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2023 NFL Free Agency Primer: Wide Receiver (Fantasy Football)

2023 NFL Free Agency Primer: Wide Receiver (Fantasy Football)

Nothing kicks off the start of a brand-new football season better than NFL free agency, which is sure to involve plenty of player movement. Teams can place their franchise/transition tags on players as early as February 21, 2023, setting the stage for a wild offseason sooner than you think. The NFL never ceases to provide entertainment for all 365 days of the calendar year, and 2023 is shaping up to be no different. Free agency officially kicks off on March 15th. But deals will likely already be in place with the legal tampering period starting March 13th at noon.

So grab your popcorn, and get ready for the free agency frenzy with the 2023 free agency primer. I’ll break down the most notable impending free agents across the four major fantasy positions – with some potential trade/cut candidates to widen the scope – through the lens of fantasy football to prepare you for the ensuing March Madness. This primer should also help you make optimal trades in your dynasty leagues and unearth values in early best ball drafts before the chaos occurs.

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2023 NFL Wide Receiver Free Agency Primer

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Jakobi Meyers

In a pretty weak wide receiver free agent class, there’s a case to be made that Jakobi Meyers is the best of the bunch. The former undrafted free agent finished as the WR32 in half-point scoring last season averaging 10.6 fantasy points per game (WR28). He posted a team-high 23% target share and 30% air yard share while averaging nearly 2.0 yards per route run. And he finally ended his TD drought with six touchdown scores in 2022, tripling his career average entering the year. With 23% target shares in back-to-back seasons, Meyers has cemented himself as a legitimate NFL wide receiver that will look to cash in big after amassing just over $6M through his first four seasons. He is a screaming value in early-season best ball drafts at WR50.

JuJu Smith-Schuster

The Chiefs have expressed interest in bringing back JuJu Smith-Schuster, who was pretty underwhelming from a fantasy football perspective in Year 1 with the KC Chiefs. He commanded just an 18% target share as the WR28 overall and WR37 in points per game (9.7). However, his numbers were drastically impacted with just three receiving TDs. He converted just one of his 15 red zone targets into a score in Weeks 1-17. Numbers like that tend to regress positively, especially if Patrick Mahomes is your quarterback. It should also be noted that Smith-Schuster led the KC wide receiver room with 78 catches (18th) for 933 yards (23rd) in 16 games. Smith-Schuster’s yardage was the fourth-most among all WRs with fewer than four touchdowns. He was an integral part of the Chiefs’ short passing game – 11th-lowest aDOT – ranking 7th in the NFL in yards after the catch per reception (5.9), 12th in receiving EPA and third in yards per route run on targets from 0-9 yards. The 26-year-old also played a key role in Super Bowl 57, commanding a team-high nine targets (38% target share) for seven receptions and 53 receiving yards. JuJu’s early best ball ADP at WR47 seems far too cheap if he returns to the Chiefs.

Mecole Hardman

Part of the reason why Smith-Schuster struggled to find the end zone was due to Mecole Hardman. The 24-year-old free agent scored in half of his games played (eight) in 2022 before missing the second half of the season with a hip injury. The former Georgia product averaged more points per game than Smith-Schuster (10.2) despite just a 10% target share as the WR31 overall. It remains to be seen if the Chiefs will look to retain Hardman with Skyy Moore and Kadarius Toney on the roster, who offer similar skill sets. That could easily place Hardman on a new team in 2023 as opposing offenses look to replicate the Andy Reid offense with “gadget” players of their own. Four years into his NFL career, Hardman has yet to shake the ancillary role, so fantasy managers shouldn’t hold their breath hoping for a Year 5 fantasy breakout.

D.J. Chark

D.J. Chark did exactly what he was required to do in the Lions’ offense: operate as the team’s primary deep/perimeter wide receiver threat while rookie Jameson Williams slowly rehabbed from a torn ACL. Chark led the team in air yards share (30%) when healthy and in total deep targets (15). And when he came back to a full-time role from his early-season injury, Chark ended on an extremely high note. From Weeks 13-17, the former Jaguar averaged 10.5 fantasy points and 61 receiving yards per game. He went over 90 receiving yards in half of his last six games played. At just 26 years old, Chark has the exact archetype for any passing game looking to add a vertical threat.

Odell Beckham Jr.

In 2021 as a Los Angeles Ram, Odell Beckham was PFF’s 33rd-graded wide receiver (72.2), averaging a 19% target share and 12.4 fantasy points per game from Week 12 through the divisional round. OBJ had his best game with the Rams in the 2021 NFC title game, hauling in nine of 11 targets for 113 receiving yards (24% target share). And he looked well on his way to another massive game in the Super Bowl after catching two passes for 52 yards and one score in the first half alone. Unfortunately for Beckham, he tore his ACL, putting his entire 2022 season on hiatus. Even though it seemed like he would make his return to a Super Bowl-caliber team toward the end, (he met with Dallas, New York and Buffalo before the postseason) OBJ did not suit up as he continued to rehab his devastating injury. With a full year of recovery in the bag, Beckham is expected to return to football in 2023 and offers the most fantasy upside of any WR on the free agent market.

