Two years ago I wrote a "rule" worth following when drafting receivers. The gist: Don't get caught without enough receivers you can confidently start. Kind of a no-brainer, but it's designed to remind you not to overlook the position in your quest to build your team.
(In other words, don't forget about receivers when you go chasing running backs.)
Things get hairy when you don't have enough quality receivers. With a fifth-round pick in a recent mock we did, I passed on Keenan Allen as my No. 2 receiver for Steven Jackson as my No. 4 running back. At the time I figured going with Jackson would bolster my running back depth, considering how thin that position gets. But all I did was trade a roster headache for a starting lineup headache -- I wound up with James Jones, Dwayne Bowe and Marvin Jones as my second, third and fourth receivers. In a perfect world I find a way to rotate those three in my lineup and maximize my Fantasy points. In reality, I have three suspect receivers I have to gamble with from week to week instead of one guy I could confidently start.
The truth is that the number of receivers you'd confidently start isn't getting bigger. In 2012, there were only 15 receivers who averaged 10-plus Fantasy points per week, a number that ticked up to 17 in 2013, though it included three players who played in six or fewer games. Four wideouts topped the 200-point mark in 2013 and 15 scored 150-plus points. Those numbers are pretty much on par with what we've gotten from receivers over the last few years. The NFL is more of a passing league but it hasn't helped produce more prolific Fantasy wideouts.
Does this mean we should put a premium on receivers? I'd say so, but not to the point where you ignore other positions. Just to the point where you cover your starting spots. By doing so you should feel at least reasonably comfortable, if not out-of-your-skin excited, with who you'll roll with. If the ultimate goal in drafting receivers is to get ones that finish in the Top 24, then aiming to get one when the first 24 receivers go off the board is a good plan. Getting three guys hoping to land one that finishes in the Top 24? Not as good of a plan.
There's a built-in bonus with aiming for quality receivers for your starting spots: You won't have to draft many backups. Say you end up with Julio Jones and Pierre Garcon in a standard-scoring league that requires two starting receivers. Other than the bye week, under what circumstance would you consider sitting either guy? Even if the Falcons or Redskins played at Seattle (neither one does in 2014; the Redskins host the Seahawks though) you'd still start these guys. So how many backups do you need? One? Two? Two at the most -- that way you can dedicate more space to other positions.
When the studs are gone
Not everyone is going to be able to snag two or three great receivers. For those people, here's help.
When a talented player and a golden opportunity intersect, there's usually an abundance of stats to follow. Technically, every player in the NFL is talented and opportunities come every week. But it's those who take advantage of their moments who become heroes in our game.
For receivers, there's an added factor for them to be successful: A good quarterback. Usually that's needed in order for a receiver to shine, though the case of Josh Gordon in 2013 suggests otherwise. It doesn't have to be an elite passer like Peyton Manning or a cannon-armed stud like Ben Roethlisberger either -- just someone capable of regularly delivering accurate passes to receivers who get open. So long as all of that happens, there are chances for receivers to break out.
After the first 70 or so picks, you're going to need a list of wideouts who can either provide a spark off the Fantasy bench or even be a potential starter. The deeper the league, and frankly the more points each catch is worth, the more demand there will be for receivers. Among the players left over by the mid-point of the draft will include older guys who have familiar names but are removed from elite status, pass catchers with unfulfilled potential and youngsters who have proven little.
The older guys sound good. Reggie Wayne, Dwayne Bowe, Marques Colston, Steve Smith, Greg Jennings. We've seen guys like those catch for 1,000 yards and a bunch of touchdowns before. Doesn't mean they're going to again. They're all 30 years or older and they all struggled for various reasons last year. Hard to trust them.
Then there are people like Victor Cruz, Mike Wallace, Torrey Smith, Steve Johnson and Justin Blackmon. Again, guys who have displayed amazing potential but still have their warts be it a weak quarterback, injuries, inconsistency or a suspension with no confirmed return date. No doubt these guys will have good weeks, but how many and how often? Hard to trust them.
But then you have young players who haven't necessarily posted huge numbers but still have ... potential. You'll hear us use that word all the time. It's something to hang your hat on, and if last year's breakout receivers are any indication, it's not necessarily a term with a hollow description.
Diamonds in the rough
Josh Gordon. Alshon Jeffery. Anquan Boldin. Keenan Allen. Julian Edelman. Marvin Jones. Riley Cooper. Michael Floyd. These are the only receivers to finish as Top 24 options and weren't taken with a Top 80 pick. And it's not like those last four set the world on fire -- each of them averaged between 8.0 and 8.6 Fantasy points per game and combined for 20 games with 10-plus points. Not great, but certainly serviceable.
