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   Sophomore WR Analysis

May 22, 2024
Al Lackner

This is the second of three features that I will be doing this pre-season regarding an analysis of fantasy Wide Receivers.

In the first segment we looked at devising a formula for ranking 2023 wide receivers based on various metrics from last season. This time we will analyze Sophomore Wide Receivers (from the Class of 2022). Next time I will look closely at what I call the QB-to-WR Index.

Garrett Wilson

Tier One

Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave

Both of these guys racked up over 1,000 yards and 4 TDS in their rookie seasons. This year I am expecting both to build upon their strong rookie campaigns and to post borderline WR1/WR2 fantasy stats.

Let's start with Garrett Wilson, the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year, who caught 83 passes for 1103 yards with a hot pile of garbage at the QB position. Wilson appeared in 9 games with Zach Wilson at QB, while Joe Flacco and Mike White tossed passes to him in the other 8 contests. There was a clear delineation in Garrett Wilson's production when working with Zach Wilson versus the other two. In the 9 Wilson-to-Wilson games Garrett averaged 6.3 targets, 3.8 receptions, 50 yards and 0 TDs. That is good for a paltry 5 fantasy points in standard leagues and 8.8 in PPR. Conversely in the 8 Flacco/White games, he averaged 11.25 targets, 6.1 receptions, 82 yards and 0.5 TDs. That equates to 12.2 fantasy points in standard leagues and 18.3 fantasy points in PPR formats.

Over the course of a full season, his numbers with the two "good" QBs would have amounted to 98 receptions for 1312 yards and 8 TDs, which would have cemented him as roughly the 7th best WR in fantasy football in 2022. While that may be cherry picking stats, it is certainly worth noting the disparity -- and (unless you have been hiding under a rock the past few months) you should be well aware that Wilson will have future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers as his QB in 2023. I do not think it is all a stretch to suggest that Rodgers is significantly better than Flacco and White, so extrapolating Wilson's "good" games with those two QBs over a full season would seem to be a reasonable starting point as we project 2023 numbers.

The only risk that I see is the sudden depth at the wide receiver position. The Jets added Allen Lazard, Mecole Hardman and Randall Cobb during the off-season -- all of whom are veterans with both Lazard and Cobb having history with Rodgers. Regardless, I have Wilson locked in as a top-10 fantasy WR target, which means that he will be gone by the end of the 2nd round (no later than the 3rd) in most formats.

Chris Olave

Like Wilson, Chris Olave should benefit from better QB play in 2023, as Derek Carr will take over for Jameis Winston and Andy Dalton. Olave posted strong numbers as a rookie, 72 receptions for 1042 yards and 4 TDs. The issue for him was consistency as he had 7 games in which he accounted for 60 yards or fewer. Of course, he could only perform when his QB decided to look his way -- and in games where he was targeted at least 9 times, Olave averaged over 6 receptions for almost 88 yards.

Carr is a much more reliable downfield passer than either Winston or Dalton. Last year Carr targeted his top receiver (DaVante Adams) at least 9 times in 13 of 17 games. In fact, Adams averaged a hair under 12 targets per game in 2022. I am not at all suggesting that Olave will post Adams-like numbers -- just that Carr likes to target his top receiver often. And Olave will undoubtedly be the Saints' #1 receiver heading into 2023. Using 9 targets per game as a starting point, based on his 2022 numbers, Olave would be good for close to 105 receptions and 1490 yards.

The issue, of course, is the lack of TD production -- but perhaps Carr can help to lift that number up as well. Olave may not come close to Adams' 14 TDs with Carr last season, but I expect Olave to haul in more than the 4 he scored himself last year. If we split the difference between his rookie numbers and the upside numbers I just spouted out, we would be looking at something like 90 receptions for 1200+ yards and, say, 8 or 9 TDs. I would slate him just a few slots after Garrett Wilson in the overall WR landscape, which means that a 3rd round grade on him in most fantasy leagues seems reasonable.

Tier Two

Christian Watson

Christian Watson

I am putting Watson in a tier all by himself because I believe that he possesses the size/speed ratio, talent, skill and opportunity to post numbers similar to those of Wilson and Olave. But -- and you knew there was a but -- he also comes with a significant amount of risk.

Let's start with those risk factors:

1. The QB he played with as a rookie, Aaron Rodgers, is gone -- and we know very little about the new QB, Jordan Love.

2. Watson was very inconsistent as a rookie WITH Rodgers throwing him the ball. In fact, you could argue that his three good games were all outliers as he recorded 100+ yards and a total of 4 TDs in those three games. In all of the other 11 games he played (he missed 3 games, which is also a concern), he did not rack up more than 49 receiving yards in any of them.

