Fantasy Football draft guide for finding receiver value

Relying on two stats can help guide your quest to draft wide receivers.
Relying on two stats can help guide your quest to draft wide receivers.

Let’s continue our positional analysis for fantasy football drafts by looking this week at wide receivers. Don’t forget to check out my zeroRB thoughts and recommendations from last week. And substantive debate in the comments is highly encouraged, so join me there.

I have two ways of looking at wide receivers that I’m hoping are more predictive in tandem. The first is relative yards per target. That’s simply yards gained every time the team targeted a specific wide receiver minus what the team gained on all targets to wide receivers. The other key for me is that wide receivers generally ride the wave created by the quarterback; so we want our wideouts tethered to quarterbacks who do best in the broadest-sample measure of performance, yard per pass attempt.

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The receivers I’m recommending here are those who are playing with a quarterback who has displayed yards per pass attempt success over a three-year sample (if applicable, but whatever sample there is if he hasn’t played that long) while also being better than his team average wideout in his efficiency (measured by yards per target). It’s a pretty exclusive group. I’ll also note Yahoo ADP and I’ll take them in the order of their yards per target advantage over their team’s wide receivers. I’ll finish with a couple of wideouts who don’t play with quarterbacks who are bettable when it comes to efficiency but who last year were far superior in yards per target compared with their team’s wide-receiver average.

Rishard Matthews was third on our list and now plays with a good YPA quarterback, trading up from Ryan Tannehill to Marcus Mariota. Matthews is good enough to project as the Titans No. 1 WR and can turn 130 targets into at least 1,200 yards if last year was real (10.9 yards per target or 38.2 percent better than all Miami WRs). His ADP is his biggest selling point: 131st and owned in only 2 percent of leagues.

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Sammy Watkins has injury concerns of course but was 26 percent better than all Bills wideouts last year and plays with a QB in Tyrod Taylor who had an elite YPA in 2015 (8.0). If healthy, he’s a steal at Yahoo pick 34 on average.

Terrance Williams, Yahoo overall pick 127 on average, was 20 percent better than Cowboys WRs generally on 93 targets and gets Tony Romo back this year (we hope). Note Dez Bryant, who of course played hurt last year, was last in this stat (of 74 qualifiers with at least 60 targets) at minus-26 pecent in relative yards/target (72 targets). I am NOT saying Williams is better than Bryant. I’m saying Williams is likely better than we think and thus a value close to that ADP.

Dorial Green-Beckham does well in all metrics except “being liked by his coaches.” That of course is a big problem. DGB is being viewed much less favorably by the Titans brass, it seems, than his on-field performance last year: 18.5 percent better than his Titans teammates. While he’s probably not as good right now as Matthews, he certainly seems good enough to start opposite him. The price to see if this model is correct is the 124th overall pick.

Travis Benjamin was 16 percent better than his Browns receivers. Of course, that is the epitome of damning with faint praise. But maybe Benjamin becomes DeSean Jackson with Philip Rivers at a price about four rounds cheaper (130th overall on average). Rivers over his career is a YPA king, so you’d be betting a return to that form, too (last year he was uncharacteristically average).

Vincent Jackson, who is so big and thus more prone to aging poorly according to history, was much better than perceived last year at 14 percent better than other Bucs WRs. He’s a bargain at ADP (126). And don’t be hesitant with Mike Evans (6 percent better), either. Jameis Winston was great in YPA last year for a rookie (and better than average, period).

Doug Baldwin (46th overall) and Keenan Allen (25) are worthy of their ADPs, too. Russell Wilson is just insanely good at 10.0 per wide receiver target. NFL average on throws to WRs is 7.8. And Baldwin is clearly his best receiver (plus-4 percent vs. minus-4 percent for Tyler Lockett).

All the smart guys hate Markus Wheaton (117) and love Sammy Coates (127) but Wheaton (plus-4 percent) was as effective per-target as Antonio Brown. So maybe the public is smart. Martavis Bryant? He was minus-8.5 percent in target efficiency compared with his fellow Pittsburgh WRs. Commence with the excuses.

Two guys who don’t have good quarterbacks but who were so much better than teammates and thus well-worthy of ADPs are the leader in the statistic Kenny Britt (51 percent better in yards per target than other Rams) and Torrey Smith (+39 percent). You can have each for a song. Britt (Rams) isn’t even being drafted. Smith (49ers) only costs on average the 118th pick.