Every year, fantasy football advocates search for the best sleepers or values to boost their teams closer to a title. With rankings galore and a plethora of analysts offering draft advice, fantasy football has become increasingly competitive in recent years. A player’s average draft pick (ADP) helps us gauge their value from year to year.
Every competitive roster seemingly boasts at least one superstar receiver who can post gaudy numbers, putting opponents at a considerable disadvantage. To supplement, competitive teams also tend to have a few players who regularly outperform their weekly projections.
Receivers who consistently outperform their ADP are the players who stabilize your fantasy roster week-to-week. Having consistent upside across your roster – especially during bye weeks or when dealing with injuries – is crucial to winning championships.
Identifying the Top Outperforming Wide Receivers
There are quite a few receivers who have recently bested their ADP. Many times those seasons are outliers and are rarely replicated. For example, in 2019 Davante Parker wasn’t drafted within the top 50 receivers but finished as WR11.
One year later, Parker was drafted as the WR28 and ultimately regressed to WR40. In short, if you purchased or drafted Parker based on his 2019 production, you likely had better options available and may have created a positional deficit if he was your WR2 or WR3.
Consistency is key. To find consistency, we compared the ADP, preseason rankings, and end-of-season rankings from 2016 to 2020 and identified receivers who finished as a WR3or better at least three of the five years. To be included, one of the three years had to be 2019 or 2020 to keep results relevant.
Wideout rankings as follows:
- · WR1: WR1-12
- · WR2: WR13-24
- · WR3: WR25-36
- · Flex: WR37-48
Sadly, players like Julian Edelman and Golden Tate would have made the list if 2019 and 2020 weren’t used as an exclusion criterion. There were also some judgment calls for special circumstances like Larry Fitzgerald, who appears to be nearing retirement.
#1 – Cole Beasley, WR – BUF: ADP 127
Cole Beasley is a classic example of an ADP overperformer. Since 2016, he has outperformed his ADP every year except in 2017. Beasley was not drafted as a top 72 wideout in three of those years despite finishing as a WR3 on three occasions and a flex play once more. Not to mention, since going to Buffalo, Beasley has finished as the 34th and 27th wide receiver.
Over the past five years, Beasley was the 70th wide receiver drafted on average, but he finished as the 42nd wideout. This means Beasley produced over two full positional tiers better than he was drafted.
As for ADP, the 42nd wideout is often drafted around the ninth round, whereas the 70th wideout was picked in the 14th. Beasley’s average production has exceeded his ADP by over five rounds. This is the type of value you want to win championships.
Will Beasley continue to be this reliable? Finishing five rounds above his ADP might be wishful thinking, but while currently sitting at WR47, there’s good reason to believe Beasley will be a great bargain.
Quarterback Josh Allen is continuing to improve while we witnessed Beasley and Diggs coexist in 2020. There’s no reason why Beasley can’t continue to be a reasonable WR3 or flex play at his given ADP nearing round 10. With Buffalo only adding an aging Emmanuel Sanders, Beasley’s slot snaps won’t be threatened.
Beasley has managed to earn over 100 targets in each of his two seasons in Buffalo while missing one game each season. Even if Sanders or Gabriel Davis take a small percentage of his targets, he still has tremendous upside and value.
Beasley’s Outlook: Acquire at Current ADP
#2 – Nelson Agholor, WR – NE: ADP 188
Nelson Agholor is another interesting receiver who narrowly made the overperformers’ list due to a tumultuous career start. Agholor has actually established himself as a semi-desirable receiving option. Now averaging $11 million per year with the Patriots, he has clearly shown NFL coaches he can contribute.
Agholor has had his fair share of ups and downs. He finished as a WR2 once and twice as a WR3 in five years. The other two years are of concern, considering they were virtually useless from a fantasy perspective. However, in 2019 Agholor was injured, missing five games during the regular season.
Without his 2019 ADP and ranking, Agholor has been drafted outside of the top 72 receivers each year. On average, Agholor finished as the 44th wideout, again reaching a two-tier improvement from his positional ranking. Agholor finished as the 51st wideout overall when including his 2019 production, far superior to his preseason ranking.
If you only include his most productive three years, Agholor averaged over three tiers better than his pre-season rankings. In this case, WR51 is drafted around the 11th round of drafts while WR72 is taken in the 15th. Agholor’s production averages about four rounds better than his ADP would suggest.
