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Fantasybuzzer.com

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I finished an auction draft last year with Jordy Nelson, Pierre Garcon, Josh Gordon, and Golden Tate as my primary wide receivers. Sounds good, right? You should have tried telling me that right after I finished that draft. While I recognized those were all good pick ups in theory I had zero confidence that any of them would pan out. I liked Nelson a lot, but he was coming off of a year where he had been hampered due to injury. Garcon was also coming off an injury, as was his quarterback. Gordon was suspended for the first two games and played for the Cleveland Browns. I actually felt most confident about Tate, a talented receiver who was clearly his team’s top receiving option.

Of course, you can probably guess how that turned out. Nelson was a beast, right until Aaron Rodgers got injured. Alfred Morris ended up starting for me in the flex instead of Tate. Gordon blew up and Garcon became a PPR monster. Combine that with LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, and Julius Thomas–yeah, the league was mine with minimal effort.

At the time, I felt very lucky that my team turned out that well. I still do, but not nearly as much as I used to. That’s because I believe the very reasons I felt so shaky are inextricably linked to why I did so well. Confidence is the enemy. Recently, I wrote a piece about how I am very confident that DeAndre Hopkins will outperform his draft position, even if he doesn’t end up being a league-winner. I still am. I’m less confident in sophomore WRs like Justin Hunter and Tavon Austin. If I told you that Hopkins would end the year as a WR1, Hunter as a WR2, and Austin as a WR3, how confident would you be in that projection? Probably not very. But if I simply told you that one of them would be a WR1, one a WR2, and one a WR3, you’d probably be more confident in that prediction. That’s simply because it’s less specific . . . but when you think about it, the result is essentially the same. If you had all three on your team, would you really care who ended up as the WR1?

That’s the crux of my main strategy for this year and beyond. If you put too much focus on projections for individual players you open yourself up to prediction errors and don’t properly account for potential upside.1 So my goal is to get four running backs and ideally a top-level tight end, and possibly even an elite QB, before I draft a single WR. I’ll then draft six or seven undervalued WRs with considerable upside. My primary targets are sophomore WRs, big-bodied potential breakout third- and fourth-year WRs, and WRs with sizable injury discounts. Yes, my strategy is to just throw a bunch of mid-to-late-round WRs against a wall and see what sticks.

As an example, here’s a list of ADPs and positional finishes for 2013’s sophomore WRs. I included all the sophomore WRs that had an ADP here

WR ADP Finish
T.Y. Hilton 7.5 WR19
Josh Gordon 8.9 WR2
Justin Blackmon 10.6 WR94
Chris Givens 10.9 WR81
Michael Floyd 10.12 WR25
Alshon Jeffery 11.7 WR8
Kendall Wright 12.6 WR20
Ryan Broyles 12.11 WR139
Rueben Randle 13.3 WR51
Mohamed Sanu 14.10 WR66
Rod Streater 16.5 WR33
Stephen Hill 16.12 WR101
Brian Quick 17.1 WR103
A.J. Jenkins 18.8 WR129
Nick Toon 20.1 WR149
Jarius Wright 21.10 WR86

There are probably very few people who had a top two finish in mind as a potential outcome for Josh Gordon, or a WR81 finish as a potential outcome for Chris Givens. But both happened, and it’s not like either of those events really took outrageous circumstances to come to fruition. Gordon was just an incredibly talented player on a team who ended up passing the ball a lot, but that was also probably partially due to how talented Gordon was. Givens just continued to be an OK guy on a team with a lot of other receiving options, just like he was in 2012. He just happened to be fantasy relevant one year and not the next.

I actually do put a lot of emphasis on ADP with this strategy, that way I’m leveraging the wisdom of the crowd. That may seem contradictory, since the strategy is also dependent on market inefficiencies. But just because drafters undervalue certain sets of players compared to the general population, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re highly inefficient within those sets. By specifically targeting undervalued archetypes, leveraging ADP data, and leveraging other market inefficiencies like size, you’re getting a lot of positive expected value while heavily protecting yourself from prediction errors.

