Early-round strategy key in fantasy drafts

The draft is the most important part of your fantasy football season. Preparation is key.

You wouldn’t go into the big game without studying your opponent and you wouldn’t go into an interview without doing some research on the company first. Why people think they can go into a fantasy football draft without doing any homework whatsoever and still pick a winning team is beyond me.

At the very least you need to look over the rankings, and not just for 30 seconds before the draft starts. Form some opinions, make a few educated guesses. That doesn’t mean saying “Matt Forte sucks.” (He doesn’t.) That means looking at some numbers and saying “Shonn Greene and Felix Jones will have a bounce-back seasons because…” (They will.)

Have a strategy. Your turn to pick will come before you know it, and there’s nothing worse than being caught off-guard and looking down at your sheet to realize you don’t like any of the next 10 names listed. Wait, names? You don’t even know what position you’re targeting.

Believe in the Madden curse? Don't take Peyton Hillis.

If you take a running back in the first round, are you going for another running back in the second round? The double-RB strategy that fell out of favor the last few years is making a resurgence, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Do you grab Peyton Hillis in the second round or take someone else and hope he falls to you in the third? Double-up RBs with Steven Jackson or grab Hakeem Nicks? You need to be prepared for situations like these.

What if you decide to go unconventional and take a quarterback or wide receiver in the first round? Do you know what positions you need to take in the next rounds to counter for your first pick? The draft is like a game of chess in this regard: not only do you need to make the right moves, but also you must make them in the right order.

Here’s a look at several situations that will come up in your draft, loosely arranged by the order in which they will happen.

What to do with the third pick?

Usually landing the third overall pick will get you a running back you will start every week. You sit happily in your chair as Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster come off the board. History and your cheat sheet both say to take Chris Johnson without thinking twice, but the logical part of your brain makes you worry. Yeah, he’s a great talent and always puts up points. But this time next week will be September, and he still hasn’t practiced!

Holdouts suck. If you want to pass over him and take Jamaal Charles, there’s nothing wrong with that decision. You can’t win your league in the early rounds, but you can certainly lose it. If Johnson gets hurt or is unproductive, that’s a waste of your first-round pick. Charles, who averaged 6.4 yards per carry last season, is definitely the safer pick; Johnson just has slightly more upside based on his past performance. I’m hoping this isn’t a call I have to make, but I think I’d have to go with Charles.

If you have the fourth pick and are worried about Johnson, I would definitely understand if you took Ray Rice ahead of him, too. Again, it’s a call I hope I don’t have to make. If you have the fifth pick, well, that’s perfect because the decision will be made for you and you get a better pick coming back around. If you do take Johnson, make sure you handcuff him with (Michigan State product) Javon Ringer in the late rounds.

Do alternative strategies work?

Filling a running back slot in the first round is sound fantasy strategy. Taking a quarterback is bold, and taking a receiver is very bold. Do these strategies really work?

If you read Matthew Berry’s Draft Day Manifesto (definitely read it, if you have half an hour), you know he has the hots for Mike Vick this year, suggesting you might even take him with the first overall pick.

Don’t do that. But taking a QB in the latter-half of the first round is not a bad idea. Most people have Aaron Rodgers one, Vick two. Both usually go in the first round (I’ve seen as high as third overall), but I wouldn’t pass over a great RB early.

Think of running backs in tiers. The first tier is Peterson and Foster. Johnson would be in the first tier if he was in camp all summer. Except he wasn’t, so he joins Charles and Rice in the second tier. Those five running backs are pretty consistently the top five backs drafted. Outside the top five backs, there is some variation. Rashard Mendenhall, Maurice Jones-Drew and LeSean McCoy are the sixth, seventh and eighth RBs, but in no consistent order. MJD’s stock has been falling since July. McCoy’s is up and Mendenall’s has stayed about the same.

Hey Bills, see what happens when your quarterback of the future has a good mentor?

So what to do? Some people are giving up on the guessing game and taking a QB at six. I think that’s too early. Make a call on the six-to-eight group and take one of them.

