One of the most difficult - and sometimes impossible - tasks for
any fantasy owner during the offseason is figuring out what players
have league-winning upside. Certainly, the Christian
McCaffrey's and Saquon
Barkley's of the world come immediately to mind, but we need
some pretty good luck in a traditional snake draft to land either
one of those players.
To answer this "league-winner" question better, I decided
to break down what one looks like - physically and statistically
- by taking a closer look at each player that reached a particular
fantasy-point benchmark that could be considered great or elite
over the last three seasons. By using the best of the best in
each position group over a three-year period as the basis for
what is great versus elite, we should be able to create realistic
parameters for what it takes to be a true fantasy difference-maker.
The goal of this analysis is to give readers a general idea of
what characteristics - be it physical or statistical - they need
to keep in mind on draft day. There will invariably be repeat
entries (as in certain players appearing two or three times on
the list). It's also OK to view this series of articles as something
of a correlational study, but it's more than that. My top priority
is trying to establish what benchmarks fantasy owners need to
shoot for at each position, especially considering the different
styles of players that exist in the game.
At the bottom of the sortable table, there is another mini-table
summarizing the group averages, minimums and maximums of each
category, hits and hit rate. The "hits" are how many players at
that position exceeded the average of the players in the first
table, while the hit rate is the percentage of "hits" in that
group (a "greater than x" situation). In rare circumstances such
as quarterback age, I opted for a "less than X" approach. The
text will be red in those atypical
situations. My advice to maximize the value of the table below:
sort each column and then read the analysis that accompanies that
Because we are discussing an average of the best of the best
over the last three seasons, the "hit rate" percentages will probably
be lower than some would expect Thus, anything over about 60 percent
is notable because it suggests the group is bottom-heavy. Likewise,
anything below about 40 percent suggests the group is top-heavy.
This "rule" will apply to all positions.
Fantasy point threshold - 200-plus fantasy points.
A total of 63 wideouts reached this mark over the last three seasons.
* - Amari Cooper (2018) was excluded
from this analysis despite scoring over 200 fantasy points two years
ago because he was traded during the middle of the season.
A Group: 2017-2019
Hits (greater than avg)
Age - There is a bit more acceptance in the 30-and-over
club at receiver than at running back, as six of the 63 entries
(9.5 percent) fall into that category. The age-26 group is the largest
with 14 of the 63 (22.2 percent) landing in that group. However,
the odds are not all that great for receivers hoping to consistently
make the cut once they hit 28 unless they are an all-time great
or close to it, as Julio Jones, Antonio Brown and Julian Edelman
are the only repeat qualifiers. A staggering 76.2 percent (48 of
63) of the entries in the above table are 27 and younger.
Height (inches) - Eighteen receivers are responsible
for 43 of the 63 entries in the above table, significantly corrupting
the potential to scrub any kind of potentially valuable information
from a number of the categories we are about to discuss. With that
said, a solid 39.7 percent (25 of 63) of the instances above are
for players who stand 6-0 or shorter. It's worth pointing out that
the shortest receivers to qualify (5-10) just happen to have the
most entries within the group (13) and three top-10 finishes among
them. This three-year examination seems to slightly disprove taller
receivers scoring more touchdowns, or at least doing so at the highest
of levels. Of the 10 entries with at least 10 receiving TDs above,
nine of them were 6-2 or shorter.
Weight - Unless we are talking about special
talents such as Antonio Brown and Hill, fantasy owners would be
wise to target receivers in the 190-and-over weight range - 53
of 63 (84.1 percent) fall within that range. And while most receivers
entering the league check that box, it makes sense: receivers
need to be built to last just like any other skill position. After
we eliminate Hill and Brown's three top-eight finishes, there
isn't another sub-190 pound receiver with a top-30 finish above.
Games - There's no reason to belabor the point
of a player needing to stay healthy and playing most of his team's
games. Fifty-three of the 63 entries above (84.1 percent) played
at least 15 games. A 14-game season is also doable, but it gets
awful difficult if the number dips below that.
Targets - Lockett was able to make the list
in 2018 despite recording only 70 targets largely because he scored
10 touchdowns. A.J. Brown got by on 84 targets because he averaged
over 20 yards per catch on 52 receptions and visited the end zone
eight times. Even Ridley needed 10 TDs on 92 targets just to sneak
into the group of 63. The point: receivers need at least 100 targets
just to have a chance to be on this list. We don't find our first
top 10 entry until Hill's 137 targets in 2018. So, it's a pretty
good bet owners need to see their receiver average at least nine
targets if they have any hope of enjoying a truly special year.
