No less than three league-winning wide receivers emerged from ambiguous situations in 2021. You won’t have trouble naming them. Cooper Kupp, Ja’Marr Chase and Deebo Samuel all recorded top-5 fantasy seasons in 2021 and ascended to wide receiver royalty. They all came from truly ambiguous WR situations:
- There was no clear alpha WR on their teams (no receiver drafted in the top-24 by ADP)
- Each was among two WRs on their teams drafted between ADP 25 and 100
- Each was the later-drafted WR, but outscored their earlier-drafted teammate and landed in the top-5 by end of season!
- One of them was a rookie (Chase)
2021 was just one season. But over the last six, trends have developed which have implications for fantasy WRs in the future. More top-scoring players will emerge from ambiguous WR situations in 2022 and beyond.
Ambiguous WR Situations
Let’s define ambiguous WR situations*, as well as some other WR situations. We specify four different scenarios for same-team WR duos (occasionally, there were Ambiguous trios) below.
- First Scenario: Clear Alpha – one WR drafted in the top-24 players by ADP, regardless of where other WRs on the same team are drafted.
- Second Scenario: Ambiguous – two WR’s in ADP top-100 (none in top-24)
- Third Scenario: Weak Alpha – only one WR drafted in top-100 (none in top-24); all other WRs on the team drafted outside ADP top-100
- Fourth Scenario: No Alpha – zero WRs drafted in top-100 by ADP (don’t bother!)
Examining These Different WR Scenarios
Some patterns arose when looking at these WR scenarios over the last six seasons (2016-2021):
We should be drafting Clear Alphas. They hit at reliable rates over the past six seasons:
- Top-6 WR – 40.0-percent
- Top-12 WR – 65.5-percent
- Top-24 WR – 83.6-percent
All scenarios outside of Clear Alpha situations are truly ambiguous when we look at how many times the later-drafted player ended up outscoring his teammate:
Move Toward Ambiguity in Picks No. 25 through 100
Picks No. 25 through 100 of drafts are where we can start using our findings to gain an advantage. It is tempting to target Weak Alpha WRs since they are drafted in the top-100 and the WR2 on that same team is drafted much lower: in the 101 to 300-plus range. That is bad strategy, however. The hit rates for those Weak Alpha situations pale in comparison with Ambiguous WR situations. Here are the hit rates for each over the past six seasons:
It is good strategy to draft receivers from Ambiguous rather than Weak Alpha situations in picks No. 25 through 100. We expect these trends to continue; the results are intuitive. Ambiguous WR scenarios have two WRs drafted in the top-100 because those teams have above-average offenses. The Weak Alpha teams with only one WR in the top-100 are below-average offenses. The No Alpha groups are well-below-average offenses and aren’t even worth mentioning because the hit rates are so low (17.7-percent top-24 WRs).
Ride the Rookie Hype: Draft Rookie WRs In and After Top-100
Another trend is developing in recent seasons. There has been an uptick in rookie WRs being seen as the WR1 or WR2 on their team. Below is a tally of rookies being drafted in fantasy as their teams’ WR1 or WR2 from 2016 to 2021, as well as the number of top-24 hits.
Sure, Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase are exceptional players, but the overall trajectory for rookie wide receivers is unmistakable. The trend continues in 2022: 11 rookies are being considered their team’s No. 1 or No. 2 WR by ADP for 2022. Six are in Ambiguous situations, five in Weak Alpha situations.
From 2016-2021, there were 13 rookies drafted in Weak Alpha situations where the WR being drafted after the top-100 was a rookie. Eight out of 13 times, the rookie drafted outside the top-100 outscored the Weak Alpha being drafted inside the top-100! Four of those eight hit as top-24 WRs by end of the season. This is an intuitive finding as well, as most of those rookies were drafted in the first or second round of the NFL draft based on the team’s need to upgrade at the receiver position. After pick No. 100, take some flyers on rookie wide receivers, especially if they are the second WR being drafted from their team.
The rookie hype is real in fantasy, but the hype is well-founded. The NFL is enamored with rookie wide receivers, too. There were 13 wide receivers taken in the first two rounds of the 2022 NFL draft, tied for the most selected in the first two rounds ever. Many fantasy managers move away from ambiguity because of the uncertainty inherent in these situations. The truth is drafting wide receivers from ambiguous situations is more predictive of success than other seemingly more certain situations. Move toward wide receiver ambiguity to find that edge in your drafts!
*Tip of the cap to J.J. Zachariason for first identifying ambiguous running back situations and the breakouts which occur out of them