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2014 Draft Prep: Wide receiver tiers and strategies

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Quarterback tiers | Running back tiers | Tight end tiers

The first rule to follow when drafting receivers: Don't get caught with your pants down.

That's pretty good life advice right there. Unless you're at a pool, or a beach, or a certain mansion ...

Anyway, point is that if you need two receivers, make it a priority to draft two you'll want to start on a regular basis. If you need three, then draft three. Don't dawdle but don't reach, either.

Like the running back position, receivers are top heavy. There are seven who are absolute no-brainers, then another 14 you should have no problem starting. Another 10 or so are OK for lineups, then it gets really slippery. Not exactly the best outlook but it's still a deeper position than running back, and that goes double if we're talking PPR formats.

So I'd still generally prioritize running backs ahead of receivers ... with two exceptions: Megatron and Optimus (OpThomas?) Prime. Calvin and Demaryius. They're running in a class by themselves and are worthy of first-round selections because of how consistent they are. Johnson has 32 games with 10-plus Fantasy points in his last three seasons (46 games) while Thomas has nailed the 10-plus-point barrier in 21 of 32 contests with Peyton Manning. Other elite receivers come close, but they're not as marvelous as these dudes. Owners will grab them (and throw in tight end Jimmy Graham for good measure) when they don't see a running back they can trust. That's because they can trust those guys for a healthy amount of points each week. That's what you want from a first-round pick.

A WR-WR start?

The remaining members of the 'no-brainer seven' will get swiped between the beginning of Round 2 and the early part of Round 3. They're all grand choices as No. 1 receivers, but what if you wanted to kick off your team by drafting two of them? On the surface it's a solid idea because we know there aren't a slew of amazing receivers that will float into Round 6 and beyond. You're never benching any of these guys because they're just too darn good, which means you don't necessarily have to draft backup receivers, opening your team up to gobble up more blue-chip running backs in the mid-to-late rounds. And, you're removing any lineup headaches you'd otherwise have on a weekly basis when you're debating middling wideouts who may or may not have ideal matchups.

But there's a problem. If you start a draft with two receivers, you're basically punting on the first 14 running backs in our rankings. Now maybe you're cool with Andre Ellington, Bishop Sankey or Toby Gerhart as your top back and Ray Rice, Chris Johnson or Steven Jackson as your second back. Maybe you're the adventurous type. If so, go climb a rock or something because now's not the time to show off. That's because those backs aren't considered strong enough to make up the best of your running back corps. They're second- and third-best guys. If you go with the WR-WR strategy it will mean taking running backs from the fourth tier or later to fill out your roster.

If you want to capitalize on one of these top-shelf receivers, the better way to do it is to go RB-WR (or WR-RB). That way you'll pick up one of the great receivers and have a Top 14 running back to boot. Then in Round 3 you'll have some flexibility with how you want to draft.

Which leads us to ...

Here's why you want to pick first through fourth

If you're in a typical snake draft and you have a pick between first and fourth overall, you're more than likely picking in that same slot in all of the odd-numbered rounds. That means you'll draft three players in the Top 28 because you'll pick early in Round 3. It also means you'll land a stud running back in Round 1 (there's four of them -- five if you count Eddie Lacy) and have a crack at picking up two ravishing receivers with your next two picks.

This is the best of both worlds because you'll get a dependable back and two very dependable receivers you won't think about benching beyond the bye week unless something bad happens. It's three lineup spots you should never have to sweat, plus you get all the other advantages that an owner would have starting their draft going WR-WR.

Now you can also aim for this kind of strategy if you don't have a Top 4 overall pick, but your results won't be quite as good mainly because of the running back you take in Round 1. Instead of getting a trio like LeSean McCoy, A.J. Green and Jordy Nelson, you might end up with Montee Ball, Dez Bryant and Randall Cobb. That doesn't make it bad, just not as juicy.

Of course, if you don't have a Top 4 overall pick you could turn the tables and start with two running backs and then put a receiver in your lap in Round 3. A Montee Ball, Alfred Morris, Jordy Nelson start isn't so bad, is it?

