The Next WR1 — (Part 3)

Predicting this season’s Top 25 PPR WRs

The Next WR1 — (Part 3)

23 wide receivers met the 12-target mark in the first six weeks of the season:

  • Tyreek Hill
  • Stefon Diggs
  • Adam Thielen
  • Keenan Allen
  • Ja'Marr Chase
  • Puka Nacua
  • A.J. Brown
  • Justin Jefferson
  • Davante Adams
  • Amon-Ra St. Brown
  • CeeDee Lamb
  • Michael Pittman Jr.
  • Jakobi Meyers
  • Christian Kirk
  • Garrett Wilson
  • Drake London
  • Deebo Samuel
  • DeAndre Hopkins
  • Romeo Doubs
  • Josh Downs
  • Mike Williams
  • Cooper Kupp
  • Tee Higgins

Cooper Kupp joined the party in Week 5. Drake London, despite Arthur Smith's best efforts, met the mark in Week 6.

The Next WR1 — (Part 1)
How a dozen targets became the threshold for elite WR seasons

If trends from the past five seasons hold true, then 14 of the 23 will end the season as Top 25 PPR wide receivers—and 10 of them will be in the Top 12.

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.

Here are the fellas I'm betting on:

10 of the Top 12

  • Tyreek Hill — Currently the WR1
  • Stefon Diggs — WR2
  • Adam Thielen — WR3
  • Keenan Allen — WR4
  • Ja'Marr Chase — WR5
  • Puka NacuaWR6
  • A.J. Brown — WR7
  • Davante Adams — WR10
  • Amon-Ra St. Brown — WR12
  • Cooper Kupp — WR54

That's what we like to call chalk, my dudes.

A pair of teammates has finished inside the Top 12 each season since 2018, and I'm betting on Puka Nacua and Cooper Kupp to be that duo in 2023. Kupp needs to play every game from here on out to end the season as a WR1, but with the Rams' RB woes and Matthew Stafford playing out of his mind (coming to Netflix summer 2024), I like the Breakfast Bros. to finish the season as WR1s.

Last season, two duos made the Top 12: Tyreek Hill & Jaylen Waddle, plus A.J. Brown & DeVonta Smith. There's a chance Davante Adams & Jakobi Meyers could crash the Top 12 this season, but I'm betting their production cannibalizes each other just enough to keep Jakobi outside it.

But I'm not betting against Davante.

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Davante has finished in the Top 3 in four of the past five seasons.

I really wanted to put Michael Pittman Jr. (currently WR14) and Christian Kirk (WR16) in the Top 12—and still think both have a great chance to end the year as WR1s—but I couldn't justify them over Kupp or Adams when poring over the numbers.

You may have noticed Justin Jefferson has fallen out of the running. That's due to his 4-6 week hamstring injury that may or may not lead to an extended absence—thanks to failed contract negotiations.

The fewest number of games played by a Top 12 wideout over the past five seasons is 13, with just three receivers getting WR1 production during that timeframe: Adams, Keenan Allen, and Mike Evans.

Six wide receivers finished as a WR1 when they played in 14 games, so we're looking at just 9 out of 60 wide receivers, or 15% of the Top 12 seasons from 2018-2022. It'll be tough for Jefferson—and Kupp, as mentioned—to get there.

But anyway, what's the use in focusing on chalk?

Those guys will be hard to acquire in your leagues heading into the halfway point, so it's best to turn to the other two:

The two guys who have yet to meet the 12-target mark in 2023—that all WR1s eventually meet—en route to their elite fantasy seasons.

The Other Two

There have been a few late bloomers over the past five seasons.

13 wide receivers from 2018-2022 ended the year as a Top 12 PPR wide receiver but failed to see 12 targets during the first six weeks of the season.

That's more than 20%!

But remember:

Every Top 12 WR since 2018 has had at least one game where they saw 12 or more targets

So there's prospecting left to be done.

Digging into the numbers, I found that each of the late bloomers met the following criteria through the first six weeks of their eventual WR1 seasons:

  • They saw nine targets in at least one game through the first six weeks
  • Had at least two weekly Top 25 PPR WR finishes
  • Saw 33+ combined targets through six weeks
  • Finished as a Top 36 WR at least three times
  • Scored at least 12.9 fantasy points/per game
  • Tallied at least 77.1 fantasy points through six weeks
  • Ranked as a Top 36 WR in PPR scoring through six weeks

In 2023, eight guys have cleared those benchmarks through the first six weeks of the season. There's a chance one or two of them will end the season in the Top 12.

DJ Moore

10 targets, 8 receptions, 230 yards, 3 touchdowns = 49 PPR fantasy points against the Washington Commanders.

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Good for WR2 in Week 5 — Ja'Marr Chase scored 52.2 fantasy points!

