Links to similar discussions on other positions:
So now you’ve figured out the quarterback and tight end spots, and you’ve figured out that running back is a complete battle if you hope to land both talent and depth at the position. The final position is the fun one. Passing games in the NFL are, more than ever, spreading the ball around to multiple targets in their offenses. As a result, the wide receiver position is staggeringly deep, and despite there being some elite options, once you pass the top nine or ten receivers, the next 25 to 35 receivers (depending on how you have them ranked) are very similar in their talent, opportunity, and upside. That being the case, the dollar values at the position will, at some point, fall off a cliff during the auction. One minute, Amari Cooper will be going for $28, and 30 minutes later, Brandon Aiyuk could be going for $8. Now, more than ever, you should be paying attention to the moment that the cratering of prices begins to happen at the wide receiver spot, and you should have enough money to exploit it. In fact, it is a feasible strategy to wait until that happens and then scoop up three to five guys during that portion of the draft. However, this article argues that the optimal play is to get one or two Top 12 guys and then fill out your other wide receiver and flex spots with value at the position. The depth allows your team to take off once you add a group of wide receivers in the ADP range of WR10 to WR40. The separation between that bank of 30 players is so small that taking whatever is the best price you see is the way to stack your roster.
Now, you can decide if certain guys in that range are more attractive to you than others. Everyone’s personal player evaluations should drive their strategy, and that’s also part of the fun of doing auctions – getting the guys you like. But when talking about the best game theory approach to landing wide receivers, the most positive expected value comes from landing as many players at a discount that can perform at the WR2 level or higher. A good example of this last year was Adam Thielen, who had the price of a middle-to-low WR2 in most auctions but performed as an elite player. If you play the game right, landing three or four of those players behind your WR1 is likely in 2021 because of the depth at the position. That means that you should be compiling a list of targets of the players you do like so that when the value hits, you don’t have to think too much about whether you want the player or not. You act. This target list is where you should start. It has a mixture of low hype, high upside players that aren’t getting a lot of attention and should make for good value compared to similarly ranked players around them.
DeAndre Hopkins – The lack of excitement for Hopkins so far this draft season is something auction drafters should be monitoring. It is tempting to call Hopkins a bit of a glorified possession receiver as his average depth of target was just 8.9 yards downfield, according to Pro Football Reference. But he still demanded 160 targets and hauled in 115 receptions making him a PPR league monster. Although he only averaged 16 points per game over the second half of the season (PPR WR18!), it’s a mistake to dismiss Hopkins as an elite option. He will yet again command 150+ targets, and he plays on a team that likes to throw the football. Fantasy managers noticed how Hopkins finished the year in 2021, and his auction price is faltering as a result. Don’t think twice about grabbing Arizona’s top option if he comes at a discount like he is right now. His AAV of $34 is a solid price for a wide receiver who is one of the best in the game, and that number could fall even more with a well-timed nomination.
Keenan Allen – Through his first 13 games, Allen had 99 catches and was the PPR WR5. He barely played in Week 15 due to an injury and then ended up sitting the rest of the season. If he had finished off the season as he started it, his auction price would surely be higher than the $27 he’s drawing right now. Keeping with his 13-week average would’ve netted him a final line of 121 receptions, 1,202 receiving yards, and 9 touchdowns. Those numbers would’ve made him the #8 non-QB points scorer in 2020. Not the eighth-best wide receiver, the overall eighth-best fantasy points producer. Fantasy drafters will be enamored with names like Calvin Ridley, D.K. Metcalf, and A.J. Brown on draft day. That’s understandable. But if you call out Allen before those elite wide receivers leave the board, you’ll likely end up with a solid WR1 with similar potential at a much lower price.
ELITE QUALITIES…QUESTIONS TO ANSWER
Allen Robinson – The quarterback situation in Chicago never seems to improve. Similarly, the string of quarterbacks Robinson has had to play with during his career never seems to improve either. But is 2021 giving fantasy drafters hope in that regard? Andy Dalton might be the best quarterback Robinson has ever played with, and rookie Justin Fields has all the tools to be a difference-maker at the position. So why is Robinson’s AAV only $23 in auction drafts? Whatever the reason, if you see it happening in your auctions you should be ready to pounce. If anyone in their career has proven they are not quarterback dependent to produce, it is Robinson. Draft him with confidence, and he has a real shot to finish the year inside the Top 12 at the position.
