If you’ve seen the movie “Moneyball,” you know the story of how advanced statistics changed the game of professional baseball. A similar trend is now at work in professional football. From 4th down conversion rates to match-up win percentages, some franchises have used advanced statistics, or what some prefer to call “advanced analytics,” to get an edge on the competition. The Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles are one of those teams. Resistance to change is evident, however. From NY Giants GM David Gettleman mocking its supporters during a press conference by typing on an imaginary keyboard to Jon Gruden saying he wants to take the game back to 1998, not everyone is aboard the advanced analytics train. Advanced analytics are also making their presence felt in fantasy football. From Yards Created (YC) to Yards after Contact (YAC) to Yards Over Expected (YOE), there’s no shortage of innovative stats to help you get an edge on player evaluations and fantasy projections. But you don’t have to have a Gettleman-like dismissive attitude or a Gruden-like desire to go back in time to yearn for some simpler statistics in fantasy football that can help you build a championship team. Advanced analytics are fine, but something as simple as the averages for basic production stats for a certain class of players can help you build a preliminary case for or against a player.
In this article, I’d like to present the averages from the ranks of the 2017 fantasy WR1s. Granted, it’s not advanced math, but these averages can tell you the targets (literally and figuratively) a WR has to reach to have a chance to break into the WR1 ranks. Granted again, I’m not the first fantasy football enthusiast to try to calculate these averages. For example, Zachary Hanshew, a writer over at FantasyPros, did a very good article on exactly this topic, entitled “What Does It Take to Finish as a WR1? (Fantasy Football).” But I want to do something a little different. Hanshew’s averages were based on standard scoring. I will look at WR1s in a full point PPR league as well as a league that give bonus points for 100 yard plus games, typically 3 points. This scoring system is becoming more popular in fantasy football.
I’ll also try to calculate the chances of becoming a WR1 based on the number of production categories in which a WR met or exceeded the averages. Finally, I’ll give a sense of how important each production category was by calculating the percentage of WR1s who also finished in the top 12 of each individual category. In a league in which receptions were one full point and 100 yard games (excluding 200+ yard games) were awarded 3 bonus points, the WRs in the chart below finished as fantasy WR1s. You can see the averages for these WR1s in the last row.
In sum, the average production stat line for a WR1 in a full point PPR and 100 yard bonus league was 144 targets, 92 receptions, 1231.5 yards, 7 touchdowns, and 3.91 100 yard games. So how many averages did a WR need to meet or exceed to become a WR1 in 2017? Only 2 WRs (Brown and Hopkins) last year finished with a stat line above the averages in all 5 categories and they both unsurprisingly finished as WR1s (the overall WR1 and WR2 in fact.) But what if he only met or exceeded the averages in 4 out of 5 categories? 3 out of 5? 2? What were the chances that he was a fantasy WR1?
Again, there aren’t any surprises. If a WR met or exceeded the averages in 4, 3, or even just 2 of the 5 categories, the chances remained 100% he was a fantasy WR1. It’s only when a WR met or exceeded the average in just one category that things get interesting. In that case, the chances were only 45% that he became a WR1. Are all the categories of equal importance? For the most part, yes. 9 of the top 12 2017 leaders in targets (75%) were also WR1s. 10 of the top 12 leaders in receptions (83%) were WR1s. 11 WR1s were among the top 12 leaders in yards (92%.) Finally, 10 WR1s were also in the top 12 for 100 yards games (83%, but note that 7 players were tied for 10th.) It only gets interesting when it comes to touchdowns once again. Only 5 of the top 12 leaders in TDs were WR1s. So it appears that TDs are the least important stat for becoming a WR1.
Now to you’ll have to do some extra work to create projections for a WR who you think can approach these averages in 2018, but that work isn’t too mentally demanding. It is time-consuming in the sense you have to do a lot of scratch work with numbers you can find on lots of different websites. For example, if you want to project how many targets a WR will receive, you can use their previous season’s target numbers as a baseline and then try to figure out if he can receive more targets, perhaps based on target redistribution if other offensive skill players have left the team. But after all your hard work, if you can show that a WR will meet or exceed the 2017 averages in 2 or more categories, you can make a good case that he will become a WR1.