DJ Moore currently ranks as the WR8 in PPR scoring through the first six weeks of the season. He has scored 120.2 fantasy points, or right around 20 fantasy points per game.

Roughly 20% of the WR1s since 2018 have ended the fantasy season with 220-240 points, meaning Moore is already halfway there.

With 10 games left on his schedule (not including the Bears Week 13 BYE or non-fantasy relevant Week 18), Moore would have to average about 12 points per game to remain in the WR1 conversation.

Justin Fields is doubtful for Week 7. But the rest of the ingredients appear to be in Moore's favor, at least if you squint.

The Chicago Bears do not make major personnel changes during the season, so Matt Eberflus and Luke Getsy's jobs are at least safe through 2023.

Ditto that for GM Ryan Poles, and you'd have to imagine the front office wants to make sure Moore is heavily involved after the failed Chase Claypool experiment that cost them Pick No. 32 in the 2023 Draft.

There's also the fact they traded away the No. 1 pick to Carolina—for a package including Moore—when they could've stayed put and taken Bryce Young, Anthony Richardson, or C.J. Stroud.

As of this writing, the Bears are well-positioned at the top of the 2024 Draft, but I'd have to imagine any quarterback selected by Chicago may have reservations about heading to the Windy City given the franchise's extensive history of mismanagement.

So that leads me to believe Fields and Moore have to be the offense's priority for the remainder of 2023.

Has Moore already had his best fantasy weeks of the season?

25% of the eventual WR1s since 2018 have had at least one 40-point game. Of those 15, only four of them had one such spike week; the others had at least one additional 30+ point week.

Moore's second best game this season was in Week 4 when he put up 27.1 fantasy points, so he has a pretty good chance to drop 30 on somebody's head over the next few months.

Given the Bears fantasy playoff schedule: @ Cleveland, Arizona, Atlanta — all outdoors, all in nasty weather, and kicking things off against maybe the best defense in the league... with a sack-prone quarterback in charge of delivering the ball... I'd recommend trading Moore in the next few weeks when Fields is back under center and juicing his numbers before your redraft league's trade deadline.

Nico Collins

Nico Collins is currently the WR11 in PPR scoring, having tallied 101.7 points through six weeks or just about 17 fantasy points per game.

The Texans have been one of the best stories in the NFL this season and their success should continue after the BYE as C.J. Stroud has thrown just one interception through six starts.

Nico has seen 9, 9, and 11 targets in games thus far but also saw just three targets in Week 3 en route to a WR77 finish.


3.85%

Looking at the 13 outlier wideouts and specifically the first six weeks of their eventual WR1 seasons, just three out of their 78 possible weeks show wide receivers earning three targets (a paltry 3.85%). Only one of the 78 weeks featured two targets. (DJ Moore saw two targets in Week 1, FYI.)

3.85% again

Just three of those 78 weeks featured WR73+ finishes. In 2023, in addition to Nico's WR77 finish, DJ Moore was the WR75 in Week 1 and Chris Olave was the WR118 in Week 4.


But Nico doesn't have to finish the season as a Top 12 WR for me to say you should go out and trade for him right now during the Texans BYE week.

Houston also has to face the vaunted Cleveland defense during the fantasy playoffs, but they're treated to Tennessee in Weeks 15 & 17.

Derrick Henry against the Texans has been fantasy gold in seasons past, but this year the refrain has been all about how susceptible the Titans are to getting beat through the air.

Nico could be in for a huge game during Week 15 in the fantasy playoffs, and he could bring it on home with an encore performance during Championship Week against the Titans.

Tank Dell has already missed time and Devin Singletary—known for his pass-blocking chops—looks to be taking over the backfield from Dameon Pierce.

If you haven't watched much Texans ball—and to be honest, I haven't either—it's surprising to see how agile Nico is after the catch for a bigger-bodied wide receiver.

With offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik coming from the Shanahan tree that prioritizes YAC-ability, it's another point in Collins' favor as a possible league-winner in 2023.

Brandon Aiyuk

Speaking of Shanahan and YAC-ability and potential league-winners, Brandon Aiyuk is "one of the healthiest weapons" in one of the league's "best-schemed offenses."

I have made it abundantly clear how much I despise Shanahan in Part 2 of this series so I'm not going to belabor the point any further: it's hard for me to bet on his players because I believe he puts talented playmakers in position to get hurt by pushing them to their breaking point.

(This is a red flag for Nico Collins, too, given his playcaller's direct connection to the Shanahan Way™️.)

(Which also means it's a red flag for Tyreek Hill, Adam Thielen, Ja'Marr Chase, Puka Nacua, and Cooper Kupp. Not great!)

Mike Evans

Mike Evans has finished in the Top 12 in PPR scoring in each of the past five seasons. He is the only wide receiver to do so.

