Should You Be Drafting More Wide Receivers in the First Round?

Should You Be Drafting More Wide Receivers in the First Round?

By John Paulsen (Senior Editor), last updated Jun 23, 2015

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John was named the Most Accurate Fantasy Football Expert by FantasyPros for the 2010 and 2014 seasons, finished as runner-up in 2011 and 4th in both 2012 and 2015 for a total of five Top 5 seasons in the last six years. Cumulatively, John was the most accurate expert from 2010-15 while also winning the 2011 Fantasy Sports Trade Association award for the most accurate draft rankings. 

Follow John on Twitter: @4for4_John.

As I was pulling together data for the LeVeon Bell article earlier this month, I compiled some actual, year-end production numbers (in PPR leagues) for the top five running backs drafted in each of the last 15 years. The idea was to find out just how dependable the top running backs are on average. The results were interesting.

Production by RB Rank (ADP)
Year 1 2 3 4 5
2014 12 7 127 3 6
2013 10 56 47 1 27
2012 3 4 16 12 25
2011 15 3 1 102 9
2010 6 5 7 13 16
2009 2 4 12 34 24
2008 6 9 8 39 15
2007 2 15 36 7 4
2006 1 3 33 6 2
2005 2 1 5 31 55
2004 18 2 11 17 9
2003 2 9 6 1 16
2002 10 11 6 3 1
2001 34 1 113 20 13
2000 2 1 3 12 72
Average 8.3 8.7 28.7 20.1 19.6
Top 6 60% 60% 33% 33% 27%
Top 12 80% 87% 60% 53% 40%

The results indicate that the top two running backs drafted yield top 6 (elite RB1) numbers 60 percent of the time and top 12 numbers (RB1 numbers) 80-87 percent of the time.

As we proceed through the draft, the numbers decline from there. Running backs drafted in the #3-#5 range yield elite RB1 numbers 31 percent of the time. They produce RB1 numbers just 51 percent of the time.

I relayed some of these numbers on Twitter, and a few followers asked if I had the same numbers for the receiver position. I didn’t at that point, but now I do.

Production by WR Rank (ADP)
Year 1 2 3 4 5
2014 16 2 4 24 6
2013 5 7 4 6 63
2012 1 33 11 7 6
2011 77 1 5 6 12
2010 7 74 3 12 6
2009 5 1 2 22 3
2008 12 11 13 35 2
2007 16 7 102 3 2
2006 7 6 24 3 1
2005 20 36 9 4 3
2004 26 5 4 6 7
2003 5 11 1 41 6
2002 5 3 1 76 13
2001 6 1 2 11 23
2000 1 4 5 36 20
Average 13.9 13.5 12.7 19.5 11.5
Top 6 47% 53% 67% 40% 60%
Top 12 67% 80% 80% 60% 73%

Notice that the top two receivers don’t produce as well as the top two running backs, but they still offer top 12 numbers at a pretty good rate.

Once we get into the #3-#5 range, the receivers produce at a better rate than their running back counterparts. This group yields Elite WR1 numbers 56 percent of the time, and WR1 numbers 71 percent of the time. This is an increase of 25 percent and 20 percent, respectively, when compared to the running back position.

These numbers jibe with a study that I did earlier this offseason -- Are Early Round Receivers Safer Than Running Backs? -- so be sure to check it out.

 

Conclusion

This second study reinforced the first one, which convinced me to start drafting more receivers in the first round, especially in three-WR PPR formats, where receiver value is high. I feel especially comfortable with the strategy this season since I generally like the group of running backs available in the 3rd-5th rounds. In addition to Justin Forsett and Frank Gore, I’m referring to the players I have ranked in the #14-#27 range. I’d also include Todd Gurley and Joseph Randle, who have significant upside but also carry significant risk.

Filed Under: Preseason, 2015

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