Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Fantasy Football Wide Receiver primer 2022: Top tier players, five big questions, more

2022 looks like a bit of a weird season for wide receivers in Fantasy, in no small part because this offseason was such a wild one for wide receivers. The four biggest WR contracts in the NFL were given out this offseason, to Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, Amari Cooper, and A.J. Brown. All four players also switched teams this offseason, and they weren’t alone – Christian Kirk, Robert Woods, and Allen Robinson all got big contracts this offseason to switch teams, too. 

Of my top 10 WR for Fantasy in 2022, only three switched teams – Adams, Hill, and Brown – though Deebo Samuel demanded a trade before ultimately opting to re-sign with the 49ers.

Wide receiver is the deepest position in Fantasy, but it’s weirdly full of question marks at the top end this season. Between players switching teams, teams switching quarterbacks, young players ascending and older players not-quite-yet declining, there are a lot of questions about the position these days.

We went through the biggest questions and everything else you need to know about the running back position last week, and this week we’ll be focusing on wide receivers. That means in the FFT newsletter, you can expect sleeper and breakout picks, bust-case scenarios for the top players, the best offenses to target and avoid, plus the latest rankings and tiers from Jamey Eisenberg, Dave Richard, and Heath Cummings all week long. 

Today, we’ll introduce the position with a high-level approach, including the five biggest questions I’ve got for the position. If you’ve got questions of your own, send them my way at Chris.Towers@ViacomCBS.com to be included in the newsletter later in the week.

Before we get to what you need to know to start your WR prep, let’s catch up on the news from around the NFL this weekend. Here’s what else is in today’s newsletter: 

  • 📰Injuries, News, and Notes
  • 📢The State of the WR position
  • ❓Five biggest questions about WR

📰Injuries, News, and Notes

chris-godwin-buccaneers-getty.jpg

Chris Godwin has started practicing

Godwin was spotted in team drills for the first time Friday, sporting a brace on his surgically repaired knee. That’s a big step for Godwin, who surprisingly didn’t open camp on the PUP list but who nonetheless has had his usage limited early on. However, it’s worth noting that Bucs coach Todd Bowles told reporters, “We’re not getting our hopes up” about Godwin yet. He said Godwin is still “a long way from returning to a full practice routine,” per Rick Stroud, so don’t pencil him in for Week 1 just yet. I’m operating under the assumption that Godwin won’t be fully ready for the start of games even if he’s cleared, but he remains a worthwhile investment as a WR2 with obvious WR1 upside when healthy. 

An Odell Beckham signing isn’t “imminent”

That’s per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, who also notes that Beckham probably won’t be ready for the start of the season coming off his torn ACL. Multiple teams remain interested in Beckham’s services, per the report, including the Rams, but it seems like he’s content to take his time recovering before signing. Beckham showed he can still be an impact player, racking up 288 yards and two touchdowns in four (really three-and-a-half) playoff games last season. However, unless he’s signed and placed on an NFL team‘s IR or PUP list, you will probably have to use a bench spot if you decide to stash Beckham, and at this point, it’s hard to argue that’s worth it given how many good late-round WRs there are. 

Kareem Hunt is disgruntled, but won’t be traded

That’s what the Browns have told him, at least, according to Mary Kay Cabot. Hunt has been skipping team portions of practice in an apparent “hold-in” as he pushes for a new contract. The Browns could just deal with an unhappy Hunt on his current deal, but Fantasy players would certainly prefer to see him traded somewhere like Atlanta where he could actually be an every-down back. Hunt has top-12 potential in the right situation, and that includes Cleveland if something were to happen to Nick Chubb. However, if Hunt enters the season on Cleveland’s roster, he’ll remain more like a Flex option. But this is a situation to watch because it could unlock more upside for both Chubb and Hunt, and it would make D’Ernest Johnson worth drafting in the later rounds, too. 

