Rewind to 2004. The average 1st round of 12-team fantasy football drafts featured 9 RBs, 2 QBs and just 1 WR (Randy Moss). Only 5 WRs were going in the first 2 rounds.
But going WR in the early rounds of fantasy drafts has gotten more and more popular over the past 10 years, really exploding in 2014. Check it out:
|Year||1st-round WRs||2nd-round WRs||Total|
The increase in scoring among the top WRs hasn’t been nearly as significant. Here are the total number of PPR fantasy points scored by the top 10 WRs from 2004-2013:
There was actually a dip in top-10 WR production from 2008 to 2011, although it’s picked back up the last 2 years.
The production of fantasy’s top 36 WRs has moved in lock step with the top 10. Check it out:
In other words, the value of the top 10 WRs hasn’t changed much over the past 10 years because WRs #11 through #36 have scored at the same rate.
So what does it all mean for 2014? Simply put, you can win by grabbing an elite WR or 2 or by waiting at the position and grabbing a few mid-range guys.
As we always say, there’s no 1 draft strategy that will guarantee success. It’s about picking the right players, being flexible and pinpointing value when it presents itself.
All that said, here are some general guidelines when it comes to picking WRs in 2014 fantasy football drafts.
Safety in Early-Round WRs
The best argument for taking an early-round WR is the safety they bring to your squad. We hit on the safety of top 12 WRs (vs. top 12 RBs) in the First Round Bust article. But let’s narrow it down to the top-6 WRs since that’s who we’re talking about here.
You only need to look back to last year to get an idea of the reliability of the top 6 WRs vs. the top 6 RBs. Five of 2013’s top 6 WRs finished among the top 7 in PPR scoring. The only exception was Julio Jones.
Among the top 6 RBs, though, only Jamaal Charles and Adrian Peterson finished inside the top 10. The others? Ray Rice at 22, C.J. Spiller at 27, Arian Foster at 46 and Doug Martin at 55. It was a field full of land mines.
It’s not just 2013, either. Over the past 10 seasons, 88% of top-6 WRs have finished inside the top 12 (WR1 territory). By comparison, just 64% of top-6 RBs have finished among the top 12.
Expect the trend to continue this season. The top 4 RBs -- Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles and Matt Forte – all look relatively safe in the 1st round. We think Le’Veon Bell is one of the safer RBs at his 2nd-round price tag.
But that’s where the safety ends. Spending an early-rounder on Eddie Lacy (durability), DeMarco Murray (durability), Marshawn Lynch (workload, Christine Michael), Gio Bernard (size, role) or Arian Foster (durability) carries significant risk.
The early WRs look much safer. In particular, Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall and A.J. Green are among the best bets in fantasy football to deliver fair value in relation to their price tag.
Johnson has finished as a top-6 PPR WR in 4 straight seasons and remains in his prime at 29 (in September).
Thomas has finished 1st and 5th the past 2 years. He returns to the same offensive system with the same QB.
Bryant has been a top-7 WR each of the last 2 seasons. He’s still on the rise at just 25 years old.
Marshall has finished 2nd and 6th in his 2 years in Chicago. He has an impressive history with QB Jay Cutler and could be better in his 2nd season in HC Marc Trestman’s offense.
We’re relatively low on Green this season. But only relatively. He’s ranked 3rd and 4th the past 2 seasons and is one of the most talented WRs in the game.
If you’re drafting in the back half of Round 1, we’d try to grab at least 1 of these guys with 1 of your 1st 2 picks. And a WR-WR start is certainly viable in a PPR setup.
If you have a top 4 pick, you might not have a shot at any of these 5 WRs. But we like Jordy Nelson in the 2nd half of Round 2.
3rd-Round Dead Territory
There are plenty of strong WR options in the first 2 rounds of most drafts. The 3rd round? Not so much.
Randall Cobb sometimes slips to the 3rd, and he’s a sweet pick there. But his ADP has been climbing all offseason and now sits at 2.07 in PPR drafts
According to ADP, Keenan Allen (3.02), Pierre Garcon (3.06), Cordarrelle Patterson (3.07) and Victor Cruz (3.11) are the 3rd-round WRs.
Garcon and Cruz sit highest in our rankings among those 4. Neither is a bad pick in the 3rd. But we’ve seen both guys drop into the 4th in plenty of drafts. And missing out on them certainly won’t kill you, especially when there’s tons of value to be mined in the middle rounds (more on that later).
Allen and Patterson are both overvalued in the 3rd.
Allen is the 11th WR off the board but sits 17th in our PPR Rankings. He’s the clear #1 WR in San Diego, but a run-heavy offense will hurt his numbers. He ranked just 18th in catches and 13th in yards when the Chargers went run-heavy over the 2nd half of last season. History says his numbers will decline in his 2nd season.
Patterson’s name comes up every time we talk about overvalued players. It’s not that he doesn’t have the potential to return 3rd-round value. It’s that we don’t like his chances of reaching that potential in 2014. Patterson remains a raw receiver and is playing in a run-first offense with questions at QB.
The 3rd round is a good time to add a RB or TE. Andre Ellington, Doug Martin and C.J. Spiller all carry big upside as 3rd-rounders. Stud TEs Rob Gronkowski and Julius Thomas are also nice picks if available in the 3rd.
High-Upside Options Available in Middle Rounds
As we saw above, the depth at WR has been just as impressive as the top of the heap over the past couple seasons. That looks like the case again in 2014.
Michael Floyd and Michael Crabtree are regularly available in the 4th round of drafts. Floyd’s name got tossed around the office as a potential Breakout Pick. The former 1st-round NFL draft pick seems primed to build off last year’s 25th-place fantasy finish. He actually ranked 16th among WRs over the 2nd half of last season. Floyd is an ideal WR2 for your fantasy squad.
