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Wide Receivers for Free

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones

It’s a passing league and all that.

I’d rather not rehash 10,000 real and fantasy football articles on how the NFL is trending toward more than more and more passing, so I’d refer you to an excellent explanation of said trend and leave it at that.

The fantasy repercussion of an increasingly pass happy league is that quarterbacks and wide receivers are much deeper than they were a decade ago, while running backs are scarcer seemingly by the hour. If you thought 2012 had a deep crop of pass catchers, check out early returns on wide receiver value in 2013. I think this should have lasting effects on how fake footballers conduct drafts — a theory I’ll explain in detail next month, after much of the free agent dust has settled.

Hakeem Nicks can be had in the mid-fourth round. You can draft Reggie Wayne in the fifth. Stevie Johnson is going in the late-sixth round. These average draft positions are courtesy of MyFantasyLeague, a haven for the sickest of fake football obsessives. That means that some of these receivers will see their ADPs plummet once casual (sane) owners take to the mocks in July and August.

I used the fabulous little ADP Arbitrage app on RotoViz this week to pinpoint a few wide receivers who are being drafted high despite having comparables much further down the draft board. This app helps us spot undervalued guys who receive a comparable number of targets, receptions, yardage, touchdowns, and yards per target when compared to perceived top-20 receivers.

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones catches a 46 yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan (not pictured) against the San Francisco 49ers during the first quarter of the NFC Championship game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

To put it more simply: This app is a deal finder. And in the end, what are we but ravenous bargain hunters bent on proving how smart we are?

Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
ADP: WR6
Comparable Average Positional ADP: 23.9

Marques Colston, WR, New Orleans Saints: It’s tough to dismiss transcendent performances like the one Jones put on in the Falcons’ playoff loss to the 49ers in January. He had his way with the Niners’ secondary and looked like the world-beater we suspected him to be. The cold reality is that I think Jones is being over-drafted as the sixth receiver off the board. Colston averaged the same number of touchdowns per game (.62) in 2012, while drawing more average targets per game than Jones. He also hauled in more catches per game and fell three yards short of Jones’ per-game yardage. Colston, who finished 2012 nine fantasy points behind Jones, can be had for the low, low price of WR17.

Pierre Garcon, WR, Washington Redskins
ADP: WR14
Comparables Average Positional ADP: 41.7

Cecil Shorts, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars: Shorts, a fantasy favorite in the second half of 2012, was targeted more often, scored more average touchdowns and gained more average yards than Garcon in 2012. Shorts trailed Robert Griffin III‘s go-to guy by just .15 yards per target. He’s currently the 38th receiver off the board.

Lance Moore, WR, New Orleans Saints: I think Moore’s season-long value takes a hit with a healthy Darren Sproles playing 16 games for Sean Payton, but it’s worth noting that Moore out-targeted Garcon on the average, while falling just short in average receptions per game. He bested Garcon in average yardage and yards per target in 2012. He’s being drafted as the 52nd receiver in mocks.

Victor Cruz, WR, New York Giants
ADP: WR8
Comparables Average Positional ADP: 23.3

Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco 49ers: The gap between Cruz’s perceived value and that of comparable players isn’t nearly as wide as Garcon’s. Even so, RotoViz offers a nominal warning on Cruz. Crabtree, thanks to a stellar second half with Colin Kaepernick, beat Cruz in a few key categories, including yards per target (Crabtree averaged 8.7 YPT, a whole yard better than Cruz). He scored just four fewer fantasy points than Cruz in 2012. Crabtree is being drafted as the 15th best wide receiver.

Mike Williams, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Williams’ average receptions per game is a bit on the terrifying side (3.94, compared to Cruz’s 5.38), but his other RotoViz measurables compare favorably. He’s within one target per game of Cruz, and better in yards per target. Williams is being drafted as the 30th receiver in mocks.

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