Daily Fantasy Playbook: Wide Receiver Strategy

Daily Fantasy Playbook: Wide Receiver Strategy

By Chris Raybon (Senior Daily Fantasy Expert), last update Aug 16, 2014

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Chris Raybon is the Senior Daily Fantasy Editor at 4for4 Fantasy Football.

Follow Chris Raybon on Twitter: @ChrisRaybon.

The NFL is a passing league, and daily fantasy football is no different. Most sites require three wide receivers and award a full point per reception, so picking the correct receivers is vital to your success. Wideouts are drawn from the largest player pool, usually occupy the most lineup slots, and have the most weekly variance; but there's no need to be intimidated. An edge can be had if you can consistently nail your wide receiver selections. Let’s get to work.

 

Wide Receiver Salary Allocation

Wide Receiver is a highly volatile fantasy position where the studs have the highest ceilings but also the lowest floors. The position's volatility dictates saving cap space at wide reciver in cash games (head to heads, 50/50 leagues), where maximizing your lineup's floor is the priority. In tournaments, it makes sense to pay up for the high ceiling that only a stud wideout such as Calvin Johnson can provide.

To get a better idea of how the volatility at wide receiver compares to other positions, let’s take a look at the coefficient of variation (CV, standard deviation divided by mean) in weekly fantasy points per game of the top five players at each position:

Coefficient of Variation in FP/G, Top 5 Players at Each Position, 2013

QB

QB CV

RB

RB CV

WR

WR CV

TE

TE CV

P.Manning

34%

Charles

48%

Gordon

58%

J.Graham

55%

Brees

38%

McCoy

41%

Ca.Johnson

65%

Gronkowski

55%

Foles

61%

Forte

42%

D.Thomas

47%

J.Thomas

54%

Rodgers

46%

Moreno

48%

A.J.Green

50%

V.Davis

70%

Newton

39%

Murray

44%

Marshall

43%

Cameron

69%

QB AVG

44%

RB AVG

45%

WR AVG

53%

TE AVG

61%

 
Suppose you’re entering a cash game and deciding whether to pay up for Matt Forte--who averaged 21.3 (1 point per reception) fantasy points per game last season--or Johnson, who averaged 21.8. We can calculate an average floor for each player as follows:
  • Forte: 21.3 - (0.42 * 21.3) = 12.4 (Actual season-low: 8.9)
  • Johnson: 21.8 - (0.65 * 21.8) = 7.6 (Actual season-low: 5.5)

Because Johnson loses 65 percent of his mean compared to only a 42 percent loss for Forte, he makes for a much riskier play. We do not want to take on unnecessary risk in cash games, so finding relatively lower priced values at the wide receiver position is crucial to daily fantasy success.

Where there is great risk, there’s usually great reward. Let's now suppose we’re entering a tournament and check out what the two players’ ceilings would look like:

  • Forte: 21.3 + (0.42 * 21.3) = 30.2 (Actual season-high: 37.7)
  • Johnson: 21.8 + (0.65 * 21.8) = 36.0 (Actual season-high: 52.9)

To paint an even clearer picture of wide receiver upside versus running back upside, let’s look at a table of the top ten fantasy games from running backs and wide receivers in 2013 (one point PPR scoring):

Top 10 RB and WR FP Games, 2013

GAME RANK

RB

WR

1

59.5

52.9

2

37.7

49.9

3

35.8

49.4

4

35.4

48.9

5

35.1

48.1

6

34.5

47.4

7

34.2

44.2

8

34.2

43.7

9

33.2

40.6

10

33.2

39.8

Average

37.28

46.49

 
Jamaal Charles had a game for the ages in which he dropped a 59-piece on the Raiders, but after that, all 10 of the wide receiver scores beat the remaining nine running back scores. The average ceiling of wide receivers was nearly 10 points higher than that of running backs. Outlier notwithstanding, receivers tend to have higher ceilings than running backs. It is crucial to have exposure to that kind of high ceiling in tournament lineups.

 

What Statistics Are Most Relevant When Analyzing Wide Receivers?

The table below shows how various statistics correlate to wide receiver fantasy points per game using two different scoring systems: 0.5 PPR and 1.0 PPR.

A quick refresher on correlation: The scale is -1 to 1. Positive values indicate variables move in the same direction, while negative values indicate variables move in opposite directions. An absolute value of 1 means perfect correlation. Absolute values above 0.7 are considered strong, those between 0.3 and 0.7 are moderate, and those under 0.3 are weak.

