This off-season one of my projects on my list was finding the next WR1 in fantasy that can be had cheap. They pop up on an annual basis. Some of these guys are true breakout players with little on their résumé like Eddie Royal in 2008 or Jordy Nelson in 2011, while others are just undervalued assets prior to the season that rebound for excellence (see: Steve Smith in 2011). I compiled a list of all the receivers that outperformed their positional rank in terms of average draft position (ADP) by at least 10 spots and finished inside the top-12 receivers in terms of year-end PPG. From there, some common characteristics can be identified looking for a target list for the 2012 version of last year’s Steve Smith or Jordy Nelson.
Here is my list of undervalued WR1 receivers that meet the above criteria, totaling 22 players from 2008-2011. I will use their characteristics to identify 2012 candidates:
|Year||PPG Finish||WR RK ADP||Player|
|2011||10||34||Steve Smith (CAR)|
|2009||8||44||Steve Smith (NYG)|
Drafting one of the above players can win fantasy titles for an owner. While avoiding an early round bust is also important, hitting on a middle/late round player that becomes an every-week starter is just as vital to a season’s success. From this list, here are the strongest list of common traits for these receivers to identify future undervalued impact fantasy receivers:
- 70% saw an increase in their quarterback’s fantasy rank from previous season.
- 41% had top-5 quarterbacks in their breakout season.
- 14% had quarterbacks outside the top-20 in fantasy production in breakout season.
- 70% had an ADP between WR15-35 during the preseason according to MyFantasyLeague.com.
- 75% had a positive PFF pass rating the prior season.
- 87% had 0.34 or higher FP/Opportunity the prior season.
The last bit of analysis I looked at was their regression trends heading into their breakout season. Most showed statistical reasons for an increase in production in addition to the above traits. Now, it is time to turn this set of information as a guide to find the best candidates for 2012 stardom. First, here are the prime targets that meet all the general criteria above:
|ADP RK||ADP||Player||Proj. QB RK||PFF Pass||FP/OPP|
*Projected quarterback rank based on Mike Clay’s current projections. Kenny Britt’s quarterback rank based on total of Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker.
This is a strong list of target receivers in rounds 4-7, which can be the foundation of a draft strategy in 2012 redraft leagues. Getting three of these receivers with a top pair of running backs and a top-5 quarterback is the type of draft start that can win leagues. The next step with this group is to identify the regression trends at play heading into 2012.
Jeremy Maclin has some strong regression trends working in his favor. First off, he missed three games in 2011. That alone often leads to value the following season in terms of ADP. After a touchdown rate of over 11% in his first two seasons, Maclin’s fell to 7.9% in 2011. With LeSean McCoy’s touchdown total likely to fall, Maclin could be the biggest beneficiary in 2012.
Speaking of missed games, Miles Austin is another receiver primed to be a value based on playing just ten games in 2011. In Dallas, there is a void at receiver with the departure of Laurent Robinson. One or both of Dez Bryant and Miles Austin stands to benefit significantly in my opinion. In 2011, Austin saw his lowest yard-after-catch average in his career, just 4.7 compared to his 6.9 average the prior three seasons. That directly contributed to his lowest yards-per-reception of just 13.5. Even maintaining his 7-7.5 target/game average from the past three seasons, Austin has WR1 potential given his efficiency.
Antonio Brown is an intriguing receiver on this list. He was just signed to a long-term deal by the Steelers, while Mike Wallace sits without any big money commitment. That tells fantasy owners what to think about Brown going forward. Brown is now getting starter money for the foreseeable future with an above-average fantasy quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger. PFF metric-wise, there are things to like about Brown going into 2012 as well. While 2011 was also a breakout season for Brown with 1100 yards, there is still room for growth. His 1.9% touchdown rate and converting just once with his 10 red zone targets produced just two touchdowns, which certainly can rise in 2012. While his touchdowns give reason for improvement, Brown was targeted on nearly 30% of his pass routes in 2011, an already elite level. That gives his progression to a WR1 level in fantasy some pause in my opinion.
The last player I will mention in terms of regression is Reggie Wayne. His targets fell by 3.2 per game in 2011. He is a timing receiver and it wasn’t surprising that there was a larger drop-off in his use compared to teammate Pierre Garcon when Peyton Manning was out of the lineup all season. His efficiency was still rock solid, matching his 3-year averages in terms of aDOT, YAC/Reception, and even his red zone conversion rate. His red zone efficiency is something that his teammates saw a significant decline. Wayne was still producing. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wayne return to his 150 target level of years past with Andrew Luck under center and approaching a stat line of 95/1150/6. Based on the historical averages at the receiver position, that would put Wayne in the WR10-12 mix in fantasy terms in 2012.
Next, here is the second tier of target receivers for a WR1 season in 2012. They have at least one flaw based on the above criteria, but enough potential to be worthy of consideration.
|ADP RK||ADP||Player||Proj. QB RK||PFF Pass||FP/OPP|
Of this list, I find Sidney Rice and Austin Collie the most intriguing. Both are clearly going to get the playing time, when healthy, required to accumulate meaningful fantasy production. Both of their price points are such that the risk of underperforming is well-worth the chance for the upside if they “hit”.
First off, Sidney Rice has just one season over 100 fantasy points in his career – that magic 2008 year with Brett Favre. Rice has always been solid in terms of drop rate, yet his catch rate was just 57% in 2011 – a sign of problems at the quarterback position in Seattle. Matt Flynn was added and is a ray of hope if the pair can create some chemistry this season. After a 12% touchdown rate in 2008-2010, Rice’s 2011 rate was just 6.3%. Given his size and ball skills, Rice will be the primary passing target in the red zone when healthy in 2012. While Rice may be a long-shot to become a WR1, he meets the profile, will have the opportunity, and comes at a price point that makes the risk far more palatable in a fantasy draft or auction.
Finally, Austin Collie is a very intriguing choice in the later rounds in 2012. I talked about Reggie Wayne’s rebound season already and some of those same things apply to Austin Collie. Andrew Luck will be a huge impact to Austin Collie’s production this season. After a 12.8% touchdown rate in 2009-2010, Collie took a nosedive in that metric without Manning to the tune of just 1.9% last year. His red zone conversion rate was also a factor. After converting 47% (9 of 19) of red zone targets into scores in the previous two seasons, Collie scored on just 9% (1 of 11) of red zone opportunities in 2011. Another glaring example of the decline in quarterback play: Collie’s drop rate was in line with his career rate in 2011 – around 5%. However, his catch rate plummeted to 59% after seasons of 71% and 83% in 2009-2010 for the sure-handed receiver. That is a jarring change in the quality of Collie’s targets. Given Pierre Garcon’s departure, Collie looks like the clear #2 target on the team for 2012. The Colts’ defense is still a big work-in-progress, so Luck’s attempts should be in the 520-550 range. With Wayne and Collie as the only solid veteran targets, I expect ample opportunity.
From the sheer volume of receivers with top upside in the middle rounds of ADP this year, the traditional strategy of going RB-RB to start a draft could produce the best results. Running back quality runs out quickly while there are quality options at receivers long into the middle rounds. Who will be this year’s Steve Smith? While there are no sure things in fantasy football, the odds from the recent history say it will be a receiver from the above list.
Coming up next: Finding the next RB1
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