With people starting to gravitate their attention to the upcoming 2021 NFL Season, fantasy drafts have been ramping up in Best Ball formats and preparation for the season is well underway. 

If you have been drafting in the early summer (or have ever drafted at all), one thing you may have come across in a draft is taking a cheap wide receiver solely because he was his team’s No. 1 option at the position as a selling point. 

We are here to explore the hit rates of those wide receivers in an attempt to diagnose whether or not these team WR1 options are discounted and can be of value, or if they are a potential trap and should be avoided. 

To get there, I am taking average draft position from wideouts that were the first receiver selected from their respective teams, but carried an ADP outside of the top-24 wide receivers selected at the position itself. Just pulling that info, let’s take a look at things from a top-down perspective and work our way through some questions such as top-scoring seasons, hit rate in matching ADP, and hit rates versus the field at draft cost. 

Before officially diving in, however, we have to ask one question. Does being the first wide receiver selected on your team matter?

Keep in mind that we are the best at setting wide receiver ADP among all of the fantasy positions. Since 2010, 78.8% of all WR1 scoring seasons have come from players that were the first wide receiver selected on their team. 15.9% have been the WR2 in ADP from their team and just seven of the 132 have been lower.

The R-Squared for these team WR1 options in scoring output versus ADP drops all the way down to .1030. About a third of the correlation to the position in total. 

Grabbing all of these cheaper WR1 options since 2010, we have a sample size of 131 wide receivers. Out of those 131 seasons, here is the breakdown for seasonal finishes…

  • 48 WRs (36.6%) posted a top-36 overall scoring season.
  • 30 WRs (22.9%) posted a top-24 overall scoring season.
  • 15 WRs (11.5%) posted a top-12 overall scoring season.
  • 61 WRs (46.6%) posted a season outside of the top-48.
  • 49 WRs (37.4%) had an overall position finish higher than ADP.
  • 30 WRs (22.9%) beat their positional ADP by 12 or more spots.
  • 8 WRs (6.1%) beat their positional ADP by 24 or more spots.

In our sample, we came across 15 top-12 (WR1) seasons. Three of which cleared over 300 total PPR points. Those came from Josh Gordon (WR35) in 2013, and both Allen Robinson (WR28) and Brandon Marshall (WR26) in 2015. 2015 was a hot season for later-round receiver hits as the lowest team WR1 in ADP to post a top-12 scoring season here also came in 2015 from Doug Baldwin, who was the WR63 in drafts that season. 2015 also saw Larry Fitzgerald (WR35) finish as the WR7 in scoring that season. 

Also, the player to the far right is 2019 Terry McLaurin since I know a few may be wondering who the lowest team WR1 in ADP was over this sample. 

Just looking at the most recent season in 2020, there were 11 team WR1 options being selected outside of the top-24 at their position and just three (Marquise Brown, McLaurin, and Will Fuller) posted a top-36 scoring season). 

Team WR1 options that were selected as top-24 wideouts in the same sample posted WR3 or better scoring seasons at a 74.2% rate, WR2 or better seasons at 63.1%, and WR1 seasons at a 40.1% rate. Even though the margin of error is significantly thinner due to higher ADP, those wideouts also beat their positional ADP at a 38.5% rate, which edged our lower-cost WR1 options. 

Context to the Field

Suggesting those lower-cost team WR1 do not hit like the higher-priced options is not particularly illuminating since they are priced the way they are for a reason and we are already counting them to be worse. But by looking at these WR1 options in context of the draft position to the surrounding options, can we diagnose that you should be selecting team WR1 options over team WR2 or lower the further the draft progresses and those higher-priced WR1 options are off the board?

To get here, we are going to look at those team WR1 options versus the field arbitrarily through positional draft status.

