Most of the fantasy footballing matters we discuss around these parts in July and August are tied to each player’s average draft position (ADP, to use the proper street lingo and maintain our cred in the ‘hood). We discuss the fluctuating ADPs, and where exactly they’re fluctuating to.

We do this becauseĀ a search for value is at the core of fantasy draft season, and said search is rooted in where your investment is best spent. Continually, we attempt to assess a player’s current valuation, and if at that price you’ll be getting the return you anticipated, or if your fake money or draft pick is better spent elsewhere during that particular area of your draft. That’s always the goal: to maximize the value of each pick.

So one day (this day) I said to myself “self, if you’re always writing about ADP anyways and mentioning it in nearly every post, why not dedicate a weekly post to a specific ADP matter?” And thus, this post was born. The making of the creative sausage here is indeed a delicate process.

Sometimes it’ll be a player, or sometimes it’ll be an entire position, but every week we’ll discuss a way in which you can better maximize value based on current ADPs. Of course, there’s never a definitive strategy, and many a league can be won by contradicting what’s written below in this week’s discussion, and taking Calvin Johnson with your first-round pick. As always, we’re exploring here.

Like yesterday then, grab your shovel and green hat. Let’s dig in.

You can wait on wide receivers

Specifically, you can wait until about the fourth round. Or more generally, the 30th overall pick and beyond.

When you do that, you’ll almost always be passing on these juicy names: Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, and Brandon Marshall. Beyond their freakish athleticism highlighted by the sort of speed and leaping ability which leads to a whole lot of yards and catches, something else is arguably even more appealing with most of those names: targets.

With the exception of Jones and Bryant whenever Miles Austin is fully functional, the top fantasy receivers easily lead their team in looks, and they’re target vacuums. We can spread our poetic wax further and slobber about Johnson’s rare combination of physicality and speed, or Marshall’s wingspan, but we can’t overlook the simple fact that’s right in front of us: without an exceedingly high target volume, the top receivers aren’t the top receivers.

Currently at both Fantasy Football Calculator and ESPN, those six names are gone before the 30th overall pick (there’s some deviation, of course, with Larry Fitzgerald, Randall Cobb, and Percy Harvin sometimes coming off the board earlier too). Predictably, their 2012 target numbers were high:

  • Johnson: 205
  • Green: 164
  • Thomas: 141
  • Marshall: 194
  • Jones: 129
  • Bryant: 138

As you see, of the top six at both FFC and ESPN, three were above 160 targets, the same three who were among the top five most targeted wide receivers last year.

At any position, high-volume touches leads to high-volume production opportunities, and therefore also high-volume fantasy scoring (hopefully and most likely). Again, that’s an obvious equation, and a significant reason why Johnson, Green et al are pursued so highly. But then how do we explain Reggie Wayne?

Wayne battled and answered for his age concerns last year, with the youth of Andrew Luck seeping into his veins. At the age of 34, Wayne finished seventh in receiving yards (1,355), and sixth in receptions (106) while recording eight games with 80 or more yards, highlighted by his 212 yards on 13 catches and 20 targets in Week 5. What was the main driver of those ballooning counting stats? Targets, and a fondness from a guy named Luck. I think you’re seeing a pattern here.

Wayne was targeted a career single-season high of 194 times, a number which rests only 11 back of Megatron’s league lead. That should continue this year or maybe even increase with Donnie Avery gone, and LaVon Brazil suspended four games. And where is Wayne being drafted on average? FFC gives him an ADP of 51.6, while at ESPN he’s not much further ahead at 47.3.

There’s a similar story of ADP bargaining based on targets to be found elsewhere, even if we exclude Wes Welker, and the uncertainty of his usage in a new offense with many hands to feed:

  • Victor Cruz: 143 targets, ADP: 36.3 (FFC), 39.3 (ESPN)
  • Vincent Jackson: 147 targets, ADP: 39.0 (FFC), 34.4 (ESPN)
  • Roddy White: 143 targets, ADP: 34.1 (FFC), 30.3 (ESPN)
  • Andre Johnson: 164 targets, ADP: 34.8 (FFC), 31.8 (ESPN)
  • Stevie Johnson: 148 targets, ADP: 88.0 (FFC), 88.6 (ESPN)
  • Steve Smith: 138 targets, ADP: 68.3 (FFC), 61.2 (ESPN)
  • Marques Colston: 130 targets, ADP: 43.3 (FFC), 44.7 (ESPN)

That’s seven more wideouts with at least 130 targets apiece last year, and each can generally be had in the fourth round and beyond in 10-team leagues (sometimes very, very beyond). Question marks linger around some of those names, which is an inherent side effect of drafting most wide receivers not named Calvin Johnson or Brandon Marshall. Will Stevie Johnson sink into the E.J. Manuel/Kevin Kolb quarterback abyss? Has Andre Johnson really lost several steps, and will DeAndre Hopkins suck away too many targets?

Those risks need to be accepted, and they don’t make your chosen path here incorrect. To address demand and position scarcity, taking two running backs immediately this year is the best strategy. By that point, Johnson, Green, Bryant and usually Marshall are long gone, and then if someone like Thomas, Jones, or Harvin falls in your lap, that’s wonderful.

But don’t force it, because there’s plenty of production potential just one round later.