Fantasy Football Strategy: Roster Construction-Based Rankings WR Edition

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During a fantasy football draft, the second position to get drafted after Running Backs is the Wide Receivers. In the Introduction to Roster Construction-Based Rankings, I broke ground on a process of using your league’s starting lineup as a way to break apart from traditional linear rankings for a better visual of how your roster construction is going to play out, and how your league mates drafting patterns will impact that process. If you have not yet read it, I would highly suggest you do so before continuing. I then began the positional breakdowns with the RB Edition of the Roster Construction-based Rankings. After reading the introduction article, I would highly recommend you read the RB Edition article before this one, as much of the breakdown is similar and this WR Edition is going to reference topics from the RB Edition, without re-telling the same steps.

Also, remember this article is being written just after the 2019 NFL Rookie Draft; the names and rankings are simply for examples and by no means represent actual rankings to follow in your 2019 drafts. The focus is on the process, not the ranks. For up-to-date ranks, check out the Footballers’ current 2019 WR rankings.

As highlighted in the RB breakdown, the traditional vertical, linear listing of players is easy-to-understand, yet difficult to breakdown into the nuanced variations between each player. This presentation suggests that there is an equality to each step down in the rankings; a five-spot variance between WR10 and WR15 is perceived to be the same as the five-spot variance between WR20 and WR25. However, we all know that is not the case. There are players who are so close that we are splitting hairs based on age, weight, eye color, etc. On the opposite side, there are also larger gaps where one player is clearly and consistently always ahead of the next group of players. Below is an example of how the WR position could be broken-down in a Roster Construction-based ranking process.

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This process focuses on eschewing the traditional 12 player groupings (WR1 = WR1-12, WR2 = WR13-24, WR3 = WR25-36) in favor of listing which players you would feel comfortable filling a specific roster position on your team. In the examples above, WR1 refers to the first WR starting position, WR2 to the second required position. For all the examples presented, I will use a sample league with a third required WR and a Flex position. In most leagues with a 3+Flex format, you will likely want to roster at least 5, likely 6, and perhaps 7 WRs.

Historical WR Scoring Impact on Draft Strategies

Over the past few years, fantasy players have recognized a slight decrease in point scoring at the top end of the WR ranks, and an increased scoring across a broader range of WRs “in the middle tiers.” Using the chart below, the PPG scoring between the WR1 and WR15 is approximately 10 points per game. From WR15 to WR40, the point per game variance is approximately just 5 points per game. The chart below shows WR season-long point per game averages for the 2005-2018 seasons.

There are two common draft strategies that point to this WR data as the reason for their strategies’ success. Both strategies are named after the running back position: RB-Heavy and ZeroRB. Followers of both strategies will point to the middle-ranked WR “flatline” as the reason for their draft plan. An RB-Heavy drafter will say, “I want to load up on top end RBs because the difference between WR15 and WR40 is minimal.” And they are correct.

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Conversely, a ZeroRB drafter will say “I can achieve a positional scoring advantage by having more WRs that can finish in the top-15 and can use the fragility of the RB position to find late-round and waiver wire talent to fill my RB positions.” Both drafters are correct, and both strategies have great value if deployed correctly in the right draft scenario. A common phrase in draft strategy discussions is to “zig when others zag,” or as the Fantasy Footballers often say on the podcast, “stay water.” What this means is that you simply must pivot to the appropriate roster construction draft plan based on the flow of the draft. If much of your league is drafting RB-Heavy, there is likely significant value to be had by moving toward a more ZeroRB (early WR) strategy, or conversely, a draft full of ZeroRB drafters will provide value to the RB-Heavy strategy.

Applying these two strategies to the roster construction-based ranking process is simple. The charts below will present a sample of the what the WR draft strategies will look like to an RB-Heavy and ZeroRB drafter. In the RB-Heavy strategy, the owner is looking to fill their RB positions first and are often willing to roster a much lower ranked WR in their WR1 and WR2 slots. This willingness to pass on early round WRs produces a much longer list of WRs that this owner is willing to draft. Conversely, you’ll see the ZeroRB drafter has a much shorter list of WRs that they are comfortable with in the WR1 and WR2 positions. Because this owner is likely focused on top-end WRs in the early rounds, they will have shorter lists of WRs for each roster position, and higher ranked WRs falling into their WR3 and Flex positions.  Also, the ZeroRB drafter will often prefer a WR filling in their Flex position over an RB.

For more WR draft strategies, make sure you read Ryan Weisse’s 5 Ways to Draft WRs. Stay tuned for future editions of this series that will bring in the other positions.

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