Target share - If a receiver requires at least
130 targets to be truly special in a given year, it stands to
reason he's going to command at least 20 percent of the target
share since most teams don't end up attempting 650 passes (130/650
= 20%). That's exactly what we find here, as each of the top 30
entries above enjoyed a target share of at least 20 percent. Of
course, 100 targets in an offense that attempts 500 throws isn't
the same as 130 in the aforementioned offense even though both
receivers are getting a 20 percent share, but 20 percent is a
good baseline to keep in mind when trying to identify a receiver
capable of being a league-winner type.
Receptions - A high catch total is unquestionable
important in any league that awards a point for each reception,
but it is notable the highest finish for any player with fewer
than 86 catches over the last three seasons is 29th (Cooper last
year). Conversely, the lowest finish by a receiver on this list
with at least 94 catches is 26th. In fact, 22 of the top 26 fantasy
performances by a receiver above (84.6 percent) are by wideouts
in this latter range. One of the more obvious statements in this
piece figures to be that a receiver with a high catch total is
going to fare well in fantasy, but think about how many of these
receivers were typically available in the third, fourth or fifth
round of drafts in the year they managed at least 94 catches.
Each of the 22 aforementioned wideouts had a target share of at
least 22 percent. While many fantasy owners may not enter drafts
expecting those third-, fourth- or fifth-round receivers to see
that level of involvement, it is unusual that a receiver makes
the jump from 10 to 22 percent from one year to the next without
some unpredictable situation occurring.
Receiving yards - It's a bit surprising there
are nine instances above in which a receiver didn't top 1,000
yards, although 33.3 percent of those were within 13 yards. Be
that as it may, Antonio Brown's 1,297 receiving yards in 2018
is the lowest total from a top-10 performer above. A 1.000-yard
campaign is a near must to be in the running for league-winning
status, but it could be argued 1,100 is probably the number most
fantasy owners should shoot for when setting expectations on a
potential league-winning receiver - 22 of the top 23 (95.7 percent)
fantasy-point totals above come from receivers that reached that
Receiving TDs - Nine of the top 10 fantasy performances
since 2017 have come from wideouts who scored at least nine times.
As the table shows, however, 46 percent of the entries (29 of
63) scored six or fewer receiving TDs. It's a much better strategy
to focus on the high-volume receivers and hope for some good TD
luck as opposed to hoping for the 2018 version of Mike Williams
(10 TDs on 43 catches), but there is definitely an upside to rolling
the dice on a player like that and starting him every week so
long as he is alongside two short-area and/or intermediate receivers
(to be discussed in the aDOR section shortly).
Catch rate - This stat often depends on how
often a quarterback delivers a catchable pass (the majority of
them do so at a 75-percent-and-up clip) and the average depth
of route (shorter - higher percentage, longer - lower percentage).
Receivers are typically in the 60 percent range and generally
need to be in that area to be elite fantasy producers. (For what
it's worth, receivers above with an aDOR (average depth of reception)
lower than 9.4 enjoyed a catch rate of 69.2 percent. Receivers
above 13.7 aDOR were at 60.2 percent. The intermediate group had
a catch rate of 64.5 percent.) In fact, only one receiver had
a catch rate below 61 percent and finished in the top 25 above
(Hopkins, 2017). Catch rate is yet another hard statistic to predict
on a year-to-year basis, but that's why the safe play is typically
relying on short-area and intermediate receivers.
aDOR (Average Depth of Reception) - It's common
knowledge that deeper targets/catches are worth more in the overall
scheme of things, but that comes with the trade-off of deeper
targets usually resulting in slightly lower catch rates. Thomas
got by with an 8.1 aDOR in 2019 because he was fed so many targets
and caught 80.5 percent of them, but the bulk of top performances
over the last three years are in the 9.4-13.7 range (39 of 63,
or 61.9 percent). Short-area receivers (think Crowder and Edelman)
are often low-risk, low-yield types that deliver consistency.
Deep wideouts (think Diggs in 2019) are often high-risk, high-yield
properties that are usually highly volatile. Intermediate receivers
(think Hopkins) are the most likely to offer the best of both
worlds, combining the relatively low risk of short-area receivers
with the high yield of deeper receivers. While Evans and Hill
both posted top-12 finishes with an aDOR higher than 13.7, it's
telling that none of the other seven entries finished higher than
Approximate baselines for receivers to approach potential
Short-area receivers (aDOR of less than 9.9):
90 receptions, 1,050 total yards and six total TDs
Intermediate receivers (aDOR of 10 to 12.9):
80 receptions, 1,100 total yards and seven total TDs
Deep receivers (aDOR of 13 or higher): 70 receptions,
1,200 total yards, eight total TDs
Doug Orth has written for FF Today
since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy Football
Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s hour-long,
pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday in 2012-13
and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national sports radio
shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”.
Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.