The Next WR1 — (Part 1)

How a dozen targets became the threshold for elite WR seasons

The Next WR1 — (Part 1)

The magic number appears to be 12 targets.

Since 2018, the overwhelming majority of Top 25 PPR WR scorers have seen 12 or more targets in at least one game:

  • 2018: 24/25 met the mark — Tyler Lockett (WR18) did not
  • 2019: 23/25 met the mark — Courtland Sutton (WR18), Stefon Diggs (WR20) did not
  • 2020: 21/25 met the mark — A.J. Brown (WR17), CeeDee Lamb (WR20), Tee Higgins (WR23), Curtis Samuel (WR25) did not
  • 2021: 24/25 met the mark — Terry McLaurin (WR21) did not
  • 2022: 24/25 met the mark — DJ Moore (WR23) did not
92.8% of the Top 25 have seen 12 or more targets in at least one game during the fantasy season since 2018

Lucky for us, most of the Top 25 prove their target-earning prowess early on in the season.

The First Two Weeks


Since 2018, forty percent of the eventual season-long Top 25 had at least 12 targets in Weeks 1 or 2 of that season.

The First Four Weeks


More than half of the eventual Top 25 saw at least 12 targets during Weeks 1–4 dating back to 2018.

The First Six Weeks


The majority of this year's Top 25 could emerge by the end of Week 6 if trends from the last five seasons hold true.

But the title of this series is not the Top 25—it's "The Next WR1"—so I'm going to focus on the Top 12 PPR WRs from 2018-2022 for the remainder of this entry

Early Season Returns for Top 12 WRs

Those were promising odds for the Top 25, but they're even better when focusing on the cream of the crop.


Over the past five PPR seasons, more than 9 of the eventual Top 12 WRs—on average—registered at least a dozen targets in a game during the first six weeks of the season.

The low mark was 7 during the 2020 pandemic season; 10 of the Top 12 hit the dozen-target mark at least once during the first six weeks in 4 of the past 5 seasons.


We won't have to wait a month and a half to narrow down our probable Top 12. If this five-year trend holds true, then 70% of the eventual Dirty Dozen will have registered 12 or more targets in at least one game through the first four weeks of the season.


And we may already know half of the 2023 Top 12 PPR WRs, as 50% earned at least 12 targets in a game through the first two weeks of their eventual Top 12 seasons dating back to 2018.

Tyreek Hill, Stefon Diggs, and CeeDee Lamb have already done it in 2023. Justin Jefferson is batting 1.000 through two weeks, having already hit the mark twice.

Those four were drafted to be Top 12 WRs and it looks like they'll live up to the hype. But that leaves two spots up for grabs.

Here are the other six wide receivers who have cleared at least 12 targets in a game through the first two weeks of the 2023 season.

Puka Nacua

Do you believe?

Puka Nacua is lapping the field, having seen a ridiculous 35 targets through two weeks. Justin Jefferson is second in the NFL with 25 targets.

Puka has scored 52 PPR fantasy points through two games, second most in the league behind only Tyreek Hill's 59.5 PPR points.

The question on many'a'fantasy manager's mind: Has Puka already peaked?


Has Puka already scored more than a quarter of his season-long fantasy points? If he's going to end up as the WR25 this season, then yes: he already has.

If that season were to play out, he'd average a mere 9.1 ppg over the next 15 games.

That would put him at WR69 in 2022 on a fantasy points per game basis, behind Darnell Mooney and Josh Reynolds. Not so nice.

I'm using PPR fantasy points scored in Weeks 1-16 for the 2018-2020 seasons and Weeks 1-17 for 2021 and 2022, to be in line with most fantasy leagues' regular season and playoff schedules. BYE Weeks have not been removed from the calculations because nobody has time for that.


If Puka were to finish as the WR12 in 2023, there's a chance he's already scored more than a fifth of his season-long fantasy points in Weeks 1 and 2.

Over the past five seasons, WR12 has scored 234.6 points on average.

