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Tier 5 Wide Receivers
David M. Dorey
August 27, 2004

Once all those starting receivers are taken, you are faced with a daunting task. After the first 36 or so receivers are gone, there is still a pool of about 150 more receivers you can draw from. Last season there were 188 wideouts that had at least one catch in a game. Rankings help make sense of those final 100+ players but the very nature of rankings do not address some realities that you should. Most rankings are merely spit out as the fantasy point value of what someone thinks the most likely production will be from a player but that by itself is already fraught with problems. How likely? 90%? 25%? What is the risk? What is the upside?

A further complication comes after you secure those starters. Does it make sense to continue to draft using the "most likely production" scenario or are there other factors that you should be considering? Remember - receivers are unlike most any other fantasy position. Most leagues never exceed 32 QB's drafted, so you can go by strict rankings and be fine - heck, you never got past the starting QB's anyway. Considering the sharing situations with RB's, there's maybe 40 and at most 50 running backs out there that you could truly consider starters. By the time you reach Tier 5 for RB's, about all you are hoping for is someone to get injured and your guy get the shot.

But receivers, ah yes, those always dynamic wideouts that develop in and out of a starting job. Figure with every team using three receiver sets at least occasionally, there are 96 starting receivers at any moment. Some teams use four receiver sets. On the right team, the #2 receiver will outperform the #1 of many other teams. And with so many potential fantasy stars in the position, no wonder there is such movement every year.

It is the one position where "sleepers" are most found. Old guys get older and young guys get hot. Mr. Stud Boy gets in the doghouse and suddenly all the passes go to the other side of the field. There is a myriad of reasons why it happens but the beautiful thing is - it always happens. And hopefully, the "Step Up" guy is YOUR player.

The Huddle Tier 5 rankings are the picks that should be made if no other receivers existed because, most likely, this person should deliver better than the rest. However, even the Tier 5 rankings have been tweaked away from those "projected stats generated" rankings to take into account upside and risk. And yet, allow me to let you in on a little secret I hope does not shock you. After projecting over 300 players every summer and then following them all year and after spending 365 days a year since 1997 on the NFL, I can still safely say that I have never followed my own rankings exactly. Never. Ever.

Say what?!? What do I use? I still use mine (puh-leeze) but I certainly do not follow them in order by Tier 5. By the time that I am acquiring depth and back-ups players, I am looking for different characteristics from my receivers. I categorize receivers into three types by this point:

Upsiders - These are "sleepers", the guys I feel have the best chance to turn in the big surprise year, get the starting job mid-season or if things are just right, far exceed the expectations of a Tier 5 receiver. It is probably not MOST likely to happen or they would not be in this tier but they are in a situation with just the right conditions and talents to have that wonderful shot at making me happy and more importantly, making me look smart. These are the guys with the best shot of eventually turning into fantasy starters that might make a difference.

Safe Players - These are the guys that, you know, probably will start and end the season in the same place. The sort of player that never kills you and never really makes a difference. They are safe. Possession receivers that regularly turn in good yardage or #3 receivers for a team that use them enough to warrant starting them for your team. There is no shame in a safe player, it's pretty smart and necessary if you have drafted some riskier players with your starters. If you stocked all your depth with risky upsiders, you might end up with nothing when you need them. It is not unheard of for one of these to turn in a big year but that is not what you are really drafting them for anyway.

Roster Fodder - The players that I consider "fodder" are all the rest. They do not appear to have the upside that warrants them as a good calculated risk and they are not safe plays either. They are Roster Fodder. They are #3 receivers that turn in the occasional big game but not likely when you want need them to do it. They could be #2 receivers on teams that do not like to throw that much anyway. They lack the upside due to talent and/or situation and they are not used consistently enough to be considered safe. There is a reason why most Tier 5 receivers are roster fodder - because there is about 150 of them.

Categorizing the Tier 5 receivers into these three types is more of an art than science but therein lies the fun and excitement of fantasy football. If it were just numbers we could let the computers play each other while we go get a beer. There is art in Tier 5 and if you are using your depth to merely look at the first name not crossed off of your list, you are missing one of the biggest attractions of the draft.

