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Best-Ball Pre-Draft Values - Wide Receiver

We have already persevered through the most uneventful weeks of the offseason, and have embraced the accelerated news cycle that was fueled by free agency. The NFL Draft is now steadily approaching, and each transformation of the fantasy landscape will increase managers’ involvement in the best-ball draft process. This format remains extremely popular for multiple reasons, including the opportunity to complete all forms of roster management at the conclusion of each draft.

However, this also makes it critical to assemble a team that can withstand the various challenges that emerge during the season - since the best-ball format does not present the option of using a waiver wire. That’s why the team at RotoBaller continues to supply the resources that you need to capture your best-ball leagues. This includes our breakdowns of players that provide favorable value at their current ADP in FFPC leagues in order for you to maximize each draft selection. 

This article will direct the spotlight on a collection of wide receivers that are being selected in early and middle rounds. It will also contain options that remain available during the double-digit rounds of your drafts since those decisions can also determine whether your team will remain competitive throughout the year. These recommendations are made with the premise that each receiver’s value could rise or decline following the results of this month's NFL Draft.

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Best Pre-Draft Value - Rounds 3-6

Michael Thomas.  New Orleans Saints (ADP 28/WR8) 

Thomas was the first wide receiver to be selected during the vast majority of 2020 best-ball drafts, and that level of confidence from managers was understandable. He easily led his position in scoring during the 2019 regular season, while averaging over 23 points per game. Thomas also paced the NFL in targets (185/11.6 per game), receptions (149/9.3 per game), receiving yards (1,725/107.8 per game), and red-zone targets (26) during his career-best season. But the seasonal script was altered significantly during 2020, as injuries (ankle/hamstring) and a suspension sidelined Thomas for nine contests. His per-game averages also plunged (7.9 targets, 5.7 receptions, 62.6 yards), as Thomas was relegated to WR41 in point-per-game scoring.

Weeks 11-14 Receptions Rec Yards % Air Yards 100+
Robert Woods 34 327 33.8 1
Keenan Allen 34 285 26.2 1
Tyreek Hill 33 508 38.6 2
Diontae Johnson 32 268 20.7 1
Davante Adams 30 403 36.6 3
Michael Thomas 30 343 47.8 2
DeAndre Hopkins 27 294 31.7 1
Stefon Diggs 27 261 34.4 1
Cooper Kupp 26 292 20.8 1
JuJu Smith-Schuster 25 139 10.7 0
Calvin Ridley 24 372 48.4 2
D.K. Metcalf 24 364 48.6 1
Jarvis Landry 24 280 19.8 1
Justin Jefferson 23 316 41.6 1
Allen Robinson 23 272 35.3 1
Tyler Lockett 23 205 16.4 0

However, he did average 9.3 targets, 7.5 receptions, and 85.8 yards per game with Taysom Hill at quarterback while placing fifth in receptions (30), seventh in receiving yards (343), and fourth in percentage share of air yards during that sequence (47.8). His prospects of returning to high-end WR1 status would rise if Hill ultimately prevails in his competition with Jameis Winston. But Thomas remains an excellent candidate to exceed last season’s output regardless of who is guiding the Saints’ restructured attack.

D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers (ADP 52/WR18)

Moore has accumulated 2,398 receiving yards and 3,041 air yards during his last two seasons, although his 2020 target (135/118) and reception totals (87/66) both declined when contrasted with 2019. However, Moore's averages in yards per reception (18.1), yards per target (10.1), and aDOT (average depth of target) (13.2) were the highest of his career. He also finished sixth overall in yards before catch per reception (12.3), and offensive coordinator Joe Brady retains the acumen to continue maximizing Moore’s immense talent.

D.J. Moore Rec Yards Yards/Gm YPC YPT aDOT Air Yards
2020 1193 79.5 18.1 10.1 13.2 1551
2019 1175 78.3 13.5 8.7 11.1 1490
2018 788 49.3 14.3 9.6 9 737

There are legitimate questions surrounding Sam Darnold’s ability to perform effectively in Carolina, after the Panthers obtained him on April 5. While it is logical that current perceptions of Darnold’s capabilities are based upon his tenure with the Jets, his relocation to a new environment has presented him with an opportunity to resurrect his career. Brady’s proven ability to deploy Curtis Samuel and Robby Anderson more effectively than previous coordinators bodes well for Brady's prospects of increasing Darnold’s proficiency.  The departure of Samuel has also released 97 targets for redistribution, and the transition at quarterback has expanded Moore’s prospects for achieving career highs during his fourth season. This provides fantasy GMs with outstanding value during Round 5 of your drafts.

Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers (ADP 64/WR23)

It appears that Johnson will be undervalued for a second straight season unless his ADP climbs from its current location (Round 6). He was just the 35th wide receiver to be selected during the 2020 draft process, even though he led Pittsburgh in targets (92/5.8 per game), and receptions (59/3.7 per game) during his 2019 rookie season. He rewarded anyone who had drafted him by operating as the Steelers’ WR1 throughout 2020. Johnson also tied for the league lead by capturing at least 10 targets in 10 different matchups. This fueled his rise to sixth overall in targets from Weeks 1-16 (140), while he finished among the select group of five receivers that attained a 10+ target per game average during those matchups. His extensive usage also elevated him to the NFL-lead in targets from Weeks 9-16 (96/12 per game).

Johnson was also 14th overall in target share while attaining a team-high 26.4 during that sequence. He took advantage of his opportunities while finishing third in receptions (60/7.5 per game) and eighth in receiving yards (594/74.3 per game). Johnson also soared to WR5 in scoring during those contests. However, his production has not inspired managers to select Johnson until 22 other receivers have been chosen during the draft process. Chase Claypool and JuJu Smith-Schuster will also collect a reasonable share of targets. But Ben Roethlisberger’s penchant for locating Johnson will sustain his status as the Steelers’ primary receiver.

Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers (ADP 68/WR25)

Aiyuk is positioned to deliver a breakout season in 2021, after building statistical momentum throughout his 2020 rookie year. Aiyuk overcame a hamstring issue that sidelined him during San Francisco's season opener by finishing among the top eight in targets per game (9.1) from Weeks 3-15. That average also soared to a league-best 11.5 from Weeks 7-15, while Aiyuk’s 94.7 yards per game average placed him fourth overall during that span. He ultimately led San Francisco in targets (96/8 per game), receptions (60/5 per game), receiving yards (748/62.3 per game), and receiving touchdowns (5) last season, while operating from the slot on 59.3% of his snaps.

There has been conjecture that Aiyuk could disappoint managers who draft him aggressively since several of Aiyuk's most productive outings occurred when Deebo Samuel and George Kittle were sidelined. This concern is valid, and his most prolific outing occurred in Week 14 - 16 targets/10 receptions/119 yards - when Samuel (foot/hamstring) and Kittle (foot) were unavailable.

But Aiyuk also assembled a team-high 115 yards and a touchdown in Week 7, even though Kittle attained a 91% snap share and Samuel played on 62% of San Francisco’s snaps. Aiyuk also generated a team-high 91 yards in Week 8 despite Kittle reaching a 66% snap share, and also led the 49ers in yardage (95) during Week 13, as Samuel was accumulating a team-best 95% snap share.

Any apprehension surrounding Aiyuk's numbers with Kittle and Samuel on the field also discounts the diminished resources that can be deployed toward neutralizing Aiyuk with all three weapons in the lineup. His big-play potential is unquestioned and should propel his numbers beyond the expectations of his ADP – regardless of who is spearheading the 49er offense.


Best Pre-Draft Value - Rounds 7-10

Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos (ADP 82/WR29)

One year ago, it appeared that Sutton was primed to build upon his 2019 breakout season. He had vaulted to the league lead in percentage share of air yards (43.3), while also finishing seventh in red-zone targets (20). He also placed among the top 15 in targets (125/7.8 per game) and air yards (1,473), while collecting 35.7 percent of Denver’s passing yards. But he was relegated to 31 snaps in 2020 as a torn ACL quickly ended his season in Week 2. He is now primed for a return to the Broncos’ reshaped offense, although he will resurface in an attack that has added formidable competition for targets.

But despite the presence of Jerry Jeudy, and Noah Fant, Sutton can ascend toward a lofty tier at his position. That is more likely to transpire if General Manager George Paton locates a favorable alternative at quarterback to the perpetually deficient Drew Lock. Denver ranked just 26th in passing during 2020, while averaging 215.7 yards per game during 2020. The Broncos were also 21st in pass play percentage (57.1), and just 29th in passing first downs per game (11). However, there is a great likelihood that Denver will insert a new signal-caller into the equation. This blends favorably with Sutton’s playmaking abilities to deliver excellent value at his Round 7 ADP.