Correlation of Various Statistics to WR FP/G, 2013
  CORRELATION TO 1 PT PPR FP/G CORRELATION TO 0.5 PPR FP/G
Rec Yds/G 0.94 0.93
Tar/G 0.82 0.79
YAC/G 0.77 0.75
% of Team Pass Yds/G 0.76 0.75
Rec TD/G 0.76 0.79
% of Team Tar/G 0.66 0.63
% of Team Rec/G 0.65 0.61
% of Team Rec TD/G 0.63 0.66
Red Zone Tar/G 0.62 0.62
Rec/G 0.59 0.57
Routes/g 0.58 0.58
Snaps/G 0.57 0.57
% OF Team Red Zone Passes/G 0.55 0.55
Red Zone Rec/G 0.51 0.50
Weight 0.45 0.46
Team Passing Yds/G 0.44 0.45
YAC/Rec 0.44 0.45
Red Zone TD/G 0.42 0.44
Yds/Rec 0.35 0.41
Catch % 0.35 0.31
Height 0.30 0.32

 

Targets Are Essential

Targets should be the foundation by which wide receivers in daily fantasy are chosen, especially in cash games. Unlike quarterbacks or running backs, wide receivers get the least amount of opportunities to produce fantasy points. The league leader in targets received only 182, which pales in comparison to the league-leading amount of passing attempts (659) or running back touches (366).

The first thing to do when assessing the wide receiver position every week is to see if anyone is undervalued on the basis of targets alone. We need our wideouts to put up good yardage totals; as targets increase, so does yardage potential. 

What is a good target benchmark? The top 10 wide receivers in terms of fantasy points per game in 2013 averaged 9.69 targets. Only five receivers inside the top 25 had less than eight, while only two finished outside the top 25 with more than eight. Therefore, approximately eight targets is a solid benchmark.

The importance of targets is reinforced by the moderate-to-strong correlations between wide receivers’ fantasy points per game and their percentage of workload statistics. The primary option even in a poor offense still has a decent shot at producing good numbers in certain matchups and should never be ruled out.

Since player salaries are generally based on past production, they tend to fluctuate due to recent outliers. If a frequently targeted wide receiver has performed poorly recently, his salary may be artificially depressed. Conversely, an infrequently targeted wide receiver may have his salary artificially inflated if he is coming off recent strong performances. Both of these scenarios tend to happen often during the season because wide receivers have such high volatility; be sure to take advantage.

 

The Effects of the Opposition’s Pass Coverage

Shutdown cornerbacks like Richard Sherman, Darrelle Revis, and Patrick Peterson are capable of ruining fantasy days for opposing wideouts. Shutdown corners not only make it difficult to get open; sometimes their reputation alone can discourage a quarterback from even looking the shutdown corner's way during a passing play. Sherman, Revis, and Peterson all got targeted at least 28 percent less than the league average on a per snap basis in 2013. Shutdown corners will more often than not defend the opposition’s best receiver, whose value then takes a significant hit.

Teams generally heavily target cornerbacks who start opposite of a shutdown cornerback, which can lead to an uptick in opportunities for that team's second wide receiver. Consider that on a per-snap basis, Jerraud Powers got targeted 40 percent more than Peterson; Johnthan Banks got targeted 29 percent more than Revis; and Buster Skrine got targeted 21 percent more than Joe Haden.

The best way for a wide receiver to neutralize a difficult matchup versus a cornerback is to be adept at moving around the offensive formation to avoid some of the corner’s coverage. Receivers who can line up anywhere on the field--including the slot--are much harder to completely neutralize. Some outside wide receivers who also play a significant amount of slot snaps include Larry Fitzgerald, Brandon Marshall, T.Y.Hilton and Marques Colston. On the other hand, Mike Wallace, Torrey Smith and Dez Bryant rarely ever line up inside. Keep where a receiver can line up in mind when assessing receivers' floors for cash game lineups.

Some teams have the misfortune of starting a second cornerback who is significantly inferior to their number one corner, or is perceived as such. Either way, opposing offenses tend to attack these weak links whether they are real or perceived. For example, rookie Dee Milliner was targeted a whopping 60 percent more on a per-snap basis than Antonio Cromartie last season, which helped Brian Hartline draw 15 targets and pile up 9 receptions for 127 yards and a TD in week 13 against the Jets. If a team’s number one wideout can line up all over the field, he will also be able to take advantage of the opposition's weakest corners.

