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Offseason Extra: WR tiers for 2012

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Dave Richard's tiers and strategies: QB | RB | TE

Our draft advice for wide receivers last year was to grab quality early. We felt that the player pool wasn't very deep and that there was a significant drop-off in talent after the first 20 or so wideouts.

We feel the same way this year, which is a little surprising. This is the era where passing allegedly rules the day, after all. With stats and playcalling favoring the passing game, it stands to reason that totals for receivers should be up across the board, right?

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Wrong.

While the trend among offenses is to pass aplenty, receivers benefit but not to the point where their stats as a whole are exploding. Pass attempts are up, but so are targets for running backs, tight ends and fringe receivers (guys like Dezmon Briscoe and Dane Sanzenbacher). Yardage and Fantasy point totals are becoming a bit more top-heavy (five receivers had over 200 Fantasy points last season versus one in each of the previous three) but for the most part productivity has remained consistent. A dozen receivers had 150 Fantasy points on the season; 11 had that many last year and 13 had that many two years ago.

The good news is that there are more quality receivers you can feel good about picking early on, and the drop-off from great to good isn't as steep as it was last season, which opens the door to considering receivers later on in drafts. But elite talent -- players we can draft and plug in as No. 1 receivers without hesitation -- is still going to be tough to come by. So, once again, you should do what you can to land two, maybe three, great Fantasy receivers.

So we're renewing the rule of thumb from last year for those in standard leagues: Draft three receivers with your first six picks and potentially with two of your first three picks. If you're in a PPR league, you might want to spend three of your first five picks on wideouts. The point of all this is to ensure that you land starting receivers you can feel real good about so you're not stuck making tough lineup decisions or praying for help off waivers from week to week. And, by drafting starters early, the need to reach for receivers later on won't be as great because you won't necessarily need a lot of them on your bench.

Consistency Counts
The average Fantasy point total per game among Top 12 WRs was 11.4 (standard scoring). Here's who had at least 11 Fantasy points in 40 pct. or more of games played.
Player No. of
11+ FPTS
Pct. Player No. of
11+ FPTS
Pct.
Calvin Johnson 11 69% Victor Cruz 8 50%
Jordy Nelson 10 63% Marques Colston 6 43%
Steve Smith 10 63% Laurent Robinson 6 43%
Greg Jennings 8 62% Andre Johnson 3 43%
Wes Welker 9 56% Malcom Floyd 5 42%
Roddy White 9 56% Hakeem Nicks 6 40%
Julio Jones 7 54% DeSean Jackson 6 40%
A.J. Green 8 53% Miles Austin 4 40%
Dez Bryant 8 53%      

One for now, several for later

It's pretty clear that finding great running backs is still important in Fantasy, at least in your typical format. So maybe spending two of your first three picks on receivers just isn't the right move, especially when you can hoard rushers early on and pick up a quarterback with a great value pick in Round 4 or 5.

So here's an idea: Go ahead and draft one elite receiver with a second-round pick, then kick back on receivers before going back to them starting in Round 6. That's because there should be some good value there, as in guys with 1,000-yard, seven-touchdown potential.

Here's what a team utilizing this strategy picking 10th overall might look like based on our first 2012 mock draft:

Round 1: Michael Turner Round 2: Wes Welker Round 3: Frank Gore
Round 4: Darren Sproles Round 5: Tony Romo Round 6: DeSean Jackson
Round 7: Antonio Brown Round 8: Santonio Holmes Round 9: Pierre Garcon
Round 10: Joe Flacco Round 11: Dustin Keller Round 12: Danny Woodhead
Round 13: Jacquizz Rodgers Round 14: Patriots DST Round 15: Neil Rackers

If this was your squad, you'd feel great about your running backs, first receiver and quarterback. The tight end is iffy but that can be fixed with waiver moves. So what about those other receivers? Obviously there's awesome potential for Jackson, Brown, Holmes and Garcon, and that's why you're drafting them -- to hope one can be a fixture as a starter and that the others can serve as reserves and/or trade bait.

The reason why this strategy works is because the receivers available between Rounds 6 and 9 are good enough, especially compared to the running backs being taken in those rounds. But the catch is that you sell out from taking any great tight ends (you could take one in Round 5 and wait on a quarterback), and your running backs aren't deep at all. One false move from Turner, Gore or Sproles on this team and you're in trouble.