Robert Woods – Woods finished the year as the PPR WR14 in 2020, and that made his third straight year finishing in the Top 15 fantasy wide receivers. Although he did finish as the WR19 in points per game, he caught another 90 passes in 2020 and has averaged 89 receptions per year in the last three seasons. Unfortunately, Woods has been increasingly held back by the Rams offense, and the performance of Jared Goff, as Woods’ yardage totals have also fallen each of the last three years. Injecting Matthew Stafford’s energy and experience into the equation should allow Woods’ numbers to jump back up and let him challenge for a Top 12 finish. Since he’s being drafted in the mid-WR2 territory with an AAV around $20, he is shaping up to be a value. For a player who is a lock for the Top 15, it is curious to see him drafted below that in a situation that has improved markedly since last season. Woods may not have massive upside, but he’s the definition of a fantasy player with a rock-solid floor, so he is an excellent WR2 in auctions. It is even possible for you to work your budget so that Woods is your WR3, which usually can’t be done in a snake but can send your auction roster to another level.
Tyler Lockett – Lockett finds himself on this list for the second year in a row. Fantasy drafters seem to fixate on Lockett’s inconsistency last year, which has left his ADP well below what it should be. Has any receiver put together a 100-catch season and been so disrespected the following season in fantasy drafts? One doesn’t come to mind. Lockett finished 2020 as the PPR WR8 which was just one spot behind his much-ballyhooed counterpart D.K. Metcalf. But Metcalf has an AAV of $32 while Lockett is going for just $15. Even if you look at Lockett’s points per game he still ranked as the PPR WR12. What has changed in Seattle that makes auction drafters so hesitant? Yes, inconsistency can hurt you, but the argument that “he let me down at the end of the year” is a poor reason to fade a receiver with his upside and two straight years of fantasy excellence. Lockett is what auction dreams are made of as he can feasibly be rostered as a WR3 to make your roster pop.
Tee Higgins – According to Sharp Football, nobody ran 11-personnel (three wide receivers on the field) more than the Cincinnati Bengals in 2020. They also threw the ball the 14th most times despite not having their quarterback for a third of the season. That was on the heels of passing the 6th most times in 2019. The Bengals will throw the ball and Tee Higgins will be on the field. Fantasy drafters are concerned, however, about the presence of rookie Ja'Marr Chase. But Higgins is no slouch himself. He managed to grab 67 balls and over 900 yards as a rookie, which is an impressive stat line for a first-year player all on its own. But also consider that he barely played in either Week 1 or Week 17, and Joe Burrow was hurt in Week 10. If you consider the games in which Higgins played a normal snap count with Burrow as his quarterback, he averaged 15.6 PPR points per game (would’ve been WR15) and would’ve posted a season line of 80 receptions and 1,206 receiving yards. As a rookie those are electric numbers. The presence of Chase is not something to dismiss but pushing Higgins down into WR3 territory with an AAV of just $14 is an overcorrection. He commanded 108 targets last year, and it wouldn’t be a stretch for both he and Chase to get 120+ targets in 2021. There is plenty of volume to sustain both guys. Use the Chase hype to score Higgins below his value.
Diontae Johnson – Detractors like to point to Johnson’s injury history as a reason to be down on Pittsburgh’s third-year receiver. There is also concern about how effective Ben Roethlisberger will be in what may be his final year in the league. On top of that, the Steelers seem committed to getting back to running the ball more often and more effectively. That may sound like a negative, but the Steelers struggled last year to keep defenses honest, and as a result, they found themselves to be somewhat one-dimensional with the short passing game. A running game to improve efficiency for the whole offense and take the pressure off Roethlisberger would be a tide that lifts all boats. When Johnson was available last year, he was the clear favorite for targets, and despite the drops, he still pulled in 88 receptions. Expect him to take another step forward in his third season and be a lock for 85-90 catches with the potential for more. His auction price allows you to grab him as a WR3, or even a big-upside Flex, despite the concerns he may have. That also allows you to mitigate some of the risks of injuries or drops creeping back in or a dip in pass volume. But, Johnson is the type of player that you can often find a value on, and even if he goes for his current AAV of $14 that’s a good gamble to make on the chance he’s even better in 2021 and makes your auction squad that much more explosive.
BIGGER QUESTIONS…PLENTY OF UPSIDE
Courtland Sutton – The Broncos aren’t the same team as when Sutton was putting up his breakout 2019 campaign. Most importantly there are more talented pass catchers to fight through for targets. But the roller coaster that is Drew Lock may be coming to an end for a more stable Teddy Bridgewater. Either way, Sutton’s auction price is barely sneaking into double digits in most leagues, and the perception of his 2021 value is surprisingly low for a guy that was everyone’s darling last summer. Sutton’s early-season knee injury is a blessing for his availability this year as he’s had almost a full year to rehabilitate and get his body healthy. Landing Sutton as a WR4 should be possible in your drafts, and while the risk is there, you should be salivating at the chance to land a possible up-and-coming star for peanuts in your auction.
