Most fantasy leagues start three wide receivers. Rarely it will be as few as two and occasionally it can expand to four or even five depending on the use of “flex” spots in line-up rules. NFL teams only feature one quarterback or receiving tight end. They may have two running backs that split the workload. But every NFL team will use at least three wide receivers per game and as many as five or even six. With such a large number of potential fantasy factors, it allows you to strategically mix and match the kinds of wide receivers that you select.
Now there are Split Ends (“X”) who play on the line of scrimmage, typically on the left with no one between him and the offensive tackle. They tend to be tall, physical wideouts. There are Flankers (“Z”) who are slightly behind the line of scrimmage and “flank” the tight end usually on the right side. These are often the team’s busiest receivers and cannot be immediately jammed by their defender. Finally there are slot receivers (“Y”) who line up in the “slot” between either of the outside wideouts and the offensive line. These designations are important to know. And they have nothing to do with balancing your fantasy wide receivers.
Because of the large number of receivers at play, there are several types of fantasy receivers to consider and each impacts your team differently.
Elite – No need to embellish. These are the top dozen or so wide receivers with high production and low risk. It is hard to get more than one without sacrificing elsewhere. The studs like Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, A.J. Green and the like. These are your difference makers.
Possession – These are the lower ranked primary wideouts and some second best wideouts playing behind a NFL stud. They will never be top ten but they get a good number of receptions and usually end up around 1000 yards each season. The important aspect is that they are consistently good even if never great. You can rely on them each week to show up with decent points. There is nothing sexy about Doug Baldwin, Brian Hartline, Marques Colston, Kendall Wright or Julian Edelman. Even the aging ex-elite like Roddy White, Reggie Wayne and Andre Johnson qualify. They will provide solid numbers almost every week. These take on even more value in leagues with reception points.
Long-Ballers – These are the wideouts with the high “yards per catch” but fewer than 50 receptions (around three per week). They show up on highlight reels with long touchdowns and impressive runs. These are also killers for fantasy teams because you cannot rely on them. They can be great only if you play in “best ball” leagues where your lineups automatically start your highest scoring players. The fact you only get maybe three to six big games from them is much less of an issue. These include players like Kenny Stills, Riley Cooper and Tavon Austin. They are often the #3 wideout for their NFL team who will turn in the occasional good game and then disappoint all who rip him off the waiver wire.
Team Changers – Players are drafted on expectations and those who change teams are lower valued because they lack a track record in their new offense. But these players can pay off nicely. Last year saw Wes Welker, Anquan Boldin and Mike Wallace trade teams with moderate results. But 2012 saw Brandon Marshall, Vincent Jackson and Pierre Garcon all benefit from a change in scenery.
Changing locations for 2014 include Emmanuel Sanders (Denver), Golden Tate (Detroit), Hakeem Nicks (Indianapolis), Eric Decker (New York Jets), James Jones (Oakland), Kenny Britt (St. Louis) and DeSean Jackson (Washington). Always factor in the quality of offense and quarterback on their new team but know many will exceed expectations in their new home.
Upside Players – These guys scream “sleeper!” simply because they have never had a big season but appear likely to take the big step up. This describes nearly every player with less than four years of experience because the internet is littered with so many sleeper predictions that nearly every player ends up on someone’s list. Bottom line – most wide receivers break out in their second or third seasons or they never do.
Rookies can matter. But it is very rare. Keenan Allen was a star in his first season but all other 2013 rookies failed to turn in a notable year including the seven who were drafted before him. If you never drafted a rookie wideout you would have made a prudent choice about 98% of the time. This season Brandin Cooks is the hot rookie paired with Drew Brees. While Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham and Kelvin Benjamin will be drafted, the chances are maybe none will merit a weekly fantasy start. All have undeniable upside but the best you can hope for is that they become contributors later on in the season.
Second year players are always a rich spot to look for a breakout season. You have to evaluate DeAndre Hopkins, Cordarrelle Patterson, Justin Hunter, Tavon Austin, Robert Woods, Terrance Williams, Aaron Dobson and Markus Wheaton as sleeper candidates. They are the most highly drafted receivers from the 2012 class. They have the pedigree and now a year of experience.
Historically, the third year was the breakout season but the current NFL prefers to just play rather than develop them. The third year players include Michael Floyd, Kendall Wright and Rueben Randle. 2013 already saw T.Y Hilton and Alshon Jeffery take the step up to fantasy starter.
While you acquire your wideouts in a draft, consider the types of player that you are getting. After the elite are gone, many team owners stock up on nothing but upside players hoping at least a few to break through and merit a start. Problem is you won’t know which ones are the best for a few weeks and losing games while figuring it out can sink your season.
Always make sure you draft at least one “boring” possession receiver. If you start three wideouts, make that third one be a consistent, reliable player no matter if his production will only be average. You can drop him from the lineup once one of your crafty sleepers comes through. He’ll also be a great bye week filler.
Avoid the #3 wideouts from NFL teams and especially those with high yards-per-catch. Never be influenced by single plays or even a handful of plays. You need consistent, reliable high production from your starting wideouts so play it safe with your starting decisions and let your upside picks grow into a starting role.
- Other Fantasy Drafting Strategy Articles of Interest:
- Fantasy Players Worth A Reach In Your Draft
- Your Draft Plan – First Three Picks in 12 Team Leagues
- 10 Fantasy Drafting Tips for 2014