9 Wide Receivers to Target in RB Dead Zone (2022 Fantasy Football)
It’s important to be flexible as you prepare and complete your fantasy football draft. There are a bevy of fantasy football draft strategies to consider, but flexibility and the ability to take what the draft board gives you is key. It’s good to know of the different strategies so you can keep calm and build a solid roster even as your leaguemates and sniping you and otherwise throwing you curves with their picks.
Over the past few years, the concept of the RB dead zone has become popularized by fantasy football content creators. For those new to the idea, the RB dead zone is generally referred to as rounds 3-6 in fantasy drafts where RB hit rates have been historically poor. If you have taken in much fantasy content this offseason, then you have likely heard of the dangers of drafting RBs from the dead zone. But if we’re not drafting running backs, who should you target? Glad you asked. Our analysts provide wide receivers to target in the RB Dead Zone.
Rankings noted using FantasyPros half-PPR Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR) and Consensus ADP.
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Wide Receivers to Target in RB Dead Zone
Entering Year 3, it looked like Courtland Sutton was on the cusp of true elite fantasy WR1 production, but his 2020 season was lost due to a torn ACL in Week 2. It was unclear how productive Sutton would be returning from the devastating knee injury.
But to start the 2021 season, the Broncos wide receiver looked like his old self. He averaged 13.8 fantasy points per game (17th) and had a 27% target share in Weeks 2-7 during the regular season.
It wasn’t until Jerry Jeudy‘s return from injury that Sutton – and the rest of the Broncos pass catchers – became obsolete in a crowded, run-heavy offense led by a combination of Lock/Teddy Bridgewater. Nevertheless, Sutton finished the season as the fantasy WR46.
Sutton has a real chance to recapture his elite form another year removed from his ACL injury. It also helps substantially that he has received an ultra upgrade at the quarterback position with Denver’s trade for Russell Wilson.
Wilson has always been an elite downfield passer – he had the sixth-highest passer rating on throws of 20-plus air yards last season – which plays heavily into Sutton’s strengths as a vertical threat.
Marquise Brown seems slated for a massive target share in the Arizona Cardinals’ pass-heavy offense.
Brown posted a top-12 target share last season (23%) with Baltimore. The speedy wideout also commanded a whopping 27% target share back in 2018 at Oklahoma – the last time he played with Murray. Christian Kirk was WR12 during the last four weeks without Hopkins in the lineup.
The Cardinals paid a premium to acquire Brown, so fantasy managers should expect them to use him plenty. Brace yourself for Brown to skyrocket up 2022 best-ball rankings as a top-20 fantasy WR option.
Gabriel Davis averaged 19.8 fantasy points per game (PPR) and 16.0 expected fantasy points per game in his last six games while running a route on 88% of dropbacks as the Bills finally emphasized his playing time in the offense.
As a strong bet to earn the No. 2 wide receiver job come opening day, Davis has a legitimate shot to be a reliable fantasy option in a Josh Allen-led offense in 2022.
The Baltimore Ravens traded Marquise Brown to the Arizona Cardinals this offseason, opening the WR1 role on offense. Bateman has the opportunity to step in and be the true No. 1 wide receiver for Lamar Jackson (QB – BAL) in 2022 and beyond.
With Brown’s 23% target share departure, Bateman can seize a massive role for fantasy as a high-end WR2. 2022 is Shoddy B breakout SZN.
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Darnell Mooney is already a star in the making. The third-year receiver looks primed to cement himself as the Chicago Bears’ true No. 1 wide receiver. He already operated as the team’s No. 1 for most of the 2021 season, ranking as the WR27 in half-point fantasy scoring through 17 weeks. Mooney also finished the last four weeks of the season ninth in target share (27%) and fifth in route participation (95%).
With nobody worth much outside of third-year tight end Cole Kmet as legitimate competition, Mooney should build off his 8th-ranked 24% target share from last season.
Pittman got the true WR1 treatment from the Colts coaching staff in 2021, running a route on 96% of offensive dropbacks – third to only Cooper Kupp (WR1) and Ja’Marr Chase (WR4) through 17 weeks. He also finished the season tied for the league’s eighth-highest target share (24%), which was 11 percentage points higher than the next closest Colt, Zach Pascal, at 13%.
He also made 18 highlight-reel contested catches – fourth most in the NFL. And his 31% target share from Weeks 13-18 cemented his place in Indy’s WR1 chair heading into 2022.
With Matt Ryan under center Pittman has the volume potential to be a top-12 fantasy option. Ryan has a history of fueling top-end fantasy WRs like Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, making a top-five finish not all that crazy for Big Mike in 2022.
Don’t forget that last season, Ridley as the Falcons’ No. 1 receiver owned the sixth-highest target rate per route run and ranked second among all wide receivers in expected fantasy points per game (16.5).
Mike Williams had the opportunity to take his talents elsewhere this offseason in free agency, but decided to stay in Los Angeles with quarterback Justin Herbert. Hard to argue with the choice to sign a three-year deal worth $60M attached to a young superstar quarterback, especially when that quarterback fueled a career-year.
He stormed out the gate in 2021 as the WR2 in fantasy through the first five weeks of the season, averaging 94.2 receiving yards and 1.2 receiving touchdowns per game.
Big Mike finished the season as the WR23 in fantasy points per game despite cooling off considerably in the later weeks in addition to leaving a boatload of touchdown production on the table.
He finished sixth in end-zone targets (16) but caught only five for touchdowns.
With positive TD regression on his side, Williams looks like a sneaky candidate to repeat his WR12 overall finish in the half-point scoring format.
Before Robert Woods hit the IR, he was the WR17 in half-PPR scoring per game. Van Jefferson saw elite usage playing on every down as the No. 3 receiver but didn’t follow up his playing time with any worthwhile production. Jefferson was WR35 overall on the season and outside the top 40 in points per game despite a top-tier 86% route participation.
Down the playoff stretch, Beckham Jr. averaged a 19% target share and 12.4 fantasy points per game from Week 12 through the divisional round (fantasy WR2).
Amon-Ra St. Brown cannot be denied. The Day 3 rookie silenced the doubters with an incredible hot streak down the stretch for the Detroit Lions commanding a 33% target share – 11 targets per game – en route to a WR3 PPR finish from Weeks 13-18.
But the elite late-season production comes with the caveat that De’Andre Swift and T.J. Hockenson were not healthy. Before their injuries, ASB was an essential non-factor outside a stretch from Weeks 4-6 where he commanded a 22% target share.
The Lions’ rookie wide receiver was an extreme outlier as he not only finished top-50 but 21st overall; that almost never happens with fourth-round picks.
The path for upside St. Brown showed last season is what we should be pursuing, but be mindful that it will likely take more injuries with first-round pick Jameson Williams and veteran D.J. Chark added to the roster this offseason.
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Mike Maher is an editor and content manager at FantasyPros and BettingPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive, follow him on Twitter @MikeMaher, and visit his Philadelphia Eagles blog, The Birds Blitz.