4 Wide Receiver TD Regression Candidates (2022 Fantasy Football)
I deal with a different type of regression in my day job as a hearing care provider. Hearing health is at the forefront of our worldwide battle against regressive cognitive decline in senior citizens, namely dementia and Alzheimer’s. As it turns out, our brains cannot sustain normal function when deprived of auditory information over a long period of time. My main focus is on educating my hearing loss clients and their families on the importance of aural rehabilitation before the irreversible effects of auditory deprivation get worse.
Since I am moonlighting as a freelance fantasy sports writer, I should let you know that I don’t intend on putting you all to sleep with more nerdy audiology jargon. There is a punchline here; one that ties this whole introduction into a neat little bow. Your fantasy football darlings from 2021 will mostly let you down this season. The sooner you plan for that inevitable decline, the more quickly and effectively you can treat the issue by drafting better players in 2022. I have identified four WRs who will miss the mark when attempting to replicate their lofty touchdown totals from last year and will deprive fantasy teams of essential points.
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There are simply too many elite mouths to feed in Las Vegas. The house of cards that “Third & Renfrow” built his 2021 season upon is doomed to tumble dramatically with the health of Darren Waller and the arrival of the best WR in the NFL, Davante Adams. The crafty slot receiver from Clemson was targeted over 100 times last season, mainly benefiting from Waller’s poor health and Henry Ruggs‘ incarceration. Derek Carr, never known for a high volume of touchdown passes, had only one man who could separate in short-yardage situations.
Renfrow was a living, breathing highlight reel of filthy improv routes in scoring range last season. Now, he will be picking up scraps as the third fiddle in a Josh McDaniels offense that thankfully uses the slot receiver well. Eight touchdowns for Renfrow is not unattainable, but it is perfectly fair to expect all of his stats to take a hit this season. The good news is that his regression is baked into his ADP of WR32.
Unfortunately for many fantasy managers, St. Brown’s torrid finish to the 2021 season has blinded many to just how fluky the whole thing was. NFL football really is a war of attrition and the Detroit Lions were facing one in their receiving room from Week 13 on. “The Sun God” compiled 67 of his team-leading 119 targets in the final six games of the season. Until then, he was merely an occasional security blanket for Jared Goff on hot routes. Before ace receiving back D’Andre Swift was shelved in Week 13, St. Brown only averaged 4.8 targets per game. Until T.J. Hockenson was shut down for the season in Week 14, he was the clear leading receiver on the Lions with 89 targets. This set the stage for a truly remarkable glow up for the rookie from Southern California.
The target competition for Amon-Ra St. Brown during those six games confirms there was no mystery as to why he was able to earn so many looks. Names like Kalif Raymond and Josh Reynolds don’t necessarily stand out to the average football fan because they haven’t had many remarkable moments in their NFL careers. They did provide St. Brown with full reign over the slot, protecting him from press coverage and less-favorable matchups with better defensive backs.
Take nothing away from St. Brown’s fantasy league-winning stretch of 135.6 PPR points during the fantasy home stretch (Weeks 13-17). He earned those targets and was incredibly efficient, albeit with the low average depth of target (aDOT) of a slot receiver without much verticality to his game. Swift and Hockenson are back in the mix to lead the receiving corps. First-round rookie speedster Jameson Williams will be the lid-lifter at Z-receiver when he returns from his ACL injury and former Jaguar D.J. Chark provides a physically imposing element with good speed at the X-receiver position. Even a receiver as talented as Amon-Ra St. Brown will be challenged to match his six-touchdown total from 2021, when he could be immediately relegated as low as the fourth option in a run-heavy Dan Campbell scheme.
In what many have called an obvious misprint, Allen Lazard apparently scored eight touchdowns last season. The departure of future Hall of Fame WR Davante Adams has fantasy analysts chomping at the bit to anoint Lazard as the heir apparent in the Aaron Rodgers pecking order. “He knows the system best.” “Rodgers trusts Lazard.” “This is his chance to seize the WR1 spot in Green Bay.” None of those mumbling prayers heard from the Lazard hive address the elephant in the room: Allen Lazard isn’t that good at football.
The undrafted, big-bodied receiver from Iowa State might as well have been the Packers’ tight end last season when Robert Tonyan tore his ACL. He was the invisible man, even at 6-foot-5. According to Reception Perception (RP), Lazard was only successful on routes against zone coverage 71.3% of the time (10th percentile). That is pretty atrocious for a player who fits best into a short-yardage big slot role.
The nail in the coffin is the incoming competition for targets. Besides the talented-but-fragile Sammy Watkins in camp this season, the Packers drafted two very intriguing rookie WRs. First was North Dakota State freak athlete Christian Watson, who ran a 4.36 40-yard dash at 6-foot-4 and 208 pounds at the Rookie Scouting Combine. The 34th overall pick figures to plug right into the Marquez Valdes-Scantling Z-receiver role, since the two are practically clones of one another.
The other incoming rookie is already making major waves in training camp. Romeo Doubs from Nevada is a deep sleeper whom Green Bay selected in the fourth round this year. Although not quite the physical specimen that Watson is, Doubs is 6-foot-2, has real football speed, and wins regularly on vertical routes. Doubs produced consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons for the Wolfpack and is accustomed to catching passes from aloof QBs from Northern California who have the ability to call plays from the line of scrimmage.
Finally, Randall Cobb is still wearing the Green and Gold and is easily Rodgers’ closest friend among the receiving corps. We might also see the emergence of former Clemson slot receiver Amari Rodgers this season. All in all, Allen Lazard will have to take a breathtaking leap in 2022 to score another eight touchdowns. The Packers won’t have much patience for their new tender signee if he can’t overtake the newcomers on the depth chart this preseason.
I must admit I was guilty of bellowing COOOOOOOOOP! many times in my living room when Amari Cooper made big plays for my beloved Dallas Cowboys. I loved him at Alabama, prayed for his freedom from the Raiders, and rejoiced when Jerry Jones made the trade to acquire him. I’m afraid those prime days of Coop are over.
I am not bitter about the lopsided trade to the Cleveland Browns this offseason. His contract was a huge hindrance on the Cowboys’ future plans to build a championship roster under the salary cap. I wish they could have squeezed more juice out of the Browns’ lemon in the deal, but everyone saw the decline in performance last season.
Cooper has never been a very consistent fantasy performer, with managers chasing the dragon of his marvelous spike weeks. He only had three such weeks in 2021, accounting for 85.6 PPR points out of his 201.5 (42.4%). The other 12 weeks were marred by nagging ankle injuries and clear regression in his route running success rate. Despite his overriding reputation as an elite route runner, this has not been the case in years, according to RP. Cooper was no better than in the 36th percentile among all WRs charted against any type of coverage, and fell to the 26th and 27th percentile against man and zone respectively.
There was some initial optimism with Cooper’s simultaneous arrival with Deshaun Watson to Cleveland, but Watson’s arduous battle with the legal system and the NFL have quelled most of that recently. It is still very possible that the Browns rely on Jacoby Brissett to distribute the ball to an unproven receiving corps. Incumbent X-receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones and polished rookie David Bell, along with newly-paid TE David Njoku, will offer the stiffest target competition for Cooper in 2022. He will need to return to better form this season than he showed as part of the league’s best offense in 2021 if he hopes to achieve seven touchdowns again. I would push my chips in the middle of the table saying he will not.
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