2011 Draft Prep: Wide receiver tiers and strategies

Dave Richard's Strategies & Tiers: QB | RB | TE | K & DST

If there's a position to hone in on when you start your drafts, wide receiver is it. The talent pool is not quite as deep as it's been in the past and is certainly the thinnest among all positions in Fantasy Football this year.

Which is why there's really only one good strategy to have with receivers this year: Draft several quality ones -- while you can.

This isn't to say spend your first five picks on receivers. That's silly. But a serious plan to pick three within your first six picks (and perhaps two of your first three) in standard leagues is recommended. And the more receivers you start in your league, and the more receiver-friendly your scoring system is (points per reception, for example), the more sound it is to get three pass catchers with your first five picks.

By doing this, you lock up starters who you can trust most weeks, if not every week. And with that being the case, you might recognize that drafting more than one or two backups isn't really necessary. You can dedicate more of your middle- and late-round picks to backups at other positions including fliers on running backs and potential sleepers (including sleeper receivers).

Honest to goodness, drafting receivers is as simple as that this year. No further explanation needed.

The Round 1 debate

Should a receiver be taken in Round 1? If we're talking about a league where receptions count, obviously receivers take a big bump in value and should be considered as soon as seventh overall (Andre Johnson, Roddy White, Calvin Johnson as candidates for the pick). Wideouts are good first-round picks in leagues with 14 or more teams too -- they're safe choices for people picking late in the round who don't want to run the risk of drafting a second-tier running back or quarterback with their top choice.

But most people play in standard-scoring leagues (non-PPR) with 12 or fewer teams. What about taking a receiver in Round 1 then? It's not necessarily a mistake if you do it toward the end of the round, but there might be some better choices. One, an elite quarterback might not only be a safer pick but certainly a player that will put up more points. Two, a very good running back fills a bigger need, particularly if it's a format where you start the same amount of running backs and wideouts. And three, even if you pass on a receiver with your top pick, you can get one -- likely an elite one -- coming back in Round 2. You might not be able to land an equally top-tier quarterback or second-tier running back when you're up to draft again. Furthermore, the quality of wide receivers going in Round 3 in drafts across the board does not represent a drop off in talent like there is with running backs. You should not feel obligated to take Johnson or White or, well, the other Johnson with a first-round pick if you miss on an elite running back in simpler formats.

What happens if you pass on receivers early?

One of the great benefits to drafting receivers early and picking up those three wideouts with your first five or six picks is eliminating any tough weekly lineup decisions during the season. You're never benching Larry Fitzgerald or Hakeem Nicks or Vincent Jackson, right? Of course not. Can you say that with the same conviction for Sidney Rice or Mike Thomas or Hines Ward

A key to winning in Fantasy is to simplify your roster decisions. Drafting your first few receivers with picks after Round 6 or 7 will complicate your life -- unless of course you hit it big or get some playmakers to fall into your lap off waivers (hey, it might have happened last year). Point is, it might be OK to get away with it for one receiver, but even that isn't ideal.

Not only might you be forced into some major lineup juggling if you wait to draft most or all of your receivers, but you might feel obligated to draft more receivers than running backs and thus spend choices on players who have limited chances at breaking out. Now, if there's a treasure trove of sleeper receivers that you think you're going to come away with, go ahead and pass on receivers. But when you're starting Robert Meachem while your opponent is slotting in Mike Wallace, don't say we didn't warn you.

There's always waivers

Is there a magic secret to finding surprise receivers off waivers like Brandon Lloyd or Mike Williams? Last year owners who claimed them had an improved shot at winning their leagues, and it only helped them that they didn't have to spend a draft choice on them.

Those first couple of weeks of the season always seem to bear fruit, and usually it's the receiver with the quiet preseason who breaks out early and remains consistent throughout the year. Why those guys? The theory is simple: Coaches figure they have talent in these players but don't quite want to reveal them in meaningless August games. They will see a lot of first-team reps in practice and in that third preseason game but they won't usually deliver smashing numbers that might hint at their involvement. Oh, and they're also on teams that don't already have that bona fide No. 1 receiver. Lloyd and Williams are perfect examples from last summer, as are Anquan Boldin and Marques Colston from their respective rookie seasons.

Pay close attention to those receivers that see a good amount of playing time in their team's third preseason game. They might be worth drafting late in drafts or claiming off waivers before or after Weeks 1 or 2. Additionally, owners should be willing to part ways with someone they drafted late on their roster in exchange for one of these players during the year.

Just remember, relying on this is kind of like relying on a lottery ticket for income (albeit without the tax ramifications). If you draft wisely at receiver, you won't have to fret about claiming guys off waivers because they might (or did) have a good start to the season.

Tier time

If you're going to pick three receivers with your first four or five picks, you better have a good grasp on who's available. By putting receivers into small groups based on how you think they'll perform, you can quickly judge when you should draft one based on how your drafts are going. No fancy theories: You're going to want the best possible receivers from the highest tiers when you go shopping for a receiver.

Here's how my top six tiers break out (as of Aug. 26):

Elite Tier Near-Elite Tier Reliable Tier
175+ FPTS 140+ FPTS 120+ FPTS
Andre Johnson Reggie Wayne Jeremy Maclin
Roddy White Dwayne Bowe Anquan Boldin
Calvin Johnson Brandon Marshall Wes Welker
Greg Jennings Mike Williams (TB) Mario Manningham
Larry Fitzgerald Miles Austin Brandon Lloyd
Mike Wallace DeSean Jackson  
Hakeem Nicks Marques Colston  
Vincent Jackson Santonio Holmes  
  Dez Bryant  
  Percy Harvin  
Very Good Tier Major Upside Tier Medium Upside Tier
105+ FPTS 90+ FPTS 80+ FPTS
Kenny Britt Lance Moore Braylon Edwards
Steve Johnson Mike Thomas Hines Ward
Pierre Garcon Julio Jones Davone Bess
Santana Moss Danny Amendola A.J. Green
Steve Smith (CAR) Austin Collie Lee Evans
Sidney Rice Plaxico Burress Johnny Knox
Chad Johnson Deion Branch

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