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USATSI

Much like at running back, I've waffled over who should be No. 1 at the wide receiver position. You would be forgiven for wondering how there could be any debate at all. Cooper Kupp is coming off a season in which he caught 145 passes for 1,947 yards, and 16 touchdowns. He outscored every non-QB by at least three PPR Fantasy points last year. Who could possibly challenge him? The first answer is regression, and the second is Justin Jefferson. We'll work in reverse order.

Jefferson is now a 23-year-old with 196 catches, 3,016 yards, and 17 touchdowns in his career. In case you were wondering, the catches and yards are both records through an age 22 season and the touchdowns rank fourth behind Randy Moss, Rob Gronkowski, and Larry Fitzgerald. To say he's had a Hall of Fame start to his career would be an understatement. And we have good reason to believe he'll keep getting better.

The biggest reason, other than natural development, is his new head coach. Kevin O'Connell was actually Kupp's offensive coordinator last year and the buzz around Minnesota has consistently been that this is going to be an offense that veers more towards the pass than it has in Jefferson's first two seasons in Minnesota. Jefferson's main competition for targets is 32-year-old Adam Thielen, so we should expect that Jefferson will dominate that increase in targets.

Even so, there was a massive gap between Kupp and Jefferson (6.3 FPPG). Can a new coach and natural development make up that gap? No. But we have no real reason to expect Kupp to repeat what he did last year, or even come close.

The second-best year of Kupp's career would be the third best of Jefferson's. And Sean McVay has a history of shifting gears year over year. It used to be that the Rams had a pretty flat target distribution. And remember Tyler Higbee month? Or the Todd Gurley years? More than just about any other coach, McVay keeps opposing defensive coordinators on their toes with philosophical changes. Now he's added Allen Robinson and has Cam Akers back from injury. Who knows what the game plan will be this year?

The one thing I haven't mentioned yet is the one thing that has driven this conversation lately; Matthew Stafford's elbow pain. The reason I waited this long is because I don't want to turn this into another upside (Kupp) versus downside (Jefferson) debate. I'm just not sure their upsides are that different this year. But I would agree Stafford concerns lower Kupp's floor below Jefferson's.

The choice ultimately comes down to a 29-year-old coming off of an historic career-year and a 23-year-old generational talent who is still ascending. I'm not sure you can go wrong. For now I have a slight lean to Kupp; they're both top-five picks for me in full PPR.

Wide receiver draft strategy 

Let's start with the easy part first: Wide receiver is simply not as big of a priority in non-PPR leagues. Jefferson, Kupp and Ja'Marr Chase should still be first-round picks, but there are only 10 other receivers I'd take in the first three rounds. In PPR, that number is 17. In non-PPR leagues, build yourself a stable of running backs then look for big play wide receivers on good offenses. 

In full PPR the question becomes more how many wide receivers you can start. In most of our leagues, you're required to start three wide receivers and can start up to four. In that format, I'd be happy to draft receiver with my first four picks, assuming my league gives me that option. If the draft falls that way, then I'm not likely taking another until the double-digit rounds and I won't draft more than six in most formats.

If the draft feeds you running backs early, stockpile a mix of high-upside young receivers and steady veterans. When I say steady veterans, I mean guys with target volume locked up like Allen Lazard, Christian Kirk, and Amari Cooper. Just make sure you lean heavy on the upside. The first- and second-year wide receivers in particular have great upside for their current ADP and a few of my favorites are listed in the sleeper picks below. 

Here are a few more strategy tidbits:

  • In half-PPR, lean slightly more towards non-PPR than full. Everyone else will do the opposite early, but there will be plenty of receivers left late.
  • If you're targeting receivers late, focus almost entirely on youth and upside. It's rare for a veteran receiver to fall to the double-digit rounds and emerge as a starting option. 
  • As always, draft Brandin Cooks.

Now let's get to sleepers, breakouts, and busts. One quick note: ADP here is current CBS ADP.

