As we approach the 2023 best ball season, it’s important to reflect on the past year and analyze what worked and what didn’t work for wide receivers. By understanding the reasons behind their successes and failures, we can better prepare for the upcoming season.
In this primer, we’ll dive into the strategies and top wide receivers to target in best ball leagues for 2023. Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or a newcomer to the best ball streets, it’s never too early to start drafting for the upcoming season.
- Best Ball Draft Primers: QB | RB
- Introduction to Best Ball Leagues
- Dynasty Rookie Primers: QB | RB | WR | TE
2023 Best Ball Draft Strategy & Advice: Wide Receivers
Here’s what you should know about wide receivers as you prepare for your best ball drafts.
Wide Receiver Advance Rates
The highest WR advance rates in Underdog’s Best Ball Mania III tournament came from Tyreek Hill, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Tyler Lockett, Jaylen Waddle, Justin Jefferson, Davante Adams, Christian Kirk, Stefon Diggs, A.J. Brown, Zay Jones and Garrett Wilson.
The first takeaway is the amount of No. 2 WRs on their teams (based on ADP) drafted that delivered strong ROIs. This suggests that some great value picks can be made drafting No. 2s that are discounted solely because they are viewed as No.2s by the market. It’s not because they aren’t talented or are in bad situations. In fact, it’s the opposite in most cases, which is why they are the perfect targets in drafts. And their prices will almost always be kept in check to some extent due to the presence of the No. 1 wide receiver on their own team. Call it the “WR1 firewall.”
Among the top 10 WRs drafted, half finished with top 10 advance rates. Three were drafted inside the top five, with the other two coming at WR9 and WR10 ADPs. The other five WRs were drafted outside the top 17 including three outside the top 40 wide receivers. There was also a severe plateau in advance rate after the top 11 WRs in ADP.
When analyzing points per game in regard to advance rates, six of the top 10 scorers in points per game finished with top 10 advance rates. The ones that didn’t either suffered an injury or had their quarterback miss time. Seven of the 10 finished inside the top 10 in total points scored. Ergo, the name of the game with WR is still about scooping up value in the middle-to-later portions of drafts, with WRs counting for the biggest part of your best-ball roster.
But you can still lock in a bonafide stud early on. Eight of the top 10 drafted WRs based on ADP finished inside the top eight in points per game. And the two misses — Mike Evans and Deebo Samuel — still finished inside the top 20. But to really get your edge at wide receiver, you need to hit on these discounted No. 2 WRs in the middle-to-late rounds as the actual difference-makers/level-jumpers. The RB Dead Zone and the WR Shred Zone are one and the same from Rounds 3-6.
Be aggressive drafting WRs in this range, and be sure to load up on the position with so many roster spots to fill. Eight to nine receivers should suffice. And stack WRs not just with their QBs, but with their WR/TE teammates as well. An underrated aspect of this is that if one of them goes down or misses time, the other likely benefits from a higher target share — especially in the case of No. 2s.
For some additional context, I also looked back at the win rate percentage from the FFPC best ball drafts from 2021 and 2022.
Among the top 24 per ADP in 2021, just two WRs finished with win rates inside the top 10. Three inside the top 20. Among the top 24 per ADP in 2022, again, just two WRs finished with win rates inside the top 10. Three inside the top 20. Just goes to show how volatile the WR position can be in fantasy football and how you want to take as many shots as possible targeting the position in the middle-to-late rounds.
I’ve laid out my current best-ball WR rankings/tiers so you can better recognize the groups of players you should be targeting for the highest ROI based on their ADPs.
The tier structure in the written portion goes from S Tier (Supreme) to F Tier. It’s what the cool kids want.
Andrew Erickson’s Best Ball Wide Receiver Rankings & Tiers
Currently, I have just two guys inside my Tier S of fantasy football WRs. I’d feel comfortable selecting either of with the first two selections in best-ball drafts. I fully expect Jefferson to be the consensus No. 1 wide receiver, but Ja’Marr Chase to be right on his heels as the No. 2. Chase led all WRs in red-zone targets per game (28 in 14 games played). Therefore, he’s an extremely strong bet to finish No. 1 in red-zone targets and receiving touchdowns in 2023. His 22 receiving touchdowns through his first two seasons are the most by any WR since Odell Beckham Jr. In the games that Chase was healthy this year, he also posted a superior target share (30% vs. 28%) and identical air yards share (39%). All things being considered, Chase also has a quarterback that could easily throw for 50 TDs. Kirk Cousins is not that guy that will toss 40-plus touchdowns.
The A Tier is the exact reason why you don’t need to force WR in Round 1. I’d presume that one or two of these players falls into mid-to-late Round 2, which will make them screaming values with high advance rates.
There exists a path to these guys finishing much higher than their ranking. Davante Adams (32%), Cooper Kupp (31%), Tyreek Hill (31%), CeeDee Lamb (29%) and A.J. Brown (29%) led this tier in target share in 2022.
Kupp was originally in the S Tier, but I moved him down in regard to concerns about Matthew Stafford’s health. However, I still think Kupp will produce at a high level if he and Stafford are healthy. Last year he led all WRs in points per game (18.4) before his injury.
Amon-Ra St. Brown is one of my other favorite targets in this tier. I feel so comfortable pushing the draft button on him in Round 2 with zero hesitance to speak of.
