Wide Receiver End-Game Strategy

Title: Wide Receiver End-Game Strategy
Date: September 2, 2011
Original Source: The On Deck Circle
Synopsis: This article looks at how to draft Wide Receivers late in fantasy drafts, and what attributes to focus on. Specifically, it makes sense to shoot for upside at the end of drafts, because semi-reliable (but only semi-useful) players are a dime-a-dozen on the waiver wire.

Now that my own personal fantasy leagues have drafted, I can finally take the writing shackles off and scribe about fantasy football, without the risk of my competitors stealing my secret recipes from within these pages. In reality, probably none of this is groundbreaking, but in a competitive league there’s certainly a chance someone would look here to glean information about my drafting strategy or rankings. With that possibility now behind us, I can delve into some fantasy thoughts and theories, and today I’ll start by focusing on end-game Wide Receiver strategy. Since this is my first fantasy football article of the season, I should note that I tend to focus on deeper leagues, with a lean towards PPR leagues as well, but I’ll try to keep advice as general as possible.

In terms of general fantasy strategy, people seem to either build for high-floor or high-ceiling, and in my leagues there isn’t a lot of variance within rosters. I don’t really understand that. That is, while owners seem to trend towards one or the other, I think it’s most logical to feature a hybrid of low-risk and high-risk players, diversifying your fantasy portfolio. This seems intuitive, but I suppose it may not be. Specifically, I’m a believer in high-floor for starting lineups and high-ceiling for the bench. Basically, once I’ve crafted a starting lineup that I’m comfortable with, I’ll begin to gamble a bit more to fill out the bench.

And I think the strategy here makes sense. Yes, throughout the fantasy regular season, depth and low downside will keep you consistently competitive week to week. But personally, I have universal faith in my ability to make the fantasy playoffs almost regardless of the strategy I’ve employed, simply based on smart drafting and aggressive in-season maneuvering. So if you’re a well-travelled (or highly egotistical) owner that is relatively sure of a playoff spot, and a high-floor team will only do so much for you. In the fantasy playoffs, you’re going to need some upside to win against the best teams in the league.

 More after the jump!
As an example, the owner with Michael Vick last year may not have been the most consistent in your league, but I’ll bet in weeks 14 and 15, Vick helped lead them to the fantasy finals. This was the case in my most competitive league, and I found myself taking a few high-upside risks (hello, Tim Tebow!) to combat Vick’s scoring potential. I assumed that while my downside was higher than my opponent’s, the presence of Vick made his upside greater, and I had to account for this, not vice versa.

With that example in mind, I think the general axiom holds that your bench should be more geared towards high-upside plays, especially at the Wide Receiver position. After all, this position has the largest pool of players to draw from, and has relatively more acceptable point producers than the Running Back position, especially if you’re league is a 3WR/2RB/1Flex roster composition as many of mine are.

After you’ve filled your starting Wide Receiver positions and secured one reliable bench wide-out to cover bye weeks or an injury, it’s time to roll the dice.

After all, right now there are more than a handful of reliable (read: boring) wide-outs available in over 50% of Yahoo leagues that will be out there if your risk doesn’t pan out. As I see it, you have at least three weeks to roll the dice with these bench spots until bye weeks may necessitate some more reliable bench players, and a three-week audition on your bench rather than on the waiver wire could be the difference between you having Miles Austin circa 2009 and someone else having him to use against you.

The following players are available in more than 50% of Yahoo leagues and are intriguing upside plays for your bench spots.

Robert Meachem, NO, 45%: Marques Colston has bad knees, and the Saints spread the ball around. The public is down on Devery Henderson (1% owned), but Meachem could be a startable wide-out quickly.
Steve Breaston, KC, 32%: As the unquestioned number two in Kansas City, Breaston should have more consistent opportunity and a better pass-thrower than last year in the desert. While this is a run-first team, Dwayne Bowe will draw heavy coverage, and coach Todd Haley is very familiar with how to best use Breaston.
Steve Smith, Phi, 28%: Owners don’t seem to be keeping up with the news, as Smith looks like he could potentially be ready for Week 1. His current ownership is at PUP-anticipatory levels, not reflective of the number two option in Philly.
Antonio Brown, Pit, 24%: Big Ben’s favorite preseason target, he may have passed Emmanuel Sanders on the QB’s mental progression list. Brown has huge down-field ability, and will likely be an inconsistent but productive performer.
Greg Little, Cle, 21%: He could end up being the number one option quickly, and the Browns appear ready to throw the ball more this year. Still, nobody is buying on Browns receivers. Make the exception here.
Denarius Moore, Oak, 14%: Another Typical Raider Receiver? Not quite. Moore has been very impressive through camp and could open the season as the top target with injuries having ravaged the depth chart.
Andre Roberts, Ari, 7%: Steve Breaston was productive in years past, and Roberts will slide into his role, only with a better QB at the helm this year. Number two targets in a pass-first offense with a decent QB? Sold.
Titus Young, Det, 4%: The speedy slot-man for the upstart Lions, Young could benefit from being matched up against weaker defenders as defenses key in on Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew, leaving him holes in the middle to exploit and turn into big down-field gains. I’m very high on Young.

And hey, if these picks don’t pan out or you lose patience, the following players are also available in more than 50% of Yahoo leagues, and are your more reliable (again, read: boring) Wide Receiver options.

Nate Burleson, Det, 39%: While defenses focus in on Megatron, Burleson will receive a fair number of targets in this pass-heavy offense, but his best years are behind him.
Donald Driver, GB, 35%: The Packers keep getting better options, but he remains the constant. His production will continue to trend downwards, but still have some value.
Derrick Mason, NYJ, 24%: Old Reliable, while his role in New York may not be as secure or defined as in Baltimore, Mark Sanchez will find him frequently enough and grow to rely on him.
Terrell Owens, FA, 19%: Obviously owners are expecting him to sign mid-season somewhere, and the timing could be just right if your patience wears thin around the half-way point of the season.
Earl Bennett, Chi, 15%: Some may have placed him in the list above, but with the ball being spread in the Martz offense, I think a repeat of his 2010 numbers is likely.
Nate Washington, Ten, 9%: A perennial occupant of sleeper lists prior to this year, he’ll draw some targets with easier coverage opposit Kenny Britt and probably grab 3 or 4 catches each week.
Kevin Walter, Hou, 9%: The Original White Receiver, he’s still an underneath option for Matt Schaub and will be his fourth most targetted option.
TJ Houshmandzadeh, FA, 1%: Like Owens, if a team adds Housh mid-season, he may be worth a roster spot depending on the situation.

Based on the descriptions above, it should be pretty obvious that the first group offers way more upside. With this type of player (less than 50% owned), you shouldn’t be relying on them, so the lower downside for the first group shouldn’t hurt you.

Take the risk with those extra Wide Receiver bench spots, and enjoy the waiver-free returns mid-season, or cut bait as your needs dictate. Just don’t assume the safer play is the right play, especially with your bench spots.

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