The Next WR1 — (Part 2)

21 wideouts have seen 12+ targets in a game through the first four weeks.

The Next WR1 — (Part 2)

21 wide receivers have seen at least 12 targets in a game through the first four weeks of the season.

15 currently rank in the Top 25 of PPR scoring with 9 in the Top 12.

But before I get to these absolute beasts, I want to talk about the rising tandem who have yet to meet the dozen-target mark.

Nico Collins and Tank Dell might end up being this year's outliers.

Through four weeks, both rank inside the Top 25 PPR WRs thanks to outstanding play from rookie QB C.J. Stroud (mea culpa coming soon).

Nico is the WR7 and Tank is the WR23 heading into Week 5, making both must-starts until further notice.

The easier trade target of the two? That would be Tank, who scored 3.9 fantasy points in Week 4 opposite Nico who dropped 35.8 on the Steelers.

Week 3 was a different story: Nico scored 5.4 fantasy points while Tank—the little engine that could—scored 25.5 against the Jaguars.

That's what we like to call "a wide range of outcomes." And that's OK!

Tank was the WR7 in Week 3; Nico was the WR3 in Week 4


Almost seventy percent of the Top 25 PPR wide receivers since 2018 had at least one lousy week where they ranked as the WR73 (or worse).

Nico was the WR77 in Week 3; Tank was the WR82 in Week 4


More than half of the wide receivers who finished the season as a Top 12 PPR WR since 2018 had at least one week where they finished outside the Top 72 at the position.

So, really, it's OK!

As mentioned up top, neither Tank nor Nico has met the 12-target threshold outlined in Part 1 of this series: Nico saw 11 targets in Week 1; Tank saw 10 in Week 2.

The Next WR1 — (Part 1)

But it's early. I would expect one or the other, perhaps both, to be targeted at least a dozen times in a game over the next 13 weeks.

Anyway, time to get to the guys who have already met the mark.

11 More WRs Join the Party

Week 3 was a targets-palooza, as 10 new WRs saw at least 12 targets. And thanks to a surprising Jets' effort, Garrett Wilson ended up with 14 targets against the Chiefs in Week 4 to bring the season total to 21 different wideouts.

Ja'Marr Chase, A.J. Brown, Davante Adams, and Amon-Ra St. Brown met the mark in Week 3 along with six others, who I'll talk about in more detail below.

Romeo Doubs

Way back in May, the Athletic's Matt Schneidman predicted Romeo Doubs would lead the Packers in catches this season.

That raised some eyebrows, given Christian Watson's rookie flurry, but the beat reporter has been right thus far as Doubs has 20 catches and the next highest Packer has 12.

In Weeks 3 and 4, Doubs tallied 12 then 13 targets and finished the weeks as the WR17 and WR10 in PPR scoring. He also finished as the WR14 in Week 1, though that was propelled by two touchdowns.

Can he keep producing with a healthy Aaron Jones and Christian Watson back in the lineup?

Watson is a bit of a concern, as Doubs has been feasting in the intermediate-middle of the field that's usually left open (or is at least more open) with modern NFL defenses running some version of the 4-2-5 Vic Fangio defensive scheme.

Looking at some of the Next Gen Stats, Christian Watson has also had success when he's been targeted in the middle of the field roughly 10-20 yards past the line of scrimmage, so it makes sense that Packers head coach and playcaller Matt LaFleur would look to get a healthy Christian Watson open in space to take advantage of his elite athleticism.

For Doubs to finish the year not only as a Top 25 PPR WR but ascend into the Top 12, he's going to have to buck some of the trends, err some of what I'm seeing in the advanced stats.

Aaron Jones has seen at least 68 targets in each of the past four seasons (with Aaron Rodgers at the helm) but has only been targeted 6 times thus far in a game and a half. Even with Jordan Love at quarterback, Jones's per-game target numbers figure to tick back up in the coming weeks, particularly after the Packers' Week 6 BYE.

To make matters worse, Love is currently tied with Desmond Ridder for 25th in the NFL with just 74 completions this season.


So, I dunno, man.

I really wanted to buy into Doubs and was going to suggest trading for him in all formats... but that was prior to digging into the numbers.

My gut is telling me he's the Packers offensive weapon you want for the remainder of the season, but the numbers... the numbers haunt me and tell me he's the perfect guy to trade away.

Lucky for me, I don't currently roster Doubs in any managed league, but if I did, I would be holding on to him. I'll revisit acquiring him after Week 6.

