1. Justin Jefferson – The training wheels are finally coming off as the Vikings have moved on from Mike Zimmer and hired the newest member of the Sean McVay tree to find a head coaching gig, Kevin O’Connell. The Vikings were efficient in 2021 but they weren’t explosive. They were in the top 15 for attempted passes and yards per play, but that was a clear attempt by Zimmer to 180 his entire offensive identity to save his job. It was never a polished product and the Vikings ultimately failed.
This all sounds like a black hole situation for a wide receiver, except Jefferson is arguably the number 1 commodity in fantasy football. Excluding Super-Flex leagues, there is a strong case to be made for Jefferson as the 1.01 in PPR. JJ is only 23 years years old and already has a career average above 2 fantasy points per target. If he can raise his catch percentage in an offense that is wired to thrive with this style of receiver group, we could see career highs across the board in 2022.
2. Stefon Diggs – 2021 was a season full of what-ifs for Stefon Diggs. While he earned 158 targets, only four less than 2020, he also logged the lowest catch percentage of his career at 65% This was a staggering drop of 13% and is 3% lower than his career average. It wasn’t for lack of getting open. Against man, zone, and press, he was in the 94th or better percentile per Reception Perception and had a 73.5% success rate against double teams. 2022 poses an even greater chance at setting career highs.
This is the first season in which he has zero competition for targets outside of hopeful, young talent. With Cole Beasley leaving in free agency, the slot is up for grabs and though third leading target earner Emmanuel Sanders is gone as well, Gabe Davis hasn’t shown enough to make it feasible for him to double his target share. If the offense can maintain its efficiency with Brian Daboll departing, Diggs could see 175 targets. If he maintains his 12 yards per reception (ypr) and accounting that his catch percentage should rise toward his median, 135 catches and 1600 yards remain in play. The wild part is that these numbers are close to what Diggs looked like in 2020.
3. Ja’Marr Chase – It’s funny to think about all the debate there was around Chase and whether the Bengals should draft him, the rookie offseason chatter of “Can Chase Catch a Football,” and whether he could step in and play after sitting out a year. Turns out, he was just fine. As a rookie, Chase totaled 1,455 receiving yards, averaged 18 yards per reception, 8.1 yards after the catch, 2.51 yards per route run (yprr), caught 13 touchdowns, 2.38 fantasy points per target (fppt), all top 5 in the league. Chase isn’t leading his team in targets per game or red zone targets, but he clearly knows what to do with every target he gets. Joe Burrow and the Bengals offense can easily feed all the mouths, but the divide between Chase, Tee Higgins, and then everyone else, needs to be a bit wider. Chase will be the number one overall player if he hits the same 2nd-year bump that most high-tier talents make.
4. Cooper Kupp – There is now a debate as to whether Cooper Kupp’s 2021 season was the greatest of all time. When people are lining up to compare Kupp’s 2021 to Jerry Rice’s 1995, you know something special happened. This was your league winner. Being drafted closely to each other at the 4/5 turn last year, Kupp and Robert Woods were seen as equally viable players to receive the perceived slight majority of the targets from then-new QB Matthew Stafford. Stafford had success in Detroit with wideouts similar to both players, but it was Woods who had the slightly higher ADP. The general wisdom being the aerial game over the top would work with Stafford’s big arm when combined with McVay’s system that consistently schemes open receivers downfield.
So why isn’t Kupp ranked number one? Basically, the team faced some important turnover, defenses are going to have a full offseason to break down what the Rams became with Stafford under center, and Allen Robinson is a really good WR that had his career mishandled by notoriously bad management from the Head Coach, up. In a year where the team lost its workhorse back before the season even started, Kupp was targeted three more times inside the 5 than any other WR and converted 6 of the 11 targets for touchdowns. All that said, it would be really fun if Cooper “Super Bowl MVP” Kupp could prove the doubters wrong again.
5. Davante Adams – Davante Adams is good at football. Despite being double covered at a ludicrously high rate of over 20%, around double the normal highs, he still managed to beat man coverage around 80% of the time and Zone around 90%. If not for what Cooper Kupp was able to do, this last season in Green Bay would be heralded far more than it is. This is why the concern for Adams is so low. As one of only six Flex players to average over 20 fantasy points per game (fppg), he averaged over 10 targets a game in an offense that was condensed to just him and Aaron playing catch. Now he moves to Las Vegas in an offense run by Josh McDaniels that could throw the ball over 650 times. Hunter Renfrow was Derek Carr’s favorite target last season and logged 128 receptions, this equated to a 21% target share. I don’t want to throw any shade at Hunter, but he is not Davante. Being conservative, a 25% target share, down 5% from 2021 in Green Bay, would still equate to above 150 targets, giving him roughly the same range that we saw with the Packers. Still, the change of environment giving way to the unknown does drop him just slightly down to five, but still deserving of the elite tier.