Team WR1 vs Non-WR1 Selected as WR3 Options (WR25-36)

WR3 ADPPlayer%Beat ADPWR2%WR1%Top-6%
Team WR150.76%38.80%32.83%19.40%5.97%

Reaching the WR3 portion of fantasy drafts, we have nearly a 50/50 split in our sample of team WR1 being selected (67 players) versus non-WR1 options (65). 

In this nearly equal sample, team WR1 options beat out the non-WR1 options across the board in terms of beating their positional ADP, turning in WR2 and WR1 or better seasons, as well as turning in top-6 options at the position.

The non-WR1 group here only turned in six top-12 scoring seasons with Emmanuel Sanders in 2014 (who was his team’s WR3 in ADP) as the lone top-six scorer. The team WR1 group produced 13 WR1 scoring seasons. 

When in the WR3 area of drafts, history has shown that team WR1 options have a significant edge here, especially if you are chasing a higher-ceiling season coming from this area of the draft. Current team WR1 options being selected in this area over the past week in FFPC formats are Kenny Golladay (WR25), Brandon Aiyuk (WR27), Odell Beckham (WR28), D.J. Chark (WR29), Courtland Sutton (WR31), and DeVonta Smith (WR34).

Team WR1 vs Non-WR1 Selected as WR4 Options (WR37-WR48)

WR4 ADPPlayer%Beat ADPWR2%WR1%Top-6%
Team WR131.81%30.95%11.90%0.00%0.00%

Obviously, the deeper we get, the team WR1 sample size is going to get dwarfed. Here is our first clear separation gap as team WR1 options only make up 31.8% of the WR4 sample. Out of those 42 WR1 options per ADP, just 13 ended up beating their positional ADP while just five turned in WR2 or better scoring seasons with zero finishing the season as a WR1 scorer. 

Our non-WR1 options trump the WR1 options across the board in terms of hit rates with benchmark seasons from Jordy Nelson (WR45 in ADP) in 2011 and Justin Jefferson (WR48) last season as top-six overall scorers that were not the lead wideouts in ADP on their teams that season. 

In the WR4 portion of drafts, team WR1 options have yielded significantly worse results than prior. The current team WR1 options in this area of drafts the past week in FFPC formats are Brandin Cooks (WR41), Marquise Brown (WR42), Will Fuller (WR43), and Michael Pittman (WR45). 

Team WR1 vs Non-WR1 Selected as WR5 or Later Options (WR49+)

WR5+ ADPPlayer%Beat ADPWR3%WR2%WR1%Top-6%
Team WR13.95%43.47%17.39%13.04%8.69%0.00%

Rarely do lead wide receivers make it this late in drafts. Since 2010, we only have a 23 player sample of team WR1 options basically left for dead coming into drafts. 10 of those 23 beat their positional ADP with four turning in a top-36 scoring season and two (Baldwin in 2015 and DeVante Parker in in 2019) posting top-12 scoring seasons. 

Non-WR1 options beat their positional ADP at a higher rate, but with a sample this skewed have not hit in top-scoring seasons at the same rate. Standout top-12 scoring seasons here have come from Odell Beckham (WR67) in 2014 and Davante Adams (WR67) in 2016, who were the WR3 and WR4 options selected on their teams those seasons. 

We do have a handful of these team WR1 options going this late in 2021 drafts. Current team WR1 options being selected in this area of current drafts are Elijah Moore (WR50), Henry Ruggs (WR59), Nelson Agholor (WR64), and Amon-Ra St. Brown (WR70). 

Closing Shop

Although we should be focusing team WR1 options in the earlier stages of drafts, there is some value in targeting team WR1 options in the WR3 area of drafts over secondary (and third) options. In the WR4 portion, we should be taking a lot more caution on those WR1 options. Not that it is impossible for those wideouts to hit, but recent history has shown us that those WR1 options are there for a strong reason. Anything afterward is in the Hail Mary zone as the sample size is so small for WR1 options to really draw anything else from while the overall hit rate for those wide receivers turning in tangible scoring seasons altogether is low.