When Should You Draft Your Wide Receivers in Fantasy Football?
As PPR leagues have increased in popularity, a stud wideout like Antonio Brown is now on equal footing with the stud running backs in terms of overall value. 2015 was a historically bad year for the early round running back group, but the position bounced back in 2016 while the early round receivers struggled as a whole. So how should fantasy owners handle the receiver position in 2017?
When I looked at positional dependability back in 2015, I found that once the top two consensus running backs are off the board – cough, David Johnson and LeVeon Bell, cough – the receiver position takes over as the more dependable target for early round picks. Throw in the fragility of the running back position (i.e. Zero RB/Upside Down Drafting) and, in 2017, it makes a lot of sense to nab a few top receivers early if Johnson and Bell have already been drafted.
Note: Prior to all the suspension talk surrounding Ezekiel Elliott, I would have placed him in the Johnson/Bell tier in terms of being a surefire top 2-type back. We just would have had three that qualify as that type of player this year (if not for the suspension that sure seems to be looming).
As far as I can tell, owners in PPR formats have four main options when approaching the receiver position in 2017. Oddly enough, it largely depends on how they feel about this crop of middle-round running backs this year: Spencer Ware, Ty Montgomery, Danny Woodhead, Tevin Coleman, Bilal Powell, Mike Gillislee, Ameer Abdullah, Dalvin Cook, Mark Ingram, Theo Riddick, Frank Gore and Doug Martin.
Option #1: WR-heavy, full Zero RB
Owners who fall into this category aren’t afraid to wait on the running back position for the first six or seven rounds (or even longer). These owners could start a draft with four or five straight receivers, or add a stud tight end like Travis Kelce or Rob Gronkowski (to name a couple) in the first few rounds.
Once the receiving corps is completely filled, perhaps even adding a bench receiver or two, the owner would then start to draft running backs who are undervalued (Abdullah, Ware, Gore), hold very specific receiving value (Riddick, Sproles, Woodhead), or have the chance to emerge as a RB1-type via an injury to the player elsewhere on the depth chart (Derrick Henry, Coleman, Ingram, Powell).
With this strategy, it’s conceivable that an owner could start a PPR draft by taking Julio Jones, T.Y. Hilton, Travis Kelce, Michael Crabtree, Emmanuel Sanders and Pierre Garcon before addressing the running back position.
Option #2: WR-heavy, middle round RBs
This strategy is similar to Option #1, but instead of waiting until the 6th or 7th round (or later) to draft their first running back, owners would instead pull the trigger on their RB1 in the 4th or 5th round after drafting 2-3 receivers and possibly a tight end in the first three rounds.
Option #3: WR-early, one RB in first three rounds
Looking at the PPR running back ranks, there seems to be a drop off after the top 10-12 backs in terms of guaranteed workload and offensive productivity. Owners could draft one of these backs, ensuring that their RB1 was a relatively “safe” pick and then wait until the middle rounds to draft a few candidates to fill their RB2 slot.
An owner with the 1.02 pick could start with Bell, DeAndre Hopkins, Demaryius Thomas and Larry Fitzgerald before considering running back in the 5th or 6th round, perhaps drafting Ware and Powell as their RB2 and RB3.
Option #4: Two RBs early
This strategy is for the owner who is especially skittish about starting one or more of the running backs from the aforementioned middle-round group. It would likely mean drafting two backs in the first three rounds and then focusing on the receiver position in the middle rounds, where there are good values available.
Utilizing this strategy, and an owner might start with Melvin Gordon, Jay Ajayi, Keenan Allen, Michael Crabtree, Emmanuel Sanders and Pierre Garcon. The hope here is that Gordon and Ajayi both stay healthy and live up to workload and production expectations.
The Bottom Line
The receiver position is one that fantasy owners will have to address throughout the draft, but depending on preference at receiver (and running back), owners have the option to attack the position early and often, or to wait until the middle and later rounds to fill out their receiver corps.
This year, I’ve been typically using Option #3 and have been drafting at least one running back in the first three rounds. But as I read more and more of Joe Holka’s Rushing Expectation series, the more confidence I have in some of the aforementioned middle-round running backs. So going with Option #2 doesn’t sound as daunting as it did a month ago.
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