Robby Anderson, Carolina Panthers (ADP 104/WR38)

Anderson’s fortuitous reunion with his former collegiate coach (Matt Rhule) delivered the additional bonus of operating with Rhule’s innovative choice for an offensive coordinator (Brady). He now joins teammate Moore in providing managers with enticing options at their present ADPs.

Brady capitalized on Anderson’s untapped versatility by expanding the 27-year old’s route tree. This elevated his role beyond functioning largely as a vertical threat. Anderson's 11.5 yards per reception average represented a noteworthy drop from the 14.8 that he attained from 2016-2019. His aDOT (average depth of target) also diminished to 9.7 during 2020, after he had averaged 15.2 during his previous two seasons. However, Anderson’s new responsibilities also propelled him to WR19 in scoring.

Anderson also assembled his first 1,000 yard-season, while easily surpassing his previous career highs in multiple categories - targets (136/8.5 per game), receptions (95/5.9 per game), receiving yards (1,096/68.5 per game), first down receptions (49), yards after catch (497), and catch rate (69.9). The aforementioned exodus of Samuel allows Anderson to join Moore as Carolina’s primary weapons at wide receiver, while Darnold’s familiarity with Anderson should restore his comfort level toward locating Anderson on a consistent basis.

Jerry JeudyDenver Broncos, (ADP 119/WR42) 

After becoming the 15th overall selection during the 2020 NFL Draft, Jeudy ultimately finished fifth overall in air yards (1,541). He also led his rookie class in that category, while finishing second among newcomers in targets (113/7.1 per game). But despite the favorable level of usage, his output was also impacted by inefficiency. Jeudy’s 12 drops were second-highest among all receivers, while his catch rate was an unsightly 46%. However, the rationale for including Jeudy among the premier NFL prospects at his position just 12 months ago remains intact, as his exceptional route running and versatility have not evaporated.

Rookies Air Yards Targets Recepts Rec Yards
Jerry Jeudy 1541 113 52 856
Chase Claypool 1438 109 62 873
Justin Jefferson 1421 125 88 1400
Tee Higgins 1254 108 67 908
Darnell Mooney 1133 98 61 631
CeeDee Lamb 1028 111 74 935
Gabriel Davis 945 62 35 599
Brandon Aiyuk 898 96 60 748
Henry Ruggs 748 43 26 452
Jalen Reagor 691 54 31 396
Denzel Mims 678 44 23 357
K.J. Hamler 583 56 30 381
Michael Pittman 507 61 40 503
Laviska Shenault 493 79 58 600

It is feasible for Jeudy to join teammate Sutton in supplying value to managers based upon the premise that the Broncos will address their unquestioned need to upgrade at quarterback. Drew Lock’s limitations were frequently on display during 2020, as he finished just 35th in completion percentage (57.3), and tied for 26th in touchdown percentage (9.1). He also assembled a forgettable 16:15 touchdown to interception ratio, which only added to the overwhelming evidence that Denver needs to locate another signal-caller. Optimism for Jeudy will diminish if Lock reemerges under center in Week 1, and Sutton should commandeer a sizable target share. But Jeudy remains supremely talented and is capable of justifying his Round 1 draft pedigree.


Best Pre-Draft Value - Rounds 11+

Brandin Cooks, Houston Texans (ADP 121/WR43) 

It is understandable if your preference is to avoid all Texans during your draft process until there is some level of resolution to the escalating situation with Deshaun Watson. But this review of pre-draft values would be remiss without the inclusion of Cooks. He is positioned to operate as Houston’s primary receiving weapon, amid a dearth of talent that will surround him. Cooks also remains a viable option at his ADP if he is eventually traded into another environment.

Cooks rebounded sizably from a disappointing 2019 to generate 1,000+ yards for the fifth time during his last six seasons while averaging a career-high 76.7 per game. He also finished sixth overall in yardage from Weeks 5-17 (1,012/92 per game) and was ninth in receptions (71/6.5 per game), 14th in air yards (1,109), and 16th in targets (98/8.9 per game) during those contests. He was also fifth in air yards (582), and percentage share of air yards (40.4), following Will Fuller’s season-ending suspension (Weeks 13-17), while assembling over 26 percent of Houston’s passing yards during that five-game span.