Sleepers
Projections powered by Sportsline
NYJ N.Y. Jets • #17
Age: 22 • Experience: Rookie
Fantasy Breakdown (PPR)
OVERALL RNK
116th
WR RNK
51st
PROJ PTS
164
SOS
12
ADP
161
Wilson was the second wide receiver drafted and the No. 10 pick overall. His current ADP has him at pick 161 overall. I'm not saying that's a record for a top 10 wide receiver, but I do think Wilson's talent is being overlooked. He was my favorite wide receiver pre-draft and he only fell one place due to his landing spot. Elijah Moore is awesome, but I'm not 100% sure he'll out produce Wilson this year, and Moore is being drafted several rounds earlier.
HOU Houston • #12
Age: 23 • Experience: 2 yrs.
Fantasy Breakdown (PPR)
OVERALL RNK
101st
WR RNK
45th
PROJ PTS
177.2
SOS
26
ADP
186
The Texans have almost no one else on the team to throw to besides Cooks and Collins. This means there is plenty of room for Cooks to be a top 15 wide receiver and Collins to produce as a No. 3 due to what should be a concentrated target share. Expect Davis Mills to take a step forward in Year 2, which will also help elevate Collins' efficiency. The former third-round pick averaged six targets per game in his final five games of 2021. I would expect that will increase as well. One other advantage for Collins, his new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton was with him at Michigan in 2017 and 2018.
WAS Washington • #1
Age: 22 • Experience: Rookie
Fantasy Breakdown (PPR)
OVERALL RNK
117th
WR RNK
48th
PROJ PTS
162.6
SOS
30
ADP
185
The Commanders drafted Dotson in Round 1 of the 2022 NFL Draft and due to Terry McLaurin's holdout, the rookie got a ton of extra work with Carson Wentz this offseason. Wentz has raved about him as a natural catcher of the football and Dotson has blazing speed to go with those great hands. The hype has continued in training camp while Curtis Samuel and Dymai Brown have struggled to stay on the field. A Round 1 pick with great hands and speed is worth a dart throw in the double-digit rounds, especially when he's had the kind of offseason Dotson has.
Breakouts
Projections powered by Sportsline
DAL Dallas • #88
Age: 23 • Experience: 3 yrs.
Fantasy Breakdown (PPR)
OVERALL RNK
19th
WR RNK
7th
PROJ PTS
273.1
SOS
17
ADP
27
2021 Stats
REC
79
TAR
120
REYDS
1102
TD
6
FPTS/G
14.6
Just about everyone views Lamb as a breakout and it's easy to see why. Amari Cooper is gone and Michael Gallup still isn't 100%. This solidifies Lamb as the alpha No. 1 on a very good Cowboys offense with one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL throwing him the ball. I was a little worried about Kellen Moore's history of spreading the ball around, but even Moore has said this offseason that Lamb is going to have to carry a bigger load. He has top-five upside and should be drafted in Round 2.
CAR Carolina • #2
Age: 25 • Experience: 5 yrs.
Fantasy Breakdown (PPR)
OVERALL RNK
23rd
WR RNK
8th
PROJ PTS
231.6
SOS
10
ADP
46
If Lamb is the most popular breakout pick at wide receiver, Moore is the receiver I've made the case for most often. He's already shown us the ability to earn an elite target share in 2021 and the ability to produce elite efficiency in 2020. The one thing we haven't seen is Moore score more than four touchdowns. Just don't take that to be a Moore problem. He's accounted for more than a quarter of Carolina's pass touchdowns the past three seasons. The problem has been that they haven't topped 17 in a season as a team. Baker Mayfield and his career 4.8% touchdown rate should help that. Don't be surprised if Moore doubles his career bets in touchdowns on his way to a top-five finish at the position.
IND Indianapolis • #11
Age: 24 • Experience: 3 yrs.
Fantasy Breakdown (PPR)
OVERALL RNK
22nd
WR RNK
9th
PROJ PTS
254
SOS
29
ADP
40
Pittman was already the alpha No. 1 in Indianapolis. The problem was that Frank Reich's lack of trust in Carson Wentz kept the Colts' pass volume so low you may not have noticed. The acquisition of Matt Ryan should lead to more pass volume and a higher quality of targets. Pittman doesn't have the same upside as Lamb and Moore, but he could absolutely post his first top-12 finish in 2022.
Bust
Projections powered by Sportsline
SEA Seattle • #14
Age: 24 • Experience: 4 yrs.
Fantasy Breakdown (PPR)
OVERALL RNK
56th
WR RNK
26th
PROJ PTS
227.9
SOS
3
ADP
59
2021 Stats
REC
75
TAR
129
REYDS
967
TD
12
FPTS/G
14.4
This is nothing against Metcalf. He's incredible, but he also has the worst quarterback situation in the league. This is exacerbated by the fact that Pete Carroll really wants to run a run-heavy system and now that he no longer has Russell Wilson, Carroll could take that to the extreme. The fact that Tyler Lockett is still there doesn't help anything either. I wouldn't draft Metcalf before Round 6, which means I won't get him this year.
BUF Buffalo • #13
Age: 23 • Experience: 3 yrs.
Fantasy Breakdown (PPR)
OVERALL RNK
57th
WR RNK
28th
PROJ PTS
189.3
SOS
19
ADP
62
2021 Stats
REC
35
TAR
63
REYDS
549
TD
6
FPTS/G
7.9
Davis' four-touchdown outburst in the playoffs will live forever, but I'm afraid it's having too big an impact on Davis' ADP. Even once he became a full-time player last year he only topped 50 yards twice in six games. We still expect Stefon Diggs to see nine targets per game and I don't see Davis standing out as a target earner compared to Isaiah McKenzie, Dawson Knox, and the running backs. Davis is a good boom/bust No. 3 in non-PPR leagues if you ever get a chance to draft him like that.

Numbers to know

265 -- The Chiefs have 265 targets to replace at wide receiver in 2022, the most in the NFL.
71.2% -- Nearly three-quarters of Josh Allen's pass attempts went to wide receivers last year; only the Rams' receivers saw a higher rate.
8 -- Deebo Samuel had eight rushing touchdowns last year. Regression and Trey Lance should halve that, at least.
17.9 -- Marquez Valdes-Scantling's average depth of target last year on the Packers. That could play well for Patrick Mahomes, but makes it hard to project him for a lot of targets unless it comes down a lot. No player above 15 had even 100 targets last year.
11 -- Ja'Marr Chase led the NFL with 11 drops last year, just in case you were wondering how little drops matter.
12 -- CeeDee Lamb's 12 broken tackles in 2021 were second only to Deebo Samuel.
3,525 -- D.J. Moore has 3,525 receiving yards since the start of 2019. Only Cooper Kupp, Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, and Travis Kelce have more.
29% -- Targets per route run for Kadarius Toney in 2021, which ranked fifth at the position. If he can stay on the field, he's a certain breakout candidate.

Format matters

Most of this piece, including tiers and ADP, are based on PPR leagues. We recognize many of you still play in non-PPR. Here's a list of players who we expect to be significantly better, and worse, in non-PPR:

Better in non-PPR: Deebo Samuel, Mike Williams, A.J. Brown, Tee Higgins, Courtland Sutton, Treylon Burks, Gabriel Davis, Brandon Aiyuk

Worse in non-PPR: Keenan Allen, Michael Pittman, Diontae Johnson, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Christian Kirk, Amari Cooper, Jakobi Meyers

Tiers

Projections