Each season, there are players that take their game to another level and significantly improve their fantasy production along the way. For the wide receiver position, targets and talent are the best recipe for success. After encouraging rookie seasons, there are five sophomore wide receivers who should be set to produce at a higher rate for fantasy in 2023.
London was the first wide receiver drafted in the 2022 NFL Draft — a draft that produced three receivers who earned receiving grades above 80.0, which hasn’t been done since PFF started grading in 2006 (min. 100 receiving snaps). London, along with Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, all hit that 80.0-plus receiving grade mark, which is promising, as there is a track record leading to increased fantasy success, dating back to 2015.
Since the 2015 NFL season (not including last year), there have been nine rookie wide receivers that earned an 80.0 receiving grade in their first season (min. 100 receiving snaps), and of those nine, seven (77.8%) went on to improve their fantasy production per game in Year 2. The average increase in points per game for those seven players was 3.3 points per game, creating an average above 15 points per game in Year 2, which figures to be high-end WR2 production on a weekly basis.
With London averaging just 10.5 PPR points per game as a rookie — the lowest of the other three 80.0-plus graded rookie receivers — he has a chance for a significant production boost in Year 2. The average second-year production from such receivers is 15.3 points per game, up from 14.0 in Year 1, which none of the three accomplished in 2022. While they should all be in for better seasons in 2023, London stands out as the best value of the three, as he has far and away the lowest ADP of the group. He earned the highest target rate of the three when on the field (27.2%) and has a potentially better quarterback situation this season after ranking 91st among 118 qualifying receivers in catchable target rate (68.4%), London has a great shot to build on his impressive rookie season.
Drake London splits with two different quarterbacks in 2022:
|Weeks||PPR PPG||Targets/game||Catchable target rate||YPRR|
Dotson burst onto the scene as a rookie with a two-touchdown game and a WR17 PPR finish, backing up his first-round draft capital on multiple occasions throughout the season when healthy, finishing the year with five top-24 finishes in 12 games played. Thanks to his seven touchdowns, he often performed above expected, which is why some believe he may regress in Year 2. However, the Commanders ranked just 24th in pass rate (56.3%) last season while Dotson ranked just 66th of 80 qualifying receivers in catchable target rate (67.9%). With Eric Bieniemy coming in from the Kansas City Chiefs as the team’s new offensive coordinator and Sam Howell projected to be the new starter, the hope in Washington is that the team will not only pass more, but that Howell will be an upgrade over Carson Wentz, who ranked 34th (out of 41 qualifying QBs) in passing grade (58.9), 33rd in turnover-worthy-play rate (4.2%) and threw just 11 touchdowns on the year (30th).
Despite poor quarterback play, Dotson found ways to be efficient with his touches, ranking sixth among all wide receivers (25% of snaps played) in fantasy points per touch (3.48), which allowed him to earn more points per game (10.9) than even London, who is going several rounds earlier in ADP. Assuming he doesn’t miss as many games as he did as a rookie (five), Dotson should be able to factor into the offense more this season after ranking just fifth on the team in targets (56) but third in targets per game (4.7) last season. The expectation is that Dotson will push Curtis Samuel for the clear WR2 on the depth chart as long as he’s healthy and emerge in the WR2 range for fantasy points per game as well (~13 PPR points per game).
Watson carries significant expectations in Year 2 after showing elite flashes last season as a rookie, as he figures to now be the clear top target in Green Bay’s offense. Down the stretch last season (Weeks 10-18), Watson posted some of the best and most efficient numbers at his position, consistently inside the top-12 at the position across key receiving categories.
Christian Watson from Weeks 10-18 in 2022:
|Yards per route run||2.58||3rd|
|PPR fantasy points||137.4||9th|
|PPR fantasy points per game versus expected||+3.6||T-2nd|
Allen Lazard was the Packers’ clear leader in targets last season but after departing in free agency, Watson should step into that role in 2023. While his efficiency should continue to regress, his volume should be on the rise as the expected top weekly target earner. His speed and explosiveness also help him create production after the catch, which he highlighted last season with his 6.4 yards after the catch per reception — a top-five mark in the NFL.
The biggest difference in Green Bay this season is going to be at quarterback with Watson and the rest of the Packers offense transitioning from Aaron Rodgers to Jordan Love, who has played fewer than 100 NFL dropbacks in his career thus far. Love’s sample size is small so putting too much stock into what he’s shown in the NFL could prove to be futile. The main thing for him will be to continue being efficient and limiting his turnover-worthy tendencies, as he did in the small sample of dropbacks last season. Should Love earn a passing grade in the 70s this coming season, it should be more than enough for Watson to thrive after even Rodgers managed just a 75.9 on a down year in 2022 while the Green Bay offense was also below-average in pass rate (58.9%).
It’s no secret that rookie wide receivers don’t often produce significant numbers as rookies before becoming significantly more productive in Years 2 and 3, so after just three top-24 finishes in 11 games last season, fantasy managers shouldn’t be scared off by the Titans’ former first-round pick. Burks earned a 73.9 receiving grade as a rookie but managed just 8.6 PPR points per game, which is below average for receivers who earn receiving grades in the 70s as rookies.
Everything else from Burks points to positive regression in Year 2, as he posted a strong 20.8% target rate despite playing just under 70% of the team’s receiving snaps when he was active. Burks was also efficient after the catch, posting 5.4 yards after the catch per reception which was tied for the 12th-best mark among receivers last season. His 1.75 yards per route run ranked 33rd among all receivers (min. 20% of targets) last season as well, highlighting his efficiency in a below-average situation as a rookie.
The offense isn’t very different from last season for Burks to post significantly greater numbers in Year 2, but a steady improvement from this point on should be expected at the very least. Combined with natural positive regression and an increase in playing time to be more involved in the offense, Burks has a case to be a steady WR3, at worst, on a weekly basis this season. The top-two target-earners in Tennessee last season – Robert Woods (82) and Austin Hooper (56) – are both off to new teams, so even if the Titans remain a run-first team, which is likely, there are clearly targets up for grabs now for Burks to make the most out of and provide more fantasy value than what managers got out of Woods in 2022.
Treylon Burks versus Robert Woods in fantasy efficiency last season:
|Titans WR||Total targets||YPRR||Total fantasy points||Fantasy points per game|
Pickens made some of the flashiest plays of the year as a rookie, including a one-handed catch, but finished the year as just WR39 in PPR through 17 games and just WR48 in points per game. The Steelers have been a personal favorite to positively regress this season after finishing near the bottom of the league in offensive touchdowns, although they were a top-12 offense in positive EPA rate (44.9%). No touchdowns hurt the fantasy production of Steelers assets across the board and is the primary reason why Diontae Johnson makes for a great bounce-back candidate while both Pickens and quarterback Kenny Pickett could potentially break out this season.
Once Pickett took over at quarterback for the Steelers in Week 4, Pickens led the Steelers in receiving yards (736), receiving touchdowns (four), receiving first downs (36), ADoT (15.3), and deep target rate (32.4%). Thanks to his ability to come up with big plays, Pickens became the better fantasy asset over Johnson in 2022, despite not seeing nearly as many targets (71 versus Johnson’s 109). The targets are going to be the key for Johnson to be the better fantasy option in 2023, combined with an increase in touchdown production, but Pickens should still be one of the better bets to also progress in Year 2 by coming up with a strong rate of high-value fantasy targets thanks to his big-play ability. Assuming Pickett also progresses, which he showed down the stretch last season, that should raise all ships in Pittsburgh for fantasy purposes.