Fantasy football drafting is all about getting the players you want at their ADP while taking into account the players you’re skipping at their ADP. That’s why this wide receiver tiers piece focuses on grouping the players into tiers by average draft position. This is part one, as I did not want to inundate folks with too much information. So, today’s wide receiver tiers article covers tiers one through seven. Part two comes tomorrow with the second half of the tiers. My favorites in each tier are in bold.
Fantasy Football Wide Receivers Tier 1: Michael Thomas
There isn’t much to say about this tier. It’s Michael Thomas, who led the league in receptions in each of the last two seasons. He broke the record last year with 149 catches, and his 300.1 fantasy point sin HPPR was the most since Antonio Brown’s 310.2 in 2015. Thomas is a slam dunk pick after the first four running backs are off the board, and shouldn’t go any later than pick seven in the first round.
There isn’t much argument that he shouldn’t be the first wide receiver off the board, in all formats. There’s only one challenger to his throne as the WR1, but we will get to that in a second. If you aren’t convinced by Dalvin Cook or Derrick Henry and you pick between 1.05 and 1.07, you’re probably going to end up with Michael Thomas on your roster. If you pick after 1.07 and Michael Thomas is still on the board: smash that draft button.
Fantasy Football Wide Receivers Tier 2: The Elite
These are the tippy top of the guys not named Michael Thomas. They offer four different 2020 receiver profiles. Adams is going to be an absolute target monster this season, and is the only player who can contend for the WR1 throne. Rob Moore holds the NFL record for targets in a season with 208 targets in 1997, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Adams, who paced out to 200 targets from week ten until seventeen in 2018, has breaking that record in his profile.
Then you get Hill, who is the deep shot guy for the most potent offense in the NFL, he was banged up last year but when he played, he tied for the sixth-highest air yards market share last season. He won’t get as many targets as Davante Adams, but the targets are going to be about three yards deeper, on average.
Julio is immortal and will be a top-five wide receiver until the end of time, he’s the most recent WR to get 200+ targets, but Calvin Ridley, Todd Gurley and Hayden Hurst cap a repeat of that.
Then, we get to Hopkins. His yards per reception have decreased each of the last three seasons, and he is going to lose his biggest fantasy asset: targets. Over the last six seasons, he’s averaged over ten targets per game with a lot less competition for targets. The Cardinals have Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, and took two WRs in the first 103 picks last season. There’s no chance Hopkins averages 10+ targets a game again and taking him as the WR5 is just asking too much of him.
Fantasy Football Wide Receivers Tier 3: The Third Round
I cut this tier off where I did because ideally, these are your last WR1s. You can pass on this tier if you’d like, but you probably won’t like your team as much. Two of Tom Brady’s targets sit atop the list, and the deeper guy (Mike Evans) predictably sits behind the slot receiver (Chris Godwin). This is how it should be since Brady won’t have to YOLO out as much as Jameis.
If Kenny Golladay and Matthew Stafford play healthy all 2020, he will take Hopkins’ spot in the top-five by ADP next season. Amari Cooper was WR9 by total points last season but was top-12 in just 25% of his games. I wouldn’t have him as my WR1 if I had my druthers.
Weirdly, the back half of this tier contains my favorites. Thielen will feast without Stefon Diggs in that offense, and Allen churns out 150 target seasons no matter which junk quarterback is throwing him the football (it seems to be Nick Foles “by an inch”).
D.J. Moore is an interesting case, as he had 135 targets last season, and should get more, but he feels capped out. Curtis Samuel, Robby Anderson, Christian McCaffrey, and Ian Thomas all need to get theirs, and the Panthers threw the ball the second-most times in the league last year (633). It’s hard to chop up that pie in a way that sees more getting more than 140 targets. Still, that’s a lot, and he can do a lot with them.
Fantasy Football Wide Receivers Tier 4: The Turn
I had to break out the round three guys into two tiers because if I have my druthers, these guys are my WR2. I can swallow them as my WR1, as they’ve all pulled it off in the past. But, the questions surrounding these three guys make me a little itchy to lean on them as my top WR in any leagues.