Adam Thielen

Old man, renewed production.

The 33-year-old is lining up in the slot at by far the highest rate of his career.

73.1% of his routes have been run from the slot in 2023, per Pro Football Focus. His previous career high was in 2018 when he ran 56.6% of his routes inside.

The returns have been tremendous. Thielen currently ranks as the WR10 in PPR scoring and he's done so with two different quarterbacks, rookie Bryce Young and fellow old-timer Andy Dalton.

Much like Doubs, though, there's some cause for concern as to whether or not Thielen can keep this up.

The Carolina Panthers are said to be aggressively pursuing a true No. 1 WR to accelerate Bryce Young's development and I tend to agree that they should.

I've been high on Bryce Young all year, so take what I say with a grain of salt but what I saw during Week 1 was a quarterback who was absolutely ready for the moment... he just needed a little more help.

Notes on CAR @ ATL, Week 1

I mentioned Tee Higgins as a potential WR1 for Bryce Young in Part 1 of this series, and still think he would be a strong fit if he's made available for trade. In the meantime, Terrace Marshall has been OK as a bigger-bodied target.

The more I've thought about it, though, the more I think somebody like Marquise Brown could help unlock the Panthers' offense based on how Jameson Williams dominated at Alabama thanks to his speed and Bryce Young's accuracy.

Hollywood Brown fits that mold and has proven his merit as a WR1 in the NFL for Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray. With the Cardinals looking scrappy but clearly rebuilding and having already traded away veteran contracts, it would make sense for Panthers GM Scott Fitterer to give Monti Ossenfort a call.

How would this effect Thielen? Well, it probably wouldn't keep him in the WR1 conversation but I think he could still produce as an underneath option.

Through four weeks, Bryce Young and Andy Dalton have combined to have an average depth of target of around 8 yards. Not great!

But for fantasy, that's the exact range where Old Man Thielen can continue depositing PPR points into his IRA.

Look: if you drafted Thielen, you've already won. You're playing with house money. He was essentially free in drafts and if you could trade him away for a younger piece in dynasty, or a second-round pick and a similar veteran, I would strongly consider making that move given the Panthers noise around seeking a true WR1. Thielen's value would almost certainly decline if a real-world trade went down.

In redraft, you might as well keep stacking PPR points unless you can package him to upgrade for an elite option at WR or any other position.

Keenan Allen

Hamstrings be damned, the first-ballot fantasy Hall of Famer is at it again.

Since Week 11 of last season, Keenan Allen has been on an absolute heater. Here are his weekly PPR fantasy finishes:

  • WR29
  • WR21
  • WR12
  • WR9
  • WR19
  • WR9
  • WR25
  • WR1
  • WR23
  • WR1
  • WR1
  • WR30

The Chargers enter their BYE trying to get rookie first-rounder Quentin Johnston up to speed while Keenan remains steady as she goes. Austin Ekeler is due back in Week 6 but his return should aid Keenan's dominance, not hamper it. Josh Palmer is a certified Bandit Bro, but I'm not really worried about him eating into Keenan's production.

Four weeks in, I'm very tempted to write Keenan's name in Sharpie as a Top 12 PPR WR this season. The soft-tissue injury history is all that's holding me back.

Before moving on to the next guy, though, I will say that I'm not worried about Justin Herbert suddenly becoming Josh Allen and running recklessly or launching the ball 60 yards downfield into double coverage. Herbert is who he is, and that's more of a game manager than a gunslinger—despite his otherworldly traits.

Jakobi Meyers

Somehow, the Raiders have two wideouts who have seen at least 12 targets through the first four weeks of the season.

Davante Adams is rumored in trades but has a hefty contract. Maybe he gets moved by the deadline but I strongly doubt it.

Jakobi Meyers should be in lineups as long as Josh McDaniels can hang on to the head coaching job. I wouldn't put it past Mark Davis to fire his head coach during the season, but if McDaniels can make it through 2023 then Meyers should continue to earn targets at a rate that puts him in the Top 25 PPR WR conversation by the end of the season.

Does it feel good to plug Jakobi Meyers into your lineup? No, no it does not.

But you should feel better about it when you consider Josh McDaniels' ego and how he clearly favors players he has a relationship with from his Patriots days, sort of like how Sean Payton has bent over backwards to bring in former Saints to the Broncos.

(Shallow, lazy, ego-driven thinking? It should not be a surprise the Raiders and Broncos are two of the worst teams in the league.)