Here’s a list of WR candidates for this strategy this year, with ADP from here:

WR ADP Profile
Terrance Williams 8.5 Sophomore
DeAndre Hopkins 9.5 Sophomore
Rueben Randle 10.4 Third-Year
Tavon Austin 10.4 Sophomore
Justin Hunter 10.12 Sophomore
Hakeem Nicks 11.7 Injury
Kenny Stills 12.3 Sophomore
Markus Wheaton 12.5 Sophomore
Kenny Britt 13.6 Injury
Aaron Dobson 14.7 Sophomore
Robert Woods 15.7 Sophomore
Andre Holmes 17.2 Fourth-Year
Kenbrell Thompkins 17.8 Sophomore
Mike Williams 18.4 Injury
Marlon Brown 19.11 Sophomore
Da’Rick Rogers 21.1 Sophomore
Charles Johnson 21.6 Sophomore
Stephen Hill 21.6 Third-Year
Stedman Bailey 22.1 Sophomore
Brian Quick 22.3 Third-Year

The only sophomore WRs with ADP data that I didn’t list are Keenan Allen and Cordarrelle Patterson since their respective ADPs are incompatible with this strategy. After playing around with this list and the Snake Draft Planner, I really like the way things turn out. I encourage you to do the same.

This strategy happens to gel very well with a robust Zero WR strategy. I mentioned earlier that one of the main strengths of this strategy is that you avoid prediction errors at the WR position. Of course, since you stock up on RBs early you also avoid prediction errors at that position as well. This strategy also avoids the value-based drafting pitfalls that provide a lot of the motivation for the Zero RB strategy. Yes, I’m absolutely trying to have my cake and eat it too.

Here is a summary of the strengths and weaknesses of this strategy.

Strengths

  • Allows you to field a potentially dominant WR group at discount prices. This is an even bigger advantage in leagues that only require you to start two WRs.
  • Avoid prediction errors at both WR and RB.
  • Allows you to acquire numerous RBs early, as well as elite TEs and elite QBs.
  • Risk-averse drafters can still acquire one WR early to offset some of the risk. Also works in years where there are a less-than-ideal number of targets.
  • As season progresses and your WRs increase in value, you gain increased flexibility in trades. If your WRs don’t pan out you can trade your earlier picks to patch the weakness.

Weaknesses

  • Requires a large enough pool of sophomore WRs, potential third- and fourth-year breakouts, and bounce back injury candidates to be viable.
  • Requires that you accept a considerable amount of risk and uncertainty when drafting your WRs.
  • RBs are riskier early round picks than WRs.
  • Benefit less from the ability to find RBs on the waiver wire, especially in leagues that do not allow trading.
  • Risk is significantly higher in leagues that do not allow trading, given that you can’t trade your early picks to address potential shortcomings at WR.

This strategy does require some level of risk tolerance, but I actually don’t think it’s as risky as it seems. True, if you pick the wrong players or it’s just a bad year it might not work out for you. But you can really say that of any strategy. I think being overconfident in your player projections is a bigger risk. The biggest risk of all is to not take advantage of market inefficiencies for the sake of being risk-averse.

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  1. Or downside for that matter. My point is just that your projected range of outcomes for a player is probably much narrower than their actual range of outcomes.  (back)
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12 comments
EsbenVestJensen
EsbenVestJensen

I tried to do a version of this strategy in a 12 team league tonight. (no PPR) I wouldn't wait on my first WR, but after the first one i waited. 

From the 4th spot I went RB - Julio - RB - RB - QB - RB - QB - TE and only after that, I startet drafting WR again. I got Terrance WIlliams, Aaron Dobson and Rueben Randle. (and Reggie Wayne who doesn't fit this strategy as well) 

I really like this strategy.

BSchujasNYG
BSchujasNYG

Well, I've certainly cornered the Hopkins market in all of my leagues. I've been thinking about this strategy for some time now. I have my 4th auction tomorrow. I think I'm gonna get Jordy, who I've managed to land for under $35 with some frequency, and then wait on WRs. Maybe I'll "splurge" and get Floyd for $15-20, or Torrey for $12-15, but I definitely want to allow my budget to corner those bargains at the end, e.g., Decker, Hopkins, Hunter, Randle, Dobson, etc.


I think it's likely that at least one of these guys hits and massively outproduce the collective price-tag of all of those WRs...combined. Bench space will be the only drawback, but I should be able to land quite a foundation at RB, TE, and maybe even QB -- enough to where I don't need to allocate bench space to effectively stream. 


