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  • Breaking your wide receiver rankings into tiers will help you make the right calls on draft day.
By Michael Beller
August 17, 2018

Rankings are the backbone of fantasy football draft prep season, but there are more to rankings than meets the eye. Every position has multiple drop-off points, where the fantasy value takes a dip. Knowing where these breaks are can help you make the right call on what appears to be a tough decision. That’s why after you rank the players at every position, you must then put them into tiers.

The idea is simple. While you might prefer Melvin Gordon to Dalvin Cook, you understand that the bottom-line difference between the two is minimal, thus placing them in the same tier. When multiple players in the same tier are still available, you may be able to wait on filling that spot on your roster. If you’re at the end of a tier, though, you’ll need to address it if you don’t want to have to drop down to the next group.

In this column, we look at wide receiver tiers. Click the links for quarterbacks and running backs to dive into those positions.

Tier One

(1) Antonio Brown

Over the last five seasons, Brown has averaged 116.4 catches, 1,569.6 yards and 10.4 touchdowns per year. His worst marks in any of those seasons were 101 catches, 1,284 yards and eight touchdowns. That’s not one year, that’s pulling the worst from all five years. If there were ever a tier of one at any position, this is it.

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Tier Two

(2) Odell Beckham
(3) Michael Thomas
(4) Julio Jones

Beckham and Jones speak for themselves. Why does Thomas deserve a spot in this group? In two years, he has 196 catches, 2,382 yards and 14 touchdowns. He’s a true go-to receiver playing with one of the all-time quarterbacks and is still just 25 years old. Both Thomas’s and Drew Brees’s low touchdown rates portend a likely regression back to the mean, as the Saints passing game should take back some of the touchdown glory from Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram.

Tier Three

(5) DeAndre Hopkins
(6) Davante Adams
(7) A.J. Green
(8) Keenan Allen

Another group of elite receivers who don’t need any introduction. Again, I’ll address the one player some might see as an interloper. Adams has 22 touchdown receptions the last two seasons, tops in the NFL. He did that despite Aaron Rodgers missing half of last season, and playing second fiddle to Jordy Nelson in 2016. This year, he’s a 25-year-old in his fifth full season, which doubles as his first as Rodgers’ true No. 1 option. Get ready for big things.

Tier Four

(9) Stefon Diggs
(10) Mike Evans
(11) T.Y. Hilton
(12) Doug Baldwin

Evans has been up and down during his first four years, based largely on touchdown output, but he has never been worse than the No. 24 receiver in fantasy leagues, and has two WR1 finishes to his name. Hilton is, and always has been, a reliable low-end WR1 with a healthy Andrew Luck. Baldwin, too, has been reliable since his breakout 2015 season, catching 169 passes for 2,119 yards and 15 touchdowns the last two seasons. Diggs is the breakout player in the group, on track for big things in his fourth year in the league. He led the NFL in contested catch rate last year, and gets a major quarterback upgrade in the form of Kirk Cousins.

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Tier Five

(13) Brandin Cooks
(14) Allen Robinson
(15) Larry Fitzgerald
(16) Adam Thielen

Forget about the 2017 Rams. They didn’t have a player like Cooks. This is not a Sammy Watkins redux. The Rams traded a first-round pick for Cooks, and then signed him to a huge extension before he played a down for them. That should tell you exactly how the team views him. Robinson has been a full participant for the Bears all summer, putting last year’s ACL tear comfortably in the rear-view mirror. A 120-plus target season in a potentially breakout offense is coming. Fitzgerald keeps on doing his thing into his mid-30s, catching at least 107 passes for at least 1,023 yards and six touchdowns in all of the last three seasons. Thielen enjoyed a breakout campaign last year, hauling in 91 balls for 1,276 yards and four touchdowns.

Joe Robbins / Getty Images

Tier Six

(17) Demaryius Thomas
(18) Amari Cooper
(19) Tyreek Hill
(20) Golden Tate
(21) Juju Smith-Schuster
(22) Jarvis Landry

Thomas found a way to survive playing the last two years with Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch. Case Keenum might as well be Aaron Rodgers, as far as Thomas is concerned. Cooper has yet to live up to expectations, but we’re still talking about a 24-year-old with two 1,000-yard seasons under his belt. Significant breakout potential remains. Hill was one of the most dynamic players in the league last year, but there’s some risk with the Chiefs going from Alex Smith to Patrick Mahomes. All seven of Hill’s receiving touchdowns last year were at least 30 yards, and five of them came from at least 56 yards out. Production like that is hard to repeat. Tate quietly gets the job done every year, catching at least 90 passes in all four of his seasons in Detroit. He has reached at least 1,000 yards in three of those years. Smith-Schuster carved out plenty of space alongside Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell as a 20-year-old rookie, catching 58 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. There’s no reason to worry about him.

