Wide receiver draft tiers and salary cap values

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.

Of course you need to season this strategy to taste. My rooms are usually starting three or more wideouts, and that’s where I want to bully the room. If your league has smaller starting structures, you’ll need to do some personal adjusting. You know your format and opponents better than I do.

Wide receiver 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.

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.

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

The right answers at wide receiver are almost always drafted.

The Big Tickets

$45 Justin Jefferson

$44 Ja’Marr Chase

$41 Tyreek Hill

$40 Stefon Diggs

$38 CeeDee Lamb

$38 Cooper Kupp

$37 Amon-Ra St. Brown

$36 Davante Adams

$36 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 summer practice, and the Lions will target him off the bus, especially with Jameson Williams opening the year on an NFL suspension.

  • 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.

  • 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 DeVonta Smith

$28 DK Metcalf

$27 Keenan Allen

$25 Jerry Jeudy

$25 Christian Watson

$24 Amari Cooper

$23 Calvin Ridley

$23 Chris Olave

$21 Christian Kirk

$21 Drake London

$21 Deebo Samuel

$20 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. And it’s glorious, you can draft him much later than that. Eventually rookie hotshot Jaxon Smith-Njigba will be another mouth to feed (depending on rehab after wrist surgery), but 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.

  • 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]

Talk Them Up, Talk Them Down

$17 Mike Williams

$15 Terry McLaurin

$14 DeAndre Hopkins

$13 Brandin Cooks

$13 Diontae Johnson

$13 Brandon Aiyuk

$13 Mike Evans

$13 Jahan Dotson

$12 Chris Godwin

$12 DJ Moore

$12 George Pickens

$11 Michael Pittman

$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.

  • Moore was never a dynamic touchdown guy in Carolina, and as much as I admire Justin Fields, we’re probably looking at something like 20-22 touchdown passes. If I could sign up for Moore to replicate last year’s seven spikes, I’d take it immediately.

  • 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 45-50 picks later. Over the final five weeks of 2022, McLaurin and Dotson had almost identical production and target shares.

  • I’ve chased Pittman as an upside pick for two years, but the 2023 ceiling can’t be too high as the Colts groom Anthony Richardson for the NFL. In a full season, Pittman is probably looking at something like 84-913-5; welcome on your roster, but not worth an arm-wrestling match.

Some Plausible Upside

$10 Odell Beckham Jr.

$10 Skyy Moore

$9 Kadarius Toney

$9 Romeo Doubs

$8 Michael Thomas

$7 Elijah Moore

$7 Courtland Sutton

$6 Nico Collins

$6 Gabe Davis

$5 Allen Lazard

$5 Treylon Burks

$5 Jaxon Smith-Njigba*

$5 Rashod Bateman

$4 Isaiah Hodgins

$4 Jakobi Meyers

$4 Zay Jones

$4 Jordan Addison

$4 Tyler Boyd

$4 JuJu Smith-Schuster

$4 Jameson Williams*

$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.

  • Collins steps into his third season and could become the target leader in Houston. And although you don’t want to expect miracles from CJ Stroud right away, it would be difficult to play worse than the 2022 Houston quarterback room did. Collins is the type of growth pick you want on your bench.

Bargain Bin

$3 K.J. Osborn

$3 Adam Thielen

$3 John Metchie

$3 Robert Woods

$3 Donovan Peoples-Jones

$3 Rashid Shaheed

$3 Rashee Rice

$3 Van Jefferson

$3 Zay Flowers

$3 Darius Slayton

$2 Curtis Samuel

$2 Alec Pierce

$2 DeVante Parker

$2 DJ Chark

$2 Marquez Valdes-Scantling

$2 Richie James

$2 Parris Campbell

$2 Michael Gallup

$1 Tyquan Thornton

$1 Mack Hollins

$1 Mecole Hardman

$1 Jalin Hyatt

$1 Wan’Dale Robinson

$1 Hunter Renfrow

$1 Greg Dortch

$1 Marvin Jones

$1 Khalil Shakir

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