Matthew Stafford threw the ball at practice Saturday

Which usually isn’t newsworthy – he’s a quarterback, that’s what he’s supposed to do! But Stafford is dealing with an ongoing elbow issue that has lingered since the end of last season, and he’s been on a pitch count during practice. Rams coach Sean McVay told reporters he’ll sleep better after seeing how Stafford looked during Saturday’s session, but this remains a situation to monitor for now. As things stand, it sounds like Stafford is going to be good for Week 1, but the Rams will likely continue to manage his reps, and there’s obviously the chance it gets worse as he ramps up – and seeing as his backup is still John Wolford, there’s an awful lot riding on that right elbow of Stafford’s. 

Michael Thomas took part in team drills Saturday

That’s the first time that has happened since the 2020 season, so that’s a good sign. Thomas has been ramping up his activity in recent days and looks like he’ll be fully cleared well before Week 1. He remains a risky draft pick, given his issues over the past two seasons, but Thomas could still be in the WR1 picture if the Saints opt to be more pass-heavy than they were last season. He has more competition for targets with first-round rookie Chris Olave and free agent signee Jarvis Landry, but that could also free Thomas up to run a more varied route tree – and with the aggressive Jameis Winston at QB, maybe that means more downfield opportunities. I’m still viewing Thomas as a fringe WR2/3, but if we see him healthy in the preseason, don’t be surprised if his price skyrockets. 

  • Mike Evans is dealing with a hamstring injury – At this point there’s no reason to think this is a serious issue, but hamstrings can be tricky, so hopefully, the Bucs will take it easy on him and let him get to 100% before he returns to practice.
  • Antonio Gibson (hamstring) returned to practice – Gibson had missed much of the first week of practice with his injury but saw his first reps in live team drills Friday. There has been a lot of talk about rookie Brian Robinson’s role and how that might impact Gibson, so we’ll keep a close eye on this one as Gibson ramps up. He remains an RB2 with upside, but also a considerable risk of losing valuable touches in both the passing and running game. 
  • J.K. Dobbins could be close to coming off the PUP list – Coach John Harbaugh mentioned that Dobbins could be re-evaluated Monday and is pushing to make his return to the field. Dobbins has maintained he would be ready for Week 1 even when he opened camp on PUP, but getting clearance would be a big step toward that. Dobbins remains an intriguing RB2 with upside, assuming he gets through camp without issue. 
  • Kyler Murray (COVID) is back at practice – Murray missed five days after testing positive earlier in the week. Missed reps aren’t great, but this seems like a non-issue now that Murray is healthy. 
  • Byron Pringle is out indefinitely with a quad injury – Pringle’s injury was announced Saturday with coach Matt Eberflus telling reporters there is no timetable for Pringle’s return. Pringle is likely to start for the Bears when healthy, which is a sign of how thin this receiving corps is in itself. 

📢The State of the WR position

jaylen-waddle-tyreek-hill.jpg

Getty Images

The State of the WR position as we head into the 2022 season is … weird. It’s a position in a state of flux, as seen by the often shocking contracts and trades we saw this offseason. Between the contracts and draft picks invested, NFL teams clearly value the position, but we also saw plenty of teams decide to let their top wideouts leave rather unexpectedly rather than pay the new top-of-market cost. 

This inconsistency is reflected in how I’m viewing the position for Fantasy. The top 12 wide receivers combined for 18.4 points per game, the second-best mark of the past five seasons and right in line with 2021, so it’s not like the position is in obvious, sudden decline. However, there are pretty significant question marks around a lot of the even ostensible No. 1 wide receivers out there. Not so much for Cooper Kupp, Justin Jefferson, or Ja’Marr Chase, who are locked in as the top tier at the position. 

But look at the No. 4 WR in ADP, Davante Adams – he’s been one of the most consistently dominant options at the position for the past four seasons, but he turns 30 this season and is playing without Aaron Rodgers for the first time in his career. Rodgers’ confidence in Adams meant he was comfortable leaning on him for 30% target shares every year, including massive red zone target numbers, and Adams was able to put up historic production despite little help in Green Bay. Will he get the same volume of targets in Las Vegas? Will those targets be of the same quality? It’s possible the answer to both questions is yet, but they’re fair questions to ask when a player of Adams’ caliber is changing teams.

