Who can be the NFL Leader in receiving yards?
In this pass-happy NFL, receivers are more valuable than ever. The new industry standard of PPR leagues emphasizes this receiver renaissance as well. And while touchdowns are flashy, yards are the best driver of fantasy success. Over the last decade, whoever was the NFL leader in receiving yards has finished top-5 at the position.
Oddly enough, while passing records continue to be broken year over year, receiving records aren’t being threatened as often. Quarterbacks are more aggressive and accurate than ever, but the elite receivers aren’t benefiting. From 2013-2015, 10 receivers pushed for over 170 targets from their QBs. But from 2016-2018, only two receivers topped that number.
The WR2 has seen a resurgence, as players like Tyler Boyd and Stefon Diggs are pushing their teams WR1 for more targets. This trend flattens out the WR production after the elite ones, making it harder to acquire premium pass catchers. This means that finding a record-breaking WR is going to be rare, but he will be even more valuable in fantasy.
Over the last five seasons, the NFL leader in receiving yards has seen at least 155 targets and has averaged 174. The 174 targets might be a tough figure to hit, as literally, no receiver saw that many last season, but six receivers saw 155.
Efficiency is important
While volume is important, we also need efficiency. Over the last five years, the NFL leader in receiving yards has posted a YPR of at least 13.0. This makes sense, as receivers can’t be expected to lead their position with dinks and dunks. Of the six players that saw 155 targets last season, only two hit 13.0 YPR (Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins). They both happened to finish first and second in receiving yards as well. Those two are very good bets to lead the position this season, but let’s not restrict our sample to two players.
With the WR2 love that QBs are showing, hitting 155 targets is still a tall task. We need receivers that don’t have more than one teammate competing for significant targets, including elite tight ends or receiving backs. This effectively eliminates guys like Tyreek Hill and Mike Evans. Receivers that I expect to hit 155 are Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Antonio Brown, Michael Thomas, and Odell Beckham.
Of this group, Thomas and Adams are the only ones that have a career YPR average under 13.0. Adams did average 13.3 in 2016, but his value comes from red zone targets from the great Aaron Rodgers. Brown is also a concern, as Derek Carr didn’t flash much deep ability in 2018. Brown was also under 13.0 YPR last season and is now 31. While the volume might be there, his legs might not have the same juice that they once did, hampering his upside.
Who to target
This leaves Jones, Hopkins, Smith-Schuster, and Beckham as potential league-leading receivers. There isn’t much value here, as Smith-Schuster is the cheapest guy with a second-round ADP. But targeting these guys gives you the best shot at an elite top-5 receiver. The FanDuel Sportsbook seems to agree, as they have these four receivers with the top-5 best odds to lead the NFL in receiving.
Perhaps the best way to use this information is to fade certain receivers that don’t reach the criteria. Adams is likely to see good volume, but he makes his bacon with a ridiculous touchdown total. Thomas is highly efficient at catching the ball, but he operates too close to the line of scrimmage. No receiver has come close to Calvin Johnson’s NFL record 1,964 yards in the last few seasons, so maybe fantasy gamers should just be fading elite receivers and targeting cheap WR2s. But if you can’t resist the urge to acquire an elite WR, these are the guys to target in the early rounds.
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