Updated September 4, 2022
*** Based on 0.5 PPR
There’s a clear top 2 at wide receiver this season, with burgeoning superstar Justin Jefferson battling it out with LA Rams’ veteran Cooper Kupp for lead honors. Kupp held the WR crown last season with a historical 145 receptions and 16 TDs over 1,947 yards. Jefferson didn’t reach those heights, but he did haul in 108 passes for 1,616 yards, with 10 TDs scored. So why Jefferson over Kupp for 2022? Now entering year 3, Jefferson has yet to hit his ceiling, and with new Vikings’ head coach Kevin O’Connell bringing with him an offense from the McVay tree, Jefferson has a chance to explode. Conversely, Kupp will likely see fewer targets this year with the return of a healthy Cam Akers and the addition of stud WR Allen Robinson into the fold. In full PPR leagues, I would actually bump Kupp up over Jefferson, but for half PPR and standard leagues, Jefferson takes the top spot.
Jefferson and Kupp are ranked second and third overall on my board, just behind Colts’ RB Jonathan Taylor.
The tier 2 wide receivers also possess elite traits and target volumes, but as mentioned above, have just a tad lower ceiling than the tier 1 group. Chase leads this exceptional class of WRs, with weekly consistency the primary trait keeping him from joining the two names above.
After playing with generational QB Aaron Rodgers for years, Davante Adams now hooks up with his college QB, Derek Carr, with the Raiders. Expect a slight drop in targets, but don’t overthink this – Adams will still post elite numbers…as will Stefon Diggs. Diggs has averaged 165 targets over the last two seasons, with no reason to expect that to change. You can take 110 catches with 1,300 receiving yards and 10 TDs to the bank.
The Cowboys had been deep at WR the past few seasons, with CeeDee Lamb flanked by Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Well, Cooper and his 104 targets now play for the Browns, while Gallup works toward returning from a serious injury. No, Lamb won’t receive an extra 100+ targets, but a jump from last year’s 120 to 140 seems reasonable, with his stats extrapolating accordingly.
We’ll end with the premiere wide back in the NFL, Deebo Samuel. Truly a unicorn, Samuel caught 77 balls for 1,405 yards and 6 TDs…AND rushed for 365 yards and 8 TDs! That’s 136 total touches for Samuel. Not clear how his rushing touches will be disbursed for the 2021 season, but Samuel’s got an incredibly high floor due to his role in the rushing game, with a high ceiling to boot as a YAC extraordinaire.
You should feel comfortable selecting the tier 1 WRs starting in the middle of round 1 and into round 2.
Tier 3 boasts four strong, mostly safe WRs, also with slightly lower ceilings than the tier above. The NFL has never had this quantity of high performing WRs, thus we have only small drop-offs as we head down the top tiers. WR Keenan Allen is the lead target for an explosive Chargers’ offense, bringing with him unmatched consistency. Over the last 5 seasons, Allen has caught somewhere between 97-106 passes, with 992 – 1,393 yards (with 1,100+ yards in 4 of those years) and 6-8 TDs. Set it and forget it with Keenan Allen.
We sung Ja’Marr Chase’s praises earlier, and now we do so for his teammate, Tee Higgins. An ascending player entering his third year, expect Higgins to continue to build off his strong 2021 campaign. While lacking Chase’s straight line upside, he’s a more consistent week to week performer.
Regardless of who starts, DJ Moore will produce. He’s had three straight seasons with over 1,100 receiving yards despite mediocre QB play. Moore’s got a high ceiling, and if he can find the end zone a few more times this year, then look out.
Bucs’ WR Mike Evans has surpassed the 1,000 yard receiving mark in all 8 of his NFL seasons. He’s a bit more TD dependent game to game than Allen, but Evans will give you strong numbers once you look at the season total.