After the top eight there is even more variation. Here’s where I draw the line. You might not get Rodgers at ninth overall, but if he’s there, I take him. If he’s gone I take the top-eight RB who didn’t go yet. Not until 10 do I look for Vick, who I take only if the previous nine are off the board.

Andre Johnson is a hot commodity in the first round, and even in ESPN’s latest 12-team mock draft, Roddy White went in the first round. It’s not that WRs aren’t important, I just wouldn’t take one early because it messes up your next several picks. I know waiting until ninth overall means I might not get any of the three alternatives in the first round, but I’m okay with that.

The elite QBs will be gone by the early third round. If you want one and you already drafted a receiver, you’ll have to grab the QB in the second round, which now means you are passing on running back until at least the third round. If you go for a back in the second round, you’ll have an RB who is good, not great, and no elite quarterback. When others are taking their wide receivers at about the spots they are worth, you will have a need a fill, and odds are you fill it with someone who isn’t worth the spot you have to take him in.

In the ESPN mock draft, Jim McCormick and Shawn Cwalinski went with WRs in the first round. Cwalinski took White at 11 and Drew Brees at 14, leaving Ahmad Bradshaw and LeGarrette Blount as his starting running backs. McCormick somehow still has a job after taking wide receivers with his first two picks — Andre Johnson seventh and Larry Fitzgerald 17th — leaving Peyton Hillis, Shonn Greene and Tony Romo as his next three picks.

Berry and Pierre Becquey took QBs in the first round. Becquey paired Greg Jennings with Rodgers in the second round and made Ryan Matthews his top RB in the third round. He completed the Ryan backfield with Ryan Williams from Arizona and Washington’s Ryan Torain later. Not exactly a dynamic fantasy running game (especially since Williams got injured and is out for the season). Berry took Michael Turner in the second round but then went WR-TE-WR-WR before picking up Mike Tolbert and Willis McGahee. Again, not a great running back selection.

To answer the question “Do I have to draft a running back in the first round?” the answer is no, but you definitely need to make sure you make up for with your next few picks. I don’t start to look for Andre Johnson until 11th overall, after Rodgers and Vick and when I know there will be decent running backs left when my turn to pick comes up again in the second round.

Other draft trends to watch for

  • Bye weeks. Last year it sucked for fantasy owners when the NFL went with six bye-week teams in weeks 8 and 9 instead of four. This year, all the bye weeks have six teams, except for weeks 9 and 11 (no byes Week 10… some sort of preventative measure in case the lockout had cut into the season). Just our luck as fantasy owners, even Week 11 has been a killer in the mock drafts I’ve done: Houston, Indianapolis, New Orleans and Pittsburgh.
Neat little graphic from The Sporting News.
  • Dare I say it, but Peyton Manningis a player I’d stay away from. After an offseason neck surgery that apparently was a bigger deal than most people thought, it doesn’t look like Manning will be able to go Week 1. A neck injury is definitely one that could affect his throwing, and like Chris Johnson, I’m weary of a guy who hasn’t practiced all summer. QBs don’t need to be as well-conditioned as running backs but getting the timing down is more important.Plus, Indi just brought in Kerry Collins at $4 million. Not exactly inspiring for Manning owners. You have to think that Manning (again, like Johnson) is good enough to still put up points, but with the amount of talented QBs out there, I’m letting him be someone else’s problem. Take Phillip Rivers before him, and maybe Tony Romo, too.
  • A few more important wide receiver notes that I felt could wait after my Matthew Berry-esque, 3,400-word wide receiver outlook for this year:Be careful with Jeremy Maclin. He’s a good receiver in a good system, but just got to camp last week after an illness that left him out of shape and 15 pounds lighter than he started. Nobody knew what the heck was wrong with him: He was tested for mono, AIDS, leukemia and lymphoma – all negative. It’s good that he doesn’t have any of those at age 23, but do you really trust a guy to produce in the NFL who was just so sick he got tested for cancer?

"Hey, I'm Dez Bryant, and I like to catch passes in my undies."

