Fantasy Football Draft Primer: Wide Receiver Strategy, Rankings & Tiers

A VG read from Fitz at FP on drafting WR’s.

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Fantasy Football Draft Primer: Wide Receiver Strategy, Rankings & Tiers (2023)

The WR position is only deep in the sense that a lot of wide receivers get significant playing time. There are 32 NFL teams, after all, and each team starts at least two wide receivers. NFL offenses frequently use three-receiver sets, and some NFL teams have three fantasy-viable receivers.

But we need our wide receivers to do more than just get exercise by running routes with nothing to show for it. We need points, and the number of receivers who reliably deliver significant point totals is smaller than some fantasy managers think.

Only 29 receivers played at least 10 games and averaged double-digit points in half-point point per reception (PPR) scoring last season.

Only 32 receivers drew at least 100 targets.

Only 26 receivers scored more than 5 touchdowns.

Only 21 receivers hit the 1,000-yard mark.

Your goal should be to amass a formidable collection of high-scoring receivers, particularly if your league requires you to start three WRs every week.

3WR Leagues vs. 2WR Leagues

In a league that requires you to start three wide receivers, you should hammer the WR position early. Your goal should be to overwhelm your competitors at wide receiver. Ideally, your WR4 will be better than everyone else’s WR3 and maybe even better than some people’s WR2.

How important is the WR position in 3WR leagues? Think of it this way: If your league requires you to start 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE and 1 FLEX, at least 37.5% of your non-defense, non-kicker starters will be WRs. That percentage would jump to 50% if you put a WR in the flex spot.

In leagues where you’re required to start only two receivers, it’s OK to simply keep up with the competition at wide receiver as long as you’re building positional advantages elsewhere. In leagues where you have to start three receivers, it’s imperative to stay ahead of the curve at the position. If you’re able to overwhelm opponents at the WR position, you can ham-and-egg it at one or two of the other positions and still have a powerhouse team. If you’re the one being overwhelmed at the WR position on a weekly basis, your chances of making the fantasy playoffs will be slim.

In 3WR leagues, at least three of your first five draft picks should be wide receivers. Ideally, four of your first six picks will be receivers.

A More Predictable Position

We routinely see running backs taken in the mid to late rounds of fantasy drafts emerge as impactful performers. Tony Pollard

‘s average draft position (ADP) last year was RB30, and he finished RB7 in half-point PPR fantasy scoring. Jamaal Williams‘ ADP was RB53, and he finished RB8. Rhamondre Stevenson‘s ADP was RB35, and he finished RB11.

It’s far less common to see wide receivers emerge from the middle and late rounds of fantasy drafts and make an impact. Garrett Wilson

was a rare exception last season, finishing WR19 after having an ADP of WR59. But Wilson was still only a midrange WR2. Rarely do we ever see receivers come out of the fog to finish in WR1 range.

In 2022, nine of the 12 wide receivers with ADPs in the WR1 range finished as WR1s in fantasy points per game (half-point PPR). Two of the other three — Mike Evans

and Tee Higgins — finished 13th and 14th, respectively, in fantasy points per game (FPPG) among receivers who played at least nine games. The only receiver to be drafted in the WR1 range last year and finish outside the top 14 in fantasy points per game was Deebo Samuel, who finished 25th in FPPG.

For the sake of comparison, seven of the 12 running backs with ADPs in the RB1 range finished top 12 in fantasy points per game last season.

The high reliability of early-round wide receivers is a good reason to invest heavily in the position.

Wide Receiver Rankings & Tiers

Here are the top 50 wide receivers in my redraft rankings, sorted into tiers, with thoughts on some of the players from each tier.

Tier 1

These two are the creme de la creme at the position. Jefferson has finished WR6, WR4 and WR1 in fantasy scoring in his three NFL seasons and has averaged 16.2 half-point PPR fantasy points per game. Chase finished WR5 in fantasy scoring as a rookie. He finished WR12 last year despite missing five games. Chase has averaged 16.0 half-point PPR fantasy points per game since entering the league.

Tier 2

After his outrageous 145-1947-16 performance in 2021, Kupp was leading all WRs in fantasy points per game last season, averaging 8.3 catches and 90.2 yards, when he went down with what turned out to be a season-ending ankle injury. Kupp has little target competition with the Rams and should once again receive a mammoth target share.