The talent level that exists with other wide receivers on Houston’s depth chart is beyond uninspiring – Randall Cobb/Keke Coutee/Chris Conley/Isaiah Coulter/Andre Robertsand Cooks’ pathway to extensive targeting should motivate managers to pursue him in Round 11. His track record of accumulating 1,000+ yards with four different franchises also provides the incentive to select him if he is jettisoned by Houston.

Jarvis LandryCleveland Browns, (ADP 126/WR44)

43 receivers are currently being selected before Landry, even though the seven-year veteran still functions as a reliable option for fantasy GMs. His 101 targets during 2020 continued an impressive streak of capturing 100+ in each season since entering the league in 2014. His usage and output were uninspiring during his first 10 matchups last season (5.7 targets, 3.8 receptions, 47.1 yards per game). But he surged to fourth among all receivers in receptions from Weeks 12-15 (29/7.3 per game), while also finishing ninth in targets (38/9.5 per game), and 13th in receiving yards (318/79.5 per game) during those contests.

Landry also led all wide receivers with 11 red-zone targets during those matchups, which propelled him to 11th overall in that category for the season (16). He also averaged 7.6 targets, 5.3 receptions, and 57.9 yards per game from Weeks 7-17 after Odell Beckham’s torn ACL abruptly ended his season. Some within the fantasy community remain eternally hopeful that the mercurial Beckham will resuscitate what had been a highly productive career. But he has now missed 25 matchups since 2017. However, Landry’s track record of dependability is outstanding, as he had constructed a consecutive streak of 110 games before being placed on the COVID-19 list in Week 16.

Rashod Bateman, (ADP143/WR48)

Despite surging enthusiasm for the 2021 rookie class, the statistical success of each newcomer will be partially determined by their landing spots. However, there are first-year receivers who deliver the potential to become productive resources for your rosters. This makes them worthy of selection despite their double-digit ADPs, particularly if they surface in a promising environment. This scenario applies to Bateman, who is the second rookie receiver to be selected during current drafts, even though his ADP is 81 spots below Ja’Marr Chase.

Bateman generated 704 yards as a freshman in 2018. He then finished 14th overall in receiving yards during 2019 (1,219), even though teammate Tyler Johnson finished seventh overall with 1,318. He also tied for eighth with a 20.3 yards per reception average, while accumulating 11 touchdowns. COVID-19 impacted Minnesota’s 2020 season, as Bateman only performed in five contests before opting out of the Gophers’ remaining matchups in November. Bateman did collect 36 receptions and 472 yards before his season-ending decision, then later delivered an unofficial 4.39 in the 40-yard dash during Minnesota’s Pro Day. He is a capable route runner, with a sufficient blend of skills to make an impact during his first season. That justifies a selection in Round 12 of current drafts.

First-year receivers Rondale Moore (ADP 195/WR59), Terrace Marshall Jr. (ADP 205/WR61), and Elijah Moore (ADP 252/WR69), could also become contributors to your weekly scoring if they garner opportunities in their new environments. This elevates each newcomer into consideration after your draft has entered the later rounds.

John Brown. Las Vegas Raiders (ADP 262/WR74)

Once your draft has advanced into the 20th round, you should still avoid all temptation of surrendering your roster management to auto draft. You have an opportunity to locate one additional late-round flier who could expand your scoring totals during the season. In 2017, I selected Marquise Goodwin during the final round of a best-ball draft, and his career-best numbers (105 targets/56 receptions/962 yards) contributed to my team’s eventual league championship. The 31-year old Brown delivers similar potential, after eclipsing 1,000 yards twice during his seven seasons and averaging 14.8 yards per reception during that span. He remains capable of functioning as an effective downfield weapon and will be running routes within a Las Vegas offense that lacks a definitive WR1.

The Raiders injected Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards into their receiving arsenal following the 2020 NFL Draft, but a combination of factors limited both newcomers to substandard results. Ruggs was relegated to fifth on the team in both targets (43), and receptions (26), fourth in receiving yards (452), and third in air yards (748). Edwards contended with foot and ankle issues, collected just 15 targets, and failed to reach 200 yards during the year (193). Nelson Agholor became the Raiders' most productive wide receiver while leading his position in targets (82), receiving yards (896), and touchdowns (8). He has migrated to New England, which compelled the Raiders to sign Brown. He could join Darren Waller as Derek Carr’s most targeted weapons if Ruggs and Edwards remain ineffective.

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