Dez Bryant is rated too high. I had the misfortune of having to start him on one of my teams several times last year. He was inconsistent, frequently injured and reportedly a bit of a head case. This year should undoubtedly go better for him than his rookie season, but make no mistake that Miles Austin is still Romo’s favorite target. Dez should have a good season, I just wouldn’t make him by No. 1 WR.

Oh, and stay away from Hines Ward. Seriously. His average was only 6.3 points per week last season and his median was more than two full points below that. Waiver-wire fill-in, but someone will draft him. Don’t let it be you.

  • I explained in the last post why I usually don’t draft Buffalo Bills, but C.J. Spiller could be a sleeper. As Jerry Sullivan’s column noted, the Gailey regime wants to give its own guy a shot. It sucks for Fred Jackson, but fantasy owners don’t have time for feelings. Just win, baby. Despite Spiller’s ineffectiveness in the preseason, there are other clues he will see an increased workload. He has the tools for the job, he just has to figure out how to use them.

  • Last year I kept a track on the three running backs who were selected in the first round of the NFL Draft: Spiller, Jahvid Best and Ryan Matthews. This year, the highest rated back from that draft class is… LeGarrette Blount. I’ll always know him as the guy from Oregon who snapped and punched Boise State defensive end Byron Hout in the face (and got himself suspended for the rest of the season), but he’s the top back in a Buccaneer offense that went 10-6 last season and narrowly missed the playoffs. He’s a big boy to tackle (6-foot, 247 pounds), went over 1,000 yards last season and averaged 5.0 YPC.

 

  • Stay away from Miami running backs. After having one of the more feared ground games in the league, Miami parted ways with both Ronnie Brown (Eagles) and Ricky Williams (Ravens). They brought in Reggie Bush and drafted Daniel Thomas. Thomas has been okay in preseason and Reggie Bush is, well, Reggie Bush. Like the Peyton Manning situation, it’s not exactly confidence-inspiring that they brought in Priest Holmes (of all people) to add depth. They are clearly worried about the running situation and you should be too.
  • Be wary of James Starks. Like Buffalo Bills, someone in your league will go too high for him. Everybody thought Shonn Greene would have a good year last year because he produced in the playoffs the winter before, but he was a bust. I don’t like him for where he’s ranked and even less so because he’s from here.
  • Last things last… let’s talk about kickers and defenses. The “experts” always say don’t take a kicker until the last round. Your kicker is going to start every week. It’s possible a 15th- or 16th-round receiver will break out, but for the most part you know what you’re getting, which is next to nothing. Don’t go crazy on me, but taking a kicker in the 13th round isn’t the worst thing in the world.The “experts” also want you to wait on defenses, which I don’t like either. Defenses score points. Take one early. It’s true that you can usually find a decent one every week on the waiver wire, but a top-flight defense is a lot more valuable than people think.If you read this long you are being rewarded with this advice. Take, for instance, Pittsburgh D/ST, which scored 188 points last season by ESPN standard scoring (including a minus-8 week). That’s more points than Maurice Jones-Drew and Andre Johnson had last year. Let everyone else fool around trying to look up who-plays-who every week. There are only five defenses right now with an average draft position in the top 100. You know what to do.

Fantasy football wide receivers: One in the roster is worth two on the bench

Andre Johnson is the consensus No. 1 wide receiver this year.

Wide receivers dominate fantasy football drafts. They don’t score as many points as running backs or quarterbacks, but you will draft more receivers than any other position.

Lining up a solid receiving corps is a good way to dominate your draft. So naturally, they are the most difficult to project. The elites are obvious. Andre Johnson and Roddy White are as close to a sure thing as we get in fantasy football. It’s the WRs who come after that cause problems.

No two draft strategies are the same. Who you target depends on your draft position, your league’s rules (such as awarding points per reception — PPR) and how many teams are in your league; probably in that order.

Figure 1: Combined WR rankings from ESPN, NFL, CBS, Sports Illustrated and FF Toolbox.