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First-Ballot Hall of Famer

He's done so while seeing 12 targets just once during a season—two separate times! In 2020, he didn't see a dozen targets until Week 16.

Evans often gets there with massive spike weeks, but he also got it done in 2018 having never eclipsed the 30-point barrier.

For his trouble, Evans was the WR32 in PPR drafts this summer; the 76th player off the board. Baker Mayfield or Kyle Trask were going to throw him the ball; he was another year older.

Old Man Evans has seen 10 targets in three of five games this season. The Bucs have already had their BYE. In the game he saw eight targets, he caught six of them for 171 yards and a touchdown. That was good for 29.1 points.

He's averaging 16.1 fantasy points per contest. He averaged 16.17 points through six weeks when he finished as the WR12 in 2021. That mark is better than 16 of the eventual WR1s from the past five seasons, or 26.67% of WR1 starts since 2018.

👨‍🦳
I'd say he's the easiest trade target on this list, but that would falsely assume a zoomer would be caught dead rostering him.

Last year, he went for 200 yards and 3 TDs in Fantasy Championship week. This year, he goes up against arch-nemesis Marshon Lattimore in Week 17. (Not great.)

Other than that, doubt him at your own peril.

Marquise Brown

Kyler Murray is back at practice as of Wednesday, October 18, 2023.

During the first six weeks of 2022, when Marquise "Hollywood" Brown was acting as Murray's WR1 (remember, DeAndre Hopkins was serving a six-game PED suspension), Hollywood balled the fuck out.

Here was Hollywood's stat line through six weeks:

  • PPR WR5
  • 43 receptions on 64 targets
  • 485 yards, 3 touchdowns
  • 109.5 fantasy points, or 18.3 fpts/gm
  • 17 targets in Week 3

He then missed Weeks 7-11 with a fractured foot and was placed on IR.

This season, Hollywood has been the clear WR1 and has produced admirably with backup QB Joshua Dobbs.

Here's Hollywood's stat line through the first six weeks of 2023:

  • PPR WR17
  • 29 receptions on 53 targets
  • 334 yards, 3 touchdowns
  • 83.3 fantasy points, or 13.9 fpts/gm
  • Double-digit targets in four of six games

I'm a big believer* in the new-school approach where NFL teams pair a college quarterback with their college wide receiver at the pro level. Hollywood and Kyler played together at Oklahoma. They didn't miss a beat in 2022.

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*This does not apply to Sam Howell and Dyami Brown. Please start targeting Jahan Dotson. Please.

I'm also a believer in this Arizona Cardinals team. Much like Nick Sirianni's rocky press conference to begin his Eagles coaching tenure, Jonathan Gannon fumbled and bumbled his way through an awkward summer.

And yet through six weeks and a 1-5 record, most observers would classify this Arizona Cardinals team as "surprising" and a tough out.

I'm extremely bullish on Hollywood for the remainder of the season, and I love that the Cardinals head to Philadelphia in Week 17 to face Sirianni.

The Eagles have been hemorraghing fantasy points to opposing wide receivers so far this season. In Week 16, the Cardinals travel to the no-good, down-bad Bears.

Both games are outside, I know. And they play against the 49ers in Week 15, I get it. This is a gut call mixed with a leap of faith and a bit of statistical backing.

But whatever! Give me Hollywood as a Top 10 WR the rest of the way.

DK Metcalf

Jaxon Smith-Njigba second-half breakout?

The Seahawks need to start running 11 personnel a helluva lot more for that to happen.

In the meantime, let's focus on the twosome who have been a consistent presence in the Top 25 the past several seasons: DK Metcalf & Tyler Lockett.

Metcalf and Lockett have a combined seven appearances in the Top 25 over the past four seasons:

  • 2022: Lockett (WR12), Metcalf (WR14)
  • 2021: Metcalf (WR13), Lockett (WR22)
  • 2020: Metcalf (WR6), Lockett (WR13)
  • 2019: Lockett (WR17)

Through the first six weeks of the 2023 season, Metcalf is WR36 and Lockett is WR44.

On a points per game basis, though, Metcalf is WR24 and Lockett is WR34.

Go take advantage of the Seahawks Week 5 BYE and profit for the remainder of the season. Metcalf and Lockett's recent history shouldn't be an issue in trade negotiations. Many are expecting and hoping and praying for the JSN second-half rookie breakout. (Believe me, I am too. He was my most drafted player in Underdog and DraftKings best ball tournaments.)

There's some baked-in two-high safety concern with both Metcalf and Lockett that is keeping their trade-acquisition cost much lower than their season-long track record suggests. You don't need them to be WR1s or WR2s every week to make them worth your while in a trade.

The Seahawks fantasy playoff schedule? Home versus Philadelphia, at Tennessee, home versus Pittsburgh.