Here is how Tier 5 falls out with the three types of receivers. If you do not agree with how the categories are drawn, that's okay, Make your own. I love this stuff. You should too.

Upsiders

I would like to get maybe one or two of these guys. It's a swing at the fence and probably to fall short but at least a couple will likely surprise. These are the hunch guys I do not want to rely on as starters but would like to take the chance on them.

TIER 5 Upsiders
Anquan Boldin ARI Will be a late season risk play. Will the knee heal? As a backup - why not find out yourself?
Bryant Johnson ARI Will be the #2 until Boldin comes back but hey - he was a #1 pick in 2003. Has a month or two as #2.
Michael Jenkins ATL Just caught a nice TD on Saturday. Really think Dez White is the long-term answer? Me either.
Devard Darling BAL Taken really deep - what the heck? Rookie who could surprise unlike like anyone else on BAL
Lee Evans BUF Rookie wideouts are scary but this one is really fast. Chance to reprise the Price role.
David Terrell CHI This one hurts - I hate this guy. But it looks like he is the #1. What does that mean though?
Darius Watts DEN Raising in the rankings all the time, might challenge Lelie for the #2 and coaches like him.
Reggie Williams JAX Less impressive in camp but talented rookie that will get it eventually - maybe this year?
Nate Burleson MIN Rising all the time if only because Robinson keeps falling. Hey! Look at Moss!
Ant. Randle El PIT 3rd year guy on a team likely to lose Burress next year. Ex-QB like Hines and good in the open field.
Brandon Lloyd SF Someone has to catch all those "We're Behind!" passes and Lloyd looks the most impressive
Cedrick Wilson SF See Brandon Lloyd and change "most" to "somewhat" impressive.
Rashaun Woods SF Okay, so most SF receivers seem to be here. This is the only one we have never seen.
Michael Clayton TB I love Clayton this deep, he could be the #1 in TB and do something very nice.
Tyrone Calico TEN Sitting in the McCareins seat now and Bennett could be passed just the same.

Safe Players

There is nothing wrong with any of these as backup players. They can even be starters if you have injuries to your lineup but their upside is limited. Their attractive quality is that they should produce something every week. These are not guys I want to rely on but if I had to I would still feel okay while I searched the waiver wire. I want at least one of these and maybe two. Much more and I am limiting myself.

Tier 5 Safe Players
Travis Taylor BAL The once upsider is now just a safe play. He should get at least some average numbers.
Bobby Shaw BUF Little guy never quite becomes a full-timer but still posts some average numbers
Mu. Muhammad CAR Possession receiver with one more decent year left in him
Kelly Washington CIN He has upside but not enough for me to warrant a upside player. CIN has a bad schedule and new QB.
Peter Warrick CIN Could be great. Could get hurt again. But he's pretty safe when he is healthy
Terry Glenn DAL Maybe doesn't belong here but will be an option for Vinny, whatever that means.
Key. Johnson DAL Possession guy will produce some numbers for you when you need him. Maybe not a lot, but some.
Donald Driver GB Sliding back down but I am willing to rely on him for a bye week
Corey Bradford HOU Gets passes every game and scores the occasional TD.
Johnnie Morton KC Turned in some decent numbers last year. Will so again. Just not very big ones.
Marty Booker MIA So he is not probably a fantasy starter anymore, but will still get passes. At least safe.
Troy Brown NE Brown is losing a step in an offense that spreads the ball around. But should get something.
Ike Hilliard NYG Gets hurt more than I like but has pretty good games.
Jerry Rice OAK Okay, so he is no stud anymore but out of respect he still is Jerry Freaking Rice.
Todd Pinkston PHI With Owens there, have to figure he's going to be getting passes too. Now if he will just catch them.
Bobby Engram SEA Like Shaw, a gamer who just never plays big enough to be a #2

Roster Fodder (worth ranking anyway)

Admittedly, these are not likely choices I want to make.

