The wide receiver position gets thin quickly in 2018. On the Main Event Draft Bootcamp, Pat Kerrane, Peter Overzet, and I looked at the barren hellscape that is the fourth and fifth rounds at the position. Instead of wasting picks in these high-value rounds, follow the evidence for five deep starters at WR.
These WRs are your best bets in five categories: Bounceback, Breakout, Forgotten Veteran, Fifth-Year Changing Teams, and Last Round Pick. Be sure to target these guys in your final drafts or swing them in trades this week. They should be much more expensive just days from now.
The Bounceback Candidate – Tyrell Williams
Williams broke out as a second-year WR with 216 points despite having only scored 17 the year before when he was an undrafted rookie. Those who’ve read the second-year breakout article know that these receivers average over 200 points in Year 3 and go on to stronger careers than those who break out later.
Of course, Williams didn’t score 200 points. He disappointed badly, leading to questions about his ability to bounce back.
Blair Andrews wrote what I consider to be the must-read column on the topic, and he pointed out an interesting element of bouncebacks.
Both success and failures lose opportunity in the year in which they decline. Both also underperform expectations in the year they decline. But the failures underperform to a much larger degree. In other words, not only do efficient players tend to bounce back more often, but many of the successful bouncebacks are able to maintain their efficiency even while their total scoring declines by 50 points or more.
Surprisingly, you’re not looking for injured players or inefficient players as you might guess. In fact, you’re looking directly at Williams.
Williams improved his efficiency even as his volume declined, and that’s despite dropping several long passes that might have gone for big plays. The volume situation with the Chargers is dicey but intriguing. High stakes drafters are making a big gamble on Mike Williams – a gamble I like, as I’ve been stockpiling Mike all offseason – but the price for Tyrell doesn’t reflect the injury to Hunter Henry and the potential for solid target volume across the top three receiver positions.
The Rookie Breakout – Christian Kirk
Could Kirk be this year’s JuJu Smith-Schuster? Both Kirk and Courtland Sutton share traits that parallel the rise and fall and rise of Smith-Schuster in the collective fantasy mind. Kirk broke out as a true freshman at Texas A&M with 1,009 yards receiving and a key role on special teams. He never took the next step, but he didn’t collapse either. He checks both of the key boxes for outperforming his reality drafting position – early breakout age and declaring early.
Opportunity shouldn’t be an issue on a team with the second-most air yards available.
In my recent Main Event, Kirk went at 14.10 or WR67. The approximately 94 points implied by ADP are 30 below my model’s projection, making him an excellent bargain.
John Lapinski recently demonstrated that numerous receivers from this rookie class are historically undervalued. Kirk was one of his targets.
The Elderly Vet in a Perfect Position – Mike Wallace
A few weeks ago I argued that Nelson Agholor was one of the best bargains in fantasy, but he still wasn’t even the best value on his own team. That would be Mike Wallace, a veteran addition who had better volume peripherals in 2017, albeit in a role he probably won’t serve in Philadelphia.
A couple obvious takeaways from my work on breakouts and Blair Andrews’ work on bouncebacks: It’s difficult to reach 200 fantasy points, and it’s difficult to bounce back when you’ve fallen from those levels. Wallace bounced back nicely from his down 2015, and though his 2017 again featured a mild drop, his weighted opportunity rating (WOPR) returned almost to the level of his WR20 season in 2014.
Wallace should soak up many of the targets vacated by Alshon Jeffery early in the season. Despite the perception – and reality – of his decline over the last four years, he’s outscored ADP in three of them. With his current ADP not reflecting either his production profile or his 2018 opportunity, he’s poised to do so again.
The Fifth-Year Player Changing Teams – Ryan Grant
While you generally want to avoid WRs who are changing teams after a strong season, there is one area where we want to target these players instead.
It may seem like fifth-year WRs would have already emerged as key cogs if they were ever going to do so, but that’s not the case. We actually see a bump in fifth-year breakouts for two reasons: This is the point when late-round receivers finally work their way into position to be successful.
And this is also where a team change can be the catalyst to make that happen. Last year, I recommended Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin for that reason.
While Paul Richardson has an excellent chance to be this year’s Woods, Ryan Grant is even less expensive and has a chance to be this year’s Goodwin. Lapinski penned an excellent case for Grant in “The Sleeper In Plan Sight.” We also have reason to believe the Colts WRs are undervalued as a group,1 which puts Grant in great position as the likely No. 2 behind T.Y. Hilton.
The Last Round Pick – Tyler Boyd
While Josh Doctson and Sterling Shepard are excellent third-year breakout candidates – the risk/reward profiles are decidedly in your favor at their respective ADPs – Tyler Boyd has a chance to outproduce them. And he’s absolutely free.
I draft Boyd in Round 20 of every league. There’s no competition for his fantasy services because he gained 225 yards last year. The previous year’s production is the strongest indicator for this year’s production, and Boyd almost washed out of the league.
Fortunately, Boyd finished strong with the 49-yard TD that knocked Baltimore out of the playoffs. In a feel good story for a season that needed one, Bills fans, ecstatic to have made the playoffs, donated tens of thousands of dollars to Boyd’s charity.
Boyd has built off of that momentum with a preseason where his performance contributed to the release of Brandon LaFell. Now he only has to fight John Ross for opportunities opposite A.J. Green in what should be a much improved offense.
We shouldn’t ignore Boyd’s terrible 2017, but that’s built into his price. For the cost of a roster spot, we can take a flyer on one of the best college receivers in recent memory.
It’s never a bad sign when your top three comps are Randall Cobb, Stefon Diggs, and Antonio Brown. Among the similar players we have first-year breakouts (Keenan Allen, Michael Clayton), second-year breakouts (Cobb, Brown, Diggs), third-year breakouts (Sidney Rice), and sixth-year breakouts (Antonio Bryant).
Boyd’s 2017 season is the most important because it was the most recent, but it’s also the aberration when seen within the context of the rest of his resume. Even if he doesn’t fit onto your roster in 16-team leagues, be sure to have him on your Priority Watch List.
We’ve reached the homestretch, everyone. Good luck in your final drafts, and get those trade offers out. Be sensitive to price. If you can’t snag a specific player in one league, try a different league and/or a different player from the list.
- Based on Blair Andrews’ study of QB ADP to WR ADP. (back)