Fantasy Football Analysis: WRs



Next up in my summer fantasy analysis is the Wide Receiver position. I thought about lumping the TEs into this analysis too, because they are essentially the same, but I’ll do a separate one for TE next, due to at least one small distinction, and the fact this is quite long already. You can check out my other analysis on QBs here and RBs here. In any case, after looking over the stats at,, as well as, I’ve discovered some neat little trends that help explain why some receivers score better than others. As always, my analysis assumes an ESPN standard 10-team league. So, read on after the jump.

Unlike the QB and RB positions, the WR position in fantasy football is inconsistent. One week a WR will just GO OFF, and then the next, he will completely disappear. It’s a difference primarily in opportunity. There are a variety of reasons as to why a ball may or may not get thrown to a receiver on any given play: QB decision, coverage, QB Sack, intercepted by defense, etc. And then on top of that, when they finally do make a catch, the fantasy points they may end up scoring is highly variable depending on how far the ball is thrown and how far they are able to run after the catch. Unlike a RB who amasses yards by sheer volume of carries, a WR touches the ball half the time on average, but their yards per catch rating is usually double or triple the yards per carry of a RB. So, a WR may catch the ball just as much as any other game, but if the yards and TDs aren’t there for whatever reason, their points will suffer. It’s because of this variability that the WR position is one of the most volatile in fantasy football. If you play in a PPR (points per reception) League, the WR position can be toned down a bit, because if your WR doesn’t happen to score a lot of yards or TDs, they can at least make up some points on receptions. PPR doesn’t solve the variability issue totally, but it can help minimize the impact of variability a little.

Anyway, what kinds of stats should be looked at when analyzing a wide receiver? Well first and foremost, we need to look at targets, because just like the RB position, we need to look at opportunity. How often is the WR getting thrown the ball? In addition, how often is he actually catching it? By looking at target total and catch rate we can determine which WR had the most opportunities and who was taking advantage of them. Here’s a ranking of the top 25 WR by average targets per game, and their total targets and catch % in parenthesis.

1. Roddy White ATL, 11.19 (179, 56%)
2. Wes Welker NE, 10.81 (173, 71%)
3. Brandon Lloyd DEN/STL, 10.00 (150, 48%)
4. Calvin Johnson DET, 9.88 (158, 61%)
5. Larry Fitzgerald ARI, 9.63 (154, 52%)
6. Dwayne Bowe KC, 8.88 (142, 57%)
7. Hakeem Nicks NYG, 8.87 (133, 57%)
8. Brandon Marshall MIA, 8.81 (141, 58%)
t9. Stevie Johnson BUF, 8.38 (134, 57%)
t9. Pierre Garcon IND, 8.38 (134, 52%)
11. Reggie Wayne IND, 8.25 (132, 57%)
12. Victor Cruz NYG, 8.19 (131, 64%)
13. Steve Smith CAR, 8.06 (129, 61%)
14. Greg Jennings GB, 7.77 (101, 66%)
t15. Antonio Brown PIT, 7.75 (124, 56%)
t15. Mike Williams TB, 7.75 (124, 52%)
t17. AJ Green CIN, 7.67 (115, 57%)
t17. Darrius Heyward-Bey OAK, 7.67 (115, 56%)
19. Marques Colston NO, 7.64 (107, 75%)
20. Michael Crabtree SF, 7.60 (114, 64%)
21. Anquan Boldin BAL, 7.57 (106, 54%)
22. Nate Washington TEN, 7.56 (121, 61%)
t23. Percy Harvin MIN, 7.50 (120, 73%)
t23. Greg Little CLE, 7.50 (120, 51%)
25. Jeremy Maclin PHI, 7.38 (96, 66%)

In looking at this list, the vast majority are all "#1 Receivers" in the NFL. QBs are targeting these guys roughly 7-9 times a game, with only the Top 5 averaging more than 9 targets per game. Speaking of, the Top 5 alone helps illustrate one of the problems with only looking at targets, because they are wildly different in their catch rates ranging from 48-71%. Obviously, opportunity and consistency alone don’t determine fantasy points; yards and TDs do. The second statistic this analysis will look at is even more important, and that is the "yards per catch" rate. So, while these 25 guys are all getting the most opportunity of anyone in the NFL, what’s important isn’t just how often a guy gets thrown the ball, but how far downfield are they when the ball is caught? And how many yards are they able to get after the catch? For comparison’s sake, this analysis will only look at the same 25 WR, and this re-ranking will tell us which WR above were able to make the most of their opportunities. Each player is ranked by average yards per reception with TDs in parenthesis.

