The Next WR1 — (Part 4)

The Next WR1 — (Part 4)

I've been deep in the sheets looking for wide receivers who will rise over the next seven weeks to help us win fantasy championships.

It has not been as simple as tracking the wide receivers who have met the 12 target threshold, which I outlined in Parts 1, 2, and 3.

The Next WR1 — (Part 1)
How a dozen targets became the threshold for elite WR seasons
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.
The Next WR1 — (Part 3)
Predicting this season’s Top 25 PPR WRs

Since I published Part 3, nine more receivers have seen at least 12 targets in a game, which brings the season-long total to 32 different wideouts after 10 weeks. The nine who joined the party in Weeks 7-10, were:

  • Chris Olave
  • Chris Godwin
  • Diontae Johnson
  • DK Metcalf
  • Gabe Davis
  • Jaylen Waddle
  • Terry McLaurin
  • Tank Dell
  • Tyler Boyd

In Part 3 of this series, I tried to predict the eventual Top 25 wide receivers of the 2023 season. Some have risen while others have fallen (so long, Cooper Kupp), and I'll revisit that prediction later on.

Right now, I want to try and find the wide receivers who will string together a Top 12 stretch over the final seven weeks of the 2023 fantasy season.

How the hell am I supposed to do that?

The Process

I started by looking at wide receivers who scored at least 0.1 points during any fantasy-relevant week since 2018, per FantasyPros statistics.

I then split those seasons into two parts: Weeks 1-10; and the remaining fantasy-relevant weeks (Weeks 11-16 in 2018, 2019, and 2020; Weeks 11-17 in 2021 and 2022).

The sample produced 351 total wide receiver weeks, or roughly 175 WR splits.

Way, way too many guys and weeks. So, I had to figure out how to condense the data without bending the stats to my liking.

Initial Culling

First up: Getting rid of the splits where I thought wide receivers didn't play enough weeks to qualify. This knocked out 14 splits, including Isaiah Hodgins's remarkable late-season surge in 2022 and A.J. Green's unfortunate 2018 season, which ended after Week 11.

I then added the weekly PPR finishes to the remaining WR splits. For example, if someone finished as the WR61 in Week 7 of the 2019 season, that was now part of the calculus.

After that, I removed eight more splits because the wide receivers missed at least three games during the first 10 weeks of the season.

I figured it was best to include wide receivers who didn't miss a lot of time because those are the receivers I'd like to target as we approach our 2023 fantasy playoff runs.

Lastly, I found it was best to eliminate wide receivers who tallied fewer than two Top 24 finishes during their first 10 weeks of the season.

132 wide receiver splits remained.

🥵 Hot Streaks

& 🥶 Cold Streaks

One thing I've noticed while diving into the data is how often it seems like wideouts string together NBA Jam-esque hot or cold streaks.

I tried to devise a way to show how many times certain wide receivers were "heating up" or "cooling off."

It was pretty simple: consecutive weeks of Top 25 PPR finishes counted as heating up, with three (or more) in a row counting as a Hot Streak. On the flip side, I considered consecutive weeks of a WR48 (or worse) finish to be cooling off, with three or more counting as a Cold Streak.

Wide receivers with two separate hot streaks during the first 10 weeks of the season were, unsurprisingly, Top 12 guys during the stretch. Interestingly, each of them finished as Top 5 wide receivers the rest of the way, independent of their Weeks 1-10 split:

  • Davante Adams (2018)
  • Antonio Brown (2020)
  • Calvin Ridley (2020)
  • Tyreek Hill (2020)
  • Cooper Kupp (2021)
  • Justin Jefferson (2022)

Unfortunately, there were no wide receivers who registered two separate hot streaks during the first 10 weeks of the 2023 season.

As far as Cold Streaks from 2018-2022, only nine wide receivers (of the 132 splits) qualified as cooling off for three or more consecutive games:

  • Larry Fitzgerald (2018)
  • Adam Humphries (2018)
  • Stefon Diggs (2019)
  • Larry Fitzgerald (2019)
  • Terry McLaurin (2019)
  • DeVante Parker (2019)
  • Curtis Samuel (2020)
  • Garrett Wilson (2022)

The Hot and Cold Streak data is pretty interesting, but it doesn't effect where I'm going for the rest of this article, so I'll shut up about it now.

Advanced Culling

Next up: Finding wide receivers who rose or fell by 10 slots in the PPR rankings over their stretch runs from Week 11-onward.