Allen Lazard

Allen Lazard had a golden opportunity in 2022 to be “the” guy for Aaron Rodgers. Davante Adams was traded to the Las Vegas Raiders, and second-round pick Christian Watson was sidelined by injuries to start his NFL career. But Lazard finished the season as the WR36 in points per game and the WR33 overall despite high-end usage. He finished 7th in the NFL in targets of 20-plus air yards (28) and 17th in red zone targets while commanding a team-high 20% target share. Lazard just failed to convert his elite usage into consistent production. And it was very apparent that he was no longer the alpha in the passing game when Watson was a healthy and active participant in the lineup. In Weeks 1-9, Lazard averaged nearly 13 fantasy points per game. From Weeks 10-17, the Packers WR notched just 6.5 fantasy points per game. His big-bodied frame at 6-foot-5 and 227 pounds will be enticing for NFL teams looking for size at the position, but Lazard still won’t be anything more than an ancillary piece of a passing game. Teams with strong run games might find him more favorable due to his prowess as a run blocker.

Darius Slayton

Darius Slayton went from off-season trade/cut candidate to WR1 in the Giants offense as the team patchworked a functioning receiving room during the latter portion of the season. From Weeks 5-17, Slayton was the WR31 in total points (WR39 points per game) averaging 8.8 fantasy points, 59 receiving yards and nearly six targets per game (20% target share). The former Day 3 pick was used exclusively as Big Blue’s primary deep threat with a dominant 37% air yards share – a top-12 mark among all WRs. Similar to Chark, Slayton should be able to slide seamlessly into a new offense or return to the Giants as a legitimate vertical threat.

2023 NFL Draft Guide: Prospect Rankings & Player Profiles

Richie James

One could argue that Slayton’s numbers could have been even better if not for the late-season surges by Isaiah Hodgins and fellow free agent Richie James Jr. The Giants’ slot WR was thrown back into the starting role in Week 12 after rookie Wan’Dale Robinson went down with a torn ACL. From Weeks 12-17, James led New York with a 22.4% target share averaging 11.3 fantasy points, 5.6 receptions and 55 receiving yards per game (WR16 overall). James tied a bow on the year with the league’s highest catch rate (82.9%). Coming off a career year, James could be a sneaky addition for a team looking to improve their passing game over the middle of the field. He could be viewed as expendable by New York with them getting Robinson back in 2023. The rookie earned a 24% target rate per route run when healthy this season, playing 81% of his snaps from the slot.

Parris Campbell

The offseason hype train was all over Parris Campbell, who finally stayed healthy in 2022. And to his credit, Campbell did have a pseudo-breakout year despite a dumpster fire Colts offense. He set career-high counting stats in catches, yards and targets, albeit accompanied by horrible efficiency numbers. His yards per route run ranked second-worst among all WRs with at least 65 targets (1.03). Campbell was also just one of three WRs to run a route on at least 88% of dropbacks and fail to eclipse 85 targets (Gabe Davis, George Pickens). But the fact that he stayed healthy for an entire season should generate interest for him on the open market and for savvy fantasy managers. He will turn 26 in July and still has enticing 4.3-speed that NFL GMs tend to drool over. We could easily see him reuniting with former Colts coaches in either Philadelphia or Carolina.

Mack Hollins

After spending the majority of his career as an NFL special-teamer, Mack Hollins played a massive role in the Raiders’ passing attack in 2022. He finished 10th in routes run per dropbacks (93%) and commanded 1,153 air yards as the clear-cut No. 2 wide receiver. The journeyman receiver’s best landing spot would be back with Josh McDaniels in Las Vegas, where he is clearly valued more like an actual wideout. Just don’t get carried away with Hollins as anything more than a depth fantasy WR4/5. He is almost 30 years old and posted the best finish of his career as the WR41 in half-point scoring.

Sterling Shepard

Entering his age-30 season, Sterling Shepard will once again be returning to NFL action after a second-straight season-ending injury. In Week 15 of the 2021 season, he suffered a torn achilles. Less than a year later, Shepard tore his ACL in Week 3 of the 2022 season. It was a shame for him to get hurt so early into the season because he looked primed for a massive bounce-back season from the get-go. In just three games, Shepard commanded a 27% target share (15th) and 41% air yards share (5th). Proving to teams that he is fully recovered will likely play a massive role in his free agency interest.

Jarvis Landry

Jarvis Landry couldn’t stay healthy in his first season with the Saints, playing in just eight full games. And even when he was on the field, he was hardly a major contributor. Only once did he surpass 40 receiving yards (Week 1). He posted career lows across several efficiency metrics including yards per route run and yards after the catch per reception while being targeted on fewer than 18% of his routes run. Landry will be 30 years old when the 2023 season begins and he seems destined to take on more of a veteran-presence role than one of a featured playmaker.

Greg Dortch

It’s possible that Greg Dortch doesn’t even get a chance to sign with a new team as a restricted free agent because Arizona can offer another team one of various qualifying tends that come with the right of first refusal and/or draft-pick compensation. However, under new management, there is zero allegiance to Dortch, so I’d bet the team lets him walk. And he is an interesting wide receiver to take a flier on because he showed flashes when he got opportunities in 2022. In the six games Dortch played at least 70% of the snaps, he averaged seven receptions, nine targets and 69 receiving yards per game.

Honorable Mentions (Age)

Beyond our fantasy football content, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Football Tools as you prepare for your draft this season. From our free mock Draft Simulator – which allows you to mock draft against realistic opponents – to our Draft Assistant – which optimizes your picks with expert advice – we’ve got you covered this fantasy football draft season.

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