In my view, fantasy rankings are taking a linear thought process into an inherently fluid decision-making exercise. I often find there’s a heavy amount of frivolous debate on subjects like, “Why do you have Player-X at No. 12 but Player-Y at No. 15?” I don’t think it does the reader a service to try and take the numerical order as a one-to-one comparison, nor do we learn anything of use or substance about the players or how they will score us fantasy points on a week-to-week basis in the discussion. For all the hype surrounding the event of the draft, winning weekly is still the name of the game in the vast majority of fantasy formats.
With that school of thought established, I do believe that using tiers by position helps offset some of the uselessness of rankings. It helps take some of the frivolity of arguing the difference of a few spots in the order. Most of the players in one tier have roughly the same value, whether they fall first in the set or last. It provides more actionable information for fantasy gamers to use during drafts, specifically in terms of helping us imagine the range of outcomes for players from both a season-long and weekly standpoint. We get too caught up in where we think a player will rank at the end of the season, but tiering can help remind us that the goal soon enough will be all about constructing teams that are best set to win one week at a time.
The wide receiver position is as stocked as ever in today’s NFL, both down the rungs and at the top echelon. That reality can lead you to attack the position in a variety of different ways. Loading up on WR1s early as well as waiting on the position are both viable approaches this year, as detailed in my positional preview last month. No matter how you go about selecting wideouts this year, tier-based drafting can help you identify targets and when to take the plunge on a clump at the position.
WR Tier 1 - Elite WR1s
1) Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
2) Odell Beckham Jr., Cleveland Browns
3) DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
Davante Adams is my WR1 overall this year and the Round 1 pick I’m most comfortable with after the consensus top-four running backs (and David Johnson) are all off the board. As such, he’s a frequent target, as high as sixth overall. The debate about who will emerge behind him could be moot if the answer just becomes more Davante Adams. He proved he was an elite player last year (see chart below) and has the red zone ability and volume projection to dominate in 2019 if the Packers offense rebounds.
Odell Beckham’s ceiling was as intoxicating as anyone’s in football last year. Since entering the NFL, Beckham ranks second in touchdowns per game and third in yards per game. Now he’s paired with a hyper-accurate, ascending quarterback for the first time in his career. Perhaps it’s against better judgment but in the end, I couldn’t help myself but have him at No. 2 in this exercise.
While Adams is the clear alpha in his offense, DeAndre Hopkins must now (in theory) contend with a suddenly loaded Houston aerial attack. Will Fuller, Keke Coutee, and the newly acquired Duke Johnson will all siphon targets in their specific roles. It will make the whole offense better but will shave targets off the top for Hopkins. Their lack of reliability in the health department might make this a moot point but as things stand today, I have Adams projected to lead the NFL in targets, with Hopkins at sixth.
Davante Adams is the most improved player in #ReceptionPerception history. His 79.5% success rate vs. man coverage is the 4th best recorded score since 2014.
His 2018 route success rate chart: pic.twitter.com/ve9gjjeaER
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) April 19, 2019
WR Tier 2 - Difference-making WR1s who can anchor a fantasy team
4) Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
5) Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs
6) Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
7) JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers
8) Antonio Brown, Oakland Raiders
9) Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
10) Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers
Julio Jones misses Tier 1 by a mere fraction and only because, at this point, it just seems foolish to project him for more than seven to eight scores in a season. All three of the top receivers have that well within their range of probable outcomes. With Tyreek Hill avoiding any sort of suspension, he slots in as a top-five receiver. Hill doesn’t have the target projection of many of his peers in this grouping but brings outrageous week-winning ability in the NFL’s highest-flying offense.
Even with the Saints perhaps skewing more run-heavy in 2019, Michael Thomas still owns a safe outlook. The lack of other reliable players outside of Alvin Kamara and Jared Cook makes his market share outlook tasty. Antonio Brown slots in here as if he’s not going to lose any game time due to his mysterious frozen foot issue. However, missing crucial time building chemistry with Derek Carr does dampen what was already an objectively worse fantasy outlook than what he came with during prior seasons. Brown can still push for 150-plus targets and snag 90 balls in this offense.
Mike Evans and Keenan Allen are pristine values in the second round of fantasy drafts. Everyone is rightly high on players like Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard due to the influence of Bruce Arians and the likelihood of pass-heavy game scripts. Yet, the concentrated nature of this aerial game leaves open the possibility for a career-year for Evans. Allen could be one of the sneaky beneficiaries of a Melvin Gordon holdout. Not only would Gordon’s absence free up some short-area targets but the Chargers could be inclined to bump down their 41 percent run-play rate of the last two seasons without their star back.