6. Ceedee Lamb – This is drafting Lamb at his current ceiling, but it is a palatable price given what that ceiling is. Despite having an up-and-down year with an oft-injured Dak not being able to throw outside, CeeDee still managed 116 targets, good for 21st overall. He also finished 20th in points per game with 14.6 and was 19th with 232.8 points overall. Most of the season was spent as the 1B or 2A target as he was sandwiched between Amari Cooper and Dalton Schultz, but this season, he will need to prove he is the alpha they hoped he would be when he was selected in the 1st round.
As a rookie, he had problems with zone coverage but was able to consistently beat man coverage, a testament to his clean route running and the combination of speed and power out of his breaks. Last year, as he was forced more to the middle of the field, he dominated defenders at every level and improved against both man and zone while also beating double teams at an impressive 83% rate. His ascension up the charts matches with this now being HIS receiving group.
Amari Cooper is gone, Gallup re-signed but works much further down the field, as does rookie Jalen Tolbert. The only real competition for targets may be Schultz. Lamb should see his increased workload jump from a team-leading 18.9% target share into the mid 20’s. This should have him seeing 150-160 targets comfortably. Even if just maintains his current pace of 1.94 points per fantasy target and add two touchdowns for positive regression, he would be in the top five, barely ahead of Ja’Marr Chase in 2021. For the doubters, that’s why he is being drafted so highly.
7. Jaylen Waddle – There are not many slot receivers that can win routes and dominate touches like Waddle. He earned 138 targets and caught 104 of them, best for 7th in the NFL. Last season, Miami was a mess on the offensive line and gave up the most everything, hits, hurries, sacks, blown protections, everything. So when the speedster from the slot started producing anyway, the Dolphins turned their entire offense into Tua throwing as fast as he could to Waddle and hoping for the best.
Now Tyreek Hill has entered the mix, but like with other receivers around the league, you don’t want to stifle their growth because of a big-money addition. Obviously, Tyreek is a different animal altogether, a cheetah from what I understand, but that just means that the two wideouts will complement each other and give Tua a different level to attack when his pass protection is much improved this year. Though Waddle’s seven-yard aDOT and catch percentage should change, he will still earn well over 100 targets in new head coach Mike McDaniel’s offense that is designed around speed and manipulating defenders into opening passing lanes. With positive TD regression in a better offense, Waddle should be a positive return on investment.
8. DJ Moore – No top-tier WR has had more reason to complain about their QB situation than DJ Moore. He has solidly been locked in as a WR2, averaging 14 and 14.1 points per game respectively over the last two seasons, but he got in the end zone only 14 times in four seasons. Moore was 29th in total red zone scoring and his 2.2 red zone points per game were in the mid-30s for players receiving at least 10 targets. In terms of those targets, Moore accumulated a whopping 13 of them, good for 29th.
The problem has not been Moore but the offense as a whole. The Panthers, per DVOA, have the worst passing offense in the league. They were one of only 8 teams with a negative score of at least -1, but crushed that score with a -24.2. The only team with a resoundingly worse passing attack in recent memory was the Josh Rosen-led 2018 Arizona Cardinals. The deeper you dig into Moore’s 2021, the more you realize how much his talent alone is pulling him up. There were only four players that had an aDOT below 11.5 that had a sub-60 catch percentage. Two of the four were on the Panthers. Both he and Robbie Anderson were included, meaning over 250 targets went for a sub 60% margin. None of this should even be feasible in the NFL, which is why the addition of Baker Mayfield is so crucial now. Coming off a fresh new contract, the last thing Carolina wants to do is subject DJM to any more atrocious QB play.
9. Tee Higgins – Tee would be a player you would consider at the Round 1-2 turn if not for Ja’Marr Chase. He would instantly be the alpha on almost every team in the league. The scary thing is he’s still getting better. He didn’t quite have the technique and ability to clear strong success rates in his rookie year, but the big year two leap for him was being able to clear coverage hurdles that slowed him down in his rookie season. He has improved to where he can now consistently beat both man and zone at a rate above 70% and was able to clean up his intermediary routes, opening up the slant game and giving Joe Burrow a reliable target at every level when you also include Tyler Boyd in the passing attack. While his ceiling is somewhat capped by Chase, there is still plenty of room in the passing game to support 125+ targets for both. Higgins finished as WR12 in points per game at 15.6 and will look to improve on that with some positive touchdown regression that should vault him into the top 10.
10. Deebo Samuel – There are a couple of misconceptions regarding Deebo Samuel so let’s clear those up. First, he was not used as a “Wide Back” until week 10, including previous seasons. Though he did show flashes of this ability previously, he wasn’t a backfield feature until that point. He had 6 rushing attempts through 9 weeks. The 49ers were 4-5. Deebo then averaged 6.6 carries per game for the remainder of the regular season and the 49ers finished 6-2 on his back.
