Better in Best Ball Wide Receivers

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Turn on any stream or talk to any friend about a best ball draft and you'll likely hear, "he's better in best ball" shouted at some point. It's something that we know (or we think we know) is true, but we don't often think about how much these "better in best ball" players may be impacting our roster.

Fortunately, former Rotoworld OG and current Underdog Fantasy analyst Hayden Winks developed a metric to quantify this saying that has become a staple in the industry.

Enter "Better in Best Ball Points". You can find Hayden's article HERE, which I strongly encourage you to read, as he lays out the metric and the math behind it.

In his article, Hayden looked at better in best ball points for half-PPR scoring due to the format over at Underdog. With my preferred format being full-PPR scoring, I went ahead and decided to take a look at which players popped in "BB points" during the 2021 season in hopes of also finding some players who could help us turn a profit in 2022.

NOTE: Weekly PPR finishes are courtesy of Pro Football Focus. Advanced stats and metrics courtesy of RotoViz, RBSDM.com and FootballOutsiders.

A Look at Better in Best Ball Points
As previously mentioned, I wanted to find out which wide receivers were better in best ball last season in PPR scoring. This can easily be applied to Best Ball 10 drafts -- which use full-PPR scoring and requires you to start three receivers each week.

As Hayden did in his article, I went ahead and looked back to find the average WR36 finish from last season -- 11.5 PPR points per game -- which becomes the baseline for points that a player has to score on a given week to crack our lineups. Any time a player met or exceeded 11.5 points in a week, his score was then subtracted from the baseline to reach his weekly BB points total.

Take for example Cooper Kupp, who posted 23.8 points in Week 1. When we subtract his Week 1 total from the baseline we see that Kupp totaled 12.3 BB points that week (23.8-11.5=12.3).

Kupp, to the surprise of no one, dominated in BB points last season, ranking first in total points with 242.1 and BB points per game with 14.2. His 2021 was so impressive that he was the only receiver to eclipse 200+ BB points -- Davante Adams was second with 162.5.

You won't be surprised to know that players who are good in real life tend to still be good in best ball. But it's the players we don't think highly of who often get the "better in best ball" tag in conversation. Do you know that one receiver you hate agonizing over every week in your managed redraft league? That guy is "better in best ball" -- maybe.

Below are two charts. One showing players' PPR points and BB points. The other showing how individual players ranked in both categories.

2021 Wide Receiver PPR Points vs. BB Points
2021 Wide Receiver PPR Points vs. BB Points

  

2021 Wide Receiver PPR Points Rank vs. BB Points Rank
2021 Wide Receiver PPR Points Rank vs. BB Points Rank

While it's interesting to note the difference in PPR points vs. BB points, how some of these individual players ranked is where I'd prefer to hone in.

Take for example Jakobi Meyers in PPR formats. The New England slot man ranked 30th in total PPR (182.5) and averaged 10.7 PPR/gm. The people will tell you he was a model of consistency -- that we can rely on him to give us a steady floor.

I do agree that Meyers was a model of consistency. However, in the context of best ball, that consistency was mostly bad. His 10.7 PPR/gm should serve as a red flag as we now know that falls below our 11.5 baseline. Despite a strong receiving line of 83-866-2 last season, Meyer's BB points (26.8) ranked 51st among the 158 players in our pool. Players like Emmanuel Sanders, Jarvis Landry, Allen Lazard and even Patriots teammate Kendrick Bourne all provided more BB Points than Meyers despite finishing below him in total PPR.

Jets rookie wide receiver Elijah Moore, who was limited to just 11 games last season, finished as the WR33 in BB points (46.6) despite ranking 50th in total PPR with 138.2 points. Moore surpassed the 11.5 point threshold in five games last season and added meaningful contributions with three top-12 weeks that totaled 77.6 points. His impact on best ball rosters led to an 11.1% win rate -- a well-above-average win rate for a player who missed nearly half the season.

In a format like best ball where the goal is to collect the most points possible every week, players who possess safe floors aren't as safe as we build them up to be. If they aren't making our lineups, they're borderline worthless.

Knowing this, let's take a look at some players who truly proved to be better in best ball in 2021.