Don't make the Round 6 mistake

By comparison, the receivers you'll find in Rounds 4 and 5 are better than the running backs available, another strike against the WR-WR strategy since those valuable picks could be spent on backs. It doesn't mean they're great, they just seem to have a better shot at hitting more than 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns than most of the backs available. This is because running backs tend to get picked up faster than receivers, though those of you in PPR leagues that start three receivers will argue otherwise.

If it's Round 6 and you don't know who your starting receivers are, you're probably in deep trouble. Go re-read the first line of this story. Nobody wants to see you without your trousers on.

Consistency is the thread that ties together the top 20 or so receivers, and it's a helpful trait in Fantasy Football. Last year there were 112 instances of a receiver posting 10 points in back-to-back weeks (each consecutive game counted as one instance). Of the 112, 79 (or 70.5 percent) were from receivers that finished in the Top 24 and 54 (or 48.2 percent) were from receivers who finished in the Top 12. If you think that's an obvious stat, you're right. But it also means every other receiver either got hurt (Julio Jones, Randall Cobb, Roddy White) or was unpredictable (Mike Wallace, Victor Cruz, Golden Tate).

Here's where it all ties together: Of the receivers who were drafted on average as a No. 1 or No. 2 option (Top 24 overall at the position), 15 of them (or 62.5 percent) finished the year as a Top 24 wideout. That's a good return on investment. That's the group of most consistent, most prolific Fantasy receivers. You want to dip into that group for your starters, and they'll be pretty much history by Round 6.

Mid-to-late round help

Perhaps you're a fool who ignored my advice and pants jokes twice, or perhaps you just picked up steals at other positions in Rounds 1 through 5. Or maybe you're in a deep league that requires a lot of starting receivers. What kinds of receivers should be searched for at this point?

The answer is simple -- good ones! But since that won't fly as analysis we'll define it more as underrated receivers on pass-heavy teams and/or playing with a great quarterback. And supreme athletic ability doesn't hurt, either.

Last year's receiving sensations with mediocre draft averages were Josh Gordon, Alshon Jeffery, Anquan Boldin, Keenan Allen, Julian Edelman, Marvin Jones, Michael Floyd and Riley Cooper. Gordon, Jones, Floyd and Cooper benefitted from quality play-calling and schemes while Boldin and Edelman were the primo targets of very good quarterbacks. Jeffery and Allen worked in aggressive schemes with a very good quarterback, a double bonus.

The big yellow caution flag I'll wave here is that it's difficult to find consistent gems in the middle/later rounds. In fact, you'll more than likely draft a receiver who has a big week when you bench him, then lays an egg the following week when you start him. That's why you shouldn't invest in many of them -- aim for running backs later on if your league allows, particularly ones you can afford to be patient with for the first few weeks of the season.

Using our criteria, here are some receivers that hit the targets of what we're aiming for in the middle and late rounds.

Marques Colston, Julian Edelman, Percy Harvin, Rueben Randle, Tavon Austin, Doug Baldwin and Anquan Boldin. These receivers have a very good quarterback working in their favor, but their offensive scheme could betray them in terms of coaching tendencies or what's expected in terms of targets for the players themselves. Expect some very inconsistent Fantasy production from these guys, but not so bad that they'll be unusable or undraftable.

Kendall Wright and Riley Cooper. These receivers have a great offensive scheme to go with tons of playing time, but their quarterbacks are a little iffy. A case can be made for both of their passers as very good signal-callers but nobody's lumping Jake Locker and Nick Foles in the same class of as Tom Brady, Drew Brees or even Russell Wilson (just remember we're talking about quarterback ability, not quarterback Fantasy production).

Terrance Williams, T.Y. Hilton, Brandin Cooks, Hakeem Nicks, Kenny Stills and Harry Douglas. For these guys it's quarterback and scheme that should help them out the most. They're all catching passes from strong-armed, quality passers who should drop back and throw a lot. These receivers are the ones I'm targeting when looking for depth and/or possible flex choices.

Mike Evans, Sammy Watkins, Marvin Jones, Dwayne Bowe, Kelvin Benjamin and DeAndre Hopkins. Receivers who don't have a great quarterback or a great downfield scheme but have plenty of talent (yes, even Bowe). Even in the blandest of offenses, the most pedestrian quarterbacks can make great things happen with great receivers. Just ask Jake Delhomme or Kerry Collins.