Everyone has opinions on who will rank where. The “experts” at ESPN and every other fantasy football site have opinions and so should you. They all make out projection lists, and while ESPN is the most popular, there’s nothing to say it’s the most accurate. Figure 1 shows a look at how five different fantasy football sites rank WRs for this season by standard scoring.

See a player high up on that list that you don’t like? That’s the beauty of fantasy football. Don’t draft them. This is your shot to show that you know better than everyone else. The guys making those lists are just guessing; the only difference is it’s their job to guess. If you think you know better, by all means go for it.

For instance, I never draft Santana Moss. I don’t think the Redskins are a very good team and I don’t think they will have a very good offense. Plus Moss’ quarterback is Rex Grossman.

Everyone seems to be big on Bengals WR A.J. Green, but I am staying away from all rookies this season, especially rookies with a rookie quarterback.

There are other guys I’m staying away from who I’ll get to later, but the bottom line is that cheat sheets are not the be-all end-all of fantasy football decision-making. If you think you have a sleeper, go for it. If you think someone is ranked way too high or is too risky, don’t pick him. Let him be someone else’s problem. A good deal of fantasy football is luck. Even if you end up drafting someone for the wrong reasons, he still might have a good year anyway, for a different reason. Gutsy calls are often rewarded.

The thing about Figure 1 I don’t like is that outliers skew the mean. Extremely high or low scores have a much bigger effect than the other four scores. Chad Ochocinco is ranked fairly high by most predictions, but SI’s 88 ranking really pulled him down. He certainly will not be the 88th-best receiver this season, and even his 42 composite ranking is a little low.

ESPN seems to be a lot lower on the Raiders’ Jacoby Ford than most; his 37th-overall ranking is weighed down by is ESPN-awarded 51. Considering that many people will use an ESPN cheat sheet that they printed out the night before the draft, they will have Ford ranked low, and you might be able to grab him at a bargain.

The sensitivity of means is something I pay attention to when considering how players perform. Nearly every website ranks players by their average weekly score. It’s a basic way to list who scores more but doesn’t necessarily show who is the best bet week-in and week-out.

I want some consistency in my wide receivers! One in the hand (starting lineup) is definitely worth two in the bush (bench) in terms of fantasy WRs, and maybe more. ESPN has Robert Meachem and Braylon Edwards ranked 39th and 40th, respectively, but I’d rather take the consistency of Edwards over the deep ball-or-bust quality of Meachem.

To take a closer look at which players are more consistent, I plotted their scores from last season, comparing median and mean. A player whose average score is way above his median tells us that his value is skewed by an abnormally high-scoring week (or weeks), a somewhat random occurrence that is usually the result of bad defense more than it is from good offensive execution.

I ran the numbers for the top 30 WRs in my league season (don’t count the dots, two players overlapped). My league scoring differs slightly from standard, so the numbers might be slightly different from your league, but the ratios from player to player should be almost identical. Here’s what I found:

Figure 2: Plotting WRs' median scores against their averages.

The line on the graph is y=x, the 1-to-1 line, there just to show which players had higher scores in one direction or the other. Most of the dots appear above the line, players who had average scores higher than their median scores. I expected that. The median is resistant to outliers. Neither really good nor really bad days will effect the median, but they have an effect on the mean.

The difference is that really bad days are closer to average days than really good ones are. Say you average 8 or 9 points per game. A really bad day might be when you only have 20 yards and a good day is maybe when you have 120 yards and a touchdown. Eighteen points is nine or 10 away from an average day, but 2 points is only six or seven away from a normal day. Plus, the lowest you can get is 0 points (technically you could be negative, but we’ll say 0), but there is no limit to how many you can score. A Steve Johnson-esque 137-yard, three-touchdown day will really pull up your average while hardly effecting the median.

The dot at the upper-right corner is Brandon Lloyd. He was the best wide out last year, even with his one rushing attempt for negative-18 yards. Not only did he have the highest mean week, he also had the highest average week in terms of median. With a median score of 12.25 in my league (slightly less in standard), that means he scored over 12 and quarter points for you 50 PERCENT of the time. That’s crazy production for a WR… just don’t expect a repeat. Lloyd will be good, just not elite (though he looked sharp in the preseason game against the Bills).

Who you can expect an encore presentation from is Calvin Johnson, who represents the dot almost on the line in the upper corner. Despite having three different quarterbacks at the helm last season, Johnson still managed to be wildly productive, posting his second career 12-touchdown season. The consistency is there and with another year of developing for Matthew Stafford, Johnson should once again put up huge numbers. ESPN has him at No. 5, but he grabs the second spot in the composite rankings. Look for him in the second round.

Figure 3: Similar averages, different medians.

This graph is a useful tool to compare players who average about the same. This look shows us which were really consistent bets and which were more sporadic scorers. There’s a group of five players who averaged between 10 and 11 points last year but have very different median scores. Going from right to left (highest median to lowest median), they are: Andre Johnson, Hakeem Nicks, Reggie Wayne, the Buffalo Bills’ own Steve Johnson and DeSean Jackson.

Houston’s Andre Johnson is the consensus No. 1 receiver this year. Last year he was Mr. Consistency, with a median and mean of 10.5 points… and that was a down year for him. Hakeem Nicks, the near-consensus No. 4 WR this year, actually averaged slightly more than Johnson last season but had a median score a full point lower.

Reggie Wayne is an interesting case. He’s been top-10 in the NFL in receiving yards longer than most of you have been playing fantasy football, but his low median score gives credit to the theory that, at age 32, he’s starting to lose a step. The high average shows that, yes, he’s still capable of the monster game (i.e. Week 13 vs. Dallas: 14 receptions, 200 yards and touchdown), but those performances are getting fewer and farther in between, driving fantasy owners mad.

Steve Johnson may have been The Joker to the Chad Ochocinco-Terrell Owens Batman & Robin love fest in Cincinnati last season, but he was a joker on your fantasy team a lot of last season, too. As you’ll see in Figure 5, his good weeks were really balanced out by his bad weeks. Without his 8-137-3 performance in Week 11 on his co-stars home turf, Johnson is not nearly the spectacle or top-10 fantasy WR we now know him to be.

There’s also reason for concern. Perhaps in response to his “Why So Serious” gesture, defenses started to take him serious at the end of the year, and his production plummeted. The three-touchdown game brought his total to nine TDs through the first 11 weeks, but then he scored just one the remainer of the season. Yes, he should have had the overtime winner he went on to blame the Lord for, but we all know that “close” only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Plus, now that Lee Evans is gone, it’s a definite possibility that defenses shade to and take away Johnson just like they used to do with Evans before… well, before Johnson started scoring last year.

I make it a general principle to stay away from Bills in drafts. It’s fun rooting for and “owning” your hometown guys, but that’s how everyone else thinks, too. I usually don’t take Bills because they suck, but also because other people want Bills and they almost always reach to take them. If you want a Buffalo guy, you’ll probably have to grab him earlier than he’s worth.

One other player who is revealed by the graph is Deion Branch. Just by looking at his average, you’d say, “Wow, Tom Brady really can get the ball to anyone.” ESPN has him as a top-50 receiver and he’s ranked as high as 39 by CBS. Don’t believe the hype. In the words of the great Boobie Miles, “Hype is something that’s not for real.” Branch is definitely not “all real” like Miles claimed to be.

I guess the train of thought is that if Branch produced like that with Brady after being acquired during the middle of last season, imagine what chemistry they could rekindle in an entire offseason. I have a few problems with that, the first bringing into question what kind of “production” Branch really brought last year. His median game was 3.75 points. HALF OF THE TIME, he scored less than 3.75 points. He came to New England from Seattle in Week 4, so I don’t want to hear about how many bad games he had to suffer without Brady.

Field goal is good! Three points sounds like an average day for Branch this season. You have been forewarned.

Branch totaled 112 points last year. His average is supported solely on a three-week stretch in which the Patriot offense was rolling. Branch scored 23, 12 and 21 fantasy points in weeks 12-14 last season, which is 56 combined points, or half of his entire season.

I have doubts Branch and Brady really even got in sync. In that three-game stretch, the Patriots scored 45, 45 and 36 points. Brady had 10 TD passes in those three games. It was just Brady being Brady. In none of the three games did Brady target Branch more than he targeted Wes Welker. He was in command and just happened to throw a few to the guy wearing 84.

You really think Brady has been working hard to get his timing down with Branch in camp? He’s probably more concerned on working with his new No. 1 receiver Chad Ochocino. Branch is the third WR on the depth chart and even lower of an option in the gameplan on a team that also features Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Danny Woodhead (who is listed only as an RB this year) and BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

Do yourself a favor and don’t touch Deion Branch. At this spot in your draft you’re much better off taking a guy like Greg Little or Mohamed Massaquoi, whichever wins out the battle in Cleveland. The Browns’ offense is very bad, but I’d rather have someone’s No. 1 option than a guy like Branch.

In case you’re wondering who the rest of the top five dots are that kind of look like the Little Dipper (there’s actually six dots there, two overlap), they are, going clockwise: Lloyd, C. Johnson, Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace, Green Bay’s Greg Jennings and Atlanta’s Roddy White (overlap) and finally Dwayne Bowe of Kansas City.

Figure 4: Little Dipper and extreme cases.

I’ve added a second line to the graph, y=x+3, to show WRs who had averages at least three points greater than their medians. They are Dwayne Bowe, DeSean Jackson, Terrell Owens and Branch (Anquan Boldin also qualified but is not pictured).

According to the rule, these should all be players with averages brought up by a few big weeks, with the rest of the season being kind of lame. The rule checks out. We already know about Branch. Let’s take a look at Dwayne Bowe.

He had the second most points of any WR last season but just cracked the top-10 by median score. Bowe was an unstoppable touchdown machine in the middle of the year, which brought up his low scores at the start and end of the season.

If he was on your team, heading into Week 6 all you got from him 152 yards and one touchdown (Week 4 was his bye). Then the Chiefs’ offense got rolling and Bowe scored 13 touchdowns over the next seven weeks (13!) to go along with two 13-reception games and fantasy scores in the 20s and 30s. Wow. In weeks 6-12, we saw his only low game: Week 8 against the Bills, 3-17-1 for seven fantasy points.

Little known fact: there's actually music playing on the other end... "You're hot then you're cold, you're yes then you're no..."

Week 12 versus Seattle, he had 13 catches, 170 yards, 3 touchdowns and 35 fantasy points. He was the best WR you could ask for. Guaranteed start in your roster every week, right? The nest week, a home game against Denver, Champ Bailey shut out Bowe: three targets, zero catches, zero points. Next week, Week 14 at San Diego: 7 targets, 1 catch, 3 yards. Week 15 at St. Louis: 2 catches, 53 yards. Didn’t Katy Perry wrote a song about this guy?

Oh, and he also just killed your playoff run.

DeSean Jackson was a beast last year, right? Yeah, kind of… well, sorta. Okay not really.

Talk about hot and cold. Jackson couldn’t string more than two good weeks together all season. He was either really good or really bad, and there was no middle ground. His good weeks: 27 points, 21, 19, 19, 18 and 15. His bad weeks: 0 points, 0, 1, 2, 3, 3 and 5. He only had middle-of-the-road weeks twice (8 pts in Week 13 and 9 in Week 15).

The problem with Jackson is that he’s a one-trick pony. All he has is the deep ball. He’s like the Yankees’ Kyle Farnsworth, circa 2006. He has one pitch, a blistering fastball, that is a great pitch… if he can hit his spot. The Vick-to-Jackson long ball is that one pitch (that they actually dial-up fairly well) that needs to be on the money for everything else to work.