3. By many accounts, Watson has some maturity issues that he still needs to work through.

At his best, Watson is an explosive weapon. He led all rookie receivers in TDs (7 receiving and 2 more rushing). In those 3 big games I referenced, he was a potential weekly fantasy winner. He has wheels and -- if used properly in a sort of Deebo Samuel role -- Watson could be a weapon with an extra dimension. He ran for 80 yards and 2 TDs on just 7 rushing attempts last season. A small sample size, I know -- but strong evidence that he could be heavily incorporated into the rushing/reverse game.

I wish I had a crystal ball about Jordan Love, but I don't. I know the Packers' coaches like him, which is why they traded up in the first round to get him, which alienated Aaron Rodgers (and a key reason why Rodgers is no longer with the team). Watson and Love did spend some time on the field together last season where they connected on 3 of 4 targets. One of those targets was a short slant that Watson turned into a 65-yards TD. The other two receptions both went for over 15 yards. So the prognosis is not at all worrisome. The issue is simple uncertainty.

I see Watson as a real boom or bust option. He has the potential to be more explosive than any other receiver in this class -- but consistency remains a big issue. To that end, there is no way I would consider him as fantasy WR1 material -- and even as a WR2 option, I would probably want to hedge that bet with a more reliable weekly receiver. I would target Watson in the 5th-6th round and would probably draft another receiver immediately before or after him. My guess is that will probably be too late as some other fantasy owner will target him in the 3rd or 4th round, but I am willing to let someone else roll that dice.

Tier Three

George Pickens, Drake London, Treylon Burks, Jahan Dotson

George Pickens

I won't spend quite as much time on these guys, because I see them all squarely as fantasy WR3 material.

Of the 2nd-year receivers in this tier I like Pickens the best, as I do see the potential for a breakout season. He is not a burner but made up for his lack of speed with an uncanny ability as a rookie to come away with a large percentage of contested catches. He will have to do the same in 2023 -- and must on rely on the sort of pinpoint accuracy that his (also a rookie last year) QB Kenny Pickett displayed at the end of 2022. Note also that there are several mouths to feed in Pittsburgh with Diontae Johnson likely being the most targeted receiver. I actually like Pickens better than his ADP would suggest -- but still see him as nothing more than a mid-round WR3 option.

Drake London is an interesting fantasy prospect. As a rookie he was heavily targeted (117 times) and rather productive (72 receptions for 866 Yards). Best yet, he ended the season hot with about half of that overall production (31 receptions and 428 yards) coming in the final 5 games. Over that 5-game stretch he served as a solid WR2. However, even in those five games he failed to score a single TD. His QB last year, Marcus Mariota, was terrible -- but unlike Wilson and Olave who will benefit from improvement at the QB position, I am not sure that London will be so fortunate in 2023; that is, I would not put Desmond Ridder in the same ballpark as Rodgers and Carr. If you are banking on London it is for his volume and target share in the offense, which may take a hit with TE Kyle Pitts coming back healthy and rookie RB Bijan Robinson expected to be a major target out of the backfield. I do like London better in PPR formats, but if at his BEST in 2022 he was a WR2, it is hard for me to expect him to be anything better than a WR3 in 2023.

Drake London

I want to be a bit careful and not overreact to Treylon Burks' disappointing rookie campaign. After all, I am one of those guys who thought he would be a Sleeper in 2022 -- and then got burned. When the Titans traded AJ Brown to the Eagles and then turned around and drafted Burks in the first round to ostensibly be their alpha receiver, it did look like Burks was destined to break out of the box early. Like Brown, Burks possessed prototypical size. Instead, Burks struggled with injuries to his QB (Ryan Tannehill), injuries of his own (he missed 5 games), and admittedly had a difficult time adjusting to the speed of the NFL. Whispers were that stamina was a major concern for him as well. His final stat line (33 catches for 444 yards and a single TD) was about half of where I thought it would be. Then, of course, he recently showed up to OTAs in reportedly the best shape of his life; the buzz was that he looked incredibly sharp and was catching everything in sight. So maybe a rebound Sleeper heading into 2023? Well, any chance of that took a major shot when the Titans recently signed DeAndre Hopkins.

Like many of these other rookie WRs we have discussed, Jahan Dotson dealt with issues at QB in 2022. Veteran Carson Wentz and journeyman Tyler Heinicke should never be mentioned in the same breath as Sonny Jurgensen (or even Joe Theismann). By the end of the season, the Redskins were giving rookie QB Sam Howell a shot. Even with all of that turmoil, Dotson was rather productive, scoring 7 receiving TDs, which tied Christian Watson as the rookie leader in that department. With Howell the de facto starter at QB, it is worth noting that in their one game together, he and Dotson exhibited some chemistry with Dotson hauling in 3 of 4 targets for 72 yards in the season finale. That game completed a pretty steady end to the season as Dotson either scored or racked up 70+ yards in 4 of his last 5 appearances. So the potential is there, although Dotson will have to compete for targets with Washington's other top WR, Terry McLaurin.

