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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
Cowboys' Stephen Jones: Chris Johnson on team's 'short list'
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(5/6/2015) Free-agent running back Chris Johnson recently said he'd love to join the Cowboys. Though the Cowboys aren't in any rush to add another running back, Johnson isn't too far off the team's radar. 

Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones was asked about Johnson in a conference call with season-ticket holders. Via the team's website, Jones said the team has at least some interest in Johnson

“We haven’t visited with Chris, and we can’t talk about him because he’s a free agent. But right now we’re looking at the guys that we have on our roster,” Jones said. “He is somebody that is on a short list of ours that we think could ultimately come in and do some good things for us if we asked him to. But I wouldn’t say it’s a priority right now.”

After running for 2,006 yards in 2009, Johnson has been unable to live up to expectations since. With the Jets a year ago, Johnson only totald 663 yards and one touchdown while notching just one start. 

The Cowboys added Darren McFadden this offseason after DeMarco Murray left for Philadelphia. Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar and Ryan Williams are the other backs on the roster. 


Linebacker Dane Fletcher visits Patriots
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(5/6/2015) Free-agent linebacker Dane Fletcher visited the Patriots on Wednesday, according to a report from ESPN.com. 

Fletcher spent the 2010-2013 seasons with the Patriots before playing 2014 with the Buccaneers. In four NFL seasons, he's totaled 120 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks. 


Report: Vikings' Matt Kalil underwent two knee surgeries
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(5/6/2015) Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil underwent arthroscopic surgical procedures to both of his knees so far this offseason, according to a report from USA Today

Kalil also had injections to help manage joint pain. Both knees were scoped in January before having a Regenexx procedure performed on them in March. Kalil also had platelet-rich plasma therapy performed, too. 

Throughout the procedures, Kalil has been working out and rehabbing at the Vikings' team facility. 


Jets' Mike Maccagnan: 'Not actively shopping' Muhammad Wilkerson
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(5/6/2015) Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson has long been talked about as a potential trading chip. 

However, Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan, who appeared on The Michael Kay Show on ESPN New York 98.7 FM, said that the organization isn't looking to try and trade Wilkerson at this time. 

"We're not actively shopping Mo," Maccagnan said, via ESPN.com. "It's not part of our plans. But, again, his name comes up periodically at times, but nothing active right now."

Wilkerson has been productive for the Jets but is entering the final year of his contract. The Jets also just drafted Leonard Williams, who figures to earn some immediate playing time. 

"Mo's a good player, he's part of this organization and he's currently under contract," Maccagnan said. "We'd like to keep him in this organization. We just have to go through a process with him to figure out, you know, if we can find a middle ground."


Bengals' Whitworth posts tweet about Mike Brown, said wife did it
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(5/6/2015) A message criticizing Bengals team president Mike Brown was posted on left tackle Andrew Whitworth's personal Twitter account, according to ESPN.com. 

"Mike Brown told me I'm done here," the tweet read. "Said I can play this year and go home. So I told him I want a raise or I'll sit my a-- at home this …"

Moments after the tweet hit the social media site it was deleted. After deactivating his Twitter account, Whitworth logged back on but made his account private. 

Whitworth told ESPN that the tweet originated from his wife, who was trying to send a private message to a teammate for him. Whitworth said his wife is upset over the ordeal but downplayed the message as more of a joke. 

Whitworth is entering the final year of his contract. 


Eagles announce signing of three 2015 draft choices
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5/6/2015) The Eagles have announced that they have signed three of their draft picks. Included are second-rounder and cornerback Eric Rowe, sixth-rounder and cornerback Randall Evans and seventh-rounder and defensive end Brian Mihalik.

Cardinals announce move to Kareem Martin to OLB
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5/6/2015) What was rumored is now official. The Cardinals are moving Kareem Martin from defensive end to outside linebacker despite his 6-foot-6, 270-pound frame, per CBSSports.com NFL Insider Pat Kirwan.

Martin started two of the 11 games in which he played last season. He contributed eight tackles and one sack.


Cardinals announce waiver claim on CB Alfonzo Dennard
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5/6/2015) It certainly didn't take long for cornerback Alfonzo Dennard to land a job. One day after his release from the Patriots, the Cardinals officially announced a waiver claim on him.

The three-year veteran fell off the charts in 2014 after two strong years with New England in which he played in 23 games and contributed to 75 tackles.


Colts WR T.Y. Hilton not thrilled over drafting of Phillip Dorsett
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5/6/2015) Colts standout wideout T.Y. Hilton is talking like teammate and newcomer Phillip Dorsett is after his job rather than another wide receiver that can help his team.

But what Dorsett could prove to be is insurance in case Hilton leaves. The young veteran is approaching his contract year.

"There's nothing I can do about that," Hilton told the Indianapolis Star. "That's who they picked. That's cool with me." Hilton went on to talk about his "battle" and "competition" with Dorsett.

Dorsett is certainly no immediate threat to Hilton in regard to playing time. The latter racked up a career-high 1,345 yards in receiving a year ago with seven touchdowns.


Broncos NT Sylvester Williams working to improve game
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5/6/2015) Broncos third-year defensive lineman Sylvester Williams has much to prove heading into the 2015 season. He must show he can play nose tackle and that he can fill the void left by the departure of Terrance Knighton.

Williams has been working toward accomplishing those goals. He stayed in the area during the offseason to better his game and remain in peak shape. He has emphasized diet and shedding body fat as well as film study in an attempt to learn of areas in his game that require improvement.

"I already went into this offseason with a lot of motivation from within," he told the Denver Post. "I put a lot on myself to get stronger this year and come back with a better year."

Williams started 13 games last year and contributed to 21 tackles.


 
 
 
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