Tier 5 Roster Fodder
Brian Finneran ATL This is Drew Bennett a bit slower on a team that throws less. Look - it's Michael Jenkins!
Kevin Johnson BAL Sure, maybe if I got points for blocking. A known quantity on a team known for not throwing.
Josh Reed BUF Opportunity is knocking but the guy at the door is asking for Lee Evans
Ricky Proehl CAR Panthers much more happy he stayed than I am.
Justin Gage CHI Was a sleeper type but now Terrell and Wade are starters and CHI offense is too new for me
Bobby Wade CHI Maybe a sleeper to others but the CHI passing bandwagon is passing me by.
Dennis Northcutt CLE He stayed but the CLE passing offense looks like the one that left.
Antonio Bryant DAL Hmmm... #3 on a Parcells offense with Testaverde. I'd throw my shirt at the draftboard first.
Az-Zahir Hakim DET Think of the old SF offense. Who was the #3 there? Enough said.
Tai Streets DET Rogers and Williams. How much left over? If he lacked as a #2 for Mariucci in SF already...
Jabar Gaffney HOU #3 on Houston. Probably not even #7 on my fantasy team.
Brandon Stokley IND #3 guy in IND may be good, just not when I want him to be.
Troy Edwards JAX Just waiting for Reggie Williams to replace him.
Cortez Hankton JAX I like Leftwich and all but nah - not on that team. One of those practice field wonders.
Dante Hall KC They always say he is going to be used more but why take a chance on a thrill every kickoff?
Der. Thompson MIA Evidently even the Dolphins never bought into the "looks good in camp"
Marcus Robinson MIN Used to like him but with bad hammies and a coach that says he remains the #3 - no thanks
Kelly Campbell MIN Super exciting if you can correctly guess which two or three games it will be.
Bethel Johnson NE Fast does not mean productive
Jerome Pathon NO Too inconsistent but tempting
Tim Carter NYG Sure he is fast, and injury prone and inconsistent. Maybe if Hilliard gets hurt and Eli is like Peyton.
Wayne Chrebet NYJ An injury waiting to happen. a retirement delayed by one year.
Freddie Mitchell PHI Yeah right. I lost that loving feeling about two years ago.
Tim Dwight SD I am now going to list why San Diego is known mostly for the zoo.
Kassim Osgood SD Every so often this guy gets good press and then he falls on the depth charts.
Kevin Dyson SD I thought I was an optimist and then I drafted Dyson one year.
Eric Parker SD Even if he is the starter, it will not last as he never does.
Reche Caldwell SD Evidently potential really is not nearly as good as actually doing it.
Curtis Conway SF Beaten out by two players that have never been true starters before. There's a resume builder.
Dane Looker STL Actually interesting but too inconsistent and McDonald looking better these days anyway
Joe Jurevicius TB Even if he is healthy, he is only redzone material and Clayton can see eye to eye with him.
Joey Galloway TB Speedy - sure. That means a few big games and too many that are not for me.
Tim Brown TB Stop yourself.
Kee. McCardell TB Right - someone will take the chance but he just has bad karma written all over him.
Drew Bennett TEN Sure - some people think he is safe or has upside. I think he watches the #3 guy pass him again.
James Thrash WAS Drop the first "H" from his name.
Dar. McCants WAS Maybe Gibbs will use him in the redzone too. Maybe he won't. Let someone else find out.

As events happen in the preseason, some players may switch between any of the three categories for me personally. But going into a draft and looking for backup receivers, this is the basic thought process I carry in for the players. I am looking for one or two safe players with bye weeks I like. I am looking to take at least one flyer on a player and preferably two. And the Roster Fodder? That is the reason I try to wrap up my receivers before I have to reach inside that bucket. I already have kickers and defenses before I want to tread on this ground.

Take a look at the Tier 5 players and try to categorize them in your own way, blending some safety with some upside and you'll be much better off than just crossing off the next open name on your cheatsheet. You might just end up endorsing the back of that championship check instead.