The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Football Season: Gabriel Davis
You’ll be hard-pressed to find anybody in the fantasy football space that doesn’t consider Stefon Diggs a WR1 for 2022. In fact, he’s currently ranked as the fifth overall wideout in Andy, Mike, and Jason’s initial WR projections. But, as you may have guessed, this article isn’t about Diggs. Instead, this edition of our “Path to a WR1 Season” series will focus on his teammate, Gabriel Davis.
Over the last ten seasons, there has been, on average, one NFL team to produce two top-12 fantasy wideouts. Last season was the first time since 2017 that it didn’t happen. The Bills have a high-scoring, high passing volume offense led by an elite NFL quarterback in Josh Allen. They have enough offensive firepower to produce plenty of fantasy-relevant players, but will there be enough for Davis to make the leap and join Diggs as a WR1 in 2022? Let’s see what it will take.
Davis played in 16 games for the Bills last season but only started four of them. One of those starts came in Week 1, where he hauled in two targets for 40 yards and Josh Allen’s first touchdown pass of the season. Unfortunately, it was Buffalo’s only touchdown of the game as they lost to Pittsburgh at home. The Bills adjusted by inserting tight end Dawson Knox into the starting lineup over Davis in Week 2, and the offense started rolling. They averaged 26.8 points/game the rest of the season.
Davis finally re-entered the starting lineup in Week 14 and began contributing immediately. His best performance of the regular season came in Week 15 when he put up 23 fantasy points on five receptions for 83 yards and two touchdowns against the Panthers. He then missed Week 16 on the COVID-19 list and sputtered to the finish, putting up just 79 receiving yards and no touchdowns over the last two weeks. He finished the regular season catching 35-of-63 targets for 549 yards and six touchdowns, strikingly similar to his rookie stats from 2020 and only good enough for the WR53 in fantasy.
But the story of Davis’ 2021 season doesn’t stop at the end of the regular season. He started the playoffs with another touchdown as the Bills routed the Patriots in the Wild Card round. Next came the much-anticipated matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round, one of the most thrilling games of football ever played. Davis was arguably the best player in the game.
He erupted for 201 yards and four touchdowns in the heartbreaking overtime loss, becoming the only player ever to catch four touchdowns in a playoff game. The performance equated to 48.1 fantasy points, the most ever accumulated by a wide receiver in a playoff game. Was Davis’s historic playoff performance a fluke, or a sign of things to come in 2022?
The Path for 2022
Davis has been far from a target hog to this point in his career. He had 62 targets as a rookie and saw a minimum increase, literally, to 63 in his second season. He’s accounted for an 11% target share in each of his first two seasons. Meanwhile, his teammate Stefon Diggs has led the NFL over the past two seasons with a massive 330 targets.
Davis is unlikely to take a significant cut from Diggs’ target share, but there are plenty of opportunities to add targets elsewhere. The Bills enter 2022 with 199 vacated targets from last season, 184 of them between the departures of Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley alone. Of course, they can’t all go to Davis. This offseason Buffalo added veteran slot receiver Jamison Crowder, then drafted pass-catching running back James Cook and slot receiver Khalil Shakur.
If we give Davis one-third of the vacated targets, that would push him to nearly 130 on the season. That isn’t too much to ask for a third-year wideout with built-in chemistry with Josh Allen, compared to a journeyman wideout and two rookies. That would also be more than enough targets to give Davis a shot at a WR1 season. Six of last season’s WR1s, or 50%, had fewer than 130 targets. There is a clear path for Davis to see the targets needed to enter the WR1 conversation.
This will be the weakest category for Davis. He isn’t going to be a PPR machine, which means his path to a WR1 season isn’t going to come through catches alone. He’s only caught 56% of the passes thrown his way over his first two seasons. But don’t let this be a death knell to his fantasy value, the catches he does come down with have been awfully valuable.
Last season Davis averaged 3.10 fantasy points/reception, the second-highest rate among all wideouts with at least 30 receptions. Only five players were able to put up at least 3.0 fantasy points/reception last season, as shown in the table below.
One reason Davis scores so many fantasy points/reception is the yards attached to them. His career average of 16.4 yards/rec is the fourth-highest since he entered the league in 2020. The next table shows the top ten highest yard/reception players over the last two seasons (minimum 50 receptions).
|Henry Ruggs III||50||921||18.40|
An even better predictor of fantasy success in yards/route run. Last season Davis logged 2.03 yards/route run, one of only 14 wideouts to hit the 2.0 yards/route run threshold according to Pro Football Focus. In fact, the top seven fantasy points/game wideouts in 2021 all topped 2.0 yards/route run.
Touchdowns are the quickest way to rack up fantasy points, and Davis has caught more than his fair share considering his limited playing time over his first two seasons. He’s scored 13 regular season touchdowns over his first two years, then another five more in the 2021 playoffs. One reason he’s been so good at scoring touchdowns is his ability to come down with the ball in a crowd. According to PFF, Davis had a 76.9% contested catch rate in the regular season and playoffs combined in 2021, the best among all wideouts with at least 70 targets.
While touchdowns are tough to predict, playing with Josh Allen on the high-octane Bills boosts Davis’ chances of finding the end zone double-digit times, which, on average, is what it took to be a WR1 the last two season.
Davis has already shown the ability to be a WR1. He pops in all the efficiency metrics you want for a fantasy breakout. The only thing missing to this point in his career has been volume. He’s only played on 60% of Buffalo’s offensive snaps over the past two seasons. With Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley gone, Davis is the top candidate to soak up more snaps. Those snaps will lead to more routes and receptions. If he can maintain the same efficiency he’s displayed over his first two seasons, and maybe mix in a few multi-touchdown games, the path is there for Davis to breakout and become a WR1 in 2022.