Solid article.

screwj
screwj

I used exactly this strategy last weekend. 12 team league I ended up with: Kaepernick, Torrey Smith, Brandin Cooks, Kelvin Benjamin, Toby Gerhart, Shane Vereen, Julius Thomas, Rueben Randle, Terrance Williams, Lamar Miller, Justin Hunter, Bishop Sankey, Josh Gordon, Marcus Wheaton, Trenton Richardson, and Carlos Hyde. What do you think about my team?


ChitownFEW
ChitownFEW

Just did a 14 team NFFC last night and exactly what I did from the 9 spot. Went Julio, Cobb, 4 RB, QB, Britt, Wheaton, Nicks. Like it a lot. Good stuff.

pkerrane
pkerrane

I like the thinking behind this strategy a lot.  If you tell me that individually Hopkins or Hunter or Randle or Dobson is going to have a top 10 season this year it sounds a little crazy but if you tell me ONE of them will, not so crazy.  


I also like this strategy because it aims to win. Just like zero-RB you're scooping up a bunch of high upside players who will hit big if they hit.  So if the strategy works it's likely to really work and create a dominant team.  If it fails your team runs the risk of being terrible but I'd almost rather come in last that 5th anyway.


I think I may try this out in my PPR work league where we start 1QB/2RB/2WR/1TE/FLEX. Since I only need to fill 2WRs I can flex an RB for the first couple weeks and then switch over to a WR once one of my breakout targets (hopefully) breaks out.  

Musky5
Musky5

We all know that every week is important. Say this is the strategy you use and then week one comes along.. Who are you starting? Seems to me most potential breakouts don't really happen until at least a quarter of the fantasy season is done, if you are getting like 10 points combined from 2 WRs how many of those matchups can you win. It is possible, I know, but combine that with having to pick the CORRECT breakout players leaves me a little uneasy. Give me a top 10 WR and then I like your strategy for filling the WR2 spot and possibly flex if more than one break out.

mhoward2131
mhoward2131

I have a draft tonight and pick 6th in a standard league that starts 2RB 2WR TE FLEX. My plan A was to draft Graham, an RB, and Gronk in the first 3 rounds. Probably an RB in the 4th and 5th, unless everyone is going Robust RB and the WR value becomes too good to pass up. This just confirmed that thought. I love the late WR value and being a non-ppr league this makes even more sense. Great article.

Justin Winn
Justin Winn

@EsbenVestJensen Thanks. I'm not really opposed to players like Reggie, just for the sake of the article I tried to limit to certain profiles. He's definitely being discounted for his age/injury, but I'm not sure if he's being fully discounted for both. Could easily end the year as a top 20 WR.

mhoward2131
mhoward2131

@pkerrane Honestly in a PPR league I would lean toward the inverse of this strategy. I would draft TE and WR early and fill in the RBs with the Fred Jacksons the Kniles the Pierres and all the late round guys. WR is too valuable in PPR I would personally want to start 3 studs and use my flex as a WR.

johnthetallman
johnthetallman

@Musky5 But if you have Brees, Graham, and 2-3 great/good RB, then you're in good shape no matter what happens at WR during the first few weeks, as long as they aren't a disaster, of course. I think this is a viable strategy, especially if you have an early draft pick. It may be a little bit more difficult with a late pick, depending on your preferences at RB.

Justin Winn
Justin Winn

@Musky5 I would probably say it's more accurate that we don't realize who is breaking out until a quarter of the season is already done. But admittedly that is one of the risks you have to accept with this strategy. Of all the guys I have listed, Williams has the highest ADP in the 8th, so there's definitely a good bit of room to get a WR before then.

pkerrane
pkerrane

@mhoward2131 @pkerrane I agree that filling the WR position is the most critical in PPR but with just 2WR starters + FLEX I'm wondering if I can - as Justin says - have my cake and eat it too. I'll cede points for the first few weeks but if my targets hit I'll actually be strong at WR plus have a better likelihood of being strong at QB/RB/TE.  


Any more than 2WR starters and I'm looking to go load up on WR early and often but I'm thinking the shallow starting requirements might make this strategy viable even in PPR.