ZEROED IN on Wide Receiver: Tier-Based Targeting

Paul Ghiglieri (@FantasyGhigs) dishes on the Zero WR landscape and explains why you should target wide receivers in tiers based on skillset and role.

Continuing our “Zeroed In” series, we continue by exploring the best Zero WR candidates to zero in on (pun intended). If you missed the RB edition, you can refer to it here. The goal is to identify three types of wideouts: possession receivers who rack up high target totals and receptions to provide a decent floor, deep threats with high yards-per-carry averages who can do a lot with a little, and high value secondary receivers with standalone value, many of whom have the upside to produce WR1 numbers if the primary target went down to injury.

For those unfamiliar with the “Zero WR Strategy,” check out Matt Dean’s strategy article for a primer. In short, the strategy involves punting wide receiver in the early rounds in favor of targeting elite options at other positions while the rest of the league gobbles up the top wideouts available – essentially, zigging while others zag.  Wide receivers have risen to prominence in fantasy football as the NFL has evolved into a more pass-centric league, causing the popularity of PPR and Half-PPR fantasy leagues continue to swell; however, not every offense can support multiple viable options in the passing game, and thus, not targetting the big-name receivers carries with it some risk. The key to making this strategy work is hitting on the right receivers and complementary pieces later in the draft.

Rather than specific players to target, let’s breakdown the Zero WR candidates by skillset and role and separate them into tiers. There are three tiers of wideouts to consider, and ideally, you want to draft at least one receiver from all three. Unlike the Zero RB approach, which can technically begin as early as Round 4 with tier-based targetting to ensure you diversify your portfolio of backs, you’re likely waiting until after Round 5 with a true Zero WR approach given the depth of the position and priority placed on acquiring three top-shelf “bell-cow” running backs and either an elite tight end or quarterback in the first four rounds. Thus, we’re only going to look at wide receivers tracking after the fourth round (ADP of 48 overall or greater in 12 team PPR leagues).

Let’s examine the three wide receiver tiers now.

PPR Plays
(Boring But Safe Starters)

You need to make sure you have at least one (preferably two) solid starter who will anchor your receiver core by hauling in a bevy of passes. You aren’t targeting the elite options with the Zero WR strategy; these receivers don’t have gaudy yards per reception averages. They run most of their routes closer to the line of scrimmage. However, the following receivers will provide consistent high reception totals, and thus rack up copious amounts of points in a PPR league. Remember, touches equal opportunity and volume is usually king. If you want to employ the Zero WR strategy more conservatively, you can pick three options from this tier, but you’ll be trading yardage and TD upside for a stable, but limited ceiling at the position. The following receivers are all safe but boring starters to give you a solid floor:

Cooper Kupp ADP 51.8
Jarvis Landry ADP 64.4
Tyler Boyd ADP 64.6
Larry Fitzgerald ADP 101.4
Golden Tate ADP 102.8
Dede Westbrook ADP 104.6
N’Keal Harry ADP 109.6
Keke Coutee ADP 119.4
Emmanuel Sanders ADP 127.4
Anthony Miller ADP 149.4
Jamison Crowder ADP 190.0
Adam Humphries ADP 201.8
Demaryius Thomas ADP 215.8
Nelson Agholor ADP 243.8
Cole Beasley ADP 264.3

 

Nearly all those receivers averaged four or more receptions per game last season. The lone exception, Demaryius Thomas, dealt with horrendous quarterback play in Denver before getting traded and having to learn a new offense mid-season. Even then, he finished the year with a 3.9 R/G average. The skillsets of these receivers make most of them primarily possession receivers, regardless of the offensive scheme or surrounding personnel. Some of them are small but quick pass-catchers with sudden change-of-direction skills, while others are slow, bigger-bodied, but sure-handed receivers. Cooper Kupp and Jarvis Landry are ideal targets because they play in high-octane offenses and should rack up tons of catches. Veterans such as Golden Tate and Larry Fitzgerald bring track records of consistency, though Fitz will have to contend with more competition for targets while learning a new system and catching passes from a rookie quarterback, while Tate goes from a potent offense in Philadelphia to a highly questionable one in New York. Tyler Boyd is a bit of an outlier, as he’s the only name on this list that boasts a yards-per-reception average of 13.5 or greater, but he’s more shifty than fast and Zac Taylor’s system could change his route concepts.  N’Keal Harry is the wildcard here since first-year players are hard to project, and rookie production at such a difficult position to master at the pro level is hard to bank on in fantasy, but the Patriots spent a first-round pick on him for a reason. The upside is limited with most of the names on this list, increasingly so the higher you go in ADP, but you want to stabilize the wide receiver position on your team with someone who’s actually going to, you know, catch the ball a lot.

 

Deep Threats
(High Yardage Players)

Once you have a safe volume play to stabilize the position, you can complement the reception floor with big yardage gainers. These receivers rarely exceed three or four catches a game, but their yards per reception average typically hovers at 14.0 or above, so they make up in yardage what they lack in catches. These are the types of players that finish a game 3-115 with a TD. Their spike weeks can single-handedly win your week for you, and unlike most of the PPR plays above, these players are dynamic playmakers who can take it to the house on any given play. You should be aiming to add two receivers from this tier as well, and more in best ball leagues. Most of these receivers are the types of impact players that have elite speed. Not all of them are savvy route runners yet (especially last year’s rookies); many are often used as decoys to clear out space underneath, which is why their reception totals are often low.

