’ll be higher on the ADP desirability list. Colston, Smith, and Boldin are veterans on the downslope of their careers. Johnson probably has too many targets to share with to really break out in San Diego, but he is a massive value at current ADP. Ideally you have one of these guys as your #4, but they can hold the line just fine as a #3.

HIGH CEILING WR3/FLEX

Sammy Watkins, BUF
DeSean Jackson, WAS
Mike Wallace, MIN
John Brown, ARI
Nelson Agholor, PHI
Charles Johnson, MIN
Jeremy Maclin, KC
Torrey Smith, SF

Martavis Bryant, PIT

This group has a wider range of season-long and weekly outcomes than the high floor group, but I tend to gravitate to them to fill my WR3/WR4 spots. Watkins is sooooo talented, but that offense. Jackson led the league in 40+ yard plays by a good margin, but those quarterbacks. Wallace is very interesting with a fresh start, but he hasn’t shown his Pittsburgh mojo since leaving. Brown could be the play from this tier that “makes your draft”. If Michael Floyd misses time early and Brown excels, watch out. Agholor doesn’t quite have Jeremy Maclin 2014 upside, but he could seize most of Maclin’s role. Monitor how he, Josh Huff, and Riley Cooper are used in preseason. Johnson might just as good as Wallace, if not better. Maclin I might be selling short, but Alex Smith does not turn his wideouts into fantasy stars. Smith is going to be a massive rollercoaster on a team that is threatening to bottom out this year. Bryant has a wide range of outcomes, but if he wins the #2 job when he returns from his suspension and doubles his targets from 2014, watch out.

UPSIDE BENCH PLAYS

Michael Floyd, ARI **Injured**

Markus Wheaton, PIT

Devin Funchess, CAR
Rueben Randle, NYG
DeVante Parker, MIA

Brandon LaFell, NE
Cody Latimer, DEN
Donte Moncrief, IND
Phillip Dorsett, IND

Danny Amendola, NE
Josh Huff, PHI

This is your list of wideouts to target in the second half of your draft. Some of them will gone before that stretch. Funchess could be Benjamin the second now that Benjamin is out, but he's not nearly as dominant at the catch rate as Benjamin was when he was on. Floyd’s hand injury is gnarly, but he’s such a talent that I can’t pass if he falls too far. Wheaton needs to hold onto the #2 job when Bryant returns and play up to it once the season begins. Randle is also battling a small knee issue and the news on Victor Cruz is generally positive. Parker is the most intriguing to me in this tier, with his raw ability at the catch point and after the catch in a pass-heavy offense. LaFell injury situation is too murky to draft him earlier. He hasn't practiced yet this offseason and is still on the PUP. Latimer needs an injury to be relevant in fantasy leagues, but he could approach WR2 value if that does happen. The Colts seem intent on some sort of WR3BC, but again, an injury ahead of them on the depth equals jackpot. If we knew more about White’s injury, it would be easier to advocate taking him before the very late rounds. Amendola has had a great summer and could play a much more central role in the Patriots offense this year as long as he stays healthy. He could be a PPR monster if Edelman goes down. Huff is way under the radar as a player who could get a lot of snaps in the Eagles offense this year.

HIGH FLOOR BENCH PLAYS

Pierre Garcon, WAS
Victor Cruz, NYG
Kendall Wright, TEN
Eddie Royal, CHI

This is the discount version of the high floor WR3/Flex tier. I don’t see Garcon or Cruz getting back to previous levels this year. I don’t see Wright having a big breakout in that Titans offense. I don’t see Royal going nuts unless both Jeffery and White stay hurt for a while. But all of them are decent bets for 4-5 catches any time you play them, assuming good health.

DRAFT AND SEE

Cole Beasley, DAL
Marvin Jones Jr, CIN
Terrance Williams, DAL
Percy Harvin, BUF
Brian Quick, STL
Kenny Britt, STL
Taylor Gabriel, CLE
Allen Hurns, JAX

This group doesn’t have a higher ceiling than WR3/Flex, but they have the virtue of early reveals on their 2015 value. Beasley needs a more balanced Cowboys offense to be a poor man’s Jarvis Landry (hat tip to Marcus Mosher of cover32.com). Jones needs a solid WR2 role in an offense with a lot of mouths to feed. Williams needs more consistent targets. Harvin needs to get a big specialized role in a Stone Age offense. Quick or Britt need to assert themselves as Nick Foles’ #1 target. Gabriel has a chance to do the same in Cleveland. Hurns was a hit at times last year and could secure the #2/deep target role in Jacksonville.

STASH AND WAIT

Dorial Green-Beckham, TEN
Sammie Coates Jr, PIT
Duron Carter, IND
Cordarrelle Patterson, MIN

There’s more upside here than the “Draft and See”, but also more opportunity cost to clogging up a roster spot longer to see what you have in them. Green-Beckham being away from football a year will delay his impact, but his talent is huge. Coates repeating what Martavis Bryant did to a lesser degree wouldn’t be a shock. Carter needs injuries ahead of him, but he was impressing before getting hurt in camp and the offense is right.  Patterson hasn’t developed, but if the lightbulb goes on… 

BYE/INJURY/EMERGENCY DEPTH

Malcom Floyd, SD
Greg Jennings, MIA
Dwayne Bowe, CLE
Doug Baldwin, SEA
Michael Crabtree, OAK
Jermaine Kearse, SEA

You don’t need carry these guys in typical leagues, but they could help if you’re in a one-week pinch.

WAIVER WIRE SPEED DIAL

Brandon Coleman, NO
Chris Matthews, SEA
Aaron Dobson, NE
Justin Hunter, TEN
Marquess Wilson, CHI
Marqise Lee, JAX

This group isn’t worth drafting, but has the potential to be worth the last bench spot if they start hot and carve out larger roles than expected.