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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
Lions' Caldwell expects Theo Riddick to have large role in 2015
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:19 pm ET) Lions coach Jim Caldwell expects running back Theo Riddick to help boost a rushing attack that ranked 28th in 2014 and cut Reggie Bush after the season, MLive.com reports.

"We try and give (the ball) to the guys who are going to do something with it, and I think he's going to be one of those guys who's going to force us to give him the ball more," Caldwell said last week at the NFL owners meetings. "I think you're really going to see him come along."

Riddick rushed for 51 yards on 20 carries in 2014 and added 316 yards and four touchdowns on 34 catches.

"I can't tell you he's going to carry the ball 50 more times, or I can't tell you he's going to get the ball thrown to him 30 more times, until we have a chance to work through this gauntlet. Know what I mean?" Caldwell said. "When we get to the end of the gauntlet, then maybe I can give you a little more of a view. But I'm never going to tell you, 'Hey, we expect this guy to do this or that.' What role he plays, how much he's going to get it, kind of depends on how well we move the ball and how many opportunities we get, what kind of game it is, are we playing great defense, that kind of thing.

"But I will say that he's going to improve. He has all the qualities. Here's the thing -- if you're smart, if you're tough, if you're disciplined, if you have a great work ethic, there's improvement ahead. And he has all those things. So I think he's going to improve, and I think he's going to force us to get him the ball a little bit more in some situations."


Jaguars waive FB Bradie Ewing
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(11:22 am ET) The Jaguars waived fullback Bradie Ewing on Tuesday, according to ESPN. Ewing, 25, has not played since 2013 when he was a member of the Falcons. The moves leaves Jacksonville without a fullback on the roster.

Report: Buccaneers bringing in Dan Connolly for a visit
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Former Patriots offensive guard Dan Connolly will visit the Buccaneers on Tuesday, per a report by Fox's Ross Jones, citing a source. 

Connolly has played in 87 games for the Patriots in the last seven years and hasn't played in fewer than 13 games in a season since 2008. 


Steelers RB DeAngelo WIlliams says signing was easy decision
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) After playing his first nine seasons with the Panthers, running back DeAngelo Williams signed a two-year, $4 million contract with the Steelers this offseason. Among his many thoughts on the signing, he called it an easy decision, according to the Sporting News.

“I didn’t know they wanted me. I had never been on a visit before,” Williams said. “I was with the same organization for nine years. When I got the call and they said, 'hey we want to bring you in for a visit' I took it as that. Had they said we wanted to bring you in for a signing I would have had a different mindset. I had no idea what was going to transpire when I got here.”

Williams added that he is willing to do whatever it takes to get the team to the next level.

“It’s the opportunity to take maybe one or two reps or whatever it takes to make this team better,” Williams said. “That is what I will do. I want to make it to a Super Bowl and win it. I know this team has that potential and they can do it.

“Coming here was an easy decision. This is a Super Bowl contending team. Every veteran out there, veteran or rookie, they want to go to the Super Bowl and win it and get the best opportunity. I think the best opportunity is here in Pittsburgh.”

Williams has rushed for 6,846 yards on 1,432 carries with 46 rushing touchdowns in his career.


Lions WR Golden Tate doesn't feel pressure due to loss of Suh
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Although Lions wide receiver Golden Tate feels the loss of Ndamukong Suh is a blow to the team, he doesn't believe it puts more pressure on the offense, reports ESPN. 

When asked specifically about the subject, Tate was clear about his thoughts.

"No, I don't think it adds any pressure," Tate said by phone Monday. "We just need to be who we are. We know that we have a lot of weapons all over the field. We just need to reach our potential each and every week.

"We just need to go out there and play fundamentally sound football and I have no doubt our defense is going to be really good again this year and we just got to do our jobs. There's no pressure on anyone but to be ourselves and to play good football."

Additionally, Tate recognizes that Suh was a game-changing player for the Lions, but he likes the addition of Haloti Ngata.

"Obviously, losing Suh is a big hit," Tate said. "I don't care what team you are, he's the guy that can change the game. Change an opposing offense's game plan. He affects the game so much. But with that being said, I'm thankful to have [had] the opportunity to play with him for a year and be a part of something special. But the show must go on.

"The guy we got, [Haloti] Ngata, is a heck of a player. I think it's a good pickup for us. I know he has a past with coach Caldwell so he knows the ins and outs of the system, probably. But we're ready to move forward. We can't live in the past and football season must still go on. We're preparing to have a great year and build from last year."

The 26-year-old stated that he plans on focusing on the intricacies of the offensive playbook heading into this season.

"One thing I really want to focus on is learning the playbook a little bit better," Tate said. "I felt like I knew it for the most part, but details, running the plays exactly how Joe Lombardi draws them up, could help us win more games and create more opportunities for myself and our team."

Tate finished his first season with the Lions catching 99 passes for 1,331 yards and four touchdowns.


Report: LB Rolando McClain ends Patriots' visit without contract
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) After visiting the Patriots on Monday, linebacker Rolando McClain and the team did not agree to terms on a contract, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport. The same report states that the visit was a positive one.

McClain played in 13 games last season for the Cowboys, collecting 81 total tackles and one sack. Over his four-year career, the 25-year-old has accumulated 327 total tackles, 7.5 sacks, 23 passes defensed, three interceptions and two forced fumbles.


Cardinals S Tyrann Mathieu looks forward to being healthy
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu believes that he is regaining his health and he's ready to make an impact this season, according to the team's website.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been healthy,” Mathieu said Monday. “Last year I felt like I took a back seat. I played well my rookie year and then last year it was kind of, eh, I was there but I wasn’t there. This (year) is more important for me because I really want to let everyone know I’m back and I can still make some plays.”

Mathieu tore his ACL and LCL toward the end of the 2013 season. He recently said that the comeback was "way harder than I thought."

Head coach Bruce Arians talked about how Mathieu was not himself last season.

“You saw him fight through it last year,” Arians said. “He was not the player he was used to (being) and it was very frustrating for him.”

Mathieu was aware of the chatter from the outside world and he is using that as motivation going forward.

“You hear people talk and I had time to listen to them talk, so it’s like … I hear it,” Mathieu said. “Like I said, I didn’t feel like I made enough plays last year to help our team. I am looking forward to this year because I know I can do it.”

The 22-year-old has registered 106 total tackles, one sack, three interceptions and one forced fumble in 26 games played during his two-year career.


Saints plan to rework Jahri Evans, Cameron Jordan contracts
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Saints coach Sean Payton said that the team has a plan in place to rework guard Jahri Evans' contract to help create salary cap space, per ESPN's Mike Triplett

Evans is scheduled to make $6.8 million salary in 2015 and cost $11 million against the cap. 

The team might also extend defensive end Cameron Jordan's contract. Jordan is entering the last year of his contract and is scheduled to make $6.969 million this year.


Rams have agreed to terms with OL Tim Barnes
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) The Rams have agreed to terms with offensive lineman Tim Barnes, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The one-year deal has a maximum value of $1 million. 

Barnes recently visited had a visit with the Chiefs before signing with the Rams. The 26-year-old spent all three of his previous seasons with the Rams, starting four of the 45 games he appeared in.


Report: Brandon Tate visits Chiefs
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Free agent wide receiver/kick returner Brandon Tate visited the Chiefs on Monday, according to a report from the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, citing a source.

Tate had 17 catches for 193 yards and a touchdown for the Bengals last year. He also had a combined 571 yards in kick and punt returns. 


 
 
 
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