Navigating the WR Avalanche
Photo by Nicolas Cool / Unsplash

Navigating the WR Avalanche

Price of the brick going up...and there's nothing you can do about it.

In Episode 6 of The Wire's 5th season, titled "The Dickensian Aspect," leader Marlo Stanfield takes over the co-op meeting, boldly proclaiming "Price of the Brick Going Up." Marlo believed previous leaders left money on the table with their below-efficient pricing. As the new kingpin, Marlo could call the shots. He could finally set an efficient, albeit drastically more expensive, price. The rest of Baltimore's co-op members initially rebuke Marlo's declaration. But, ultimately, they must succumb to Marlo's demands. After all, he is their leader; he has the market power, he controls the supply.

Just as The Wire's Baltimore drug dealing community had to pay rising prices for their goods, the 2024 market has confronted best ball drafters with rising wide receiver prices.

The price of the brick went up, and as drafters, we must react appropriately.

Just as a dealer can not succeed without sufficient supply to meet their demand, a best ball team needs sufficiently allocated capital to the wide receiver position. To reject new wide receiver pricing because previous years' markets under-priced the position would be irrational.

Treating Rising Prices with Good Humor

To frame it another way, imagine you are now a young, 20-something college student (not a personal anecdote) during the summer. This student really likes Good Humor Strawberry Shortcake Ice Cream Bars (remember, definitely not a personal anecdote).

For the purpose of this exercise, assume that they can't survive without them. These bars used to cost no more than three dollars, but now they cost upwards of five dollars. Since this very hypothetical student needs the ice cream to survive, there is essentially no dollar amount they won't pay for it—despite their relative discontent at having to consistently shell out more than five dollars per bar each day. After all, what is this person to do, not eat this delicious confectionary creation?

The Price is the Price

While emphatically far more expensive than their counterparts of yesteryear, 2024 wide receiver prices can not obscure drafters from the fact that their teams need high-quality wide receiver production to win these tournaments.

The only alternative to the early-round WR frenzy is to end up with the short end of the stick and roster Josh Palmer or Jerry Jeudy types as a top 3 or 4 WR.

In any given draft, you are exclusively a price-taker in the ADP market. And this is a game where refusing to spend at WR has a history of significantly reducing expected value. Just as the dealers in The Wire had to agree to Marlo's demands and our hypothetical student had to pay 6 dollars for Ice Cream, you are at the whims of the market.

Let's imagine a superflex ADP landscape that priced every starting quarterback in the top 32 picks. If you detoured early and started a combination of backups like Sam Darnold, Tyrod Taylor, and the great Desmond Ridder, you simply could not compete with the QB firepower of other teams. The price is the price, and sometimes you just have to pay it.

The Wide Receiver Window

For years, fantasy analysts have referred to the Wide Receiver Window when roughly describing highly-productive players (virtually any top 50 pick by ADP at the position), strong breakout candidates (2024 Jayden Reed, 2023 Christian Watson, 2022 Rashod Bateman), or those that will likely be elevated by their offensive environment (2024 Marquise Brown, 2023 Gabe Davis, 2022 Russell Gage).

In previous iterations, more uncertain breakout WR candidates could still be had into the double-digit rounds. Best Ball Mania 1 allowed us to have Justin Jefferson at pick 150 after reports circulated that Bisi Johnson would start over the rookie. BBM3 offered Garrett Wilson at pick 110 and Jahan Dotson at pick 130. Now, we draft Ladd McConkey in the top 70 picks. The game may be the same, but it certainly got more fierce. Gone are the days when strong wide receivers existed outside the top 100 picks. Now, the window arguably shuts after the first 80 picks – in the middle of Round 7 – after the likes of Diontae Johnson, Christian Watson, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba go off the board.

To exit the WR Window with at most three wide receivers means that players like Courtland Sutton, Tyler Lockett, Mike Williams, or Rasheed Shaheed may need to play vital roles throughout the entire season to keep your teams live. While such players are capable of providing cromulent seasons, they possess a narrow path to drastically exceeding expectations.

