Trends in Past Late Round WR Sleepers
A common draft strategy in 2019 will be to spend early picks on stud running backs. If you plan on using that strategy, you will need to know which late-round receivers to target. Every year, there are a handful of sleeper receivers that help win fantasy football championships. Let’s find out how we can increase our odds of getting these league winning receivers in 2019.
Current average draft position has 35 receivers going after round seven in 12 team PPR leagues. Which of these late-round receivers have the best chances to be league winners? What has history told us a sleeper wide receiver looks like?
Note: All ADP (Average Draft Position) data is based on PPR scoring per Fantasyfootballcalculator.com.
Defining a Sleeper
Last week, when looking at sleeper running backs, we defined what it means to be a sleeper. A “sleeper” is generally a player who is drafted late in fantasy football drafts and performs far above expectation. For receivers, we will define a successful sleeper as any WR drafted after round seven but before round 15 who had at least six top-24 weeks in a season or finished inside the top-24 at the end of the season. Is this definition arbitrary? Yes. However, this definition gives us a reasonable way to identify players who vastly outproduced their ADP. These receivers were drafted outside of the top 36 receivers in drafts yet produced as a top-24 WR for a large portion of the season.
Since 2013, there have been 175 receivers with an ADP between round eight and round 14. In that list, only 33 (19%) fit our definition as a sleeper. You can read a player’s ADP as round.pick. For example, an ADP of 8.10 means that player was typically picked with the 10th pick in the eighth round.
These wide receivers helped win leagues. What do they have in common?
Beware of the Third-Year Leap
By looking at how many seasons a receiver has been in the league we can increase our hit rate on sleeper wide receivers. Common wisdom might lead you to believe that targeting third-year receivers late in drafts is the best strategy. A closer look shows the opposite is true.
Last Summer, Peter Howard showed us when wide receivers tend to break out. In his article, he showed that receivers are most likely to break out in their second or first season in the NFL. If a receiver does not break out in their first two seasons, the odds are they will not break out at all. It makes sense, then, that receivers in year three and four are much less likely to be sleepers than any other years. If a receiver breaks out in year one or two, they will be drafted in the first seven rounds of fantasy football drafts the following season. Thus, they will not qualify as sleepers. Do not chase third-year receivers who did not break out in year one or two.
Capitalize on Touchdown Regression
Fantasy football is a high variance game. This is especially true from season to season. Understanding this is one of the biggest edges we can gain in fantasy football. When a receiver scores only three touchdowns in a season despite having 1,400 receiving yards (I am looking at you, Julio Jones), we should expect them to score more touchdowns the following season. Why? Because of regression towards the mean.
An easy way to identify receivers who are due for positive or negative regression is to look at their percentage of fantasy points from touchdowns last season. On average, receivers who have at least 30 targets in a season get 16% of their fantasy points through touchdowns. Less than eight percent of Julio’s fantasy points in 2017 were from touchdowns. Thus, positive regression was expected in 2018. Julio regressed towards the mean in 2018 with nearly 15% of his fantasy points coming from touchdowns.
Julio Jones, of course, was not a sleeper. But the same process holds true when trying to identify sleeper receivers. We want to avoid receivers who had much more than 16% of their fantasy points come from touchdowns and vice versa. Below is a chart showing the percentage of unsuccessful and successful sleeper receivers who had at least 20% of their fantasy points in the previous season come from touchdowns. Only players who had
In general, we should avoid drafting late round receivers who scored more than 20% of their fantasy points through touchdowns last season. Instead, we should target receivers who had less than 15% (the average) of their fantasy points come from touchdowns last year.
What This Means for 2019
Below is a list of all wide receivers going between round eight and 14 in 12-team PPR leagues.
All players who are in their third or fourth season are highlighted red. Additionally, players who are likely to see positive touchdown regression are highlighted in green.
Kirk is currently being drafted in the ninth round as the first Arizona Cardinals receiver. If there is one player on this list that I believe will be a league winner, it is Christian Kirk.
Kirk had greater efficiency than some of the young receivers currently going several rounds before him in 2019. Christian Kirk was efficient in one of the worst offenses in NFL history. He will have a much better offense and quarterback in 2019. Do not be surprised when Kirk is a league-winner this season.
MVS is one of the best late round flyers in fantasy football this season. He will be in competition with Geronimo Allison for the number two receiver role in Green Bay. Below is a graph of the fantasy ranks of the WR2 for Aaron Rodgers by season.
We know that Rodgers is capable of producing two top-10 receivers in a season. Allison has never played a full season or surpassed 310 receiving yards heading into his fourth season in the NFL. Remember, receivers who do not break out in year one or two usually do not break out at all. MVS, on the other hand, is heading into his second season after having the second most targets on the team as a rookie. With a nearly free price in fantasy football and positive touchdown regression coming, drafting MVS is an easy choice in 2019.
James Washington and Donte Moncrief
Washington and Moncrief have some of the highest ceilings on this list in 2019. With the departure of Antonio Brown and his 169 targets from last season, one of them should see significant volume this season. With Washington going in the 10th round and Moncrief going in the 12th, why not draft them both? One of them will vastly outperform their ADP in 2019.