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Was a WR-Heavy Strategy Effective in 2021? (2022 Fantasy Football)

Jul 2, 2022
Cooper Kupp

Earlier in this offseason, I wanted to see if I could conclude which draft strategy was most effective in the 2021 fantasy season. If you’re interested in the research results, please see this article.

Today, I’d like to dive back into this question and look closely at one draft strategy: WR-heavy. The question today, as opposed to my earlier research, is to ask if the strategy was effective in 2021 rather than to determine if it was ultimately the best. Many managers have moved away from a more traditional approach of drafting RBs early and often instead of focusing more aggressively on the WR position.

For anyone unfamiliar with a WR-heavy strategy, the premise of this draft style is that a manager must draft WRs primarily over the first six to seven rounds. Once a draft reaches the eighth round, most rosters are stuck drafting for depth or to fill in any missing roster spots.

It’s essential to determine what strategy you want to take with you to start your fantasy football drafts in 2022, and I hope the following information helps guide you.

*The analysis in this article is based on 12-team half-PPR scoring leagues and focuses on scoring leaders through Weeks 1-16 because most fantasy leagues finish in Week 16.

Fantasy Football Redraft Draft Kit

Facts from the First Four Rounds

In 2021, according to ADP (average draft position), the first four rounds of half-PPR leagues saw 19 WRs selected, 20 RBs, five QBs and four TEs. In other words, the world was relatively split as far as the RB-heavy vs. WR-heavy crowds go. So let’s check some facts to see if WR-heavy drafters found more success than the RB-heavy drafters.

  • Seven out of the 19 WRs selected in the first four rounds finished the season without missing more than two games. In contrast, 12 of the 20 RBs selected in the first four rounds missed two or more games, meaning that the WR position suffered fewer absences than the RB position.
  • As noted in this article by Isaiah Sirois, the most rostered fantasy players for playoff and championship teams were WRs. Cooper Kupp was rostered by 14% of playoff rosters in 12-team leagues, and Amon-Ra St. Brown was rostered by 23% of championship rosters. Beyond that, the top-five most rostered playoff roster players included three WRs and two RBs. Of the championship rosters, the top five consisted of four WRs and one TE. The takeaway here is that more consistent success was found by players who targeted the WR position than any other position.
  • 12 of the 19 WRs taken in the first 48 overall were selected in the third round or later. Only two WRs had a first-round ADP. Both of those WRs, Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill, finished in the top five. In contrast, nine of the 20 RBs taken in the first 48 overall were selected in the first round. Of the first-round RBs, four of the nine finished inside the top-12 at the position, and only one finished in the top five at the position. Anyone who selected an RB not named Jonathan Taylor in the first round in 2021 was disappointed by the season’s end. The opposite can be said about managers who targeted the top WRs.
  • The average total score (Weeks 1-16) of the top-10 scoring WRs was 231.3 points. The average total score (Weeks 1-16) of the top-10 scoring RBs was 230.6. The takeaway here is that the best of the best at both positions ultimately averaged out to a nearly identical total score.
  • Both the RB and WR positions share one stat: 25% of the players who finished in the top-12 at each respective position were selected outside the draft’s first four rounds, meaning that an equal number of the top-tier players were found in the first 48 overall players. However, due to the RBs being selected so heavily, so early, the WRs showcased more consistent high-end value throughout the first four rounds.
  • The three WRs who finished in the top-12 at the position but weren’t selected in the first four rounds included Diontae Johnson, Ja’Marr Chase and Deebo Samuel. Johnson was selected 54th overall, Chase was selected 71 and Samuel selected 82. Any manager going with a WR-heavy approach would have had all three of these players on their radar and would have likely scooped them up. The three RBs who finished in the top-12 at the position but weren’t selected in the first four rounds included Leonard Fournette, James Conner and Cordarrelle Patterson. Fournette was selected 86th overall, Conner was 96 and Patterson was 252. The contrast here shows something that I believe is significant when considering the WR-heavy drafting style. The RBs who presented significant value later in the draft had lower base values than the WRs of a similar level. WR-heavy drafters would likely have been targeting the WRs who had considerable value and then pivoted to filling their roster needs by the time the RB values were being drafted. That assumption certainly carries theoretical implications, but to ask whether the WR-heavy draft style was successful in 2021, this information shows that the potential to find value was ideal. 
  • The average weekly score of the top-12 overall scoring WRs was 15.48 points, while the average weekly score of the top-12 scoring RBs was 16.22. The difference in per-game value between a top-12 RB and a top-12 WR is .74 points. This represents, perhaps, the greatest disadvantage to the WR-heavy approach. The RB position has a greater ability to score. The WR position is less injured but also scores at a lesser rate.

Conclusion

I greatly admire the WR-heavy drafting style, though I feel physically ill if I leave the first few draft rounds without grabbing at least one RB. A clear advantage of the WR-heavy style is that the WR position is much healthier than the RB position. With season-long value available throughout every draft round, it’s clear that WR-heavy drafters had an easier time making the fantasy playoffs than RB-heavy drafters.

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Tim Metzler is a featured writer at FantasyPros, known for multiple article series, including 5 Under 25, Expert Consensus Rantings, his in-season Running Diary and his dynasty IDP rankings. For more from Tim, check out his archive and follow him @Timmy_The_Metz.

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