WR Tier 3 - Back-half WR1s but stellar second-fiddles
11) TY Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
12) Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings
13) Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings
14) Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys
15) Brandin Cooks, Los Angeles Rams
The players in this tier could serve as a WR1 for a roster constructed around an early running back-heavy approach. They would be even more appealing as WR2s following an elite receiver pick in Rounds 1 or 2.
Amari Cooper has been a tough selection to make given the players who go around him in drafts. Not only do we expect Dallas to be a run-heavy team but Cooper has always been an inconsistent player, both on film and in the stat sheet. Cooper crushed it in big primetime games for the Cowboys but still went under 40 yards in four of nine games with the team. Those lines will always be a possibility based on who he is as a player and with the way Dallas plays offense.
The Vikings wide receivers could see their ceilings shaved a bit with an expected recommitment to the ground game coming in Minnesota. However, there are so few threats in the passing game after them that their overall shares of the passing pie will keep their season-long floors afloat. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen can both clear 24% of the team targets.
WR Tier 4 - Run on No. 2 receivers from potent offenses
16) Julian Edelman, New England Patriots
17) Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
18) Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks
19) Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals
20) Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams
21) Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons
22) Robert Woods, Los Angeles Rams
If you aren’t single-mindedly thirsty after No. 1 wide receivers, Rounds 4 and 5 will come with plenty of appealing options. Several enticing complementary receivers in voluminous and efficient offenses fall into that range.
Chris Godwin is locked-in as a breakout receiver. He has a juicy role as Bruce Arians’ big slot receiver, a clear path to 100 targets, a marriage between an aggressive quarterback and poor defense and oh, by the way, he’s already proven he’s good at the game. Calvin Ridley is in a similar spot, albeit with less of a clean volume projection. However, Ridley was simply too good last year (see Reception Perception chart below) to not earn a promotion to the clear No. 2 wideout alongside Julio Jones. That coming to pass would help stave off worries about some of his per-target metrics regressing.
Calvin Ridley's rookie year #ReceptionPerception results:
- 76.2% success rate vs. man coverage (93rd percentile)
- 78.6% success rate vs. press coverage (90th percentile)
His 2018 route percentage and success rate charts: pic.twitter.com/bu0EJa2e5H
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) May 8, 2019
Julian Edelman and Tyler Lockett stand out as possible target hogs in their respective offenses in this tier. The Patriots are bereft of reliable receiving options outside their slot receiver and running back stable. Lockett will slide into Doug Baldwin’s vacated role and his wildly efficient 2018 season showed us why he’s good enough to come with the same appeal as Baldwin did in fantasy. Yes, regression will hit but the coming boost in opportunity as Russell Wilson’s lone established pass-catcher will buoy that inevitable sting.
WR Tier 5 - Flying high as your WR3
23) Will Fuller, Houston Texans
24) Alshon Jeffery, Philadelphia Eagles
25) Kenny Golladay, Detroit Lions
26) Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears
27) D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers
28) Christian Kirk, Arizona Cardinals
29) Robby Anderson, New York Jets
30) Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers
31) Curtis Samuel, Carolina Panthers
I would feel great about all of these players as a WR3. It’s about identifying the value and right price for each of them.
Kenny Golladay stands out as a player clearly slotted in a tier lower than where his ADP falls. The problem isn’t the player — it’s the offense. His price implies he’s the target hog of this offense but that’s a tough sell with Marvin Jones back and rookie T.J. Hockenson a fixture with the Lions first team. Then there’s the debate about what being a target hog on this team is even worth. We saw this scenario for six weeks late last year without Jones or Golden Tate. Golladay averaged 9.7 targets per game and had three big lines (8-113-TD, 5-90, 7-146) but mixed in three contests with fewer than 60 yards, including a five-yard clunker. He caught 53% of his targets overall in that stretch. The Lions have told us who they want to be and it’s anything but a voluminous passing game.
About seven scenarios exist where this looks way too optimistic on Will Fuller. They almost all revolve around his health. He’s a difference-maker when he’s on the field and the Texans offense looks poised to take another leap with Deshaun Watson at the helm. If Fuller stays healthy and earns a 20% target share, he’d blow by even this optimistic ranking.
Allen Robinson is my favorite bounce-back candidate this year. I know, you’re shocked. Robinson showed in the playoffs the once-dominant X-receiver is still in there somewhere but truthfully, there were positive signs as a route-runner all year. Robinson’s 71.3% success rate vs. man coverage score in Reception Perception with the Bears last year checks in at the 78th percentile. That’s more than what you’re looking for from a player of his archetype. He’s still the alpha in this passing game.
