Mining the Middle and Late Rounds
There were 11 wide receivers who beat their ADP by more than three spots in 2022, and ended up in the top-24 at the position in PPR points per game (with at least eight games played). Five of the 11 were from our Ascending Offenses (e.g. the Eagles, Dolphins and Lions). Players like Devonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle and Amon-Ra St. Brown had their production juiced by their high-flying passing offenses. But there were other receivers who outdid their ADPs who simply provided value way over and above their depressed draft season ADPs. Every year, we can mine the middle to late rounds for some high-performing receivers with depressed values who far outdo drafters’ expectations and become big ADP bargains.
What Pushes Values Down?
There are many factors that push players’ values down in drafters’ minds. Below are some of the factors that diminish WRs’ ADPs and create the market suppression needed to produce a large return on investment.
- Ambiguous WR duos – two WRs close together in value or talent (e.g. Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods in 2021); their ADPs are many times both depressed because drafters are uncertain which will return more value
- Quarterback uncertainty – for example, it was uncertain whether Drew Lock or Geno Smith would be the Seahawks’ QB last year, and whether either would be good for the Seahawks’ receivers
- Age – drafters shy away for fear of the dreaded “age cliff,” especially as receivers near age 30
- Familiarity fatigue – receivers like Chris Godwin, who are available in middle rounds year over year, and year over year return value
- Poor production the previous season – fantasy ADP often mirrors scoring finishes from the previous season
- Injury/missed time the previous season – fantasy gamers have short memories; they forget that the reason players did not produce the previous season was because they were hurt or they missed time for some other reason. Worry about the injury recovery is also an ADP depressant.
- Negative offseason narratives – Christian Kirk last season, for example; Kirk’s value was depressed because of the narrative that he was not worth what the Jags paid him in free agency
- Changing teams – signing with or being traded to another team in the offseason (Tyreek Hill, A.J. Brown last season)
- Suspension in upcoming season – fantasy drafters avoid players facing suspension in favor of other receivers projected to play more games
The 2022 Bargain Wide Receivers
Below we take a closer look at six receivers whose ADPs were pressed down in 2022 drafts and who ended up outperforming expectations, as well as the reasons their values were depressed. Then we take a look at some receivers whose values are depressed entering 2023. These middle- and late-round bargains provide immense value because they provide production commensurate to receivers drafted several rounds earlier and allow us to use early round picks on other premium positions.
Deandre Hopkins –ADP WR37 (round seven), finished WR9
Deandre Hopkins‘ PPG finishes from 2017 to 2021 were WR2, WR3, WR4, WR5 and WR19. Despite those finishes, he was being drafted as WR37 last season. That was due to what fantasy gamers thought of as a down year in 2021. It was a down year by Hopkins’ standards, but it was not that bad. There were some other factors that pressed his value down. He was slated to serve a six-game suspension for PED use. The Cardinals also added target competition in Marquise Brown prior to the 2022 season. Brown was being drafted as WR28 – about a round ahead of Hopkins. Hopkins was also 30 when the 2022 season started – the age when fantasy drafters get reticent about production dropping off.
Chris Godwin – ADP WR28 (round five), finished WR15
Even though he finished as WR7 in 2021, Chris Godwin was still going as WR14 in 2022. He and Mike Evans make up one of the most ambiguous wide receiver duos in the NFL over the past several seasons. They are both consistently drafted in middle rounds, and consistently produce. It is a case of drafters not knowing which will return value. Godwin has beat his ADP every year he has been in the league, by an average of 12 spots. He is just always there – hanging around in the middle rounds – ready to return value.
Amari Cooper –ADP WR40 (round seven), finished WR17
Amari Cooper is another aging receiver whose ADP was depressed by quarterback uncertainty last season. Deshaun Watson‘s suspension played a large part in drafters’ stay-away mentality regarding the Browns pass-catchers. Cooper’s value was also suppressed by a disappointing season in 2021. He was WR25 in PPG in 2021 after being drafted as WR15.
