Gut Check No.355: WR Dynasty Tiers

Buccaneers at Redskins 11/16/14
Buccaneers at Redskins 11/16/14

“Matt Waldman to aisle 10 for a WR dynasty check…Waldman, WR dynasty check, aisle 10.” 

Although the majority of my leagues are dynasty-IDP formats I don’t do dynasty rankings. Barring an unforeseen event, I don’t have the time for at least another 2-3 years. But it’s by far one of my favorite realms of this hobby. This week’s column features some of my team-building philosophies and current tiers patterned after my ideas.


Whether you’re in a startup league or you’ve inherited a team, these strategies are common across the dynasty landscape. You can usually identify which method is closest to what you’re doing. There are hybrids of these blueprints as well as other strategies. I’m only naming the ones I use or consider.

The Sell-Off: Stockpiling as many 1st and 2nd-round picks as possible in exchange for your veteran starters or youth that others value more. A variation of this also strategy includes trading players at the later stages of their prime for ascending talents that haven’t broken through. I’ve seen the entire gamut of outcomes with this blueprint. In one league there’s an owner that has compiled a dream team that has outscored us by 200 points thus far. I’m also in a league where an owner has at least 3-4 first-round picks every 2-3 years because he’s either too impatient with his players’ development or he’s made bad picks and going back to the drawing board.  Some of the best owners I know do execute this blueprint well. They generally have a few anchor players on the roster to help this turnaround happen within a year or two.

Win Now: The most practical owners I know treat dynasty leagues like re-draft leagues with the exception of a few minor, but important considerations such as the value of rookie draft picks on the open market, the perception of older players on the open market, and finding ways to continually infuse talent onto your roster.

Slow Builds: The most idealistic blueprint. It’s difficult to hit on enough rookie picks that remain injury-free and develop within a 2-4 year period to create a roster solely from a few draft classes where you haven’t stockpiled 6-8 picks within the first two rounds. There used to be a strong appeal to organically grow a great roster mostly from the assigned draft picks and the waiver wire, but it also requires a certain amount of arrogance to do it this way in competitive leagues. Those who try eventually learn it was tragic hubris. Not that there aren’t successful slow builds, but they’re less common in my leagues.


Three-Year Windows: I view my team in the scope of a three-year window. As each year passes, I’m continually updating whether that player still has a three-year window or less than a three-year window. I no longer view Peyton Manning, Steve Smith or Marshawn Lynch with a three-year window. Manning and Lynch may have 1-2 years left. Smith is done after 2015.

Other players have multiple three-year windows. Russell Wilson is 27. If he stays healthy, he’ll have at least two, three-year windows. Jameis Winston has five, three-year windows.

Whenever I assess my team, I look at players from this perspective and it helps me determine the makeup of my team and the type of blueprint I want to use.

Paying a Premium on QBs: Although I have learned a lot as an evaluator of talent over the past 12 years and it includes the quarterback position, I don’t like drafting rookie quarterbacks unless I have a desperate need or a strong belief in his value compared to his draft position. Quarterback selection and development in the NFL is rife with problems. There are too many factors that can ruin a prospect: too much punishment, coaching and scheme changes, and a lack of focused development on core technical and conceptual issues in favor of enabling the player’s limited, but game-changing athletic skills in the present.

Successful starting quarterbacks tend to have the longest careers. I’d rather pay Bentley prices for Tom Brady, Drew Breesand Aaron Rodgers or the tier below that includes the likes of Philip Rivers, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson. It’s safe and sensible.

I know what I’m getting. I can also limit my depth chart to 2-3 QBs and save room for the positions that comprise most of a starting lineup. And I’m not using up a high draft pick every 2-3 years that I’d rather reserve for other positions because of the up-and-down nature of passers that haven’t reached the tier of the options above.

