Fantasy Football 101: How to Approach Wide Receivers in Dynasty

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The offseason means one thing – dynasty season! If you’re new to dynasty, welcome to the dark side. Dynasty is arguably the most intense form of fantasy – not because it’s necessarily more difficult but because fantasy managers need to stay plugged into the news year-round. If you’re a fantasy football nut, this is for you. The NFL Draft, free agency, expiring contracts, and depth charts all mean so much more in this format because your team is managed via the start-up draft, trades, and rookie drafts – that’s it. The waiver wire is few and far between, and there’s no reset each summer the way there is in redraft. As a result, understanding roster construction and player value is crucial for success in dynasty fantasy football. Here’s how to approach wide receivers in dynasty.

Before we dive into a detailed discussion on wide receivers in dynasty, be sure to check out the 2021 Ultimate Draft Kit, which features the all-new Dynasty Pass. This features Andy, Mike, and Jason‘s 2021 rookie rankings as well as their start-up rankings, among other valuable resources like Mike’s top dynasty trade targets.

Wide Receivers Play Longer in the NFL

There’s no debate – when you compare the running back position to the wide receiver position, wideouts play longer in the NFL on average. Of course, injuries, suspensions, etc can change a specific situation for a wide receiver versus a running back, but as a blanket statement, wide receivers tend to hold onto their value in dynasty leagues because they play more seasons. Last offseason, I took a look at whether or not age matters when it comes to fantasy production at the running back position. Be sure to check out that detailed article here. The biggest takeaway I found was that older running backs tend to lack the upside that younger running backs have, with production falling off significantly after the age of 27. In my data set, I also found that the average age of top 12 fantasy running backs are getting younger over the course of time. Simply put, running backs aren’t playing into their late 20’s the way they did 10 years ago.

Wide receivers, on the other hand, enter their prime between the ages of 26-28, just when running backs tend to decline. When a rookie enters the NFL, they’re usually about 21 or 22 years old, suggesting that in general, their dynasty value will hold for a longer period of time. According to this resource, NFL wide receivers on average play 2.81 seasons while running backs play 2.57 seasons. These numbers are skewed, however, as this sample includes all NFL players – 7th round NFL Draft picks, undrafted guys, those who had a significant injury, etc. When we discuss the wide receivers that matter to us as fantasy managers, we’re talking about players who generally have high NFL Draft capital and have established themselves as a playmaker for their NFL team. These players, the players who are cracking our starting lineups in general can be count on for a longer period of time, making them a safer long-term investment.

Wide Receivers Tend to Remain Fantasy Viable for Multiple Seasons

One of the easiest ways to make this point is to look at the top 12 RBs and WRs in each season 2017-2020. The table below outlines the RB1s from this sample size.

Top 12 Running Backs from 2017-2020

Outside of the elite of the elite at the running back positions (Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara, etc.), the top-12 running backs tend to turn over at an elevated rate year to year. It’s no surprise, as we’ve already established that running backs don’t play as long in the NFL, and RBs tend to get injured at a higher rate than wide receivers. Organically, this leads to more turnover at the running back position when you look across multiple seasons.

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Top 12 Wide Receivers from 2017-2020

At the wide receiver position, there is certainly some turnover, but there are multiple names that stick out year after year after year inside the top 12, inside the top 24, and certainly inside the top 36. Michael Thomas, Julio Jones, Adam Thielen, and DeAndre Hopkins, for example, are perennial top performers because they’re talented and have an established role as a focal point of their respective offenses. Sure, the weekly variance is higher, but when looking over multiple seasons, wide receivers tend to maintain consistent high-end production for longer.

Wide Receivers Who Produce as a Rookie Will Hold Their Value Over Time

In general, if a wide receiver produces early in their NFL career, they will continue to produce at a high level for multiple seasons. Andy, Mike, and Jason discussed this in more detail on their recent Top 10 Wide Receivers episode, so be sure to check that out. I also consulted with our editor-in-chief and my DFS Podcast co-host Kyle Borgognoni, who put together the data seen in the table below.

This sample size, which goes back to 2014, looks at rookie wide receivers who produced a WR36 or better fantasy finish in their rookie season. In other words, these guys were startable fantasy football wide receivers right away. When looking that the rookies who met this criteria from 2014-2019, 17 out of 19 (89%) wide receivers who produced top-36 numbers as a rookie went on to produce multiple top-36 seasons in fantasy. In other words, they maintained starting wide receiver value, at least as a WR3/flex option. This doesn’t mean that a certain player’s value didn’t change year to year – that happens all the time, but it does help to identify that the vast majority of rookie wide receivers who produce right away go on to be multi-year fantasy football starters. There’s a reason to be excited about Justin Jefferson, Chase Claypool, CeeDee Lamb, Tee Higgins, and Brandon Aiyuk in dynasty formats.

Wide Receivers Are Generally Cheaper to Acquire via Trades

There’s a couple of ways to think about trade value in dynasty leagues, especially when trying to determine the value of a wide receiver. The first way to think about this is from a redraft perspective. In the first round of redraft formats, the running back position dominates the draft board. Last year alone we saw nine running backs go in the first-round redraft leagues based on ADP. Assuming those trends continue, fantasy managers will continue to value the RB position highly, and rock-solid WR1s can be acquired more cheaply via trade-in dynasty.

The second way is to gauge the general public on how they value the elite running backs against the elite wide receivers. In my Twitter poll, which can be seen below, 64% of voters said think the RB1 tier of running backs hold more trade value. In other words, it’s going to cost more to acquire Christian McCaffrey in a trade than A.J. Brown or D.K. Metcalf, for example. Knowing this, a general strategy that can be successful in dynasty is to trade away running top-tier running backs while they hold peak value for ascending wide receivers with the understanding that the wide receiver is going to hold value longer. Now, there is a major caveat here, and that is that you can’t win in dynasty without good running backs, so this strategy is best utilized for rebuilding teams.

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Conclusions
  • Wide receivers tend to play longer in the NFL. As a result, they hold more long-term value compared to the running back position.
  • Early production matters. Wideouts who produce as rookies tend to go on to produce multiple high-end fantasy seasons, and in some instances, they produce multiple elite fantasy seasons.
  • Wide receivers can be acquired more cheaply via trade compared to the running back position.

Looking for more resources on fantasy football? Be sure to check out Kacey Kasem‘s Beginner’s Guide to Fantasy Football as well as this detailed introduction to dynasty fantasy football.

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