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Wide Receiver Busts (2022 Fantasy Football)

by Bo McBrayer | @Bo_McBigTime | Featured Writer
Aug 28, 2022
A.J. Brown

A.J. Brown may have trouble producing in the run-heavy offense in Philadelphia.

Everyone fails. Even the best person you know has failed countless times in their lifetime and is probably struggling with something right this minute. Failure is amplified parallel to the raising of stakes. Mathematically speaking, our emotional response is equal to the delta between result and expectation. No wonder so many fantasy managers set themselves up for a sweaty tilt every season! We are hardwired to be risk-averse, but also hopeful and ambitious. We are a psychological paradox, wagering our sanity on the health and performance of professional athletes. Just writing this gives me nail-biting anxiety.

It may come as a shock, but there cannot be 50 wide receivers in the top 24 for fantasy football this season. Whether it be through injury or underperformance relative to acquisition cost, the WR position is once again setting up to be awfully difficult to predict.

There are tools at our disposal to tip the odds in our favor. Whether it be through informative articles like this one, or hard data and analysis from sources like Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception (RP), fantasy fanatics no longer suffer from a dearth of information. Since the only certainty is that only a handful of our favorite fantasy WRs will meet or exceed expectations, I have uncovered some of them who I believe will bust in 2022.

Since “bust” carries such a heavily negative connotation, I will add a preface that these predictions are independent of injuries. Inevitably, some of the WRs will disappoint fantasy managers by missing time. The analysis and projection included assumes the full health of each player and is based on on-field merit alone (relative to ADP).

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A.J. Brown (WR – PHI)

The Ole Miss duo of freakish WRs have provided NFL fans with many unforgettable moments. Where DK Metcalf signed a lucrative extension to stay in Seattle, Brown was traded to the Eagles on draft day. The Titans decided to start over on their arduous hunt for an elite WR when they finally found one. We haven’t seen Treylon Burks in the NFL yet, but he has some pretty big shoes to fill in Nashville.

My contention with A.J. Brown in fantasy is that I sort of view him as the Nick Chubb of WRs. Brown’s incredible play on the field is better suited for standard leagues than the vastly popular PPR scoring format. His best season came in 2020 when he posted 11 touchdowns and 249 PPR points en route to a WR12 finish.

The move from Tennessee to Philadelphia is widely considered a lateral move for Brown, even if it is a huge upgrade for Eagles QB Jalen Hurts. Both teams are staunchly run-first and have a maddening balance of target share in the passing game. I would argue that the Titans were more overtly putting A.J. Brown in mismatch situations than the Eagles will deploy in 2022.

Another damning similarity to Chubb is the presence and strong utilization of players under him on the depth chart. Where the Browns allocate snaps and touches to Kareem Hunt that stunt Chubb’s fantasy upside, so too will the Eagles with DeVonta Smith, Dallas Goedert, Quez Watkins and others. The Eagles’ passing game will need to be significantly better to support A.J. Brown at his current ADP (WR9), especially with the promising career progression of Smith. The upside is there with Brown, but I still maintain a belief that his pathway to that end is narrower than with WRs in better situations.

Courtland Sutton (WR – DEN)

There was some heinous offensive tape to watch from the 2021 season. Matt Nagy’s Bears, Urban Meyer’s Jaguars and Vic Fangio’s Broncos head the list of shame. Denver’s difficulties did not include their two-headed rushing attack with Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon. The passing game, however, was atrocious.

Between Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater, the Broncos only averaged 211 passing yards per game in 2021. Jerry Jeudy’s ankle injury really set them back after Week 1 (he had 72 yards before halftime). From that point, Courtland Sutton was the man. Even in his first season after ACL surgery, Denver needed him to step up and become the alpha he was in 2019.

Sutton’s 2021 season was largely a disappointment. Even though he was active in all 17 games, nearly half (48.9%) of his fantasy production was condensed into a mere three games. All three of those games came in the first six weeks of the season when Jeudy was inactive.

Sutton’s target share and production plummeted when the first-round pick from Alabama returned from his high ankle sprain. According to RP, Sutton was not only a victim of awful QB performance and shoddy play calling. His efficacy in running routes and gaining separation was subpar. His 60.7% success rate against man coverage was woefully in the 21st percentile of all WRs charted. He was only marginally better against zone coverage, measuring in the 36th percentile there.

