At first, I didn’t see any difference between drafting second or third overall.

Sure, it’s one spot later. But on the surface, I wind up building similar teams. I’m making the same structural bet my WR1 will be in the top three by season’s end. It still feels like waiting forever to pick in the second round. Not much has changed.

But, then again, there are some nuances to consider. The power of the 1.01 and 1.02 (to an extent) is the turn. From the one-spot, we can challenge ADPs and force position runs. Managers in the second position have the same luxury while creating pockets of value by assessing the team picking after them. 

At 1.03, neither advantage is as strong. However, we can still construct a contender despite the (slightly) weaker starting position.

The Early Rounds

Luckily, the first round isn’t an issue.

If Christian McCaffrey falls to you, I’ve already laid out how to build a winning roster with 2024’s RB1. Otherwise, let’s bet on this year’s WR1 to start the draft. Using data from the last three seasons, I built a profile to help decide which receiver to click when considering the best in the league.

  • (Player) +25.0% target share the year before
  • (Team) Top 12 in EPA per play
  • (Team) Top 10 in PROE

Tyreek Hill typically slides into the third spot after last year’s RB1 and WR1 go off the board. But Hill’s positional rank should really be like WR1B, with Lamb as the 1A. In 2023, the only difference between the two (for fantasy) was that Lamb stayed healthy and Hill essentially missed a game and a half with an ankle sprain. 

Apart from his absence, the former Chief earned more of his team’s targets and air yards while posting a hilarious 3.85 YPRR. You wouldn’t be twisting my arm if I had to draft a WR with a target share over 30.0% in back-to-back seasons on an offense that has ranked fifth and seventh in EPA per play the last two years. That’s an easy click. 

Some of my previous findings provide an optimal framework for filling out the rest of the early rounds. Roster requirements should create a focus on RBs and WRs. Investing two selections into the onesie positions leaves you lacking depth at the core positions. With this general approach and loosely adhering to ADP, I built three teams you’d likely see from the 1.03 through six rounds.

Each has its strengths and limitations. And, of course, your league may present its twists in the second round, leaving different names for you to consider. Regardless, let’s see how we can build out each of these in the middle rounds.

Navigating the Middle Rounds

Our expectations regarding fantasy output should decline as we get further into the draft. As a result, Rounds 7 through 12 are about filling holes in your roster. They offer the best chance for us to “make up for” what we bypassed with our earlier picks. However, it’s a bit different with WRs.

For each squad in our three-team multiverse, the receivers drop off round by round. Every WR3 has a yellow flag or two surrounding their 2024 outlook. Brian Thomas Jr. and Ladd McConkey haven’t played a down in the NFL. We’re hoping Seattle’s new scheme will give us the Jaxon Smith-Njigba we wanted coming out of college (I know I am). But our draft strategy should require a bit more than just hype.

Intuitively, as PPG declines by round, so does how often a player finishes as a top-24 WR on the week. Since 2021, our early-round WRs have averaged 6.9 weeks as a WR2. Mid-round options fall to 3.3. So, your chances of making up at WR are already slim. Fortunately, the path to being a top-24 option isn’t hard to find.

  • 2023: 13.9 PPR PPG
  • 2022: 13.6
  • 2021: 14.3

WR2s have scored about the same amount of PPR points on a per-game basis over the last three seasons. I used a point above and below the averages (i.e., 12-15) to set a range along with a minimum of 10 games played in the season. Of the 65 WRs that fit the criteria, their situations couldn’t have been more diverse.

Focusing on securing pieces of efficient offenses is critical in the early rounds. Logically, we’d cling to the same approach as the draft unfolds. However, each team operates differently. In fact, over the last three seasons, you’re almost as likely to find a WR2 from a team with a top-12 rank in EPA per play as one from a bottom-12 offense. There’s no guarantee we’re securing anything fantasy-relevant by continuing to mine the good teams. 

Take the Dolphins, for instance (as an extreme example). Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle are gone by the third round. Odell Beckham Jr. this year or Cedrick Wilson in years past aren’t worth a mid-round selection. We know the offense condenses around Hill and Waddle. So, prioritizing only good teams won’t always net us the WR production we need. Hence, my lack of faith in Jameson Williams. Let’s focus on what does matter: volume.

Unsurprisingly, more fantasy WR2s came from pass-happy teams. From Amon-Ra St. Brown’s rookie season to Terry McLaurin in 2023, projectable targets can overcome whatever doubt we may have in a player or their environment. Accordingly, taking a look at either Romeo Doubs or Dontayvion Wicks becomes a value proposition, given Green Bay finished with the 10th-best PROE while rotating their receivers through the year.

But targets ultimately come from the quarterback. While we try to hitch our wagons to good passers, a bet on receiver talent can be the better option. Of the 65 WR2s from the sample, 25 had signal-callers with a position rank outside of the top 30.

We didn’t know who would start for the Raiders last season. It was a battle (to the bottom) between Jimmy Garoppolo, Brian Hoyer and Aidan O’Connell. However, we did know Jakobi Meyers signed the second-largest free-agent contract after posting a top-24 YPRR mark in 2022 and parlayed his role into his second 100-plus target season. With rumors of Jerry Jeudy moving into the slot in Cleveland, we could see a similar result from an overlooked WR this year.

Filling Out A Contender

Now we’ve got an idea of how to find optimal WR2s. With some of the takeaways in mind, let’s go back to our multiverse and fill out the middle rounds.

I’ve often cautioned against getting too attached to the names. In this exercise, let’s zoom in on a couple to emphasize the process. I already highlighted Jerry Jeudy, but Darnell Mooney finds himself in a similar (better?) spot on a team projected for more plays and pass attempts

Joshua Palmer already has a rapport with Justin Herbert and has inconsistent outside receivers as his primary competition aside from McConkey. As a result, each squad should be able to enter the late rounds with equal chances of building a contender in 2024.