5 Must-Have Wide Receivers (2022 Fantasy Football)
The first serious step my wife and I took early in our relationship was to adopt a puppy. Buster (named after the San Francisco Giants’ legendary catcher) was a toy Australian Shepherd with a neurotic tennis ball obsession. One Christmas, I surprised our 9-pound ball of fluff with a jumbo sleeve of a dozen tennis balls in his stocking (we’re those dog parents). Neither the wife nor I will ever forget the unbridled sparkle of joy in Buster’s eyes when I uncorked the entire sleeve and let those neon-colored balls rain down upon him. He was completely overwhelmed with excitement and could not decide which one to play with first.
Buster is all of us fantasy managers when trying to narrow down a seemingly infinite pool of NFL wide receivers who will lead us to the fantasy promised land. Even if we pooled just the top receivers from the last three draft classes, there would be enough talent to fill our WR quota for a fantasy roster.
Never averse to risk or controversy, I have condensed the list down to five WRs you must try to have on your fantasy rosters this season. This decadent red wine reduction balances our final entree of a roster build.
These two cats from LSU have sure been impressive. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking Ja’Marr Chase for your fantasy team. Both are solid first-round picks. I normally shoot for a running back if I have an early pick. But if my pick is anywhere between 1.06-1.12, I feel compelled to grab an elite WR. Jefferson earns the slight nod over Chase, Cooper Kupp and Davante Adams due to the arrival of new head coach (and Sean McVay disciple) Kevin O’Connell.
Jefferson has already expressed his excitement over the change in philosophy, celebrating that “it’s not a run-first offense anymore.” All he did in that “run-first” scheme was compile the most receiving yards in a player’s first two seasons in NFL history. Jefferson is a rare talent primed to take another step forward in 2022. I shudder to imagine the potential of Jefferson deployed in the same role that Cooper Kupp turned into one of the most productive seasons ever.
As seen on Matt Harmon’s unparalleled Reception Perception, Jefferson is as dominant as any WR in the NFL. He wins at every level against any type of coverage. Kirk Cousins is well above-average at his position and is also in position to significantly increase his fantasy value under the new regime. Adam Thielen seems tailor-made for the Robert Woods role, which sleeper K.J. Osborn could also fill. Jefferson stands alone as the Omega-X receiver. This is the easy layup choice before I get more wild down below.
No need to beat the dead horse. Most of us have been reminded ad nauseam about Evans being the only player in NFL history to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in his first seven seasons. With good health, hitting that mark for the eighth-consecutive season is a near-lock.
Tom Brady is returning from his winter vacation, itching to make another Super Bowl run with the Buccaneers. Chris Godwin is a worthy counterpart in the offense across from Evans, but his early-season prognosis is still unknown after ACL surgery. Rob Gronkowski has also announced his retirement. Antonio Brown left Tampa Bay in the lurch with nothing but a dry cleaning ticket. Russell Gage was a nice addition at the behest of Brady but hasn’t yet shown a ton of upside in the NFL. The receiving corps is a fascinating mess but nowhere near the worst group that Brady has thrown to over his 22 seasons.
Evans provides enough size, athleticism and skill to stand alone as the Bucs’ favorite weapon in the passing game. His one drawback has been health, usually centered around his hamstrings. His missed games make the consecutive games record all the more impressive. From a fantasy points-per-game (FPPG) perspective, the former Texas A&M Aggie is on the precipice of his greatest season yet. Both Godwin and Antonio Brown joined Evans in the top-12 WRs in FPPG with an average of 17.3 apiece, just ahead of Evans at 16.4.
It stands to reason that there are quite a few more opportunities for Evans to dominate the targets much more than he did in 2021, with 113 targets for a 16.4% share (58th among WRs). The Bucs are expected to be very pass-heavy again this season, so an increase to Evans’ 22.4% target share from 2018 could assure us another top-10 season (or better) is on the docket.
This choice will ruffle some feathers. The fantasy football community has drawn a line in the sand between the camps of the Courtland Sutton clique and the Jerry Jeudy cadre. Denver’s acquisition of star quarterback Russell Wilson has whipped up a frenzied disagreement over which of the talented pass catchers will be the breadwinner of the marriage. There are many reasons why the decision to prefer Jeudy is quite easy. The arrival of the Nathaniel Hackett regime is the most glaring commendation of them all.