Tyreek Hill serves as the wild card out of the group. Nothing against Hill or his skillset – he’s incredible. Rather, when you move QBs from Patrick Mahomes to Tua, there’s inevitably going to be some dropoff in statistics. Don’t expect the bottom to fall out though, as Tua’s an accurate passer and will be able to get Hill the ball in space, allowing Hill to accumulate yards after the catch. We’ll see if there’s any dropoff in deeper pass connections, however.
Late round 2 and through round 3 should be the target on when to select this group of pass catchers.
Tier 4 houses several WRs with new starting QBs this season…all but Jaylen Waddle and Mike Williams.
AJ Brown wows on tape and on the field, but has yet to post a monster year statistically. Will that change this season? With Jalen Hurts as his QB, don’t count on it. But that’s ok, as a projected 70 catch, 1,100 yard and 8 TD season makes Brown is a solid fantasy WR2. Meanwhile, Colts WR Michael Pittman receives an upgrade at QB with Matt Ryan, which will give him a floor around the same mark as Brown.
Terry McLaurin gets an upgrade at QB as well, albeit he takes on Pittman’s former QB, Carson Wentz. Despite having NFL level backups as his QBs, McLaurin has crossed the 1,000 yard receiving mark each of the past two seasons. He shall do so again with Wentz, and should push 8-10 TDs.
Dionte Johnson and Jaylen Waddle profile similarly for fantasy purposes, as each are volume type receivers. Johnson will either have a rookie or a retread at QB this year, while Waddle will have increased competition for targets with the addition of Tyreek Hill. Both players have high floors again in 2022, but ceilings are somewhat limited.
DK Metcalf faces the largest QB dropoff in the group, going from future HOF Russell Wilson to placeholder Geno Smith or Drew Lock. That being said, don’t make the mistake of dropping Metcalf too far down your rankings. Proof? Look at Metcalf’s numbers when Geno Smith subbed for Wilson last season – in Smith’s three starts, Metcalf had 14 catches for 197 yards and 3 TDs. Yes, included in those stats was an 84 yard TD, but the point remains that Metcalf is incredibly talented, and he’ll get his numbers even with reduced QB play.
Courtland Sutton and Mike Williams serve as their respective teams’ primary downfield targets, each with high ceilings but with more weekly variance than others in this group. Sutton appears to be Russell Wilson’s strongest connection in Denver, based on early reports. What you saw from Williams last season (which was quite good) should be your expectation again for 2022.
Late round 3 through early round 5 makes sense for the tier 4 WR group.
Amon-Ra St. Brown
The tier 5 crew lines up as my favorite. Several WRs in this group possess enormous upside, starting at the top with Darnell Mooney. The Bears don’t figure to have a strong passing game, but Mooney will be QB Justin Fields’ top target by a landslide. Similarly, Amon-Ra St. Brown will be a favorite target of QB Jared Goff, as we saw during the stretch run of the 2021 season.
Allen Robinson goes to the Rams this offseason, and as a byproduct, gets his first opportunity to play with a starting level NFL QB. Will be crazy to see what numbers Robinson can post with quality QB play. Shifting to another veteran, Chris Godwin tore his ACL just 8 months ago, but is already practicing. If he’s healthy from week 1, then you have a steal here.
Brandin Cooks, Adam Thielen and Amari Cooper make up the safer, lower upside group in this tier – but that doesn’t make them unattractive. Each will be a weekly plug-in-play WR3 or flex, without concern.
Back to the juice…Gabriel Davis breakout szn has arrived! Who can forget the 201 receiving yards and 4 TDs in the divisional playoff game against the Chiefs? That game served as his PSA, but Davis had been laying the foundation for his emergence throughout the second half of the season. With both Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley no longer with the franchise, Davis stands only behind Stefon Diggs on Josh Allen’s target list.
Former teammates Marquise Brown and Rashod Bateman each benefit from the separation, as Brown now becomes WR1 for the Cardinals until DeAndre Hopkins returns from suspension (if not longer), and Bateman becomes the clear WR1 for the Ravens (acknowledging that TE1 Mark Andrews remains Lamar Jackson’s top passing target). Both Brown and Bateman have top 20 fantasy WR upside in 2022.
