Trends in Past Wide Receiver Busts
Chances are, you will be drafting at least one wide receiver in the first four rounds of your fantasy football drafts. Grabbing an elite wide receiver is a crucial step on your path to a fantasy football championship. As we all know, that is not always how it works out in fantasy football. If you drafted Chris Hogan or Doug Baldwin in the first four rounds last year you probably did not win a championship. Current average draft position has 19 wide receivers being picked in the first four rounds in 12 team PPR leagues. We want to know which early-round receivers are potential busts. What has history told us a bust wide receiver looks like?
Note: All ADP (Average Draft Position) data is based on PPR scoring per Fantasyfootballcalculator.com.
Defining a Bust
There is no universal way to define a bust in fantasy football. A “bust” is a player who is drafted high in fantasy football drafts but performs far below expectation. But who decides what counts as a high draft round? What is considered a below expectation performance? These decisions are somewhat arbitrary.
When looking at trends in past running back busts, we defined a bust as any player who is drafted in the first four rounds who fails to produce at least five top-24 weeks in a season. While arbitrary, this definition works well because there are typically around 20 receivers drafted in the first four rounds. A receiver who fails to crack the top 24 for more than half of the season gave significantly less value than expected given their draft cost.
Looking back since 2013, there have been 131 wide receivers with an ADP (average draft position) within the first four rounds. Within that list, 35 WRs (26%) fit our definition of a bust. You can read a players ADP as round.pick. For example, an ADP of 3.10 means that player was typically picked with the 10th pick in the third round.
Only seven of these receivers (20%) busted due to injury. This is significantly lower than the percentage of running back busts who busted due to injury (51%). So what can we learn from the other 28 receivers? How can we avoid these busts in the future?
Beware of Father Time
Receivers tend to have much longer careers than running backs. Even still, no receiver is elite forever. As players get older they slow down, pick up injuries, and ultimately perform worse on the field. But at what age can we expect this drop-off in production to occur? Below is every wide receiver since 2013 that has busted for non-injury related reasons along with their age and number of years in the league.
On average, these wide receivers were 28.4 years old and in their 7th season in the league. These receivers are much older compared to receivers that did not bust. The 96 receivers that did not bust were, on average, 26.6 years old and were heading into their 5th season. In other words, receivers that did not bust were nearly two years younger, on average, than receivers that did bust. When deciding between two receivers in the first four rounds, siding with the younger player is generally a good rule of thumb.
Beware of the Red Zone Threats
Having a receiver labeled as a “red zone threat” seems like it should be a good thing. After all, red zone threats should get have a higher chance of scoring a touchdown each week. And we like touchdowns in fantasy football. Right? Taking a closer look, players who have scored nearly all of their touchdowns in the red zone the previous year are much more likely to bust.
Touchdowns are huge in fantasy football. Unfortunately, from season to season a receiver’s role inside the red zone is typically very unstable. Receivers are often drafted based on roles they had in the red zone the previous year that they cannot replicate the following season. We should be wary of receivers who have relied heavily on a consistent role in the red zone. This is especially true for receivers who might have more competition for red zone targets heading into 2019.
What This Means for 2019
Below is a list of all wide receivers going in the first four rounds of 12-team PPR leagues.
Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, T.Y. Hilton, A.J. Green, and Julian Edelman will be on the wrong side of 30 in 2019. This is not to say none of them will be successful. Most of them will be. However, age will catch up with these receivers soon rather than later. In fantasy football, it is better to be one year too early than one year too late when predicting when receivers will drop off with age. Edelman, the oldest receiver on this list by two years, profiles as one of the riskiest picks on this list. Not to mention his quarterback is the oldest non-kicker in the league.
Davante Adams and Keenan Allen are the only two receivers who scored nearly all of their touchdowns inside the red zone in 2018. If we take a closer look at their consistency in 2018, it is easy to understand their current average draft positions.
Adams had only one week in which he was not a top-24 receiver in 2018. A big reason for this was his career-high 13 receiving touchdowns last season. Last season was the third year in a row Adams has scored more than 10 touchdowns. 92% of his touchdowns came inside the red zone in 2018, but his proven elite touchdown production and lack of competition for targets justify his current draft position.
Keenan Allen, on the other hand, is a different story. All six of Allen’s touchdowns in 2018 came inside the red zone. In the last two seasons, Allen has scored a combined 12 touchdowns. 10 of those touchdowns came within the red zone. With red zone options in Hunter Henry and Mike Williams expected to have red zone roles in 2019, Keenan Allen could be a much riskier pick in the third round than most fantasy football drafters currently realize.