Tier Seven

(23) Sammy Watkins
(24) Chris Hogan
(25) Devin Funchess
(26) Marvin Jones
(27) Pierre Garcon
(28) Randall Cobb
(29) Michael Crabtree

This tier features three classic, boring-yet-effective players in Garcon, Cobb and Crabtree. They get it done in different ways and different team contexts, but all have easy WR2 upside and top-30 floors. Watkins, believe it or not, is still just 25 years old. He may finally be on the right team and in the right offense, with Andy Reid a good bet to bring the most out of the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft. Hogan has significant upside, aided by Julian Edelman’s four-game suspension. He’s likely the No. 2 option in the passing game, and had 33 catches for 438 yards and five touchdowns in eight games before getting injured last year. Funchess acquitted himself well as the No. 1 receiver last year after the Panthers traded Kelvin Benjamin, catching 30 passes for 483 yards and five touchdowns in the final eight games of the season. D.J. Moore is a bit of a wet blanket here, but Funchess has top-20 upside. Jones broke out last season, catching 61 passes for 1,101 yards and nine touchdowns. Kenny Golladay cuts into his upside a bit, though Jones has proven a favorite of Matthew Stafford inside the 10-yard line.

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Tier Eight

(30) Josh Gordon
(31) Alshon Jeffery
(32) Corey Davis

The upside tier. All three of these guys have wide ranges of outcomes this year. We know what Gordon can be when he’s at his best, but he has played all of 10 games since the end of the 2013 season, and has yet to join the Browns. Jeffery may start the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list after offseason rotator-cuff surgery. Davis, last year’s No. 5 overall pick, dealt with a nagging hamstring injury all season. The talent is there, but so are Rishard Matthews, Delanie Walker and Dion Lewis. He’s also dependent on Marcus Mariota taking the next step in his development.

Wesley Hitt / Getty Images

Tier Nine

(33) Rishard Matthews
(34) Emmanuel Sanders
(35) Cooper Kupp
(36) Jamison Crowder
(37) Robby Anderson
(38) Will Fuller
(39) Marquise Goodwin
(40) Jordy Nelson
(41) Julian Edelman

This group is the bridge from reliable every-week starters to occasional starters and flex players. With that said, there is some serious upside in this group, particularly with Matthews, Kupp and Goodwin. All three are in position to make a leap while playing with a young, ascending quarterback. The one player to watch out for is Will Fuller, whose touchdown rate from a season ago can’t possibly be sustained this year. He’s going to need to make some splash plays that aren’t touchdowns to pay off his ADP.

Tier 10

(42) Kenny Stills
(43) Cameron Meredith
(44) Robert Woods
(45) Nelson Agholor
(46) Sterling Shepard
(47) Devante Parker
(48) Marqise Lee
(49) DeSean Jackson

This group of receivers will almost certainly be on fantasy benches in Week 1, but all have the upside to turn into regular starters. I’d like to point your attention to the top of the tier, where we find Stills and Meredith. Stills is one of the most undervalued receivers in the league, catching 100 passes for 1,573 yards and 15 touchdowns the last two years. Meredith, meanwhile, missed all of last season with a torn ACL, but was one of the summer’s chic breakout picks. In 2016 with the Bears, he played at least 50% of the team’s snaps in eight games, catching 53 of 79 targets for 701 yards and three touchdowns in those contests. That’s a pretty good 16-game pace.

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Tier 11

(50) Calvin Ridley
(51) D.J. Moore
(52) Paul Richardson
(53) Allen Hurns
(54) Anthony Miller
(55) Mike Williams
(56) Ted Ginn
(57) Brandon Marshall
(58) Chris Godwin
(59) Martavis Bryant
(60) Kenny Golladay
(61) Keelan Cole
(62) John Ross
(63) John Brown

A host of upside plays, any of whom would look good filling out the back end of a fantasy wide receiver corps. The two I want to point out are Anthony Miller and Mike Williams. For all the talk of Tarik Cohen playing the Tyreek Hill role in Chicago, Miller can do a lot of the same things for Matt Nagy. He was one of the most productive receivers in the country his last two years at Memphis, catching 189 passes for 2,896 yards and 32 touchdowns. Miller will be the Bears’ primary slot receiver, and should see upwards of 100 targets. Williams, meanwhile, lost his entire rookie season after being the seventh overall pick in last year’s draft. Still, with Hunter Henry out, someone is going to have to step up alongside Keenan Allen for Philip Rivers. Rivers has attempted at least 527 passes in all of the last eight seasons, and has hit at least 570 in four straight years. That’s a lot of targets to go around in a potentially explosive offense.

Other Positional Tiers: Quarterbacks | Running Backs

Tier 12

(64) Michael Gallup
(65) Tyrell Williams
(66) Corey Coleman
(67) Christian Kirk
(68) Kelvin Benjamin
(69) Josh Doctoson
(70) Mohamed Sanu
(71) Geronimo Allison

Depth, depth and more depth. When in doubt, chase the volume. That could be good news for Gallup and Coleman.

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