There are many ways to prepare for a fantasy draft. Some owners like it quick and dirty; they take their rankings straight. There is a method to that. I’ve released rankings myself. Others want to look behind the curtain. They want to know exactly what they are buying. They want projections. That’s a rational POV as well. Me? I want to know the rationale, so I’m a tier man. Always have been. I have other tools in my bag. I go into drafts with a list of targets. I pre-select my sleepers. And I certainly want a plan regarding a quarterback. But my most prized tool in any fantasy draft is a tier system.
Calvin Johnson – WR1 – Detroit Lions
Not much explanation needed here. Calvin Johnson simply has a higher ceiling and floor than any other receiver in the league. DRAFT: After the first tier of running backs, you can’t draft him too high. The difference between the running back you’d take here and the one available at the back of the second round is not as great as the gap between Calvin and any wr. AUCTION: The guarantee represented by Johnson means he is probably worth his hefty price tag but spending over $50 on a receiver is a big decision: it is one you will want to think about before the draft.
TIER 1 (2-7)
Greg Jennings – WR1 – Green Bay Packers
Andre Johnson – WR1 – Houston Texans
Brandon Marshall – WR1 – Chicago Bears
AJ Green – WR1 – Cincinnati Bengals
Larry Fitzgerald – WR1 – Arizona Cardinals
Roddy White – WR1 – Atlanta Falcons
Wide receiver is deep this year but it is also strong. Last year featured a big-four going into the year. In 2012, I easily like this 2-7 as much as those four. With any of this pack you lock down a roster spot with a guy that will produce top-notch numbers. Barring injury, it’s tough to see any of them finishing out of the top twelve. There may be differing opinions on Brandon Marshall, but I made a seamless case for him here. DRAFT: Unless you selected Calvin Johnson in the first round, your best second round pick comes from this tier of wideouts. It’s your team; pick who you like of the available players. AUCTION: Definitely stick to the low-price end of this tier. That typically means Green and Marshall. You get similar quality to Fitzgerald and Jennings at a much-reduced price. If your auction plan can find $45 for Fitzgerald, you can find $50 for Calvin Johnson.
TIER 2A (8-9)
Hakeem Nicks – WR1 – New York Giants
Dez Bryant – WR1 – Dallas Cowboys
These two have ceilings to match the top tier guys but floors that are considerably lower. Both are the likely top target on a primo offense. However, both face challenges to their role and it’s possible that Victor Cruz or Miles Austin eclipse one of them. I go into more detail about Bryant’s potential here. He is the most likely candidate for a third year jump in the league. Nicks meanwhile, established himself as a consistent 80 ypg guy in his third year. DRAFT: The fourth round is a nice time to be picking a running back. But if you’ve already got two, it’s an even better time to select one of these two wideouts. You get a number one wr as your number two. AUCTION: Second tier price for a receiver that is a step above the second tier? Yes please. Hey, take both. By passing on a Fitzgerald, and filling two slots for less than $40, you can splurge on Aaron Rodgers.
TIER 2B (10-18)
Wes Welker – WR1 – New England Patriots
Mike Wallace – WR1 – Pittsburgh Steelers
Two of last year’s fantasy leaders should see a decline in output in 2012 and it isn’t entirely their fault. They are likely looking at their final seasons with their current teams, who seem to be looking for a way to move on without them. Towards the end of 2011, Rob Gronkowski became the top target for Tom Brady, and Antonio Brown began nipping at Wallace’s heels in Pittsburgh. You’re drafting talent and upside here, but you’re also taking on risk.
Vincent Jackson – WR1 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Stevie Johnson – WR1 – Buffalo Bills
Unquestioned number ones on less than stellar offenses. But we have seen good numbers from less talented receivers than Vincent Jackson in Tampa. Johnson was really good in 2011 when he was healthy.
Victor Cruz – WR2 – New York Giants
Miles Austin – WR2 – Dallas Cowboys
You don’t just get a number two on a good offense. You get a number two who has a chance to be the number one. You might be tempted to overspend here and Cruz could be an elite receiver going forward, but there is a chance 2011 was a fluke. He had a few too many bombs for my taste last season. Austin is more dependable but you have to worry about those hamstrings.
Steve Smith – WR1 – Carolina Panthers
Like the rest of this tier, Smith has a lot of upside. He could easily duplicate his most recent season. But like his peers in 2B, he’s got a red flag. At 33, age and miles could finally slow down the speedy wideout. His totals from the last eight games do not give me a lot of confidence.
