Drafting for success- Wide Receivers

Last time we met we discussed the workhorses of your fantasy football team the running backs. This time we’re going to deal with the show ponies of the league, the wide receivers.

Although we deride their ability to get dirty every team needs these guys to finish games and take the “top off a defence”. For fantasy receivers it’s less about first down receptions more about big plays, yardage and touchdowns. The NFL has plenty of solid WRs who move the sticks but the real stars at WR are also the most infuriating.

So how did we do last year?

We drafted almost as many receivers as RBs last year (55 in total) and with the ability to start up to 3 each week let’s look at how we used our WRs and RBs in the flex position before we dive in fully to the receivers.

We had the opportunity to start 156 flex positions during the course of the season and we actually started more WRs than RBs (89:67 Our “perfect” lineup ratio was still WR heavy at 86:70). This means that despite the importance we placed on drafting RBs we actually started more WRs over the course of the season.

However, there were distinct philosophical differences between teams such as the RB heavy Jaguars to the WR loving Tornadoes. It’s also worth noting that teams such as the Bohemians, the 69ers, Dodgy Touchdown and the Oddities changed their philosophy during the course of the season due to injuries rather than lack of success.

You can see the actual breakdowns below although these numbers merely reflect usage rather than any particular preference. Success is obviously based on lineup choice rather than a particular position output, but if we look at each teams “perfect lineup” we can see that RBs had a 8.5 to 7.5 point scoring advantage over WRs. Not a stunning different but a point is a point nonetheless!

flexstarts

From my point of view this changes our analysis of the WR position and leads us to look at our drafting success in context of our heavy use of WRs at the flex position as well as the 2 other traditional spots.

Let’s start with a breakdown of the first 24 (the potential first line starters) we selected by round in the table below. You’ll notice a considerable difference in our pick success rate from the RBs last week.

Pick Player Team Points Preseason Rank Final Rank
1.07 Calvin Johnson Det/9 102.4 1 24
1.1 Demaryius Thomas Den/4 187.5 2 2
1.12 Dez Bryant Dal/11 155.2 3 6
2.01 A.J. Green Cin/4 96.8 4 27
2.04 Brandon Marshall Chi/9 107.8 6 18
2.08 Julio Jones Atl/9 145 5 9
2.09 Jordy Nelson GB/9 171.9 7 3
2.11 Antonio Brown Pit/12 174.9 9 1
3.03 Randall Cobb GB/9 153.9 10 7
3.1 Alshon Jeffery Chi/9 126 8 13
4.02 Vincent Jackson TB/7 80.2 11 41
4.04 Keenan Allen SD/10 39.4 12 28
4.05 Pierre Garcon Was/10 42.7 15 NR
4.08 Victor Cruz NYG/8 23 14 NR
4.09 Andre Johnson Hou/10 45.8 13 NR
4.1 Percy Harvin Sea/4 49.3 19 NR
4.11 Larry Fitzgerald Ari/4 71.1 17 47
5.01 T.Y. Hilton Ind/10 146.5 23 8
5.02 Michael Crabtree SF/8 49.5 21 40
5.05 Michael Floyd Ari/4 46.1 20 51
5.07 Cordarrelle Patterson Min/10 34.5 22 NR
5.08 Torrey Smith Bal/11 15.1 18 21
5.09 Roddy White Atl/9 89.6 16 29
6.02 DeSean Jackson Was/10 48.3 25 15

Although 6 of the top 10 preseason picks finished in the top 10 scorers at the end of the season and 3 of the 4 who didn’t lost significant parts of the season to injury. The only “miss”, Alshon Jeffery, finished just 3 spots below his preseason ranking. We’d be excused in thinking that picking WRs was a reasonably safe proposition.

However, it’s outwith the top 10 that predictability really diverges from the RBs. Of the next 14 players just 2 players finished in a better position than their preseason ranking (DeSean Jackson and T.Y. Hilton). Below the first 24 things were even worse as only 12 of the remaining 31 players finished with an end of season rank higher or the same as their preseason rank.

But to classify WRs outwith the top 10 as a bust littered collection is rather unfair. The poor performance of our WRs is more to do with our success at drafting rather than the performance of the top 24 scorers at the position. The next table shows us the top 24 RB and WR scorers. I’ve also included a consistency score to help rank the players (using scores with 1/2 a standard deviation of the average score). What I found was rather remarkable. It shows that not only were the top 24 WRs more consistent, but they also scored better on average than the top 24 RBs.

Game consistency (Green- above average output, Yellow- average output, Red- Below average output (includes games missed))

consistency

What it proves is that on average WRs are more consistent and more predictable than RBs. However, there is still a considerable difference in performance and consistency when we compare them with the top scoring RBs. Top ten RBs have a significant advantage over there WR equivalents, but where things get less certain is when we move beyond the Top 5 in each position.

As we proved last week there are steady performers to be had in lower round RBs but their success tend to be the result  of injuries or changes in personnel. On the other hand the number of steady performers at the WR position are far more numerous and there are certainly more bargins or matchup plays to be had lower in the draft.

However a stud is a stud regardless of position. The performance of the top players prove this and the challenge in the draft is selecting one and ensuring (or crossing your fingers) that they don’t get hurt. Picking a top performing RB is the goal of our drafting strategy, but being left with a stud WR isn’t necessarily the end of the world either.

Next time we’ll take a look at the quarterbacks and discuss if there is actually any point to drafting a QB in the first four rounds.