Tyler Lockett ADP 54.0
D.J. Moore ADP 59.6
Robby Anderson ADP 76.6
Will Fuller ADP 82.8
Marvin Jones ADP 97.0
Courtland Sutton ADP 99.8
Marquez Valdes-Scantling ADP 131.0
DeSean Jackson ADP 136.0
Tyrell Williams ADP 155.0
Michael Gallup ADP 159.8
Marquise Brown ADP 170.2
Kenny Stills ADP 195.8
John Brown ADP 202.5
Marquise Goodwin ADP 230.2
Chris Hogan ADP 289.0
Rashard Higgins ADP 315.5

There are many more deep threats aside from those listed above (every team has a field-stretcher). Virtually all of them have will have a handful of huge games. When healthy, Will Fuller averaged 15.3 yards per target in the slot last year and has the added benefit of being a red zone weapon for Deshaun Watson. Tyler Lockett plays with arguably the best deep-ball passer in football in Russell Wilson. John Brown is a perfect fit in Buffalo with Josh Allen’s cannon arm. D.J. Moore may very well assume the number 1 receiver role in Carolina this season with Devin Funchess gone. The same could be said for Courtland Sutton in Denver, as well. Tyrell Williams joins an Oakland team with 68% of its targets vacated this offseason, though Antonio Brown will gobble up much of that. Robby Anderson has averaged nearly 15 yards per catch for three consecutive seasons and gets a creative play-caller in Adam Gase this year.  DeSean Jackson might be the best deep threat receiver of this generation. Marquise Goodwin nearly had a 1,000-yard season recently under HC Kyle Shanahan the last time he played a full season in 2017. According to PFF, from Weeks 9-17 last year, Rashard Higgins generated a 131.0 passer rating when targeted, good for 5th best in football, and he’s spent all offseason catching balls from Baker Mayfield. Marquez Valdes-Scantling has been impressing this offseason operating as the number two wideout in Green Bay, and according to PFF, he created separation at the third-highest rate in the NFL and led all rookie receivers with 311 deep receiving yards last season. There are tremendous values and some huge upside in this tier, so add accordingly.

 

High-Value Secondary Options
(High YPC Players Who Rack Up Yardage)

Most of these receivers are fine, well-rounded pass-catchers – some with elite skills – who operate as the second receiver on a team featuring an established stud. A few of them are technically number one receivers themselves for their respective teams, but uneven quarterback play, a spread-the-ball-around scheme, or their own inconsistent performance prevents them from ascending into the game’s upper echelon. A Zero WR approach involves investing in a few of these names in the hopes they end up with double-digit scores due to the primary number one receiver opposite them getting double-teamed, or that they take the next step and have a breakout season.

Chris Godwin ADP 51.4
Calvin Ridley ADP 55.8
Sammy Watkins ADP 61.6
Mike Williams ADP 67.2
Alshon Jeffrey ADP 67.6
Allen Robinson ADP 72.2
Dante Pettis ADP 82.4
Christian Kirk ADP 83.2
Corey Davis ADP 87.0
Sterling Shepard ADP 88.8
James Washington ADP 119.8
Curtis Samuel ADP 120.6
D.K. Metcalf ADP 123.6
Devin Funchess ADP 149.6
DaeSean Hamilton ADP 165.6
Tre’Quan Smith ADP 187.6
Devante Parker ADP 199.0
Mohamed Sanu ADP 200.5
Josh Gordon ADP 203.3
Albert Wilson ADP 224.8
Antonio Callaway ADP 235.8
Zay Jones ADP 388.0

This list could change as training camp battles shake out, but it comprises a nice mixture of breakout potential and solid, if unspectacular, production. Receivers like Mohamed Sanu, Tre’Quan Smith, Sammy Watkins, and Allen Robinson should offer consistent WR3 production with the potential for more. A few post-hype, former first-rounders like Devante Parker and Corey Davis represent solid values at their ADPs and should enjoy better quarterback play in 2019. A few former “number two” receivers are inheriting primary receiver roles this season like Sterling Shepard and Dante Pettis, both of whom have breakout potential with the likely increase in targets and their unique skillsets. Even second-fiddle receivers such as Calvin Ridley, Devin Funchess, Chris Godwin, and Mike Williams are also breakout candidates in high-powered offenses prolific enough to support more than one receiver. Consider that Ridley scored a touchdown on over 10% of his receptions last year, so while he’s due for regression in that department, he should also command a larger target share in year two of his career. Godwin led the Bucs in red-zone targets last year and will see even more targets with DeSean Jackson gone to Philly. Tight end Eric Ebron scored 13 TDs as Andrew Luck’s primary red-zone target last season, and this year Devin Funchess, an actual wide receiver, inherits that role. According to PFF, Mike Williams put up 3.56 fantasy points per touch last season, the highest rate among WRs, and there are tons of vacated targets to soak up with Tyrell Williams gone via free agency. Finally, is there a better value than Zay Jones who posted top-20 numbers during the final seven weeks of the season last year, led the Bills with 102 targets (next highest was 62), and sported a double-digit TD pace in ten games played with Josh Allen? This tier is loaded with touchdown upside and breakout candidates, and it serves as the bread and butter tier for the Zero WR approach.

 

Final Take

If you can emerge from a draft rostering five or more wide receivers, with at least one from each of the tiers mentioned above, then you’ve constructed a Zero WR stable of pass catchers that complement each other well, giving you a blend of stability and upside, as well as a few fliers that could evolve into league winners. Make no mistake, like with Zero RB, the Zero WR strategy is equivalent to gambling. You’re betting on risky receivers, whether unproven, lacking consistency, or lacking opportunity, to be given the chance to shine and deliver. Diversifying your portfolio of receivers mitigates some of the risks inherent in this strategy while still allowing you to bet big.

This list of wideouts can, and likely will change as training camp battles ensue, players adapt or struggle to learn a new scheme, and potential injuries occur. The important thing to remember is that tiered-approach targeting, regardless of the exact names within each, allows you to have a balanced approach with the Zero WR strategy.

(Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire)

 

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