WR Targets for the Robust RB Strategy

by Theo Gremminger · Best Ball Plays & Strategy

Hero RB. Zero RB. Bi-Modal RB. WR-WR starts. Early TE. Robust RB. With August right around the corner, fantasy football content is in nonstop redraft mode and the optimal strategies that go with it. You have listened to multiple podcasts and read countless articles using words like “best strategy,” “optimal build,” and “structure.”

As early drafters and best ball drafters alike have noticed, there has been an increasing number of fantasy managers and analysts embracing the Hero and Zero RB approaches and selecting WRs early and often.  I have used this strategy in many of my drafts so far and used Hero RB often last season. The Hero RB process makes sense, and those who used it saw a lot of success last season.  However, with more and more managers approaching drafts with similar strategy, team structure becomes more similar, and the potential edge dilutes. Could zigging while others zag be the optimal move in 2022? Is there a new opportunity for robust RB drafters to make a comeback?

In fantasy football there is one axiom that is always true: all strategies work as long as you pick the correct players. This article will attempt to identify the WR targets fantasy gamers would need to excel after an RB heavy start. In a format like the FFWC, starting with three straight RBs and a TE or four straight running backs is possible…..as long as we select the right players.

The Bad Part

We will not get exposure to the top WRs in football. Cooper Kupp, Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase are not only locked in first round draft picks, but they are regularly selected in the top five. CeeDee Lamb, Stefon Diggs and Mike Evans are not far behind. A strategy like this means saying goodbye to these truly elite alpha WR1s and saying hello to some wide receivers who are being pushed down to the low-end WR2/WR3 range.

Now The Fun Part

What starts could we expect if we ignored WR in the FFWC Player Profiler Championship? Using ADP we can chart out the first four rounds.

Four Straight Robust RB Plan

Robust RB From the 1 Spot

1.01  Jonathan Taylor RB Indianapolis
2.12 Travis Etienne RB Jacksonville
3.01 Nick Chubb RB Cleveland
4.12 Elijah Mitchell RB San Francisco

Robust RB From the 5 Spot

1.05 Austin Ekeler RB LA Chargers
2.08 Saquon Barkley RB NY Giants
3.05 Travis Etienne RB Jacksonville
4.08 Breece Hall RB NY Jets

Robust RB From the 10 Spot

1.10 D’Andre Swift RB Detroit
2.03 Aaron Jones RB Green Bay
3.10 James Conner RB Arizona
4.03 Alvin Kamara RB New Orleans

TE and Three Straight Robust RB Plan

Robust RB with TE From the 1 Spot

1.01  Jonathan Taylor RB Indianapolis
2.12 Mark Andrews TE Baltimore
3.01 Travis Etienne RB Jacksonville
4.12 Elijah Mitchell RB San Francisco

Robust RB with TE From the 5 Spot

1.05 Austin Ekeler RB LA Chargers
2.08 Saquon Barkley RB NY Giants
3.05 Travis Etienne RB Jacksonville
4.08 Kyle Pitts TE Atlanta

Robust RB with TE From the 10 Spot

1.10 D’Andre Swift RB Detroit
2.03 Travis Kelce TE Kansas City
3.10 James Conner RB Arizona
4.03 Alvin Kamara RB New Orleans

 A Synopsis of the Builds

All of those builds have some appealing upside outcomes. Exposure to top RBs, or running backs with a top notch TE, could put managers in a strong position at both RB spots, either one or two flex spots, and possibly a weekly tight end difference maker. Now the hard part: identifying WRs. On a structural note, this strategy will require fantasy gamers to attack wide receiver from rounds five and beyond. While other managers will be able to grab appealing mid round RBs, the robust running back drafter should be drafting wide receivers heavily starting in the fifth round. All tie breaks should lead robust RB fantasy gamers back to WR.

The Foundational Fifth Round Selection 

Rashod Bateman: Baltimore No. 49 Overall

Bateman may lack the total targets of some of the elite WRs drafted ahead of him. However, when it comes to target share, pedigree, and opportunity, he is a bargain in the fifth round. Mark Andrews limits his chances at a WR1 finish, but he has the talent to do so.

