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Rookie Wide Receivers: Fantasy Football Breakout Receivers

Rookie Wide Receivers: Fantasy Football Breakout Receivers

Rookie wide receivers are taking over the NFL, whether you acknowledge it or not. And there is nothing that you or your old man can do to stop it. Instead of fighting the trend, embrace the change and capitalize on your slow to evolve league mates who still think that rookie wide receivers don’t matter. I’m here to tell you both that rookie wide receivers matter! Don’t believe me? Keep reading.

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Rookie Wide Receivers: Fantasy Football Breakout Receivers

It’s Not Your Father’s NFL Anymore

As college football programs have begun imploring pro-style offenses, more Wide Receivers are entering the NFL more pro-ready than ever before. Last season Ja’Marr Chase‘s 81 receptions, 1455 yards, and 13 touchdowns were good enough for 304 PPR points and an overall WR5 finish.

In 2021, five rookie Wide Receivers finished in the top 50, and three finished in the top 25.  In 2020, Justin Jefferson’s 88 receptions, 1400 yards, and seven touchdowns were good enough for a WR6. Both Wide Receivers were league winners in their respective rookie seasons.

The trend has been established. The 2022 NFL rookie Wide Receiver class might not be as heralded as the 2021 class, but knowing who is primed for breakout will help you stay ahead of your fantasy league mates come draft day.

In this article, I will analyze the top 17 Wide Receivers selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, predict which pass catches will break out, and where you should target them in your upcoming redraft leagues.


The Process

Using FantasyData.com, Stathead.com, Playerprofiler.com, and 4for4.com, I compiled and analyzed data on rookie Wide Receivers from the 2015-2021 seasons. I then organized and sorted it based on a variety of data points, including total fantasy points scored, fantasy points per game and points per touch.

As a final touch, I added color-coded filters to it to make it easy to understand and manipulate.

ACCESS THE FULL ROOKIE WIDE RECEIVER DATA HERE


The Observations

After reviewing the Wide Receiver data from 2015-2021, several trends emerged that we could use to evaluate and project the 2022 rookie Wide Receiver class. The criteria for rookie success that stood out as being the most important are:

Targets/Opportunity

Draft Capital

Touchdowns/Offensive Upside

Using these data points as predictors, we will evaluate the top 17 rookie Wide Receivers selected in the 2022 NFL Draft and predict when they will break out during the 2022 season. “Break out” in this article will be defined as a Wide Receiver who averages roughly 12 points per game, which is the WR3 range.


Targets/Opportunity

Most teams that draft an early-round Wide Receiver plan on incorporating them into their offense fairly quickly. Last season, Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, and DeVonta Smith were all drafted in the first round and immediately became starters for their respective teams.

Chase saw 128 targets, Waddle 140, and Smith 104. Chase was able to parlay that into 18.9 fantasy points per game, Waddle 15.6, and Smith 11.1.

Last year Ja’Marr Chase was drafted as the WR31, Jaylen Waddle as the WR41, and Devonta Smith WR32. All three players were undervalued by fantasy players.

Not because they weren’t talented or didn’t possess value in their offensive schemes, but primarily because most fantasy drafters were afraid to take a risk on an unproven player. The initial logic makes some sense, but drafting Ja’Marr Chase last season was a league winner.

A whopping 84% of Wide Receivers who saw at least 90 targets in their rookie season can be considered “breakouts” based on our criteria for success, which is averaging roughly 12 fantasy points per game.

This metric alone was the greatest predictor of Wide Receiver success out of all the data that was analyzed. Since there is a clear connection between targets/opportunities and breakout success for rookie Wide Receivers, it makes sense to pay careful attention.


Draft Capital Matters


Top 20 Rookie Wide Receiver Performances 2015-2021

1st Round Picks – 8 out 20 (40%)
2nd Round Picks – 8 out of 20 (40%)
3rd Round Picks – 1 out of 20 (5%)
4th – Undrafted – 3 out of 20 (15%)

To be blunt, draft capital matters for rookie Wide Receivers. 16 out of 20 (80%) top-scoring Wide receivers were drafted in the first two rounds of their respective drafts. These Wide Receivers are normally drafted by their teams as potential starters who will see immediate playing time. Ja’Marr Chase and Jaylen Waddle were picked back-to-back in 2021 and came right into starting roles.  Justin Jefferson and CeeDee Lamb did the same in 2020, as did Terry McLaurin and D.K. Metcalf in 2019.