The Panthers receivers have been a hot-button topic for months. D.J. Moore is the favorite to lead the group in targets; we don’t need to hammer that point. He’s a fine mid-round pick. Curtis Samuel is the sky-rocketing player who was once a value but the football world at large is now hip to. There is nothing not to like about his situation. He’s a clear starter, the team is behind his impending rise, the quarterback is healthy and playing in an offense more stocked than at any other point in his career. Oh, by the way, Samuel is also good at the game. He showed he was a pristine route-runner last year by scoring a 94th percentile success rate vs. man coverage score in Reception Perception. He is an early career Stefon Diggs-type of player and right there with Chris Godwin as one of my favorite breakout picks at this position.
Curtis Samuel is one of my top potential breakout WRs for 2019 based on #ReceptionPerception:
- 76.6% success rate vs. man coverage (94th percentile)
- 74.6% success rate vs. press coverage
- 73.7% contested catch rate.
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➡️ https://t.co/QxOTxfKtaF pic.twitter.com/6yxmyVUCei
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) June 6, 2019
WR Tier 6 - Likely WR4s with potential to jump a tier
32) Marvin Jones, Detroit Lions
33) Dante Pettis, San Francisco 49ers
34) Corey Davis, Tennessee Titans
35) Sterling Shepard, New York Giants
36) Dede Westbrook, Jacksonville Jaguars
37) Jarvis Landry, Cleveland Browns
38) Emmanuel Sanders, Denver Broncos
39) Tyrell Williams, Oakland Raiders
40) John Brown, Buffalo Bills
41) Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
42) A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
43) Sammy Watkins, Kansas City Chiefs
Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay’s fantasy output could be much closer than their near-four round ADP gap would imply. On the other hand, the gap between Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry should be a bit wider considering that quality options behind them like Rashard Higgins, David Njoku and eventually Antonio Callaway will eat into targets. Bet on Beckham remaining an alpha while Landry comes in well under his 149 targets from 2018.
Dante Pettis is a talented player but has not had a good summer. He reportedly lost starting reps at outside receiver in camp. Then he ran out in the 49ers preseason opener while other starters got to rest. Pettis would have been a Tier 5 player had this list been made just a few weeks ago.
Corey Davis, Sterling Shepard and Dede Westbrook are all top receivers on passing games that have major questions marks. Volume can help them outkick expectations. All of them have shown varying degrees of real NFL ability.
John Brown and Tyrell Williams should not be going outside the Top-50 receivers. Williams is a proven big-play wideout, averaging north of 15 yards per catch in all four of his pro seasons. A vertical receiver with plus separation and yards after the catch skills, Williams can easily outkick his ADP if he pushes for 90 targets. Brown is in a great position from an opportunity perspective. He was handling No. 1 receiver duties in Baltimore in Weeks 1 to 10, on pace for a 1,000-yard campaign with the fifth-most air yards in the NFL. He should see a similar opportunity in Buffalo. Talent is not in question either, as Brown is an excellent full-field separator. We just need to see the rocket-armed Josh Allen reign in his accuracy. At the very least, the duo’s skillset will present week-winning upside.
No shock that John Brown looks like he's establishing himself as the clear No. 1 WR in Buffalo. #ReceptionPerception has long shown that Brown is an elite separator. In his 3 healthy seasons (2014, '15, '18) he posted a success rate vs. man coverage above the 90th percentile. pic.twitter.com/Zcj7hJfbFz
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) August 12, 2019
Emmanuel Sanders is a veteran value. Long expected to miss time to begin the year while recovering from a torn Achilles, Sanders has been a full-go for multiple weeks in training camp. If he’s right, Sanders is the clear No. 1 receiver in this offense and Joe Flacco, for all his flaws, has lifted experienced receivers to fantasy relevance.
A.J. Green went from a clear target at the Round 2-to-3 turn to a player hard to envision drafting in almost any scenario. Slotting him in this tier means he’s a fine pick anywhere from Round 8 and after ... if he makes it that far. There is a hypothetical world where Green returns after a few missed games and produces borderline WR1 numbers, but injury optimism often delivers crushing blows in fantasy.