There is plenty of reason for optimism about Sutton. The simultaneous arrival of offensive-minded head coach Nathaniel Hackett and Pro Bowl QB Russell Wilson have fantasy managers buzzing about this passing attack. Sutton is a gifted vertical receiver who dominates at the catch point, matching well to our memories of Wilson hitting DK Metcalf on some gorgeous downfield bombs. Unfortunately for Sutton, he is not DK Metcalf. Heck, last season he wasn’t even Nico Collins.

If not for three isolated spike weeks, Sutton would have been a massive bust at a depressed ADP in 2021. The Broncos will still feature a potent rushing attack headed by Williams and Gordon in 2022. Jeudy fits the versatile Davante Adams role in the Hackett scheme like a glove, freeing him up for the lion’s share of high-percentage targets from Wilson. Sutton, as the downfield dominator and contested catch crusher, will undoubtedly exceed the low bar he set in 2021. I fear that it still won’t amount to his performance relative to a rising ADP of WR21.

Amon-Ra St. Brown (WR – DET)

The Lions have absolutely crushed the last two NFL drafts. Penei Sewell, Aidan Hutchinson and Jameson Williams are the marquee names, but many still laud the fourth-round selection in 2021 as their best.

“The Sun God” has already far surpassed his draft capital. When injuries struck Detroit’s passing weapons last season, St. Brown answered the bell. He finished 2021 with six consecutive games with double-digit targets and ended the season as WR21 and a league winner. That happened. It will not happen in 2022.

St. Brown did well to rise with the tide in a perfect storm of opportunity and an expanding role in the Lions’ offense. That opportunity in 2022 is merely a fragment of what it was last year. Two-way RB D’Andre Swift is the motor in the Motor City. The Lions’ leading receiver, TE TJ Hockenson is also back to full strength. Detroit added speed demon Jameson Williams from Alabama with the 12th overall pick in the draft and physical freak DJ Chark on the other side.

The prospects of a slot receiver overcoming this much competition for targets in a run-heavy scheme to pay off at an ADP of WR20 are bleak, even if he had a better QB than Jared Goff. As good as St. Brown is and will be, my expectation is that he will have a similar season to Hunter Renfrow. Renfrow is appropriately going at WR33, taking a hit from the arrival of Davante Adams and the assumed healthy return of Darren Waller. Rostering St. Brown at his current ADP is essentially chasing last year’s points and ignoring the mitigating factors at play this season.

Amari Cooper (WR – CLE)

Now that the perverted elephant in the room has been addressed, the Browns receiving corps is seeing a bump in ADP. I advise everyone to proceed with caution. Cooper is not the same player he was as a Raider and early on with the Cowboys. Cleveland got a sweet deal to acquire the Pro Bowl WR for a ham sandwich and a crisp $20 bill, but Jerry Jones might still get the last laugh.

Cooper has never measured out to be as great of a route runner as is billed in his reputation. He has finished as a top-12 WR in only one season in the NFL out of seven. To make matters worse, he was charted as having his worst season in 2021 on the league’s best offense. The Alabama alum was predictably the off-ball Z receiver in Dallas, freeing him from the clamps of press coverage. He still only ranked in the 26th and 27th percentiles respectively versus man and zone coverage last season according to RP.

The Kevin Stefanski regime in Cleveland has not exactly been a WR’s dream. Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry’s remarkable skill sets were stunted immensely, triggering the former to escape to LA to chase a ring (and get it). Cooper is on the decline in his career and now moves into a slow-moving, run-centric system that is the antithesis of his time in Dallas. Deshaun Watson is a great QB, but will not see the field until Week 13 at the earliest. By then, Cooper’s fantasy ceiling will be weighed down by the bricks thrown at him by Jacoby Brissett.

Some fantasy managers will spin the narrative to justify Amari Cooper at his WR27 ADP. It doesn’t seem outrageous, or unattainable. The immense concentration of talent at the top of the WR position for fantasy football leads me to believe that the odds are not in Cooper’s favor to pay off in 2022. I would rather roster a younger receiver on the rise and take a chance on a breakout than put my faith in a diminishing flame that has landed in Cleveland, of all places.

CTAs


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