Fantasy football: Opportunity knocks for these WRs
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of statistics and advanced metrics out there for wide receivers. So, let’s simplify things and think about it this way: receptions, receiving yards, touchdowns and fantasy points come from … targets. Targets — and air yards — are key components when trying to project a wideout’s production from one season to the next.
Air yards track the distance the football travels in the air from the line of scrimmage to the intended receiver, whether complete or incomplete and not including yards after the catch, providing a more comprehensive picture of a player’s potential impact beyond traditional statistics. Looking at a wide receiver’s per-game averages helps evaluate the opportunity ahead.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at 10 underrated wideouts in favorable situations with teams that have a significant number of vacated targets or air yards available; these players thus have the potential to surpass fantasy expectations and outperform their average draft position. Add them to your watch list!
Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Available WR targets: 109 (8th most)
Available air yards: 1,646 (7th most)
Evans is the only receiver in NFL history to begin his career with nine consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Evans averaged a solid 15 fantasy points per game last season (T14 in PPR), but he also put up a dismal 1.75 yards per route run with future Hall of Famer Tom Brady at quarterback. Now, with Baker Mayfield or possibly Kyle Trask under center, fantasy managers are fading Evans (currently being drafted as the WR24). That is a mistake. The Buccaneers are still projected for nearly 600 pass attempts, and Evans and Chris Godwin, another Bucs receiver you shouldn’t overlook, are projected for 125 targets apiece. It just so happens that Evans had the third-most deep targets last season, and Mayfield ranked sixth in deep ball accuracy. It’s also worth noting that Evans trails only Jerry Rice for consecutive 1,000-yard season at any point of a career (11). Evans can be viewed as a low-end WR2 with upside to outperform his projection.
Nico Collins, Houston Texans
Available WR targets: 210 (most)
Available air yards: 2,860 (most)
Collins is the Texans’ lone starter returning from last season’s WR group and will have a new quarterback (C.J. Stroud) looking his way in 2023. Collins also will have a new offensive coordinator in Bobby Slowik, who takes over after spending the previous six seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, most recently as their passing game coordinator. There is reason for optimism for Collins, who averaged 9.0 targets and 12.1 fantasy points per game from Weeks 10 to 13 last season in what was a putrid Texans offense. He reportedly has been Stroud’s favorite target in offseason practices, and Slowik has Collins studying highlights of Julio Jones to try emulate his playing style in the new scheme, which incorporates elements from Kyle Shanahan’s system. Considering his average draft position and positive early reports, Collins could become a promising flex option in 2023.
Jakobi Meyers, Las Vegas Raiders
Available WR targets: 94 (16th most)
Available air yards: 2,201 (3rd most)
After spending the first four years of his career with the Patriots, Meyers signed a three-year, $33 million contract with the Raiders in the offseason. He already is familiar with coach Josh McDaniels’ offensive scheme from there days in New England, and O-coordinator Mick Lombardi was the wide receivers coach with the Pats from 2020 to 2021. Playing primarily from the slot (70%), Meyers averaged 6.8 targets per game last season and caught an impressive 66.7% of those passes. Meyers has averaged a solid 11.8 fantasy points per game over the past two seasons, and with Davante Adams attracting most of the defensive attention, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo can rely on Meyers as a dependable secondary target. Meyers’ fantasy point projection places him firmly on the flex radar, and he has the opportunity to surpass projections if the Raiders find themselves in negative game scripts.
Marquise Brown, Arizona Cardinals
Available WR targets: 165 (3rd most)
Available air yards: 1,847 (3rd most)
Don’t let the Cardinals’ quarterback situation scare you away from Brown. Trust me, that is a mistake. With DeAndre Hopkins out of the picture, Brown checks in as the Arizona’s No. 1 receiver. Brown is being drafted as the WR30 in our live drafts and is projected for 120-plus targets. He is considered more of a high-end flex option, but let me tell you, a WR2 finish is well within reach. Brown had a great start to last season while Hopkins was suspended for six games, averaging 10.7 targets and 18.3 fantasy points. Brown’s season was derailed by a foot injury that caused him to miss five games, and he didn’t look fully healthy when upon his return. Even with Kyler Murray recovering from ACL surgery and likely to miss games, Brown should still be heavily targeted by whoever is under center.