Tier Four

Skyy Moore

Romeo Doubs, Skyy Moore, Alex Pierce, Wan'Dale Robinson, Rashid Shaheed

These guys are all late-draft fliers that should be viewed as bench candidates.

Romeo Doubs was a deep sleeper last season when Aaron Rodgers kept mentioning his name as someone to watch in training camp. He started off OK -- but once Christian Watson got going, Doubs became something of an afterthought. The Packers also added Jayden Reed in the 2023 draft, and there is the whole Jordan Love question mark too.

When Tyreek Hill left KC for Miami and was not immediately replaced in free agency it seemed that the rookie speedster Skyy Moore was the young receiver in waiting. Well, that never happened in 2022. Perhaps overvalued heading into last season with unreasonable expectations, his stock has dropped to the point where he just may be a decent buy-low candidate now. It is worth noting that Andy Reid's complex offense is very difficult for young receivers to pick up -- and now Moore has a full season under his belt. Not only have he Chiefs still not really addressed the WR position (although they reportedly tried to land DeAndre Hopkins), they also parted ways with a number of other receivers (in particular JuJu Smith Schuster and Mecole Hardman) -- and the only other Wide Receiver standing in Moore's way would appear to be Kadarius Toney, whose issues are well documented.

Alex Pierce was billed as a deep threat when he entered the league last season. Unfortunately with a washed up Matt Ryan and scatter-armed Sam Ehlinger at QB, Pierce's talents could not be properly displayed. Enter rookie Andy Richardson, who enters the league with the biggest arm this side of Josh Allen. If you pick Pierce up with one of your final picks of the draft, say in round 14 or later, he could very well prove to be a low risk/high reward option.

Just when Wan'Dale Robinson was starting to come on last season, he tore his ACL in Week 11. Prior to that he really did look like the Giants' top receiving option. The front office made the big move in the off-season to pick up Raiders TE Darren Waller, who is almost certain to lead the team in targets provided that he stays healthy. As for Robinson, there is still the knee to worry about as well, so pay close attention to the news coming out of Jersey.

We have already discussed Chris Olave, who is certain to be the Saints' WR1. Even so, when he was involved in the offense, Rashid Shaheed posted reliable fantasy WR3 numbers. If Michael Thomas continues to be a non-factor then Shaheed should continue to be the Saints 2nd receiving option, which makes him fantasy relevant. However, if Thomas still appears to be in New Orleans' plans (and is healthy) then we can all pass on Shaheed.

Hail Mary

Tyquan Thornton, Khalil Shakir, Calvin Austin III

None of these guys are draftable -- but all are worthy of keeping an eye on post-draft.

Tyquan Thornton was not much of a factor in the Patriots' offense as a rookie: just 22 catches on 45 targets for 247 yards and two touchdowns. Since the Pats lost out on the D. Hopkins sweepstakes, Thornton may be a larger focus in the offense this season than originally expected. Having a competent OC in Bill O'Brien may help the entire offense this year too.

Khalil Shakir

With Gabe Davis having been somewhat of a disappointment last season, I know Bills Mafia has high hopes for Khalil Shakir. The problem is that the front office appears to still be high on Davis -- and even though the Josh Allen-led offense is high-powered, there are many, many other mouths to feed: Diggs, Davis, TE Dawson Knox, RB James Cook, and rookie Dalton Kincaid (who is expected to be used as a large slot receiver in the offense). Where Shakir fits in that pecking order is anybody's guess.

Calvin Austin III is yet another mouth to feed in Pittsburgh's already deep receiving stable, so unless there is an injury to Thomas or Pickens (not to mention TE Freiermuth), he has very little fantasy value.

Below is a chart summarizing my projections and rankings for 2023 2nd-Year WRs:

Player Team Recs Rec Yards Rec TDs Rush Atts Rush Yards Rush TDs Rank Overall
Wilson, Garrett NYJ 89 1194 7 4 7 0 WR9 22
Olave, Chris NO 84 1143 7 1 1 0 WR13 30
Watson, Christian NYJ 62 940 8 9 58 2 WR23 54
Pickens, George NO 61 882 6 3 30 1 WR27 62
London, Drake ATL 70 905 5 11 70 1 WR30 66
Burks, Treylon NO 60 873 5 1 1 0 WR33 76
Dotson, Jahan NYJ 56 763 6 3 47 0 WR37 90
Doubs, Romeo NYJ 52 610 5 2 15 0 WR59 142
Moore, Skyy NO 35 520 5 5 25 0 WR67 168
Pierce, Alec NYJ 48 516 3 0 0 0 WR70 178
Robinson, Wan'Dale NO 49 508 3 2 9 0 WR74 199
Shaheed, Rahid NYJ 39 520 2 6 47 2 WR77 205
Austin III, Calvin PIT 33 370 4 1 9 0 WR93 Undrafted
Thornton, Tyquan NE 33 413 4 13 1 0 WR106 Undrafted
Shakir, Khalil BUF 25 453 2 0 0 0 WR117 Undrafted

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