Fantasy Football Rankings: Wide receiver salary cap draft tiers

We’re headed into the meat of fantasy football draft season, and you need to hear these six words:

Draft wide receivers who start themselves.

My goal for every one of my teams, no matter the format, is to have one of the best wide receiver rooms in the league. This is a difficult position to find impactful help on the waiver wire. So often quarterbacks are fantasy breakouts simply because of their running and athleticism, and we know finding fantasy value at running back is usually tied to solving the usage puzzle. Any promoted back will be fought over on the waiver wire and started enthusiastically the following week.

Receiver doesn’t work like that, of course. If the Rams lose Cooper Kupp, there isn’t a Kupp 2.0 waiting to jump forward.

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I’m not going to ignore running backs, of course; I might go Anchor RB in some rooms, and even when I’m closer to a Zero RB build, I’ll be attacking that position in the Round 6-12 pocket. But if I haven’t taken two wideouts with my first three picks (or with my three most expensive offers in a salary cap league), something has gone wrong.

The right answers at wide receiver are almost always drafted.

The Big Tickets

$46 Justin Jefferson

$45 Ja'Marr Chase

$42 Tyreek Hill

$41 Cooper Kupp

$40 Stefon Diggs

$39 CeeDee Lamb

$38 Amon-Ra St. Brown

$37 Davante Adams

$37 Garrett Wilson

Jefferson holds the top spot but it’s by the smallest of margins, and I will be sure to have Chase exposure this year, too. Chase is tied to a better quarterback and offense, and he flashed a little more upside than Jefferson when both were at LSU (not that Jefferson didn’t look like an obvious NFL star, too; it’s amazing the Eagles somehow talked themselves into Jalen Reagor over Jefferson) . . . St. Brown was comically unlucky with near-touchdowns last season, tackled inside the 5-yard line on six occasions. He’s been a red-zone dominator in early practices, and the Lions will target him off the bus, especially with Jameson Williams opening the year on an NFL suspension . . .

Amon-Ra St. Brown headshot
Amon-Ra St. Brown
WR - DET - #14
2022 - 2023 season

We can debate what’s left in the Aaron Rodgers tank, but obviously, he’s a major step forward from the Zach Wilson trainwreck. Wilson was a star out of the box last year, despite the problems around him; he has legitimate top-five upside in his sophomore season. An obvious proactive pick, and hopefully footage of him leaving practice with an apparent injury turns out to be nothing to worry about . . . It’s unsettling to be bearish at this juncture of draft season. Still, it’s also difficult to trust Josh McDaniels and Jimmy Garoppolo, and I fear the Raiders have legitimate collapse risk. Adams is also stepping into his age-31 season, and we know fantasy football at most positions is dominated by younger players.

Legitimate Building Blocks

$35 Jaylen Waddle

$34 A.J. Brown

$31 Tee Higgins

$30 Keenan Allen

$30 DeVonta Smith

$26 Jerry Jeudy

$25 Christian Watson

$25 DK Metcalf

$24 Amari Cooper

$23 Calvin Ridley

$23 Chris Olave

$22 Christian Kirk

$22 Drake London

$22 Deebo Samuel

$21 Tyler Lockett

Jeudy posted a snappy 37-523-3 line over his final six games, and now he takes the competent coaching bump from Sean Payton. In some leagues, you might be able to steal Jeudy as your WR3 . . . Lockett’s last five WR finishes are lovely: WR11, WR15, WR11, WR11, WR13. You can draft him much later than that, and although rookie hotshot Jaxon Smith-Njigba is another mouth to feed, the Seahawks still have a fairly narrow target tree — they don’t throw to their backs or tight ends much. If you don’t fear a crash from Geno Smith, Lockett is a screaming value at his current ADP . . .

Tyler Lockett headshot
Tyler Lockett
WR - SEA - #16
2022 - 2023 season

Ridley is one of the hardest players to rank, off a major layoff and stepping into an offense that already has good players. Look at how badly Deshaun Watson struggled in his return last year. Ridley of course isn’t coming in cold, as he’ll have the full summer to prepare, and Trevor Lawrence is a kingmaker at quarterback. But my Ridley draft strategy is more about taking what the room gives me, and not targeting him from the jump . . . It’s crazy to note that Andy Dalton had much better efficiency stats than Derek Carr last year, but the Raiders' dysfunction is baked into Carr’s slump. Olave can win on any route you like, and if healthy he’s at least going to double last year’s touchdown count . . . Waddle’s aDOT was comically short for his rookie season, but new coach Mike McDaniel unleashed Waddle downfield last year, with smashing results. It always feels a little odd to draft a WR2 who’s behind a superstar on his own team, but Waddle probably has a 40% chance to outscore Hill in a full season for both, and of course, if Hill ever gets hurt, Waddle becomes a pinball machine . . .