The Raiders have yet to score more than 18 points this season and Meyers has only been active in three games. Jimmy Garopollo has already missed time, leading to an Aidan O'Connell start in Week 4 and only two receptions on four targets for Meyers.

And yet. And yet I'm choosing to believe in McDaniels and his rancid ego forcing Meyers into the game plan, into the target-dominator conversation over the next 13 weeks and expect he will be a fine floor-play in your FLEX most weeks, even if you have to plug your nose while setting your lineup. Sometimes a target-inflated receiver is just what you need to add some vegetables to your lineup.

Every wide receiver doesn't have to have week-winning upside, man! Consistent point-getters help win championships

Josh Downs

It took until overtime to get Josh Downs 12 targets in Week 3. He turned them into 8 receptions for 57 scoreless yards, which equated to WR32 in PPR scoring.

In the other three weeks, he was the WR66, WR64, and WR67.

Of the 60 wide receivers who finished in the Top 12 since 2018, each saw at least 12 targets in a game. They also finished as a Top 24 wide receiver at least once during the first four weeks of the season.

So, it's probably safe to cross Downs off the list as a potential WR1.


Of the 116 wide receivers who finished in the Top 25 since 2018 and saw at least 12 targets in a game, just seven made it through the first four weeks of the season without registering a Top 24 wide receiver finish: Brandon Aiyuk (2022), Amari Cooper (2018), Chris Godwin (2022), Cole Beasley (2020), Julian Edelman (2018), Amon-Ra St. Brown (2021), and Adam Humphries (2018).

So, there's at least a slim chance Downs could Beasley or Edelman or Humphries his way into a Top 25 PPR season, but let's not get our redraft hopes up.

Josh Downs is a prime dynasty and keeper target.

Colts HC Shane Steichen understands you need to pass to win football games and he has not been shy about dialing up Anthony Richardson's attempts in the early part of his career, opting for a sort of baptism-by-fire approach with the relatively inexperienced rookie.

I've previously written about why Josh Downs is the perfect fit for Richardson's style of play and expect his opportunities to increase this season and next as the Colts are likely to move on from Jonathan Taylor—either as a focal point of the offense or letting him walk out the door, via trade or free agency.

Earning 12 targets as a rookie—even in overtime, even with Gardner Flint Minshew II at quarterback—is a very encouraging sign and a sort of Bandit Benchmark for players who can make an impact on our longterm PPR rosters for years to come.

Deebo Samuel

It would be nice if Kyle Shanahan weren't addicted to playing with his toys until they break.

Deebo Samuel saw 12 targets in Week 3 and turned them into 6 catches for 129 yards and a touchdown. He scored 25.1 fantasy points and ended the week as the WR8, his second Top 12 finish of the season.

In Week 2, he scored 22.1 fantasy points but did most of his damage on the ground, toting the rock 5 times for 38 yards and a score.

By the time Week 4 rolled around, Deebo was already limited with injuries and yet he still played 87% of snaps. He saw no targets and took 3 carries for 6 yards. He ended the week with 0.6 fantasy points, which was good for WR124 on the week according to FantasyPros data.

While Deebo was out there as a decoy, Shanahan made Christian McCaffrey the focal point of the offense, over and over again. CMC ran 20 times for 106 yards and 3 touchdowns and was targeted 8 times, catching 7 for 71 yards and another score. He ended the day with 41.7 fantasy points and finished as the Overall RB1 on the week, tallying his fourth consecutive RB1 finish to start the year.

And yet we've seen this movie before. It's already played out with Deebo and will surely bite CMC at some point this season, while George Kittle is a near-lock to miss time in the not-so-distant future.

For all the credit Shanahan receives for being some sort of boy-genius playcaller, I would argue the opposite. I think he's actively putting his players in position to get hurt and he doesn't think twice about it.

Before this season, I had toyed with the idea of what I was calling the Shanny Guilt Complex. I had suspected Kyle Shanahan was turning to undrafted players and late-round picks like Elijah Mitchell and Brock Purdy to ease his guilt, turning to them as a sort of penance for being raised by an NFL head coach and having his career opportunities served to him on a silver platter.

Then I listened to The Athletic's Playcallers podcast series, in which Shanahan, Sean McVay, Mike McDaniel, and the rest of the gang were interviewed about taking the NFL by storm with their playcalling over the past five or so seasons.

Through Shanahan's interviews, the idea that he suffered from any sort of guilt complex was quickly dashed and replaced with an obvious truth: he's an arrogant kid who wants to dominate his opponents and win by any means necessary.

