Best-Ball Notebook: Wide Receivers

season

We hope you're enjoying this old content for FREE. You can view more current content marked with a FREE banner, but you'll have to sign up in order to access our other articles and content!

Best-Ball Notebook: Wide Receivers

Jump to other notebooks:

As we discussed in the RB notebook, there has never been more value at WR in drafts than this season. Not only are receivers getting pushed down the board because everyone is chasing running backs early, the position feels deeper than ever. Whether or not receiver is actually deep is a matter of debate, but in best-ball where we don’t have to set a weekly lineup, you can still find upside late in drafts. Wideouts like John Brown and DeSean Jackson are perfectly suited for this game -- they’re too unpredictable to start in most redraft leagues but are always liable to have multiple week-winning performances -- and are all going in the 10th round or later in best-ball leagues.

So, in an RB-heavy market, how should you approach wide receiver?

How many WRs should you take?

In BestBall10 leagues, you have to fill 20 roster spots and start 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 FLEX (RB/WR/TE), and 1 D/ST every week. RBs, WRs, and TEs all earn one point per reception. Almost half of the team’s drafted in BB10s this year have taken seven wide receivers while 22% have taken 6 WRs and 23% have taken 8 wideouts.

Over the last three years of BB10 leagues, roster builds of seven (8.7% win rate) and eight (8.9%) wide receivers have virtually the same chance of winning their league, per SharpFootball’s Rich Hribar. Meanwhile, six WRs (7.3% win rate) and nine WRs (7.8%) are less optimal. The data here is clear: You want to leave your BB10 draft with 6-7 WRs and 5-6 RBs.

Targets are everything with WRs

This is by no means a ground-breaking idea but targets and air yards are the lifeblood of WR scoring. The wideouts with the most targets have seen a near-perfect correlation between their opportunity and fantasy points followed closely by air yards. Here is a chart of correlational values between fantasy points scored for some opportunity stats (like targets) and efficiency stats (like yards per reception) at wide receiver:

StatCorrelation
Targets0.96
Air Yards0.94
Routes0.88
Yards per route run0.64
YPT0.35
Catch%0.33
YPR0.17
YAC/R0.12
aDOT-0.03

Targets = talent for pass catchers. If you’re good, you get the ball. Simple. At wide receiver, routes run is the true barometer of opportunity. Getting on the field and seeing playing time is only half of the battle. In the NFL, you have to earn the targets you get and that’s why I think a receiver like Jarvis Landry is so underrated. Over his entire career, Landry has earned targets on multiple teams and from so many different passers. His quarterbacks always look his way. Why? Because he’s earned those targets. Because he’s good at football.

Most efficiency stats do an absolutely terrible job of describing how good a player actually is but yards per route run is the only efficiency stat that I have found that actually matters for fantasy football. And it matters a lot. This data looks back at the past three seasons and compares one data set (yards per route run) to another (fantasy points scored). And, yards per route run is clearly the best efficiency stat we have to evaluate. Yards per route run has double the correlational value than yards per target and catch rate.

WR tiers

Tier 1
Tier 2
Tier 3
Tier 4
Tier 5
Tier 6
Tier 7
Tier 8
Tier 9
Tier 10

Note: Tiers are based on our season-long WR projections

WRs to target

Allen Robinson (Round 2-3) -- Robinson is fantasy football’s sneakiest WR1. His ADP (31 overall) is a full round a half later than Julio Jones (16 overall) -- but it should be much closer. Last year, Robinson finished 5th among all wide receivers in targets per game. Only Michael Thomas, Davante Adams, DeAndre Hopkins, and Julio Jones saw more. Outside of Anthony Miller, Chicago has no depth at wide receiver and it will, once again, give Robinson a super high floor and ceiling. Robinson saw at least 20% of Bears' targets in 15-of-16 games and finished as a WR2 or better (top-24) in 10-of-16 games. For reference, Julio did so in 8-of-15 games. Not only is Robinson’s volume being underrated but he’s also one of the most talented receivers in the NFL. Per Matt Harmon's Reception Perception metrics, Robinson ranked No. 1 in success rate vs. man coverage over Thomas (2nd) and Adams (3rd) last year. Add in the fact that the Bears face the easiest slate of opposing secondaries according to Scott’s schedule-adjusted SoS metrics and we are cooking with gas. There is a chance A-Rob finishes as a top-3 receiver this season and he isn’t priced near that ceiling.