Rookie Wide Receivers Breakout Rate Per Round

1st Round Picks – 7 out of 17 – (42%)
2nd Round Picks – 10 out of 23 – (43%)
3rd Round Picks – 2 out of 12 – (17%)
4th Round – Undrafted – 5 out of 21 (24%)

Tyreek Hill, Willie Snead, and Darius Slayton were the exception to the rule, each breaking into the top 20 despite the late-round draft capital, or in Willie Snead’s case, no draft capital whatsoever. Understanding that most rookie Wide Receivers taken in the latter half of the draft don’t typically break out shouldn’t discourage you from shooting your shot with players that you are high on.

It just means that correctly identifying which later-round Wide Receivers to target in redraft leagues is more challenging the later the Wide Receiver is drafted. Sure, you could luck out and snag yourself a “Willie Snead,” but Willie’s are unicorns that you cannot necessarily predict season to season.


Touchdowns Matter!

Touchdowns matter in football. But they are even more vital to the success of rookie Wide Receivers given the limited amount of times they touch the ball during the game. A touchdown scored by a Wide Receiver almost guarantees that the player will break double digits points in that game. Touchdowns are fantasy gold for breakout rookie Wide Receivers. The top 10 Wide Receivers in my data sample averaged 7.4 touchdowns in their first season.

Predicting how many touchdowns anyone player will score in their rookie season is extremely challenging, though, so instead, it makes sense for fantasy players to target high upside offenses that have the potential to increase their touchdown upside.

Ja’Marr Chase scored 13 touchdowns last year, second to only Mike Evans (14) and Cooper Kupp (16). No one in the industry predicted his double-digit breakout. But his previous end zone connection with Joe Burrow at LSU and his role as the X Wide Receiver in the offense were signs on the wall.


Round 1 Data


Round 1

Drake London – Atlanta Falcons – Pick 8

The Atlanta Falcons Wide Receivers scored 382.5 fantasy points last season. For perspective, Cooper Kupp scored 439.5 points himself. Only the Cleveland Browns’ 344 points were worse. With Calvin Ridley suspended for 2022, the Falcons desperately need offensive production from the Wide Receiver position. It was no surprise when they used their first-round pick on 6’4″ USC Wide Receiver Drake London.

The talk of Falcons’ training camp is that “London’s off to a strong start” showcasing his strength and physical ability to create separation running a variety of routes.  I literary just watched him ‘Moss’ teammate Dee Alford in one-on-one drills for a filthy touchdown.

Helmed by quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Falcons don’t profile as a high-scoring offense heading into 2022. How will that translate into fantasy production though? The Falcons are expecting big things from him this season, and he’s in line to see upwards of 110 targets.

For reference, Russell Gage caught 66 receptions on 94 targets for 770 yards last season in the Falcons’ offense. He averaged 11.7 yards per reception, only found the end zone four times, and scored 161 fantasy points.

London has an opportunity to improve upon these numbers and is currently being drafted as the overall WR39. Cole Beasley finished 2021 as the overall WR39 and he averaged 10 fantasy points per game. London is currently a value at his current ADP and should be drafted as a player who will be in your WR3/Flex conversation each week.


Garrett Wilson – New York Jets – Pick 10

I love the New York Jets landing spot for Ohio State standout Wide Receiver Garrett Wilson. Cue the NY Post’s “Wilson and Wilson law firm” headlines celebrating their first touchdown connection. Wilson (Garrett) has blazing 4.38 speed and his 9 and 7/8 inch hands are literary football magnets.

Disregarding the @4WhomJBellTolls sarcasm, he’s just jealous his ADP is rising, Wilson does have a role in the offense, and his versatility as a route runner will allow him to line up outside or in the slot.