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Last Year's Studs

Elijah Moore (NYJ)

PPR Rank: WR50
BB Points Rank: WR 33
Differential: +17

You'll notice that each player I cover will have a differential under his PPR and BB rankings. This is simply PPR rank minus BB points rank and is used to provide context on how much better a player was in best ball. A +17 differential suggests that Moore, when active, was one of the best players to have on our best ball rosters.

Continuing with the praise for Moore, a common theme among these elite best ball players is high-level efficiency or touchdowns -- sometimes both.

In the case of Moore, he has room to grow from an efficiency perspective. The explosive rookie ranked 33rd in yards per route run (1.75) and 34th in YAC/rec (4.8) but also found the end zone six times -- including once on the ground. Moore was also targeted on 24% of his routes -- ranking 19th in the league and tops on the Jets.

On a per touch basis, Moore averaged an impressive 2.88 PPR per touch (min. 40 touches) -- besting players like Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, A.J. Brown and CeeDee Lamb in said metric. He fell narrowly behind Cooper Kupp (2.94) and Justin Jefferson (2.92).

As a deep threat, Moore also secured 8-of-20 deep ball targets for 193 yards and a score. His ability to play in the short and intermediate parts of the field makes him a reliable week-to-week option, but his downfield capabilities only boost what is already a very high ceiling for the second-year player.

Playing in a Jets offense that should take a significant leap forward in 2022, Moore is likely being undervalued at his low-end WR3 ADP.

Robert Woods (TEN)

PPR Rank: WR52
BB Points Rank: WR42
Differential: +10

Coming off a torn ACL that ended his 2021 campaign, Robert Woods now looks to reignite his career with the Tennessee Titans.

The 10-year vet has spent the last five seasons with the Rams, where he enjoyed massive amounts of both real and fantasy success. Before his injury, Woods was boasting a receiving line of 45-556-4. Under the new 17-game schedule, he projected for 85-1051-8 through the air and roughly 14.0 fantasy points per game.

Last season, Woods managed four top-24 finishes in nine games, including three top-12 finishes in which he totaled 65.1 fantasy points. During his time with the Rams, he finished as a top-24 receiver in 48% of his games, proving to be a consistent producer and a player capable of the coveted "spike weeks" with 26% of his fantasy finishes falling within WR1 territory.

Set to enter his age-30 season, Woods should still have something left to offer -- assuming his leg holds up. With reports about rookie wide receiver Treylon Burks being less than stellar to start the season, there's a legitimate possibility that Woods breaks camp as the Titans' top receiving option.

Switching from an explosive Rams offense to a low-volume passing attack like the Titans' may limit Woods' weekly ceiling, but that feels baked into his WR43 ADP.

Tee Higgins (CIN)

PPR Rank: WR24
BB Points Rank: WR16
Differential: +8

I've been on the Tee Higgins bandwagon all offseason, and I won't stop now. As a matter of fact, I'm in on nearly every Bengal.

Higgins turned in an impressive rookie season in 2020, going for 67-908-6, only to post a line of 74-1091-6 in 2021, despite playing in two fewer games. His +8 differential feels more impressive than teammate Ja'Marr Chase's differential of -1, but Chase had nowhere to go but up -- finishing as the overall WR5 in PPR and the WR6 in BB points (134.7). Higgins finished the year with 83 BB points.

Currently going as a low-end WR1 in PPR drafts, the bar has been set incredibly high for Higgins heading into 2022, but it's a bar I think he can reach. In short, I think the Bengals will come out as a far more aggressive team this season.

Looking at Cincinnati's 58% pass rate in neutral game scripts last season, one might think the Bengals were already an aggressive passing team -- they weren't.

In a move that was likely done to protect Joe Burrow from his JUCO offensive line, Cincinnati ranked 13th in early-down pass rate (52.2%) despite an unimpressive rushing attack that ranked 19th in rushing EPA (-0.097).

The Bengals often found themselves playing catchup with the yardsticks posting a 2nd & medium DVOA of -8.3% (24th) and a 3rd and 4th & medium DVOA of -12.3% (23rd) -- likely the byproduct of an underwhelming rush game that was too often utilized on early downs.

As the Bengals made a push for the playoffs last season, they saw their early down pass rate jump to fifth in the final month of the season (55.7%). Come playoff time they were chucking the ball at a 60.7% rate on early downs.

