2018 fantasy receiver season preview: Draft values and fades

Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Robert Woods is going later than he should in fantasy drafts. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

There can be no debate: 2017 was a down year for Fantasy Football wide receivers. This is why just four are being taken on average in the first round this year and 13 in the first three rounds. Last year, it was five in the first round and 16 in the first three rounds.

Earlier this summer, I catalogued wide receiver average points by slot in half-point PPR (the Yahoo default scoring) from 2012-to-2017. But now I wanted to see how just 2017 played for wide receivers though, compared to the prior five-year averages. The decline is stark. On average, WR slots 1, 5, 10, 15, etc., returned just 89% of expected value compared with the prior five-year averages. So drafters are understandably more reluctant to dive into the WR pool early in drafts.

The big problem: touchdowns. The top 50 WRs last year generated 282 touchdowns. The prior year, the top 50 accounted for a total of 298. And in the heyday of zeroRB in 2014, the top 50 fantasy wide receivers tallied 339 scores.

But wide receivers remain more projectable mainly because they carry less injury risk than running backs and tight ends. And if their QB is unchanged, the only real volatility in their profiles, assuming they are still in their physical prime, is touchdown variance. They are also harder to replace off the waiver wire because WR touches are so variable for non-established wide receivers versus the running back on waivers who is starting for an injured back. So there is MUCH less waiver wire efficiency.

Conceptually, however, we really shouldn’t be focused on full-season stats. We play a weekly game, so really it’s the points per week that matter. But the default sort for these players for 2017 is typically total points. What if we compared those full-season ranks to the point per game rankings and see who moves the most? That could help us uncover some hidden values if we assume these receivers merely are able to play a full season.

It’s not just Odell Beckham who should get an injury bump. Chris Hogan was WR24 in Yahoo points per game but he’s being drafted this year at WR29. That equals a discount right now of about two rounds of ADP. Owners seem to be punishing Hogan for his 61st overall ranking, or expecting him to miss time again this year due to injury. He’s easy money now in drafts.

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Will Fuller is WR30 and that seems silly when you consider that Fuller was WR56 in Yahoo scoring. But per game, he was 28th. But this is just a slight bargain especially when you consider that Fuller is so slender for a wide receiver and thus likely more injury prone. He is trying to bulk up from 170 pounds, though.

More profitably, Robert Woods was WR18 last year in points per game but is coming off the board at WR26. That’s a huge discount — the equivalent of about a 30-overall-pick bargain. I know drafters are worried about Brandin Cooks given his big contract but Jared Goff left a lot of big plays on the field last year because he was content to have Sammy Watkins stretch the defense while he worked underneath. So why can’t Cooks and all that speed accrue one more to Woods’s benefit?

Davante Adams is being pushed up the board early all the way up from about WR10 early in MFL draft season to about WR7. He was WR8 last year in fantasy points per game (14th in overall points). With Aaron Rodgers clearly the No. 1 QB and being projected for 35-to-40 touchdowns everywhere, it’s really easy to slide Adams into the top five WRs, ahead of Keenan Allen and Michael Thomas. Heck, I could even see the case for taking him over Julio Jones in half-point PPR given how the Falcons treat throwing touchdowns to Jones like it’s against the rules. Yes, we JUST said TDs are highly variable — but can that be said of Aaron Rodgers TD passes? I think not. Adams feels like a lock for double digits and easily could log past the mid-teens.

As for a receiver to avoid, how about Pierre Garcon, who seems to be getting too much slack for being injured. He was WR41 in Yahoo per-game scoring last year. He’s coming off the board at WR32. You can say this is the Jimmy Garoppolo bump but the problem is that even if Garoppolo generates far more points than the QBs Garcon played with, that’s probably not going to matter much. Garcon has only scored 37 career TDs in 604 catches or one every 16.3 grabs. And he’s slowing down since hitting 30 with three in 119 (one every 39.7 catches). He’s going to play this year at age 32. You can do better where he’s being picked.

Similarly Jamison Crowder was 43rd in points per game and is being drafted WR36. We’re betting on him to be better in the same offense with more competition for targets and with Alex Smith instead of Kirk Cousins? Smith suddenly is some TD passing machine? This makes zero sense to me.

Robby Anderson goes behind both Garcon and Crowder and was 21st in fantasy points per game. Just take him as his QB floor is Josh McCown, who is fine, and his ceiling is the potential of Sam Darnold, who dazzled scouts with his playmaking ability in college. Anderson is arguably the best home-run hitting WR in football after Tyreek Hill.

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