Anomaly or New Norm? What to Make of WR Outliers for 2023 (Fantasy Football)

The FootClan
Unlock Exclusive Tools + Bonus Episode
Join the FootClan

In this article series, I’m looking back at outlier statistics from the 2022 season and attempting to answer the question, “Was it an anomaly, or is this the new norm for this player moving forward?” I’ve already covered quarterbacks and running backs. In this edition, I’ll be examining wide receivers. 

The Stats

This series uses efficiency numbers in an effort to eliminate volume-based stats and focus on player talent. For wide receivers, it makes the most sense to use per-target and per-reception stats. Since the most talented wide receivers demand the most targets, I’ve filtered the stats to include wideouts who saw at least 50 last season. The wideout stats featured in this article, and the average among those who saw 50+ targets last season, are shown in the table below.

Statistic 2022 WR Average
Targets/TD 22.1
Yards/rec 12.5
Yards/target 8.0
YAC/rec 4.1

With these stats as our backdrop, let’s dive in.

Diontae Johnson: Infinite Targets/TD

By now, you’ve probably heard that Johnson scored zero touchdowns last season. That’s rare for any wideout that sees at least 50 targets in a season. To see just how rare, check out what I wrote in the 25 WR Stats from the 2022 Season article regarding Johnson:

“He was the eighth most targeted player in the league but only finished as the WR41 on the season. He blew away the record for most targets without a touchdown, 38 more than Chicago wideout Michael Timpson in 1996.”

Anomaly or New Norm?

Over his first three seasons, Johnson averaged a touchdown every 20.3 targets. That rate fell to every 27.6 targets after his scoreless 2022 season. Given the 17-game pace average of 147 targets over his career, that new average would still put him at 5.3 touchdowns. Considering his previous three seasons of production and the fact that Kenny Pickett should presumably improve in his second season, Johnson’s goose egg in the touchdown category will likely be an anomaly in his career stats.

Jahan Dotson: 8.7 Targets/TD
Christian Watson: 9.4 Targets/TD

Conversely, rookie wideouts Jahan Dotson and Christian Watson found the end zone at insane rates. They were the only two receivers to score at a per-single-digit target rate. The next lowest rate came from Davante Adams, who caught a touchdown every 12.9 targets. 

The FootClan
Love the show? Join our community!
Join the FootClan

Anomaly or New Norm?

Dotson and Watson have a lot in common. They were drafted 18 picks apart early in the 2022 NFL draft. They will both be playing next season with quarterbacks that, while not new to their teams, have limited starting experience. They also both missed multiple games during their rookie season. Given the relatively small sample sizes and the possibility of growing pains with new starting quarterbacks, it’s tough to envision either of them maintaining their outlier touchdown rate.

These two, among others, are detailed further in Marvin Elequins WR Touchdown Regression article.

Jaylen Waddle: 18.1 yards/rec, 11.6 yards/target

Waddle led all qualified receivers with 18.6 yards/rec in 2022. His 11.6 yards/target may have been even more impressive. It easily led the league, with A.J. Brown checking in next at 10.3 yards/target. Waddle’s teammate Tyreek Hill wasn’t far behind him, averaging a fourth-best 10.1 yards/target. All things considered, Waddle was statistically the most efficient wideout in the game in 2022.

Anomaly or New Norm?

Given his blazing speed and collegiate profile, Waddle’s stats shouldn’t be surprising. However, he averaged just 9.8 yards/rec as a rookie in 2021. It would appear that Brian Flores and his staff weren’t able to utilize his skill set as well as Mike McDaniel. He probably won’t lead the league in yards/rec every year, but it seems most likely that his inefficient rookie season will be the anomaly when looking back on his career.

Michael Pittman Jr.: 9.3 Yards/Rec

Pittman was on the other end of the spectrum, averaging nearly half as many yards/rec as Waddle. Despite catching the eighth most passes (99) in the league, he only put up the 24th most receiving yards (925). The only other receiver to see 100+ targets and average single-digit yards/rec was slot specialist Chris Godwin (9.8).

Anomaly or New Norm?

Pittman’s low yards/rec certainly wasn’t due to a small sample size, as he ran the third most routes in the league. It was more likely a result of the mess that was the Colts rolling with the combination of Matt Ryan, Sam Ehlinger, and even Nick Foles at quarterback. Not to mention the failed experiment that was Jeff Saturday as head coach for half the season.

Pittman averaged 12.4 yards/rec over his first two professional seasons. I recently detailed how he could bounce back and become a WR1 in 2023. At the very least, the arrivals of Shane Steichen as head coach and Anthony Richardson as quarterback should lead to an increased yards/rec for Pittman.

DK Metcalf: 2.4 YAC/rec

Metcalf had an underwhelming 2022 season. He caught a career-low six touchdowns despite leading the league with 22 end zone targets. His yards/rec (11.6) and yards/target (7.4) were also career lows. The stat that jumps out the most, however, is his 2.4 YAC/rec, significantly below his career average of 4.5 YAC/rec. Metcalf simply wasn’t breaking tackles. In fact, he was only credited with one broken tackle on 90 receptions, the lowest rate in the league.

The FootClan
Love the show? Join our community!
Join the FootClan

Anomaly or New Norm?

This seems the most anomalous of all the stats covered here, but it is also the hardest to explain. Since 2018, there have been 49 instances of a wide receiver averaging fewer than 3.0 YAC/rec on 50+ targets. Among those 49 instances, only six players repeated the feat for more than one season. Astonishingly, Allen Robinson accomplished it three times, and Marvin Jones four times.

Given Metcalf’s freakish athleticism, it’s tough to imagine this becoming a trend. He still possesses the size and strength to break through cornerback arm tackles (and probably safeties, linebackers, and defensive linemen). I expect Metcalf to bounce back in a big way in 2023.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *