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WR drafting strategy: How to add depth in later rounds

You know who the stud wideouts are. Everyone does. When you're drafting in the second and third rounds and Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, Percy Harvin and Julio Jones are there, you're taking them. That's great. You have one slot filled in a position that you're going to make more changes to than anything you'll do at QB or RB over the course of your season. Think back for a second. How many times are your starting 2 (or 3) WR's from Week 1 even close to what they are in Week 13? Never. There's always turnover on nearly a weekly basis, whether it's injuries or disappointing players you have to get out of your lineup. It's going to happen, and it's going to happen to you. So you have to be prepared.

OK, so now you're thinking "Well, you're just going to tell me a whole bunch of sleepers and guys I should draft later on who are going to be great this season. Yeah, I've seen it." Well, let me tell you:

That is NOT what I'm going to do.

I'm going to do better than that. I'm going to give you eight players to choose from who are going to make the back half of your WR corps so deep you'll be able to overcome whatever adversity you face and not have to rely on grabbing guys off the waiver wire you're hoping turn into a 2012 Danario Alexander or Mike Williams. And I'll tell you when you can expect them to perform as fantasy studs. Get as many of these WR's as you can. At the very least they'll fortify the position for you at different times of the season. These will be the players who fill your Nos. 3, 4 and 5 WR slots in your draft. Try to get at least three of them. Let's divide them into two groups.

Players to target in Rounds 6-9


Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens: He nearly broke through a year ago, but tapered off the last half of the season. What I like the most about him is he's show progression from Year 1 to Year 2 and is now entering that magical 3rd season, which is where you expect WR's to really take off.

WHEN HE WILL GIVE YOU GREAT FANTASY VALUE: Right away. He's Joe Flacco's number one target in the passing game. They have to get production out of him to win. He's in a unique position where the team has no choice but for him to play well. Plenty of teams, if their top WR disappoints, there's other wideouts to spread the ball around to. Not in Baltimore.

Pierre Garcon, Washington Redskins: I know, his health situation scares you. But it's still early in the off-season. Because of it, he'll be available where he shouldn't be. I held onto him for 10 weeks last season waiting for his return, and he was pretty good when he did. He has undeniable chemistry with RG III, and has the potential to be a Top 10 fantasy wideout this season.

WHEN HE WILL GIVE YOU GREAT FANTASY VALUE: Right away. You can take him this late, and not be afraid of starting him Week 1. He's worth the risk.

Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers: He was really the co-number one WR in Pittsburgh the last two seasons, and now he's the clear-cut No 1. He had five seven-catch games a year ago, and scored in each of the final four weeks of the regular season. He missed three games mid-season or his numbers would be to the point where he wouldn't be available in Round 6 and beyond. Without Mike Wallace, the Steelers WR corps is being met with a wait-and-see attitude by a lot of fantasy experts. Don't believe that.

WHEN HE WILL GIVE YOU GREAT FANTASY VALUE: Right away. He's going to be a week-in and week-out starter this season and one of the top performing wideouts in the game.

DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles: I've never liked Jackson. Or any Eagles WR. Until now. There's a lot of intrigue about Chip Kelly's offense and if it can work in the NFL. From everyone I talk to and trust, Philadelphia will come flying out of the gate with some ridiculous numbers - both on the field and in fantasy. Jackson will have a return to his glory years - okay, so that's like two years ago - and once again be a weekly threat to put up 15 fantasy points.

WHEN HE WILL GIVE YOU GREAT FANTASY VALUE: Right away. The Eagles open at Washington, then home for San Diego and Kansas City. None of those teams scare anyone defensively. And as an added bonus, Jackson will be terrific trade bait. Will Kelly's offense hold up over a whole season, or will it come crashing down to earth? If you're unsure if he'll continue to perform well, Jackson will have pretty high value in a trade those first few weeks.

Players to target in the 10th round or later


Justin Blackmon, Jacksonville Jaguars: Don't let his suspension scare you away completely. He's still going to be a star. It's just going to take awhile longer. 48 targets in the final four games of 2012 tells you all you need to know. He's so low on people's radar because of the suspension he could last until the 12th round.

WHEN HE WILL GIVE YOU GREAT FANTASY VALUE: This is the tricky part. Don't plan on putting him in your lineup as soon as he comes back from his ban. He's going to need awhile to warm up and regain his footing. I wouldn't expect him to be fantasy-ready until Week 8, or possibly Week 10. But definitely in time for your stretch drive as you close the regular season. Hang onto him even when things look dire on your roster and you're thinking about waiving him.

T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts: Let everyone else fall in love with Reggie Wayne and take him way too early. You wait for Hilton, who will put up the same fantasy numbers as Wayne this season, possibly even more. He's the team's lone deep threat, and was the best WR on the team the last seven weeks of 2012 with three 100-yard games and 5 TD's. He got better as Wayne slowed down, and that's going to continue in 2013. Indianapolis' offense is just going to get better and Hilton's role is going to increase dramatically.

WHEN HE WILL GIVE YOU GREAT FANTASY VALUE: By Week 3 he'll be someone you'll want to start every week. Give the Colts a couple of games to see how the new pieces of their offense (Darrius Heyward-Bey, Ahmad Bradshaw) shake out, and by then Hilton will be the most valuable wideout.

Emmanuel Sanders, Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger openingly canvassing for Pittsburgh to keep Sanders put me over the top on him. Obviously if you already have Antonio Brown you may want to concentrate on someone else on this list, but if you missed out on the Steelers No. 1 WR, get their No. 2. Pittsburgh will again have no choice but to throw the football to win - the days of the running game carrying the day are over. Sanders caught 44 passes last season, a career high. I expect him to nab at least 70 in his new role.

WHEN HE WILL GIVE YOU GREAT FANTASY VALUE: When Week 5 rolls around, Pittsburgh's offense will have found their identity, and Sanders will start getting plenty of deep action and start piling up some 5 catch/100-yard days.

Brandon LaFell, Carolina Panthers: There's a reason why Carolina didn't go out and get another WR to help Cam Newton - Ron Rivera and company believe they already had him on their roster. LaFell showed glimpses of his promise last season, and I like hearing from him how he knows he has to keep working hard to break through. He's in his 3rd season with Newton, which is usually when good things happen between a QB and a WR, and he's also in a contract year, which is a motivator in it's own right. It's his time.

WHEN HE WILL GIVE YOU GREAT FANTASY VALUE: Give the Panthers a bit of time to find out who they want to be on offense. LaFell will slowly seize the title of No. 1 WR away from Steve Smith, and by Week 6 he'll be in the mix to be a starter for you for the rest of the season.


Jason Smith writes fantasy and other pith for nfl.com. He hosts NFL Fantasy Live during the regular season on the NFL Network, and you can download the weekly NFL Fantasy Live podcast with him alongside Michael Fabiano and Elliot Harrison. Talk to him on twitter @howaboutafresca. He only asks you never bring up when the Jets play poorly.

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