[2023 Salary Cap Rankings Tiers: QB | RB | WR | TE]

The Chargers get a new offensive voice at the right time, but Allen has a history of modest touchdown counts, and he’s also likely to miss a couple of games. Into his age-31 season, I cannot sign up proactively.

Talk Them Up, Talk Them Down

$18 Mike Williams

$16 DeAndre Hopkins

$16 Brandin Cooks

$15 Terry McLaurin

$14 Diontae Johnson

$13 Chris Godwin

$13 Brandon Aiyuk

$13 Mike Evans

$12 DJ Moore

$12 George Pickens

$12 Michael Pittman

$12 Jahan Dotson

$11 Marquise Brown

The Steelers ask different things from Johnson and Pickens, but my chip goes on Pickens, the more dynamic receiver, the bigger downfield threat and the younger player. Kenny Pickett was poised throughout his rookie year, and showed some upside in the final quarter of the year . . . Aiyuk is a talented player, but probably the fourth-best skill guy on the loaded Niners offense, deferring to Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel and George Kittle. And the Niners are always going to have a balanced offense, a mix of being inexperienced at quarterback and very strong on defense. Aiyuk is more a floor pick than an upside pick . . .

Brandon Aiyuk headshot
Brandon Aiyuk
WR - SF - #11
2022 - 2023 season

McLaurin has long been one of my favorite players and it’s cost me at the fantasy table, as his mediocre quarterbacks have sunk him in the touchdown column. Maybe Sam Howell starts to turn that narrative around, but Dotson has at least as much touchdown upside as McLaurin and is available 50 picks later.

Some Plausible Upside

$10 Odell Beckham Jr.

$10 Kadarius Toney

$10 Skyy Moore

$8 Michael Thomas

$8 Romeo Doubs

$8 Treylon Burks

$5 Allen Lazard

$5 Elijah Moore

$5 Jaxon Smith-Njigba

$5 Courtland Sutton

$5 Isaiah Hodgins

$4 Jameson Williams

$4 Jakobi Meyers

$4 Zay Jones

$4 Jordan Addison

$4 Gabe Davis

$4 Tyler Boyd

$4 Nico Collins

$4 Rashod Bateman

$4 Darnell Mooney

Somehow Patrick Mahomes posted an MVP season last year without any Kansas City wideout earning weekly fantasy cred. That probably won’t happen again but it’s hard to say which KC target we should focus on. Toney’s obviously hurt, while Moore and Rice are inexperienced. I could see Richie James sneaking into the conversation as a useful PPR support player, but he doesn’t have a major ceiling . . . Thomas is a case for the Cheese Theory — once the cheese goes bad, don’t bet on it going good. He attacked the record book with an eraser back in 2019, but he’s been a fantasy brick since. He’s now stepping into his age-30 season, Drew Brees is obviously long gone and Thomas was never much of a separator to begin with. I doubt he’ll be on any of my rosters . . . With Williams facing a suspension, I’m not going to make a wait-for-it pick. Roster space is far too important, especially in September, when the most important free-agent moves are available. I don’t want to play short-handed. And it’s not like Williams is an instant fantasy plug-and-play the moment he rejoins the Lions.

Bargain Bin

$3 K.J. Osborn

$3 Adam Thielen

$3 John Metchie

$3 JuJu Smith-Schuster

$3 Robert Woods

$3 Donovan Peoples-Jones

$3 Rashid Shaheed

$3 Rashee Rice

$3 Tim Patrick

$2 Van Jefferson

$2 Curtis Samuel

$2 Darius Slayton

$2 Alec Pierce

$2 DeVante Parker

$2 DJ Chark

$2 Marquez Valdes-Scantling

$2 Zay Flowers

$2 Richie James

$1 Tyquan Thornton

$1 Parris Campbell

$1 Mack Hollins

$1 Mecole Hardman

$1 Jalin Hyatt

$1 Michael Gallup

$1 Wan'Dale Robinson

$1 Hunter Renfrow

$1 Russell Gage

$1 Corey Davis

$1 Greg Dortch

$1 Marvin Jones

$1 Khalil Shakir

Previous Shuffles:

Running Backs (July 27)

Quarterbacks (July 17)

Tight Ends (July 13)