Must-Have Wide Receivers (2022 Fantasy Football)
Identifying must-have players is an exercise that requires setting parameters. Leaving drafts with a top-five receiver would be great. However, doing so is mainly contingent on a gamer’s draft slot. The following receivers have a point-per-reception (PPR) expert consensus ranking (ECR) outside the top-60 players. Thus, regardless of the draft slot a gamer draws, they have access to these receivers at a reasonable cost. The following quartet of wideouts are players gamers should aim to leave drafts with.
Must-Have Wide Receivers
Mike Williams (WR – LAC): 63 ECR, WR29
Williams was a new player in the Chargers’ offense last year. First-year head coach Brandon Staley and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi deployed Williams as more than a boom-or-bust vertical weapon. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), in 2018, Williams had a 15.6-yard average depth of target (aDoT), followed by an 18.3-yard aDoT in 2019, 15.8-yard aDoT in 2020, and 12.0-yard aDoT in 2021.
Additionally, he set two notable career-highs last year. First, according to PFF, he had a personal-best 1.97 Yards per Route Run (Y/RR) that was 12th out of 60 wide receivers targeted at least 70 times, including the postseason — the same sample that will be used from now on. Second, according to Sports Info Solutions (SIS), Williams set a new best with a 19.8 percent target share that easily outpaced his 15.6 percent previous best from 2019.
Unsurprisingly, the role change fit Williams like a glove. According to the fantasy football leaders tool, Williams was tied for 20th in PPR per-game scoring among wideouts who played at least seven games during the fantasy football season (Week 1 through Week 17). Further, the Chargers’ offensive environment was and projects to be a good one. According to Football Outsiders, they were sixth in situation neutral pace. And, according to Sharp Football Stats, they passed at the third-highest rate (61%) in neutral game situations (the scoring margin was between trailing and leading by seven points).
Even if Williams merely duplicates last year’s production, he’s a steal at his WR29 ECR. However, he played through a knee injury in 2021. So, there’s an upside for him to build on last year’s numbers simply by being healthier.
Gabriel Davis (WR – BUF): 90 ECR, WR39
Davis has been a polarizing figure in fantasy football circles in the offseason. The detractors will point to his mediocre draft capital and opening the year as the fourth receiver and fifth passing-game option out of the gate last year. They’ll also summarily dismiss his explosion against the Chiefs while failing to toss out any of his bad games before ascending the depth chart during the most crucial weeks of the season. That seems like a flawed process. Regardless, don’t fall into that trap.
Davis is an ascending talent, and the Bills have told onlookers all they need to know. Buffalo cut Cole Beasley and has prioritized replacing the slot wideout’s production. They re-signed gadget wideout and slot option Isaiah McKenzie, inked Jamison Crowder to a one-year deal, and waited until the fifth round in the 2022 NFL Draft to select Khalil Shakir, who most draft pundits peg as a fit in the slot instead of on the perimeter. Conversely, Emmanuel Sanders is a free agent, and the team hasn’t added outside competition for Davis. Maybe they’ll venture into the post-June 1 cuts or scoop up a veteran languishing in free agency. Regardless, adding an outside receiver hasn’t been a priority, and everything has come up roses for Davis’s 2022 outlook.
And why shouldn’t they give Davis a chance as the option on the outside opposite Stefon Diggs? Davis was 10th with 2.03 Y/RR and was at his best down the stretch after moving up the pecking order. From Week 14 through the end of the year, Davis commanded a target on 22.5 percent of his routes while netting a gaudy 2.49 Y/RR.
Finally, Davis is attached to a mouthwatering offense. Sure, the new offensive coordinator, Ken Dorsey, could significantly deviate from former offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s offensive philosophy. However, Dorsey was Buffalo’s quarterback’s coach and passing game coordinator. Thus, it seems unlikely he’ll rock the apple cart. Last year, the Bills were ninth in situation neutral pace and second in pass rate (65 percent). Therefore, it’s wheels up for Davis. He’s being drafted as a WR4, but he should be picked as an upside WR3.