The Jets had four Wide Receivers score more than 100 fantasy points last year (Elijah Moore, Braxton Berrios, Corey Davis, and Jamison Crowder). Crowder moved on to Buffalo.

Corey Davis, who makes a compelling red zone target, is back and healthy and will serve as Williams’s main competition for targets. Both should factor into a Jets’ offense that passed the ball 557 times in 2021.

The main hindrance to Wilson’s (Garrett) success will be Zach Wilson’s ability to effectively lead the Jets’ offense in his second year under center. Wilson is currently being drafted as the overall WR50, in the middle of the 10th round.

Given the Jets’ inconsistency, I have a feeling that Wilson could slide in your draft into the 11th round. Either way, I love his speed, hands, and big play potential with a young gun who loves throwing deep.


Chris Olave – New Orleans Saints – Pick 11

The New Orleans Saints were a fantasy disaster last year, rolling out four different starting quarterbacks. It got so bad at points that Trevor Siemian was on the field, in their uniform, playing quarterback, for six games. It might be hard, now that I brought it up, but you need to forget all about it.

Jameis Winston is back!! I know, I know. It doesn’t sound great on the surface, but in reality, it should mean a return to a functional 21st-century offense that can actually move the ball down the field.

And the Saints found the perfect tool for Winston to jump-start the offense in Ohio State’s speedy Wide Receiver Chris Olave. His 4.39 combine time ranks in the 94% percentile on PlayerProfiler.

Michael Thomas‘ lingering ankle injuries appear to be on the mend after two years of complications and setbacks. This means that Olave should have the added benefit of more single coverage.

Matt Harmon of Reception Perception reports that Olave has a 78% success rate against man coverage, which ranks him in the 90th percentile. Olave’s college resume also includes 32 total touchdowns in the last three seasons. The man can fly and find pay dirt. Just the type of weapon a big-arm quarterback like Winston needs to stretch the field.

The anemic Saints’ offense in 2021 and the instability at the Quarterback position have led to a depression in the Saints’ Wide Receiver ADP. According to 4for4 ADP, Olave is currently being drafted as the overall WR46, in the WR4/Flex range. With Olave’s big play upside and field-stretching speed, I expect him to be highly volatile, think Will Fuller, but less injury prone.

I’m more than comfortable drafting Olave in the 10th round of drafts and then riding the offensive waves of explosive offensive production. If for some unforeseen reason Michael Thomas were to go down, you are looking at WR2/3 weekly upside. Lock and load.


Jameson Williams – Detroit Lions – Pick 12

Jameson Williams is currently on the PUP and will more than likely miss the first four games of the season. There is no denying that Williams has a first-round Wide Receiver skill set that the Lions are in desperate need of in their Jared Goff-powered offense.

Likely, Williams will not make an immediate offensive impact given his injury status. Combine that with Amon-Ra St. Brown‘s break out just last season, and Williams is currently WR62, in the thirteenth round.

Williams’s 4.3 speed is truly game-changing and he should have an immediate impact for those fantasy managers thoughtful enough to stash him on their bench. Drafting him instead of a kicker and then moving him to your IR should be the standard operating procedure. You will thank me later.


Jahan Dotson – Washington Commanders – Pick 16

The football team that calls Washington Dc home, plays its games in Maryland, and practices in Virginia, has a new name in 2022. They are now officially the “Washington Commanders” to there is that. In other news, “The Manders” we will call them this season, decided to upgrade their pathetic receiving corps by drafting the speedy Jahan Dotson from Penn State.

The Manders were basically a one-man receiving corps with Terry McLaurin seeing 42% of Wide Receiver targets in 2021. Dotson’s closest PlayerProfiler comp is Tyler Lockett, which is something the Commanders are in desperate need of. The good news for Dotson is that he has the skillset and the opportunity to seize a sizable Wide Receiver target share in the offense as the second to McLaurin.

Dotson is currently being drafted as the overall WR66, in the 14th round of PPR drafts. Quarterback Carson Wentz is a huge upgrade for the offense and should be able to connect with Dotson downfield for chunk plays. I’m definitely comfortable drafting him and giving him a home on my fantasy bench to see what he’s capable of in Washington’s offense.