Odell Beckham had a down 2019 campaign, posting just 1,035 yards, four touchdowns and 74 catches in 16 games last year; pedestrian numbers across the board for someone of Odell Beckham’s caliber. But, Beckham played injured last season and is “100% recovered” from his offseason sports hernia surgery. He could smash his way back into the top-ten at the position easily.
JuJu Smith-Schuster also has lots of question marks surrounding his 2019 output. It was his first year without Antonio Brown, but he also had to deal with a cavalcade of trash at quarterback due to Big Ben’s injury. He had 2,867 yards before his 23rd birthday, and it’s not like he forgot how to play football. But can he handle being the #1 on the Steelers? Maybe, with Diontae Johnson’s emergence, he doesn’t have to.
Cooper Kupp was 2019’s WR4, but his insane late-season surge is priced into his 2020 draft position. He ended the year with some next-level unsustainable hyper-efficiency in December (90% catch rate and five touchdowns in five games) to boost his numbers. He was still good before then (averaged 80 yards per game September through November in 2019.
Fantasy Football Wide Receivers Tier 5: WR2s With WR1 Upside
If I don’t end up with one of the top-twelve WRs, I’m double (or triple tapping) a couple guys in this range and the next tier. Calvin Ridley is the sleeper du jour in fantasy football circles, as many expect his 93 targets from 2019 to grow by 20 or 30 targets to get him into the top tier of wide receivers. He has a career 9.1 yards per target which ranks #18 since he joined the NFL (minimum 100 targets).
A.J. Brown is a weird case because he has unsustainable yards per target but he’s also due to get a lot more targets. So each target will be less exciting, but he’ll get a lot more of them. But remember when we said Tyreek Hill’s efficiency was unsustainable? Food for thought with Brown.
Tyler Lockett was a top-five wide receiver before the 49ers sent him to the hospital. He wasn’t the same last season, but months of rest will do him good. He’s a solid WR2 in this range and if they #LetRussCook, he could be off to the races again. Let’s skip over Robert Woods for a second and talk Courtland Sutton. The Broncos set Sutton up to take a step forward by trading Emmanuel Sanders. Sutton had averaged 81 yards per game with Sanders, but without Sanders around, he dropped down to 61 yards/game.
Robert Woods was WR14 last season, Brandin Cooks is gone, and he’s been a WR3 or better in 72% of games over the last three seasons. Get Robert Woods. He’s good.
Fantasy Football Wide Receivers Tier 6: Too Many WR2s
These seven wide receivers go within a round of each other, making a run of players that nearly all should surpass their draft price. Metcalf and McLaurin are ascendant sophomores after having two of the better rookie WR seasons we’ve seen in a while. D.J. Chark and DeVante Parker both broke out last season after disappointing starts to their careers; Chark for one season and Parker for nearly half a decade.
Hilton and Allen are solid vets, tied together by Hilton’s new QB: Philip Rivers. I will take Hilton over Allen, though I am not looking towards either in this range. Allen worries me because Tyrod Taylor tends to spread it around and so much over his value was volume.
Fantasy Football Wide Receivers Tier 7: The Hodgepodge
This is another big boy tier with a lot of stuff going on here. This is a tier I mostly stay out of since this is where I’m doing my Cam Akers/Kareem Hunt Double Tap™. I will take Marquise Brown or Michael Gallup if they fall past here. Marquise Brown was very good before injuring his ankle last season, and Michael Gallup was great all year. Gallup was a top-fifteen wide receiver, and they lost three pass-catchers while adding just one. The math is there for him to smash this season.
The rest of this tier… take ‘em. A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd are contending to split targets from a rookie QB, likely capping both their ceilings. Jarvis Landry is coming off of surgery and probably won’t be ready for week one, given recent reports. I usually love Landry but his slow start might cause problems. That having been said, he’s my third guy if I have to pick three in this tier. Edelman is slow and inefficient, and so much of his value came from his mind-meld with Tom Brady.
Then we get to Will Fuller. Ah, “if only he could stay healthy” Will Fuller. If only he was healthy Will Fuller. He would smash if he could play Will Fuller. If you take all the games that Will Fuller had a 90%+ snap share in his career and pro-rated it out to 16 games, it would be 62/888/5. Not exactly smashing.