If they were the WR26 during Weeks 1-10 but rose to WR15 during Weeks 11-onward, then they were included in the remaining set. If they were the WR18 and fell to the WR26, then they were culled from the data set.

69 wide receiver splits remained. Nice!

To narrow the data set even further, I focused on WRs who improved or declined by up to 30% or down to -30% in fantasy points per game over the remaining weeks of their season.

This eliminated some of the highest risers and fallers, which I realize is me bending things toward my risk preference (higher floors vs. more boom-bust options).

42 splits remained!

The 42

I then removed any wideouts who finished a week as the WR100 or worse, in addition to removing those who had one or more inactive game during Weeks 1-10.

29 left

Time to get rid of any WRs who didn't increase their fantasy points per game by at least two points from Weeks 11 through their Championship Week.

Seven remain!

Three more cuts, for good measure:

  • DJ Moore's 2019 season, where he saw a 400% touchdown increase over the stretch run. That's just a little too swaggy for my liking. (Touchdown variance, things of that nature.)
  • Robert Woods's 2020 season, where his targets and receptions ballooned to more than 50% of what he was seeing over the first 10 weeks of the year.
  • Tee Higgins's 2022 season, where he ran fewer than 20% of his routes from the slot (17.80%)

The Final Four

  • Jarvis Landry (2019)
  • Allen Robinson II (2019)
  • Hunter Renfrow (2021)
  • Amon-Ra St. Brown (2022)

Welp, despite my best efforts to land on a process that wouldn't skew to my preferences, I did just that: turned 351 wide receiver sets into four guys who definitely helped me win championships.

These four began as the WR16 to the WR27 during the first 10 weeks of their season but finished as a Top 12 WR during their remaining fantasy weeks.

Overall, the late-season surge propelled three of the four to Top 12 PPR wide receiver finishes on a season-long basis, with Jarvis Landry (WR14) just missing the cut. (Each receiver ended their season as a Top 20 WR in standard scoring, for the record.)

So who do these four compare to for the 2023 stretch run?

The four seasons met the following benchmarks through 10 weeks:

  • Each WR was in an offense that attempted at least 30 passes per game
  • They caught at least 20% of the team's completions in the games they played
  • Saw six or more targets per game
  • Ran at least 20% of their routes from the slot
  • Tallied 60 or more targets, including 5+ in the redzone
  • Caught at least 90% of the catchable balls thrown their way

I applied those constraints to the 2023 field and removed the current Top 7 (Tyreek Hill, Keenan Allen, A.J. Brown, Stefon Diggs, CeeDee Lamb, Ja'Marr Chase, and Amon-Ra St. Brown) as they will be hard to acquire (or trade away) before the deadline.

That left me with 12 wide receivers who look like they may help—or hurt—our fantasy championship odds in 2023:

  • Adam Thielen, WR8
  • Puka Nacua, WR10
  • Michael Pittman, WR11
  • Chris Olave, WR15
  • Garrett Wilson, WR16
  • Amari Cooper, WR19
  • Tyler Lockett, WR23
  • Marquise Brown, WR27
  • DeAndre Hopkins, WR28
  • Josh Downs, WR35
  • Chris Godwin, WR36
  • Drake London, WR39

I'm going to focus on Chris Godwin, Amari Cooper, and Tyler Lockett for the remainder of this article as I've mentioned the others in previous entries.

Chris Godwin

Chris Godwin has 12 redzone targets and just one touchdown through the first 10 weeks of the 2023 season.

I'm not projecting Chris Godwin to run hotter than the sun and score four TDs over the remaining stretch like DJ Moore did back in 2019, but I think Godwin profiles as a wideout who should end the season higher than his current WR36 standing in PPR scoring.

This post was referenced in Denny Carter's weekly column, 'The Regression Files,' on NBC Sports!
The Regression Files: Week 11
Denny Carter breaks down the fantasy prospects of Chris Godwin, Michael Pittman, Brian Robinson, George Kittle, and more.

Back in the springtime, there was a narrative building around how Chris Godwin could be a Jarvis Landry-type for the Baker Mayfield-led Bucs, and wouldn't you know that season ended up as one of the four in our sample!

And boy do the first 10 weeks of their seasons look remarkably similar.

But what about the weeks ahead?