Treylon Burks – Tennessee Titans – Pick 18

Treylon Burks is raw, but man, can he ball. The last Wide Receiver taken in the first round, Burks has had plenty of folks talking, good and bad, this offseason. I’ve heard tell that he’s the seconding coming of A.J. Brown, to his reported asthma limiting him to second-team reps. His ADP is currently overall WR47 and is being drafted around the start of the 10th round.

I know two guys from Arkansas who play in my home league, shout out to the BFFs (Barely Facebook Friends), who will be grabbing him early. How early, you ask? Darren McFadden‘s rookie year he was the 2.12 off the board. I might have no chance at Burks, but you will. What should you expect?

The Titan’s Wide Receivers scored the 24th most points in 2021 and they lost A.J. Brown who accounted for 36% of those points. Enter Burks, but also enter Robert Woods, who was acquired in the offseason. Tennessee primarily wants to run the ball and play action off of that for big plays downfield to their Wide Receivers. This is good news for Burks, but not great given the run-heavy approach the Titans employ.

I expect Burks to be an every-down receiver,  but he has a lot to learn in terms of NFL route running. According to Matt Harmon, Burks 56% win rate against man coverage ranks him in the 11th percentile. That’s bad. Really bad. Burks has physical gifts though and with the correct coaching, he can and will flash his big play ability this year. He’s a gamble in the first round for the Titans, but he’s worth the risk if you draft him as your WR4/5.


Round 2 Data


Round 2

Christian Watson – Green Bay Packers – Pick 34

The Green Bay Packers finally drafted Aaron Rodgers a Wide Receiver of his very own this year in Christian Watson. However, they also traded away Davante Adams, so they really didn’t have a choice.

They didn’t want Con-Air Rodgers to accidentally kill a front office executive with his bare hands and then be jailed unfairly for several years, all the while his wife and daughter worry for him, because you know, jail.

All that being said, Watson is currently on the Packers’ PUP list nursing a knee injury suffered during spring OTA’s. The team and Watson have not said when they think he will be able to return to practice with the team.

Watson is currently being drafted as the overall WR52 in the middle of the 11th round. With no clear timetable for his availability, expect Watson’s ADP to drop heading into the season.

It’s not ideal that he’s missing training camps reps with Rodgers, but if he falls in drafts he’s definitely worth an IR stash to start the season.


Wan’Dale Robinson – New York Giants – Pick 43

I realize you still have some questions. So let me see if I can help. Yes. Daniel Jones is still on the Giants. Yes. This is the last year of his contract. Yes. He has everything to play for. Yes. There is a new coaching staff.

Yes. They will be better in 2022. Yes. We do not know how much better. Yes. They did draft another Wide Receiver in the early rounds. Yes. I will shut up and get to the analysis.

According to Denny Carter of NBC SportsEdge, many people are saying that it might officially be Wan’Dale Robinson SZN in New York. Robinson has been lining up with the starters and has been taking first-team Wide Receiver reps. Many people also think that he has the inside track to take Darius Slayton’s job from him.

The Giants are in love with him!

That’s exactly the kind of news you read and then immediately look around to see if anyone else read what you just read. Nope. It’s just our little secret. Wan’Dale is currently being drafted as WR88, in the 22nd round.

So he’s basically a free square at the end of drafts. He might not breakout in Week 1 or Week 2, but he won’t be on the waiver wire come October. Stay frosty.


John Metchie – Houston Texans – Pick 59

John Metchie was recently diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia and will miss the whole 2022 season. Thankfully, he is currently receiving treatment and has great odds of beating this disease. Hopefully, he will be back for the 2023 season. My daughter London, who is a leukemia survivor, and I will be cheering him on along with all of you.


Tyquan Thornton – New England Patriots – Pick 50

The word on the fantasy football streets is that Bill Belichick can’t draft rookie Wide Receivers to save his NFL Hall of Fame life. I for one would never report Twitter rumors unless I’m the one starting them of course.