Broncos’ WR Jerry Jeudy will love playing with Russell Wilson, and will likely lead the Broncos in targets if he stays healthy (with Sutton ahead of Jeudy in yards per target). In any event, Jeudy’s upside is enormous.
We’ll leave the toughest player to project for last. Saints’ WR Michael Thomas was a DUDE in 2018 and 2019, before injuries and other roadblocks wrecked his 2020 and 2021 seasons. How good was he in 2018 and 2019? He averaged 132 catches, 1,565 yards and 9 TDs during those seasons. So how good will Thomas be in 2022? Honestly I have no idea. Gone from Thomas’ last game with the Saints is franchise QB Drew Brees, replaced by Jameis Winston. Also new to the team are WRs Jarvis Landry and rookie Chris Olave. Looking at all of these factors, the Thomas of yore is likely gone. That said, Thomas could realistically settle into a 100 catch, 1,200 yard, 8 TD season. Not saying that Thomas will hit these numbers, as he would rank higher if this was the projection. But he’s an upside play, and someone to keep an eye on if you can get him among the tier 5 group.
Rounds 5 through 7 fit for this vastly talented group of pass catchers, some of whom will end up providing great ROI.
WR depth continues to shine through the tier 6 group. Hunter Renfrow is a receptions monster, while JuJu Smith-Schuster has the chance to become Patrick Mahomes’ lead WR target in Kansas City. Rookie Drake London will be ready to contribute from day one, while second year players Elijah Moore and DeVonta Smith are set to build upon impressive rookie seasons.
Tyler Lockett gets punished the most from Russell Wilson’s departure from the Seahawks, as those sweet music TD bombs will be replaced by whatever Geno Smith or Drew Lock serve up.
On the subject of situational improvement, 49ers’ WR Brandon Aiyuk sits near the top of the list, despite not changing teams. Aiyuk’s game works best with downfield vertical routes, which doesn’t jive well with Jimmy Garappolo’s skillset. However, new starting QB Trey Lance can hit the vertical routes with greater ease, which will propel Aiyuk to a much better season than last year.
Tyler Boyd mans the slot for the Bengals, and while he doesn’t get the same attention as fellow teammates Ja’Marr Chase or Tee Higgins, Boyd should not be forgotten…especially in PPR leagues. Christian Kirk’s new contract with the Jaguars essentially reset the WR market, as a solid WR such as Kirk making $18M AAV means that top tier WRs are now worth how much? NFL front offices had to grapple with that question. In any event, Kirk will provide Jaguars’ QB Trevor Lawrence an upgrade in his receiving corps.
Tier 6 wide receivers provide good value from round 7 onward.
Once you hit tier 7 and beyond – beauty exists in the eye of the beholder. My favorites within this group are Allen Lazard, George Pickens, Skyy Moore and Romeo Doubs. Lazard has a chance to become Aaron Rodgers’ top WR target, while rookies George Pickens (looks like the next great Steelers' WR), Skyy Moore (gets to catch passes from Patrick Mahomes!) and Romeo Doubs (Aaron Rodgers!) have terrific upside. The theme here - as you get down to the deep part of the draft, go with upside players and see if you catch lightening in a bottle.
Keep any eye out for this group from the 10th round and later.
With the running back position containing question marks near the very top, you no longer need to stress about securing your RBs early in the draft. You can, but you don’t have to. As such, feel free to grab your WRs early in the draft if desired. Ultimately, there’s incredible depth at the position, with solid WR3 / flex players as far down as tier 6. So ultimately, stick to your draft board at WR, as you can have success drafting them as your top players or after fortifying a few other positions first.
In case it’s helpful for guardrail purposes, you should select at least 1 WR no later than the first four tiers (with 1 from the first three tiers ideal), with your WR2 picked by tier 5 and WR3 no later than tier 6. Again, these are baseline recommendations, and if you want to make WRs the focal point of your team’s strength, no issue with selecting them much higher.
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