Jalen Tolbert (WR – DAL): 308 ECR, WR106
We’ll keep this short and sweet with the final two rookie wideouts. First, CeeDee Lamb was the top receiver in the recently published Wide Receivers To Avoid piece. Yet, Amari Cooper was traded, and Cedrick Wilson signed with the Dolphins, leaving a void behind Lamb, Michael Gallup — who’s coming off knee surgery –, and Dalton Schultz. Further, the Cowboys’ most significant addition in free agency was James Washington. So, there’s competition for looks in a fantasy-friendly offense.
Last year, the Cowboys were first in pace and tied for sixth in passing rate. In addition, Dak Prescott spread the ball around. Prescott’s unwillingness to force-feed his top options was the reason for fading Lamb at his ECR. However, it’s a boon for secondary and tertiary options like Tolbert. There’s no guarantee that Gallup will hit the ground running after knee surgery, and Dallas’s third-round pick could quickly claim a sizable role in the offense.
NFL analyst Lance Zierlein’s prospect overview was highly complimentary of Tolbert’s profile. He also improved his PFF grade every year in college, and their draft guide noted he “can immediately add a deep threat to any offense.” Like the upcoming rookie, Tolbert is the perfect second-to-last-round or last-round dart throw to draft and monitor in Week 1 instead of taking a boring veteran. If Tolbert is highly involved in the offense in Week 1, he’ll immediately be the cover boy on waiver wire articles. On the other hand, if he’s rotated with Washington, he’s a cut candidate for the surprising performer from the season’s opening week.
Romeo Doubs (WR – GB): 383 ECR, WR126
As mentioned above, Doubs is a preemptive bench stash to see how Week 1 works out instead of drafting a low-upside veteran. Green Bay’s passing-game hierarchy is influx after they traded Davante Adams to the Raiders. According to Sports Info Solutions, Adams had the third-highest target share (28.2 percent) in 2021 in Green Bay’s pass-heavy offense. The Packers were sixth in pass rate in neutral situations. It’s possible, if not probable, part of the answer for replacing Adams’ vacated production is leaning more heavily on their talented backfield featuring Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon.
Still, one player is highly unlikely to replace Adams’ vacated production, leaving a massive piece of the pie to be accounted for. As a result, second-round pick Christian Watson will probably be the most popular target among drafters. That’s an understandable position to take. The team traded up to pick him in the second round, and he’s a freakish athlete. Interestingly, Watson’s linked Player Profiler comp to Denzel Mims provides a cautionary tale regarding hyped players failing to live up to second-round expectations.
Moreover, Watson is more a high-upside long-term pick than a finished product. First, after playing at FCS North Dakota State, he has a huge leap in the competition. Second, anecdotally, he’s a player who could find himself in Aaron Rodgers’ doghouse.
Rodgers’ trust has been long discussed, and his looks of disbelief and shaking his head in frustration for dropped balls or incorrectly run routes have been telecast fodder. Unfortunately, Watson hasn’t had the most reliable hands. According to PFF, he’s dropped 16 of 120 catchable targets in his collegiate career. All of this isn’t to paint Watson as an avoid. Instead, it’s grounds for late-round, or in Doubs’ case, a last-round investment.
Like the previously discussed Tolbert, Doubs’ PFF grade improved linearly from 2019-to 2021. Sadly, Zierlein’s scouting report wasn’t as complimentary of Green Bay’s fourth-round pick. Nevertheless, the closing quote in the linked scouting report was promising. Additionally, veteran film junky Greg Cosell spoke glowingly about Doubs on the Ross Tucker Football Podcast NFC North Draft Recap podcast and the Fantasy Points NFC Town Hall podcast.
Specifically, in the attached Ross Tucker Football Podcast snippet, Cosell describing him as a three-level option, not merely a vertical option, was eye-opening. Cosell also called him more well-rounded than Watson in the Fantasy Points video. In addition, he lamented that he thought Doubs should go earlier and could be more well-rounded than Watson.
Scouting prospects is subjective, and opinions vary widely on prospects. Nonetheless, veteran analyst Cosell’s analysis is enough to pound the table for a final-round dart at Doubs. But, again, like Tolbert, if he is underutilized in Week 1, he’s an easy option to cut. Conversely, if he explodes out of the gate, he’s a more challenging acquisition. So, the move is to get ahead of the pack — bad pun intended — and draft him instead of waiting and seeing what happens.
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