Navigating the Middle-Round WRs in ADP (2023 Fantasy Football)


There is so much nuance that goes into fantasy football drafting and fantasy football draft strategy. Every season is different, and the edges to be found get smaller and smaller as the fantasy community continues to get smarter and smarter.

This year, the most difficult portion of the draft to navigate is the middle-round WRs. Let’s discuss it and see if we can figure out the best approach to take.

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Navigating the Middle-Round WRs

Before we get into specific players, it’s important to make sure we’re all on the same page with the players we’re discussing. Technically, the middle of fantasy drafts would be rounds 7-9. Those are not the players we are talking about today.

When I say “middle-round WR,” I’m talking about the guys typically drafted in Rounds 4-6. These are the players most fantasy analysts have ranked from WR19-WR35. To make sure we’re all operating with the same set of data, I am using Sleeper’s WR ADP from FantasyPros.

Now that we’ve established the parameters, let’s get into exactly what I mean about this group of wide receivers.

By now, everyone is familiar with the running back dead zone. As a quick refresher for those who may not be, running backs that are selected roughly around the back half of the third round through the end of the sixth round have historically low hit rates. If possible, you want to avoid drafting running backs in this range, save for certain exceptions.

Conversely, wide receivers in this range have been very good bets. If you’re not taking running backs, absent the rogue QB or TE, you’re taking wide receivers — and you should be. Round 4-6 wide receivers have much better hit rates than running backs.

Looking back at 2022 ADP, here are some wide receivers drafted in Rounds 4-6: Mike Williams, Jaylen Waddle, DK Metcalf, Chris Godwin, Marquise Brown, and Amon-Ra St. Brown.

Of course, there were plenty of misses in there that I didn’t mention. But I recall being excited to draft several of the wide receivers going in this range. There were players I clearly valued ahead of others that I wanted on my fantasy teams.

This year, things feel totally different. That’s not to say I’m not interested in any of the Round 4-6 wide receivers, rather, the problem is I’m interested in almost all of them — and I don’t value them much differently.

Obviously, I cannot speak for everyone. For example, fellow PFN Fantasy Analyst Derek Tate loves D.J. Moore. He has Moore ranked higher than any of us in our PFN consensus rankings. So, when Round 4 comes along, Tate is pushing — no — smashing the button on the Chicago Bears WR1.

For me, I just look at this group of 15-17 wide receivers and see very little separating them. Using Moore as the example, Tate has him ranked at WR15. I have him ranked at WR28. His ADP is WR21. You see what I mean? The valuation on Moore ranges from early Round 4 through late Round 6.

This is not unique to Moore, which is the point of this entire exercise.

DeAndre Hopkins has a WR20 ADP, while Christian Kirk is WR32. Is DHop really 12 WR spots better than Kirk? I personally have Kirk ranked two spots ahead of Hopkins.

Drake London has a WR24 ADP. Would it really shock you if he finished inside the top 15 as a classic sophomore breakout who posted great peripherals as a rookie? Would it really shock you if he once again finished outside the top 30 because the Falcons just didn’t throw enough, just like last year?

Sure, we could do something like this on most middle-round players. But the difference this year is I truly believe that the guys going from roughly WR19 to WR35 could be placed in any order, and it would be okay.

This was an admittedly long opening salvo, but I feel it was necessary to really establish where I’m coming from here.

What Should Fantasy Managers Do in Rounds 4-6?

You don’t need me to tell you there is no objectively correct fantasy football draft strategy. How each draft room goes often dictates what the optimal strategy is. Oftentimes, you won’t know what the objectively correct thing to do was until after the draft is halfway done.

If you have WRs in this range that you are super confident in, then by all means, prioritize drafting them. Most importantly, though, is don’t worry about feeling like you’re reaching. If you do 100 drafts, you will see these receivers drafted in every possible order.

The PFN Discord has been running several mock drafts over the past few weeks. In one of them, Tyler Lockett went in the fourth round. In another, he went at the end of the seventh.

fantasy football draft strategy

If you like a particular wide receiver, just draft him when he’s atop your board. You can’t really play the ADP game where you try and take a lower-ranked player who is higher in ADP, hoping you can get both.

The flatness of this year’s Round 4-6 wide receivers makes it such that any one of them can go at any point in that range. If you want your guy, get him.

The bigger challenge seems to be when you don’t have a guy you want. This is what I am currently struggling with.

Of the guys in this range we’re talking about, the only ones I really don’t want are Deebo Samuel, DeAndre Hopkins, and D.J. Moore (sorry, Derek). While I do have these players all ranked in a specific order because I have to, the reality is there is very little separating them.

Using auction drafts as a point of comparison, I would value them relatively the same. In an auction, you can opt to just pay the same amount for all of these guys, taking the ones that fit your budget.

In snake drafts, they have to go in a particular order. The question then becomes how to justify taking a wide receiver in Round 4 when there are several Round 6 WRs that you value about the same. I’ve been testing various approaches in mock drafts. What I’ve found myself doing most is just avoiding these Round 4 receivers.

When picking toward the back end, this is much easier. In Round 4, you opt for one of the second tier of QBs after the big three are gone. By the time the draft swings back to you in Round 5, it’s late enough that you feel much better about taking two of the Round 4-6 WRs. You also have the option of taking a TE like Kyle Pitts or Darren Waller at the 5-6 turn.

When picking toward the front end, you have the advantage of three really strong players, but at the 4-5 turn, things get tricky. You may have already taken a big three QB a the 2-3 turn. And I don’t like going early-round QB and early-round TE. It’s one or the other.

If you don’t have a big-three quarterback, then by all means, grab one in the Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson, Justin Fields, Justin Herbert tier. There should be at least one of them left. If you do, then you’re faced with quite a conundrum.

We don’t want to draft running backs here because they have historically low hit rates and simply aren’t that appealing. But drafting WRs feels unexciting as well because you’re not getting anyone definitively better than you’re getting at the 6-7 turn. So, what to do?

If I had a 100% clear answer, this article wouldn’t need to exist. Unfortunately, I don’t. All I can do is give you options that will hopefully make your draft process easier.

Don’t Take a Big 3 Quarterback

There’s definitely value in the edge and reliability the big three quarterbacks provide. However, if you take one, you’re pretty much locking yourself into exclusively running backs and wide receivers in Rounds 4-6.

The best way to avoid this is to just take only WRs and RBs at the 2-3 turn. Pass on the elite QB with the goal of drafting one at the 4-5 turn. That limits you to having to take just one dead-zone running back or just one wide receiver in the flat group — as I’m now calling them.

Double Up on the Onesie Positions

Just because I don’t like to take both onesie positions early doesn’t mean you can’t. There are exceptions to every rule.

Let’s say I pick toward the front half and go QB in the first five rounds. If Darren Waller is there at the end of Round 6, I’m going to have a very hard time saying no.

If you’re prepared to do this, it makes taking one of the flat wide receivers in the fourth or fifth round much more palatable, as you know you’re only drafting one of them.

Just Take 3 Wide Receivers

If I had to posit a guess as to which approach will end up being the best, it would be this one. At the end of the season, there will be differences between this group of WRs ranked from 19-35. Some will fall out of the top 36. Some will crack the top 18. It’s going to happen.

By taking three of them in Rounds 4-6, you may not feel like you necessarily got a great deal on any of them, but you have three shots at hitting on a potential high WR2.

If you participate in multiple leagues, you can diversify by choosing different players each time. If there are certain players you feel strongly about, go ahead and prioritize those guys.

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