Wide Receiver Arbitrage for Early-Round Quarterbacks
It’s not some form of secret strategy to wait on selecting a quarterback this year. All summer long, we pundits and scribes have stressed that the optimal way of building your team is by subscribing to the late-round quarterback approach.
You want to know what is still going to happen in your drafts over the next two weeks?
Someone is going to take a quarterback early.
Then someone else will.
It’s inevitable; there will always be a handful of owners in your league that just can’t wait any longer. They need that perceived warm security blanket feeling that they get from selecting a quarterback early.
Currently, there are four quarterbacks being drafted before the fifth round in 12-team leagues. Per Fantasy Football Calculator, those players are Drew Brees (22.4), Aaron Rodgers (25.9), Peyton Manning (37.2) and Cam Newton (48.4).
However, this isn’t another post dissecting the pitfalls of selecting an early round quarterback, because you aren’t taking them anyways, right? Good. No, today I’m pointing out how and why you can partially poach those high scoring gunslingers scoring output by building your wide receiver corps around their targets. A slight arbitrage of the early-round quarterbacks, if you will, using net expected points per target for wideouts.
Get to know NEP
Every single situation on the football field has an expected point value; that is, how many points an average team would be expected to score in that situation. That's net expected points in a nutshell.
The average receiving NEP per target for a wide receiver is .58 points per target (remember this number going forward, it’s important). That number hasn't moved per season at all since 2006. Out of all 1,312 wide receivers to see a target in the NFL since then, the baseline has become more than stable on a yearly basis.
2012 was no different. Of the 202 receivers to see a target, the average was still .58.
So why does this matter?
Out of the top-50 fantasy scoring (PPR) wide receivers in 2012, only four posted a below average Rec. NEP/TGT at their position. In other words, nine out of every ten of the top fantasy options were above the league average. Combine an above average producer with volume (in this case, targets), and you have yourself a top fantasy option.
The only players under that average who finished in the top 50 were Jeremy Maclin (WR23 - .55 NEP/TGT), Larry Fitzgerald (WR32 - .43), Danny Amendola (WR47 -.52) and Kendall Wright (WR45-.48). So not only were you unlikely to be fantasy relevant with a below average NEP/TGT, but you also weren’t even likely to finish in the top 24 at the position.
A lower Rec. NEP/TGT generally always comes from a really low average depth of target (Amendola) and usually is attached to very poor quarterback play (Fitzgerald). If there’s anything that Fitzgerald’s 2012 season taught us, it’s that there is no chicken or egg controversy on what makes a top fantasy pass catcher. Regardless of talent level, you need competent quarterback play, and elite quarterback play elevates the stock of your talent level.
This brings us to the top fantasy quarterbacks of 2013 and the effect that they have on their wide receiver corps' fantasy production. Most importantly, their favorite targets that are being drafted after they are already gone.
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers career WR NEP/TGT: .79
*Career Receiving Stats
If that .58 baseline is still fresh in your memory, you should immediately notice just how far ahead of the mean Rodgers’ pass catching options are. Since 2008, only five out of the 25 receiving seasons since he became the starter have been below average.
In four of the five seasons as starter, Rodgers has supported at least two receivers that finished in the top 22 in PPR scoring in the same year. Over that same timeframe, nine Packer wideout seasons have finished in the top 22 and 10 have finished at least wide receiver 36 or better, with three separate seasons of a top-5 finish.
You’ll have to spend a top choice on Cobb, but these numbers just reinforce the fact that you can let him pass while you target the extremely undervalued Nelson and Jones much later. Nelson nearly doubles the league average of NEP/TGT and is slowly falling closer to the sixth round. Don’t look too far into regression from Jones, as long as he’s attached to Rodgers, there’s unlikely to be that detrimental of a collapse.
New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees career WR NEP/TGT: .81 (since 2006 in New Orleans)
*Career Receiving Stats
Since Brees arrived in New Orleans, his receivers have outperformed the league baseline per target by 72 percent. He’s had a receiver finish in the top 16 every year with the Saints on his way to throwing 30 or more touchdowns for five consecutive seasons.
Colston is as close to a lock for a WR2 finish as they come. He has reached 70 catches, 1,000 yards and seven scores in every season that he’s played at least 14 games in. Even when he was injured in 2008, he still put a top-36 season together.
Adding a receiving option tied to the best fantasy scoring quarterback in Round 8 is criminal. There’s no need to worry about enough balls to go around with Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham in house either. Moore has three top-24 finishes over the past five seasons.
Peyton Manning WR NEP/TGT: .69
*Average Welker season from 2007-2012. Decker 2012 only.
Manning has had a receiver finish in the top 6 in six of his past eight seasons. That player, in all likelihood, will be Demaryius Thomas. Thomas is eliminated from this discussion because his ADP (24.7) is higher than Manning’s. Remember, the goal here is still to find later round value that stems from the quarterback scoring.
Decker was also an elite fantasy option last season, finishing as the eighth-best wide receiver. Not too shabby for a guy that is being drafted in the sixth round this season. Even though he may not duplicate his 2012 success, Decker is more than capable of providing starting receiver scoring coming into this season.
Manning and Welker have already displayed pretty solid chemistry early in the preseason, exactly what you’d expect from two veterans with their respective resumes. While topping the century mark in receptions may not happen in 2013, Welker will be a more than viable option, as Manning is more than capable of supporting three top-30 receivers.
Cam Newton career WR NEP/TGT: .74
*Career Receiving Stats with Newton
Newton isn’t being drafted this highly solely based on his passing ability, but it’s a promising sign to see that his receivers still score so well above average on a per target basis.
Smith is available near Round 7 despite being a top-20 fantasy option in 2012 and a top-10 one in 2011 with Newton. Asking for him to find that initial success he had with Newton may be a stretch, but there aren’t many 125-target options available that late. If he’s your WR3 - or even better, WR4 - you should put on a ski mask while making the selection.
LaFell is a classic post-hype breakout candidate that can be had for pennies near the end of drafts. He was targeted seven or more times in half (7) of his games last season, and as you can see, he was effective with those targets. If Newton keeps arcing upwards as a passer like he did over the final eight games in 2012, LaFell could be a solid steal.
Obviously Not So Obvious
While it might seem obvious that receivers attached to the highest scoring quarterbacks outperform their peers, a lot of that gets lost on draft day (evidence above) as owners select sexier upside types in the mid rounds. You can take a large chunk out of the highest scoring quarterback’s production and turn it into your own for a much cheaper cost. All while you wait on taking a quarterback of your own.
If you’re an owner that prefers a disciplined approach in drafting highly projectable guys, these are players I suggest you tie into your fantasy receiving unit. They're perfect running mates if you select one of the extreme receiver anchors at wideout early.
Let me close this up with a poor analogy.
A fisherman that fishes for a living doesn't cast his line in waters hoping to catch a solo big fish. Instead, he takes his boat to highly populated waters to make sure he’s bringing in a surplus of smaller fish daily.
Take your line and net to where the points are: Attached to the early-round quarterbacks.