Consider Tier B the “making the leap/back to glory/top-tier real-life No.2” tier. Because the WRs in this group are either super young players that are ascending, elite No. 2 options on their own teams or more experienced players that have already posted elite fantasy seasons.
Amari Cooper will be one of my primary targets in this range, with quarterback Deshaun Watson under center. Cooper finished as the WR9 overall and WR13 overall in points per game in 2022. His 2.11 yards per route run was the second-best mark of his career. And Cooper’s 42% air yards share ranked second among all WRs.
I also like the bet on DK Metcalf. The super-sized WR finished as the WR24 in points per game and as the WR17 overall in 2023, but I’d argue that Metcalf left meat on the bone in his first year with Geno Smith at the helm considering his final output didn’t truly reflect his alpha usage.
He was the WR12 in expected points per game based on ranking 18th in target share (25.5%) and 12th in air yards share (37%). He tied for second overall in red zone targets with Justin Jefferson.
Tier C is another group of wide receivers that are either proven commodities or players looking to make another leap.
Jerry Jeudy stands out to me as a target in this tier because he has full-blown breakout potential after an extremely underrated 2022 campaign. No player scored more fantasy points in PPR with a sub-75% overall route participation than Jeudy in 2022. And in Jeudy’s last six games: 25% target share and finished fifth in receiving yards overall. From Week 10 onward, the Broncos wide receiver led the NFL in yards per route run (2.71).
I also envision Packers WR Christian Watson taking a major step. He was absolutely dynamite as a rookie. Watson’s 25% target rate per route run is nothing but impressive-14th among all WRs with at least 60 targets. And in a must-win Week 18 contest versus the Lions, he was once again the target leader (23% target share), going for 104 receiving yards on a team-high five catches. From Week 10 onward, Watson ranked third in yards per route run (2.58). If he takes over the downfield looks in 2023 that Allen Lazard saw the majority of, prepare for a massive second-year leap.
I am also firmly planting my flag on Steelers WR Diontae Johnson to have a massive bounce-back campaign. He didn’t score last season — likely a fluke — and second-year WR George Pickens is a darling in the fantasy community. But even though DJ is still the more proven asset, Pickens is consistently drafted ahead.
Johnson’s ability to command targets — 28% target share and 137 targets (seventh) in 2022 — suggests he is a prime candidate for positive regression in many facets. His combined downfield targets and red-zone targets were the most of any player not to score in 2022. Those trends don’t tend to carry over from year-to-year. Buy-low on Johnson. He was the WR15 in expected fantasy points per game.
It’s a mixed bag of uber-talented wide receivers that find themselves in sticky situations with bad or question marks at quarterback. The best approach with these players is to not just blindly fade them into oblivion but to be extremely price sensitive. So much of fantasy football comes down to opportunity cost, and paying up for a player that will be limited by adverse surroundings is not optimal. Instead, identify the wide receivers that possess real-life talent who are also discounted.
For me, it’s going back to the steady producer in Tyler Lockett. All things considered; he’s going to be a better value than Metcalf based on ADP. Lockett outscored Metcalf, in 2022 as the WR12 overall and WR15 in points per game (22% target share). His current ADP is WR32 on Underdog Fantasy.
I also love Minnesota Vikings WR Jordan Addison in this range. He is much cheaper to acquire than fellow first-rounder and Seattle Seahawks WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba despite the former having the much better landing spot as the No. 2 WR in the Vikings offense.
Draft rookie WRs. Their ADP often does not fully capture the upside they possess. The ADP acts more like a hedge or median projection when first-year players of recent years are so much more boom-or-bust. They either hit in a big way — Garrett Wilson, Jahan Dotson, George Pickens, Drake London, Chris Olave, Christian Watson — or drastically underwhelm — Skyy Moore, Treylon Burks, Jameson Williams. They are lottery tickets that you need to draft ad nauseum during the best-ball season that are frequently drafted outside the top 36. Take full advantage.
Keep in mind that rookie WRs’ roles often grow as the season progresses. That makes them the perfect backfill targets for best ball formats that have prize structures heavily based on the final few weeks of the season. For more analysis on valuing rookie WRs post-draft, check out this article.
All four rookie WRs drafted inside the first round are inside my top 41 overall WR rankings and are ranked as top-100 overall players. Jonathan Mingo, Marvin Mims, Rashee Rice, Jalin Hyatt and Jayden Reed round out my top-ranked remaining rookie WRs.
Bateman averaged a 23% target rate and 2.38 yards per route run in a truncated 2022 campaign. There’s no guarantee Flowers hits the ground running as a rookie, and Odell Beckham Jr. is coming off a torn ACL.
Moore is in a brand-new situation with the Cleveland Browns and could emerge as the No. 2 WR in the offense. Because talent is THERE.
As a rookie in 2021, Moore was the WR2 overall during his last stretch of six games, despite catching passes from Mike White, Zach Wilson and Josh Johnson. Moore’s fantasy points per game would have ranked fifth had he continued the production for the remainder of the season. And his 12 PPR points per game average as a second-round rookie pick placed him in the same company as A.J. Brown, Deebo Samuel, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Michael Thomas, Chase Claypool and Tee Higgins.
I am buying Moore with the hopes that he recaptures that same fantasy ceiling with an upgraded quarterback and a new situation in 2023. There’s a path where he is easily second on the team in targets. And I wouldn’t completely rule out him out-targeting Cooper after we saw Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones post similar production at times in 2022. Give me Moore.