Second Year Wide Receivers to Target in Fantasy Football

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As fantasy managers prepare for their drafts, finding players who are sure to take that big next into fantasy football stardom is the sure way to get ahead from the start of the season. Some of the more common players we see making big strides year-to-year are WRs in their second professional season. Pinpointing which WRs are due for a step into top 24 or even top 12 range can be a fantasy league-winning difference in redraft leagues.

To help identify which second-year WRs to invest in, I’ve taken a look at rookie WRs since 2012 with certain benchmark statistics and their results for fantasy football in their second season. Those benchmark statistics are: 

  • 400+ Receiving Yards
  • 4+ Receiving TDs
  • 8+ Yards Per Target
  • 50+ Receptions
  • 7+ Fantasy Points Per Game

While these benchmark statistics at first glance may seem like meager standards, they do eliminate a large number of rookies very quickly. For instance, of the 574 rookie WRs in the NFL since 2012, less than 20% finish with at least 400 receiving yards. When you add another qualifying statistic on top of that like four or more receiving TDs, that drops to just over 11%.

Before getting to the WRs from the 2022 class, let’s define how we looked at the players over the last decade. For historical reference, I took the average of the top 24 and top 12 WRs for every season since 2012 in both PPR and standard scoring. Since the line for these parameters shifts every season, it will help to weigh each season against the same standard. These parameters are as follows:

  • Average Top 12 WR Standard Scoring: 162.1
  • Average Top 24 WR Standard Scoring: 131.9
  • Average Top 12 WR PPR Scoring: 248.7
  • Average Top 24 WR PPR Scoring: 203.3

Second-Year WRs Finishing Inside the Top 24

The first step in analyzing a dataset this big is to separate the players who have finished inside the average for a top 24 WR and identify statistical markers they share in common. Since 2012, there were 44 WRs in their second season who finished with at least 131.9 fantasy points in standard scoring or 203.3 PPR fantasy points. Of those 44 WRs, 88% of them had 400+ receiving yards as a rookie and 70% had 50+ receptions. It’s when we combine the criteria that we are better able to pinpoint players who have top-24 outcomes in their second year.

Only 22 rookie WRs in the last 10 years have met all five criteria that we’re using, and 76% of those players – not including the 2022 class of course – went on to finish inside the top 24 in their second season with six of them finishing inside the top 12. If we shorten our approach to just include the last five seasons, 10 of the 12 WRs who met all the parameters in their rookie year finished in the top 24 WRs in their second season. The only two who didn’t were Cooper Kupp (torn ACL in Week 10 of the 2018 season) and Chase Claypool.

Meeting all five criteria is rare, with just 3.7% of rookie WRs since 2012 included in that group. We’re talking the best of the best here. Of the 44 second-year WRs who scored above our top-24 average, 84% of them checked three or more of the criteria from their rookie season.

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When we’re looking for WRs in their second season to project as top-24 options in 2023, the more of these marks they’re hitting from their rookie season, the better. 70% of players with four or more of the markers in their rookie season end up finishing their second season in the top 24, and 30% finish inside the top 12.

Let’s look through the 2022 WR class and work up a list of players who have these markers and could take steps forward to bring home fantasy gold.

Worth a Roll of the Dice – Three Criteria Met

Drake London (ATL)

ADP 5.07

Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving TDs Yard/Target Fantasy PPG
72 866 4 7.4 6.27

London is the only WR from the 2022 class who met exactly three of the criteria in the dataset. Fantasy managers in London’s corner will argue that had it not been for the questionable QB play, he would have improved into the next tier of rookies. As it is, London will be the main option at WR for the Falcons, though there should still be concern about the passing volume for Atlanta. Still, during the last four games with Desmond Ridder at QB in 2022, London was on a 17-game pace of 153 targets and 1,415 receiving yards, which would put him in the range for a top-24 finish.