JuJu Smith-Schuster (Round 2-3) -- I have been taking JuJu as early as 10 spots ahead of his ADP, which is right around the 3-4 turn (36 overall). Buying low on young, supremely talented wide receivers will always be a long-term recipe for success. Remember when JuJu was a top-20 pick in most leagues last year? It’s hilarious to me that people think he stinks now because he was 1) injured all of last year and 2) he had the worst QB situation in the NFL. Your opponents’ ignorance is your profit. Smith-Schuster has averaged 5.7 receptions, 77.3 yards, and 16.1 fantasy points per game when Ben Roethlisberger plays in his career, which spans 30 games. JuJu’s efficiency was so much better back in his rookie year and in 2018 with Big Ben, too. Last year, JuJu ranked 36th out of 57 wide receivers in yards per route run from the slot. In his two previous seasons, Smith-Schuster ranked 3rd (2017) and 17th (2018) in YPRR. Not having Antonio Brown on the field to draw coverage away last year likely hurt JuJu even more, but Diontae Johnson is looking like he’ll be an excellent No. 2 option for defenses to account for. And, all of Pittsburgh’s recent moves -- drafting Chase Claypool to go along with James Washington and signing Eric Ebron -- suggest they are going to throw. A ton. Back in 2018 when Roethlisberger was healthy, the Steelers were the most pass-heavy team when the game was within a score (66.4%) and when trailing (81.5%). JuJu’s floor is 110 targets and his ceiling is 150 and you can draft him in the 4th round. It’s a slam dunk.

Adam Thielen (Round 3-4) -- Robinson and Thielen are the two receivers I’ve been targeting the most aggressively. Just like with A-Rob’s ADP, Thielen’s price (WR14; 40 overall) makes no sense. Over his last 40 healthy games (since 2017), Thielen ranks 6th in fantasy points per game, 6th in yards per game, 7th in receptions per game, and is 9th among all WRs in yards per route run in this span. With Stefon Diggs gone, Thielen’s only competition for targets is a rookie, Irv Smith/Kyle Rudolph, and Olabisi Johnson. Fantasy doesn’t have to be hard.

Robert Woods (Round 4-5) -- Cooper Kupp got off to a white-hot start to last season and ended up getting super lucky in the touchdown department, which is why he’s usually taken ahead of Bobby Trees. That is a mistake. Kupp scored 10 TDs last season on 134 targets while Woods only scored twice on the same amount of volume (139 targets). To be fair, Kupp did see six more targets inside of the 10-yard line than Woods (10 vs. 4), but there is no doubt Woods was unlucky. Last year, Woods became just the 19th wide receiver to see at least 130 targets and score 3 or fewer touchdowns in a single-season since 2000. Of these 19 wideouts, 14 went on to play at least 14 games in the following season. 13 of those 14 qualifying WRs increased their TD output in the following year (and by an average of +2.8 TDs). With Brandin Cooks now in Houston, Rams targets will mostly be concentrated on Woods, Kupp, and their tight ends. I’m drafting Woods whenever I can and trying to add to him to all of my dynasty teams.

Tyler Lockett (Round 4-5) -- The common theme of these players to target is value, and Lockett is yet another excellent example (WR20 ADP; 50 overall). This will come as a surprise to anyone who is just blindly backing D.K. Metcalf as the second coming of Calvin Johnson, but Lockett sharply out-produced and out-targeted Metcalf when healthy last year. Excluding Week 12-13 when he was on the injured list (shin/leg), Lockett had 94/1217/9 across 16 healthy games. This includes the postseason. Lockett's 16.5 fantasy points per game in his 16 healthy games would have ranked 8th-most among WRs, just behind Cooper Kupp (16.9). In fact, Lockett finished as a top-24 wide receiver in 9-of-14 healthy starts during the regular season. Meanwhile, Metcalf had three (3!!) top-24 performances in 16 games. Lockett also out-targeted Metcalf 123 to 108 in those 16 games he was healthy for and has unrivaled chemistry with Russell Wilson. Over the last two seasons, the Wilson-to-Lockett connection has ranked 1st and 3rd in Next Gen Stats completion rate above expectation metrics. This stat accounts for how difficult a throw and catch was to complete. Not only is Lockett the better fantasy option than Metcalf but his talent is slept on in general.