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The bottom line is that if you want to take advantage of the good receivers available with mid-round picks, this is the way to do it. It's probably best suited for those PPR league owners who don't want to skimp on running backs.

Shopping for a sleeper

The best sleeper prospects aren't necessarily hot rookies or guys entering their third year. There's a rational formula you can use to identify pass catchers who can be snared late and end up being solid: Receivers have the best chance for success if they have talent, opportunity and a very good quarterback.

Think about Cruz and Nelson in 2011. Who threw them the ball? What kind of playing time did they have, especially compared to previous seasons? Makes some sense now that they were as good as they were if you think about it, especially since both are very fast, very talented players. It also helped them -- Cruz especially -- that they did well against Cover-2 style, bend-but-don't-break defenses that will probably continue to populate around the league in 2012. Offensive trends come and go, but there's nothing quite like speed, and these guys have it.

Now you don't have to have Eli Manning or Aaron Rodgers to be a sleeper-turned-stud. A.J. Green and Nate Washington are two success stories from 2011. Brandon Lloyd and Steve Johnson did it in 2010. These guys had good but not great passers, but they got the chance to play regularly and did well with it. You don't need the quarterback but he sure helps; if a quarterback is pegged to throw for over 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns, those passing stats have to be caught by someone!

Here's an early look at six potential sleepers for 2012:

Jon Baldwin, Chiefs
Baldwin needed his rookie season to get acclimated to NFL life; let's hope he doesn't need a ton of time to learn his second offense in as many years. Quarterback questions in Kansas City might back owners off from taking him, but he's got great potential.

Vincent Brown, Chargers
Brown started all four of the Bolts' November games while Malcom Floyd was out and totaled 13 catches for 234 yards and a score. That's a good start. If San Diego lets Vincent Jackson go, Brown could be asked to take on a major role in the offense.

Riley Cooper, Eagles
If the Eagles don't keep DeSean Jackson, Cooper and his 6-foot-3 frame could be a mismatch for smaller cornerbacks. In five career starts Cooper has 17 catches for 296 yards and both of his career touchdowns. If he connected with Vince Young, he can certainly connect with Michael Vick.

Brandon LaFell, Panthers
The Panthers could use a threat opposite Steve Smith. LaFell is your prototypical big third-year receiver with ascending stats just waiting for his time. He's staying in the same offense for the second year, which will help.

David Nelson, Bills
Coaches love exploiting matchups and Nelson is a nightmare to match up against. At 6-foot-5, Nelson was big in goal-to-go situations and converted first downs on 32 of his 61 grabs. Not bad. He's also a trending third-year receiver in that his stats have been on the up-and-up.

Andre Roberts, Cardinals
Roberts played a lot in 2011 but didn't really start putting up numbers until December, when he had three six-catch games and scored twice. Early Doucet is a free agent and pretty much any receiver playing opposite Larry Fitzgerald will enjoy single coverage.

Other places to watch: Keep an eye on who ends up catching passes in Chicago, Jacksonville and Minnesota. There's some room for receivers to break out there.

Getting hyped for Blackmon & Co.

As is the case for most NFL drafts, there's a boatload of new receiving talent coming to a Fantasy league near you. The biggest name in the bunch is Justin Blackmon, a thicker version of Dez Bryant from Oklahoma State (where Dez went to school). Kendall Wright (Baylor) and Michael Floyd (Notre Dame) will also draw attention in Fantasy drafts this season.

It used to be a waste to talk about rookie receivers, but with wideouts more acclimated to what's being asked of them thanks to the schemes they played in college, they're putting up numbers faster than they used to. You don't have to look any further than Green (65-1,057-7) and Julio Jones (54-959-8) last season for proof of that.

Obviously, everything will depend on where these rookies end up. The receiver who ends up with a team like the Rams (plays indoors, has a very good quarterback in place, should easily get playing time) is probably better off than the receiver who ends up with a team like the Browns (plays outdoors in tough division, no good quarterback in place, might have to battle for reps). Just don't fall for the hype with these guys, especially Blackmon. No one in this draft is the next Calvin Johnson -- but there is some potential for a 1,000-yard, seven-touchdown season from all of these guys.

