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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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