(Maybe their finish in 2013 speaks to the greater plan of landing stud receivers for your starting lineup when you can.)
But it's worth considering what made them great. Three had great quarterbacks, four had over 130 targets, five are considered freak athletes, six are under the age of 27, seven are under the age of 30. And obviously all of them had plenty of playing time.
But with the exception of Gordon, who established himself as an elite wideout, the rest had a great teammate helping them get open. And if a very good, young player has someone drawing coverage away then the opportunity to put up numbers presents itself.
So with all of this as the criteria, here are some possible receivers worth keeping in mind as mid- to late-round picks in drafts this summer.
Jarrett Boykin, Packers (25 years old by end of season)
If James Jones leaves as a free agent then the Packers should feel fairly comfortable with Boykin. Per ProFootballFocus.com, Boykin caught just 21 of 35 passes for 435 yards and one score on catches 10-plus yards off the line of scrimmage last season. It's not great, but it shouldn't be a clear-cut indicator that Boykin is only a short-area guy.
Marlon Brown, Ravens (23 years old by Week 1)
Started 2013 strong -- thanks to replacing injured receiver Jacoby Jones -- but became really volatile in the last two thirds of the season. A strong offseason and push for a starting job this summer could make him a breakout candidate.
DeAndre Hopkins, Texans (22 years old by Week 1)
Hopkins really had only a couple of good moments in his rookie year. Despite catching 52 passes for 802 yards, he scored just twice, including only once after a game-winner in Week 2. He still has talent worth recognizing and the Texans should upgrade at quarterback.
Marvin Jones, Bengals (24 years old by Week 1)
If A.J. Green is on the field then Jones will be in single coverage quite often. That was the case for much of 2013, though Jones wasn't on the field as much as you would have thought. He never had more than 77.8 pct. of the snaps and was under the 60 pct. snap mark 13 times, including the first nine games of the season. With Hue Jackson in charge we'll see if Jones can surge.
Terrance Williams, Cowboys (25 years old by midseason)
His games when Miles Austin went down in 2013 were fabulous, but he couldn't keep it up. Williams posted 56 Fantasy points in Weeks 5 through 8 and 30 in the eight games after. The drop off is scary but if the Cowboys are wise they'll let Austin and his $5.5 million contract walk this spring and give Williams a starting job. He'll be facing single coverage constantly so long as Dez Bryant and Jason Witten are on the field.
Consider it a must to determine your receiver rankings before you draft. When you do you'll quickly see just how thin the position is. Only seven receivers are in my first two tiers and then there's a logjam over the next three tiers. It stresses just how top-heavy the position really is.
Remember, the point of tiers is to sort players by specific expectations. Then when your draft rolls on you'll be able to know when a position is getting thin. When you see that happen, jump in and grab a player at the highest tier level available. It'll help you draft efficiently and stay true to your own board.
|Top Tier||Second Tier||Third Tier||Fourth Tier|
|1,500+ yards, 11+ TDs||1,300+ yards, 10+ TDs||1,200+ yards, 9+ TDs||1,100+ yards, 8+ TDs|
|Calvin Johnson||Julio Jones||Jordy Nelson||Larry Fitzgerald|
|Josh Gordon||Dez Bryant||Randall Cobb||Andre Johnson|
|Demaryius Thomas||Antonio Brown||DeSean Jackson|
|Brandon Marshall||Alshon Jeffery||Vincent Jackson|
|A.J. Green||Keenan Allen||Eric Decker|
|Fifth Tier||Sixth Tier||Upside Tier||Sleepers|
|1,000+ yards, 7+ TDs||900+ yards, 6+ TDs||800+ yards, 6+ TDs|
|Reggie Wayne||Percy Harvin||Tavon Austin||Marlon Brown|
|Victor Cruz||T.Y. Hilton||Marques Colston||Jarrett Boykin|
|Cordarrelle Patterson||Dwayne Bowe||Justin Blackmon||DeAndre Hopkins|
|Julian Edelman||Roddy White||Steve Johnson||Rueben Randle|
|Wes Welker||Michael Floyd||Kendall Wright|
|Riley Cooper||Marvin Jones|
|Mike Wallace||Terrance Williams|
|Torrey Smith||Cecil Shorts|