Wide receiver is one of the easier positions to project in season-long fantasy. Typically, the same WRs finish in the PPR Top 24 nearly every year. Nevertheless, most years several of these top-scoring WRs are overlooked. I made this realization and started charting yearly finishes to identify those WRs. This research led to some interesting results when cataloguing the historical odds of rookie draft picks.
Yearly positional ranking has become the backbone of my preseason analysis. It has dynasty and re-draft application. It provides a snapshot with a simple number indicating how a player’s statistics compared to the rest of the league.
The grids that follow highlight the PPR finishes by year for a player’s career. Fantasy football is a weekly game and there are numerous variables that can affect a player’s year to year statistics. Despite this, the Top 24 is very sticky year over year. What you’ll notice from the grids is that players who finish in the Top 24 have a high likelihood of achieving this feat again and again. Larry Fitzgerald has finished inside the Top 24 10 times over his career. A relatively small number of WRs have dominated the position and that trend looks to continue.
Here are the 62 WRs with 3 or more Top 24 years since 2000.
Footnote: All stats are from FFtoday.com. The names in black are active and names colored red are retired. Many at the bottom of the grid had more Top 24 finishes in their career but the data catalogued for this only extended to the year 2000.
26 of the listed players have three or more Top 12 finishes, highlighted with an asterisk. Rod Smith, Derrick Mason, Vincent Jackson, Greg Jennings, Mike Wallace and Jimmy Smith only had two Top 12 years but had five or more Top 24 years. These 32 WRs are the definition of true dynasty assets.
Here’s where it gets interesting. This is the count of top scorers by year.
An astounding 81.9% of the Top 12/WR1 years are in this grid. Eighteen of the Top 24 spots are also included.
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Next to join this list with one more Top 24 in their careers are the following players.
If all seven of these receivers have one more Top 24 finish in their career they would join the 62 pushing the yearly percentages even higher.
Mike Evans, Odell Beckham, Emmanuel Sanders, Golden Tate, Michael Crabtree, Julian Edelman and Pierre Garcon were on the two Top-24 performances list last August. There’s no reason to assume this trend of WRs with three or more Top 24 seasons can’t continue at the rate it has.
These are the WRs that never surpassed two Top 24 years. Victor Cruz is probably a long shot.
There have been 56 WRs that had only one Top-24 year since 2000. These are the active WRs with one season.
Of the 16 active WRs shown above, (Josh Gordon is included) it’s safe to assume several of these will go on to multiple Top-24 years and join the 62 above, and some won’t repeat their Top 24 seasons.
How does age factor in?
30 years old is often the age assumed that WRs will lose a step, but that hasn’t been the case for most elite wide receivers. Here are the finishes for the 62 WRs (45 were still playing) at age 30.
While some did hit the wall at age 30 or retired (Calvin Johnson), most were still producing at a high level. There were plenty of Top 12 finishes for the age 31/32 WRs. This should make dynasty owners of WRs in their late 20s, that already have three or more Top 24 seasons, very optimistic for future-years performances. Several of these age 30 or older WRs were league winners following an off year. The “Bad Season Discount” on Steve Smith was a massive value in drafts at age 31 in 2011. The same was true for Reggie Wayne at age 34 and Larry Fitzgerald at age 32.
To add context to the grids above, many of the top-producing years can be correlated with elite quarterbacks. Here are the QBs that have supported two Top-24 PPR WRs in the same year.
Footnote: Josh McCown shared the field with Kurt Warner in 2005 and Jay Cutler in 2013. Warner was also assisted by Matt Leinart in 2006. Michael Vick started 12 games in 2010. The balance started 13 or more games.
An average of four quarterbacks per year will have two Top-24 WRs. This means 12 NFL teams will be without a Top 24 WR. For the most part, the same QBs and offenses are producing the top scorers.
The QBs at the top of this list are behind a significant number of the Top WR seasons.
Peyton Manning supported three Top 16 WRs (Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Brandon Stokley) in 2004 and 2013. Kurt Warner just missed with three inside the Top 25 WRs (Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Steve Breaston) in 2007. Had TE been included as a WR, Tom Brady would have had three Top 24 WRs (Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez) in 2011.
All three of Aaron Rodgers’ starting wide receivers have at least one Top 24 year. It’s in his range of possibilities to match the type of seasons Manning, Warner and Brady had. If this happens, Nelson, Adams and Cobb could all be significant producers.
The quarterback that supports top-scoring WRs is typically underrated. Carson Palmer just missed having five years with two Top 24 WRs. His WR2s finished WR25 in 2013 (Michael Floyd) and 2015 (John Brown).
Eli Manning has only had two years in his career without at least one Top 24 WR and now has two perennial studs in Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall. Denver’s starting QB (currently Trevor Siemian), Jameis Winston and Joe Flacco also have the distinct benefit of having two WRs with three or more Top 24 finishes.
Putting this Analysis into Action
Draft as many WRs on this list as possible
There are 45 active WRs listed in the grids above. 29 of the receivers have two or more Top 24 seasons. These are the best bets to do it again.
Balance your roster
First-time WRs are sure to break in. There were five first-timers in 2016. If you’re taking a WR that doesn’t yet have a Top 24 season, draft proven depth to overcome the possibility that he doesn’t break out. Take advantage of older WRs who may be undervalued.
Exploit the Bad Season Discount
Some of those that may be see a “Bad Season discount” include Dez Bryant, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall. They won’t all hit, but there’s league-winning potential there.
Capitalize on a WR2 with a QB that has a history of supporting two WRs
When drafting a WR2, ask yourself this question. Can this quarterback and offense support two Top 24 WRs? Better yet, which 12 teams won’t have a Top 24 WR?
Filling your flex spot with a WR is still the optimal way to score the most points in a PPR league. Having multiple WRs that finish in the Top 24 increases your odds of making the playoffs. History gives us the profile of a multi-year top-performing wide receiver as outlined here. The trend of WRs filling a higher percentage of those tops spots could continue.