Rewards of going receiver heavy early are worth it

The Yahoo fantasy football crew is breaking down every position to get drafters confident to tackle each and every one of them when they’re on the clock. Here, our very own Matt Harmon examines the wide receiver landscape.

2023 Fantasy Football Position Previews: QB | RB | WR | TE

It’s a good time to be in the wide receiver business. (All bias admitted as the lead card-carrying lobbyist for Big Receiver.)

The position is just so rich with quality players at all levels of NFL rosters. Every draft class, we’re blessed with more options to beef up the star quality of wideouts. New roles like the “power slot” have brought guys who may have been role players or even miscast in the old NFL, like Amon-Ra St. Brown, into the forefront of the position.

The fantasy football space has reacted. Wideouts are being selected earlier than ever. It would have been unthinkable five years ago that this many wide receivers had consensus ADPs in Round 1 (currently five on Yahoo).

With Travis Kelce carrying a Round 1 sticker too, the running back position has officially lost its majority.

This carries into the middle rounds, as well. There are 32 wide receivers with consensus ADPs inside the top 80 picks and as Yahoo Fantasy contributor Jorge Martin notes, running backs have fallen lower than ever.

So, with the quality depth available at the position and “zigging when they zag” always being a tried and true fantasy concept, does it make sense to pass on receivers early?

Not so fast, my friend.

While there are guys you can tell yourself a story about as breakout options and guys with better-than-advertised target projections in the late rounds, there’s still a great deal of uncertainty lurking. Even if you get a few ADP-beaters along the way, it can still be tough to compete with receiver corps loaded with three-plus alpha target earners who can flip a fantasy matchup any given week.

All the good fantasy rosters coming out of drafts will be the ones that hammered receiver in Rounds 1 to 6. Getting breakout candidates right later on is important but don’t let that siren song convince you to avoid stocking the position with a wealth of safe and high-ceiling combo bets available earlier. Nailing the position in the early and mid-rounds is as important as ever.

Players I’m targeting across draft boards

Yes, Calvin Ridley has missed over a year and a half of football. But the last time we saw him play he was operating at the level of a top-10 NFL receiver. All reports from this offseason have been positive. The drumbeat on how dialed in and impressive he’s been was steady. Now we’re dropping him into an ascending offense with a quarterback ready to make the leap to stardom. He’s one of “My Guys” in my 2023 Draft Day Blueprint. There are a ton of receivers listed there if you’re looking for more targets.

Both Ohio State products Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave broke onto the scene immediately in Year 1 in the NFL. Their fellow rookie, Drake London, was quietly right on their level last year. London is a hulking X-receiver who can win in tight coverage downfield but is a smooth separator in the short and intermediate game. He has all the makings of a No. 1 wideout.

Some will be concerned about the passing volume in Atlanta but London’s 0.29 targets per route run ranked fourth among all pass-catchers last year. The Falcons are a lock to throw more this year with Desmond Ridder replacing the scrambling, sack-prone Marcus Mariota so London still projects for 120-plus targets.

The Chiefs’ receiver room seems like a mystery on paper but Skyy Moore should be considered the odds-on favorite to lead that position in catches and yards. Moore projects best as a flanker/slot receiver in the NFL but was not going to play that role over an established veteran like JuJu Smith-Schuster after coming from a lower collegiate level.

Translation: while others will label his rookie season a “face-plant,” you need to view it in better, and completely understandable, context.

Also, when he played, he showed off solid route running skills with a 70th percentile success rate vs. press in Reception Perception. Moore may not have a WR1 season in his range of outcomes but could outkick his WR48, 127.3 ADP by quite a bit.

Players I’m fading in early-to-mid rounds

I’m nearly on an island in the fantasy industry for being skeptical about Jerry Jeudy at a 68.8 ADP. While he has offered flashes of high-level route running, Jeudy is still too inconsistent of a player — which is why almost all of his backers must offer you some sort of season split to justify their ranking — to date in the NFL.

His collegiate profile as a route-runner just hasn’t translated; he’s more a of splash, big-play threat. I don’t think he’s a bad player, I just think he’s a No. 2 wide receiver and the massive gap between him and other Broncos pass-catchers in ADP won’t be expressed in the target distribution; just because you overrated Courtland Sutton last year doesn’t mean he’s a bad player. Even if Jeudy takes a step as an individual player, the passing volume and quarterback play remain massive question marks.

As much as I’ve been a fan of Chris Godwin and Mike Evans over the years, they just won’t find their way onto many teams of mine this season. For one, neither is coming off their best seasons as pure individual players. You can wave that away but there are also multiple systemic concerns. The offense will play much slower and with more run/pass balance than in 2022. Neither player has been a true target hog either, checking in with target shares south of 20% in each of the last two seasons.

That could change without Tom Brady, who frequently targets running backs and tight ends but that without Tom Brady part is pretty important. I just can’t get behind a Baker Mayfield wide receiver again after both Odell Beckham Jr. and DJ Moore have enjoyed the worst stretches of their career with him. This is especially troubling for Evans, who is a pure outside vertical receiver. Godwin may be able to survive Mayfield games a bit better but there are always some other receivers — DJ Moore, Diontae Johnson, Michael Pittman Jr. — in the “nice target share projection, good at football but troubling quarterback play” tier with whom I’d rather take the upside plunge.

So I guess I’m hoping Kyle Trask is the savior here? No thanks.

It is with great sadness that I report I’m out on Keenan Allen at his WR22 ADP. I know the box score looks nice from his games played last year but I think we saw serious signs of a decline in his ability to beat man coverage. Now, Allen can still be a zone-beater and has tremendous hands but that sounds like a slot-only role-player at this point. It doesn’t add up to me that the entire fantasy industry thinks that the Chargers offense will improve because A) Justin Herbert will push the ball downfield more in 2023 and B) Allen will maintain his target share.

You don’t feed high-level volume to your short-area possession receiver if your goal is to be a better vertical offense. Allen can still have a great season for a good Chargers team but that receiving line will likely look something like 85-900-5 as the ball gets spread around. If Allen beats his ADP with a high reception total alone, something went very wrong for the 2023 Chargers’ offense.

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