The second misconception is Trey Lance won’t be able to sustain the level of success he had with Jimmy G. In week 4 against the Seahawks, Deebo had four catches on 5 targets for 49 yards with Jimmy G under center. With Trey Lance, he had four catches on eight targets for 107 yards and two TDs. In Lance’s start against Houston, Deebo had switched to his Wide Back role and still earned six targets for 63 yards and another TD. For those keeping score at home, that’s half his season touchdown total in 6 quarters with Lance. Turns out a lot of QBs can throw 1-yard screens and slants which hopefully expand with Lance under center. Other than Juju Smith-Schuster, Samuel ran the highest percentage of slant routes in the league at nearly 30%. Now that he has a contract in place that will reward him for his rushing work, it’s clear that the 49ers will do everything they can to open up Kyle Shanahan’s system. While expectations should be slightly tempered in Lance’s first year starting, there’s plenty of reason to think his fantasy production should only rise going forward.
11. Tyreek Hill – Tyreek may be the most mispriced wideout on the market because of the high-end tag. While it’s true the Dolphins just gave him a huge contract, you don’t just push aside 100+ catches from your 23-year-old rookie that you drafted at 6th overall. Drafting Hill in the 2nd round is taking on a ton of variables while paying a price that assumes instant success. The positives are obvious. Tua is a very accurate QB as Tyreek has been eager to tell us. With more time to throw and weapons around him able to spread the defense for Tua, Hill and Waddle should both be close to 125-140 targets and with a higher aDOT and passer rating from their heavily scrutinized QB. This is a case where the player is really good, but the price is not. Taking Hill in the 2nd round prices him out of his median and into his ceiling.
12. Chris Godwin – Proceed with caution. Chris Godwin is coming off an ACL injury he suffered in week 15 last season. He will most likely not help your squad until October. With that said, he is set up for another big year. In 2021, Godwin led the Bucs in targets in only 14 games because the Tampa offense utilize the strengths of its best players. Every branch of the route tree on which he consistently wins is featured in his route tree. This is further strengthened by the QB play as Tom Brady does exactly what he says he does, finds the open man. While Russell Gage and Mike Evans should find success early, this offense runs through Chris Godwin and there’s no reason to think that will change once he gets back to 100%. This is not the play I would recommend for risk-averse managers, but as he is being drafted in the 6th round, the risk is already baked into the price. I would especially recommend this to ZeroRB drafters as he will often end up as your 4th or 5th wideout drafted and could be a top three per game player on your squad.
13. Diontae Johnson – Do not sleep on DJ just because of the QB switch. The Ben Roethlisberger you know under center was not that guy in 2021. Assuming Diontae’s success was because of this fact, is also foolish. The truth may be the opposite. Johnson is an elite wideout that is among the league’s best in beating every type of coverage and if Ben had been better, we may be talking about DJ being in top five territory. While we aren’t there yet with the prospect of Mitchell Trubisky and Kenny Pickett starting, DJ not getting a contract extension may be the best thing for him. The Steelers reloaded at WR, adding George Pickens and Calvin Austin in the draft so they may choose to acclimate them to the offense with Diontae finishing his time with the Steelers in 2022. Still, Johnson’s 166 targets last season aren’t just going to evaporate and his 8 yard aDOT should improve greatly as the passing game works its way up from a negative DVOA score and a bottom 10 finish in most statistical categories. The market has baked in the “risk” of the new pieces around him as he is still being drafted in the 4th round again this season. Take the player and thank your league mates for the discount.
14. Mike Evans – Evans operates at a deeper level than Godwin and has always been more of a catch-point guy so the connection with Brady was going to be questionable at first, but that doubt was put to bed when Evans averaged a higher per target scoring average than Cooper Kupp. At 2.32 fantasy points per target, he ranked 3rd among all receivers with at least 100 targets. Now with Godwin set to miss time early, Evans should take on a larger role than the 16% target share he managed last season. The Bucs are not very likely to throw the ball over 700 times again, though it seems the market is more bullish on his role without Godwin than the decreased overall value he controls in the passing game. As WR7, he is also going in the middle of the 2nd round with Deebo Samuel and Tyreek Hill. That is a hefty price jump from the 3rd, sometimes 4th round price with which he started this offseason. If he is going to be able to get anywhere near a positive return on investment, he will need to keep up his torrid TD pace from last season. Playing 16 games and ending with 14 TDs is a good way to do that. With the loss of Gronkowski and Godwin in the red zone, Evans should feast early, but upon Godwin’s return, he’s going to need to maintain those rates. That is a tall order.