A Good Bet – Four Criteria Met

Garrett Wilson (NYJ)

ADP 2.10

Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving TDs Yard/Target Fantasy PPG
83 1,103 4 7.5 7.81

We start the step into a more confident tier of players with one of the hottest names at the WR position ahead of draft season, Garrett Wilson. Wilson got what we are hoping will be a decent upgrade at the bare minimum with the potential to be a massive boost at QB in Aaron Rodgers. After leading all rookies in receiving yards in 2022, Wilson finished as the WR19 despite suspect QB play for a majority of the year, so fantasy managers know he’s got the ability to be a valuable asset. The biggest question for fantasy managers is if Wilson can return the mid-second-round value they’re having to give up for him as the 10th WR off the board currently. If the Jets’ offense delivers on the expectations, there’s a good chance that Wilson can deliver as a fringe WR1 in 2023.

Christian Watson (GB)

ADP 5.11

Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving TDs Yard/Target Fantasy PPG
41 611 7 9.3 8.79

After a slow start in 2022, Christian Watson ended his rookie season on fire, finishing inside the top-15 WRs in five of the Packers’ last eight games, including a four-week stretch inside the top eight. When you consider that 85% of Watson’s yards came from Week 10 on, the fact that he was able to hit four of these markers is that much more impressive. There is still some uncertainty going into 2023 with the change at QB to Jordan Love in Green Bay, but Watson’s current draft price at the back of the fifth round should be low enough to entice fantasy managers to buy into him with the possibility that he can well surpass his draft price by the end of the year.

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George Pickens (PIT)

ADP 7.08

Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving TDs Yard/Target Fantasy PPG
52 801 4 9.5 6.74

It doesn’t take much of an Internet search to find George Pickens making highlight catches in training camp. I’ll admit, I was surprised to see that Pickens ended up on this short list because he was boxed in my mind as a big catch, lower production player from his rookie season. The truth of the matter is that Pickens had as many or more top-24 WR finishes in 2022 as Tyler Lockett, Terry McLaurin, Garrett Wilson, and Chris Olave. There’s no disputing that Pickens has the body to be a high-end WR and his yards per target was the highest of any rookie with at least 50 receptions. Given the cheaper draft price, if the Steelers’ offense can take a step forward in 2023, Pickens stands a good chance to be a large part of the reason why and could be a good return on value for fantasy managers.

Jahan Dotson (WASH)

ADP 8.02

Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving TDs Yard/Target Fantasy PPG
35 523 7 8.6 7.97

I have minced no words when it comes to my belief in Jahan Dotson as a player. In fact, I could see a reality where he finishes as a WR1 on the year. Dotson finished just outside of going five for five on the metrics we’re using with just 35 receptions in the 10 games he played. Where Dotson does fill up the spreadsheet is his 7.97 fantasy points per game and rookie WR leading seven receiving TDs. The Commanders’ offense should be a more pass-centric one with new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy calling plays, and Dotson should be one of the main benefactors of the increased passing volume. The best thing Dotson has going for him is his great value in the eight round of drafts, where even returning a top-24 finish will make fantasy managers happy he’s on their roster.

I’m All In – All Five Criteria Met

Chris Olave (NO)

ADP 3.02

Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving TDs Yard/Target Fantasy PPG
72 1,042 4 8.8 8.41

To say I’m obsessed with getting Chris Olave in 2023 would be an understatement. Olave doesn’t get the attention that he deserves based on the rookie season he had in 2022. The list of players who hit all five criteria used in this study is an elite group: Ja’Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith, Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, and AJ Brown to name a few. You know, basically all the young elite WRs in the NFL. Not only do fantasy managers have an awesome rookie season to be excited about, but the Saints’ addition of Derek Carr is a huge upgrade at QB which can only be a positive for Olave’s ceiling this year. At his current draft price, Olave would only have to return a top-24 season to meet his value. The truth of the matter is that Olave has top-10 WR potential this season that fantasy managers can nab in the third round. 

ADP based on Sleeper as of 8/24/2023


Samuel DeVries says:

What about lower level dudes worth maybe a flier pick like Romeo Doubs or Alec Pierce? Each of these guys were good in stretches last year wondering if any signs point to taking the next step.

Dennis says:

You nailed it … congrats

Michael Haught says:

This article makes me feel really good about how my team is starting out this year. The PPR league I’m in is a rookie + vet keeper league where each team has to keep one rookie and one vet from the prior season. This year, Chase is my vet keeper and Olave is my rookie keeper. I selected Kupp in rd. 1 of our draft. I believe all three will finish as top 10 WRs in PPR scoring this season.

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