Throughout the season, many teams will suffer injuries that will force them to give poor cornerbacks a significant amount of snaps. Pay special attention when the aforementioned instances arise; they can provide hidden value that would not otherwise be made apparent simply by looking at a defense’s fantasy points allowed to wide receivers.

The opposing pass rush can also have an effect on wide receivers. A receiver who runs deeper routes may have trouble against a defense with a strong pass rush, as that receiver's quarterback likely won't have the necessary time to let those routes fully develop. Conversely, a receiver who runs shorter routes may be the recipient of quicker, blitz beating passes near the line of scrimmage. The opposites would apply in the case of a weak opposing pass rush. 

One thing that I like to do when analyzing matchups each week is to put myself in the shoes of each coordinator. I attempt to decipher what I think the most likely offensive and defensive game plans relating to a particular receiver will be. Coaches watch a ton of tape of an opponent’s recent games and make tactical adjustments accordingly. To be a great daily fantasy player, you must anticipate what adjustments will be made on both sides of the ball. Then, consider how a player's production will be impacted based on the adjustments you anticipate.

 

The Effect of Size on Wide Receiver Production

How a defensive secondary matches up to wide receivers in terms of size can often play a large role in determining how heavily targeted a wide receiver will be and how well he will perform.

To illustrate the effects of size on wide receiver production, let’s turn our attention to the Titans, who last year finished first in schedule adjusted fantasy points allowed to wide receivers. 

Lacking in size, Tennessee cornerbacks Alterraun Verner (5 foot 10 inches, 189 pounds) and Jason McCourty (5'11", 188) shut down smaller wide receivers all season, but struggled against bigger receivers. First, let's take a look at some of the stat lines (Targets-Receptions-Yards-TDs) the Titans allowed to smaller receivers:

  • Week 1: Antonio Brown (5’10”, 186): 7-5-71-0

  • Week 4: Santonio Holmes (5’11”, 192): 5-1-25-0

  • Week 6: Golden Tate (5’10”, 202): 7-5-33-0

  • Week 9: Chris Givens (6’0”, 203): 8-4-55-0

  • Week 10: Cecil Shorts (6’0”, 202): 4-2-42-0

  • Week 11: T.Y. Hilton (5’9”, 183): 9-5-44-0

  • Week 13: T.Y. Hilton (5’9”, 183): 7-5-46-0

Now look at what went down against some of the larger wide receivers the Titans faced:

  • Week 2: DeAndre Hopkins (6’1”, 218): 13-7-117-1

  • Week 2: Andre Johnson (6’3”, 230): 13-8-76-0

  • Week 14: Eric Decker: (6’4”, 230): 12-8-117-1

  • Week 14: Demaryius Thomas (6’3”, 229): 10-7-88-1

  • Week 15: Larry Fitzgerald (6’3”, 218): 9-6-49-0

  • Week 17: Andre Johnson (6’3”, 230): 9-6-49-0

The difference between the Titans' effectiveness at defending smaller wide receivers versus larger ones was night and day. Even though Johnson and Fitzgerald didn’t light it up in weeks 15 and 17, respectively, they both drew a strong nine targets, which is what we’re looking for in terms of opportunity for a daily fantasy receiver.

Now is a good time to point out that bigger wide receivers are generally superior options, period. The average size of the top 10 receivers in terms of fantasy points per game last season was 6 foot 2 inches, 216 pounds. Weight has a moderate correlation to fantasy points per game, and height has a low-to-moderate correlation. If there is a big receiver being offered at a decent price, give him strong consideration, especially if he’s facing a much smaller secondary.

New rules that aim to crack down on illegal contact could greatly benefit all wide receivers in 2014, but especially wideouts with good size. If defenders aren't allowed to get away with nudges and holds when trying to defend receivers of greater stature, large wideouts may become even more dominant.

 

Yards After Catch & Consistency

Returning to the correlations shown in the table above, yards after catch (YAC) has a strong correlation to fantasy points per game and is very useful in analyzing consistency. Wide receivers who had a lot of YAC per game, such as Antonio Brown, Pierre Garcon, and Kendall Wright, were also among the most consistent at their position.