15. Terry McLaurin – This is a big year for F1, Terry McLaurin. He is playing this season with Carson Wentz, the best quarterback the organization has seen since Kirk Cousins left following the 2017 season. Terry signed his new shiny contract recently and will be in line for another 130+ targets in an offense ready to move. Washington has three good backs plus Curtis Samuel that can take carries and are more than capable in the passing game. They drafted Dyami Brown in 2020 and then 2021 first-rounder Jahan Dotson to fill out the group this offseason. This is not going to be haphazardly lobbing balls in the direction of McLaurin and hope he makes a play anymore. This is finally the iteration of the Washington offense that should provide a higher finish than WR25. It’s truly impressive that he’s been able to average over 13 fantasy points per game in the environment in which he has been stuck. It’s going to be fun to watch his route running truly be showcased the way it’s meant to be.
16. AJ Brown – AJB’s skillset working down the field may be what Jalen Hurts needs. Clearly, his arm talent is not very impressive, and the razor-like cuts of Devonta Smith are somewhat of a waste in the Eagles’ passing game. Brown torches defenders in man coverage and when he’s working one on one down the field, that’s exactly what you hope to see. What’s really impressive is that not only does he create route separation, he also creates it at the catch point. He is one of the best in the league at reigning in contested targets and will need to continue to do so with Hurts. Essentially, he’ll be working more like a Big Z in Nick Sirianni’s system. There may be weeks when he could be close to getting shut out completely, but Brown does a lot with fewer targets than most. Expect a roller coaster with larger spike weeks than what we saw with Smith.
17. Rashod Bateman – This is the year two WR you need to get, and even better; you can get him at a discount. With an ADP of 68, you can get a potential top 12 WR in the 6th round! Bateman was an elite prospect coming out of college and carries first-round draft capital in an offense that traded away WR Hollywood Brown, drafted no wideouts in the 2022 draft despite having 11 picks, and plays a solid two-pass-catcher system that will now feature him and TE Mark Andrews. Last season, Bateman earned a 16% target share after missing the first five weeks with a groin injury and then playing the majority of his snaps with QB Tyler Huntley and his minuscule 5.8 yards per attempt. Bateman also did not log a snap count over 70% until week 15 while Hollywood only failed to meet that threshold three times all year with a low of 62%. Given Bateman’s ability to win against both Man and Zone, he is a reliable target in the short to intermediary routes and can also win in the middle of the field. This should result in a target share north of 25%. The Ravens haven’t seen an X like this in some time, but Rashod Bateman is that good.
18. Mike Williams – Keenan Allen has long been the WR1 of the Chargers. However, things may have already shifted to Williams being the new lead dog if we look for the context clues in Williams’ usage. He posted his lowest slot usage but dropped his aDOT. The role downfield was passed on to Josh Palmer who had a similar heat map in college to what Williams was running with the Chargers. He finished behind Allen in targets but posted career highs in YAC and yards per route run. His 15.4 fantasy points per game shattered his previous high of 11.3 fppg as well. With Keenan playing at 30 years old this season and Palmer taking care of deep routes, it appears Williams’ payday may have been to take the baton from Keenan.
19. Jerry Jeudy – Since coming into the league two years ago, Jeudy has had a fairly miserable situation. In his rookie campaign, he earned over 100 targets but ended with a catch percentage under 50%. As it happens, he was also elite in being targeted with uncatchable passes from Drew Lock. He was #2 overall in unrealized air yards and 106th in catchable ball rate. In 2021, a QB change was made to Teddy Bridgewater, and Jeudy started the year catching 6 of 7 targets for 72 yards and unfortunately, a high ankle sprain that would sideline him until week 8. Upon his return, he wasn’t quite the same receiver and struggled to beat coverage at the same level he had in 2020. He led the league in target separation but struggled to win routes as he had in 2020. Though there’s a lot of reason for doubt, Jeudy is still an elite route runner and overall separator that has been stuck in the slot with horrendous QB play. With Russell Wilson joining the fold and a new coaching staff that will move him around the formation, things are lining up for a post-injury breakout.
20. Darnell Mooney – Darnell to the Mooney! Last year’s WR23 has only one way to go and that’s straight up. As Justin Fields’ number one (and maybe two and three), he will be building off of a 140 target 2021 by improving his 57.9 catch percentage first and foremost. Now that Allen Robinson has left Chicago, only to be replaced by showstoppers like N’Keal Harry and Velus Jones Jr., Mooney won’t have much left for competition other than TE Cole Kmet. If he can figure out how to consistently beat man coverage, his speed should open the downfield game that Fields was not allowed to explore under Matt Nagy. Overall, expect a higher aDOT, catch percentage, yprr, basically everything in 2022, and enjoy the ride up.