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2011 Draft Prep: Wide receiver tiers and strategies

Senior Fantasy Writer
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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

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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 Ochocinco Deion Branch

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard and on Facebook .

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Player News
Browns' Johnny Manziel: 'I want to be the guy' next season
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:03 am ET) Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel could be in danger of missing Sunday's season finale against Baltimore, reports Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.

Manziel completed 3 of 8 passes for 32 yards before exiting the second quarter of Sunday's 17-13 loss to the Panthers with a hamstring injury. Following the game, Manziel began making a case for the starting job next season during the postgame press conference.

"I want to be the guy," Manziel said. "That's what I want to do and that's what I want to be for this organization, so for me, if anything, this has motivated me more to head into this offseason."

Manziel has only led his team to two scoring drives out of 15 tries this season. Coach Mike Pettine will likely reveal the severity of his injury on Monday. If Manziel is unable to play, Brian Hoyer will get the start against the Ravens.

Cleveland is currently a 7-point underdog at Baltimore.


Falcons S William Moore slated for MRI on injured shoulder
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9:44 am ET) Falcons safety William Moore will undergo an MRI on Monday to determine the extent of his injured shoulder, reports ESPN. Moore separated his shoulder in Week 4 and appear to have aggravated the injury after playing 41 snaps against New Orleans on Sunday.

At this point his status remains uncertain for the regular-season finale against Carolina. Atlanta is currently a 3 1/2-point home favorite against Carolina, according to Vegas Insider. The winner will advance to the postseason.


Report: Quad injury won't keep Falcons' Steven Jackson out Week 17
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9:21 am ET) The quad injury Falcons running back Steven Jackson suffered in Sunday's 30-14 victory over the Saints in Week 16 is not believed to be serious, reports Vaughn McClure of ESPN.

Jackson left the game in the second quarter and was ruled out early in the third. He finished with four carries for 9 yards and one catch for 14 yards. Although coach Mike Smith didn't share many details on Jackson's injury, McClure reports that the veteran back will return to the starting lineup come Week 17 against Carolina.

Atlanta is currently a 3 1/2-point home favorite against Carolina, according to Vegas Insider. The winner will advance to the postseason.


QB struggles begin to impact Cardinals DST
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:13 am ET) The Cardinals DST scored just one Fantasy point in standard CBSSports.com leagues Week 16 against Seattle, interrupting a stretch of 10 games in which it averaged 15.1, and the Cardinals' offensive woes may have had something to do with it.

Specifically, they've been unable to find a decent quarterback since losing Carson Palmer to injury in Week 10. Backup Drew Stanton at least mounted some kind of threat, but with him sidelined by a sprained knee in Week 16, the Cardinals had to turn to third-stringer Ryan Lindley. He turned the ball over twice without once leading his team into the end zone, completing less than half of his passes in the process.

The quick trips back to the sideline gave the Seahawks more chances to pile up points and yards, and they did, finishing with 35 and 596. Only one other time have the Cardinals allowed more than 30 points in a game, and the 596 yards were a season high. Worse yet, they were lacking in big plays, recording one sack with no takeaways.

Fortunately, the Cardinals will take on a struggling 49ers offense in Week 17, so even if Lindley is back under center, the DST at least has a chance of a respectable performance. Still, if you've been relying on it all season, you might want to make sure there isn't an appealing matchups play on the waiver wire.


Seahawks DST can't be stopped
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:04 am ET) The Seahawks DST had another dominant performance Week 16 at Arizona, continuing a nine-week run that has made it once again arguably the top unit in Fantasy. During that stretch, it has averaged 16.2 Fantasy points, allowing 11.9 points on 231.3 yards.

It allowed only six points on 216 yards in Week 16, recording four sacks and one interception. Of the Seahawks' 33 sacks this season, 20 have come in their last five games.

Clearly, they had a favorable matchup in this one, but they also shut down the Eagles in Week 14. You don't have any reason to shy away from the Seahawks DST against St. Louis in Week 17.