Catch these tiers

The last step you'll make is to sort the receivers by how you think they'll perform this season. This is so you'll be able to plainly see when the talent begins to get thin when your draft gets going. So if you really want a receiver with potential for over 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns and they're going fast, you better make your move. Keep in mind that there are only 16 receivers with that kind of potential from where we sit -- others will get there from the lesser tiers but they'll be harder to find. It compares with the lack of depth at running back. Should make for some interesting drafts.

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 Antonio Brown Vincent Jackson
Demaryius Thomas Brandon Marshall Alshon Jeffery Pierre Garcon
  Dez Bryant Randall Cobb Keenan Allen
  A.J. Green Michael Crabtree  
  Jordy Nelson Larry Fitzgerald  
    Andre Johnson  
Fifth Tier Sixth Tier Upside Tier Sleepers
1,000+ yards, 7+ TDs 900+ yards, 6+ TDs 800+ yards, 6+ TDs  
Emmanuel Sanders Torrey Smith Percy Harvin Hakeem Nicks
Michael Floyd DeSean Jackson Mike Evans Kenny Stills
Cordarrelle Patterson Golden Tate Sammy Watkins Tavon Austin
Wes Welker Mike Wallace Riley Cooper Doug Baldwin
Roddy White Jeremy Maclin T.Y. Hilton Jordan Matthews
Victor Cruz Marques Colston Brandin Cooks Kelvin Benjamin
  Terrance Williams Rueben Randle  
  Eric Decker Marvin Jones  
  Kendall Wright    
  Julian Edelman    

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Player News
Packers want to keep RB Eddie Lacy fresh this season
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(8:04 pm ET) Packers head coach Mike McCarthy is working on ways to keep running back Eddie Lacy fresh this season, reports the Journal Sentinel.

McCarthy had talks with Lacy at the end of the last two seasons talking about his number of snaps and what he expected of the running back.

"I really felt that last year's conversation was more important than this year's, the ability to make a huge jump from Year One to Two, being a three-down player, that was something we stressed from Day One, and I thought he delivered," McCarthy said at the NFL owners meetings this week.

The head coach liked the way that the team used Lacy last season, limiting his snaps early in the year before increasing them as the season wore on.

"Maybe not run attempts," McCarthy said of hitting the target he set. "But I thought we were really smart the way we used him....I thought his pass protection he made a huge jump, and his ability to play out of the backfield.

"Eddie has excellent hands, and just his understand and his feel with Aaron, he definitely made a step."

In his first two seasons in the NFL, the 24-year-old has 2,317 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns. He has also added 77 receptions for 684 yards and four touchdown catches. 


Vikings CB Captain Munnerlyn working to earn starting spot
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(7:31 pm ET) Although Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn likes the addition of Terence Newman to the team, he believes that he will beat him out for a starting job, reports twincities.com.

“I’m ready for the competition,’’ Munnerlyn told the Pioneer Press on Saturday. “I’m an athlete, so I never feel like anyone can beat me out. I feel I can hold onto the job. I’m betting on myself.’’

Munnerlyn, a six-year veteran, seems to embrace the competition that will be had at the cornerback spot.

“I think it’s great,’’ said Munnerlyn, a six-year veteran. “He’s a veteran. It’s great for competition. It will bring out the best in me. I’m excited about the competition. I just know that I’ve got to play a lot better than I did last year.’’

There have been a lot of questions this offseason as to whether or not he will settle in as the team's nickel back. He wants to shed the label of being relegated to the nickel spot.

“I don’t want that to happen,’’ Munnerlyn said. “I’ve been labeled my whole career as just a nickel back but I’ve been able to show people I’m more than that. But I know that I’ve got to work hard this offseason."
The 26-year-old has registered 343 total tackles, 5.5 sacks, 44 passes defensed, nine interceptions -- five of which were returned for touchdowns -- and three forced fumbles.

Packers still interested in signing FB John Kuhn
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(5:09 pm ET) The Packers are still interested in signing fullback John Kuhn to the roster, reports the Journal Sentinel.

When head coach Mike McCarthy was asked if Kuhn still has value, he replied, "Absolutely."

"I've always looked at the fullback and tight end position as one. I feel you have to have flexibility and versatility within those two positions. It keeps you in and out of a number of different personnel groups."

