The NFL is stacked with talented wideouts. Still, gamers are willing to pay a premium in drafts for studs. The opportunity cost for spending a premium pick on a wide receiver is bypassing a top-shelf running back, one of the game-changing quarterbacks or Travis Kelce. Could there be a way to get the best of all worlds? Maybe. The following three receivers have the potential to outperform their expert consensus ranking (ECR) and average draft position (ADP) and elevate their play to a WR1 level if things click.
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WR3s with WR1 Potential in 2023
Terry McLaurin (WR – WSH): 58.8 ECR and WR25
McLaurin has the smallest gap to close between being a WR3, as he’s drafted, and a WR1 (i.e., a top-12 wideout). So, it’s not bold to include him in this piece. The fifth-year pro belongs in this article, though.
Washington elevated the offense’s floor this year by signing Jacoby Brissett to compete with Sam Howell for the starting quarterback job. Ideally, Howell wins the job and excels. However, Brissett enabled a high-end wideout in a stellar season as a stopgap for the Browns last year.
Amari Cooper was the WR13 in half-point point-per-reception (PPR) scoring in Brissett’s 11 starts from Week 1 through Week 12, and he would nudge up to the WR12 if excluding Michael Thomas‘s three-game campaign.
According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Cooper was 17th out of 89 wideouts targeted at least 30 times in Week 1 through Week 12 in Yards per Route Run (2.10 Y/RR). Cooper was a vertical weapon for Brissett, owning a 13.5-yard average depth of target (aDOT).
Fortunately, McLaurin thrives in a field-stretching role. He has a 12.7-yard aDOT in his career, a 13.1-yard aDOT last year and at least a 13.1-yard aDOT in three of four professional seasons. McLaurin has played well in his young career, despite following the Allen Robinson career arc of being saddled with wretched quarterback play.
Since his rookie season in 2019, McLaurin has been the WR26, WR20, WR35 and WR24 in half-point PPR points per game (PPG) among wideouts who played more than three games during those four seasons. Thus, McLaurin’s outplayed his WR25 ADP in two of four years, with a floor of WR35. McLaurin can leap from a WR2 drafted as a WR3 to a WR1 if the passing attack is slightly better this year. Thus, he’s an ideal target at his ECR.
Christian Kirk (WR – JAC): 68.2 ECR and WR31
Kirk was paid handsomely to join the Jaguars in free agency last year. He rewarded his new employer with the most productive season in his five-year career. Kirk also panned out for gamers who selected him last year, ranking as the WR21 in half-point PPR PPG among wideouts who played more than three games.
Per Pro-Football-Reference, Kirk had a career-high 65.2 receiving yards per game and eight touchdowns last year. He also stepped his game up in the postseason, averaging 7.5 receptions and 65.0 receiving yards per game while splashing paydirt twice. Calvin Ridley will join the fold after the Jaguars acquired him in a trade last year, and the NFL recently reinstated him from a suspension.
Ridley could cut into Kirk’s production. However, he could elevate an ascending offense to a new height which benefits Kirk, too. Head coach Doug Pederson did a masterful job cleaning up Urban Meyer’s mess. First, he ran an uptempo offense. According to Football Outsiders, the Jags were ninth in situation-neutral pace. Second, he helped Trevor Lawrence tap into the upside, which made him the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Understandably, Lawrence’s play improved as the year went on. Per PFF, he was their 21st-ranked passer out of 35, with at least 150 dropbacks from Week 1 through Week 11. After Jacksonville’s bye in Week 11, Lawrence earned PFF’s seventh-highest passing grade through the Super Bowl out of 32 quarterbacks who dropped back at least 100 times.
The Jaguars are on the rise, and Kirk is an integral part of the offense. Kirk could also be the No. 1 wideout if Ridley fails to hit the ground running after missing more than half of the 2021 season and all of the 2022 campaign. Kirk wasn’t far from finishing as a WR1 in 2022 and could take a step forward to the next level this season.
Kadarius Toney (WR – KC): 110.9 ECR and WR44
The Super Bowl champion Chiefs were an offensive juggernaut last season, ranking first in yards per play (6.4) and scoring offense (29.2 points per game). Patrick Mahomes didn’t skip a beat without Tyreek Hill. Yet, there’s room for improvement in the receiver corps, and Toney could add a dynamic spark after getting his feet wet following an in-season trade from the Giants to the Chiefs last year.
JuJu Smith-Schuster left the Chiefs in free agency. However, even before the club’s most productive wide receiver exited, James Palmer of the NFL Network tweeted Kansas City’s hope of retaining their pass-catching corps and an eye-catching expectation for Toney.
The thought in KC right now is Patrick Mahomes is expected to be throwing the same core group of guys he ended the season with.
– Toney (who the #chiefs believe will be WR1 in 2023)
– The plan is to bring Ju Ju back
– Skyy Moore
– James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) March 7, 2023
Being the No. 1 wideout for the Chiefs, even with Travis Kelce presumably leading the team in pass-catching production, can be a boon for Toney’s outlook. But will he seize the opportunity? That’s not guaranteed. Injuries have hampered him through two seasons in the NFL.
Thankfully, he’s flashed brilliance in his young career and Kansas City’s offense. In 10 games for the Chiefs, he was targeted on 29.4% of his 85 routes, converting 25 targets into 21 receptions for 221 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Toney also rushed six times for 73 yards and a touchdown.
As Toney’s high reception rate and juicy targets per route run rate suggested, head coach Andy Reid dialed up many layups for him. According to PFF, Toney had 10 receptions on 10 targets behind the line of scrimmage and eight on 11 from zero to nine yards downfield. However, Toney also had three receptions on four targets 20-plus yards downfield.
In Big Blue’s unimaginative offense as a rookie in 2021, Toney earned a target on 27.0% of his routes. As was the case in his limited time in Kansas City, he was force-fed high-percentage targets on the Giants, corraling 12 receptions on 13 targets behind the line of scrimmage and 21 of 29 from zero to nine yards downfield. Still, Toney had four receptions on six targets from 10 to 19 yards and two on five 20-plus yards downfield. Perhaps, offensive guru Reid can help Toney expand his production in the medium and deep passing attack. And, of course, rocket-armed second-reaction whiz Mahomes can help Toney immensely, too. As a result, taking a shot on Toney’s dynamism turning into a fantasy football WR1 season at the cost of a mid-tier WR4 is exciting.
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Josh Shepardson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Josh, check out his archive and follow him @BChad50.