Anchor Players: A premium QB is an anchor player. So is a RB1, WR1, elite (top 3) TE, DE1, or ILB/MLB1 (and possibly an elite OLB in sack-heavy leagues). I determine my anchor players and player windows at the end of each season or before the trading window opens for the next. The more anchor players I have, the better. For most scoring rules, here is my order of priority for anchor players (and the amount of players at the position that generally keep on my rosters in parenthesis):

  • QB (2-3): As I mentioned above, the fewer I need on my depth chart, the more room I have elsewhere. They also last.
  • TE (1-2): For the same reasons as quarterback. If the scoring gives a premium for tight ends then I’ll increase the allotment to 3-4 players.
  • MLB/ILB (6-8): As our staff has discovered, scoring of tackles depends on the conservative/liberal nature of the stats keepers covering the team for the seasons. It’s also hard to find tackling machines on the waiver wire and some of the best have careers that last almost as long as QBs and TEs.
  • DE (3-6): The optimal depth chart amount is 3-4 for me, but durability and variability rarely allow me to be at the lower range. That said, I find that I can field a contender most years with one DE1 or multiple 2s/3s in a rotation if I’m strong elsewhere.
  • WR (6-8): Career length tends to be strong, but it’s a position that’s easiest to acquire through the draft, trades, and free agency.
  • RB (4-6): An elite runner is a most-prized commodity, but most leagues I’m in only allow 1-2 starters so 4-6 backs is more than enough to account for a position with high injury rates, shorter careers, and scheme and offensive line changes that render many of them less useful in any given season.

Cyclers: I know that some of my IDP colleagues argue that defensive back isn’t just a position that one can cycle through free agency week-after-week, and year-after-year, but I tend do so with success. The exception is older or established safeties. I like to keep old safeties like Charles Woodson, who, for the past 3-5 years has defied the predictions of fantasy analysts that his reign of production is coming to an end “this year.” I keep 3-4 corners and safeties on my squad at any given time.


About the Tiers: I love tiers because the order of the players within them aren’t concrete. There’s no single answer that fits all scenarios. Some players are better options for owners where they value a swing-for-the-fence mentality. Because wide receivers often holder their starter value longer than any position but quarterback, there won’t be major differences between the “win-now” and long-term builds.

Where these differences occur, WR age may not be as large of a factor as the age of the receiver’s quarterback. A repeatedly banged-up, 33-year-old Ben Roethilsberger brings down Antonio Brown‘s value compared to a less war-torn 34-year-old Eli Manning throwing to Odell Beckham, although I believe a fantasy owner could make a good argument that Brown is a better all-around talent.

Win-Now Premium WRs: These players have at least two years left of a three-year window and can afford you to keep a minimal number of passers on your depth chart on a win-now team with a true window of contention.

Tier 1-A (Players I’d pay a mid-to-high first-round rookie pick and/or a starter to acquire)

  1. Odell Beckham, Jr. : Eli Manning may be 34, but he looks like he could play another 3-5 years. I believe when the career bell tolls for Manning, the Giants also have enough organizational leadership to find a capable replacement. And if a healthy Beckham opts to leave New York when his first contract expires, he’ll have the pick of the NFL. Only 23 years-old, Beckham is one of the top-15 receivers after the catch, one of the top-5 route runners, and arguably the best player at the catch point in the league. Although I could mount a good debate for 3-4 other receivers with the talent and quarterback play to earn this top spot, Beckham wins my tiebreakers because I can’t imagine another wide receiver I’d rather build a team with if fantasy became reality.
  2. DeAndre HopkinsThere are generally two points along the spectrum of receiver skill types when it comes to earning the ball: technicians and rebounders. Most players have to possess enough of both skills to make it in the league, but most players’ skills lean towards one area more than the other. Each side of the spectrum has great athletes. Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson lean more towards the rebounder end of the spectrum. Antonio Brown and Jeremy Maclin lean more towards the technician side. Odell Beckham is dead center on this spectrum. So is Hopkins, who, unlike Beckham, lacks a franchise quarterback. This little fact should be a concern, but consider that Hopkins was the No.6 fantasy receiver between Weeks 2-5 with Ryan Mallettmucking up the works and and he’s still the No.2 fantasy receiver despite a Week 9 bye. It’s one thing for Hopkins to do this work without an established second option at receiver or tight end, but without a franchise QB, also? This should give fantasy owners optimism that the needle is only pointing skyward for this 23-year-old option with otherworldly skill for attacking the ball.
  3. Antonio BrownIf you put him atop your list in the first tier I won’t fight you on it. The only thing he doesn’t do as well as the two players ahead of him is make incredible “rebounder” catches, but he’s as good of a route runner and arguably better than both Beckham and Hopkins in the open field. He’s also four years older and his quarterback is an “old” 33. That said, LeVeon Bell should be fine next year, the offensive line is good, and there’s enough surrounding talent on this roster to prevent defenses from taking Brown away from the passing game.

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