Kuhn, 32, has spent eight of his nine seasons with the Packers, rushing for 591 yards and 18 touchdowns. As a receiving option, the fullback has 76 receptions for 516 yards and eight touchdowns.


CB Lardarius Webb wants to finish career with Ravens
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(5:02 pm ET) After restructuring his contract with the Ravens, cornerback Lardarius Webb wants to finish his career with the team, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Webb recently agreed to a contract restructure that dropped his cap number from $12 million to $9.25 million.

"My goal is to retire a Raven and, while it wasn’t an easy decision, I wanted to put the team first," Webb told The Baltimore Sun. "I wanted to prove myself this year that the Ravens sticking with me was the right decision. The Ravens reached out to my agent, Marc Lillibridge, a few weeks before the scouting combine and they were talking and working hard together to get something done. I'm glad it's done."

Webb, 29, has spent his entire six-year career with the Ravens, posting 301 total tackles, two sacks, 71 passes defensed, 11 interceptions and two forced fumbles.


Patriots DT Sealver Siliga still in walking boot
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(4:09 pm ET) Patriots defensive tackle Sealver Siliga is still in a walking boot after undergoing surgery last season, per ESPN.

Siliga is considered to be one of the top-two options at defensive tackle for the team after the departure of Vince Wilfork. The 24-year-old started five of the seven games he played in 2014. He recorded 32 total tackles and 2.5 sacks last season.


LB Lance Briggs to visit with 49ers on Monday
(3:35 pm ET) Free-agent linebacker Lance Briggs said he will meet with the 49ers on Monday, reports ESPN.com.

Briggs, a seven-time Pro Bowler, has played all 12 of his NFL seasons with the Bears.

Briggs appeared in just 17 games during the last two seasons due to various injuries.

The 49ers are looking to replace linebacker Chris Borland, who recently announced his retirement.

Texans LB Jadeveon Clowney (knee) walking without a limp
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(3:17 pm ET) Texans linebacker Jadeveon Clowney said his rehab from microfracture surgery in his knee is going well, according to the Houston Chronicle. Clowney, who is four months removed from the procedure, was spotted walking without a limp during a promotional event on Saturday.

"It's going good. I'm taking it one day at a time, having some fun hanging out with fans," said Clowney, who made his first public comments since Thanksgiving.

Clowney wouldn't comment on his status for training camp.

"I'm not going to speak on that, but I'm making progress, and I'm very encouraged," Clowney said. "I'm working hard, but we're not going to rush it."


Report: Vikings LB Chad Greenway agres to take paycut
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:59 am ET) Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway has agreed to restructure his contract, reducing his $7 million base salary to $3.4 million, according to Field Yates of ESPN. The move created $3.2 million in cap room for the Vikings.

Greenway, 32, has spent all nine years of his career with the Vikings, recording 992 total tackles, 15.5 sacks, 30 passes defensed, nine interceptions and eight forced fumbles.


Cardinals coach Arians: I was not going to let Logan Thomas fail
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/27/2015) Cardinals coach Bruce Arians still believes in young quarterback Logan Thomas. Arians didn't want to ruin his confidence last season after being forced into action with multiple injuries to Arizona quarterbacks, reports the team's website.

"He's going to get a ton of work and those reps are invaluable," Arians said. "Just in decision-making, how fast you're getting it out of your hand, where you're going with it, where you're going when 'one' and 'two' are still covered. Are you still scrambling around or are you going to find your outlets? That growth process comes strictly from reps."

Arians still has a plan for the second-year pro.

"We drafted him for two years from now, not November," Arians said. "It just so happened his number got called (earlier.) I was not going to let him fail (in San Francisco) because once you fail those scars never go away.

"It's very hard to get the guys back in the locker room if you cost them the playoffs. I just wasn't going to put him in that situation. Right or wrong, it just was my decision."


DT Letroy Guion visits with Seahawks
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(3/27/2015) Nose tackle Letroy Guion visited with the Seahawks on Friday, adding another suitor into the mix as the Packers attempt to retain his services, per ESPN.com.

After Guion's criminal case was closed earlier in the week, with Guion paying only a fine, the Seahawks set up a visit. Guion recorded career-highs in tackles (32) and sacks (3 1/2) with the Packers in 2014. 


 
 
 
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