  • Week 11: @ 49ers
  • Week 12: @ Colts
  • Week 13: vs. Panthers
  • Week 14: @ Falcons
  • Week 15: @ Packers
  • Week 16: vs. Jaguars
  • Week 17: vs. Saints

One of the main reasons I'm optimistic about Godwin in the weeks ahead is teams have been successful passing against the Buccaneers, who have surrendered the 4th most fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers through Week 10.

That may lead to higher game totals and hopefully encourage the Bucs to keep passing.

And there are three games, in particular, that make me believe Godwin is one of the better trade targets at the position.

First up, this week at San Francisco. The 49ers have surrendered the 9th most fantasy points per game to opposing WRs and Mike Evans has been outperforming Godwin in three of the past four, so Godwin should be easier to acquire in trades.

  • Week 10: Evans, WR5 (26.3 pts); Godwin, WR37 (9.4 pts)
  • Week 9: Evans, WR21 (12.7 pts); Godwin, WR74 (3.6 pts)
  • Week 8: Godwin WR16 (17.8 pts); Evans, WR33 (12.9 pts)
  • Week 7: Evans, WR7 (20.2 pts); Godwin WR26 (12.6 pts)

Also of note is the Green Bay matchup at Lambeau in Week 15, during the first round of the fantasy playoffs. The Packers have been hemorrhaging fantasy points on the ground, which makes them a tougher matchup for wide receivers as teams have looked to establish it.

But there's more good news! The Buccaneers cannot run the ball. If you're worried about the matchup, though, perhaps Godwin is a player you should target in trades if you think you'll have a first-round BYE in the fantasy playoffs.

The juiciest matchup on the Buccaneers schedule is Week 17 at home against the Saints during Fantasy Championship Week.

Chris Godwin has outscored Mike Evans in all but one of their games against the Saints since 2019. (Godwin was inactive for one of their 2022 matchups.)

  • Week 4, 2023: Godwin, WR9 (19.4 pts); Evans, WR54 (7.0 pts)
  • Week 13, 2022: Godwin, WR26 (14.3 pts); Evans, WR43 (9.9 pts)
  • Week 15, 2021: Godwin, WR28 (10.9 pts); Evans, WR92 (2.4 pts)
  • Week 8, 2021: Godwin, WR3 (28.0 pts); Evans, WR29 (12.8 pts)
  • Week 9, 2020: Evans, WR46 (10.4 pts); Godwin, WR67 (7.1 pts)
  • Week 1, 2020: Godwin, WR28 (13.9 pts); Evans, WR64 (7.2 pts)
  • Week 11, 2019: Godwin, WR21 (13.7 pts); Evans, WR33 (10.9 pts)
  • Week 5, 2019: Godwin, WR6 (31.5 pts); Evans, WR147 (0.0 pts)

Marshon Lattimore's matchup against Mike Evans has played a big part in this, no doubt.

Lattimore is currently OUT with a "fairly significant" ankle injury but is not expected to miss the rest of the season, per NBC Sports.

If Lattimore's back in Week 17, I would consider Godwin as strong a bet as any receiver to put up WR1 numbers in Championship Week.

Regardless, the Buccaneers are currently one game back from the Saints in the wide-open NFC South playoff race. It could be a huge game, played outdoors in sunny Florida, and I believe it can flip fantasy matchups in Championship Week.

Amari Cooper

Amari Cooper has been here before.

As one of the more experienced receivers who has been heavily targeted throughout his career, Cooper shows up in all five years of the initial sample set—and has produced some of its widest range of outcomes.

In 2018, he was the WR54 after the first 10 weeks of the season before turning in a WR4 finish over the stretch run, good for a 49-slot rise in the rankings. That's because he was traded from the Raiders to the Cowboys at mid-season, missed a few games, then had two blowup games with the 'Boys.

In 2019, the reverse happened. He stormed out of the gates as the WR4 in PPR scoring over the first 10 weeks before plummeting to WR46 over the stretch run.

The past three seasons, he has entered Week 11 as the WR15, WR23, and WR14. He was consistent in 2020 and 2022 as he put together stretch runs as the WR16 and WR10. But in 2021, he fell all the way to WR48 over the seven-game stretch.

Amari Cooper currently ranks as the WR19 as we enter the final seven weeks of the 2023 fantasy season. So which Cooper are we likely to get?

Well, the good news is the Browns have four home games remaining on their schedule.

You may have heard about Cooper's home-road splits, and they're particularly jarring. He's played 68 on the road to 66 at home over the course of his career. Despite the nearly identical split, he has 1,000+ more receiving yards, 42 more receptions, and 15 more touchdowns at home.

