Sam Schlesinger (Twitter: @avishai41)
Updated: 8/1/2017

WR Tandems: Brilliant or Boneheaded?

Stacking wide receivers from the same team onto your fantasy team is a popular strategy in DFS (daily fantasy sports). You have the freedom to create new teams on a week-to-week basis, so you can always stack the receivers on a team that’s going up against a weak defense. For example; When the Cardinals play the 49ers (as they do twice every season), you may decide to stack your team with both John Brown and Larry Fitzgerald, since it’s likely that Arizona will have a great offensive week, and both players stand to benefit. The question is, is this strategy advisable in a season long league?

At first glance it may appear that you have a similar upside to what you have in DFS, you’d just need to stack receivers from a team with a high-octane offense since you can’t change up your team every week. But what happens when a team’s whole offense busts? You then have your top two receivers giving you minimal points. How often do both of a team’s top receivers come away with top fantasy scores on the same week? Does one of them performing well hurt the chances of the other doing the same? These are the questions I wanted to focus on when looking into the subject a bit deeper.

I looked at last year’s weekly fantasy finishes for three popular receiver pairs who could potentially be seen as a smart stack, and be drafted to the same fantasy team: Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders on the Denver Broncos, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree on the Oakland Raiders, and Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams on the Green Bay Packers. I like this set for three reasons: 1) they all had healthy seasons last year so the proper data was available, 2) they each have a different level of quarterback throwing them the ball, and 3) They all finished inside the top 21 at the wide receiver position. Here’s what I found:

A few things I want to note from these statistics before diving in are:

-While Cooper finished the season as the WR 12 overall, he finished 50% of his games ranking WORSE than the WR 40 of that week.

-Adams had just as many games inside the weekly top 10 as he had outside the top 70. That spells major boom or bust potential.

-Nelson had a monster second half of the season, only finishing outside the top 10 three times from week 8 on (in that span he was the WR 1, scoring 30 more fantasy points than the next closest guy).

For the purpose of this article however, the information tells me that drafting two wide receivers from the same team is extremely dangerous. Even with Aaron Rodgers throwing the ball, there were only four weeks in the season where both Nelson and Adams finished as a WR 2 or better. The Cooper and Crabtree combo had four as well and Thomas and Sanders had three.

What’s more concerning, is that in a whopping 12 weeks out of the 16 that they play, one of either Cooper or Crabtree finished as a WR 4 or lower (or worse than the top 36 receivers of that week). This supports the theory that when one receiver from one team has a big game, it hurts the chances of another receiver from the same team also having a big gam. That was the result in 11 games for Thomas and Sanders and seven for Nelson and Adams. It appears very unlikely that both receivers will go off in the same week. And then there’s the worst-case scenario – both of your receivers tank. That happened to Thomas and Sanders five times. That’s five weeks where you got worthless production from your starting receivers.

Thomas and Sanders received a combined target share of 51.7%, Cooper and Crabtree got 47%, and Nelson and Adams just 44.5%. So even on weeks when the offense is firing on all cylinders, these highly impressive receiving tandems are only getting targeted just over half the time, if that.

I believe the risk of drafting two receivers from the same team is much higher than the reward in season long fantasy football. In DFS, if you bust one week, you can strategically pick a new stack option next week and make your money back, but in season long you’re stuck with the same pair through the good, the bad, and the ugly (and oh, is there some ugly) unless you manage to trade one away. Don’t limit yourself with this strategy, instead, try and balance your team for a higher opportunity to succeed.

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