For the remaining 15 games, that would put Puka on pace for 12.2 ppg the rest of the way. DJ Moore averaged 12.3 fantasy points per game in 2022 and finished as the WR23.


Could he do the unthinkable and join teammate Cooper Kupp on the mountaintop?

The overall WR1 has scored gaudy numbers the past five seasons, to the point where there's often a canyon-sized gap between the overall WR1 and WR2.

The WR1 has scored 362.4 points on average.

Puka's not yet 15% of the way there. If he averaged 20.69 points per game over the next 15 he would meet the mark. That would be very nice.

Four wide receivers averaged more than 20 points per game in 2022, and one was Cooper Kupp. (Justin Jefferson, Tyreek Hill, and Davante Adams were the others.)

In 2021, three wide receivers bested 20 points per game (Kupp, Adams, and Deebo Samuel).

It's going to be tough for Puka to get there. Especially as a rookie.

Sean McVay has his team believing, though. And it seems like if they're not bought in, they're quickly shown the door (sayonara, Cam Akers).

Cooper Kupp's return from IR looms, but his soft-tissue injury history looms larger—with his chance of re-injury high—and he's not getting any younger. Tutu Atwell is still just 165 pounds and Tyler Higbee was a volume-based streaming tight end before Puka showed up.

I think it's pretty safe to say Puka will end the season as a Top 25 wide receiver, and he's on pace for a Top 12 finish. But how high can he climb? Do you believe?

removes Puka from the dynasty trade block

DeAndre Hopkins

New city, same Nuk.

DeAndre Hopkins finished as the WR4 in 2018, WR3 in 2019, and WR4 in 2020. His reign of Top 5 finishes came to a crashing halt in 2021, though, and he hasn't cracked the Top 25 since.

What he did manage these past two seasons was one week with at least 12 targets in 2021 and three such weeks in 2022.

The problem is: he played just 10 games in 2021 and 9 games in 2022—and that was after a league-mandated suspension for violating the Performance Enhancing Drug policy.

He's already been on the injury report in 2023.

And yet! He's still earning targets with the best of them.

The 2023 Titans look to be a low-volume passing offense but sport a "pass funnel" defense, which means they are so successful at defending the run that opponents are actually encouraged to pass against them, which is sort of an oxymoron compared to how most defenses play in 2023.

And that's how I view Hop at this stage in his career: he's kind of an oxymoron. A good receiver with bad prospects. He's earned targets at an elite clip but is sort of getting by on his name and nostalgia at this point. Those that believe in a bounce-back choose to ignore the signs of impending decline.

It wouldn't surprise me if he finished the season as a Top 25 wide receiver, but I think it's more likely he won't be able to sustain production over the next 15 games, and I'd rather not spend my season playing Russian Roulette.

Mike Williams

Speaking of Russian Roulette.

The injury history, man. It's really hard for me to look past it.

Mr. Big Tree Fall Hard, Mike Williams, is off to a different start in 2023.

More than half of his targets and receptions have come behind the line of scrimmage or in the short area just beyond it.

He's also running routes out of the slot more than a third of the time, which is the second-highest rate of his career.

If Kellen Moore and this new-look Chargers offense can preserve Mike Williams' health by limiting the downfield jump balls that have led to his oft-injured past, then maybe.

I'm OK betting on Williams as a FLEX receiver until further notice. Maybe my tune will change after Week 4 when I've had a chance to review the Chargers tape.

Christian Kirk

A tale of two box scores.

  • Week 1: 3 targets, 1 reception for 9 yards
  • Week 2: 14 targets, 11 receptions for 110 yards

The difference? (Chris Jones and) Kansas City DC Steve Spagnuolo. The Athletic's Ted Nguyen outlined the Chiefs' Week 2 strategy to take away Calvin Ridley:

The Chiefs don’t have their corners travel often, but they had L’Jarius Sneed follow Ridley all game. Spagnuolo also switched up the coverage looks they gave Ridley throughout the game. They pressed him. They bracketed him. They played Cover 2 to his side to keep a safety over the top of him. They made his life tough.