Wide receivers who rack up a lot of YAC per game generally receive more high percentage targets closer to the line of scrimmage, making it easier for them to sustain a high catch rate on a weekly basis. The inherent consistency of receivers that average a high amount of YAC per game makes them great cash game plays.

To further illustrate just how useful a high-YAC receiver can be in cash games, consider the case of Wright versus Vincent Jackson, who runs deeper routes and averages less YAC per game:

Vincent Jackson vs. Kendall Wright, 2013
 

FP/G (1 PT PPR )

FP/G WEEKLY CV

REC YDS/G

YAC/G

GAMES WITH < 10 FP

GAMES WITH > 20 FP

V.Jackson

15.12

72%

76.50

21.06

6/16

4/16

K.Wright

13.31

51%

67.44

36.44

4/16

2/16

 
Jackson averaged more points than Wright (his salary was consistently higher, too), but it was Wright who had the higher floor that made for a superior cash game play with less games under 10 fantasy points than Jackson. On the other hand, Jackson was the better tournament play; he had four games of 20-plus (including three of 30-plus), doubling Wright’s two.
 

How Red Zone Opportunities Affect Wide Receiver Value

Red Zone targets have a moderately strong correlation to fantasy points per game because sixty-seven percent of receiving touchdowns occur in the red zone. I will further discuss touchdowns shortly.

Another reason that red zone targets correlate well with fantasy points per game for receivers is that wideouts who are drawing those critical red zone targets are generally the receivers the team feels most confident about using all over the field (unlike tight end, where there are more red zone specialists). 

Red zone targets can be useful in spotting breakout performers that are still undervalued. For example, in 2013, both Julian Edelman (1.44) and Keenan Allen (1.40) finished in the top 10 in red zone targets per game. Taking note of their red zone looks early on could have served as an alert that these players may be ticketed for large roles within their offenses.

 

Upside and the Importance of Maximizing Touchdowns

Recall that for running backs, I suggested viewing upside in terms of touchdown potential rather than big play potential because rushing touchdowns happen more often than long rushing plays. Does the same theory apply to wide receivers? 

Various Types of Receiving Plays Per Pass Attempt, 2013

PLAY

CHANCE OF OCCURRING

W/O TD

CHANCE OF OCCURRING

WITH TD

ReC TD

-

4.45%

20+ Yd Rec

7.57%

1.49%

30+ Yd Rec

2.57%

0.92%

40+ Yd Rec

1.08%

0.60%

50+ Yd Rec

0.40%

0.38%

60+ Yd Rec

0.13%

0.27%

70+ Yd Rec

0.04%

0.17%

80+ Yd Rec

0.01%

0.07%

90+ Yd Rec

0.00%

0.01%

 
Although not quite to the same extent as rushing scores, receiving touchdowns occur a lot more frequently than long receptions do. Like running backs' upside, wide receivers' upside should also be viewed more as touchdown potential rather than big play potential.
 
To further confirm that touchdowns are the way to go when seeking wide receiver upside, I took a look at the game logs of the top 30 wide receivers (one point PPR scoring), flagging all games in which a wide receiver scored 20 or more fantasy points and labeling it as a “ceiling” game. Then I compared receivers' numbers in ceiling games to their average statistics in all games to see where largest increases occurred.
Top 30 WR Receiving Stats, 2013
 

AVG IN ALL GAMES 

AVG IN 20+ FP GAMES 

AVG IN ALL GAMES / AVG IN 20+ FP GAMES 

Targets

8.86

11.93

1.35

Receptions

5.4

7.9

1.46

Rec Yards

75.11

127.99

1.70

TD

0.47

1.24

2.64

 
Wide receivers have by far the most upside in the touchdown department. In their ceiling games they recorded 2.64 times their average amount of touchdowns, compared to only 1.7 times their average of yards and 1.46 times their average of receptions. How do we get these touchdowns into our lineup? The answer is red zone targets. Receiving touchdowns correlate strongly to fantasy points (0.76), and red zone targets correlate strongly to receiving touchdowns (0.73).
 
Red zone targets tend to be distributed in a top-heavy manner amongst the wide receiver population; the top ten receivers in terms of fantasy points per game last season averaged 1.45 red zone targets, while the rest averaged 0.99. This nearly 50 percent decrease reinforces why it is important to pay up for studs at wide receiver in GPPs where you definitely need the upside that touchdowns provide.
 