1. Victor Cruz NYG, 18.7 (9)
2. Larry Fitzgerald ARI, 17.6 (8)
3. Steve Smith CAR, 17.6 (7)
4. Calvin Johnson DET, 17.5 (16)
5. AJ Green CIN, 16.3 (7)
6. Antonio Brown PIT, 16.1 (2)
7. Hakeem Nicks NYG, 15.7 (7)
8. Anquan Boldin BAL, 15.6 (3)
9. Darrius Heyward-Bey OAK, 15.2 (4)
10. Brandon Marshall MIA, 15.0 (6)
t11. Marques Colston NO, 14.3 (8)
t11. Dwayne Bowe KC, 14.3 (5)
13. Greg Jennings GB, 14.2 (9)
t14. Nate Washington TEN, 13.8 (7)
t14. Brandon Lloyd DEN/STL, 13.8 (5)
16. Jeremy Maclin PHI, 13.6 (5)
17. Pierre Garcon IND, 13.5 (6)
18. Stevie Johnson BUF, 13.2 (7)
19. Roddy White ATL, 13.0 (8)
20. Wes Welker NE, 12.9 (9)
21. Reggie Wayne IND, 12.8 (4)
22. Michael Crabtree SF, 12.1 (4)
23. Mike Williams TB, 11.9 (3)
24. Greg Little CLE, 11.6 (2)
25. Percy Harvin MIN, 11.1 (6)

This re-ranking is very telling as a guy like Anquan Boldin (who was near the bottom in the targets list at #21) shoots up to 8th place here. Boldin didn’t get elite opportunities last year, but he has the size and talents to rack up yards across the middle of the field, making him a decent fantasy option. Compare that to Roddy White and Wes Welker who were the top 2 highest targeted WR in the NFL, but both of them fall to 20th and 21st on this list as they aren’t getting the ball down the field as well as some other WR. They each have healthy TD totals however. Speaking of touchdowns, it is very difficult to predict TDs for a WR, even more difficult than for RBs. The total number of TDs on the list ranges from 2-16. So, because of that variability, and the impossible nature of trying to predict them, it’s not helpful to track them too closely. So, when trying to choose the best WR, opportunity (targets) and what they are able to do with them (yards per catch) are the two most important things to consider. But hey, just as the RB analysis considered catching the ball, WR can also carry the ball. Many WR will get the "end around" play-call, which can sometimes net a few additional fantasy points, and at least 1 guy we all know and love is a true hybrid RB/WR. Not everyone on the list above had a carry, but here are 4 WR from the list above that had at least 5 carries last year:

1. Percy Harvin MIN, 52 carries (345 yards, 2 TDs)
2. Antonio Brown PIT, 7 carries (41 yards, 0 TDs)
3. Steve Smith CAR, 6 carries (56 yards, 0 TDs)
4. AJ Green CIN, 5 carries (53 yards, 0 TDs)

Paying attention to carries isn’t a big deal, unless you’re Percy Harvin. He’s the only WR that has legitimate talents as a RB, while the rest are primarily showing off their speed in the "end around" play. But none-the-less, knowing that these WR will occasionally get asked to carry the ball only increases their value.

And lastly, putting this all together we can look at the average fantasy points per game for 2011. As you might suspect, those players that did well on both targets and yards per catch ranking, and that also had a healthy amount of TDs, scored well on this ranking. This ranking is just the top 25 WR in fantasy football in 2011 ranked by fantasy points per game, no longer restricted by targets (only includes players with 8 or more games).

1. Calvin Johnson DET, 16.5
2. Jordy Nelson GB, 13.5
3. Wes Welker NE, 13.4
4. Victor Cruz NYG, 12.9
5. Larry Fitzgerald ARI, 11.8
t6. Greg Jennings GB, 11.5
t6. Marques Colston NO, 11.5
8. Steve Smith CAR, 11.4
9. Julio Jones ATL, 11.3
10. Roddy White ATL, 11.1
11. Percy Harvin MIN, 10.9
12. Laurent Robinson DAL, 10.8
t13. Hakeem Nicks NYG, 10.7
t13. Mike Wallace PIT, 10.7
15. Vincent Jackson SD, 10.6
16. AJ Green CIN, 10.2
17. Miles Austin DAL, 10.0
18. Brandon Marshall MIA, 9.8
19. Dez Bryant DAL, 9.7
20. Malcolm Floyd SD, 9.6
21. Nate Washington TEN, 9.4
22. Dwayne Bowe KC, 9.2
23. Stevie Johnson BUF, 8.9
24. Jeremy Maclin PHI, 8.8
25. Brandon Lloyd DEN/STL 8.4