Ridley also got a little banged during the game.

In Week 1, it was clear Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars wanted to welcome Ridley back in style, and he was able to dominate against the Colts' inferior defense.

I'm not expecting the Jaguars wide receiver targets to be so hot and cold on a weekly basis, but that Week 2 box score and game plan are a nice reminder that Christian Kirk finished as the WR14 in PPR scoring last season.

Kirk seems like a lock to live up to his average draft position (WR30) and finish the season as a Top 25 WR, with a Top 12 season in his range of outcomes.

He should have a high floor most weeks and looks to have one of the highest contingent values in all of fantasy should Ridley miss time (or be taken away by the defense).

Tee Higgins

Speaking of contingent value: Tee Higgins has entered the chat.

But you already knew that. Tee finished as the WR23 in 2020 and should be penciled in as a Top 25 WR this season. But really I'd rather use this space to talk about Higgins from a dynasty perspective.

Before the Bengals' first game of the season, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported the franchise and Higgins were not close on a contract extension. This news comes after Joe Burrow's record contract extension, of course, and an offseason emphasizing the want to "keep the band together"—to keep the trio of Burrow, Higgins, and Ja'Marr Chase in black and orange for the long haul.

But that's not how Cincinnati operates. Or at least it's not how they've operated in the past.

They're a shrewd franchise in a smaller market who lucked into a generational leader at QB. That means cutting costs elsewhere to make the numbers work. Higgins is a likely casualty.

With Joe Burrow, you can definitely write Top 20 dynasty WR next to Tee Higgins' name.

Without Joe Burrow? I like his odds of moving up into the A.J. Brown tier.

The Carolina Panthers have nearly $50 million to spend in 2024. The modern recipe for NFL franchises is to pair an elite WR with an ascending QB on a rookie contract. Bryce Young and Tee Higgins? That's a Top 12 WR.

Michael Pittman Jr.

Lost in all the Jonathan Taylor contract drama is Michael Pittman Jr. and his possible contract extension.

The Indianapolis Colts currently have more than $70 million to spend in 2024 and they might not have to look very far to give their ascending rookie QB a No. 1 WR upgrade.

Through two weeks, Pittman has been that dude.

  • Week 1: 11 targets, 8 receptions for 97 yards and a touchdown
  • Week 2: 12 targets, 8 receptions for 56 yards

The worries about Anthony Richardson's game translating to the NFL have been quickly dashed. Now, the worry with Richardson is his ability to stay healthy.

In Week 2, Richardson looked to Pittman on the first two plays of the game and targeted him once more before Richardson removed himself from the contest with concussion-like symptoms.

From then on, Uncle Rico a.k.a. Gardner Flint Minshew II took over and proceeded to target Pittman nine more times.

To me, this means Pittman is the focal point of Shane Steichen's offense. Although Steichen is most recently known for his work with Jalen Hurts and the Eagles' run game, he got his start under Norv Turner and the Philip Rivers-led Chargers that absolutely dominated through the air during Steichen's tenure as Quarterbacks Coach and led to the rise of PPR legend Keenan Allen.

Michael Pittman is primed to be the engine of the 2023 Colts offense that is pass-heavier than expected—at least until Jonathan Taylor is eligible to return in Week 5 from his "injury (contract dispute)" off the PUP list.

Even then, I think Pittman will continue to be the focal point of the offense and is in line to be paid by the Colts to serve as Anthony Richardson's top wide receiver for the duration of his rookie contract.

It's a bit of a gamble with all the uncertainty clouding the Colts' immediate future, but I'm betting on Michael Pittman to finish as a Top 12 wide receiver in 2023 and think he's one of the best dynasty WR assets in the game right now.

First Four Weeks

Update to come before Week 5

I'll dig into the spreadsheet a bit more during the next two weeks and return with another entry in this series leading up to Week 5.

If you'd like to read a little more on why 12 targets became the benchmark, check out this tremendous article by The Athletic's Ted Nguyen:

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