Actually, before 2021, Cooper was perennially underperforming his ADP. But here are his PPG finishes from 2018 to 2021: WR21, WR14, WR21, WR25. Last season was the first time in several seasons when his ADP dropped past WR15 – all the way to WR40. That was the time to scoop him up despite the QB uncertainty. His production stayed even with the years previous. He scored 14.5 PPG, close to where his production has hovered for basically his entire career. He just was far more affordable last season.
Tyler Lockett –ADP WR47 (round 9), finished WR16
Unlike Cooper, Tyler Lockett outperforms his ADP every year. He has done so every season since 2017, except one (2019, when he was WR22 after being drafted as WR19). Last season, his ADP was depressed yet again by the quarterback uncertainty in Seattle and the narrative that he would no longer have Russell Wilson hitting him with his trademark deep balls. It turns out Geno Smith was a better thrower than Russ was in 2021. Lockett is another player approaching the age cliff, and became an obvious buy at his round nine price tag.
It’s Tyler Lockett guys, common now, show some respect. https://t.co/DkKL4TdzF9
— Elijah (@ElijahFF173) August 18, 2023
Christian Kirk –ADP WR38 (round seven), finished WR18
Christian Kirk was another receiver who switched teams in the 2022 offseason. He was the best receiver available in free agency, but endured skepticism because of the $18 million per year contract the Jaguars offered him. Also, the Urban Meyer stink was still on the Jags That ended up creating a perfect buying opportunity for drafters to acquire Kirk, who ended up providing a decent per-game average on the season.
Brandon Aiyuk –ADP WR34 (sixth round), finished WR23
Fantasy drafters cannot figure out the 49ers receivers. Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel represent one of the most ambiguous wide receiver rooms in the league. Aiyuk far outdid his ADP in his rookie season (2020), but failed to meet his ADP expectation in 2021. In 2022, he outdid his draft position again – by 11 spots. The 49ers are ascending in 2023, and all the pass-catchers could return value.
Your 2023 Big Bargain Wide Receivers
Below we identify some deep discount wide receivers for 2023. These are receivers whose ADP values are currently depressed by some of the forces identified above, and are sure to return value. Warning: there are some very familiar names on this list. Just remember: the distaste you experience when you read these players’ names is the reason they are priced the way they are. Embrace it.
Keenan Allen – WR19 (round three)
Allen has not been as low as WR19 in PPG scoring since 2014, when he was WR32. Here are his scoring finishes from 2015 until 2022, excluding 2016 when he played only one game: WR6, WR3, WR13, WR8, WR7, WR11, WR11. He is past age 31 and played only 10 games last season due to injury. Those are the main reasons his value is depressed going into 2023. Think to yourself “who is going to lead this team in targets this season?” Allen, Mike Williams or Quentin Johnston? Allen will be the target hog on an ascending offense and continue producing at WR1 levels.
Give me allllll the Keenan Allen this year pic.twitter.com/JNKl8KmnPS
— Jay Felicio (@GMenJay) August 17, 2023
Deandre Hopkins – WR26 (round four)
Hopkins has not been as low as WR26 in PPG scoring since 2016! In fact, besides 2021, Hopkins has been in the top-10 in PPG scoring every season since 2016. He was suspended for the first part of last season and then missed two games due to a knee sprain at the end of the season. In nine games, he was the No. 9 PPG scoring fantasy wide receiver. He also changed teams this offseason, creating more uncertainty.
He was a free agent until July 24th, further depressing his value. Hopkins has already passed age 31 and the consensus is that he is no longer an explosive player. He is going to be the Alpha in Tennessee, however. Even with the missed time last season, he still grabbed a 29.4-percent Target Share. Hopkins was also still efficient on a per route basis, earning 2.21 Yards Per Route Run (No. 17).