First off, the guy at the top of the list almost doubled the average points of the guy at the bottom of the list. Megatron stands in a class all by himself as his average is a full THREE points better than the next best WR. From 2nd place onwards, the deviation is pretty even going down the list. Also, there are only 8 WR on this list that weren’t on the initial Targets Ranking, and with the exception of Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, the other 6 of them would have been in the top 25 yards-per-catch ranking. How are Austin and Bryant able to make the Overall List, but fail to crack the top 25 in targets or yards per catch? Well, Dez Bryant and Miles Austin crack the top 20 in TDs and both had pretty good catch rates (61% and 59% respectively). to make up for it. Similarly, there are 8 players that were targeted heavily, but failed to make into the top 25 in fantasy points per game, mainly because their yards per catch ranking, TD total or catch rate was so poor. So, we can’t just look at one ranking, we have to consider everything. Just because a WR is getting targeted a lot, doesn’t mean they’re destined for fantasy glory (see: Reggie Wayne, Antonio Brown, Mike Williams or Greg Little). And just because a WR may not get a ton of targets, if they are able to do a lot with them, they can still crack the top 25 overall (see: Jordy Nelson and Julio Jones).

Speaking of Nelson, how does he do so well as the #2 WR in fantasy without cracking the Top 25 in targets? He actually comes in at #40 in targets with 96 over 16 full games (6 targets per game on average, about 1 less per game than the top 25). So, yes, he’s getting less targets, but not by a huge amount. Secondly, his catch rate is phenomenal at 71%. In fact, while he is 40th in targets, he jumps way up to 20th in receptions, notching 68 on the year. So, he’s making the most of limited opportunities. Also, he is taking a huge advantage of his receptions, ranking 5th overall in yards per catch with 18.6, and he has an obscene TD total at 15. So, Nelson is able to maximize every single other category other than Targets, and is a prime example of why targets don’t tell the whole story. But hey, he also has one of the best Quarterbacks in the NFL throwing him the ball, and that helps too. As the saying goes, it takes 2 to tango, and it takes 2 for a successful pass in the NFL (or to make a thing go right). In the cases of Reggie Wayne, Mike Williams and Greg Little, they were targeted a ton, but they didn’t have very good QBs throwing them the ball either (Curtis Painter, Josh Freeman and Colt McCoy respectively). Their YPC and TD rate were pretty low, and none them make the overall fantasy points per game list despite their high target totals. Percy Harvin ended up as the 11th best WR in fantasy last year, and if it weren’t for Harvin’s rushing abilities and his sure hands (catch rate), he’d in the same group as Wayne, Williams and Little, as Harvin’s YPC and TD totals were also pretty low (and his QBs McNabb and Ponder didn’t have the greatest season in 2011 either). Lastly, consider that there are several teams that have TWO wide receivers on the list: NYG (Eli Manning), GB (Aaron Rodgers), ATL (Matt Ryan) and DAL (Tony Romo). All four QBs were Top 10 finishers in fantasy, so a good QB can make a big difference on a WR.

Overall a WR needs to do well in at least 3 out of the following 4 categories to find success in fantasy football: Targets, Catch Rate, Yards Per Catch or TDs. Unfortunately, TDs are highly variable and impossible to predict, so when trying to select a WR for fantasy purposes, pay attention to Targets, Catch Rate and YPC, and keep in mind that if a player only scores well in 2 of those, that they better have good chances for TDs or you could end up with a dud. Or, you can just be Percy Harvin and make up the difference as a RB (there is nobody else in the NFL that does that). In any case, if a player can only manage to do well in 2 out of those 4, they generally won’t find a ton of success. Take Antonio Brown for example. He does well in targets and YPC, but his catch rate is merely average, and his TD total is abysmal, and he doesn’t crack the Top 25 overall as a result. Or take a guy like Michael Crabtree who has a high target rate and a good catch rate, but low YPC and TDs. If Alex Smith could actually get the ball down the field, Michael Crabtree would be a lot better WR for fantasy's purposes, whereas Antonio Brown needs to improve his catch rate and hope to find the endzone to improve.

So, who are my top 10 WR for 2012? Well, taking all of the above into consideration here they are:

1. Calvin Johnson DET
2. Victor Cruz NYG
3. Wes Welker NE
4. Jordy Nelson GB
5. Greg Jennings GB
6. Larry Fitzgerald ARI
7. Julio Jones ATL
8. Steve Smith CAR
9. Roddy White ATL
10. Percy Harvin MIN

Other Notable WR to consider as starters: Andre Johnson HOU, Hakeem Nicks NYG, Mike Wallace PIT, AJ Green CIN, Miles Austin DAL, and Marques Colston NO

This FanPost was created by a registered user of The Daily Norseman, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the staff of the site. However, since this is a community, that view is no less important.

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