Robby Anderson – Just like Tyler Lockett, Anderson’s disrespect in fantasy drafts this summer is surprising. Nobody knew how the wide receiver targets would be distributed in 2020 under the new coaching staff in Carolina, but what fantasy managers got was a team willing to throw the ball to Anderson on short routes and not just deep targets. This resulted in a career-high 95 receptions and a PPR WR19 finish. The thing is, he did this while scoring only three touchdowns. While he isn’t a touchdown machine, in his previous three years, he scored at a rate of 10.9% on his receptions. That would’ve allowed Anderson to score 10 touchdowns in 2020 and would’ve vaulted him up into the Top 10 at the position. Counting on a 10% touchdown rate isn’t necessarily smart, but has the Panthers’ offense gotten worse since the end of 2020 by the addition of Sam Darnold to replace Teddy Bridgewater? Arguably it has gotten better, but certainly not worse. The Panthers have little competition at wide receiver behind the top three guys and nothing special at the tight end spot. Perhaps Christian McCaffrey’s healthy return impacts Anderson’s bottom line, but he is being drafted so low he should be a target in every auction for your WR4/Flex spot.
Chase Claypool – Oftentimes the best targets in auctions are guys who have a high bust rate. That may sound paradoxical, but if you want to give your auction teams a big boost, you should try to mix some guys with a solid floor (See: Woods, Robert) with some cheaper players who can explode in the right situation. Claypool is one of those guys. It wouldn’t be surprising in the least to see him take a back seat to JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson this year, but would you be surprised to see him take a larger share of the targets? Yes, the risk is high, but Claypool’s potential is not something you should ignore for a price tag around $10. He is exactly the type of player you should be on the lookout for in your auctions. He could be frustrating to have on a roster, though, so it isn’t smart to get in a bidding war for him or to count on him for your starting lineup, but rostering him as one of your top bench receivers during auctions is a gamble you should be interested in.
Laviska Shenault Jr – If you ignore the preseason hype for Shenault and look only at what he did as a rookie, he still makes sense as a target in your auctions. But combining the two makes for a compelling case. New Head Coach Urban Meyer hasn’t coached in quite a few years, so fantasy managers don’t quite know how the offense will look. Still, the coaching staff has repeatedly talked about Shenault as one of their standout performers from offseason activities. As a rookie, he averaged 12 PPR points per game in his 13 full games, which would’ve slotted him around WR39 on the year. Considering that he is being drafted on average as the WR44 going into year two when he finished WR39 as a rookie, it seems like an exceptional spot to draft an exciting player at his floor.
Mike Williams – His auction price is rising, so keep an eye on that trend as you head deeper into redraft season. But Williams is getting attention, deservedly so, from the comments made by his offensive coordinator concerning his role in 2021. It’s worth reserving a few bucks for Williams near the end of your auctions to land him as a back of the roster wide receiver attached to the rising star of quarterback Justin Herbert.
Corey Davis – The Jets signed Davis to be their WR1 and then drafted a young quarterback to get the offense moving in the right direction after the Adam Gase experiment. All of the Jets wide receivers are practically free in auctions and should be monitored. Still, Davis has the pedigree, talent, and confidence of the coaching staff to be an immediate producer. He’s worth a gamble at the right time in your auction. Nominate Davis when people are hanging back near the end of the draft waiting for their favorite players. He won’t end up on many auction target lists, so you should be able to steal him cheaply for $4 or less.
Antonio Brown – Unfortunately, the Brown hype train has left the station, and it may be hard to get him for the right price in your auction. But he still makes the list for his upside in a juggernaut offense. He finished the year as the WR23 in PPR points per game and his last three games reminded fantasy managers of the Brown of old. He averaged 23.5 points per game over his final three contests, and while he was still third on the team in the snap count, he proved that he’s still a formidable fantasy force. If his price remains in the middle single digits, then he should be monitored for a spot on your auction team.
Darnell Mooney – The trade of Anthony Miller clears the way for Mooney to become the second option in the Chicago passing attack. He was impressive in his first season in the NFL and now gets a chance to play with a vastly improved quarterback situation. Mooney shouldn’t be more than about $3 in your auctions and has a chance to be a difference-maker with an improved Bears offense.
Jakobi Meyers - It's easy to forget Meyers is heading into just his third season in the league. He made a big leap in his second year, however. He didn't see any meaningful snaps for New England last year until Week 7. From that point on he was the PPR WR22. The Patriots did sign several new pass catchers to help the offense this year, but Meyers isn't going to disappear because of Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. Meyers will still be a starter, and he's going to command a bare minimum $1 in almost every auction. That's the kind of target to remember for a late nomination.
The lesson from recent years is that the wide receiver position is so deep that many fantasy drafters are shifting their auction dollars elsewhere. This creates a complete drop-off in the market in wide receiver pricing. Taking advantage of this anticipated gap in value is what smart auction drafters do, but it can’t just be waiting around for guys at the end of the draft. There are quite a few guys you should be targeting before similarly ranked players are off the board. This is how your auction roster can go from a solid contender to a championship team. You must play the position for upside once you’ve established your floor. Plenty of guys on this list have one, or both. Mix them, along with your market-priced cornerstones, and your roster will go to the next level.