Chris Godwin – WR31 (round five)
Godwin makes the list of wide receivers with depressed values yet again. As stated, he beats his ADP every season. And this is the lowest his ADP has gone since 2018. It is down because of the quarterback uncertainty, but Godwin will earn targets at a good clip just like he always does. He has averaged 8.6 targets per game over the last four seasons. He is also a sneaky Yards After Catch gainer:
- 2022 – 487 YAC (No. 6)
- 2021 – 589 YAC (No. 3)
- 2020 – 263 YAC (No. 41 in 12 games)
- 2019 – 574 (No. 1)
Tyler Lockett – WR32 (round five)
It happens to Lockett every season. Drafters have little confidence in his ability to return value, and he always does. His ADP is not as low as it was last season (WR45) when we thought Lock might be his quarterback, but it is lower than any of his PPG finishes in the past five seasons. Here are his PPG finishes from 2018 to 2022: WR23, WR22, WR12, WR16, WR18. He is being drafted lower than all of those finishes because of the addition of a rookie wide receiver, which I guess we think renders Lockett useless. One of these days, we’ll learn.
Marquise Brown – WR33 (round six)
Hopkins left and Marquise Brown’s ADP value went down? That doesn’t make any sense, but Brown’s ADP is lower than it was last season at this time. He is the Alpha in Arizona and it appears drafters are scared off by the new coaching staff, Kyler Murray‘s injury recovery and how bad this Arizona Cardinals team is going to be. They will be bad, and Brown was not great last year, but he was WR27 in PPG. He has averaged at least 10 fantasy points per game in every season he has been in the league and there is no other Cardinals’ pass-catcher who is going to take away his targets.
Mike Evans – WR34 (round six)
It is common knowledge that Evans has gained 1,000 yards receiving in every year of his nine year career. Here are his fantasy finishes in each of those years: WR14, WR25, WR3, WR19, WR10, WR5, WR16, WR10, WR13. You tell me why he’s being drafted as WR34. Evans is the quintessential mid-round discount receiver. He is past age 30. Who knows who is going to be his quarterback? Drafters are tired of Evans, but he is going to outdo expectations again.
Brandin Cooks – WR42 (round seven)
Drafters are also fatigued with Brandin Cooks. So much so that he is going in the seventh/eighth round of drafts. It’s probably because they were drafting him in the fifth round last season and he failed to return value. Well, he signed a two-year, $39.8 million contract ($36 million guaranteed) to be the WR2 in Dallas, where they did not have a WR2 last season. Cooks can easily beat his ADP by a full round.
"(Brandin) Cooks has come as advertised. Coaches & players have talked plenty about the added emphasis this year on the deep ball & Cooks is going to be arguably the most significant factor for that. His speed is unmistakable and gives Prescott added confidence in getting the… https://t.co/PpR0hlAYhc
— 32BeatWriters (@32BeatWriters) August 11, 2023
Rashod Bateman – WR48 (round nine)
Rashod Bateman‘s story is one fraught with injuries, which is the reason he is being drafted near pick 100. We know Bateman is good. He was drafted in the first round (1.27) in 2021 with a quality college profile (40.0-percent College Dominator Rating). His ADP is purely based around insecurity about his injury history. He is definitely worth a pick in the eighth or ninth. He could easily dust his ADP by 20.
Middle and Late Round Values Make Your Life Easier
The reason it is important to identify value receivers in the middle and late rounds is because drafters are wide receiver-crazy in this era of fantasy football. If we have confidence we can find some wide receiver values in later rounds, we can gain leverage on those wide receiver-crazy drafters by taking premium performers at the other positions (TE, QB and RB) early. There are relatively few elite tight ends, quarterbacks and high-upside running backs available. Wide receiver production is the most replaceable commodity in fantasy football. It is also one of the least exciting things you can do to draft some of these tired old dudes in the middle and late rounds of your drafts and start them as your WR2 and WR3, but the value is an unmistakable edge.