NFL DFS – Building Your Lineup: Wide Receivers
Wide receivers are one of the most volatile positions that you’re going to be rostering each week in DFS. Receivers touch the ball considerably less than running backs, and they’re not getting simple handoffs that typically result in a positive gain. Passing game targets are much harder to convert into fantasy points, because, well, receivers have to catch the ball.
It’s perhaps cruel that the two biggest DFS sites (DraftKings and FanDuel) force us to roster three players at this unpredictable position, but those are the breaks. Here is what to look for when rostering wide receivers in both cash games and tournaments.
Sportsbook Odds & Game Script
The passing game, like all other facets of an NFL contest, depends on the projected amount of points that may be scored. We ideally want to be targeting receivers in games with high totals, which is about the same that can be said for any other position in DFS besides defense.
Regarding the point spread, some might look to roster receivers on teams that are underdogs. All things being equal, it can make sense to roster a receiver on a team that is likely to be playing from behind. However, over the long term, this doesn’t necessarily correlate with more passing attempts from the quarterback or targets.
Typically, if a team is throwing all second half, they’re either being blown out by a massive margin, or they have been inefficient offensively in the first half of the game. While it might seem appealing to want to throw a receiver into the lineup because a team might be passing most of the second half, realize that you may have to rely on two-quarters or less to get your desired production.
Double-digit favorites, particularly, may seem appealing when looking for a team to roster a receiver, but these are usually fool’s gold. The main reason for this is that teams who are double-digit underdogs are rarely projected to score more than 21 points. In fact, their implied team totals based on the spread and total are usually even lower.
I wish it were always as easy finding a weak pass defense and plugging a top receiver into your lineup. Sometimes, it is that simple due to a guy being mispriced or because an injury will funnel him more targets or an insertion into the starting lineup. However, breaking down receiver matchups usually takes a bit of work.
Receiver production is perhaps the only lineup spot in DFS contests that can be won or lost on an individual matchup. Cornerback vs. wide receiver matchups are vital to evaluating a pass catcher’s potential performance.
Pro Football Focus does an excellent job with this in their WR vs. CB matchup chart, which includes grades for both cornerbacks and receivers, along with a numbered grading the advantage that a receiver might have over the defensive back.
That’s easily my favorite tool for breaking down individual matchups. However, it’s important to look into the matchup a bit closer. Many receivers move around the field and don’t line up in the same spot while others almost always play in the slot or on the right or left side of the formation.
The same goes for cornerbacks. It’s a common misconception amongst casual NFL fans, and a relatively decent percentage of DFS players think that a team’s top cornerback will shadow a star wide receiver. While there are a few top cornerbacks that shadow the opposing team’s best pass catcher – this is usually rare.
Most top cornerbacks play either the left or right side and slot corners, well, stay in the slot. Keep that in mind when evaluating a matchup. If a receiver regularly moves around the formation, he may avoid a matchup (at least some of the time) that seems a lot tougher on paper.
Targets should be valued the same way that we value touches regarding running back production. They’re not nearly as consistent, as the balls thrown have to be caught, but when a receiver is heavily targeted, it obviously bodes well for fantasy success.
Often, targets precede production. We might see a receiver get ten targets the week before, but for whatever reason, he only catches four balls for 40-50 yards. This might be due to tight coverage, drops, poorly thrown balls, but one thing we know for sure is that the quarterback is looking his way.
Of course, we need to take salary into account when we are looking at targets. A receiver that is priced in the top-five on a particular site isn’t quite as appealing if he’s only getting 8-10 targets a game. On the other side, if we have a receiver in the middle or lower tier receiving this kind of volume, he becomes a lot more attractive.
There are obviously other factors to consider aside from the number of times a receiver is being targeted, but it’s one of the best barometers to predict future success, even if the box score production isn’t quite there yet.
This is especially true if he’s getting a lot of red zone targets. Receivers who are the top option in the red zone (even more so if that team likes to throw in that area of the field) are almost always going to be in consideration to make your rosters weekly.
Touchdowns are clearly something we want to target in DFS, and the best way to do that is to look to roster receivers who catch the ball in the end zone.
Points Per Reception (PPR)
One of the things players need to see immediately when they begin playing at a new site is the scoring. Most sites don’t have too much of a difference when it comes to scoring, but one area that is a crucial difference between the sites is half-point (0.5) or full-point (1.0) points per reception.
Full point PPR is a definite boost to receivers (and pass catching running backs). Receivers that garner a lot of receptions, but aren’t necessarily high upside or big play receivers have a lot more value in PPR leagues.
Their floor is much greater because they will be getting a point every time they make a catch. Though they might not have the big play upside of other receivers to win a large tournament, this gives them rock solid production.
One of the most important aspects to consider when choosing receivers in cash games is how predictable an offense is in terms of production. It’s fairly easy to predict that an offense is going to score a lot of points in a game, but figuring out which players are likely to do the scoring can be a lot harder in some offenses compared to others.
If an offense is projected to score 30 points according to the Vegas lines, but they are notorious for “spreading the wealth” amongst several players, it becomes a lot harder to put a receiver in the lineup, because of the uncertainty of where the points may be scored. If you think a team is going to score 30 points, but can’t pinpoint how they might be scored that doesn’t do us much good in DFS, especially in the cash game format.
The best offenses to target in your cash games are going to be the ones that offer the most certainty in targets and production. There is going to be times when a player is clearly underpriced which makes it easier, but for the most part, we need to be targeting players that will be heavily involved in the passing game week-to-week in our cash games.
Many players wonder if they should look to play a receiver or running back in their flex position. As mentioned in the running backs article, wide receivers are generally less consistent than running backs. However, this doesn’t mean that players should always look to force running backs into their rosters.
In full-point PPR formats, wide receivers that soak up targets and receptions can be safer than running backs and offer the excellent floor of points that we need for cash games.
In tournament formats, we can expand our player pool considerably when it comes to choosing wide receivers. We are looking for players that can explode for big games out of nowhere. Weekly targets and receptions have a lot less meaning in this format as we look for receivers who are under-owned, but have the potential for significant upside.
This doesn’t mean that our selections for our tournament lineups should be “shots in the dark”, but instead, we can focus on a player’s ceiling rather than his floor. For me personally, tournament receivers are guys that often don’t make the cut for my cash game teams due to the uncertainty of their workload or simply because I preferred other options.
Compared to cash games, we want wide receivers in our flex position in tournaments, because their upside is much higher than running backs as a whole. Many receivers, often those who are smaller parts of the offense have the upside for 150-yard and two touchdown performances. This isn’t the case for most running backs, aside from high volume starters.
Purely deep threat receivers may seem like ideal tournament targets, but depending on price, they may not have quite the upside that many think they do. Since they don’t receive many targets in the passing game aside from bombs downfield, they usually need to hit two of these big plays to reach tournament value.
This is highly unlikely to happen and one reason I prefer to stay away from guys who are exclusive to working downfield, even in tournament formats.