Overall the wide receiver position feels pretty normal heading into 2012 when it comes to proven talent, sleepers, and deep sleepers. However, I do feel like there is a big difference this year compared to years past. Normally there is at least somewhat of an argument about who should be the #1 receiver, but this year there is no question that it’s Calvin Johnson and we think there is a big drop off at the second spot. While the overall strategy for drafting receivers hasn’t changed much, I do feel this year you should pay less attention to them in the first couple of rounds, unless you are able to get Calvin in the middle of the first.
When you look at the talent past Calvin there are a handful of guys that could fill the #2 spot, but all of them come with some sort of a question mark. We have Larry Fitzgerald in the second spot, but his age and quarterback issues have to be a concern. Moving down we have Wes Welker, Roddy White, Victor Cruz, A.J. Green, and Greg Jennings, all of which are either coming off of great rookie years or sharing targets with a lot of other talented players. All of these guys do however have similar upsides, which is why my advice would be to wait and see which of these talented receivers slip in the draft, rather than reaching on one of them in the second round.
While I do think the top 10 or so receivers offer a lot of talent, the drop off in the middle rounds is substantial. There are a few guys that I am really excited about, and there are a lot of big question marks. Guys like Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin, and Julio Jones do have big upsides, but for the most part in the middle rounds you are drafting older more proven players that you are just hoping will stay healthy and be able to have another solid year.
I have no problem drafting a Miles Austin, Marques Colston or Dwayne Bowe type player, but just make sure you are getting them late enough to where it makes sense for your team. For my money I would rather get one big name early and wait and see if any middle round guys slip in the draft, if not I will just target some of my favorite wide receiver sleepers in the later rounds. True the longer you wait the bigger the question marks get for each player, but you can stack your team with running backs while you wait to make your move on receivers.
In the middle later rounds, there are always a few guys I get excited about taking gambles on. I love to target Eric Decker and Darrius Heyward-Bey type players, guys that have had some success and have huge upsides but have yet to put it all together and have a huge year. There are always a couple guys a year that go later in drafts that end up being top 15 receivers, and if you guess right it could pay off big. The later middle rounds is the best time to try to find this years Jordy Nelson.
In the later rounds all of the receivers are going to have big question marks, but it is still very possible to find a diamond in the rough guy. I normally try to target guys that are on good offenses, and normally benefit from being surrounded by super star players. A couple of late round guys that I like are Brandon LaFell and Titus Young. They are both on high powered offenses, and they both have other receivers on the team that are going to require a lot of attention from the opposing defense. Even though these are normally the type of guys I target in the late rounds, I will still go after guys that might not be on a great offense. However, they will have to be guys that are asked to do a lot for their teams and will more than likely be playing from behind for most of the year. Guys like Greg Little and Austin Collie I think are good examples of this and could offer great value late in the draft.
Just like every year there are a lot of great options at the receiver position, but it seems like there are a lot more question marks than normal once the top 10 guys go off the draft board. My strategy heading into this years drafts is to try to secure at least one top ten guy early, and then see if I can get any steals in the middle to late rounds. The receiver position is always really deep, so it’s important that you never panic in the draft and over pay for that position. The worst case scenario is you get solid players at your other positions early in the draft, and then grab a bunch of low risk potentially high reward guys in the middle/late rounds.