2021 Fantasy Football WR3 & WR4 Scoring Targets: Backup Receivers Scoring More Every Season

SI Fantasy insider Shawn Childs discusses the backup wide receiver spots on your fantasy roster and the best draft practices to maximize your scoring
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Scoring Targets series
QB | RB1/RB2 | RB3/RB4 | WR1/WR2 | WR3/WR4TE | FLEX | K/DST

I have to admit I have a weakness for the wide receiver position. I like strength with my wideouts, which allows me to make fewer starting lineup decisions.

Wide receivers 25 to 36 point totals (2017 – 2020)

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Wide Receivers 25 to 36

Last year, the 25th through 36th wide receivers averaged 194.37 fantasy points in full-point PPR leagues or 12.15 fantasy points per week, which works out to be 68 catches for 905 yards and 5.1 touchdowns. The top four wide receivers in this group averaged 206 fantasy points.

WR3 Observations

The quality of the WR3 improved in each of the past three years (2018 – 178.53 and 2019 – 189.86).

Wide receivers can be inconsistent from week to week. Many times touchdowns will determine their success. If a fantasy owner builds his team with too many weak wide receivers, he will have difficulty getting his lineup right on Sunday. As you can see, as we maneuver our way through the wide receiver pool, they consistently outscore the running back position at the backend.

As I mentioned earlier, if a fantasy owner could draft three top wide receivers inside of the first four rounds, his team structure may lead to a five or six-point edge at the WR3 position if you can hit on the right group of wide receivers. Additionally, by having three reliable wide receivers, your team may be slightly stronger during bye weeks while also have a chance to battle some short-term injuries. On the other hand, a team selecting a quarterback and tight end over the top five rounds will be under pressure to get their 2nd running backs and backend wide receivers right on draft day.

Wide receivers 37 to 48 point totals (2017 – 2020)

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Wide Receivers 37 to 48

The 37th through 48th wide receivers averaged 164.23 fantasy points in full-point PPR leagues or 57 catches, 742 yards, and five touchdowns. The fourth wide receivers, on average, outscored the third group of running backs (9.44 fantasy points in 2020). Last year, 44 wide receivers averaged more than 10.0 fantasy points per week compared to 41 in 2019 and 36 in 2018.

Our goal at the flex position has to be a lot higher than 10.5 fantasy points if we expect to win our league or compete for an overall title. Unfortunately, many of the failures at the backend of the wide receiver pool tends to come from injuries.

WR4 Observations

If we add up the average score from each starting roster position, we come up with a total of 149.04 fantasy points per week based on 2020 results. Each fantasy owner’s goal should be to beat the average score at each position, which means they need to have a player in the mid to upper tier at each spot in their starting lineup.

The wide receiver position runs deeper than the running back position, but wideouts are tougher to manage at the lower tiers. As a result, many fantasy owners use two different philosophies.

The first philosophy is to draft one solid running back and build your team with strength in their wide receiver corps plus a solid tight end. The next step is loading up on running back depth. If one or more backup running backs gain a full-time job, their team will contend for a title with a healthy season.

The second team structure comes from a running back strong roster in your team building while hopefully hitting on their backend wide receivers.

I'll use a baseball comparison as I think it is easier to understand for fantasy owners that play multiple sports. A backup running back is like a closer in waiting. If a player gets full-time carries, they can become a top player and sometimes an elite running back. Without a starting opportunity, a backup running back tends to have minimal value if needed to cover an injury or bye week.

Wide receivers are more like starting pitchers. It's either they have talent, or they don't. Each year a couple of wide receivers will breakthrough, but what are the chances the draft breaks right for you to secure the right ones? If a drafter went running back strong, do they need to hit one or two wide receivers to have a successful season? They might even need three wide receivers to develop a competitive roster.

In the high-end leagues, your opponents will also know the player pool, which will make it challenging to get out if you wait too long at the wide receiver position.

The second part is a backup wide receiver can't match an elite wide receiver just because he has an opportunity. If Michael Thomas gets hurt, his replacement won't deliver his production. His targets will be spread out between the other good players within the offense.

A mediocre running back can get a job in a high-powered offense and produce by the sheer volume of touches, which is the main reason why many top fantasy owners will cheat the RB2 position. They avoid the injury risk by selecting one running back early, and they try to gain an edge at four or five other roster positions.

The best team structure for a fantasy owner that pushes the quarterback position back would be to draft a balanced roster after five rounds (two RBs, two WRs, and one TE). This path allows a fantasy owner to take advantage of the positions that slide in the draft. Each league will be different, so there isn't a perfect way to build your team. Understanding the player pool and draft flow is critical in building a winning roster. The kicker to all of this is that players will get hurt, and many will underperform your expectations.

I know fantasy owners consider some players to have injury risks. However, football is so much different than baseball. You can't ignore talent even you think a player may break down. Brian Westbrook comes to mind when I think of this. I passed on him many times as I thought he was an injury risk, but I also knew he had talent. If he was on the field, he was going to play at a high level. I'm all about avoiding injuries, but I know my crystal ball that works inside my head doesn't translate into real football. If a player has difference-maker talent and is still in the prime of his career, you have to take the edge when you can, but you must protect your investment.

I would approach the draft this way. It is vital to evaluate your opponents when you're sitting at the draft table. If you are in a league with less talented owners who don't know the inventory, there will be buying opportunities in all positions later in drafts.

In the high-stakes market, every fantasy owner will most likely know the player pool. They will also respect the wide receiver position. By knowing your opponents, you may be able to understand your opportunities later in the draft.

In other words, in a live draft on the opening-day weekend of the NFL season, you may want to push up the wide receiver position. In an online draft in late July, when fantasy owners don't understand the player flow, you can gain an edge by selecting a quarterback or tight end earlier. As each week passes, drafting information will circulate, and the player pool will tighten up.

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Senior analyst Shawn Childs is a multi-sport, high-stakes fantasy legend with lifetime earnings in the high six-figures. He has been providing in-depth, analytical break downs for years all while helping his subscribers to countless titles and winnings across season-long & DFS. A inaugural inductee of the NFBC Hall of Fame, Shawn can teach you how to prep like a champ!

Follow @Shawn__Childs on Twitter