Now, that's over three separate teams across plenty different venues, but he has seen fewer targets and receptions in the month of December. Not ideal.

When looking at his 2023 stats, only DeAndre Hopkins and the Titans have had fewer completed passes in the sample set (163).

Of the 173 passes completed by the Browns over the first 10 weeks, Cooper has caught 41 of them. Adjusting for the Browns, Cooper has hauled in 23.70% of the team's completions, which is perfectly fine.

I expect the Browns to have more quarterback consistency over the team's final seven weeks, but there's something else in Cooper's 2023 profile that sticks out like a sore thumb.

He is currently averaging 17.4 yards per reception, 79.4 receiving yards per game, and has 23 explosive gains of 20+ yards.

Next closest in the set is Hopkins at 15.6 yards per reception, 65.7 receiving yards per game, and 16 explosive gains of 20+ yards.

Looking back at Amari Cooper's 2019 season, where he started off as the WR4, he averaged 16 yards per reception, 94.2 receiving yards per game, and had 26 explosive gains of 20+ yards.

Then, over the final six games of the 2019 fantasy season, he averaged 11.3 yards per reception, 41.5 yards per game, and had one explosive gain of 20+ yards.

I'm not saying the drop off will be that severe, but it seems likely Cooper has already had his best fantasy weeks of 2023 and you should move on if you can.

I'd consider trading away Hopkins, too.

Tyler Lockett

Like Cooper, Tyler Lockett's splits show up in all five seasons of the initial data set.

Unfortunately, it appears Lockett's PPR production fades as the seasons wear on.

  • 2018: Weeks 1-10, WR22; Weeks 11-16, WR22
  • 2019: Weeks 1-10, WR5; Weeks 11-16, WR63
  • 2020: Weeks 1-10, WR6; Weeks 11-16, WR37
  • 2021: Weeks 1-10, WR28; Weeks 11-17, WR15
  • 2022: Weeks 1-10, WR10; Weeks 11-17, WR28

But comparing the first 10 weeks of those seasons against Lockett's 2023 provides glimmers of hope.

In each of the previous five seasons, Lockett has produced at least 13 explosive plays of 20+ yards during the first 10 weeks of the season.

Through the first 10 weeks of 2023, though, he has only tallied six.

His receptions- and targets-per-game numbers are in line with what he put up with Geno Smith through the first 10 weeks of last season, so it really seems like the explosive plays are what's been missing in 2023.

Also encouraging: Lockett is running 36% of his routes from the slot, which is more in line with the four wide receivers from the sample set—all of whom eclipsed 40%. This slot rate leads me to believe the explosive gains are more likely to come than if Lockett were running, say, 80% of his routes out wide (thanks to predominant two-high safety looks).

And then there's Lockett's remaining schedule:

  • Week 11: @ Rams
  • Week 12: vs. 49ers
  • Week 13: @ Cowboys
  • Week 14: @ 49ers
  • Week 15: vs. Eagles
  • Week 16: @ Titans
  • Week 17: vs. Steelers

Now, I'm not sure where to find which defenses have been beaten by explosive receptions of 20+ yards this season, but I think I've found two stats on Pro Football Reference that will suffice.

The first measures the total air yards on completions against a defense. The Steelers have given up the third most and the Eagles the fourth. The Cowboys have given up the third fewest. The Rams, 49ers, and Titans are somewhere in the middle of the pack.

The other stat is more encouraging and, appropriately, more of a mouthful: DADOT:

Average depth of target when targeted as a defender, whether completed or not. 25 targets/16 game pace required for leaderboards.

For this fancy stat, the Steelers' DADOT (defensive aDoT?) is 9.5, which is 2nd highest in the NFL. The Eagles, Titans, and Rams are tied for 5th highest at 8.5. The Cowboys and 49ers are two of the better units, coming in at a 7.2 average... defensive depth of target?

I like Lockett's odds, is what I'm saying. Maybe you don't. Maybe age has finally caught up with him. Maybe the Seahawks have too many mouths to feed.

Anyway, this post is more than 3,000 words long. So I'm outta here, after this:


  • Trade for: Chris Godwin, Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, Marquise Brown, Michael Pittman Jr.
  • Maybe trade for: Tyler Lockett
  • Trade away: Amari Cooper, DeAndre Hopkins
  • Maybe trade away: Josh Downs, Puka Nacua
  • Pray: Drake London
  • Hold onto your butts: Adam Thielen