Terry McLaurin (Round 5-6) -- Everything about McLaurin just screams Buy. Sure, Dwayne Haskins has a long way to go according to Greg Cosell, but McLaurin’s chance to see 125+ targets this year is undeniable. Washington doesn’t have a tight end worth a damn and McLaurin’s only competition at WR right now is Steven Sims and Antonio Gandy-Golden. I guess Trey Quinn is still a thing, too. But especially with Kelvin Harmon (ACL) out for the year, McLaurin is really the only show in town. At least it’s a good one. McLaurin averaged 13.7 fantasy points per game last year, which tied for 10th-most with JuJu Smith-Schuster for any WR drafted in the second round or later of the NFL draft since 1970. McLaurin also accounted for 33% of Washington’s passing yards last season, which is the best mark by any wide receiver in their first season since Odell Beckham’s insane rookie year. And, oh by the way… McLaurin was 14th out of 86 WRs in PFF’s predictive yards per route run metric.

Marquise Brown (Round 5-6) -- The Ravens will remain the most run-heavy team in the NFL, but that doesn’t mean their WR1 isn’t valuable. After playing all of last year with a screw in is foot and below his normal playing weight, Hollywood is back healthy and is going to tear it up. Even at less than 100 percent, Brown was one of the league’s most effective wideouts in the NFL last season. Out of 75 qualifying wide receivers, Brown ranked first in passer rating when targeted (134.4) and was 11th in fantasy points per route run (0.45). He also ranked 19th-of-50 WRs in success rate vs. man coverage and 4th-best in success rate vs. zone coverage per Matt Harmon's Reception Perception. Mark Andrews is the Ravens No. 1 target and I’m drafting him every time I can but Brown is my third-most draft wide receiver in best-ball (on 33% of my teams) because of his massive spiked week potential. We saw glimpses of Hollywood’s ceiling as a rookie like in Week 1 against the Dolphins (4/174/2 on 14 snaps), in Week 10 against the Bengals when he came back after missing a few games (4/80/1 on 18 snaps) or in the Ravens playoff loss to the Titans (7/126). Imagine what he’ll do in 2020 with an offseason to get healthy and build more chemistry with Lamar Jackson.

Will Fuller (Round 6-7) -- With DeAndre Hopkins now in Arizona, the Texans are relying on Fuller being their No. 1 target. Bill O’Brien is particularly sharp, but he’s sure made it seem like he trusts Fuller to be the go-to guy. Over the last three years, Fuller has seen five or more targets in 20 games and averaged 15.7 PPR points in these contests -- which would have tied for 10th-best among WRs last year. Fuller is always known as a boom-or-bust receiver, but when he’s gotten volume, his floor has been solid. In this 20 game sample, Fuller has scored double-digit PPR points 13 times (65%). Fuller is one of my most-drafted wideouts in best-ball and seasonal leagues this summer.

Tyler Boyd (Round 6-7) -- Boyd is being drafted like a WR3/4 in fantasy despite having a chance to be the Bengals No. 1 target in 2020. A.J. Green is back, but he’s about to turn 32 and has missed 29 possible games over the last four years. Boyd is only 25 and still ascending. Even though he has finished as the WR25 and WR20 in fantasy points per game over the last two seasons with 1,000+ yards in each year, Boyd’s ADP is WR33. You’re looking at nothing but upside there. Keep in mind, Justin Jefferson went 111/1540/18 (in 15 games) as Joe Burrow’s slot WR in 2019. No rookie WR saw an accurate pass more often than Jefferson, too (69% of targets). Last year, Boyd ran two-thirds of his routes from the slot.

John Brown (Round 9-11) -- I’m targeting Josh Allen everywhere and Brown is a way cheaper stacking option than Stefon Diggs. While Diggs’ ADP is WR26 (61 overall), the guy who just dropped 72/1060/6 and finished as the WR24 in fantasy points per game is going off the board at WR43 (104 overall). I’m not taking anything away from Diggs at all, but Brown is undeniably the better value.

Mike Williams (Round 10-12) -- Williams is a still-ascending talent and he’s basically free (ADP: WR47; 113 overall). After running super hot in the TD department in 2018 -- he scored 10 times on 66 targets -- Williams got super unlucky last season. He and Robert Woods became just the 16th and 17th WRs all-time to have 1,000 or more yards and score 2 or fewer TDs in a single-season. Plus, Williams has gotten better every single year after his dismal first season. After ranking 115-of-127 WRs in yards per route run as a rookie in 2017, Williams ranked 42nd in 2018 and 25th in YPRR last year. The only Chargers I want in fantasy this year are Austin Ekeler (case for him here) and Williams.

