Fantasy Football: The 5 Biggest Draft-Day Wide Receiver Bargains From 2015
Finding value is one of the most important things during fantasy football drafts.
The notion of going running back heavy early in fantasy drafts is starting to fade out the rear view mirror with wide receivers slowly starting to stake their claim.
Top wide receivers typically justify their high draft selections by presenting a more stable range of high-end expected outcomes. However, there presents an opportunity for us to find value picks and bargains as we move further down the draft list and find later players to capitalize on. These players, who far outperform their Average Draft Position (ADP), can provide an edge to fantasy owners and help turn the corner into creating a championship contending roster.
Finding late round values was crucial to cultivating fantasy success this year, which brings us to which wide receivers presented the most fantasy value in 2015. We took a look last week at the top-five quarterback and running back bargains of 2015, but who were this year's biggest bargains at the wide receiver position?
In order to find this answer, I started with a baseline of digging through all MyFantasyLeague.com drafts that were done in mid-August or later. They were strictly 12-team PPR drafts and none of them were considered "mocks". From there, their final positional rankings were compared against their end of season finishing in point per reception (PPR) format. The net differences were found from where each wide receiver was projected to start at the beginning of the season against their final end of season finishes. While other sites' scoring formats may vary slightly, these players presented tremendous bargains during the 2015 season.
5. Michael Crabtree, Oakland Raiders
Preseason ADP: WR57
End of Season Finish: WR16
One of the best draft day bargains this year was Oakland's Michael Crabtree. Crabtree was often overlooked in drafts after signing a very uninspiring one-year, $3 million dollar deal with Oakland. He proved to be worth every penny after catching 85 of his 146 targets for 922 yards and 9 touchdowns. He finished the year ranked as the fifth-best bargain at WR16 after being drafted in the 13th round in most leagues as the WR57.
Crabtree finished with 12 of his 16 games eclipsing 8 or more targets, seeing a team-leading 24.09% of the team's target market share. He finished as top-24 wide receiver or better in five games this year, with two of those weeks inside the top 12. Crabtree was inconsistent at times but finished with a touchdown in 8 of 16 games this year.
He ended the year ranked 22nd in Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) out of the 197 receivers who caught a pass in 2015. Net Expected Points is numberFire's signature statistic that quantifies the number of points a player adds to his team versus how he's expected to perform, thus giving a true measure of efficiency.
Crabtree was able to finish in the top-12 among all receivers in targets this year but finished with the 11th-best Reception NEP per target among the group. Despite his inefficiencies, Crabtree was a solid fantasy producer for the Raiders and was already rewarded mid-season with a four-year contract extension.
4. Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks
Preseason ADP: WR62
End of Season Finish: WR10
In the first eight weeks of the season Doug Baldwin was having another pedestrian year, ho-humming along with 345 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns. Baldwin exploded in the second half of the year with 724 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns, catapulting him into fantasy relevance with a top-10 wide receiver finish on the year. For those taking a flier on him in the 14th round as the WR62, you received a huge return on investment on this year's receiving touchdown leader.
Baldwin became a must-start in fantasy down the back stretch, scoring at least one touchdown in six of eight games. He had five weeks finishing as a top-12 fantasy receiver, something only eight other receivers topped. All five of those weeks were of the elite variety finishing inside the top-six -- something only DeAndre Hopkins (6) and Antonio Brown (6) had more of.
Baldwin finished the year with the 11th-best Reception NEP among all receivers this season. He barely broke 100 targets this year (103) but had the fourth-highest Target NEP among wideouts. While his numbers don't mimic his volume-laden contemporaries, Baldwin's efficiency was among the top at his position. After finishing the season with 1,000-plus receiving yards and 14 touchdowns, we'll likely see a huge jump in Baldwin's 2016 ADP.
3. Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams
Preseason ADP: WR83
End of Season Finish: WR28
The Rams' do-it-all receiver Tavon Austin far outshone his preseason ADP, finishing the year with 907 combined receiving and rushing yards and 9 touchdowns. Austin finished as the WR28 on the year after going undrafted in the large majority of leagues.
The unpredictable nature of Austin's game made it difficult to pinpoint which matchups he'd excel in. He had two weeks of top-12 production and five as a top-24 receiver. His WR1 weeks came on multiple touchdown games as offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti was somehow able to make Austin fantasy relevant with Nick Foles.
Austin ranked in the middle of the league in our Reception NEP metrics but was a very efficient rusher when given the opportunity. On 52 carries, he finished as the second-most efficient skill position player in Rushing NEP (24.39). His Rushing NEP was just behind league leader Karlos Williams (24.90). Austin remains a difficult player to rely on in fantasy leagues due to his inconsistencies, but he showed his fantasy relevance in 2015.
2. Allen Hurns, Jacksonville Jaguars
Preseason ADP: WR73
End of Season Finish: WR18
While teammate Allen Robinson received much of the well-deserved limelight after finishing the season as the WR6, let's not be too quick to forget just how spectacular Allen Hurns was in 2015. Hurns finished the year with 64 receptions for 1,031 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. He fought through injuries through most of the season but still finished the year as the WR18. Hurns was able to outperform his preseason expectations where he was drafted in the 15th round, thanks largely due to a seven-week stretch of scoring in every game.
Hurns was a fantastic high-end fantasy wide receiver with three weeks finishing inside the top-six at his position. He had six total weeks with at least top-24 finishes, but it was his high-end outputs that won fantasy owners weeks in plus matchups against his opponents.
Hurns finished the year with the 16th-highest Reception NEP among all wideouts and the 13th-highest in Target NEP. Hurns displayed both efficiency and production throughout the season, far outperforming his rookie year numbers in both categories.
1. Kamar Aiken, Baltimore Ravens
Preseason ADP: WR86
End of Season Finish: WR27
2015's biggest bargain player was Baltimore's Kamar Aiken. Aiken went undrafted in most leagues after high preseason expectations for both rookie Breshad Perriman and veteran Steve Smith to carry the offense. Injuries derailed both these players, leaving Aiken as the lucky recipient of the Ravens' top receiver gig by default. Aiken rose to the occasion, finishing as the WR27 on the year with 75 receptions for 944 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Providing two top-12 and six top-24 weeks, Aiken provided some usable weeks for fantasy owners that picked him up off waivers. He was somehow able to provide life to the Baltimore offense despite quarterback Joe Flacco missing the last six games. Most of those top-24 weeks came post-Flacco with Baltimore's backups peppering Aiken with over 10 targets per game in those contests.
Aiken had a surprisingly efficient year by numberFire's metrics, finishing as the WR24 in Reception NEP. His Target NEP took a bit of a hit (WR39) with his backups wildly targeting in Aiken's general direction, but that shouldn't be held against him too much. Aiken's jump of 59 spots from his preseason ADP up to the WR27 granted him the title of 2015's best value play.