News & Analysis

How hard is it to repeat as a top-12 fantasy WR?

Jan 14, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Last week I shared observations and trends about the past five years of PPR top-12 running backs. We learned that just 35 percent of running backs repeat as top-12 performers year-over-year and that there hasn’t been a repeat overall PPR RB1 for 16 years.

What about the wide receiver position? Before I even began the research, I knew this would look a little different because of Antonio Brown’s recent three-season streak as the overall PPR WR1 (2014-2016). My perception was that wide receivers have been a little more consistent from year to year and that this group would beat 35 percent pretty handily. Was I right? And what else did I uncover?

Here’s what I gleaned from my research regarding year-to-year consistency, rookie production, and the importance of rushing and receiving production to overall fantasy finishes.

Brown and Jones

  • An average of 40 percent of wide receivers finish in the top-12 of WR positional scoring in back-to-back years (4.8 out of 12).
  • In the past five seasons, there have never been more than seven wide receivers repeat in the top-12. In three of the past five seasons, just four wide receivers were able to repeat a top-12 PPR performance.

  • Brown has finished as a top-five PPR wide receiver in each of the past five seasons. No other wide receiver has posted even two consecutive top-five finishes during this span.

If it weren’t for Brown’s incredibly stable elite production, this piece could have been about Julio Jones.

  • Jones is the current owner of a four-season top-seven streak.
  • There are plenty of wide receivers who look like good bets to be top-12 wide receivers this season. If you want to hit the easy button, just write in Brown or Jones and move on to stressing about your next pick.
  • Looking for somebody new in your life? The only wide receivers entering 2018 with active top-12 PPR streaks are Brown, Jones, and Michael Thomas.
  • Thomas was PPR WR7 as a rookie and improved to PPR WR6 in his second season. The only other rookie wide receiver with a top-seven PPR finish in the past five seasons is Odell Beckham Jr.
  • An early-season injury in 2017 ended Beckham’s three-season top-seven streak (2014-2016).
  • I have to give Demaryius Thomas some love even though he hasn’t finished in the top-12 since 2015. From 2012 to 2015, Thomas had a four-season top-nine streak, including PPR WR1 and PPR WR2 finishes in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

Big drop at the top

There is a gentler drop-off in scoring from PPR WR1 to PPR WR2 (and even PPR WR3) than there is from PRR RB1 to PPR RB2.

  • Over the past five seasons, the average scoring gap between PPR WR1 and PPR WR2 has been just 12.6 PPR points. This number is inflated because of Brown’s incredible 2014 season in which he outpaced WR2 Demaryius Thomas by 38 points.
  • The average gap between PPR WR1 and PPR WR3 is 28.8 PPR points.

Target load

If you’re projecting a player to finish as a top-12 PPR wide receiver, you should feel pretty certain that he’s going to see at least 120 targets. I would caution heavily against projecting a wide receiver for a top-12 finish if you can’t see him garnering 110 targets. Over the past five seasons, 85 percent (51/60) of top-12 PPR wide receivers have posted at least 120 targets. 95 percent (57/60) of top-12 PPR wide receivers have posted at least 110 targets.

  • Only one wide receiver has managed a top-12 PPR finish in the past five seasons with fewer than 100 targets – Doug Baldwin in 2015.
  • Finishing as a top-five PPR wide receiver requires even more target volume — there is a very well-defined bar. Over the past five seasons, 92 percent (23/25) of top-five PPR wide receivers have seen at least 140 targets.
  • The only wide receivers to post a top-five PPR season with fewer than 140 targets over this span were Demaryius Thomas (2013) and Dez Bryant (2014).
  • In 2013, Thomas scored 14 touchdowns.
  • In 2014, Bryant scored 16 touchdowns.

Have to score

It doesn’t take double-digit touchdowns to finish as a top-12 PPR wide receiver, but over the past five seasons, it has typically required five trips to the end zone.

  • From 2013 to 2017, 93 percent (56/60) of top-12 PPR wide receivers scored five touchdowns.
  • The only wide receivers to finish in the top-12 during this span with fewer than five touchdowns were Jones, Adam Thielen, Jarvis Landry, and Golden Tate.
  • The average target volume of those four outliers was 142. (This started out as a point about touchdowns, but it just circled back to being a point about targets.)

Elite yardage

Over the past five seasons, 97 percent (58/60) of top-12 PPR wide receivers have eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards. The only players to finish in the top-12 without doing so were Davante Adams (2016) and Landry (2017).

  • How many receiving yards do the elite fantasy receivers post each season? No wide receiver has turned in a top-three PPR season in the past five years without amassing at least 1,250 yards.
  • The top-12 entry point has been 75 receptions over the past five seasons. Over 98 percent (59/60) of top-12 PPR wide receivers have hit that mark since 2013. The only player to break the mold over that span was Marvin Jones Jr. in 2017, when he accomplished the feat despite recording just 61 receptions.

Well, there you have it. I think the biggest takeaway from this research was that wide receiver hasn’t really been more stable year to year than running back when considering fantasy scoring reproducibility. We also identified some very solid markers for entry into the top-12 from a production standpoint. While every season writes its own story, the recent past should at least be carefully considered when projecting what will happen in the near future.

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