That's about as good as it gets for wide receivers.

Chris Olave

What a shame.

I don't have a lot of encouraging things to say about Chris Olave and his WR1 prospects for the rest of the season.

Derek Carr is currently playing through an AC joint injury and has lost his deep ball in the process. (Anthony Richardson is considering season-ending surgery due to an AC joint injury, for the record.)

If you have Olave, you shouldn't be looking to trade him as he's still getting it done as a WR2 and should continue to produce for the rest of the season. Unfortunately, any sort of WR1 breakout seems to have been snuffed out for the time being.

It's also hard to bank on any 30+ point blowup games on the horizon.

If Olave's going to end up as a WR1, he's going to have to start owning the short and intermediate game where Alvin Kamara has been dominating since he returned from suspension.

Michael Thomas has been consistently fine and Rashid Shaheed is more of a threat than fantasy managers give him credit for. And then there's Taysom Hill who was used as an actual tight end in Week 6, as he saw eight targets and turned them into seven receptions for 49 yards.

Olave still led the team in targets and yards in Week 6, seeing 10 of them and turning them into seven receptions for 96 yards. That's really good! It's just not great. To be a WR1, you need consistent greatness or semifrequent explosiveness. Both seem capped for Olave in 2023. Bummer.

Zay Flowers

Steve Smith was right.

During the 2023 Draft process, Smith touted Flowers as one of his favorite receivers. Zay Flowers is a smaller wideout like Tank Dell standing at 5'9" but he's got about 20 lbs. on Dell and can play on the outside and get open with ease.

Zay is currently the WR22 in PPR scoring and doesn't have any red flags in his profile. He's averaging 13.2 points per game and he's scored at least eight points in every contest, having seen at least four targets each game and double-digit targets in three out of six.

Lamar Jackson has been exceptional this season and is trending toward setting career marks in plenty of passing categories. He's already dropped back to pass 215 times. His career highs were north of 500 dropbacks in 2019 and 2020 but he's on pace for north of 600 in 2023.

He's also pacing for well over 500 passing attempts and has a career best 69.9% completion percentage through six games.

He's also on pace for the most scrambles of his career, but with the increases everywhere else, there's still plenty of room for his receivers to feast.

Can Zay Flowers finish as a WR1 as a rookie? It's going to be tough.

Over the past five seasons, nine rookies have finished in the Top 25: Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Justin Jefferson, A.J. Brown, Terry McLaurin, and Calvin Ridley.

Only Justin Jefferson (WR8) and Ja'Marr Chase (WR5) finished in the Top 12.

Still, that's outstanding company for the Ravens rookie out of Boston College.

A lot was made of the Ravens pass-catchers’ drops against the Steelers in Week 5. Flowers had two that game—his only drops this season.

Zay only has one touchdown thus far and he's yet to clear 100 receiving yards or even 20 fantasy points in a single week.

Lamar Jackson's average depth of target is around eight yards, which points to the Ravens shifting some of their running production to the air. Although Zay Flowers is used on the outside roughly 70% of the time, he can be flexed inside for the shorter-area manufactured looks and I expect him to be more heavily involved in this part of the attack as the season progresses.

Maybe he doesn't have a massive blowup game this season. I think he will, but he doesn't need one to end up as a Top 25 WR.

The Ravens have to play the big-bad 49ers in the fantasy playoffs. In Weeks 15 & 17, though, they get the Jaguars and Dolphins. Flowers could be in for a league-winning day in Week 17.

Trade for Zay Flowers in all formats.

The Top 25 PPR WRs

Predicting the 2023 Class

  1. Tyreek Hill
  2. Stefon Diggs
  3. Ja'Marr Chase
  4. A.J. Brown
  5. Keenan Allen
  6. Davante Adams
  7. Marquise Brown
  8. Puka Nacua
  9. Cooper Kupp
  10. Adam Thielen
  11. Amon-Ra St. Brown
  12. Mike Evans
  13. DJ Moore
  14. Nico Collins
  15. Michael Pittman Jr.
  16. Jakobi Meyers
  17. CeeDee Lamb
  18. Christian Kirk
  19. Zay Flowers
  20. DK Metcalf
  21. Chris Olave
  22. Jordan Addison
  23. Tyler Lockett
  24. Amari Cooper
  25. Terry McLaurin

Others receiving votes: Garrett Wilson, Justin Jefferson, DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, George Pickens, Drake London, Calvin Ridley, Tank Dell, Chris Godwin, Gabe Davis, the 49ers wide receivers, the Packers wide receivers, Tee Higgins, DeAndre Hopkins, Josh Downs, Curtis Samuel, Kendrick Bourne, Josh Reynolds, Michael Wilson, Rashee Rice, Rashid Shaheed, and Tutu Atwell.