Fantasy Football WR Preview: Best Ball WRs
Published: May 26, 2021
The true die-hard fantasy gamer realizes that fantasy football is a year round event. The schedule goes:
- Late Summer: Redraft Leagues
- Fall: Glorious Regular Season Football
- Winter: Playoff DFS
- Early Spring: Dynasty Roster Tinkering
- Spring: NFL Draft/Dynasty Drafts
- Early Summer: Best Ball Season (You Are Here)
For those unfamiliar, “best ball” is arguably the greatest invention since Point Per Reception (the “sliced bread” of the fantasy world). The concept is simple - you don’t need to set a lineup. You pick your players and then, via the wonders of modern computing, the best players on your team are automatically slotted into your lineup each week. There are typically no waivers or trades either so it creates a “set it and forget it” game that lets you draft teams and have leagues with your friends without all the commitment and hassle of logging in every single week to field trade offers, make claims, and set lineups. Amazing.
So, in honor of #BestBallSZN, we are going to look at each position and give you some basic tips to help you dominate your drafts. Let’s start with wide receiver.
Find Value in Boom/Bust
This is one of the main differences between ranking players for best ball vs. redraft yet people still do not seem to grasp the concept as the ADPs for best ball still tend to skew towards redraft. In redraft, you have to set your lineup each week which creates a natural aversion to players that could possibly score you zero points in any given week. In best ball, the highest scoring players end up in your lineup each week regardless - you don’t need to fear the “boom/bust” player because you get all those tasty boom weeks with none of those yucky bust weeks.
For instance, let’s take two guys who were going in a very similar range ADP-wise last season. Amari Cooper (overall ADP 38) and Cooper Kupp (overall ADP 40) were essentially being drafted back to back in the fourth round in PPR formats. And there wasn’t a drastic difference in their overall performances as Amari averaged 14.8 PPR points per game and Kupp averaged 13.9. However, Cooper Kupp is a historically consistent, lower average depth of target slot player while Amari Cooper is a notorious boom/bust split end/flanker so their weekly outputs are not created equally. Here is the distribution of weeks based on the ranges of PPR points scored in 2020.
Amari had weeks of 1.5, 2.3, and 4.1 PPR points which likely drove redraft owners absolutely insane when he killed them in their head to head matchups. These inconsistent weeks hurt his perceived value across the entire fantasy industry. Kupp on the other hand only had one truly bad week at 4.1 points while giving you one other game with 6.1 points and then never scoring less than 8 PPR points in any other week. Highly consistent and trustworthy. However, in PPR best ball leagues, those brutally bad weeks don’t count against you as you likely had other pass catchers that scored more than 5 points. In fact, depending on the set up of your league in terms of number of teams and starting spots anything under 10 PPR points almost certainly didn’t crack your lineup and anything under 15 is even questionable depending how good the rest of your team did that week. You have to remember, in any given week some scrub that you took in the 18th round could score a random 60 yard touchdown which is a 13 point play by itself so 10-15 points might very well be on your bench that week. So, for best ball, the distribution of what weeks actually made your lineup or not for the two players might have looked like this.
In that sense, Amari had 10 games where he definitely cracked the lineup compared to 5 for Kupp. Despite his consistency, Kupp had 7 of his 15 games with less than 12 PPR points while Amari only had 4 of his 16 games under 12 so you likely got far more value out of Amari despite their similar ADP.
So, the advice here is simple. Because of the way typical fantasy leagues work and preconceived notions that carry over from the popularity of typical leagues, players are scared of the explosive homerun hitting wide receivers like Tyler Lockett , Brandin Cooks , Marvin Jones , DeSean Jackson etc.. In typical dynasty drafts you will also see an aversion to guys who profile as field stretchers who will use their speed to take the tops off defenses like Tutu Atwell and Anthony Schwartz. And for good reason because they can be inconsistent. But a guy like Schwartz might be the fastest player in the entire league so what happens when he does actually get behind the defense? To the barn. So, in seasonal and dynasty best ball leagues, you can take advantage of this knowledge compared to the depressed ADP of these players.
Uncertainty Is Your Friend
In the early rounds of any league in any format, the sure things almost always go first. Everyone knows that DeAndre Hopkins is a lock for targets no matter who his quarterback is because we’ve already seen him succeed with the very bottom of the barrel at QB. We shouldn’t have to tell you to draft those guys first but, in case you feel the urge to go overboard drafting field stretchers after the last paragraph, let’s just remind you to take those guys first.
Page 1: Take DeAndre Hopkins or Stefon Diggs before Henry Ruggs
Once you get into the deeper part of the draft however - the part where leagues are actually won - you are going to face some tougher decisions. And one of the biggest pieces of advice I can give you fantasy gamers is that, once all the sure things come off the board, uncertainty actually becomes your friend. Here is what I mean by that.
