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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
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham to avoid surgery on shoulder
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5:34 pm ET) Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said Friday he will avoid surgery on his shoulder after testing it at the Pro Bowl. 

"I’ve been doing rehab and I’m going to start back on my rehab Monday and really there’s going to be no surgery," Graham told SiriusXM radio. "I’m just going to do rehab, strengthen the area. That’s what’s best — not having to take six months off and try to heal up with a surgery, but now have those six months to work on all things I need to to try and hopefully get to a place like (the Super Bowl) next year."

Graham, who had 85 catches for 889 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2014, fought off the injury for most of the season. He was still unsure about having surgery before the Pro Bowl last week.

"It was something that really needed some rest and unfortunately it wasn’t able to get that during the season," he said. "It happened early and then you have about 10 straight weeks of trying to make it to the game. Now after having about three or four weeks and last week kind of testing it at the Pro Bowl, it feels great."


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by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(4:26 pm ET) Vikings veteran wideout Greg Jennings said during a SiriusXM NFL Radio interview on Friday that embattled running back Adrian Peterson is wanted back by everyone in the organization, per ESPN.

"I don't know if he'll be back. I can't answer that question," Jennings said. "But what I do know is that if he does come back, he'd be accepted with open arms. As an organization from the Wilfs on down, we all want him back. So, I mean, it's a touchy subject and he's been the franchise player -- face of that team -- for eight years. So it will be a loss, a huge loss, if we can't get him back, and that's the nature of this business."

In November, Peterson was suspended by the league without pay for the rest of the season, making him ineligible for reinstatement until at least April 15. The move came after Peterson pleaded no contest to recklessly injuring his 4-year-old son last May. He is under contract with the Vikings for next season, and is set to earn $12.75 million.

It's unclear at this point if Jennings has talked to Zygi and Mark Wilf about the Peterson situation. What is clear is that the team is not allowed to communicate with Peterson during his suspension.


Eagles' Maclin believes contract will take care of itself
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3:08 pm ET) Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin believes he will be back in Philadelphia in next season. His representatives and the Eagles are in the process of negotiating a new contract for the 27-year-old, who will become a free agent in March unless he is re-signed.

"I'm excited about what the future holds," Maclin said on Friday. "Once again, both sides have made it known what we want to do. I think it will take care of itself."

He could be franchise tagged if a deal is not signed. The tag number for wide receivers is yet to be determined.

Maclin had 85 catches in 2014 for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns in Philadelphia.


Bears sign LB DeDe Lattimore to two-year contract extension
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:03 pm ET) The Bears have signed linebacker DeDe Lattimore to a two-year contract extension. He appeared in 10 games as a rookie in 2014, recording five special teams tackles.

Jaguars' Khan 'very optimistic' about WR Blackmon being reinstated
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:46 pm ET) Jaguars owner Shahid Khan said Friday he is "very optimistic" about wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who missed the 2014 season after being suspended indefinitely for a third violation of the league's substance abuse policy, being reinstated to the NFL.

"I think he's paid his dues and I think he's got his life together," Khan said, per The Florida Times-Union.


NFLPA president Eric Winston: New conduct policy 'violates CBA'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:43 pm ET) After the union field a grievance last week against the NFL over changes to the NFL personal conduct policy, Players Association president Eric Winston said Thursday the new policy "violates the CBA in several ways and we're going to be grieving this as far as we can."

NFL owners unanimously approved the changes in December.

"We have an agreement with the league and they have an agreement with us," Winston said, per the Associated Press. "We're going to hold them to that agreement. Many aspects of this policy fall outside of the CBA and we're going to continue fighting it going forward."

Following former Ravens running back Ray Rice's domestic violence case and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson's child abuse case, a more extensive list of prohibited conduct was included in the policy, as well as criteria for paid leave for anyone charged with a violent crime. A suspension of six games without pay for violations involving assault, sexual assault, battery, domestic violence, child abuse and other forms of family violence will be in effect.

