Thursday - Jan 17, 2019

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FANTASY FORECAST: Grab that WR1!

One maxim that I’ve been thinking about recently is the old “It’s better to draft the WR1 of a bad team than the WR3 of a good team; at least he’s the clear starter.” And when I start thinking about fantasy football maxims, two things happen: (1) I start to think of ways to test the validity of said maxim, and (2) so much smoke comes out of my ears that family members think a new Pope has been elected.

I asked my trusty supercomputer, Mighty Max, to rank wide receivers by 2015 PPR score and by team. To keep things manageable, I instituted a 32-catch minimum (two receptions per game over a full season). As always, Max responded quickly and efficiently:

2015 Wide Receiver Fantasy Production by Team

WRs-1

What’s incredibly interesting to note is that 16 teams—half of the entire league— failed to field at least three receivers who met the search criteria, while one team failed to supply even two receivers who met the search criteria: the Eagles. Given the prominence of the WR position overall, this was completely unexpected to me when I pulled the numbers.

There were some noteworthy WR3 performances in 2015, but the main guys were John Brown, Tyler Lockett, Danny Amendola, Stefon Diggs and Markus Wheaton.

2015 Production by Guys that Began Season as WR3

WRs-2

Pretty impressive, right? I suppose that means we should all run out and grab that WR3 on pass-happy offenses, right? Well… maybe not. Let’s compare the WR3 guys to the WR1 guys:

2015 Production by Guys that Began Season as WR1

WRs-3

Note that I took the guys who were the projected WR1/WR3 of their respective teams in 2015 at Draft time. I’ve even been generous at giving Diggs and Amendola WR3 status, considering Jarius Wright was probably considered the WR3 and Charles Johnson the WR2 (Diggs was on nobody’s radar in August), while Amendola was probably the WR2 and Brandon LaFell the WR3.

The point to note here is that the average WR3-type produced 91.66 points (well below the previous season’s WR3 average of 128)— which bested the performance of just ONE WR1 in the NFL— Dez Bryant (for obvious reasons).

Every season, a few readers will send me e-mails claiming that if the WR3 of the best offense were taken instead of the WR1 of the worst offense, they’d be better off. Two things are wrong about that sort of thinking:

  1. No one knows which teams will sport the top offenses. We can guess, but we don’t know for sure. Injuries occur, surprising defenses pop up… did many of us think that the Packers and Colts offenses would perform so poorly, or that the Jaguars’ passing game would be so fantasy relevant?
  2. The WR3 spot tends to be a wild card to begin with; it’s not like teams draft top-round picks or sign top free agents for WR3. It’s a position that benefits from the combination of scheme and good fortune. Stefon Diggs? Really? If you had Stefon Diggs as the Vikings’ best WR last August, contact Tony Holm immediately and demand to be a featured analyst.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like the odds of my drafting a WR3 that will out-produce roughly 97% of the WR1 in the league.

So the bottom line here is: Draft the WR1 on a bad team ahead of the WR3 on a high-powered offense.

About John Georgopoulos

John T. Georgopoulos is a 23-year veteran of fantasy sports journalism. John’s Fantasy Forecast series has won the prestigious Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) award for Best Series, and he’s been nominated as an FSWA Award finalist on nine occasions. You can also listen to his weekly, non-sports NSFW opinions at The Riot.