Kenbrell Thompkins comes out of nowhere
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:58 am ET) After making only modest contributions since coming over from the Patriots in Week 6, Raiders wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins suddenly emerged as quarterback Derek Carr's favorite target Week 16 against Buffalo, catching five passes for 90 yards. He hadn't caught even one pass since Week 13, and his previous high in yardage was 47.

Of course, you should know how this goes by now. Fellow wide receivers James Jones and Andre Holmes have both had their stretches of Fantasy relevance this season, as has tight end Mychal Rivera. The Raiders have a multitude of viable receiving targets, but their roles aren't so clear, which makes the task of picking the most impactful from week to week next to impossible.

In other words, you'd need to play in an especially deep league to take a flier on Thompkins for the season's final week.


Latavius Murray trustworthy up to a point
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:51 am ET) If his 23 carries Week 14 against San Francisco didn't convince you, Latavius Murray's 23 carries Week 16 against Buffalo should make the message loud and clear: He is the Raiders' top running back, and they're putting more faith in him than they ever did Darren McFadden.

Granted, it hasn't translated to much production yet, but the 49ers and Bills are two of the toughest defenses against the run. Unfortunately, Denver, the Raiders' Week 17 opponent, is ranked even higher at both.

Can you trust Murray to get his carries? He's gotten them two of the last three weeks, so most likely, yes. And with 20-plus chances, there's always the chance he breaks a long one. But the matchup will make it difficult.

You'd like to start him given his ever-increasing role, but you shouldn't force him into your lineup if you have two (or maybe three) respectable running backs already.


One way or another, Fred Jackson gets his
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:44 am ET) Trailing early Week 16 at Oakland with their playoff hopes on the line, the Bills didn't stick with the running game for long, attempting only three runs in the second half. But in a way, that worked to running back Fred Jackson's advantage. He's such a good pass-catcher out of the backfield that he still topped 100 total yards, doing so for the first time since returning from a groin injury in Week 12.

Even with the return of C.J. Spiller from a long-term shoulder injury, Jackson still led the Bills in carries, but with only six for 10 yards. He also led the team in catches with nine for 93 yards. He had 10 catches just two weeks ago, so clearly, he's a PPR stud.

Is he worth starting in standard leagues as well? Well, he's also gotten 20 carries twice in five games since returning. He hasn't been as effective on the ground as through the air, but yards are yards, however he gets them.

Their matchup Week 17 at New England will probably force the Bills to go pass-heavy again, so unless you're stacked at running back, you can find a spot for Jackson in your lineup.


Desperation fuels Kyle Orton's performance
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:35 am ET) Bills quarterback Kyle Orton didn't have the most efficient day throwing the ball Week 16 at Oakland, but from a Fantasy perspective, it was a productive one. He threw for 329 yards and three touchdowns but also had two interceptions.

What's crazy, though, is that 196 of those yards came in the second half. The Bills were trailing a winnable game with their playoff hopes on the line, and their desperation showed. Unfortunately, that desperation also contributed to the second of Orton's interceptions.

The Bills have been eliminated, so no matter how much they're trailing Week 17 at New England, they probably won't be quite as desperate. You can expect more typical numbers from Orton -- maybe about 250 yards with one or two scores -- even if the matchup appears to be a favorable one, making him a player better left for two-quarterback leagues.


Kenny Britt clearly better with Shaun Hill
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:27 am ET) Rams wide receiver Kenny Britt caught a season-high nine passes on a season-high 11 targets Week 16 against the Giants, but his 103 receiving yards actually weren't a season high.

That's because he had 128, along with a touchdown, Week 11 against the Broncos.

That was Shaun Hill's first game back under center. Week 16, obviously, was his latest one. In the six games since Hill reclaimed the role, Britt has averaged 3.8 catches for 66.3 yards. In the nine games before then, he averaged 2.3 catches for 34.7 yards.

Britt has been especially good lately, averaging 73.3 yards in his last three games. Hill has also been fond of Stedman Bailey, but he doesn't seem to have a clear preference for one or the other.

Of course, the Rams passing attack isn't prolific enough to sustain both, so if you're going to target Britt or Bailey off the waiver wire, make sure it's in a deeper league. You wouldn't want to roll the dice on either in the season's final week if you can help it.


 
 
 
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