Fantasy Football: Studying the Positional Draft Value of WRs

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WARNING: If you have a deep-seated distaste for statistics, data analysis, or tables full of numbers, this article may cause hair loss, fits of madness, and possibly long-term comatose. Proceed with caution.

If you haven’t read the articles covering the quarterback position and the tight end position, check those out for an overall intro to this series and some of the basic concepts and qualifiers. If you have been following along so far, welcome to wide receivers, and I’ll hope to see you at RBs in a matter of days!

The Wide Receiver Sweet Spots

For starters, receivers and running backs are very closely tied to one another when it comes to these breakdowns in fantasy data. Unlike the single QB and TE slots found in most leagues, you will typically start two to four each at WR and RB, which requires much more lineup depth and roster management. Also, many leagues feature a FLEX position, where you’ll commonly be deciding between a clump of WRs and RBs each week, further fusing the two together.

We’re going to continue this series by initially focusing on wide receivers, as the data is surprising and helps set up the grand finale of running backs in the fourth article. First, let’s take a look at the correlation between draft position and final fantasy production at WR.

POSITIONAL ADP

(Approx. Round)

WR1-WR9

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(Rounds 1-2)

WR10-WR20

(Rounds 3-4)

WR21-WR35

(Rounds 5-8)

WR36-WR50

(Rounds 9-11)

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FANTASY FINISH WR1-WR9 53.3% 14.5% 14.7% 2.7%
WR10-WR20 22.2% 23.6% 18.7% 10.7%
WR21-WR35 15.6% 23.6% 13.3% 14.7%
WR36-WR50 4.4% 16.4% 18.7% 13.3%
WR51+ 4.4% 21.8% 34.7% 58.7%

By far the most interesting piece of data here is the (relatively) astronomical 53.3% hit rate of elite, early-round WRs. While it doesn’t sound all that impressive for just over half of top receivers to actually finish as such, the odds handily outpace the comparable rates for QBs and TEs (both 35%) and even elite RBs (44.4%).

Additionally, the drop off in hit rate from top-tier wideouts to Round 3-4 guys (-38.8%) is more than twice as drastic as the same drop off for running backs (-18.9%). In other words, not only is the Round 1-2 WR tier just about the most reliable positional tier in fantasy, it is immediately followed by one of the starkest dives into the following tier.

Simplified, from the standpoint of trust and safety in fantasy drafts, high-end WRs are among the most surefire values on the board.

The other big takeaways from this table are the relative lack of value in both the Round 3-4 range and the Round 9-11 range, specifically when compared to RBs. Starting in the Round 3-4 range, the odds of finding an elite fantasy WR are only 14.5%, and the odds of producing a solid starter or better add up to 38.1%. For RBs in the same rounds, those rates go up to 25.8% and 47.3% (we’ll cover that more in the final article).

As for the Round 9-11 WRs, it’s nearly impossible to find a top-tier asset here (2.7%) and the 13.4% chance of landing a solid starter isn’t much better. At running back, those rates jump to 6.7% and 22.7%. It’s likely this has something to do with the more “handcuffy” nature of the running back position, where an injury can catapult a Spencer Ware or Jay Ajayi from backup to fantasy starter in a second. (Note: this is more speculation than analysis, I know, but I couldn’t resist).

Meanwhile, in Rounds 5-8 we found a fascinating WR sweet spot. Here, the odds of finding an elite producer (14.7%) were literally higher than we saw in Rounds 3-4, while the chance of finding at least a solid starter sat at a very pretty 33.4%. Compare that to the dismal 6.7% rate of elite production from Round 5-8 RBs and equally poor 18.7% starter rate, and you may want to start dedicating your mid-round picks towards the WR position. Combined with the early-or-late strategies we covered in the QB and TE sections, this has me gearing up to draft nothing but receivers in Rounds 5-8.

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Expected Point Production

As for tiered point production, here’s the breakdown, including the addition of Rounds 1-2 for wide receivers and running backs.

QB Projected Avg. Points Per Game (Tier Drop-off) RB Projected Avg. Points Per Game (Tier Drop-off) WR Projected Avg. Points Per Game (Tier Drop-off) TE Projected Avg. Points Per Game (Tier Drop-off)
Rounds 1-2 N/A 15.9 15.1 N/A
Rounds 3-4 19.8 10.9 (-5.0) 11.9 (-3.2) 11.4
Rounds 5-8 17.5 (-2.3) 9.0 (-1.9) 10.0 (-1.9) 8.7 (-2.7)
Rounds 9-11 16.1 (-1.4) 7.0 (-2.0) 8.0 (-2.0) 6.9 (-1.8)
Total Drop-off 3.7 8.9 7.1 4.5

There is one major lesson to be learned from this chunk of data, and it really has more to do with RBs than WRs, so we’ll cover it in better detail in the RB article. But suffice it to say, the parity of wide receiver production from the Round 1-2 range to the Round 3-4 range (relative to RBs) throws a curveball into our previous analysis of value in those rounds. You are not going to find quite as much upside at the wide receiver position in Rounds 1-2, which makes drafting a DeAndre Hopkins or Odell Beckham Jr. a slightly safer but less relatively lucrative move than drafting an Alvin Kamara or Saquon Barkley.

This really matters in strategizing how you draft based on your first couple picks. If you start WR-WR in the first two rounds — let’s say OBJ and Michael Thomas — you’ll have found yourself an extremely reliable floor, but might lack a bit of the upside you could’ve gotten out of Barkley and Dalvin Cook in the same range. There are some exceptions to this rule (aka Julio Jones), but over time, the data upholds this concept.

While your gut reaction in such a draft might be to heavily swing to running backs to make up for your loss at the position, it may not be the most strategic play. Instead, it might be worth pivoting to an elite QB (Aaron Rodgers) or TE (Rob Gronkowski), as your elite receiver corps should soak up some of the risk involved in pursuing that incredibly high reward. This kind of thinking is what recently led to the rise of the “zero-RB” strategy, and while an onslaught of talented rookie backs has challenged that tactic, it can still be lucrative with the right picks later in the draft.

Also, as a brief aside, the data does support the somewhat consensus opinion that later-round WRs make better FLEX plays than late-round RBs, as they’re likely to score about a point per game more in half-PPR scoring. Just don’t expect them to blossom into superstars as often, as we learned earlier.


We’ll tie all this up in the final article, so don’t miss that one! And for whole lot more strategy, tips, and otherwise awesome information don’t forget to check out the freshly minted 2018 Ultimate Draft Kit!

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