Jalen Reagor (Round 11-13) -- My rookie WR1. Here is everything working in Reagor’s favor:

  • Broke out at 20 years old for 72/1061/9 in his sophomore season at TCU.

  • Was the alpha at TCU. Saw 34% of his team’s targets in that sophomore season and 25% of targets in 2019. For reference, CeeDee Lamb commanded 25% of OU's targets in his 2019 season while Justin Jefferson saw 23% of LSU's targets.

  • Reagor's junior year stats declined (43/611/5) because TCU's freshman QB was brutally bad. Per PFF, Reagor saw an accurate pass on just 31% of his targets last year -- the lowest rate among the 2020 WR class. If he had gone to OU or LSU, no one would have questioned the Eagles picking him where they did.

  • He’s an all-world athlete. Per PlayerProfiler, Reagor has 99th percentile burst and 70th percentile weight-adjusted speed. Reagor ran 4.47 in Indy but I think he plays even faster than that on tape.

  • Perhaps most importantly, Carson Wentz is awesome and the Eagles have nothing at wide receiver. Alshon Jeffery is 30-years-old and nursing a foot injury that may land him on the PUP list to start the season. DeSean Jackson is about to be 34. The J.J. Arcega-Whiteside experiment is still up in the air. Former college QB Greg Ward was Wentz’s best option at receiver at times last year.

Golden Tate (Round 11-13) -- He’s the cheapest Giants’ pass catcher and maybe shouldn’t be. Excluding his first game back from a four-game suspension, Tate averaged 15.0 fantasy points per game last season and only one performance below 11 fantasy points. Tate's 15.0 fantasy points per game (excluding Week 5) would have tied Calvin Ridley as the WR18 last year. Tate averaged 7.7 targets per game last season while Darius Slayton -- who goes in the ninth round for some reason? -- only saw 5.9 targets per game. Daniel Jones is one of my main QB targets and Tate is just an easy-money stacking candidate.

Brandon Aiyuk (Round 11-13) -- Deebo Samuel is such a stud, but he might miss considerable time with a Jones’ fracture. Obviously, we hope that Samuel doesn’t miss a game but foot injuries have a tendency to linger with receivers. You won’t go broke by ignoring Injury Optimism long-term. There is a good chance Samuel’s injury thrusts Aiyuk into a bigger role than expected in 2020 and even if Samuel misses zero games, Aiyuk is still a value. He led this year’s rookie class in yards after the catch per reception and I know that HC Kyle Shanahan will use him in creative ways that will be good for at least one or two monster fantasy performances.

Parris Campbell (Round 13-15) -- Now healthy after dealing with multiple injuries in his rookie season, Campbell looks like one of the best late-round values in best-ball. Especially with both Jack Doyle and Trey Burton banged up, Campbell may be Philip Rivers only healthy target in the middle of the field early in the season. OC Nick Siriani has apparently loved what he’s seen from Campbell in camp and made it seem like his injury-filled rookie year isn’t being held against him. In a press conference early in August, Siriani said: “I don’t know how many guys actually were ever close to Parris Campbell in college. He was really open because he’s really fast and really explosive… Another adjustment (rookie wide receivers) have to make is sometimes they have to slow down to catch the ball. It’s just getting those reps and some of those things because of how different the players are and schemes. It always takes time and I know if Parris didn’t have some of those things that he went through last year, he would have definitely matured faster, but he’s doing really well.” (Added 8/31)

Late-round darts: Mohamed Sanu, Russell Gage (especially on teams with Matt Ryan), Corey Davis (especially on teams with Ryan Tannehill), and Tee Higgins/John Ross/Auden Tate (especially on teams with Joe Burrow).

WRs to fade

Mike Evans -- Love the player, hate the price. 53% of Evans’ fantasy points came in just three games last year (Weeks 3, 8, and 9) and he was out-scored by Chris Godwin in nine of their 3 games together. Tom Brady won’t turn the ball over as much as Jameis Winston did -- those extra possessions provided more opportunity for Tampa’s receivers -- and their defense is quietly really good. They just need their secondary to improve a bit. I expect the Bucs’ will be pretty pass-heavy but the loss of volume for Evans (and Godwin to a lesser extent) isn’t being accounted for at Evans’ ADP (WR8; 26 overall). I prefer A-Rob and Thielen over Evans straight-up.