Sticker Shock & The Myth of Early RB Value

Before hitting on three team-level ways I want to use to navigate the avalanche, I want to stress that consistently taking early running back "values" is not a valid reason to force yourself to swim upstream.

We know early running backs go later than ever before. Because of this, I have seen many talk about these depressed early-round RBs as values. Yet, for the likes of early 3rd-round Kyren Williams, mid-3rd Derrick Henry, mid-4th Travis Etienne, and early-6th Rachaad White to exist as values, there must be a point where running back becomes efficiently priced. The later we go in the single-digit rounds, the running back prices (each more depressed than the last) become more appealing.

Why take Rachaad White when I can have Aaron Jones nearly two rounds later? Why take Aaron Jones when I can have Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren half a round later? Why take Harris or Warren when I can have Brian Robinson or Javonte Williams two whole rounds after that?

The line of thinking that affirms an early RB as a value must affirm another RB as an equally poor pick for the comparison to hold. Since there is widespread agreement that the end of the WR Window occurs somewhere shortly before WR49 Courtland Sutton, I would summarize a pushback to the "early RB value" argument in relation to the importance of drafting receivers as follows:

1) The market has decided that the WR Window ends sharply after Jameson Williams (ADP ~82.6, WR48) and before Courtland Sutton (ADP ~92.5, WR49).

2) Leaving the WR Window without sufficient WR firepower is generally suboptimal. Historically, the minimum level of WR firepower that has been sufficient by this point is 4 WRs.

3) To consistently achieve sufficient early WR capital, detouring for non-WR positions can not occur more than three times through Round 7.

4) The early QB prices are palatable (when correlated), and early TE prices are affordable enough that, given their spike week reliability and frequency, they demand general overweight stances in one's portfolio.

5) Early RBs can not collectively be defined as values because they carry a far higher opportunity cost than those immediately after the WR Window due to the sharp drop-off between WR48 & WR49. Going overweight on the early RBs may also prevent one from achieving ideal positions on early QB and, especially, early TE.

Not only do I think that declaring early RBs 'values' to be a misunderstanding of the current market, they are more accurately described as over-priced. Even drafting Christian McCaffrey, Breece Hall, Bijan Robinson or Jahmyr Gibbs forces you to bypass extremely strong wide receiver selections. But, having zero of any top RB this year is a risk I am not comfortable taking. Approximately 25 percent of my teams will have one of the four top RBs (below the 33 percent expectation if I never deviated from ADP).

With the preamble out of the way, let's imagine that you (for understandable reasons) have drafted a team that may not have sufficient WR capital. Ideally, a large percentage of your portfolio will have enough teams with strong early WR allocation because league-winning profiles rarely exist after the WR Window. But, there will be times when players fall enough past ADP to justify a selection or a strong correlation opportunity between a running back and tight end presents itself. In the wise words of Charlie Kelly, "What Do Now?"

Examples of such teams may include:

1. Breece Hall / Nico Collins / Zay Flowers / Lamar Jackson / Mark Andrews / Rome Odunze / Keon Coleman OR David Montgomery

  1. Christian McCaffrey / Jaylen Waddle / Malik Nabers / Amari Cooper / Travis Etienne / Evan Engram / Brian Thomas OR Aaron Jones
  2. Jahmyr Gibbs / Marvin Harrison Jr. / Tank Dell / Zay Flowers / Joe Mixon / C.J. Stroud / Jameson Williams OR Najee Harris

Above, there are three hypothetical teams (feel free to come up with your own or look back on drafts where you had a Round 1 RB start and took other detours!). These teams have, at most, four WRs within the first seven rounds.

Each team had plausible reasons for detouring, but you would ideally like to strengthen their wide receiver rooms throughout the rest of the draft.

So, here's how I might think about attacking the position later in the draft.

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