"The league's revised conduct policy was the product of a tremendous amount of analysis and work and is based on input from a broad and diverse group of experts within and outside of football, including current players, former players, and the NFL Players Association," the league said in a statement last week.

"We and the public firmly believe that all NFL personnel should be held accountable to a stronger, more effective conduct policy. Clearly, the union does not share that belief."


Eric Decker 'pushing' for Demaryius Thomas to sign with Jets
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:38 pm ET) Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is set to become a free agent in March, unless he agrees to a contract extension or Denver uses the franchise tag on him. If he does become a free agent, former teammate Eric Decker hopes Thomas would consider joining him on the Jets roster.

Decker spent a few days in Arizona this week with Thomas filming a commercial.

“I’ve been pushing for the entire year now,” Decker said in a telephone interview with The New York Post. “It was just another opportunity to talk to him about it. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. I think it would be tough for Denver to let him go. So whether they franchise-tag him here in the next month or give him a long-term deal, he’s just one of those premier players in this league.

"If he happens to make it to free agency, I would love to sign him because playing alongside him for four years and especially the last two years made it a lot of fun and made it a lot easier. He’s just one of the great players in this league.”

Thomas recorded a career-best 1,619 receiving yards in 2014. It was his third straight season of 1,000-plus receiving yards. He also had at least 10 touchdowns for a third straight season.


49ers CEO York: 'Defenses are not going to want to play against us'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:32 pm ET) 49ers CEO Jed York confirmed the promotion of quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst to offensive coordinator during an interview with NFL Network on Friday. York is particularly excited about Chryst, who has been the quarterbacks coach since 2011, continuing to work with quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

“With Kap, you got a guy in Geep Chryst who knows him better than anybody else,” York said, per CSNBayArea.com. “You have a great guy in (quarterbacks coach) Steve Logan who is coming to come in to work with him on fundamentals and allow us to put together a system that’s going to put Kap in the best position to make plays.

“How many quarterbacks in this league can run 90 yards for a touchdown? I can’t think of many. But you have to put Kap in a position where he can make those plays. And put Kap in a position where we can run the ball (and) we can throw the ball in ways that allow him to be successful and let him be the absolute stud that he can be on the field. And I think that’s what you’re going to see from us next year. Defenses are not going to want to play against us because you’re not going to know where we’re going to hit you.”


Bears' Bennett: Trestman will be 'excellent coordinator' for Ravens
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:34 pm ET) Marc Trestman lasted only two seasons as the Bears coach before losing his job. Bears tight end Martellus Bennett said on NFL Network on Friday that Trestman's demise in Chicago was plagued by his inability to control a locker room full of personalities.

"Trestman, I think, first off, the issue that he had, probably, was managing us all, all the different personalities," Bennett said. "There's a lot of big personalities (in the locker room). And I think, for a first-time head coach in the NFL, dealing with all the personalities that you have, I think that's hard when you got guys like me, you know, (Brandon) Marshall ... Lance Briggs on defense, (Charles) Tillman.

"There's so many guys with such outgoing personalities that managing those guys and bringing them all together is what a leader needs to do, you know? And that's one of the toughest things."

Although Trestman was fired in late December, he wasn't out of work for long, landing the job as the Ravens offensive coordinator after Gary Kubiak left to become the Broncos coach. Bennett believes Trestman will have success in his new role.

"Calling plays, he was excellent," Bennett said. "I think he's going to be an excellent coordinator for the Ravens.  Strategically, he was great. But on the field, guys just weren't executing.

"A lot of it comes back to the player preparation. If you're not preparing to a high level, then the coaches can only do so much; the game's not played on paper, it's played on grass. On paper, we look great. On grass, we looked bad."


Marijuana charges dropped against LeGarrette Blount in Pennsylvania
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:10 pm ET) Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount will not face charges for marijuana possession in Pennsylvania, Blount’s attorney said Friday.

Blount and Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell were pulled over and arrested for pot possession in August, a day before a preseason game. Blount satisfied his penalty by working community service in Boston. He will not have to appear in court in Pittsburgh next week. 


 
 
 
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