Need more proof? How about that Jackson scored all his points (minus a punt return TD and the occasional end-around) on just 47 receptions. That’s the same amount as Visanthe Shiancoe and Darren McFadden had last year, and this guy just missed being a top-10 receiver. There’s no reason to think he’ll be significantly more consistent than last season, but unlike a guy like Meachem who also needs the long ball to be successful, Jackson has the skill set and the surroundings to warrant his composite ranking of 10 this year. Just be ready for some low days.

I won’t waste a lot of time on T.O. because he isn’t on a team, but we’ll just say he was like Bowe — good in the middle, bad finish — just not as high-scoring.

A lot of guys who are up and down can get on the nerves of fantasy owners. They keep starting the guy, hoping for the long touchdown, but get tired of waiting (or losing). Then, when their patience runs out, he gets put on the bench, and wouldn’t you know it, he goes off. It’s infuriating. To try to get a grip on this, I came up with Figure 5, a WR satisfaction graph.

Looking at the top receivers, I totaled how many weeks they made me happy (10 points or more) and how many weeks they made me mad (5 points or less). I took the percentages over a 16-game season and subtracted the angry weeks from the happy weeks. Take a look:

Figure 5: Wide receiver satisfaction -- percent of weeks they made owners happy (10 points or more) minus percent of weeks they made owners mad (5 or fewer).

I love having Roddy White on my team. He always puts up points and I’m a little mad ESPN is trying to give away my secret ranking him No. 2 this season. He and Lloyd both had 11 weeks last year with double-digit points, but only twice did White make me mad, while Lloyd had four weeks with 5 or fewer points.

This chart tells more about Steve Johnson, a satisfaction percentage of zero. Six games in double-digits, six games 5 or under.

This is the second graphic in a row that puts Percy Harvin in a positive light. The 20th overall WR by average last season, Harvin was in the top-10 in median performance (10.0 ppg). With eight happy weeks and six disappointing ones, Harvin also ranks top-15 in satisfaction. With new quarterback Donovan McNabb under center in Minnesota, there’s a lot to like in Harvin this season, as long as his migraines don’t keep him off the field.

Looking at the bottom of the chart, we see… HEY it’s our good friend Deion Branch! His nine disappointing weeks tie for the most of any WR I looked at. One guy he’s tied with is Austin Collie, who has an excuse: he was concussed multiple times last season. Healthy Austin Collie pulls in over a touchdown a game. Concussed Austin Collie watches games in t-shirts. You can buy him low due to his injury risk, and if he stays healthy, he’ll be a steal. If not, it will be Pierre Garcon catching Peyton Manning’s throws. If both are healthy, Collie’s the better option.

I like this guy even with Matt Hasselback throwing to him. He just gets dinged up a lot.

The last player I want to mention is Kenny Britt. He is very difficult to stop on a football field. The problem is getting him on one. Of the 17 weeks in the last NFL season, he didn’t record a point in seven of them. Weeks 8-13: 0 points. Week 14, a key home game vs. Indi: 4-39-0 with a costly fumble. He rallied for your fantasy team in the playoffs (12, 14 and 14 points in weeks 15-16-17), but odds are you didn’t trust him enough to put him in.

He’s another guy skewed by a huge week (Week 7 vs. Philly was the big one: 7-225-3), but of the 10 weeks he actually scored a fantasy point, half the time he scored double-digits. In his limited action, he still managed to pull in nine touchdowns. Especially going into his third year, when a lot of receivers start to break out, I like Britt, just know he’s an injury risk.

I know running backs and quarterbacks are the sexy picks in the early rounds of your fantasy draft, but don’t skip out on wide receivers. The best RBs score more than the best WRs, but mid-level backs are much easier to come by. By round five you should have two wide receivers on your roster, the only exception being going out of your way to grab Antonio Gates, who almost always goes in the fourth round.

Figure 6: Backs are easier -- running backs have a much more linear distribution than WRs.

Receivers are much more difficult to predict than running backs (see the chart if you don’t believe me), so if you have one you like when your spot comes up, go for it.

If you get in a tight spot in your draft and the timer is running out, go for a receiver. You can never have too many.

Best of luck this season. You’re gonna need it.