And he’s not alone, obviously. Adams, Tyreek Hill, A.J. Brown, Marquise Brown, Allen Robinson, and Amari Cooper are all in the top 30 in ADP and all of them switched teams. At the same time, Deebo Samuel, Michael Pittman, Diontae Johnson, DJ Moore, Terry McLaurin, DK Metcalf, Cortland Sutton, and Jerry Jeudy all have different starting quarterbacks throwing to them than they did last season; that’s nearly half of the top-30, and doesn’t include Jaylen Waddle, CeeDee Lamb, Mike Evans, Gabe Davis, or Darnell Mooney. All of them figure to have pretty different roles in their offenses. 

Not all of those changes will be bad, of course, but not all of them will work out as smoothly as we might hope. The wide receiver position for Fantasy figures to be a strong one yet again in 2022 – this is still a passing league, after all. But this may be a year where we look back by Week 18 and realize the landscape had been fundamentally altered in ways we weren’t quite prepared for yet. There’s uncertainty at wide receiver in a way I can’t quite remember in a previous season. That means there is an opportunity for big values to emerge, but it also makes the biggest investments feel a bit riskier. 

❓Five big WR questions

cooper-kupp-1400-us.jpg

1. Is Cooper Kupp the obvious No. 1 guy?

There’s no guarantee that last year’s top player will be this year’s player, but Kupp is starting off from one of the highest baselines we’ve ever seen at WR. He outscored the No. 2 wide receiver by more than 90 points last season and his level of consistency was unbelievable – he averaged 29.5 points per game in the postseason after putting up 25.7 per game during the regular season.

The Rams return most of the most important pieces from their offense, with the most notable exception being Allen Robinson coming in to replace the Robert Woods/Odell Beckham combination as the No. 2 option in the passing game. So, Kupp’s role shouldn’t change too much. There should be some natural regression here coming off such a historically dominant season – and the elbow issue Matthew Stafford is being limited with in camp is an obvious red flag you can’t ignore. However, even being generous in regressing Kupp’s production, he’s the clear No. 1 WR – Heath Cummings and I talked about that a bit on Twitter last week. 

2. If not Kupp: Justin Jefferson or Ja’Marr Chase?

Jefferson and Chase have been arguably two of the five best young receivers in NFL history – Jefferson ranks third in PPR points in a WR’s first two seasons while Chase had the second-most by a rookie of all time. Young players, on the whole, tend to get better as they get more experience, so Chase and Jefferson both look fated to have at least a few overall WR1 seasons in the long run.

But I think Jefferson is the clear choice. For one thing, he outproduced Chase by more than 1.5 points per game in 2021, and for another, the introduction of Kevin O’Connell figures to make the Vikings much more pass-heavy than they were last season. We’re hoping to see the same from the Bengals, but seeing as they return all of last year’s key coaches, it’s easier to project for the Vikings.

I’ll also add that, while I don’t necessarily think Chase’s rookie season dominance was a fluke, we’ve already seen what Jefferson looks like on top-five target share volume, and while he lost some of the efficiency of his rookie season, he still averaged 9.7 yards per target on 167 targets, simply massive numbers. Chase is an incredible talent, but Jefferson has just as much explosive upside while being a bit more proven and with a clearer path to 170-plus targets. If you’re taking anyone as the top WR besides Kupp, it should be Jefferson. 

3. Should we be scared off of WRs changing teams?

In a piece at NumberFire.com from 2018, Brandon Gdula found that, of wide receivers who switched teams in the offseason but still maintained an ADP inside of the top 16 at the position, only four out of 16 saw their PPR points per game increase with their new team. That matches up with the overall numbers, which found that only 30% of all wide receivers, regardless of where they were drafted, score more points than they did the previous season.

