Rich Hribar

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Wide Receiver Notebook

Saturday, August 5, 2017

With August here and training camps in full go, the fantasy season is turning the corner into the final stretch of the offseason. So far we’ve covered the fantasy impact from teams turning the reins over to rookie quarterbacksgame scripts and play callingscoring and efficiency per offensive possessionproduction and usage in the red zone, and top-down views of both the tight end and running back positions. That outlook of the positions for fantasy football continues as we dive into wide receivers.


It’s a Passing League

In our look at the running back position, we highlighted that the league-wide passing rate in 2016 was the highest it’s ever been in NFL history at 59.3 percent, and that six of the seven highest years in pass play percentage in league history have come since the 2011 season. The league is throwing more and more and the wide receiver position in totality is scoring more and more points.


Editor's Note: The 2017 Draft Guide provides tiers, projections, ADP reports, mock drafts for many different types of leagues, Sleepers and Busts and much more. Get the NFL Draft Guide now.

WR Fantasy Output Over the Past 10 Years


2016 18116.5 11579.5 6537 83522 501 59.31%
2015 17767.7 11468.7 6299 82560 519 59.09%
2014 17688.6 11346.6 6342 82829 485 58.24%
2013 17429.5 11315.5 6114 81603 483 58.35%
2012 17193.9 11147.9 6046 80823 491 57.65%
2011 16512.6 10821.6 5691 78618 473 57.10%
2010 16300.2 10599.2 5701 75728 480 56.93%
2009 15758.5 10136.5 5622 74292 431 56.28%
2008 15411.3 9917.3 5494 72249 412 55.43%
2007 16148.4 10367.4 5781 74658 471 56.47%


NFL wide receivers reeled in 238 more passes in 2016 than they did the year prior and produced their highest scoring season ever. We know the NFL has turned over to become a passing league and that receivers as a group were scoring more than ever, so how did the wide receiver position lose so much ground to running backs at the top of the fantasy food chain in 2016?


Top-12 WR Production Over the Past 10 Years


2016 3231.8 2135.3 1711 1109 14547 110
2015 3666.2 2442.7 1942 1244 16834 122
2014 3613.3 2464.3 1776 1164 16872 123
2013 3538.0 2408.9 1897 1144 16815 116
2012 3484.8 2306.2 1911 1187 16942 102
2011 3304.4 2293.4 1637 1023 15859 107
2010 3180.2 2186.4 1725 1018 14589 117
2009 3299.7 2202.8 1747 1118 14985 111
2008 3199.2 2157.1 1758 1073 15345 97
2007 3528.6 2387.7 1856 1143 15555 139


After a five-year run of improvement, the upper crust of the wide receiver position in fantasy had its worst collective season since 2010. Where the position was particularly stung was in the opportunity department. After WR1s averaged 162 targets per player in 2015, the group saw just 143 targets per player a year ago. While 2015 saw Julio Jones collect 203 looks to inflate that number, we also had Antonio Brown (193), DeAndre Hopkins (192), Demaryius Thomas (177) and Brandon Marshall (173) who bested or matched the 173 targets Mike Evans paced the position with a year ago. While that target dip was a large drop from the year prior, it was in line with the 149-target average over the eight years prior to that massive 2015 campaign. There should be expected recoil in the opportunity department based on 2016 being below the accustomed mean -- which should help reception and yardage totals recover some of their previous seasons' output -- but anticipating the top of the position to recoup its 2015 usage isn’t something we should expect, either, as that is an outlier here. 


WR2 (WR13-24) Production Over the Past 10 Years


WR13-24PPR PtsSTD PtsTgtRecReYdReTD
2016 2598.9 1640.1 1586 970 12539 59
2015 2723.8 1804.8 1534 926 12598 91
2014 2644.7 1754.9 1491 888 12391 86
2013 2711.0 1764.0 1598 981 12924 73
2012 2659.7 1792.9 1478 877 11982 97
2011 2540.9 1729.9 1544 808 12058 84
2010 2542.1 1704.7 1511 840 11305 89
2009 2572.9 1718.3 1438 839 12387 78
2008 2610.2 1684.0 1480 920 11825 82
2007 2614.8 1705.6 1478 933 12379 74


