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ADP Arbitrage - Wide Receiver Draft Bargains

I've introduced this series with a look at running back comparisons to identify mid-round values at the position. Now, it's time to dive into the wide receiver position.

While ADP is very informative and can help you be informed about where you should start worrying about potentially missing out on a player, it shouldn't affect your decisions massively. Take Josh Allen's 2020 season: 396.1 fantasy points to lead the whole NFL, and current holder of a 16 ADP that is seeing him drafted inside the first two rounds (!) of drafts these days. Does that mean you should absolutely trust Allen having another monster year that when all is said and done gives you a good return on investment after paying a second-round pick for him? Nope! In fact, the most logical thing to happen is Allen regressing and finishing with more average-ish fantasy numbers in 2021.

In this four-entry series, I'll go through the four offensive positions of fantasy football, highlighting names that are going cheap in early drafts and evaluate how they are expected to produce similar numbers to other much more-hyped players.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association including Baseball Writer of the Year, Football Writers of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year and many more! Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!


Identifying Overpriced WRs

There are 32 players with ADPs under 36 (PPR format) at the time of this writing, and eight of them (exactly 25%) are wide receivers. Unsurprisingly, Tyreek Hill (who happens to play under a certain Pat Mahomes...) is the no. 1 WR getting off fantasy draft boards. There isn't much of a gap between him and Davante Adams, though, as they're separated by a measly two picks on average, both getting drafted inside the second round on average. The other second-rounders are Stefon Diggs and DK Metcalf, though the latter one is a borderline one with an ADP at 24.0.

After missing a ton of time last year, Michael Thomas has gone all the way down to the WR9 in ADP, which is also impacted by the retirement of QB Drew Brees. Watch out for a potential bargain right there if he gets his mojo back playing for (we hope) Jameis Winston in 2021.

Here is what I'm looking for when trying to identify comps for those top-ADP receivers at lower spots. If we build some sort of "combined profile" of them, we can land at something close to:

  • At least 14.5 PPG per game
  • Ideally 200+ PPR on the season
  • Ideally 7.5+ targets per game


Identifying WR Bargains with RD4+ ADP

After applying those filters and thresholds to the projections data, this is what I was left with.

Surprisingly, no WR is getting drafted inside the first round at the time of this writing, with Hill the closest one to it, but already two picks removed from the top-12. That being said, though, Hill has the ninth-highest overall ADP, which would actually be a first-round value. The same happens with Davante Adams, who is the 12th player off most PPR-draft boards on average.

There are two clear groups in the chart above, pretty much split by the middle of it: those getting drafted inside the first three rounds, and those (except Keenan Allen) getting off draft boards past the first four rounds. That's where the value is at. Almost all of the players in the group to the left are locks to rack up numbers, although there are some concerns out there. To wit: are we sure Justin Jefferson is worth a top-30 pick while sharing the floor with Adam Thielen, who somehow has a near-70 ADP and a very similar PPR projection?

That's why we're penning these columns, folks. Let's go through the identified players, highlighting their value for the 2021 season:


Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers (ADP 45.2)

When I was developing the app you see a screenshot of above, I realized including a minimum-snap threshold was going to be more than necessary. Basically, comparing any fantasy-relevant player to the whole roster of NFL players--which means great and horrid guys are part of that bunch--is of little use as most players that finish as even WR3 or WR4 (top-50 WRs on the season) are impressive when compared to that huge group.

Now, if you look at the top of this Keenan Allen image, you'd see those percentiles are related to WRs (43 of them) with at least 700 snaps on the year. And he still excelled among them.

His only low ranks came in terms of actual usage, with a couple of ninth-percentile marks in aDOT and Completed AY/Target, which are tightly related. The only other subpar mark was the Targets b/w TDs, though it was good enough to have him almost in the middle of that 43-WR group inside the 41st percentile. Allen is a monster, is playing under a now-second-year QB that was impressive as a rookie, and profiles as the safety valve of Justin Herbert when he opts to go look for shorter routes instead of bombing it down the field.


Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys (ADP 57.8)

While you can understand the worries to a certain extent, they don't make much sense if we assume QB Dak Prescott stays healthy for the full season and doesn't have to hit the sidelines early, as happened last year. Cooper has never had an ADP below 45, which is his career-low, and it came all the way back in his rookie season (2015). That's insane, as Cooper never came even close to his overall ADP during any of his Raiders years and only could approach a natural ROI for the first time in 2019 when he was drafted with an ADP of 33.9 and finished ranked 36th-overall in PPR formats.

With the exception of 2017, when he could only play 14 games and get 96 targets (he's had at least 107 in all of his other seasons), Cooper has been a WR2 at the very least with a visit to the WR1 realm in 2019, finishing as the 10th-best wideout with 246.5 PPR points over 16 games. That's the Cooper we can expect this season. Just so you get a better idea of what Cooper is capable of, he fell only 10 PPR points short of his 2019 tally last season even though Prescott missed most of the season. The quarterback should be back healthy in 2021.

Cooper could also positively regress a bit in terms of receiving yards (career-low 12.1 YPR in 2020) and keep up his massive target numbers (130 last season) as the Cowboys have pretty much the same offense as they featured last year. Absolute bargain at his current ADP.


Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings (ADP 69.4)

Nobody can tell me Justin Jefferson is not for real, although nobody will convince me that he's above Adam Thielen in fantasy leagues nowadays if you're looking for value plays. Jefferson getting drafted inside the first three rounds of PPR leagues looks a little bit rich for my blood, folks. He's nearing a round-two ADP, which is not unreasonable given what he did in his rookie season, but also not so reasonable considering the players that are dropping down the ADP leaderboard thanks to that.

Enter Adam Thielen, who has played to WR1 levels in three of the past four seasons and only missed on that in 2019 when he was out injured for six games and banged up in a few others. You know the man's great when even after that injury-riddled season, his ADP went from WR10 in 2019 to WR9 in 2020, to what he responded with a top-10 year among wideouts. Not bad.

Thielen's ADP, after Jefferson's rise, has suffered a massive blow and is now outside of the top-40 overall picks for the first time since 2017 (he had not had a 200+ PPR-point year in any season prior to that). Secure Jefferson with a second/third-rounder, and you'd be paying for his absolute ceiling. Get yourself some Thielen shares with a mid/late-rounder, and you'd be buying at floor value. It doesn't take a lot, at least for me, to decide between both players given their current prices.


Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams (ADP 74.0)

Not long ago, we were looking at a Rams offense featuring all of Kupp, Robert Woods, Josh Reynolds, Tyler Higbee, and Gerald Everett. These days? Not that much, folks. Everett is off to Seattle and Reynolds was canned too--RB Malcolm Brown is also gone--so things look a little bit more open for Kupp to get more chances, or at least better looks. I say that because as surprising as it sounds, Kupp had the same 96 touches in both 2019 and 2020 yet he put up 270.5 in the former season and only 208.7 in the latter.

How is that possible? Well, Kupp scored a monster 10 touchdowns in 2019 compared to only three last season, which obviously hurt him and his total fantasy points over the year even on a similar usage rate. Kupp also posted his career-worst mark in YPR at just 10.6 although he raised his Catch Rate from 70.1% to 74.2%. It was pretty much a matter of getting low RZ targets, which should change at least a bit (for the good) in 2021.

Kupp's 2020 season was rather impressive considering his touchdown numbers. Looking back at the past 21 seasons of data, from 2000 to 2020, only 17 WRs were able to hit 200+ PPR points while scoring three or fewer touchdowns, Kupp among them. As already mentioned, he did so on pure efficiency thanks to one of the highest catch rates of the year, so it'd be reasonable to see him bounce back on the counting stats to improve that FP mark over the full 2021 campaign.

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