I mentioned earlier that bigger wide receivers are generally superior, and this is true in the red zone as well. Big guys like Dez Bryant, Anquan Boldin, and Brandon Marshall all converted red zone targets into touchdowns more than 40 percent of the time in 2013; almost double the league average of 22 percent. On the other hand, smaller receivers generally struggled. T.Y Hilton converted only two of his 15 red zone looks into six points, and Antonio Brown went a staggering one for 25.
 
 

How Quarterbacks Affect Wide Receiver Value

To determine how a wide receiver’s quarterback impacts his fantasy production, I calculated the correlations between receiver fantasy points per game and his team’s passing statistics:

Team Passing Correlations to WR FP/G, 2013

STAT

CORRELATION TO 1 PT PPR FP/G

CORRELATION TO 0.5 PPR FP/G

TM QB YD/G

0.44

0.45

TM QB TD/G

0.43

0.45

TM QB CMP/G

0.36

0.35

TM QB ATT/G

0.34

0.33

TM QB INT/G

-0.07

-0.08

 
A team’s passing yards and touchdowns per game have a moderate correlation to wide receiver fantasy points per game, suggesting quarterback play definitely has an impact. One way to use this information to your advantage is to select an elite quarterback’s cheapest starting receiver. Last season, Eric Decker and Jarrett Boykin produced some great games thanks to Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers, respectively. This season, Emmanuel Sanders, Boykin, and perhaps Brandin Cooks come to mind as potential cheap beneficiaries of elite quartback play.
 

How Injuries Affect Wide Receiver Value

Roddy White suffered an ankle injury last preseason and proceeded not to top 45 receiving yards in a game though the season’s first five weeks before being shut down for a few games. Similarly, Marques Colston went through a three game lull that saw him catch only six passes for 44 yards before being shut down for a game with a knee injury. Even going back to 2012, Hakeem Nicks suffered knee and ankle injuries in week 2 of and has caught only two touchdowns in 25 games since.

The takeaway from what is described above is that wide receivers’ production can take a severe hit when they are playing through an injury, especially one to the leg. As a daily fantasy player, you need to be aware of each player’s injury history, frequently check the injury report, and monitor recoveries from all injuries. If a receiver’s production has taken a hit since an injury, wait until you see on-field proof of a full recovery before taking him into consideration again.

 

How Weather and Field Conditions Affect Wide Receiver Value

Last November on a windy night in Foxboro, the normally pass happy Broncos called 48 runs and only 36 passes in a loss to the Patriots. While some of the rushing volume is explained because the Broncos jumped out to a big lead, heavy winds also deterred Peyton Manning from throwing the football as much as he usually does. When he did throw he was ineffective, averaging only 4.2 yards per attempt. While the wind rarely comes into play, extremely heavy winds can sometimes be a factor in the passing game. Heavy rains can also have an impact, discouraging passing or making it more difficult. Be sure to check the weather of any game from which you are selecting receivers.

It is also prudent to keep an eye out for quick, shifty, agile wide receivers playing games indoors on field turf because while straight-line speed is usually similar between field turf and natural grass, change-of-direction speed tends to be faster on field turf. Hilton is a great example: he averages 16.71 yards per reception playing on field turf in Lucas Oil Stadium, a mark which sinks to 12.35 on the road where he sees a lot more natural grass. Value may be found in an agile receiver playing indoors, especially if he plays home games on natural grass. By the same token, beware when a receiver's salary increases undeservedly due to a recent, abnormally strong indoor performance.

 

Recap

  1. Save on wide receiver in cash games; pay up for wide receiver in tournaments.
  2. Select heavily targeted receivers.
  3. High YAC per game can indicate that a receiver is consistent and a good cash game choice.
  4. Analyze the type and quality of coverage the receiver will face each week.
  5. Favor receivers with size.
  6. View upside as touchdown potential rather than big play potential.
  7. Quarterbacks have a moderate impact on receiver fantasy production; take a look at cheap receivers on a team with an elite quarterback.
  8. Closely monitor all injuries and downgrade receivers potentially playing through leg injuries.
  9. Take into account the effect of extreme winds and give agile receivers a boost when playing indoors.

Chris Raybon will be covering FanDuel and DraftDay value/optimal plays on a weekly basis each week this season. To learn more about Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) click here.

Filed Under:
Preseason
,
2014

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