Lamb had had an exciting 2022 breakout in his third NFL season, with 107 catches for 1,359 yards and nine touchdowns. He had a hefty 28.6 target share, reflecting his importance to the Dallas offense.

How good is Tyreek Hill? After playing in the high-flying Chiefs offense and catching balls from the best pure passer in the game, Patrick Mahomes

, Hill joined a new team and stepped into an unfamiliar system helmed by an unproven quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa. Hill proceeded to establish new career highs in receptions (119) and receiving yards (1,710), finishing WR3 in fantasy scoring. Expect more of the prolific production to which we’ve become accustomed.

Tier 3

Playing a full regular season for the first time since his rookie year in 2019, A.J. Brown turned in the best season of his career, posting 88-1496-11 despite playing in a run-heavy offense and sharing targets with another 1,000-yard receiver.

Since December 2021, Amon-Ra St. Brown has averaged 9.7 targets, 7.1 catches and 78.2 receiving yards per game. St. Brown should continue to be a target hog in 2023, particularly early in the season, while second-year WR Jameson Williams

serves a six-game gambling suspension.

Wilson piled up 83 receptions and 1,103 yards last season and was named 2022 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year. He did that while playing with a potpourri of mediocre quarterbacks and could take his numbers up another notch this season while playing with future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers


Olave finished his rookie year with 72-1042-4 despite missing a pair of games. The former Ohio State star had a 26.6% target share for the Saints last season and now gets a QB upgrade with Derek Carr

. Olave has home-run speed, and Carr averaged 9.1 intended air yards per pass attempt last season, according to Pro Football Reference, the fourth-highest in the league.

It might be a good idea to let someone else draft Adams this year. His first eight years in the NFL catching passes from future Hall-of-Famer Aaron Rodgers and then playing the 2022 season with former Fresno State teammate Derek Carr, Adams will likely be paired with QB Jimmy Garoppolo

, who prefers to dink and dunk rather than take shots downfield. (Garoppolo averaged just 6.9 intended air yards per pass attempt last year.) Adams is reportedly unhappy with the direction of the Raiders — not an encouraging sign.

2023 Fantasy Football Best Ball Draft Advice

Tier 4

Smith might be the No. 2 receiver on his own team, but don’t let that bother you. He’s a terrific route runner and is lethal after the catch. Smith caught fire down the stretch last season. In his final nine games (playoffs included), he had 54 catches for 784 yards and five touchdowns.

Cooper has volatile home/road splits, but he’s topped 1,100 receiving yards in three of the last four years. Maybe Cooper’s home/road splits won’t be as extreme this year if Browns QB Deshaun Watson

shows more of his early-career form than he did in 2022.

London plays in a run-heavy offense helmed by inexperienced QB Desmond Ridder

, but the 6-foot-4, 213-pound London commanded a whopping 29.3% target share as a rookie. That target share was bigger than it might have been if Falcons TE Kyle Pitts had been healthy all season, but Drake will still command plenty of targets even in Arthur Smith’s ultra-conservative offense.

A handful of big plays pumped up Watson’s fantasy point total last year, but with a 6-foot-5 frame and 4.36 speed, Watson is built to make big plays. He scored eight touchdowns over a four-game stretch last season. To some extent, Watson’s fantasy production will be at the mercy of the Packers’ new starting quarterback, Jordan Love

, but Watson’s splashy rookie season whet our appetite for more.

Two years ago, Deebo Samuel had 1,400 receiving yards and six TD catches, along with 365 rushing yards and eight TD runs. Deebo’s average depth of target that season was 8.4 yards. Last year, his aDOT was only 4.3 yards (and in 2020, it was a ridiculous 2.2 yards). Deebo isn’t likely to post needle-moving rushing numbers again when the 49ers have Christian McCaffrey

and Elijah Mitchell at RB. In 2021, Raheem Mostert went down for the season in Week 1, and there wasn’t a single 49er running back who played more than 11 games last year, so unique circumstances contributed to Deebo’s rushing breakout. Don’t overdraft him.

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