Bengals 2021 Early Down Pass Rate Full Season
Bengals 2021 Early Down Pass Rate Full Season

  

Bengals 2021 Early Down Pass Rate Week 15 to Week 18
Bengals 2021 Early Down Pass Rate Week 15 to Week 18

As the season wore on, Cincinnati grew ever so aggressive with the pass. Now, with three free agents and a fourth-round rookie brought in to bolster the offensive line, 2022 could be wheels up for a receiving attack that boasts two of the best young receivers in the league.

Kadarius Toney (NYG)

PPR Rank: WR89
BB Points Rank: WR64
Differential: +25

Did you know Kadarius Toney was good at football? Many had their doubts at the start of this season, as the former 20th overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft brought an explosive style of play to the field, but only saw one solid year of production at Florida.

Toney offered us a limited 10-game sample in 2021, totaling 39 receptions for 420 yards on 57 targets. Despite a rather impressive highlight reel, Toney failed to find the end zone as a rookie but totaled more BB points than guys like Calvin Ridley, Rashod Bateman and Mecole Hardman -- who by the way is not better in best ball despite the year's long claim.

In his 10 games, Toney crested the 11.5 point threshold just twice but was buoyed by a 29.6 point output against the Cowboys in Week 5.

Toney's 2.1 BB points per game put him on pace for 35.7 BB points on the season, which would have been good for the WR37 -- and that's without him scoring any touchdowns. It seems #good to me.

Like most Giants not named Saquon Barkley, Toney can be acquired relatively at a generous cost. He's going as a low-end WR4 in an offense that could be on the rise under first-year head coach Brian Daboll.

How to Play it in 2022

It wouldn't be fair to say that a player who posts a strong season but struggles in BB points isn't a contributor -- we know several are. After all, a guy like Hunter Renfrow, who ranked 10th in total PPR was 17th in BB points -- he was excellent last season, but offered fewer BB points than Tee Higgins, despite ranking 14 spots higher than Higgins in total PPR.

Highly efficient players on a per-play basis and those who frequently find the end zone will carry added value -- makes sense -- but there's something to be said of the perceived "safe floor" guys who devour targets but not touchdowns.

Jakobi Meyers served as an example earlier in this article. And I just mentioned Hunter Renfrow -- who yes, was still good.

Christian Kirk is another receiver who posted impressive PPR totals (206.5, WR26) but finished as the WR31 in BB points (49.7). The same can be said of Tyler Boyd and his PPR finish (182.0, WR41) relative to BB points (40.6, WR36).

When drafting these best ball rosters, chasing players who present either a diverse skillset (Elijah Moore) or the capability to turn any reception into a long score (Marquez Valdes-Scantling) seems optimal.

I haven't touched on MVS to this point, but his differential in this exercise was a strong +23 last season with the Packers. Valdes-Scantling ranked 81st in total PPR with 81.0 points and was 58th in BB points (23.5). Despite managing just three top-24 weeks last season, MVS did so on five or fewer catches in each week and came as a massive value with an ADP of 203.6. Valdes-Scantling enters what could be a very solid role with the Chiefs this season as they look to find a cheap replication for the role vacated by Tyreek Hill.

Veteran deep man DeSean Jackson is another prime example. Jackson did little in the way of high-end fantasy production but had a +26 differential thanks in part to two weeks in which he caught a combined six passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns.

Knowing which of these players could turn in the right week at the right time can be tough.

Two players who immediately stand out to me are rookies Tyquan Thornton of the Patriots and Velus Jones of the Bears.

Thornton enters 2022 with second-round draft capital and was the fastest receiver of the 2022 NFL Draft -- blazing a 4.28 40-yard dash on his way to Bill Belichick's heart. While his role heading into this season is uncertain, one would have to imagine Thornton will find his way into the end zone on a few deep passes at some point. He's virtually free in best ball drafts.

In regards to Jones, the Bears invest third-round draft capital in the former Tennessee product. While he's been the butt of every age joke known to mankind, Jones is another receiver who possesses ideal draft capital and elite speed (4.31 40-time). He's yet another player whose role at this time remains uncertain, but could luck into a few big scores. Jones is another receiver you can acquire in the final round of most drafts.