Should You Start Your Fantasy Football Draft With Two Wide Receivers?
Which type of strategy to use is always one of the biggest question marks for fantasy owners entering drafts. Should you start your snake draft with two running backs? Should you try and snag one of the top tight ends? Or, you could take a quarterback with one of your first two picks, and JJ Zachariason will come to your draft and personally scream at you.
But there's one draft strategy in particular that has gotten a ton of attention over the last season or two, and that's starting out with two wide receivers.
The premise is simple: draft two top-shelf wideouts, avoid running backs in the first two rounds, and have roster stability instead of fragility. But does it actually work? Let’s dive right in to some data.
A Foolish Strategy?
I went back and looked at the last three seasons and compiled some data for top-24 wide receivers and running backs. First, I looked at the total amount of points top running backs and wide receivers scored, and made some general tiers that are laid out below. Then, I used those tiers for the amount of fantasy points the top-24 running backs and wide receivers score on a per game basis.
The first thing I want you to do is throw away average draft position. Don't think about where these players were taken, and instead just view them as running back or wide receiver entities without names. We’ll visit value and cost later. Also, these tiers coincide with the bust rates JJ Zachariason did a little over a month ago, and we’ll also re-visit those later. But first, lets look at the running back data.
Running Back Scoring
The table below depicts the top-24 running backs in terms of points per game last season.
All points are standard scoring.
The first thing you should notice is the drop off after the RB1-RB6 tier. Over the last three seasons, the difference between that top tier and the tier below it, RB7-RB12, is 3.7 fantasy points per game. Your ability to draft a high-end RB1 should be considered a top priority. These running backs obviously give you a weekly advantage at a very scarce position.
Secondly, the drop-off between a high-end RB1 and a low-end RB2 is massive 6.4 points per game. In a 12-team league, a low-end RB2 is on the border of “usable” every week. This explains why we tend to skew towards taking running backs early, because after the perceived top-six are drafted, there is a huge drop-off not only talent wise, but in their ability to score you fantasy points on a weekly basis.
Lastly, you should notice the difference (or lack thereof) between the lower three tiers (RB7-RB12, RB13-RB18, and RB19-RB24) in terms of fantasy points per game. There's only a 1.4-point difference in what is considered a “high-end RB2” (RB13-RB18) and a “low-end RB2” (RB19-RB24). This data just goes to show how important it is to have at least one solid running back on your fantasy team, and landing two of these backs could absolutely dominate your league.
Wide Receiver Scoring
Now let's take a look at how the top wide receivers scored on a per game basis. Keep in mind, these are standard leagues.
First, the difference between a high-end WR1 (WR1-WR6) and a low-end WR1 (WR7-WR12) is relatively significant at 2.2 points per contest, but isn’t as near as steep as the difference between the aforementioned “RB1-RB6” and “RB7-RB12” tier 3.7 points per game. This means that there isn’t as near as much variance between top-12 wide receivers as there is among top-12 running backs.
If you do miss out on a wide receiver in the WR1 to WR6 range, you aren’t totally done for. In fact, you’re just fine. There is only a difference of 1.04 points per game between the WR7-WR12 tier and the WR13-WR18 tier. This essentially means that after the top-six wide receivers, the next 12 wide receivers are all, for the most part, very similar.
Opportunity Cost and A Quick Review of 2013
Let’s roll back the clock one year. Remember how bad running backs were? They busted left and right, and as JJ pointed out in his fantastic running back and wide receiver “bust rate” series, running backs do bust at an incredibly high rate. But I wanted to pinpoint the ones who didn’t. What did those running backs cost you?
RB1-6 Tier: In 2013, five of the top-six were drafted in the first round of drafts, according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com. Knowshon Moreno was the only exception, as he finished as the fifth-best back in fantasy and was drafted in the ninth round.
RB13-RB18 and RB19-RB24 Tier(s): Let’s just say RB2s were incredibly hectic last year, and essentially impossible to pinpoint in drafts. This is the tier where running backs start landing everywhere on the draft board. It was so insane, I had to make a separate table to show their collective ADPs:
|Finish||Average Draft Position (Round Drafted)|
Running Back Conclusions
So what does this mean? Two major things. First, you have to pay a premium to acquire a RB1 of any sort. As evidenced by the average draft positions shown above, 75% of the high or low-end RB1’s went in the first two rounds of fantasy drafts. It’s not as if really good fantasy backs grow on trees after the first two rounds.
Second, boy, were RB2s essentially impossible to find last year. You either had to find a waiver wire darling (Zac Stacy and Rashad Jennings), or get extremely lucky. Recall that, according to the bust rate articles linked above, running backs drafted in the RB13-RB18 range fail to live up to their ADP 40% of the time, and running backs drafted in the RB19-RB24 range fail to live up to their ADP an unbelievable 57% of the time.
Wide Receiver Conclusions
Instead of simply chopping up wide receivers in to tiers, and because there was so much value to be had among the top-24 wide receivers, I made one big table of where they finished and their ADP:
|Finish||Average Draft Position (Round Drafted)|
There's one major thing to keep in context when reviewing last years ADP and how the top-24 wide receivers finished. Last year, wide receivers were going much later in drafts, which was a great thing if you could find value. There were 18 running backs and only 4 wide receivers drafted by the end of second round, given standard scoring.
This year, the wide receiver market seems to have corrected some. Wideouts are still (for the most part) undervalued, but running backs (rightfully so) remain the kings of the first three rounds. Running backs will bust, but when running backs hit, they’re the weekly difference-makers.
So, completely unlike running backs, you can find good wide receivers essentially anywhere. Of course, wide receivers bust, too, but they also don't fall off of a cliff after a certain point like running backs do. If you can target wide receiver value after your first three rounds, an effective draft strategy may be to start with three running backs.
To Grab Two Wideouts or to Not Grab Two Wideouts?
Yes, you could just avoid running backs all together, but you would be putting yourself in a hole at the position every single week, especially to start the year. What you want are weekly difference makers at both running back and wide receiver. While avoiding running backs may seem like an enticing option, remember that finding that a difference-making running back usually costs you a pick in the first two rounds.
Again, 75% of the RB1s last year were drafted in the first two rounds. Also remember that the difference between the RB1-RB6 tier and the RB13-RB18 tier is a staggering 5 fantasy points per game, and finding a good RB2 is essentially like playing darts in the dark.
On the other hand, good wide receivers are much easier to find, and don't have as near as much variance among their respective tiers. According to the bust rate article, wide receivers drafted in the WR1-WR6 tier finish as a top-six wide receiver 73.33% of the time. Compare that to running backs drafted in the RB1-RB6 tier finishing in the top-six 53.33% of the time.
Starting with two wide receivers could work if you're fortunate enough to mine running back value late. But your safest, most reliable bet would be to strike a balance between running backs and wide receivers.