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Fantasy Football: Top 50 wide receivers

07.23.14 at 1:03 pm ET
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Let’s take a look at the top 50 wide receivers. I’d planned on ranking just the top 36, which would represent the starters in 12-team leagues, but this year’s group is so deep that more players merit a mention. If you are looking for an even deeper take on this year’s receiving class, go to Rotobahn and check out our Top 300, which includes rankings and comments for over 100 receivers.

Just to be clear, these rankings reflect standard or performance scoring rather than PPR (point per reception) scoring. For a PPR take on the receivers, you can check out my 2014 projections.

Tier 1 (1-6)

These are the monsters. They almost always come through and they’re all healthy. These guys aren’t just WR1 fantasy options, they are high-end WR1 options. You can anchor your receiving corps with any of them. In fact, we think the top five all have a solid shot at being No. 1 by season’s end. While we don’t quite see that high a ceiling for Marshall, we love his high floor and consistency. He also has the complete trust of his quarterback. The Jay Cutler-to-Marshall connection dates back to their rookie season as Broncos in 2006.

Tier 2 (7-10)

There’s not much drop-off from the first tier, but you have some smaller receivers and Jeffery has just the single season of greatness. Nelson is on the cusp of Tier 1, but I still have some concerns about him staying healthy and don’t feel that his top end goes quite as high as the options in the elite tier.

Tier 3 (11-14)

Here’s another group that signifies a small drop-off from the prior tier. Arizona’s Floyd and Fitzgerald are on par with Chicago’s Jeffery and Marshall, but we give the Bears duo a bump because we like Cutler a bit better than we do Carson Palmer. Johnson still is elite, but his quarterback is not … and his offense is in a state of flux. Allen has the look of a potential star, but he has a rough schedule in 2014 that features four contests against NFC West teams.

Tier 4 (15-20)

This group is comprised of players who can be strong second fantasy receivers or WR2s. They all have high-end talent, but with a caveat. Crabtree and Harvin have thick injury histories. Garcon and Jackson are in new offenses, and Jackson probably will have a new quarterback in Josh McCown. Patterson has only half of a season’s worth of NFL production. White is on the decline but still very good.

Tier 5 (21-25)

Big talents, but with some issues. Wallace and Jackson have diva reputations for reasons both fair and unfair. Decker has a quarterback downgrade of rather epic proportions if you go by 2013 statistics … or 2014 projections, for that matter. Hilton still is looking like a great talent, but his team likes to limit his snaps and exposure to punishment … not to say that we blame them, but it affects his fantasy ceiling. Smith is in a new offense, but our guess is that it ends up being a plus. He’s a breakout candidate who only needs to find the zone a few more times to become a high-end WR2.

Tier 6 (26-31)

In Tier 6 we have players trending in different directions. On the way up, we have Tate, Wright and Edelman. Both Wright and Tate get better every year, and Edelman has done the same but finally has found a way to stay healthy. I expect all three to be stable WR3 options in 2014, and Wright has WR2 upside in PPR formats. Edelman obviously gets a value bump because he plays with a future Hall of Fame quarterback. Trending down are Cruz, Colston and Welker. Welker and Colston have age and mileage concerns, while Cruz simply has a nasty downward trend statistically since his breakout season in 2011. Having said all that, all three have solid WR3 value on draft day. Welker and Colston play with all-time great quarterbacks while Cruz still projects to be a No. 1 option for his team.

Tier 7 (32-41)

It’s a big old tier for sure, and I’d feel fine with any of these guys in my lineup. What this tier has in abundance is upside, but also significant roles. The concerns for guys like Sanders, Shorts, Cooper and Maclin are injuries. They’ve all had multiple maladies over their fairly young careers. For Cooks, Stills, Williams, Jones and Evans, we have very young players with little or no NFL experience. Cooks, Stills and Williams represent excellent talent in great situations. Jones and Evans are talented long-bodied guys with solidified starting roles and solid touchdown potential. Randle may end up as the Giants‘ third receiver, but New York can support a third receiver quite nicely, as we’ve seen in the past. And he has some breakout potential as Eli Manning‘s best red zone target.

Tier 8 (42-48)

Tier 8 is all about upside, but there are bigger concerns with roles and quarterback quality. Hopkins, Watkins, Hunter and Austin all have issues with their quarterbacks. Nicks, Hunter and Austin still are trying to establish their roles with their teams, though they should all get a fair shot. Again, what this tier offers is upside. This entire tier is filled with players who could post WR2 numbers. Nicks has shown high-end talent in the past and now plays with a stud quarterback. Hopkins is highly talented and he’s got a nose for the end zone. Sadly, he also has a limited quarterback in the near term. Dobson is a player we like a lot, but we want to see him playing at 100 percent before we consider him for Tier 7 or even Tier 6. After all, he’s got red zone ability and he plays with that Brady guy. Beckham Jr. and Watkins are game-ready rookies with game-breaking ability, but Beckham Jr. has to share the ball in New York and Watkins is in a sketchy quarterback situation. I don’t disagree with the people who think the Rams over-drafted Austin, but that doesn’t mean the guy can’t play. I just think you have to be careful about investing too much into a 174-pound receiver who also carries the football. I think the Steelers got it right this year with Dri Archer, whom people will be talking about at some point this season. Hunter was our “Johnny Bravo” at Rotobahn last year heading into the draft. While he had some diva tendencies and an ACL injury to be concerned about, he also had all the traits we see on today’s prototypical receivers. If Hunter hits, he has the potential to hit big. That upside gets him into the tier.

Tier 9 (49-50)

This small tier closes out the top 50 receivers as things currently stand. Bowe is the clear No. 1 for a mediocre quarterback, while Wayne is coming off major injury but plays with a great young quarterback. I think Wayne lacks the upside he had before his injury, but with Luck he still has a chance to produce WR3 numbers if things go well. Bowe also has a shot at WR3 performance.

The depth and quality of the receivers available in 2014 is stunning. There are still plenty of fantasy-relevant receivers who missed the cut. As I said earlier, head over to Rotobahn and check out our Top 300. I’ll be back in this space again next week with an in-depth look at the quarterbacks.

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