But so far the word from Patriots training camp is the old Bill might have finally stumbled across a winner in Tyquan Thornton out of Baylor. Tyquan is 6’2″ and runs a 4.28. You read that correctly.

But once again there is a problem. A few of them, in fact. They are named Devante Parker, Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, and Nelson Agholor. Bill Belichick is also a problem.

He’s historically been hesitant to even let rookies travel with the team, let alone take live snaps in a real NFL game. Thornton’s currently being drafted as overall Wide Receiver 84, which more than likely means he will be available on the waiver wire to start the season.


George Pickens – Pittsburgh Steelers – Pick 52

George Pickens has been spotted starting outside at Steelers training camp, according to Luke Sawhook of Fantasy Six Pack. Pickens has been the talk of camp, making highlight after highlight catch. He’s reportedly pushing third-year wideout and self-proclaimed “top 3 Wide Receiver in the NFL Chase Claypool into the slot in three Wide Receiver sets.

Last year Big Ben toppled and he still managed to help the Steeler’s Wide Receivers score the 12th most fantasy points. This year Mitch Trubisky is more than likely going to be the captain of Steeler Nation’s ship.

Michael Carvell of Dawgnation reported that Trubisky told Post-Gazette.com’s Ray Fittapaldo, “I’m getting to the point where I really trust him throwing him the ball. He’s made some great grabs. He’s going to be a great player. He just has to keep working.”

Pickens is just what Mike Tomlin and the tough-nosed Steelers organization need in their offense. A junkyard dog who isn’t afraid to mix it up and get physical with a corner before torching them over the top. He’s everything Claypool isn’t as a Wide Receiver.

His closest PlayerProfiler comp in Jerry Jeudy and he’s a steal at his current ADP as overall WR67 on 4for4.com. I’m comfortable reaching up into round 14 to make sure he’s on my squad this year.


Alec Pierce – Indianapolis Colts – Pick 53

The Indianapolis Colts believe wholeheartedly that they upgraded at the quarterback position when they sent Carson Wentz packing to Washington and traded for long-time Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Alec Pierce, I’m sure, is grateful, to say the least.

Pierce is a big Wide Receiver, standing 6’3″ and weighing in at 21olbs. His 4.41 speed and ability to make contested catches downfield will be welcome additions to the Colts’ offense in 2022.

Currently, he’s working behind Paris Campbell with the second unit but is being used in three Wide Receiver sets. There’s an opportunity for Pierce to see an increased role if he can earn the trust of Ryan and Coach Frank Reich. Pierce is basically the last pick you make in round 16.


Skyy Moore – Kansas City Chiefs – Pick 54

Just to clarify. Skyy Moore is not Tyreek Hill. He is not Mecole Hardman trying to be Tyreek Hill. Skyy Moore is Sky Moore and so far he’s been holding his own in Chiefs’ training camp, even garnering attention from Patrick Mahomes.

According to Arrowhead Pride editor and lead reporter Pete Sweeny, Mahomes said, “Even though he’s not the tallest guy, he can make those tough catches and can build that trust with the quarterbacks.”

Skyy Moore will be featured this year in a receiving corps that has Mecole Hardman returning. They also added JuJu Smith-Schuster from Pittsburgh and Marquez Valdes-Scantling (MVS) from Green Bay in free agency. Moore doesn’t have a defined role in the offense, so it will be interesting to see how Andy Reid strategically unleashes his skill set in the Chiefs offense.

Moore is currently being drafted as the overall WR54, behind Smith-Schuster at WR30, MVS at WR51, and Hardman at WR52. When you factor in Travis Kelce, he’s more of the WR4/5 on the team.

There’s obviously upside in the Kansas City Chiefs offense, but the clustering of Chiefs’ Wide Receivers in the WR50-54 pick range demonstrates the current uncertainty in the offense.

I’m comfortable spending a near 12th-round pick on Moore if he’s still on the board in my fantasy drafts. He may or may not have a role in the offense right away. Either way, if he turns out to be a nothing burger, you didn’t invest much and you can always grab him off the waiver wire if his role increases.


