Is “Zero-WR” a thing? Gary Davenport provides a handful of mid-round wide receiver targets for his fellow backaholics to take a shot on after all the elite receivers are off the board.
When it comes to fantasy football draft strategies, there are as many different ones as there are colors of the rainbow or delicious flavors of Mountain Dew. In recent years one that gained in popularity as the NFL became more and more pass-happy was “Zero RB.”
Essentially, drafters load up on wide receivers and/or tight ends early. Maybe grab an elite quarterback. And then the middle rounds are about targeting upside plays in the backfield.
This year, however, the flip side of that coin is picking up steam. More and more fantasy drafters are going in the opposite direction and hitting the running backs hard early. Maybe grabbing a “Big Three” tight end.
Those drafters are going “Zero WR.”
It’s a new strategy that’s actually an old strategy—a return to the days when the top priority in drafts was building a strong backfield. Frankly, it’s pretty close to the strategy I’ve always used. I am not in the least bit ashamed to admit that I am an unabashed backaholic.
Don’t judge me.
I’m not going to debate the merits of “Zero WR” vs. “Zero RB” or any other draft strategy—I’ve always believed that just about any strategy can be successful if you play your cards right on draft day.
But if you’re thinking about waiting to select a wide receiver until the fifth round or later while you grab a trio of tailbacks and a top tight end (or quarterback—although the real value under center lies in being patient), here are some values at the wideout spot to consider targeting based on the PPR ADP data at Fantrax.
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Mid-Round Wide Receiver Targets
D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers (ADP: WR23)
Ben Gretch of CBS Sports is a big proponent of hitting the wide receiver spot hard in the middle rounds of drafts, and he singled out Moore as one of his favorite targets of Round 5—in part because Moore steadily improved as the season wore on.
“He first broke a 50% snap share in Week 8 and first went over 90% in Week 12, yet still posted 960 yards from scrimmage in part thanks to an impressive 172 rushing yards on 13 carries,” Gretch said. “His rookie season left no doubt that his impressive profile would translate, a profile that includes a 98th percentile breakout age, a 97th percentile dominator rating, 92nd percentile SPARQ-x athleticism, and first-round draft capital. And now there’s nothing stopping him from playing full snaps throughout 2019.”
From Week 8 on last year, Moore ranked 21st in PPR fantasy points at the position—and that was with Carolina’s season coming off the rails because Cam Newton couldn’t throw the ball. Newton’s healthy in 2019, and Moore will serve as his No. 1 receiver. It’s not hard at all to imagine top-15 fantasy numbers from Moore, and the top 12 is a real possibility.
Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals (ADP: WR24)
Boyd already had his breakout season, topping 1,000 yards and finishing as a top-15 PPR receiver in fantasy leagues. Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox believes we may on the verge of déjà vu all over again in the Queen City in 2019.
“Boyd should pick up where he left off as Cincinnati’s No. 1 receiver,” he said. “Green underwent ankle surgery shortly after the start of camp and is expected to miss multiple regular-season games. In Cincinnati’s preseason opener, Boyd caught three passes on four targets in his lone series. In fact, Andy Dalton’s first four passes (of nine total attempts) went to him. Expect Boyd to be Dalton’s go-to target early and often in 2019. Yet, the Pittsburgh product isn’t widely being valued as a No. 1 receiver. His ADP stands behind guys such as Jarvis Landry and Cooper Kupp. He should be in line for another 1,000-yard season—and potentially much more.”
Boyd was actually more productive in 2018 when Green was on the field with him, but it’s not like he fell apart once Green went down. Boyd’s going to be targeted a ton early in the season on a bad team likely to be playing from behind with regularity. And given Green’s injury history of late, Boyd may well be the team’s top wideout for more than just a few games.
Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears (ADP: WR29)
Robinson had an up-and-down 2018 season, in large part because it was his first season back after an ACL tear all but wiped out his 2017 campaign. Now another year removed from that injury, the 26-year-old told reporters he feels a lot more like his old self this season.