WR Tier 7 - Priority late-round targets
44) Donte Moncrief, Pittsburgh Steelers
45) Kenny Stills, Miami Dolphins
46) DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles
47) Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Green Bay Packers
48) D.K. Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks
49) Geronimo Allison, Green Bay Packers
50) Albert Wilson, Miami Dolphins
51) Devin Funchess, Indianapolis Colts
52) Anthony Miller, Chicago Bears
The players in this tier are ones I have my eyes fixated on when the double-digit rounds arrive. Kenny Stills, DeSean Jackson, and Anthony Miller, in particular, have access to volume and the type of big-play ability that can round out a receiver group, especially in best ball.
It seems like Donte Moncrief all but has the No. 2 gig locked up in Pittsburgh. He’s well worth a swing given his direct path to usable volume. Let go of your hurt feelings if he let down your fake team in the past.
The Green Bay WR2 gig is still a competition between Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Geronimo Allison. Slotting them both in this tier with the second-year wideout slightly ahead reflects my preference for MVS but with little conviction. The lack of clarity here just leads back to Adams as a target hog and the WR1 overall.
WR Tier 8 - Young players with defined roles but possible capped ceilings
53) DaeSean Hamilton, Denver Broncos
54) Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos
55) Michael Gallup, Dallas Cowboys
56) James Washington, Pittsburgh Steelers
57) Keke Coutee, Houston Texans
58) Josh Doctson, Washington Redskins
59) Willie Snead, Baltimore Ravens
DaeSean Hamilton would have been my clear favorite pick in the Denver receiving corps but the healthy return of Emmanuel Sanders and Hamilton’s own brief injury absence lower his stock a bit. This is still the player I’d place a chip on as a talented middle-of-the-field route runner who produced with volume last year.
Michael Gallup and James Washington are intriguing late summer risers here as the season approaches. Gallup is capped because of the offense he plays in but should be the clear X-receiver as the second-fiddle to Amari Cooper in Dallas. Washington probably falls to fourth in the pecking order in Pittsburgh but has the tools for week-winning lines. Keke Coutee is injured again and could see a slice of his short-area targets passed off to new addition Duke Johnson.
Willie Snead is the elder statesman of this group at just 26 years old. He looks locked in as a starter for Baltimore — he scored in the preseason opener and his middle-of-the-field skillset meshes with Lamar Jackson’s strength as a passer. It won’t mean much volume in Baltimore but he should lead the team in targets.
Here's Lamar Jackson's #NextGenStats passing chart from his rookie season.
As @BenjaminSolak notes (https://t.co/T1e4B69srl, his strength as a passer in college was the middle of the field. Should be some big play chances there in the postseason. pic.twitter.com/mDdmG6sgws
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) January 3, 2019
WR Tier 9 - Mix of floors and ceilings but consistent volume concerns
60) Parris Campbell, Indianapolis Colts
61) Golden Tate, New York Giants
62) Adam Humphries, Tennessee Titans
63) Rashard Higgins, Cleveland Browns
64) Marquise Brown, Baltimore Ravens
65) Marquise Goodwin, San Francisco 49ers
66) Jamison Crowder, New York Jets
67) Mohamed Sanu, Atlanta Falcons
Parris Campbell lost crucial time in training camp with a hamstring injury. He has a chance to be a late riser.
Jamison Crowder is a popular name right now but with Adam Gase’s offenses annually finishing near the basement in terms of plays run and likely falling behind Robby Anderson and Le’Veon Bell on the target tree, he is not getting the volume needed to be a weekly factor. Low-volume slot receivers with limited touchdown potential just aren’t assets in fake football.
Rashard Higgins has the No. 3 receiver gig locked down in Cleveland. He won’t get enough targets to be a confident weekly projection but is a perfect late-round best ball pick. Higgins is a good developing player and the tide of Cleveland’s offense should be strong enough to raise all ships.
WR Tier 10 - Final round best ball dart throws
68) Marqise Lee, Jacksonville Jaguars
69) Hunter Renfrow, Oakland Raiders
70) Trey Quinn, Washington Redskins
71) Devante Parker, Miami Dolphins
72) Quincy Enunwa, New York Jets
73) Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers
74) Mecole Hardman, Kansas City Chiefs
75) Miles Boykin, Baltimore Ravens
There are some rookies to watch here. Deebo Samuel has enjoyed better buzz than Dante Pettis of late. He could rocket up the board. Miles Boykin has taken advantage of Marquise Brown’s rehab-heavy offseason. Boykin has upside if Lamar Jackson takes off as a passer, and he stands out among their wide receiver corps from a skillset and build perspective. Hunter Renfrow looks like he’s the locked-in slot receiver for the Raiders; the same goes for Trey Quinn in Washington.