Of course, that doesn’t necessarily answer the question of whether you should be targeting Adams or Hill this season, because the decline is already baked into their prices. Adams is consistently going off the board behind Jefferson and Chase despite outscoring both last season, while Hill is WR8 in ADP after finishing as WR6 last season and WR2 in 2020.

Which is to say … it depends! I have Adams ranked as my No. 3 overall wide receiver, ahead of Chase, because I still expect the Raiders to throw the ball to him a ton, and I think Derek Carr is good enough to maintain strong efficiency with his new No. 1. But I’m having a much harder time with Hill. The Dolphins could be a low-volume passing offense if Mike McDaniels follows the trends of Kyle Shanahan’s offenses from their time in San Francisco, and Hill has to split targets with Jaylen Waddle coming off a record-setting rookie season. If Tua Tagovailoa takes a big step forward, it may not matter, especially with Hill’s big-play ability. However, Tagovailoa has looked like a pretty limited passer outside of a few specific circumstances – he relied on RPO passes more than any other QB in the league last season – and he hasn’t shown a ton as a deep passer. I have Hill ranked right around his price in drafts, but he’s not someone I’m making a priority to reach for. 

I’m pretty much in line with the consensus on Brown, an elite target earner who has produced elite efficiency in low-volume pass offenses before, something he’s likely going to have to do again in Philadelphia to be a No. 1 WR. He’s capable of it, as is Amari Cooper, who I’m actually higher on than consensus, especially if Deshaun Watson‘s suspension isn’t extended. Cooper could be a WR2 with Jacoby Brissett at QB, but the upside, if Watson is allowed to play and plays well, is that of a top-five wide receiver. It’s worth betting on once he falls past the WR2 range, as he often does. 

4. Which rookie WR should I draft?

As many as you can, provided you’re willing to be patient. If you draft multiple rookie wideouts expecting them to be weekly starters for you by Week 1, you’re setting yourself for disappointment and frustration. This looks like another strong rookie WR class, with six taken in the first round and seven more off the board in the second. Not all of those guys are going to make an impact as rookies, but any one of them could be worth drafting. 

My favorites are Drake London, Chris Olave, and Garrett Wilson, who were not coincidentally three of the first four taken in the NFL draft. London, the top WR taken, landed with the Falcons and has a great opportunity to be the team’s No. 2 target alongside Kyle Pitts from Week 1. Sure, Marcus Mariota isn’t the best QB in the league, but if he can just be passable, there’s a pretty clear path for London to earn 120-plus targets, including a consistent red zone role. 

Among the lesser heralded options, Skyy Moore of the Chiefs and Alec Pierce of the Colts should probably be drafted in all formats, while Romeo Doubs of the Packers and Kyle Phillips of the Titans are getting enough hype early in camp to at least consider with your late-round picks, especially in deeper formats.

5. Who are some late-round targets? 

Generally speaking, opportunity matters less at WR than at RB. Obviously, opportunity still matters, but just being on the field isn’t enough to give a WR Fantasy appeal the way it is for running backs. Which is to say, you’re probably going to have more success chasing talent than opportunities. 

This is why I prefer to pass on the likes of Tyler Boyd, Jakobi Meyers, or Mecole Hardman in the later rounds – players who have been around for a while and just typically haven’t done very much when they’ve had the opportunity. Give me fliers on rookies like Jahan Dotson (earning rave reviews in Washington camp), Christian Watson (Green Bay’s second-round pick who is dealing with an injury in camp that is keeping his price down), or Jameson Williams (arguably the best WR in this class, but one who likely won’t be ready for Week 1 coming off a torn ACL; you’ll need to be patient). You can also add Jalen Tolbert, Alec Pierce and George Pickens here. 

Some guys who I do like chasing on the opportunity front are DJ Chark, Kenny Golladay, Robbie Anderson, and Julio Jones, all of whom have shown significant upside in recent years and have either little target competition or QB upgrades to potentially help get the most out of them. 

Related articles

Comments

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Share article

Latest articles

Newsletter

Subscribe to stay updated.