Jeremy Maclin – WR1 – Philadelphia Eagles
Percy Harvin – WR1 – Minnesota Vikings
I’m hardly the first to say it, but wide receiver is deep this year. There are seventeen receivers on my board ahead of Percy Harvin and I love Harvin. He can be inconsistent, but with another year experience for qb Christian Ponder, Harvin could improve on his 2011 totals. Maclin essentially missed five games last year, so it isn’t hard to see how he can produce better numbers in 2011. DRAFT: It’s likely that at least one of these nine guys slips in your draft. By round seven, you should be taking your third wideout. If you have three of the top eighteen, you could have a winning ticket. AUCTION: Even in a deep league, you should be able to get three of the top eighteen receivers. This is what I love about the depth of the receiver class. You can fill out a stellar receiver corps with less than $70. Spend that savings on running backs and qbs.
TIER 3 (19-24)
Pierre Garcon – WR1 – Washington Redskins
Julio Jones – WR2 – Atlanta Falcons
Antonio Brown – WR2 – Pittsburgh Steelers
Jordy Nelson – WR2 – Green Bay Packers
Demaryius Thomas – WR1 – Denver Broncos
Marques Colston – WR1 – New Orleans Saints
Here we have second receivers that we can count on to produce. (And Colston is certainly the second option after Jimmy Graham in New Orleans.) Could one of them have a 2011 Jordy Nelson year? Absolutely, but predicting which with certainly is too bold for me. We also have two legit number ones who are entering new circumstances; we don’t know who Demaryius Thomas will fit with Peyton Manning and we aren’t sure how Pierre Garcon will mesh with RG3, though early results from the preseason look promising in Washington. DRAFT: I do like how far Pierre Garcon is dropping in drafts, but that may change if your fellow owners saw how Griffin targeted him four times for 58 yards in the first two drives of the preseason. AUCTION: The members of this tier will probably be tough to snag in an auction. For each receiver, there will probably be at least one owner that loves him in your league. I don’t want to pay as much for any of these guys as I would be willing to shell out for a Tier 2 player.
Desean Jackson – WR2 – Philadelphia Eagles
Reggie Wayne – WR1 – Indianapolis Colts
Malcom Floyd – WR1 – San Diego Chargers
Three wideouts with down years in 2011 whose fortunes should improve in 2012. I explain why I’m targeting Wayne and Floyd as fourth receivers here. Desean Jackson may not be the beneficiary of what can only be improved quarterback play like Wayne should be. Nor can he expect the large boost in targets like Floyd will receive in the absence of Vincent Jackson. But he is better than what he showed last year and we can assume from the long-term contract he signed that he is happy in Philly. DRAFT: If Wayne or Floyd is available in the 8th, I will not hesitate. AUCTION: If I have any money left after my starters are selected, I’m snagging one of those two for my fourth receiver.
TIER 5 (28-35)
Dwayne Bowe – WR1 – Kansas City Chiefs
Brandon Lloyd – WR2 – New England Patriots
Darrius Heyward-Bey – WR1 – Oakland Raiders
Vincent Brown – WR2 – San Diego Chargers
Mario Manningham – WR? – San Francisco 49ers
Torrey Smith – WR1A – Baltimore Ravens
Titus Young – WR2 – Detroit Lions
Justin Blackmon – WR1 – Jacksonville Jaguars
At the time you are considering these players, you are starting to look more at upside. You should already have three starters from the first four tiers so you don’t need a dependable number four; you need a four with potential to breakout. Brandon Lloyd could end up as more than a fourth option in New England. Mario Manningham could end up as the top guy for the Niners. The Chiefs could trade for a better quarterback. I covered most of them in my article on sleepers here. DRAFT: Grab your favorite in the ninth or tenth. If any are left in the last few rounds, grab one more. AUCTION: These guys are more than one-dollar fliers. They are $3-6 sleepers that offer a use for that extra auction cash.
TIER 6 (35-44)
Sydney Rice – WR1 – Seattle Seahawks
Santonio Holmes – WR1 – New York Jets
Anquan Boldin – WR1B – Baltimore Ravens
Kenny Britt – WR1 – Tennessee Titans
Lance Moore – WR2? – New Orleans Saints
Eric Decker – WR2 – Denver Broncos
Randall Cobb – WR3 – Green Bay Packers
Michael Crabtree – WR2? – San Francisco 49ers
Nate Washington – WR2 – Tennessee Titans
True $1 fliers that hope to capture past magic(Boldin) or breakout(Cobb). There are guys who will try to contribute after missing early games(Britt) and guys who will attempt to take advantage of their absence(Washington). If Sydney Rice recovers by week one, he could have value. If Michael Crabtree remains a true number one in a suddenly crowded depth chart, he could help your team. Any of these guys could be fantasy gold, if……..
TIER 7 (45-50)
Alshon Jeffrey – WR2 – Chicago Bears
Denarius Moore – WR2 – Oakland Raiders
Greg Little – WR1 – Cleveland Browns
Kendall Wright – WR3 – Tennessee Titans
Robert Meachem – WR3 – San Diego Chargers
Brandon LaFell – WR2 – Carolina Panthers