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Putting 2019 in Context: The Middle Rounds Still Belong to Wide Receivers

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the performance of running backs who were drafted in Rounds 3 through 6 of best ball drafts — also known as the “RB Dead Zone” — and found that the 2019 group scored 29.2% more fantasy points than the 2015-18 average. However, despite posting such high point totals, the average win rate for these RBs was just 7.8%. How is it possible that these RBs posted such a pedestrian average win rate even though they scored so many points?

In this article, we’ll examine the flip side of the coin — wide receivers — to answer that question and discuss how you should leverage all of this information in your 2020 best ball drafts.

How did the Rounds 3-6 wide receivers do in 2019?

In a word: amazing. Chris Godwin’s 16.2% win rate was third among all WRs and ninth among all players. Ten of the 23 wideouts in this range posted a win rate above 10.0%, and 14 of 23 had an above-expectation win rate. Eight of the 12 WR1s were drafted here. For reference, just five of the 19 RBs drafted in Rounds 3-6 had a win rate of 10.0%, seven of them were above-expectation, and five RB1s were found here. The average PPR output of these WRs was 187.6 and the average win rate was 9.1%, both of which easily surpassed the respective value for RBs.

How do the Rounds 3-6 wide receivers usually do?

In a word: amazing. It’s true that 2019 was an above-average year, but the point remains that these rounds have long been a lucrative place to draft WRs.

 
Round 2015-18 Number of Players 2015-18 Average PPR Scoring 2015-18 Average Win Rate 2019 Number of Players 2019 Average PPR Scoring 2019 Average Win Rate
3 22 200.4 9.2% 6 181.9 8.4%
4 26 169.4 8.8% 6 181.3 8.2%
5 20 170.2 9.2% 8 215.1 10.7%
6 20 139.3 8.4% 3 138.8 7.7%
Combined 88 170.5 8.9% 23 187.6 9.1%

If you recall from Part 1, there were three reasons that RBs were able to have such a banner year in 2019: good health, more volume, and improved efficiency. The RBs in Rounds 3-6 truly needed to hit the trifecta in order to post such gaudy numbers. This year’s WR group falls much more in line with previous years.

 
Year Games Expected Points Points per Expected Point
2015 12.5 182.4 1.08
2016 12.6 158.7 0.98
2017 11.8 140.2 1.03
2018 13.5 170.7 1.09
2019 13.0 168.1 1.12

There’s no denying 2019 was a very solid year for these WRs, especially from an efficiency standpoint. The 1.12 points per expected point this group recorded was a five-year high, which explains why the average points and average win rate were even higher than usual. The health and volume numbers this year align perfectly with the other years in the sample. 2017 is an obvious outlier — on the whole, it was the lowest-scoring season for wide receivers this decade, which is shocking considering how the NFL has transformed into such a passing-driven league over the years — but the other four seasons offer a pretty safe estimate about what we can expect from WRs drafted in Rounds 3-6.

It is also possible that wide receiver efficiency is going up leaguewide, as the past two seasons have seen the two highest Fantasy Points Over Expectation totals for the position as a whole since 2000 (as far back as the RotoViz Screener goes). However, most of that is because non-fantasy-relevant wideouts are getting more efficient, but WR1-3 types have also gotten slightly more efficient over time as well. Still, the increase isn’t enough to be sure it’s anything more than variance, so you can’t expect the WRs in this range in 2020 to be as efficient as those in 2019.

A Side-by-Side Comparison

When you put the two positions side by side and compare them with one another, it becomes glaringly obvious that you should be hammering WRs in the middle rounds. In Part 1 of this series, we talked about how almost everything had to go right for running backs to put up so many points this year. In spite of that, RBs in Rounds 3-6 still posted a below-expectation average win rate for the fifth consecutive year. Meanwhile, the WRs in this range definitely had an above-average year, but it wasn’t as out of the ordinary as what happened with the RBs. WRs finished with an above-expectation average win rate for the fifth year in a row.

 
Year RB Average EP RB Average Points RB Average Win Rate WR Average EP WR Average Points WR Average Win Rate
2015 132.5 131.0 8.1% 182.4 197.1 9.2%
2016 132.9 138.1 8.1% 158.7 156.2 8.4%
2017 152.5 146.7 8.1% 140.2 144.5 8.8%
2018 112.0 113.9 6.9% 170.7 186.4 9.2%
2019 162.3 169.7 7.8% 168.1 187.6 9.1%

If almost everything went right for dead-zone RBs this year and they still posted a below-average win rate, it doesn’t make much sense to target them next year. As we talked about in Part 1, the sudden spike we saw this year is almost certainly due to variance, so it would be logical to expect a return to normalcy in 2020.

Win Rates are Imperfect

Win rates can be incredibly useful, but they do need context to be analyzed correctly. In 2019, Christian McCaffrey posted the highest win rate ever recorded (by six percentage points!) at 36.7%. Most of the breakout running backs — Aaron Jones, Derrick Henry, Josh Jacobs, among others — had an ADP late in Round 3 or early in Round 4. If you had one of those guys, you probably did not have McCaffrey, and that puts you at a disadvantage right off the bat because of how ridiculously good he was in 2019. On the other hand, breakout WRs like Godwin, Tyler Lockett, and D.J. Moore had ADPs that allowed owners to nab McCaffrey in the first round and one or two of them a few rounds later. This likely explains some of why RBs had such a low average win rate this year, but the gap between the two positions is large enough that it does not explain everything.

How to Attack 2020 Drafts

You should still hammer mid-round WRs in best ball drafts. RBs in Rounds 3-6 played more games, got more volume, and were more efficient than any other year in recent history and still posted an average win rate of just 7.8%. On the other hand, the WRs in this range continued doing what they do and had an average win rate of 9.1%. The RBs in this range have had a below-expectation win rate for five straight years and the WRs have been above-average for five straight years. Make no mistake about it: The middle rounds still belong to wide receivers.

Image Credit: Steven King/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: D.J. Moore.

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