Jayden Reed, Green Bay Packers
Available WR targets: 184 (2nd most)
Available air yards: 2,201 (3rd most)
Christian Watson scored seven receiving touchdowns last season, all coming during a five-week stretch from mid-November to early December, and accumulated 611 total receiving yards, which was fifth-best among rookies. Watson currently is the WR19 in our live drafts, but there’s another Packers wideout you should keep an eye on, as well. Green Bay was in need of a playmaker who could excel in open spaces and drafted an excellent one in Reed in the second round. The receiver room is wide open behind Watson, and Reed is projected for nearly as many targets as second-year wideout Romeo Doubs. As a slot receiver, Reed’s agility and adaptability should make him a reliable option on crucial downs for quarterback Jordan Love. Keep in mind that the Packers have had some good luck with second-round receivers, including Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams. Green Bay has a favorable schedule, and I’d rather target Reed than Doubs as a receiver to stash near the end of fantasy drafts.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, New England Patriots
Available WR targets: 153 (4th most)
Available air yards: 1,753 (6th most)
Smith-Schuster didn’t quite put up the numbers last season with the Chiefs that fantasy managers expected. He caught 78 of 101 targets for 933 receiving yards but finished with just three touchdowns. Smith-Schuster’s arrival in New England, along with offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, should open up the offense for quarterback Mac Jones, who took a considerable step back last season after a promising rookie season. It should help Jones that O’Brien is familiar with both former Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ system and the University of Alabama’s playbook. Based on target share, Smith-Schuster is projected as the Patriots’ No. 1 receiver, but he is shockingly just the WR45 in our live drafts. It bodes well for Smith-Schuster that the Patriots didn’t select a wide receiver until Round 6 of April’s draft. Smith-Schuster has great hands and is excellent at accumulating yards after a catch. He is going to amass a ton of receptions in New England.
Drake London, Atlanta Falcons
Available WR targets: 109 (9th most)
Available air yards: 1,632 (8th most)
London averaged 8.6 targets and 76.2 receiving yards over the final six games of his rookie season; and overall, he earned a target on 32% of his routes and averaged a solid 1.53 fantasy points per target. London is projected for 119 targets this season and is currently the WR31 in our live draft trends. Coach Arthur Smith has built a quarterback-friendly offense, and London’s chemistry with Desmond Ridder was obvious. The Falcons have an excellent running back by committee led by No. 8 overall pick Bijan Robinson, a great offensive line and a tight end in Kyle Pitts who will look to rebound from a down sophomore season. London doesn’t have any viable wide receivers behind him and is projected to — and should — lead the Falcons in targets, boosting his fantasy value. London is one of the Falcons’ top playmakers and is being viewed as a flex option in fantasy, but he could easily finish as a WR2 in 2023.
DJ Chark, Carolina Panthers
Available WR targets: 145 (5th most)
Available air yards: 1,987 (4th most)
Chark caught just 30 passes for 502 yards and three touchdowns for the Lions last season, but he ranked fourth with an average depth of target of 15.4 yards and seventh with 16.7 yards per reception. Chark is being selected as the WR46 in live drafts, but he is projected to lead the Panthers in targets this season. Although Chark has missed 19 games over the past two seasons, Adam Thielen, 32, who is projected for the second-most targets for Carolina, also has a history of injuries. Chark can be productive with rookie quarterback Bryce Young under center. Also, new coach Frank Reich plans to expand Chark’s route tree so that he is more than just a vertical threat. The veteran wideout is the firmly on the flex radar with upside.
Jordan Addison, Minnesota Vikings
Available WR targets: 107 (11th most)
Available air yards: 1,163 (15th most)
The Vikings selected Addison 23rd overall to complement superstar Justin Jefferson and help fill the void left by Thielen’s departure. Playing in one of the league’s most pass-heavy offenses — and with Thielen’s 107 targets vacated — Addison has a clear path to success. Given the defensive focus Jefferson will draw on the opposite side, Addison is likely to see single coverage. The rookie is a technician whose physicality and route running will allow him to separate from defenders. He is currently the WR43 in our live drafts and still has to contend with K.J. Osborn for No. 2 duties, but Addison is the favorite to land the role and should outproduce his ADP.
Kadarius Toney, Kansas City Chiefs
Available WR targets: 135 (6th most)
Available air yards: 1,102 (16th most)
The Chiefs are hoping Toney can turn into a star in 2023, but fantasy managers aren’t on board just yet, currently drafting him as the WR44. Patrick Mahomes has spoken highly of Toney, and ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported that the Chiefs believe Toney can be a No. 1-type receiver. Injuries have been the main issue, as Toney has been limited to just 19 regular-season games in his three NFL seasons. But the top receiving role — outside of tight end Travis Kelce — is up for grabs, and Toney, if he can stay healthy, has shown flashes and has the benefit of Mahomes as his quarterback. Toney has averaged 1.1 fantasy points per target for his career and should have no trouble surpassing his projections.