Successful NFL offenses put their players in optimal situations to create mismatches in space with their respective skill sets. Jeudy and Sutton are vastly different receiver archetypes. Where Sutton wins vertically and requires less space to operate because of his size and athleticism at the catch point, Jeudy is a filthy route runner who creates space to operate. Jeudy is also a ridiculously good runner after the catch.
NFL Role Play 😈
Green Bay ➡️ Denver
Rodgers ➡️ Wilson
Adams ➡️ Jeudy
Lazard ➡️ Patrick
MVS ➡️ Sutton/Hamler
Tonyan ➡️ Albert O
Jones/Dillon ➡️ Williams/MGIII
Comps based on style/traits. Running iso game with Jeudy is perfect for him. @MyFantasyLeague
— Bo McBrayer (@Bo_McBigTime) July 3, 2022
When lining up the Green Bay offense under Hackett, there are clear stylistic similarities between the skill position players on the Packers in 2021 and the Broncos in 2022. Jeudy is much more similar to Davante Adams as a technician, even if Jeudy isn’t near Adams’ prowess at this point of his career. Russell Wilson is a wonderful downfield passer and will raise Sutton’s game, but I still firmly believe Jeudy is the must-have receiver in 2022.
Jeudy averaged 2.35 yards of target separation even after a severe high ankle sprain. This was the best in the NFL last season, according to Player Profiler. Sutton’s production plummeted upon Jeudy’s return last season. Even when both were inhibited with ghastly quarterback play, I questioned Sutton’s ability to exist as a primary option with another stud on the field who is better at getting open quickly. Jeudy is one of the WRs I feel could go nuclear in 2022 with a huge breakout season.
The Elijah Moore breakout narrative hinges more on his quarterback’s performance than any of the other four. Primarily, this is because Zach Wilson must improve his accuracy this season. Moore only appeared in 11 games as a rookie in 2021 but averaged seven targets per game and had a 47.8% route win rate, according to Player Profiler.
Reception Perception echoed his resounding success in getting open against man, zone and press coverages at the professional level. Unfortunately, the combination of Wilson, Josh Johnson and Mike White under center was abysmally inaccurate.
The New York Jets are no longer starving for talented skill position players. Corey Davis and Braxton Berrios remain on the roster as veteran receivers, but the real upgrade came in the form of WR Garrett Wilson and RB Breece Hall in a masterful draft by GM Joe Douglas. The former was the 10th-overall pick in the draft out of WR factory, Ohio State. Wilson is massively talented but might take a bit of time to acclimate to the professional game. For this reason, I am very high on Moore in 2022. With some progression in Wilson’s game, Moore will have the potential to pay off as a WR1 from an ADP of WR28.
The Baltimore Ravens made a calculated move during the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft when they traded Marquise Brown to the Arizona Cardinals. Greg Roman is still orchestrating an offense centered around the unique talents of Lamar Jackson, but his receiving corps is a fantasy football quagmire. The Ravens apparently have a ton of faith in Bateman to elevate his game after his rookie season showed plenty of promise. According to Reception Perception, the rookie Golden Gopher effortlessly gained separation against man and zone coverage in 2021. He was successful on 83.1% of his routes against zone coverage last season, which put him in the 85th percentile of players charted.
Marquise Brown was the field stretcher last season for Baltimore, but there is no reason why Bateman (with a 4.43 40) can’t also be given a higher percentage of vertical routes this season. He will obviously cede to elite TE Mark Andrews in certain game plans, but I can’t shake the feeling that Bateman’s and Andrews’ target shares will be much closer than the projections might infer.
Targets are an earned commodity for WRs, and the competition besides Andrews on the Baltimore depth chart is not great. Jackson traditionally has a very high touchdown rate compared to his volume of passing attempts. I believe Bateman is in store for quite a few spike performances in 2022 and should easily pay off at his ADP of 89 (WR37).
If you want to dive deeper into fantasy football, check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Football Tools as you navigate your season. From our Start/Sit Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup based on accurate consensus projections – to our Waiver Wire Assistant, which allows you to quickly see which available players will improve your team and how much – we’ve got you covered this fantasy football season.