A Review of the 2013 Fantasy Football Season: Wide Receivers

Where did our algorithms place Danny Amendola at the beginning of the season?

The wide receiver position is one that inherently has a lot of variability. When your play is dependent upon targets, and when targets are dependent upon quarterback play and general play-calling, there’s layer upon layer of natural inconsistency.

As a result, predicting the position each year in fantasy football can be a difficult task. Though elite pass-catchers have emerged to be reliable receivers for multiple years at a time, others will come and go, sometimes making a mark before never being heard of again.

The 2013 season was no different. While Calvin Johnson was Calvin Johnson, players like Josh Gordon and Alshon Jeffery came from nowhere to take the league by storm.

And then, of course, there were players like Hakeem Nicks, who disappeared faster than Sega CD.

How did our algorithms do? Take a look at the table and analysis below.

Preseason WR RankProjected FPActual WR RankActual FPDifference
1Calvin Johnson213.26Josh Gordon227.4040
2A.J. Green201.46Demaryius Thomas227.004
3Dez Bryant196.23Calvin Johnson219.20-2
4Brandon Marshall194.45A.J. Green208.60-1
5Roddy White194.41Brandon Marshall205.50-1
6Demaryius Thomas192.25Dez Bryant199.40-4
7Andre Johnson190.18Antonio Brown198.9012
8Julio Jones188.74Alshon Jeffery194.6030
9Victor Cruz187.15Eric Decker192.808
10Vincent Jackson183.45DeSean Jackson187.4021
11Marques Colston181.56Jordy Nelson179.405
12Larry Fitzgerald177.01Andre Johnson170.70-5
13Reggie Wayne176.24Pierre Garcon164.5021
14Randall Cobb173.71Vincent Jackson164.40-6
15Wes Welker171.72Anquan Boldin161.0016
16Jordy Nelson164.84Larry Fitzgerald154.20-5
17Steve Smith154.64Keenan Allen148.6079
18Eric Decker139.86Julian Edelman146.7065
19Antonio Brown136.64T.Y. Hilton138.9021
20Mike Wallace136.19Torrey Smith138.802
21Dwayne Bowe135.37Marvin Jones137.7076
22Torrey Smith134.81Riley Cooper137.1058
23Hakeem Nicks132.4Wes Welker135.80-8
24Mike Williams131.03Michael Floyd134.1048
25Greg Jennings130.26Mike Wallace126.30-5

Note: The numbers above reflect standard, non-PPR scoring. In addition, the “difference” column notes the difference in rank between the actual wide receiver position and where we, numberFire, had that wide receiver ranked at the beginning of the season.

Where We Goofed

Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns

First things first: Josh Gordon was our 40th-ranked receiver entering the season, and in standard leagues, Gordon finished first. Of course that’s a miss, though to be fair, Gordon’s original 40th-ranked projection was based off him missing two games.

Still, the algorithms certainly didn’t foresee the monstrous season Gordon put together. He had just as many weekly top-24 finishes (excluding Week 17) as Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant despite not playing the first two games of the season. As a result, Gordon will more than likely be a late first-round pick in 2014 fantasy drafts.

Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears

Jeffery was the perfect compliment to Brandon Marshall in Marc Trestman’s offense, but the algorithms weren’t quick to dub him a breakout star entering the season. The formula picked Jeffery as the 39th-ranked receiver, while he finished ninth.

However, it’s not as though we were the only ones wrong here. Jeffery’s average draft position hovered between Round 9 and the double-digit rounds entering the season, which is fairly close to where we had him.

Not only that, I should note that, when I wrote about Marc Trestman before the season started, I hinted to the fact that Alshon could have a breakout season, as our advanced numbers pointed in that direction:

And while Brandon Marshall is a machine at receiver, I’m expecting his overall effectiveness to drop a little this season. It’s not to say we shouldn’t draft him as a top-5 pass catcher, but seeing the way Trestman spread the ball around in Oakland could mean more to Alshon Jeffery than it does to B-Marsh. [sleeper alert]

I just never expected Alshon to do exactly what he did this year.

Keenan Allen, San Diego Chargers

Projecting a big year from a rookie wide receiver is a risky thing to do, as most usually need a year before really doing anything significant in the NFL.

Not for Keenan Allen, who had one of the best rookie wide receiver seasons we’ve ever seen.

Needless to say, if you take a look at that article (linked above), you can see that it was nearly impossible to project Keenan Allen to be a top-20 wide receiver this season. Though the algorithms whiffed on it, at least it was incredibly unpredictable.

DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles

Unlike Allen, DeSean Jackson’s season was a little more predictable. He finished above most folks’ expectation, but the formulas were down on him to the point that he entered the year as a WR3. Clearly, after the insertion of a new offense and a better quarterback, that didn’t happen.

Jackson finished with eight weekly top-24 performances (again, excluding the fantasy worthless Week 17), which was tied for 11th-best in the league. It’s not as though he was inconsistent like he’s been in the past, as his final rank matches up with his weekly one.

Julian Edelman, New England Patriots

The algorithms were down on Patriot receivers in general (more on this later), and with the universal ambiguity around the situation in New England, Julian Edelman was a player that we dubbed more as a late-round sleeper than anything else. He’s labeled as a bust here because we didn’t foresee him doing what he did, not because he was completely out of the question when the season started.

Where We Looked Smart

Broncos Wide Receivers

There was plenty of good, I promise. One was a trio worth, as we ranked each of the big three Broncos receivers in the top 18 entering the season.

Though we had Welker ahead of Decker, keep in mind that Welker missed three games due to injury. Perhaps things would be a little different between the two otherwise.

Regardless, we were high on this passing game entering the season, while a lot of fantasy pundits placed at least one of the three wideouts outside of the top 24 or 25. Way to go, math!

Mike Wallace, Miami Dolphins

Mike Wallace’s move to Miami forced our algorithms to make him a low-end WR2 instead of a middle-of-the-road one. He finished just five spots off that mark, even lower than where we had him at the start of the season. Keep in mind, however, that only a handful of points separated him from being far lower in our preseason rankings. In general, the numberFire crew wasn’t high on the ex-Steeler.

Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens

Smith rose to the fifth and sixth rounds of fantasy drafts towards before the start of the season, but we weren’t having any of that. Though he was the clear number one target for Joe Flacco going into the 2013 season, our numbers knew what kind of quarterback Joe Flacco was and still is: a mediocre one. As a result, Smith was our 22nd-ranked wideout, and he finished just two spots above that at the end of the season, scoring four points more than we thought he would.

Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals

The Carson Palmer addition made fantasy owners draft Larry Fitzgerald as early as the late second round this season, but like Torrey Smith, our algorithms weren’t feeling it. Palmer has been an up-and-down passer throughout his career, and despite Bruce Arians’ vertical passing attack, it was pretty clear that the offense wasn’t as perfect as many made it tout to be.

Things turned around for the unit during the second half of the season, but it was too late for Fitz, who finished the season with 23 fewer fantasy points than even our pessimistic projection thought he would.

Danny Amendola, New England Patriots

I told you I’d get back to the Patriots! While everyone selected Amendola in the fourth and fifth rounds this year – sometimes earlier in PPR leagues – our algorithms had the new Patriot as the 27th-ranked receiver. Quite simply, his role was unknown, and his numbers were fairly weak in previous seasons.

Considering his catch-less stat line in the AFC Championship game, I think we all know how this one turned out for us. Danny Amendola finished as one of the bigger busts at the position this season.