In pairing up the red zone and running back notebooks, we’ve covered that running backs had a fantasy renaissance in 2016 due to an inflation of touchdowns -- more specifically, short ones -- despite the position continuing to lose actual opportunity overall, and now we know which subset of players that touchdown spike for running backs impacted the most for fantasy. After a league record 842 passing scores in 2015, there were 56 fewer passing touchdowns in 2016, the fewest since 2012. The WR1 group above was affected a little bit, losing an average of one touchdown reception per player, but the WR2 group got absolutely hammered in the touchdown output department. WRs 13-24 averaged just 4.9 receiving touchdowns per player, by far the lowest total over the past decade. Rishard Matthews (nine) and Tyrell Williams (seven) were the only two receivers in this bucket that scored more than six times. We should expect the secondary level of wide receivers to score more in 2016, and players such as Kelvin Benjamin, Donte Moncrief, Brandon Marshall and Williams himself are discounted fantasy options that can be carried to WR2 status through their touchdown output alone and carry weekly upside despite not being sexy overall selections. 


WR3 (WR25-36) Production Over the Past 10 Years


WR25-36PPR PtsSTD PtsTgtRecReYdReTD
2016 2307.0 1489.7 1280 832 10444 64
2015 2268.2 1503.6 1275 760 9951 73
2014 2243.9 1354.4 1360 803 10408 68
2013 2212.4 1423.3 1250 747 10310 69
2012 2155.1 1430.5 1237 731 10312 64
2011 2086.1 1384.0 1261 716 10009 59
2010 2121.4 1371.1 1247 749 9650 66
2009 2019.8 1344.4 1093 709 9233 54
2008 2106.0 1366.0 1328 737 10431 50
2007 2102.7 1387.4 1341 703 9643 73


Now we’re really getting underneath the hood and seeing where all this increased pass volume is making its mark consistently in fantasy. A contributing element as to why each wide receiver subset declined in different areas in 2016 is the continued success of the third receiver in offenses. As NFL teams have increased their reliance on the pass game, more and more players have been incorporated into a per play basis than ever before. WR3 production has increased in each of the past five seasons from a fantasy scoring perspective. Three or more wide receiver sets have increased in every NFL season over the past decade. Last season, teams used three-plus wide receiver sets on 78 percent of passing plays as opposed to a 55 percent rate 10 years ago. More wide receivers now have the opportunity to impact fantasy on a per play basis than ever before, and their role has been increasing for five straight years.


To wrap this portion up, the bullet points here are that league-wide passing is still climbing and along with that, WR3 usage is climbing. That may have a point shaving effect on the top of the position, but that trend had not impacted those groups beforehand, so it’s harder to just make a blanket statement that therefore those tiers solely dropped off because of it a year ago. On top of that, rushing scores had massive recoil due to the increased rate of short range opportunities and should be expected to normalize to pre-2015 totals, which impacted the secondary level of the receiver position more than anything. If you’re expecting a 2015 type season from the top of the fantasy wide receiving group, you’re going to be disappointed, but the position is deeper and better than ever before while the league is still operating in a direction to funnel points into the position.


WR Archetypes


By now, you’re used to me going on and on about getting to know how players score their points over their cumulative point total at season’s end, and the wide receiver position is the most diverse position we have in that regard for fantasy. We inherently know there are different positions within the position, but all of the players get shaded under one umbrella for scoring and analysis. If you are following a linear list of rankings, tiers, or projections, you may end up in a draft where those are guiding you to select Amari Cooper, Brandin Cooks, Tyreek Hill and DeSean Jackson as your wide receiving unit, all players that score their fantasy points in a similar fashion. Sure, you’re going to run into some monster weeks when the stars align for that group, but you’re also going to heighten the variance of your team performance and run into many low scoring weeks because each of these players scores their stats in a similar fashion.  Inversely, you don’t want to end up with a receiving stable of Jarvis Landry, Stefon Diggs and Julian Edelman because you’re going to have a receiver corps that is littered with high floor/low ceiling plays that is reliant on volume over producing touchdowns. The goal should be to be build a diverse receiving stable with both upside and roster smoothing capabilities weekly to provide lineup versatility. By crafting your tiers around how players score their points instead of overall point totals, it allows you to map out possible arbitrage situations in your drafts as well. Here, we’re going to highlight some of those buckets of receivers.


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Rich Hribar is a husband, father, sports meteorologist and a slave to statistics. A lifelong sports fan and fantasy gamer. You can find him on Twitter @LordReebs.
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