Last year the Carolina Panthers fired their coach and let their QB leave in free agency, which landed them an entirely new coaching staff with a new playbook and a new starting QB. Pretty much everyone in the fantasy football world thought “well I know things have changed but DJ Moore is the most talented wide receiver there so he should get the most touches”. And that turned out to be wrong. If we count carries + targets, Robby Anderson got 140, Curtis Samuel got 138, and DJ Moore got 120. What happened? Well, everyone expected Robby Anderson to be the field stretcher since that was his role in New York. But Matt Rhule had actually coached Robby Anderson at Temple and knew he could use him running the underneath crossing routes that OC Joe Brady loved at LSU so that’s what they did. Curtis Samuel not only ran similar crossing routes but, when Christian McCaffrey got hurt, he doubled as a gadget back and got 40 carries. DJ Moore then ended up being the deep threat, as we detailed in this DJ Moore article, and Teddy Bridgewater was fairly averse to throwing those passes. Moore still produced but not at the level we had hoped.
The real kicker is when you look at the ADP. DJ Moore last year had an ADP of WR11, Curtis Samuel an ADP of WR64, and Robby Anderson an ADP of WR65. The uncertainty of what could happen with the new front office and new quarterback led to a value proposition for the two wide receivers with the significantly later ADP. We had never seen Rhule, Brady, and Bridgewater together in the NFL so we could only offer our best guess as to what they would do. Based on the ADP, the industry's best guess was DJ Moore. And that ended up being wrong.
For this year there are some similar propositions where you may be able to take advantage of uncertainty. Here are some situations and some ADPs based on the most recent two weeks of Best Ball 10 drafts. Like the Panthers last year, all of these teams will presumably have a brand new coach and brand new quarterback. We can make our best guess as to which guys will be the focal point of the offense but the reality is that there are so many moving parts with the new coach, new offensive coordinator, new quarterback, and even new WRs themselves that we really cannot be sure.
D.J. Chark - WR30
Laviska Shenault - WR43
Marvin Jones . - WR51
New York Jets
Corey Davis - WR49
Denzel Mims - WR58
Jamison Crowder - WR60
Elijah Moore - WR65
Breshad Perriman - WR73
Amon-Ra St. Brown - WR74
Tyrell Williams - WR85
Quintez Cephus - WR92
Brandin Cooks - WR37
Nico Collins - WR93
Keke Coutee - WR106
This is also the time to capitalize and monetize on your hunches. If you think Jamison Crowder gets released this summer by the Jets and Elijah Moore becomes the de facto slot WR by week 1, that knowledge doesn’t really help you in your redraft leagues in August because all that will be said and done by the time you actually draft. You can’t go down to the casino and cash in the tweet you sent out in May saying you think Jamison Crowder gets released. You can however do a bunch of best ball drafts right now while Elijah Moore is WR65. In 2019, Tyreek Hill ’s son broke his arm and a voicemail came out where Hill appeared to threaten the mother of his child. For a guy with his history, it looked pretty bad. His ADP in best ball during the month of May that year was 56. As we know, that all cleared up and he ended up playing. He got hurt but he still dropped weeks of 23.8, 25, 26.5, and 33 points that no doubt moved the needle for your best ball lineups. In 2020 he was the WR2 overall in PPR. That uncertainty created massive value. And that’s why you should embrace it.
This tags onto the previous idea a bit but this is another notion that gets a bad rap from redraft leagues but is incredibly valuable in best ball. The idea is that you stack players that are not only on the same team, but that even play the same position. In a regular redraft league, there is no bigger headache than choosing between two very similar players to put into your lineup. And it’s even scarier when you need a bench spot and have to choose which one to drop. In best ball, there is none of that. The best player automatically gets slotted into your lineup. And, since there are no waivers, the rosters themselves are generally a lot bigger so you have fewer qualms about having one of the guys in your lineup and one on your bench all season. If a different one goes off each week that’s even better - you get all those points.
For instance, let’s use the Cowboys as an example. We already talked about Amari Cooper as a good draft pick in best ball but what about the other two wide receivers? Dak Prescott is back this year as well as all the injured linemen so you might still want to get involved if you miss on Amari. Last year when CeeDee Lamb was a rookie, he played 94% of his snaps from the slot. When they used two WR sets instead of three, Lamb was actually the guy who came off the field so he only played 64% of the total snaps on the season while Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup played closer to 80-90%. However, you might personally believe that CeeDee Lamb is the more talented pass catcher so maybe this year he takes a step forward and plays more two WR sets than Gallup. That said, we saw what happened last year so technically we can’t be 100% sure that that will be the case.
One simple way to hedge that bet is to also draft Michael Gallup . Lamb has an ADP of WR15 so he’s fairly expensive, going in the 4th round on average, but Gallup has an ADP of WR45 so he’s actually pretty cheap going in the 13th-14th round. So, if you are betting that Ceedee gets more snaps in two WR sets with Amari, you can inexpensively hedge your bet by taking Gallup 10 rounds later in case they plan to stick with Gallup on the outside for one more year before he’s a free agent. Not to mention, if the oft injured Amari Cooper misses time, you now have both the Cowboys WRs in two WR sets on an offense we expect to be prolific. In redraft, taking both those players might be causing yourself an unnecessary headache but, in best ball, you can actually feel really comfortable about it.
For any additional best ball tips or questions on who to draft feel free to hit up the author on Twitter @CoopAFiasco.