Should you draft Agholor at his ADP this year? Ironically, his ADP has improved to WR61 despite another team change for the veteran. There’s a lot to consider when breaking down Agholor’s situation. Who will be the quarterback, Mac Jones or Cam Newton? How much will New England pass the ball?
New England brought in a couple of talented pass-catching tight ends during the offseason in Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. Both of these players could eat targets in the middle of the field where Agholor will most likely be. Last season, he averaged just over five targets per game which most likely won’t happen again.
Even if Agholor does get the same target volume, his 2020 fantasy production was largely touchdown-dependent. He only secured 48 receptions, with eight of them for a touchdown. It’s unlikely Agholor catches a touchdown on every sixth catch moving forward. Touchdown-dependent receivers almost always see regression.
At an ADP of 179, Agholor should be drafted near other talents like Rashod Bateman, Elijah Moore, and Russell Gage. Assuming his ADP stays the same, it’s hard to justify drafting him above younger players with high upside even with his history of outperforming his draft capital.
Agholor’s Outlook: Avoid at Current ADP
#3 – Tyler Boyd, WR – CIN: ADP 87
Tyler Boyd is another intriguing receiving option who has seen some notable changes in his supporting cast. In 2020, the Bengals finally moved on from Andy Dalton. He was replaced by Joe Burrow, who seemed to be on his way to establishing a strong aerial attack.
Following 2020, receiver A.J. Green finally moved on from the Bengals, only to draft an anticipated superstar in Ja’Marr Chase. After second-year wideout Tee Higgins showcased his ability as a rookie, it seems Boyd is the odd man out.
Over the most recent three years, Boyd has excelled despite a revolving door of quarterbacks in a defense-driven AFC North. Since 2018, he has been drafted as the 43rd wideout while finishing as the 21st, peaking at WR17 in 2018.
The 43rd wideout is usually drafted around the 10th round, which is between four and five rounds later than WR21. Given today’s preseason rankings, this would be comparing Marquise Brown to Kenny Golladay. Needless to say, there’s a robust positional upgrade.
Boyd’s production is noteworthy because he is drafted as a mid-tier flex player but often finishes as a low-end WR2. Boyd was even able to outperform his preseason ranking of WR33 in 2020 despite losing Burrow and competing with the duo of Green (104 targets) and Higgins (108 targets).
Boyd seems to have a safe role on the Bengal’s offense. Considering the team has moved on from Green who amassed his fair share of targets in 2020, Chase shouldn’t cut into Boyd’s target share that much. Considering Burrow was on track to attempt about 650 passes – tied with Drew Brees for the 17th most in NFL history – there should be plenty of targets to go around. As of current, Boyd’s positional ranking sits at WR33, which seems to be his floor.
Boyd’s Outlook: Acquire at Current ADP
#4 – Robert Woods, WR – LAR: ADP 44
Robert Woods has been a consistent producer ever since he’s joined the Rams. Even with Cooper Kupp, Brandin Cooks, and even Todd Gurley stealing targets, Woods has found a way to finish as a borderline WR1 three years in a row and a WR3 finish just before then.
In his four years with the Rams, Woods outproduced his ADP each season and finished as the WR18 compared to his preseason ranking of WR38. At WR38, Boyd’s average ADP landed him in the 8th round of drafts while he yielded fourth-round production.
Over the past two years, Woods was the 17th wideout taken off the board while finishing as WR14 and averaging 15.3 or more points per game each season.
Woods, now 29 years old, is likely approaching the back end of his best years. His current positional ranking sits right at WR15, so should he be an investment? Have faith in Robert Woods as a dynamic player who has truly embraced Sean McVay’s offense with the addition of Matthew Stafford.
In three years, Woods has accumulated 23 first downs and four rushing touchdowns to supplement his receiving prowess. His consistency is unparalleled, recording 130, 139, and 129 targets in each of the previous three years. Nothing suggests any significant change in Woods’ immediate production.
Woods’ Outlook: Safe at Current ADP
#5 – Marvin Jones Jr., WR – JAX: ADP 149
It seems like Marvin Jones has always played second fiddle to a talented WR1. Regardless, Jones has provided reliable production when healthy. Jones’ fantasy success has been largely dependent on his health, however. Since 2016, he has only played in all 16 games twice while only appearing in 9 and 11 games in 2018 and 2019.