Tier me!

As we do with all key Fantasy positions, we group players based on expected production and settle them into tiers. The goal here is to see when a certain level of talent is disappearing in drafts, giving you an idea of when to take a receiver. For instance, if you're about to pick and there are still six names in the near-elite tier and you pick again soon, you can probably pass on taking a receiver. When you pick again, those six names could be down to two, and then you should probably make the call on drafting one of them.

Megatron Tier Near-Elite Tier Excellent Tier
Calvin Johnson 1,200+ yards, 8+ TDs 1,100+ yards, 7+ TDs
Elite Tier Mike Wallace Julio Jones
1,300+ yards, 9+ TDs Jordy Nelson Jeremy Maclin
Wes Welker Miles Austin Steve Smith
Roddy White Andre Johnson Marques Colston
Larry Fitzgerald Brandon Marshall Dez Bryant
Hakeem Nicks Percy Harvin  
Greg Jennings Vincent Jackson  
Victor Cruz    
A.J. Green    
Very Good Tier Good Tier Upside Tier
1,000+ yards, 7+ TDs 900+ yards, 7+ TDs 900+ yards, 6+ TDs
Brandon Lloyd Laurent Robinson Titus Young
Steve Johnson Antonio Brown Jabar Gaffney
Kenny Britt Lance Moore Nate Washington
Dwayne Bowe Michael Crabtree Denarius Moore
Demaryius Thomas Mike Williams Nate Burleson
Torrey Smith Sidney Rice Deion Branch
DeSean Jackson Reggie Wayne Pierre Garcon
  Mario Manningham Malcom Floyd
  Santonio Holmes Greg Little
  Anquan Boldin Eric Decker
  Darrius Heyward-Bey Plaxico Burress
  Santana Moss  

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
Patriots upgrade center Bryan Stork to probable for Super Bowl
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5:31 pm ET) The Patriots have upgraded center Bryan Stork to probable for Sunday's Super Bowl, the team announced Saturday. 

Stork was considered questionable with a knee injury after missing the AFC Championship game and was limited in practice Friday. The Patriots are currently 1-point favorites against the Seahawks Sunday.


Geno Smith hopeful Jets bring back Percy Harvin in 2015
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3:48 pm ET) Jets quarterback Geno Smith knows he can't make the ultimate decision, but he wants to see Percy Harvin back in New York in 2015.

"I would love for Percy to come back," Smith said. "Obviously I can’t make that decision, but from my short time with him he’s been a great teammate. He’s obviously a dynamic player and I’d love to see what he can do in this new offense."

Harvin played eight games with the Jets in 2014, catching 29 passes for 350 yards. 

However, Harvin is due $10.5 million in base salary in 2014, and is under contract until 2018.


Eagles' Nick Foles expecting to be starter in Philadelphia next year
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3:06 pm ET) Eagles quarterback Nick Foles said he is expecting to be back in Philadelphia in 2015, leading the offesne.

"My expectation is to be out there and be the starting guy," Foles said, according to CSNPhilly.com. "I expect to be out there with my teammates leading them. I’ve never thought otherwise throughout this whole time. 


"I know there’s been a lot of things said, but the only thing I’m worried about is making myself the best player, the best person to help lead my team."

Foles, who threw for 2,163 yards and 13 touchdowns in an injury-shortened season, expects to be back at full strength by the time training camp rolls around.

"Completely healthy, ready to go," he said. "Just grinding away. Just can’t wait to get back out there."


Jets' Geno Smith doesn't know if he will start in 2015
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3:00 pm ET) Jets quarterback Geno Smith said Saturday he is unsure of his status with the team and has not received a definitive answer from new coach Todd Bowles on whether he will be the starter in 2015, according to Rich Cimini of ESPN.

Smith, who threw for 2,525 yards with 13 touchdowns in 2014, also isn't sure if the Jets will try to draft a quarterback in the first round like Jamies Winston or Marcus Mariota, but he would welcome the challenge as more competition.