“I look like a totally different player,” Robinson said, via Alyssa Barbieri of Bears Wire. “It’s one of those things, everybody says it takes time. You want to be back at that as soon as possible. Last year, I thought through each week of the season I thought I progressed and got better every week. It’s still been like that throughout camp.”
Robinson wasn’t great in 2018, but he also wasn’t awful—if you pro-rate his receiving yardage over a full 16-game slate he’d have flirted with a 1,000-yard season. We probably won’t see a return to the gonzo 80/1,400/14 stat line that Robinson posted in Jacksonville in 2015, but we could easily see Robinson top a grand and finish the year well inside WR2 territory in 12-team fantasy leagues.
Josh Gordon, New England Patriots (ADP: WR32)
Like you can talk about mid-round receivers right now and not mention Josh Gordon.
Since his conditional reinstatement by the NFL, there isn’t a more talked-about receiver than Gordon, who tallied 720 receiving yards in 11 games for the Patriots a year ago. Per Gretch’s colleague Heath Cummings, there’s good reason for that.
“Tom Brady was more efficient when throwing to Gordon than any other target last year,” Cummings said. “In fact, Gordon’s 10.6 yards per target in New England was among the best in the league. He didn’t score enough touchdowns to be a Fantasy star, but I wouldn’t expect that to be an issue that repeats itself. The danger with Gordon is that he doesn’t play a full season, and it’s a fair one. He’s only played 16 games once in the NFL, and that was way back in 2012. But the upside with Gordon should be evident when you look at his three games without Rob Gronkowski last year. He averaged more than 100 yards per game and was on a 140-target pace. If you get even 12 games of that in the sixth round, you’ll be thrilled.”
It’s hard to argue with much of what Cummings had to say about Gordon, who is suddenly one of fantasy’s most intriguing risk/reward plays at wide receiver. If there’s a problem here (outside injury/suspension risk) it’s that the hype is driving Gordon’s price up. He’s not even making it to Round 6 in many drafts.
Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos (ADP: WR38)
Sutton’s rookie numbers aren’t going to blow anyone away—his 42 receptions for 704 yards and four scores equated to a WR50 finish in PPR fantasy leagues. But as Ryan O’Halloran reported for the Denver Post, Broncos general manager John Elway expects a big Year 2 leap forward from Sutton in 2019.
“Obviously, we think a lot of Courtland,” Elway said. “We think there’s a lot there and he’s only scratched the surface of what we think he can do. He’s a big target that’s competitive and wants to be great. We’re thrilled that he’s on our team and we think he’s just going to continue to get better this year. A year under his belt is going to be huge for him. He knows what to expect.”
If you pass on wide receivers early in drafts, there are essentially two directions you can go in with your third starter—you can either target a low-ceiling veteran with a higher floor or take a chance on a younger receiver with more upside. Sutton most assuredly fits into the latter category. He also has a skill set that should mesh well with new quarterback Joe Flacco and a better than average chance of being Denver’s top wide receiver in 2019.
Who are your favorite wide receiver targets after the top few are off the board? For more great analysis check out the 2019 Fantrax Fantasy Football Draft Kit.
A member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and Pro Football Writers of America who resides in Columbus, Ohio, Gary Davenport has been featured on a number of fantasy websites and in nationally circulated publications, including the USA Today Fantasy Football Preview and the magazines distributed by Fantasy Sports Publications Inc., for whom Gary is both a contributing author and associate editor. Gary is an eight-time FSWA Award finalist and two-time winner who has been a finalist for that organization’s Fantasy Football Writer of the Year award each of the last three years. He won the honor in 2017. Gary also appears regularly on Sirius XM Radio (including live from Radio Row at Super Bowl XLIX) and over-the-air stations across the country. He knows football. Or so he’s heard.
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