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  • Writer's pictureJeff Trela @jtrela20

Wide Receiver Draft Strategy

There is so much chatter in the fantasy football community about "Zero Running Back Theory". The hypothesis behind it is basically the same as looking at a closer in baseball, there will be turnover and there will be viable starters to gain with FAAB dollars rather than draft capital. You will see a lot of this in industry level FREE leagues. This is simply click bait by attention seeking "experts" who are being different for the sake of being different. In the Scott Fish Bowl, the premier tournament among all of the industry's biggest names and sharpest fans, someone went so far as to wait until round 12 to select their first running back. I may be an old coot, but I'm just not leaving a draft without a solid baseline of two running backs through the first five rounds. It's simply a case of supply. Yes, I can add a running back with my FAAB dollars when a role changes, but wouldn't it make so much more sense to add them as a flex/speculative starter along side an Aaron Jones or Joe Mixon rather than as a key contributor to your weekly lineup?

Let's take a basic look at the inventory. Most teams do use a multi-back system in today's NFL. For use in this exercise, let's say every NFL offense averages 1.3 competent, point scoring running backs that are viable roster spots for your fantasy team. That gives us a theoretical 41 running back inventory. With a standard 12 team league, that starts two running backs, that leaves us 17 backs to consider for your flex or bench spots, or a meager 1.4 running backs per fantasy team for a total of 3.4 per team. Add in a few sharp owners who know that their bench should be made up of 4-5 running backs, you're simply at a deficit before the draft is half way over.

Looking similarly at the wide receiver inventory, you can go nearly fifty receivers deep and still be averaging double digit fantasy points. Most teams go four receivers or more deep, but let's consider the minimum of three for this exercise, giving us a whopping inventory of 96 competent point scores. In a vacuum, that means there are 55 more receivers that will help your team than running backs. Sorry to all the Zero RB truthers out there, but your theory is churnalism. Zero Wide Receiver is the way to win fantasy leagues in 2020.

Looking at ADP, players such as DJ Chark, Brandin Cooks, Mike Williams, and Preston Williams are being drafted as a WR4 , but offer WR2 upside. I've always believed in all aspects of fantasy that you can fix any deficiency with volume. The 2020 wide receiver landscape is certainly no exception. Taking the running backs at the top of the draft and putting three or so players in this tier onto your team puts you in a position to bump up the quality of your QB and TE. Imagine having a team that starts Alvin Kamara, Miles Sanders, and Pat Mahomes. Then finishing it off with James Conner, Tyler Lockett, Brandin Cooks, Mike Williams, and Evan Engram. The ADP allows it, you just have to realize the extreme depth of the wide receiver position and have the guts to do it. And no, quarterback chicken is not necessary if you know and trust the wide receiver player pool.

If you are playing in best ball formats, which is probably my favorite, you can stretch this much, much further. In a format where you don't have to deal with the week to week variance, you can certainly win at wide receiver with volume. The average top 12 wide receiver will score as a weekly top 24 at the position about 70% of the time. Players such as Mecole Hardman, Hunter Renfrow, Sammy Watkins, Allen Lazard, and Dede Westbrook are all available outside of the top 100 and are sure to make your lineup several times per year. In this format, I would get one true high floor receiver and enjoy the booms from these such deep sleepers, since you aren't required to predict them and don't have to deal with the agony of a 40 point breakout on your bench.

Another landmine in the 2020 wide receiver player pool is the deep inventory of rookies. Many pundits have called this draft class the greatest ever at the position. (As a devy player, I'm going to burst this bubble and say the 2021 class is even better!). There are some future Canton candidates in Jerry Jeudy and Cee Dee Lamb, and some real toolsy players such as Brandon Aiuyk, Jalen Reagor, and Henry Ruggs.....we can go another ten players and it's still very exciting. Just one issue, it's 2020. Covid-19 has reared it's ugly head and training camps, OTAs, and team meetings have been delayed or outright cancelled. Coaches, many of whom are trying to install a new system, don't have access to the players as they usually do. Wide receiver is historically one of the positions which takes the longest transition from college to NFL. Many of these future studs come in with a limited route tree and skill set in run blocking. Often they are coming into the league having come from a college program where the language and detail of the game is elementary compared to the NFL. Under normal circumstances, it's a slow and difficult transition. Heck, even getting used to getting two feet in bounds and the clock not stopping after a first down takes practice.

DK Metcalf last year had one of the best rookie seasons in recent history in 2019, finishing with 58 catches, 900 yards and 7 TD, but it was week 9 before he had his first game with more than five receptions. Terry McLaurin, the my top rookie wideout from 2019, had a nearly identical 58 catch, 918 yard, 7 TD line, burst onto the scene with a 125 yard performance in week 1, identifying himself as the clear alpha in the Redskins (can I still say that?) offense. It was, however not until week 10 that a 1-8 team offered him double digit targets. Everyone's consensus top rookie, AJ Brown, had his first, and only, double digit target game in week 14. It's very simple, rookie wide receivers take time to develop, and this year's class, albeit it studly, will be more behind than recent years.

It's simple, if you are playing redraft, there is too much helium on this year's rookie receiver class. I'd play it safe with young veteran receivers such as Mike Williams or Sterling Shepard who can be drafted even later than the top rookies. They may be boring, but the floor and consistency will do your fantasy team wonders. If you need involvement, save it for best ball, or let your league mates do the drafting and trade for these rookies after the inevitable slow starts.

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