Cardinals coach Bruce Arians: 'It's really (Fitzgerald's) decision'
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(10:33 am ET) Cardinals coach Bruce Arians told reporters Friday he really wants to see wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald back in Arizona next season.

"I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t," Arians said. "We definitely, desperately want him to stay. He knows that. It’s really his decision."

Fitzgerald has a salary cap hit of $23.6 million for 2015 and the team will work to get that number down in the offseason. Team president Michael Bidwill said this week contract talks won't start fully until after the Super Bowl.

"I’m hoping and praying every day that it does happen," Arians said. "I’ve expressed to him personally how much it means to us."

Fitzgerald has not reached 1,000 yards receiving in the past three seasons and totaled 784 in 2014 on 63 catches with two touchdowns.


Seahawks corner Byron Maxwell set to test free agency
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:25 am ET) Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell is ready to hit the free-agent market during the upcoming offseason and feels the Super Bowl will be his last game in Seattle.

"I’m the prettiest girl at the dance right now," Maxwell said. "But yeah, it’s one of those things I’m excited about it. I would love to be here, but I’m ready to see what’s out there and see how things work out."

Maxwell, who was heavily targeted this year with the Seahawks secondary filled with Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, grabbed two interceptions and defended 11 passes.

"Coming into the season I already knew teams were going to try me," Maxwell said. "But it was cool. I accept that. That’s more opportunities for me to get the rock and put my name out there."


Report: Titans S Bernard Pollard wants to be released
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:52 am ET) Titans safety Bernard Pollard has requested a release from his contract, The Tennessean reports. He is scheduled to make $3.1 million in the final season of his two-year deal in 2015.

Pollard submitted his request to general manager Ruston Webster at the end of the regular season, per the report. He is recovering from a ruptured Achilles and wants to play in 2015, but said on The Tennessean's Bernard Pollard Show earlier this month that he was unsure of his future with the Titans.

"I am not getting any younger, so I want to win, I really do. I want to win,'' Pollard said. "Looking at how things took place this year, looking at where (the Titans) need to be for next year, that is a tough, tough question, and I don't even know if they can give me the answer. I have one year on my deal, but it is going to take some time."

Pollard has been out of his walking boot for a month and is making progress in rehab. He suffered his Achilles injury in Week 5 and was placed on injured reserve.


Patriots fairly healthy heading into Super Bowl Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Patriots will be at nearly full strength for Sunday’s Super Bowl as the following players have been listed as probable: Tom Brady (ankle), Dont’a Hightower (shoulder), Chris Jones (elbow), Akeem Ayers (knee), Darrelle Revis (non-injury-related) and Sealver Siliga (foot).

All except Brady were limited participants in practice Friday. The only question mark is center Bryan Stork, who is questionable with a knee injury and was limited in practice Friday.

The Patriots are currently 1-point favorites against Seattle.


Seahawks unveil final injury report in preparation for Super Bowl
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Seahawks have listed the following players as probable for the Super Bowl on Sunday: J.R. Sweezy (ankle), Justin Britt (knee), Marshawn Lynch (back), Earl Thomas (shoulder), Richard Sherman (elbow) and Kam Chancellor (knee).

Chancellor was a late addition to the injury report, when he fell on the next-to-last play of practice and missed the last play. He was not limping on his way off. All other players were full participants in practice Friday.

The Seahawks are currently 1-point underdogs against New England.


Saints tight end Jimmy Graham to avoid surgery on shoulder
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said Friday he will avoid surgery on his shoulder after testing it at the Pro Bowl. 

"I’ve been doing rehab and I’m going to start back on my rehab Monday and really there’s going to be no surgery," Graham told SiriusXM radio. "I’m just going to do rehab, strengthen the area. That’s what’s best — not having to take six months off and try to heal up with a surgery, but now have those six months to work on all things I need to to try and hopefully get to a place like (the Super Bowl) next year."

Graham, who had 85 catches for 889 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2014, fought off the injury for most of the season. He was still unsure about having surgery before the Pro Bowl last week.

"It was something that really needed some rest and unfortunately it wasn’t able to get that during the season," he said. "It happened early and then you have about 10 straight weeks of trying to make it to the game. Now after having about three or four weeks and last week kind of testing it at the Pro Bowl, it feels great."


 
 
 
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