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.
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:
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.
- 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.
- 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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- 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)