Rashod Bateman Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

If he can surpass 125 targets, he should beat his ADP and provide a Robust RB drafter with a strong weekly option. Marquise Brown received 148 targets last season. If Bateman inherits those targets, he is potentially A LEAGUE WINNER. 

Jerry Jeudy: Denver No. 50 Overall

Jeudy’s target share is unknown, and drafters are betting on Courtland Sutton to be the WR1 in the Denver offense. The former first-round pick provides exposure to a top offense and a top QB. Jeudy certainly has the makeup to lead all Denver receivers in targets and scoring this season. If he can do that, and Denver is as explosive as they appear to be, a top 15 season could be in the cards for Jeudy. Tim Patrick‘s season-ending injury should also mean more targets for Jeudy (and Sutton). 

Elijah Moore: New York Jets No. 51 Overall

Moore is steadily rising and has been dominant to start Jets camp. Moore may or may not run the Jets social media account because every time they release a video it is him scoring another touchdown. While Moore’s overall numbers from last season were not overwhelming, he flashed bigtime. In Weeks 8-13 he was the WR2 overall before going down with an injury. The former second round pick could benefit if Garrett Wilson develops quickly as defenses will have to adjust to both of them on the field. 

Juju Smith Schuster: Kansas City Chiefs No. 54 

Smith-Schuster will certainly not elicit “oohs and aahs,” from your league mates. After a hot start to his NFL career, he has become somewhat boring. However, this year could be a season in which he regains some dynasty value. He could potentially lead the Chiefs in targets. Even as second fiddle to tight end Travis Kelce, he could provide a weekly floor as a WR1 in an RB heavy build. The looming threat of Skyy Moore keeps his cost affordable.

Amari Cooper: Cleveland Browns No. 52

I would not like to start my WR build with Cooper. However, if you commit to this sort of build he is a break glass in case of emergency type option. His 2020 total of 130 targets is within reach, and a six game suspension for Deshaun Watson is manageable. Cooper is a floor play for me. You could pivot and reach for a sixth round target. 

Sixth Round Targets 

Michael Thomas: New Orleans Saints No. 68

This ADP will continue to rise. Thomas looks healthy and explosive and has a chance to be a WR1 again this season. The 2019 WR1 overall, Thomas, should benefit from playing alongside Jarvis Landry and explosive rookie Chris Olave. While the last two season’s have been weird ones, the NFL has a short memory. By September, sixth round Thomas shares will look like bargains. 

Kadarious Toney: New York Giants No. 69

Toney is one of my favorite picks in this range of the draft. The former first round pick flashed last season in a limited rookie campaign, but he displayed the explosive ability with the ball in his hands to be a bigtime producer. All of his metrics (targets per route run, yards per route run) were elite.

Kadarius Toney Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

This past offseason was a topsy turvy one with trade rumors, but the Giants and Toney have seemed to make up. Toney has a shot at a 130 target season and could smash this year. He is a perfect WR2 for this sort of draft plan (and also a great WR3/4 for traditional FFWC builds).

Hunter Renfrow: Las Vegas No. 61

I would prefer Thomas and Toney to Renfrow right now, and I would prefer Renfrow as a WR3 or 4. But in this build we are searching not only for ceiling plays but floor ones. Renfrow has a little bit of both. Renfrow had a massive 2021 season, finishing as the WR11, and he did so on only 128 targets. The Davante Adams signing and the return of Darren Waller pushes Renfrow to WR3 levels, and the buzz on him has cooled down. Most analysts and fantasy drafters view him as a regression candidate. I would also lean towards regression. I do not see another WR1 season from him this year, but Renfrow is certainly not going to fall off the map. Josh McDaniels has had a great deal of success with slot wide receivers, and Renfrow should continue to be a security blanket for Derek Carr all season long. If Adams or Waller were to miss time, Renfrow would be a weekly top 15 WR option. 