Rounds 3-5 Data


Round 3

Velus Jones – Chicago Bears – Pick 71

Velus Jones isn’t your typical NFL rookie. For one thing, he’s 25 years old and spent six years playing college football. I bet you also didn’t know that according to utsports.com “he’s the only player in the nation with over 800+ receiving yards, 200+ punt return yards, and 600+ kickoff return yards” in 2021.

He also has 4.31 speed as well. Just what Justin Fields needs, a speedy field stretcher, who has breakaway speed after the catch. The 6’0″ 205lbs Jones should feature heavily in the slot for the Bears this season. His combination of speed and strength will be a formidable challenge for slot corners this season. The Bears will be looking to design opportunities to get the ball into his hands in space so he can create after the catch.

Don’t be surprised to see him quickly snatched up off the waiver wire a few weeks into the season. Justin Fields will have his ups and downs, but with a weapon like Jones, he might be trending towards more ups than down this season.


Jalen Tolbert – Dallas Cowboys – Pick 88

The Dallas Cowboys had a busy offseason, and I’m just talking about the Wide Receiver room. They resigned Michael Gallup to a new contract. Allowed Cedrick Wilson to walk in free agency, traded Amari Cooper, and then drafted Jalen Tolbert in the third round of the NFL Draft. Tolbert is already turning heads in Kellen Moore’s offense, lining up both inside and outside. This is promising, given the explosive Cowboys offense.

There’s talk that Tolbert could start Week 1 opposite CeeDee Lamb, as Gallup isn’t expected back until October as he recovers from ACL surgery. Cowboys’ Wide Receivers ranked 5th in the NFL with 753.9 points scored last season. The path for immediate fantasy relevance seems unavoidable at this point for Tolbert.

Being drafted at overall WR72, he’s an absolute steal at this price. I’ve drafted him on all of my dynasty teams, my best ball teams, my #SFB12 team, my Warrior Bowl Team, and every other team that will draft this season.


David Bell – Cleveland Browns – Pick 99

David Bell needs Deshaun Watson to play to be fantasy relevant this season. It’s pretty simple. Bell is currently on the shelf resting a foot injury on the PUP list. Anthony Poisal, staff writer for the Cleveland Browns reported that Browns’ Wide Receivers coach/pass game coordinator Chad O’Shea said, “He has the ability to make defenders miss in space and the ability to find the end zone. He’s an instinctive runner with the ball in his hands, and one of which produced.”

The Browns moved on from Jarvis Landry and believe they have just the man to fill his shoes. Bell’s had an outstanding career 4.7 drop rate while at Purdue and legend has it he has only dropped a handful of passes throughout months of OTA’s.

With his injury news and Watson’s suspension still undecided, Bell is an excellent wait-and-see candidate. Monitor him the first few weeks of the season. If a consistent role develops, you will be one step ahead of the pack.


Danny Gray – San Francisco 49ers – Pick 105

In the midst of all the Deebo Samuel drama this offseason, the San Francisco 49ers quietly drafted Danny Gray. Even his name is unassuming. But don’t let his name fool you. There is nothing unassuming about his 4.33 speed break the top off the defense. Kyle Shanahan’s offense needs someone like Gray. He can open up the underneath route for Samuel and tight end stud extraordinaire George Kittle.

Gray is a name you should know, but his role in the offense will be less predictable, and harder to find fantasy consistency. The four option behind Samuel, Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk only scored 80 points last year, so don’t expect much in Gray’s rookie campaign.


 


A boy chasing a football in the backyard with his dad. A teenager chasing the ball on the high school gridiron. A 20-something chasing a football at the Thanksgiving Turkey Bowl. A 30-something chasing fantasy football championships. A 40-something chasing the dream of becoming a fantasy football analyst chasing the DFS Milly Maker.


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A boy chasing a football in the backyard with his dad. A teenager chasing the ball on the high school gridiron. A 20 something chasing a football at the Thanksgiving Turkey Bowl. A 30 something chasing fantasy football championships. A 40 something chasing the dream of becoming a fantasy football analyst chasing the DFS Milly Maker.

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