Same goes for Crabtree. He’s back to 100% after last year’s torn Achilles and is playing for a new contract. And don’t forget how dominant he was with QB Colin Kaepernick back in 2012. The pair played 10 full games together, hooking up 61 times for 880 yards and 8 TDs. Extrapolate Crabtree’s numbers over 16 games and you get 98 catches, 1,408 yards and 13 TDs. That would have ranked him among the top 4 fantasy WRs in both 2012 and 2013.
Kendall Wright is 1 of our favorite targets in the 5th and 6th rounds, especially in PPR leagues. He ranked 7th in catches and 18th in yards last year. A measly 2 TDs kept him from a true fantasy breakout, but sheer luck will help that tally climb in 2014.
Looking for a more explosive WR in the 5th or 6th? Target Desean Jackson. He probably won’t match last year’s 82-1,332-9 line, but D-Jax should provide plenty of big games in what should be an explosive passing attack in D.C.
Moving into the 6th or 7th round, Mike Wallace is a recommended target. Not much went right in his debut season in Miami, but he still finished 27th at the position in PPR points. Consider that his floor in 2014, making Wallace a no-risk pick at his WR30 ADP. His upside extends into the top 20 if he can improve his chemistry with QB Ryan Tannehill.
The 7th round brings a couple of high-upside WR options in Emmanuel Sanders and Terrance Williams. Sanders was mostly disappointing in Pittsburgh but has a dream opportunity in 2014 as a key cog in Denver’s passing game. Williams flashed in his 2013 rookie season and will now be the #2 WR in Scott Linehan’s pass-happy offense. Sanders and Williams both make excellent WR3s.
Ideally, you’ll come out of the 7th round with your top 3 WRs locked up -- 1 or 2 elite early-round guys and 1 or 2 of these mid-round values.
Grab Kenny Stills
Of course, grabbing our 2014 Breakout Pick should be part of your WR draft strategy.
We’d feel comfortable rolling with Stills as a weekly WR3. But his ADP is so low that you should be able to grab him as your WR4.
Our latest data has him going in the 12th round. We’ve seen him going as early as the 9th or 10th, but he’s a prime value even there.
Whether or not you reach a bit early for Stills should depend on your roster makeup. If you were able to grab 3 solid WRs in the first 7 or 8 rounds, you can gamble on Stills dropping to the 11th or 12th. If you’re sitting on only 2 WRs through the first 7 or 8 rounds, snatch up Stills in the 9th or 10th.
Top Late-Round Fliers
As with any position, you should be searching for upside in the late rounds of your draft. Justin Hunter and Markus Wheaton are 2 of our favorite late-rounders, but their ADPs have climbed into the 10th and 12th round, respectively. Here are 4 WRs to target in the 14th round or later:
Roberts Woods (14.03): All things considered, Woods turned in a promising rookie season. He posted a 40-587-3 line in 14 games, ranking 59th among WRs in fantasy points. That was despite catching passes from 3 different QBs. Woods did show strong chemistry with E.J. Manuel, racking up 26 catches, 406 yards and 3 TDs in 8 games. Those numbers would have made Woods a top 35 fantasy WR over 16 games. He’s capable of finishing that high in 2014.
Kenny Britt (15.06): Maybe all of Britt’s knee injuries have made him damaged goods at this point. But maybe he’s still the guy who averaged 17.5 yards per catch with 15 TDs over his first 21 career games. At his current ADP, it doesn’t cost much to find out. A healthy Britt could emerge as St. Louis’ #1 WR.
Malcom Floyd (16+): A true sleeper. Floyd isn’t even being drafted in most standard fantasy leagues. But he’s fully recovered from last year’s neck injury and essentially locked in as San Diego’s #2 WR. Floyd tallied 149 yards in less than 2 games last season and finished as a top 36 WR in 3 straight seasons before that.
Andrew Hawkins (16+) – Someone’s gotta catch balls in Cleveland. Hawkins is our bet to finish 2nd on the team in targets behind TE Jordan Cameron. He’s an explosive receiver, and the Browns handed him a 4-year, $13.6 million deal this offseason. The 5’7, 180-pound Hawkins doesn’t bring much TD upside but could emerge as a flex or bye-week option in PPR leagues.
WRs from the Same Team
One final note on WRs. There’s a good discussion taking place on the Draft Sharks message board about whether it makes sense to take 2 WRs from the same team.
Our gut call was that drafting WR teammates was fine assuming they’re the best players available. But then we dug into the numbers and were surprised by the results.
Over the past 10 seasons, there have been 50 pairs of WRs from the same team both going among the top 25 WRs in fantasy drafts. That’s 100 total WRs. Only 35 of those guys managed to outperform their ADP.
The numbers get bleaker when we look at performance of the pairs together. Among the 50 pairs, only 7 had both WRs outperform their draft position. On the other hand, 22 of the pairs had both WRs fall short of their ADP.
Figuring out just how significant these numbers are vs. any 2 WRs regardless of team is for an entirely separate article (and something we’ll look into this offseason), but it sure seems like drafting 2 WRs from the same team is a net negative.
Keep that in mind when considering these 6 pairs of WR teammates going among the top 25 in 2014 fantasy drafts:
Demaryius Thomas (WR2) and Wes Welker (WR25)
Julio Jones (WR5) and Roddy White (WR24)
Brandon Marshall (WR6) and Alshon Jeffery (WR7)
Randall Cobb (WR9) and Jordy Nelson (WR10)
Pierre Garcon (WR12) and DeSean Jackson (WR23)
Michael Floyd (WR15) and Larry Fitzgerald (WR19)