Seventh Round Targets

Treylon Burks: Tennessee No. 78

If anyone follows me on twitter, my love of Burks is no secret. The bullish argument is the first round draft pick slides into the A.J. Brown role and sees a similar target share right away. The bearish argument is that Robert Woods (come on man) will be the WR1, and Burks is a player who needs to have manufactured touches.

Treylon Burks Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

I will lean towards the latter. The asthma and conditioning news in early summer has depressed Burks’ cost to a very reasonable level. I believe he should be closer to Drake London in this format and should be a sixth round pick. Enjoy the discount. The Podfather recently called him the Marshawn Lynch of wide receivers. He is that physical.  He is your ideal WR3 for this sort of a build. 

Brandon Aiyuk: San Francisco No. 79

Trey Lance‘s downfield throwing ability should be on display this season, and Aiyuk should be the beneficiary. We have already seen one San Francisco wide receiver have a great rookie season followed up by a disappointing sophomore campaign only to have the fire lit in year three. Aiyuk may not have the success of Deebo Samuel, but a top 20 WR finish is very much in the range of outcomes. The former first round pick is also a great trade target in dynasty.

Eighth Round Targets

Tyler Lockett: Seattle No. 86

I am still a sucker for Lockett, and we need to continue the WR run in this sort of a structural start. We have obvious concerns about the Seattle offense, but Lockett has averaged 13.9, 14.7, 16.6 and 14.3 fantasy points per game in his last four seasons. He is a consistent and polished player who can win multiple ways. Also, if Seattle is going to be so bad, shouldn’t we expect negative game scripts? 

Skyy Moore: Kansas City No. 91 

We find another high upside option here in Moore. The second round draft pick is a discount who has been planted in the Patrick Mahomes target tree.

Skyy Moore Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

Moore is explosive and has big play capabilities. The word out of training camp is that he has been lined up in the backfield and could be used on designed running plays. 

Garrett Wilson: NY Jets No. 93

Wilson is oozing with talent, but his draft price is depressed because of Elijah Moore and drafters reservations about Wilson’s role and the effectiveness of Zach Wilson. While others pass on him because of potential negatives, consider stashing him and enjoying the discount. Wilson is the real deal as a player. Consider him an upside bench stash until his role expands. 

Tenth Round and Beyond 

Rondale Moore: Arizona No. 111

Moore has received high praise from Kliff Kingsbury anytime he is asked about him. The 2020 second round pick looks to have an expanded role with Deandre Hopkins set to miss the beginning of the season with a suspension. Moore should be an almost every down player out of the slot and has speed and explosiveness. Reports out of camp have him not involved in special teams which is a clear sign that Arizona views him as a foundational offensive piece. 

Nico Collins: Houston No. 132

Collins is quietly set to have a prominent role in the Houston offense. Barring injury, Brandin Cooks will lead Houston in targets, and he is going in round four for a good reason. But after Cooks, Houston is desperate for a playmaker, and Collins is the best bet. At 6-4 and 215 pounds, with sub 4.5 speed, Collins is the perfect compliment to Cooks.

Nico Collins Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

A 20-percent target share is within reach. Make Collins a priority in this range of the draft. 

George Pickens: Pittsburgh No. 153 

Pickens has been the talk of Steelers camp and is looking like he could be one of the NFL Draft’s biggest steals. An early injury to Chase Claypool, and a hold in from Diontate Johnson, gave Pickens ample opportunities to show his skills, and he has run with it. He was recently named a starter. We have seen a rookie pass catcher beat ADP for three seasons straight in Pittsburgh (Pat Freiermuth, Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson). Pickens looks to be the next one. Enjoy drafting him here because he is headed up 30 spots by September. 

Romeo Doubs: Green Bay No. 179

Much like Pickens, Doubs is the talk of Green Bay camp. He has a clear and defined early role as the No. 3 wide receiver behind Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb. Neither of these players profile as a guy who will have a massive target share. Lazard will run as the defacto WR1, Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon will see a ton of touches, but Doubs is the offense’s darkhorse. This is not someone who should be dismissed as he is even garnering praise from Aaron Rodgers himself. Rodgers certainly is not someone who singles out rookies. Doubs could be this year’s version of Elijah Mitchell or James Robinson