Fantasy Football Position Primer: Wide Receiver
With the 2015 fantasy season fast approaching, it is time to do some positional breakdowns and look into where fantasy owners can find the safest picks, best value and potential busts in this year’s fantasy draft. Here we will look at the deepest fantasy position available, wide receiver. The NFL continued the pass first game plan in 2014, with a league average of 57% passing plays to 43% running plays. This trend has added fantasy value and depth to the WR position while coaches utilizing running back by committee (RBBC) strategies have decreased true RB1 depth. Over the last few years, this has resulted in an increasing number of WRs finding their way into the first round of fantasy drafts, especially in PPR formats.
The 2015 fantasy WR class is very deep, with viable WR3 options available into the double digit rounds. After the first tier of elite WRs are gone, fantasy owners can patiently wait to fill their WR roster spots. Consider that Steve Smith of the Ravens finished 2014 as the 19th highest scoring WR in PPR formats (20th in standard formats), and his current PPR ADP is 93rd or the 40th WR being drafted. He’s not even being drafted as a starter in 12 team leagues after finishing 2014 as a solid WR2. Also, Torrey Smith is gone from Baltimore, and passing-game guru Marc Trestman is the new offensive coordinator. Smith’s ADP proves just how much depth is available at WR this year.
The top tier of WRs are generally safe picks that fantasy owners can rely on to produce week to week. It has been said many times that you can’t win a fantasy league in the first round of a draft, but you sure can lose one. With RBBC strategies limiting the number of feature backs in the NFL, owners drafting at the bottom of snake leagues are often left with the difficult decision. Should they draft a speculative RB1 along with an elite WR1, or should they select two elite WR1s and try to find RB value in later rounds.
The advantage of taking two elite WRs in Rounds 1 and 2 is that you know those guys are going to produce just about every week. Plus, defensive match-ups do not factor into lineup decisions the way they do with many RBs. That said, if you miss out on the elite WR talents because there is an early run on WRs in your draft, do not be afraid to wait for WR2 and WR3 options in the later rounds and stockpile the speculative RBs early to increase your chance of scoring a legitimate RB1.
The elite WR talents in the league are obvious, so let’s take a look at a few players who could offer high value on draft day.
Vincent Jackson (Tampa Bay): Jackson will benefit from the easiest strength of schedule (SOS) for WRs and QBs this year. Also, the Bucs will likely trail in most games resulting in increased pass attempts and opportunities for Jackson. Rookie QB Jameis Winston will be looking to prove himself as an NFL QB and it has already been noted he has a gunslinger mentality. Teammate Mike Evans will draw most of the attention from opposing secondaries, and Tampa’s running game ranked 29th in the league last year, which should translate to an even higher volume of passing. Even with the awful QB situation in Tampa last season, Jackson was able to top 1,000 yards and 70 receptions. TD opportunities should also increase significantly in 2015 with Winston at the helm. Jackson’s ADP currently sits as the 27th WR drafted in standard formats and the 30th WR drafted in PPR. If you’re looking for potential value, V-Jax could offer a significant return on investment.
Marques Colston (New Orleans): The Saints have the sixth easiest schedule for WRs and the eighth easiest for QBs. Oh by the way, their QB is a guy by the name of Drew Brees, maybe you’ve heard of him. Jimmy Graham, Kenny Stills and Pierre Thomas are no longer with the team, leaving a total of 264 targets to be dispersed among Saints’ pass catchers. Yes, C.J. Spiller is in town and will take a chunk of those targets and second-year wideout Brandin Cooks figures to be the main weapon for Brees. But Colston will certainly see a boost in targets from the 99 he received last year, especially in the red zone where he was second only to the departed Jimmy Graham. Colston’s current ADP has him as the 49th receiver being selected in PPR drafts and 44th in standard formats. He provides WR2 upside with a WR4 price tag, precisely the kind of value you should be looking for on draft day.
WRs with an ADP that could upset fantasy owners in 2015:
Emmanuel Sanders (Denver): Sanders is coming off of an excellent campaign in 2014, and all things being equal he may well deserve his WR13 ADP, almost a No. 1 WR in 12 team leagues. But new head coach Gary Kubiak has already mentioned he plans to run the ball more in 2015 which mean fewer targets for the Broncos’ WRs. The SOS for Denver is 26th for QBs, 15th for RBs, and 27th for WRs. SOS is not the end all when it comes to fantasy performance, but these numbers align well for a team wanting to run the ball. Sanders saw an exceptionally high amount of targets (141) for a team’s No. 2 WR, and that volume inflated his fantasy numbers. With the likely decrease in opportunities for Sanders, his ADP his much too high compared to WRs with similar ADPs and more favorable forecasts such as Kelvin Benjamin and Brandin Cooks.
Jeremy Maclin (Kansas City): Maclin’s ADP isn’t necessarily all that high as the 27th WR drafted overall. However, I am avoiding this guy like the plague after drafting him as my WR2 last year. Dwayne Bowe averaged 69.4 YPG the three years prior to having Alex Smith as his QB. In the two years Smith was slinging the rock, Bowe averaged 47.5 YPG. Over a 16 game season that is worth 35 fantasy points in yardage alone. Smith, a notoriously conservative passer throughout his career, threw only four passes over 35 yards in 2014. In Philly, Maclin caught six passes over 35 yards in 2014. KC also completed ZERO TD passes to WRs in 2014. Plus, they have one of the league’s best running backs in Jamaal Charles as well as one of the league’s best backup RBs in Knile Davis, so they’ll lean heavily on the running game. Maclin’s ADP is currently one spot ahead of the aforementioned value pick Vincent Jackson. If you’re not getting Maclin at a WR 4/5 price when draft day arrives, stay away.
Remember, depth is the key for this year’s WR crop, but the drop off between the elite talent and the second wave of WRs is fairly significant. If you can’t grab a surefire RB1 but have a shot at two truly elite pass catchers, it can certainly be advantageous to forgo the speculative RB1 and cement your WR crew early in your draft. As mentioned earlier, taking this route allows you to stockpile the RBs in the middle rounds and can significantly increase your chances of finding one or two of those RBs who exceed expectations.