The fantasy football sphere offers a lot of excellent team evaluation tools. These applications do a good job at what they’re designed to do – tell you if you’ve addressed the various positions with players projected to score well by experts. This obviously has value. If you select expert-favored players at a value to ADP, your team is unlikely to finish at the bottom of your league.
But there are also potential flaws. For example, we know that both experts and ADP end up with poor year-end accuracy, which nullifies a lot of the value we might otherwise gain from a methodology that emphasizes the relationship between those two elements. By contrast, the majority of my teams that have won Main Event league titles were the result of poor drafts, at least according to team evaluators before the season.1
This could be the result of a disconnect between what we think should work and what actually does in practice. If this is true, we want to see the evidence. That’s where the Roster Construction Explorer comes into play. It shows you what actually works. In the Best Ball Workshop No. 11, we learned that owners are not playing Rounds 2 through 5 correctly, mostly because conventional wisdom pushes us in the wrong direction.
Don’t be fantasy football’s Daniel Snyder. Today, we look at five players you should target if your goal is to win your league … not the offseason.
The RCE’s Key Insight
We know from the Best Ball Workshop No. 8 that drafting an RB in Round 1 sets us up with the highest win rates and the most future flexibility.
So far, so good. With the rise of the uber-back, there’s nothing controversial about landing one of the studs early. After that, however, we want to avoid RBs until at least Round 6.
RB1 in Round 1, RB2 After Round 5 2015-2018
We discuss this in a lot more detail in Lesson 11, as there is some flexibility within the general framework, but additional RBs decrease your chances of winning. Select a third RB, and win rates start to fall off a cliff. It just gets worse from there. With that in mind, we want to attack other positions in these rounds.
Early Round Targets – 5 Must-Have WRs for Your Roster
The Fanball Dashboard provides a wealth of features when it comes to digesting ADP, and the Draft Grid is one of my favorites. This lets us visualize ADP as though it were an actual draft.
We know the WR position is undervalued as a group. Receivers who are also undervalued within the position make perfect targets in the high-leverage rounds.
ADP: WR14 Our Ranking: WR9 Screener Ranking: WR12
Despite missing a game last season, the WR who’s almost synonymous with RotoViz finished seventh in targets (148), eighth in receptions (102), and tied for eighth in TDs (9). Diggs is definitely the complete package, but while he earned significant volume in 2018, our AYA tool tells us it was a down year from an efficiency perspective. His adjusted yards per attempt with Kirk Cousins came in well below his numbers with Case Keenum, Sam Bradford, and Teddy Bridgewater.
The Vikings are expected to emphasize the run in 2019, a mindset that could curtail his targets while (ideally) improving the per-play value. Diggs is one of the NFL’s most well-rounded WRs, making it all the more frustrating that he was used heavily but not creatively a season ago. Expect him to break free for a higher percentage of big plays in the reconfigured offense.
ADP: WR16 Our Ranking: WR14 Screener Ranking: WR15
Already entering his sixth year in the league, Cooks will still be only 26 years old in 2019. Although never quite a superstar, he puts up elite WR2 numbers like clockwork.
Cooks has played for three different teams over the last four years, but he’s crested 110 targets, gained at least 1,000 yards receiving, and earned a receiving market share between 18% and 21% in each of them. Playing in a trio of high-powered offenses, he’s been a lock to outperform his volume, scoring 40-plus points over expectation (reFPOE) in three of those seasons, including 2018.
His debut season with the Rams led to a career high in yards (1,204) and market share (21%) but his lowest TD numbers since the abbreviated rookie campaign. With Cooper Kupp returning, Cooks is likely near his target ceiling, but his efficiency numbers could jump again, especially if he finds the end zone more frequently in his second year in the scheme.
ADP: WR27 Our Ranking: WR23 Screener Ranking: WR14
Boyd was one of the main drivers behind my successful 2018 season, and I know Ben Battle would agree with my disappointment that our staff ranking isn’t even higher. Ben details why Boyd is one of 3 Elite Buy Lows in Dynasty.
Last year wasn’t a fluke. Boyd entered the league as a tremendous prospect with star comps, and the Bengals No. 2 crushed the higher-profile A.J. Green on a per target basis.
I’m loading up on every member of the Rams trio, but the Screener projects Boyd to score more points per game than any of them. It also projects him to outscore his veteran teammate. Many owners will no doubt be concerned about Green’s return and the impact that will have on Boyd’s volume. While a healthy Green probably lowers Boyd’s ceiling, he also raises his floor and has an overall positive impact. He was much more explosive last season with Green on the field.
ADP: WR21 Our Ranking: WR18 Screener Ranking: WR35
Over the last couple of months, Moore has gone from my highest-owned dynasty player to just one of my higher-owned assets. Every other trade offer I get is for Moore, and almost all of them are serious. In several cases I was able to turn him into three times what I’d paid for him in last year’s rookie draft, a good example of Perpetual Reloading, an idea I explored in A Quick Reminder That Rookies Are Free In Startups.
But even if I’m willing to sell in dynasty, I’m feverishly buying in redraft, including in this year’s MFL10 of Death, where I was lucky to snag him at WR21.
Why are we buying if the Screener is less enthusiastic? Projection systems have a hard time dealing with rookie year numbers within the context of the overall field of players.4 That’s why we want to focus specifically on second-year players. In his excellent series on this topic, Cort Smith uses the Screener to find the most similar players to Moore. Two names instantly jump out: Larry Fitzgerald and DeAndre Hopkins. Both players absolutely exploded in their second seasons. Hopkins was actually the disappointing one of the two with only 1,200 yards and 6 TDs.
Just how exciting is Moore this season? Curtis Patrick explores the 1 Stat That Makes Him Absolutely Sure Moore Is The Real Deal.
ADP: WR25 Our Ranking: WR24 Screener Ranking: WR27
While Moore’s comps include a living legend, I made the case last week that Ridley is the Next JuJu Smith-Schuster. Outside of Moore, all of the players on this list are being discounted because they’re not the clear No. 1 in their own offenses. Of course, that can sometimes even be a benefit if the offense has enough total volume. Smith-Schuster finished as WR8 last year despite being a second-year player in the same offense as Antonio Brown. It helped that the Steelers finished No. 1 in Expected Points to WRs.
The Atlanta Falcons were No. 2 in that category, and their 688 EP outdistanced the seventh place Chicago Bears by more than 100 points.
Ridley is being drafted below his rookie year finish (WR20), and while that’s almost always a misleading comment to make,5 there are plenty of reasons to believe he’s being drafted below his floor. In my longer piece on the Falcons emerging star, I explain why you should be relentlessly targeting second-year players and why Ridley’s undervalued resume is even better than Smith-Schuster’s was a year ago.
Image Credit: Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Stefon Diggs.
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- These were redraft leagues as opposed to best ball leagues. My assertion here is simply that what actually works in a given format may be different than what a VBD/ADP combination suggests. (back)
- I’m not opposed to hyperbole, but that’s not what this is. Those values really are crazy. (back)
- I describe how the Screener Projections work in Lesson 9. I’m using PPG instead of full season numbers to make sure receivers who missed part of the season aren’t overly penalized. (back)
- Remember, Year 2 is the only one where expect a player’s scoring to actually increase from the previous year. (back)
- For example, the Screener has him at WR27. (back)