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Wide Receiver Strategy and Rankings

Updated: Sep 5, 2020

Fishing with Dynamite.

As passing offenses in the NFL continue to take off so has the number of fantasy relevant wide receivers. More and more teams are getting smarter at ways to scheme players open, receivers are operating out of the slot to get higher percentage catches in space and it is no longer the alphas who are leading the position in scoring with a bunch of nonsense after them. Because of this it is easier to find productive receivers at all levels of the draft than it has ever been before.

Wide receiver has always been a particularly hard position to project week to week. As a community we are getting better at it. We are learning which receivers do well against certain coverages, what effects a shadow corner has on a receiver, and how the type of target a player receives predicts his future spike weeks. However, we are not perfect and in what seems like the perfect smash spot we will still draw zeroes sometimes. Wide receivers are not consistent, because they control their fate the least of any position (along with tight ends). The most talented players usually wind up with the most targets, but not always. This is why, even with the depth at receiver that we have in the game today, it is still important to draft wide receivers early. We want the most consistent and best options out there to help shape our roster.

When targeting receivers we want guys who are going to get targets. If the quarterback isn’t throwing you the ball, then it is hard to score points as a receiver. By targeting players in stable situations to last year we should be able to garner a good idea of how many targets a receiver will get again this year. Those players who were targeted heavily last year are atop our rankings again this year. They are joined by players who were either injured in 2019 (Adam Thielen), or are part of an offense that didn’t perform to expectations, but we have reason to believe a turn around is coming (Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Los Angeles Rams). We can expect a return to 2018 form for these players and buy when the rest of the market is low.

Players to avoid at receiver are usually the guys who changed teams from the previous year. They are coming into a new offense, they won’t have a rapport with the quarterback built yet, and depending on what type of turnover the new team saw on offense we won’t know what to expect in terms of target share. It is this reason that I am lower on Deandre Hopkins and Stephon Diggs than you would expect.

After the first three tiers we want to start shooting for upside and players who could leap into the top 20-30 at the position. For this we want to target receivers who are in a situation where there isn’t already a top guy being drafted in the top twenty at the position. These murkier receiver situations is where we can capitalize on a player emerging. Usually these players are in their second or third year and have had some value already. Marquise Brown, Darius Slayton, Preston Williams and Parris Campbell are some good examples of second year players who fit this description. Jamison Crowder, Brandin Cooks, Sterling Shephard and Golden Tate (don’t wanna leave any of the Giants receivers out) are some players who have been around longer but qualify here as well.

This was another strong year for rookie wide receivers, but history tells us that they won’t all be the immediate success we think they will be. I am only targeting receivers who appear to be in an ideal environment to thrive. This list would include Jalen Reagor, Brandon Aiyuk, Ceedee Lamb and Henry Ruggs. They were all selected in the first round and all either play in an elite pass offense or have an easy path to opportunity. With limited practice time to learn the playbook and get on the same page as the coach and quarterback I wouldn’t look for a huge immediate impact from any of these players. They should be drafted as high-upside backups.

By targeting receivers with high target shares early and then looking for high-ceiling, breakout candidates in the middle to end of the draft you should be able to put your team in the best position to succeed. There are more receivers than ever who will have some level of fantasy relevance, because of this we should load our benches with more back-up running backs than receivers and if we need an extra body to cover a bye week or fill-in for injury, then we can grab one out of the free agent pool. There are plenty of fish in the sea.

Updated Sept 5

Target (o) - A player we are targeting at their current ADP.

League-Winner - A player whose potential range of outcomes could swing your chances at a championship.

Riser - Someone climbing the ranks or someone I have ranked ahead of consensus.

Faller - A player who has moved down the ranks or someone I have ranked below consensus.

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