Kenny Golladay -- Love the player, hate the price. Golladay goes in the late-second round of drafts while Marvin Jones goes in the 7th or 8th. Golladay has out-scored Jones (15.3 to 14.1 fantasy points per game) but only slightly out-targeted him (154 to 153) in their 26 games played together over the last two seasons.

Courtland Sutton -- He was awesome in his rookie season but the Broncos won’t stop adding weapons and Drew Lock is by no means a lock. (Pun intended.) Jerry Jeudy will be way more competition for Sutton above anything DaeSean Hamilton or Tim Patrick did last season. Plus, Noah Fant is an ascending talent that deserves more targets and I think Melvin Gordon will be pretty involved in the passing game, too. There are just too many mouths to feed and questions over Drew Lock’s ability to justify Sutton’s ADP (WR19; 49 overall) over Lockett (WR20). Just ask yourself this: Would I rather spend my fourth-round pick on a receiver attached to Russell Wilson or an unproven Lock?

DeVante Parker -- I have done over 50 best-ball drafts and I don’t think I have considered taking Parker once. The only reason Parker broke out last year was because Preston Williams got hurt and Parker ended up being Ryan Fitzpatrick’s only good receiver. Before tearing his ACL, Williams out-targeted Parker 60 to 52 in the Dolphins' first eight games while Parker just barely out-scored Williams in fantasy in this span because he scored 3 TDs while Williams had just one score. Parker had five top-12 (WR1) scoring weeks over his final seven games when Williams was on I.R. and had zero WR1 scoring weeks when Williams was healthy. Fade recency bias and profit here.

Keenan Allen -- How much different will the Chargers offense look in 2020 without Philip Rivers? There is no denying that Allen is extremely talented and that he’s been a great fantasy receiver. Allen has finished as the WR8, WR12, WR4, and WR6 in fantasy points per game in his last four full seasons dating back to 2016. But, how much volume does Allen stand to lose? Rivers ranked in the top-14 in pass attempts every year from 2016-19 and had three seasons inside of the top-10. In fact, Rivers’ career-low in pass attempts is 460 while Tyrod Taylor has never attempted more than 436 passes in a single-season. Allen has been awesome in fantasy, but you can’t always look backward. Don’t just draft last year’s best team. Allen might end up being a value pick at his ADP (WR22) but just understand that this team is no longer the Chargers of old. Taylor and rookie Justin Herbert are downgrades not only from a quality standpoint but L.A. will likely throw way less with one of those two at the controls.

Deebo Samuel -- This is an easy one. Samuel’s ADP has slipped to WR37 over the last three weeks but even that discount doesn’t really justify the risk in best-ball. Unlike in normal redraft leagues, we can’t just go to the waiver wire and add another option. The opportunity cost of taking zero’s from your 7th-8th round pick is less than ideal.

Darius Slayton -- Slayton (ADP: WR41) is the first Giants receiver off of the board over Shepard (WR48) Tate (WR52), but that doesn’t really make any sense. Across Daniel Jones’ 12 starts, Slayton was fourth on the team in targets per game (6.0) behind Evan Engram (7.7), Tate (7.7), and Shepard (8.4). Slayton (52.9) also trailed Tate (61.5) and Shepard (59.3) in yards per game. A whopping 39% of Slayton’s fantasy points in Jones’ starts came in just two games, one of which was without Shepard (Week 10 vs. Jets) and the other was without Engram (Week 14 vs. Eagles). With everyone healthy, I don’t think it’s necessary to overpay for Slayton when Shepard and Tate are both significantly cheaper.

TL;DR

  • There is a ton of value at WR this season because RBs are being pushed up the board due to scarcity.

  • When selecting WRs, project for targets and air yards. Yards per route run is the GOAT efficiency metric.

  • Allen Robinson, Adam Thielen, Terry McLaurin, and Marquise Brown look like potential league-winners.

Graham Barfield blends data and film together to create some of the most unique content in the fantasy football industry. Barfield is FantasyPoints’ Director of Analytics and formerly worked for the NFL Network, Fantasy Guru, and Rotoworld.

Recent Articles