NFL Best Ball Wide Receivers: Finding Value
Wide receivers will always be a strategic conundrum for best-ball leagues. Toss out draft price and think of the receiver archetypes. Alpha receivers, possession receivers, red zone threats, speed threats. There’s a blend of these receivers you’d want to build out your roster. Think of how you’d build your DFS lineup on any given Sunday. A strong WR1 for targets and touchdowns, one possession receiver for more targets, and a deep threat with touchdown upside. That formula holds true in best-ball. But how many should we draft?
|Number of WRs||Total Obs||Wins||Win Rate|
Best-ball rosters with 6 or 7 receivers have been the most optimal approach for multiple seasons. This can feel counterintuitive given PPR scoring. It puts the focus on drafting a strong receiver group or taking more shots at the position. But it can’t be at the expense of the other positions. This is essentially opportunity cost as this process takes into account the alternatives at multiple positions that’d be missed to acquire the desired receiver. This, along with similar running back concepts, can be applied to the receiver position.
Let’s look at the wide receiver storylines from 2018 for some insights into 2019.
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What worked for Best-Ball in 2018?
“Running back touchdowns increased by nearly 15 percent [from the 2017 season] while wide receiver touchdowns remained stagnant. This dropped the overall production at the position while boosting the [perceived] value of both running backs and tight ends.” – Best-Ball Running Back Value
It’s possible that our ability to project running backs directly correlates to how we value them. ‘Safety’ or perceived volume pushes many running backs into the middle rounds. This allows wide receivers with greater potential to fall. Let’s look at the Top 12 wide receives from 2018.
|Name||Win Rate||Final ADP*|
A significant portion of the Top 12 comes from the late rounds. Their cost relative to their best-ball performance stands out, but there are two common usage traits that stand out: down-field receptions and touchdowns. All were either in the Top 30 for total 20-plus yard receptions or Top 40 for total touchdowns**. They were essentially our FLEX players in DFS. The inconsistent guys. The ‘needs one play’ guys. Their cumulative scores will never match the actual WR1s, but their peaks are needed to offset the valleys of our high-priced assets.
It’s interesting that not one but two ‘ non-Keenan-Allen’ Chargers’ receivers made the list, but here’s an example in opportunity cost. For context, we’ll need to take their ADP into account.
Allen was drafted in the second round as a WR1. He had seven games where he was above or reasonably close to WR1 averages. Mike Williams had five such games. Tyrell Williams had 4. The number of WR1 weeks is an arbitrary stat, but it helps quantify how often each player helped win your week. If both Williams could produce half of those week-winning performances as Allen with a 10-round discount, that’s valuable. You’d want Keenan’s 249.7 PPR points over the course of the season, but boom weeks help all the same.
Offenses morph over the course of the best-ball season. Coaching, injuries, or even defenses can dictate how receivers are used. Best-ball managers can’t anticipate these shifts, but they also can’t overreact to them the following season. A couple of obvious cases arose in 2018.
Robert Woods (Current ADP: 39th overall)
Woods was the biggest beneficiary of Cooper Kupp’s injuries and in the best offense to take advantage of the situation. His targets rose slightly from 8.5 to 8.9 per game, but fantasy gamers cared little about his usage. It was the sacred slot targets that Kupp commanded. Without him, Woods’ slot targets jumped from 5.9 to 7 giving his PPR totals a nudge. With Kupp returning, it’s hard to envision him matching his 261.1 PPR points (career best).
Tyler Lockett (Current ADP: 59th overall)
Tyler Lockett and Russell Wilson broke math. Wilson had an 8.4% touchdown rate which is 0.2% less than Patrick Mahomes. But Wilson had 150 fewer attempts. Plus, nearly one-third of them went to Lockett. He’s in the Top-10 for TDs and the Top 20 for 20-plus yard receptions. Doug Baldwin’s early-season injury and the team’s run-heavy scheme clouds our perception. The connection between Lockett and Russ is evident, but 26% of his 2018 fantasy production came from touchdowns. That’s 8th highest for all wide receivers with over 50 targets. Hard to surpass this if the same offensive philosophy is used in 2019.
Injecting risk into your draft isn’t bad for the process. The key is in identifying the value of both the player and the associated opportunity cost. Julian Edelman’s early-season suspension moved many best-ball drafters off of him. Age and recent injury coupled with a four-game handicap aren’t typically qualities worth a 6th round pick. However, returning to a perennially high-scoring offense while battling cardio master Chris Hogan and Philip Dorsett for targets from Tom Brady is worth a look.
The 2019 season has multiple wide receivers returning from injury. From A.J. Green to Dante Pettis, their talent, age, and role on the team must all be considered when compared to their cost. While most still carry perceived value based on history, the focus in best-ball has to be on the future and what may lie ahead.
The wide receiver position can be generally approached in a similar fashion as running backs. Opportunity cost rules over all else, but how a receiver produces can change both our perception and their cost. It’s logical to assume the touchdown totals shift back towards receivers. While this may push many of the 2018 favorites to the earlier rounds, the late-round selections should always provide some value to your roster.
*Final ADP is their draft position at the end of August 2018.
**Golladay only started 13 games.
Sources: Sports Info Solutions, Pro Football Reference, Fantrax, FantasyPros
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