During the three years Jones was healthy enough to record a comparable result, he finished as the WR19, peaking at WR12 but with a positional ranking averaged at WR34. Like Tyler Boyd, this is notable because Jones is drafted as a low-end WR3 but often finishes as a mid-range WR2 or better.
Jones does have a unique situation as he joins a Jaguars team with many question marks. A new quarterback, a new head coach, and an undefined depth chart leave some concerns about Jones’ value for this season. Can Jones outproduce the other Jaguars receivers, D.J. Chark and Laviska Shenault? It’s not likely, but Jones currently has an ADP of 148 (WR51).
Assuming Jones can stay healthy, there’s no reason he can’t produce better than WR51 and end up as a low-end WR3 with a far higher ceiling. Jones has consistently found the end zone, scoring nine touchdowns in each of his top three seasons. The duo of Chark and Shenault only scored ten touchdowns a year ago, so Jones may be the most prolific red zone target.
Chark will likely draw some attention as the Jaguars’ WR1. Shenault is more of a gadget player, perhaps a better version of Cordarelle Patterson, who most likely won’t ever become a target hog. So Jones does have the potential to carve out a nice role on the Jags while providing Trevor Lawrence with somewhat of a safety net.
Jones’ Outlook: Acquire at Current ADP
While the above players topped our list of the most reliable receivers since 2016, there were a handful of other names worth mentioning. To start, one of the most inconsistent weekly players with consistent yearly production, Tyler Lockett.
Lockett is a difficult buy for many fantasy players because of how volatile his production is from week to week. His yearly ranking in 2020 was boosted by two stellar performances in which he caught 24 passes for 300 yards and six touchdowns. Unfortunately, he didn’t record another 100-yard performance for the rest of the year.
In most formats, you don’t want this kind of inconsistency. Lockett has had a peak pre-season ranking of WR18, yet his worst overall finish was WR16 throughout the last three years. He is ideal for best-ball formats, but Lockett could be worth his current ranking of WR24 knowing he can surge you to a couple of wins, at the least.
At his current ADP of 60, Lockett is accompanied by talents like DJ Moore, Brandon Aiyuk, Odell Beckham Jr., and Diontae Johnson. So if your roster needs a consistent producer, you may want to reconsider your options knowing Lockett will boom or bust.
Our honorable mention also features a player who has epitomized consistency. Jarvis Landry finished as a WR3 or better every year since 2016, even facing team, quarterback, and scheme changes. Landry has finished as a WR1 twice, WR2 twice, and WR3 once over the past five years.
Landry’s overall preseason ranking was WR25 since 2016 while finishing as WR16. In 2020, Landry was rebounding from a notable hip injury and still fought his way to WR3 status thanks to solid production during the second half of the season.
From weeks 11 through 17, Landry started to regain his usual form, ranking as WR19 during the latter half of the year. At a current ADP of 102 (WR43), Landry could be one of this year’s biggest bargains. He’s expected to be drafted near players like Michael Pittman Jr., Laviska Shenault, and Jerry Jeudy, none of which being guaranteed producers.
Last but not least is another player who’s been somewhat consistent in the years he’s been able to stay on the field. Jamison Crowder has been tasked with some challenging situations with subpar offenses during his career.
Despite these limitations, Crowder has three WR3 finishes and one flex finish in the past five years. However, in 2018, Crowder missed a handful of games, causing a poor overall finish and what appears to be an outlier in his yearly totals and rankings.
In the four years he was healthy, Crowder finished as the WR32 while being drafted as the WR44, showcasing another valuable jump from flex to WR3. It remains unclear what to expect with Crowder and the Jets who recently restructured his contract.
Considering Crowder consistently finishes as a flex play or better, his ADP of 150 (WR60) is intriguing. With a 12th-round ADP, there aren’t many other consistent producers available. Crowder falls alongside Henry Ruggs, Jaylen Waddle, and Mecole Hardman.
Breaking Down the Top Overperforming Wide Receivers
Overall, each of these players has consistently outperformed their given expectations and could still be strong bargains in 2020. It’s rare to find talented players who consistently outperform their ADP by four or five rounds.
Some other players didn’t fulfill our criteria but could still be strong producers. Antonio Brown brings the most intrigue based on historical finishes, ADP, and his production over the latter half of 2020.
For now, the list of overperforming wideouts has the necessary value needed to help build a championship roster. Whether you’re in a redraft, start-up, or looking for inexpensive assets to add to a competitive roster, these players will likely outproduce their cost.
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