There's an interview in the series with Robert Saleh that has stuck in my craw, where Saleh relays Shanahan approached him during a game when Saleh was the 49ers defensive coordinator. The 49ers were losing and having trouble stopping their opponent.

According to Saleh, Shanahan was screaming at him on the sidelines to "DO SOMETHING." Saleh replied by saying he wasn't going to stop playing sound defense just to "do something" to try and shake things up and turn the tide in their favor.

There's also an interview with Kyle where he reflects on a conversation he had with his dad, Mike Shanahan, where he asked his dad why he didn't call a Hail Mary at the end of the first half to try and get points, and simply took a knee to go into the locker room instead.

Kyle couldn't understand why he wouldn't go for the points. Mike told him he didn't want to risk having his quarterback throw a meaningless interception because that could weigh on his mind during halftime and into the third quarter. What if he had already thrown an interception earlier in the game? Or what if he threw another after halftime? That would shake his confidence—and it would have been unnecessarily compounded by the long-shot Hail Mary playcall versus simply taking a knee.

Kyle Shanahan said he learned this lesson a few years later. I don't believe him.

I think he likes players like Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Kyle Juszcyzk because he can use them basically any way he sees fit. I also think he prefers younger, undrafted and later-round players over higher draft picks because they're more willing to bend to his desires, to prove their perceived worth to him in the league, and that Shanahan—knowingly or not—takes advantage of this, over and over again.

Brandon Aiyuk has been in the doghouse in previous seasons, probably because he can't do everything Shanahan wants—or maybe because he won't do everything he wants. (Aiyuk, if you're reading this: GET OUT.)

Look, alright. Shanahan clearly pisses me off and fires me up.

This is a very long-winded and cockamamie way to say I don't trust Deebo to finish the season as a WR1. And in general, I don't like to draft or roster any Kyle Shanahan players unless I can get them at a discount.

I genuinely believe there's a better chance Kyle Shanahan will turn off the game and throw his controller before the 49ers ever win a Super Bowl.

And I think the injuries will keep on coming for his players, for those used in Kyle Shanahan's maniacal schemes as he keeps on playing Madden IRL with actual human beings and forgetting they aren't pixels on a screen.

The Other Guys

Remember them? The fellas who saw at least a dozen targets in a game during the first two weeks of the season? Let's quickly touch on them before getting on out of here.

Justin Jefferson is the one, true king: He has 12 or more targets in three of four games this season. Tyreek Hill and Stefon Diggs seem like locks to join him in the eventual list of Top 12 receivers this season. Puka Nacua has to contend with Cooper Kupp who's itching to play in Week 5, but he still seems like a very strong bet to remain in the Top 12.

Other than that, Tee Higgins is banged up and may miss time but really the issue with both he and Ja'Marr Chase's Top 12 prospects is Joe Burrow looking like a shell of himself as he refuses to take time off to heal his injured calf. With the Bengals BYE coming in Week 7, we're going to need Burrow to round back into form for either Bengals wideout to crack the season-long WR1 rankings.

The Cowboys and Titans are, as expected, run-first or at least run-heavy, which severely diminishes the possibility of a WR1 finish for CeeDee Lamb or DeAndre Hopkins. That leaves Christian Kirk and Michael Pittman as the remaining WR1 candidates from the initial batch.

As far as from this new batch of 11 receivers, I like Davante Adams, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Keenan Allen, and squeaky wheel A.J. Brown to join Jefferson, Diggs, Hill, and possibly Nacua in the eventual Top 12 of 2023.

That leaves four or five spots up for grabs as we head toward the halfway point of the season.

Part 3

The third part of this series will come after Week 6 and touch on fantasy points scored through the first month and a half of the season since 2018.

I want to get a better idea of the scoring range—the actual PPR points scored—that we can expect from WR1s on any given week, in addition to WR2s, 3s, 4s, and so on, all the way up to those who finish WR73+ on the week.

After Week 6, we should have a very strong idea of who will end up as the Top 12 PPR WRs, and the overall Top 25 will be in our sights. As I keep digging into the data, my goal is to determine the types of receivers who might be able to break out in the second half—those who might be able to score in bunches, to go on a hot streak over the back half of the season; those who might be more valuable to our playoff chases than the eventual Top 25 or Top 12 season-long PPR WRs.

That will come in Part 4, which will be the final installment of this series and published after Week 8.

Until next time,