Our analysts have put together fantasy football outlooks for all fantasy-relevant players. You can find them on our player pages and via our Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR). These will be updated throughout the preseason to help you navigate your fantasy football drafts utilizing our bevy of tools, including our FREE draft simulator and cheat sheet creator. We’ll cover players in different groups to help you identify those to target and others to avoid. Let’s take a look at wide receivers to target in the running back dead zone.
The Running Back Dead Zone is generally referred to as rounds 3-6, which historically speaking has been an area in drafts where running backs have performed poorly compared to wide receivers drafted in a similar range. As the wider public has become more aware of the Dead Zone in the last two years it has led to changes in the players we see there.
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Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Targets in the RB Dead Zone
Here are 2023 fantasy football wide receivers to draft in the running back dead zone. Derek Brown provides his outlook for the following receivers.
There’s only one explanation for Diontae Johnson‘s 2022 season. After an offseason workout in rainy Pittsburgh, he entered his house with an umbrella still drawn and tripped over his black cat, which sent him hurdling into his full-length entryway mirror, thus shattering it into a million pieces. This unlikely yet possible turn of events is the only possible explanation for his wretchedly unlucky season. Despite ranking 13th in target share, tenth in red zone targets, and the WR20 in expected fantasy points per game, Johnson finished the season with zero touchdowns as the WR39 in fantasy points per game. Kenny Pickett‘s play was a factor, but Johnson simply had a terrible run-out. Regression is coming for Johnson and this offense. Johnson still ranked 11th in total route wins, so no skill dropoff is involved here. It’s just a case of legendarily bad luck. Johnson is a WR3 with top-15 upside.
Since Jaxon Smith-Njigba was announced as the Seahawks’ pick in the NFL Draft, worries have been circulating about Seattle’s usage of three wide receiver sets and his target share with D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. These are valid concerns, but before I push back against them, let’s discuss Smith-Njigba as a talent. In 2021 he was first in yards per route run and first in PFF receiving grade (minimum 50 targets per PFF) while drawing a 22.7% target share alongside Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. Smith-Njigba gets typecast as a low aDOT player, but he has also shown the ability to win downfield. In 2021 he was ninth in yards per route run and tied for first in PFF’s deep receiving grade (minimum 15 deep targets per PFF). Smith-Njigba is an elite-level prospect. With that said, I have a hard time believing the Seahawks burnt a first-round pick on a player they don’t plan to feature, so I believe they will run a ton of 11 personnel in 2023. Regarding the subject of target share, Smith-Njigba can put those concerns to rest quickly and hit the ground running as the second option in this passing attack. While I don’t want to take anything away from Tyler Lockett, he hasn’t been a high-end target earner. Over the last four seasons, he’s never ranked higher than 36th in target per route run rate. The addition of Smith-Njigba can allow Lockett to return to stretching the field. Since 2019 he’s ranked top-12 in deep targets twice. Last year he logged the second-lowest aDOT of his career and the lowest YAC per reception mark. Smith-Njigba should garner targets early and often in 2023. Draft him and enjoy.
Treylon Burks is staring down a sophomore season with tons of opportunities at his disposal to put his disappointing rookie season in the past. Burks saw a 17.6% target share last season while ranking 35th in air-yard share and 32nd in yards per route run. While none of these numbers will inspire confidence in Burks entering year two, his 17th-ranked route win rate and 24th-ranked open rate (tied with Marquise Brown, per ESPN analytics) should. Burks enters the offseason with only Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, Kyle Philips, and Chigoziem Okonkwo to compete for targets in 2023. Burks falls in the WR3/4 bucket, but he could easily crush that expectation.
Last year Adam Thielen earned a 17.0% target share and 107 targets. He did this while ranking outside the top 55 wide receivers in yards per route run and route win rate (per Playerprofiler.com). Why can’t a talented first-round wide receiver match (or easily exceed) these volume numbers in his first season? Addison can. He absolutely can. Addison has ranked 22nd or higher in yards per route run and PFF receiving grade in each of his last two collegiate seasons (minimum 50 targets per PFF). The Vikings were third in neutral passing rate and second in red zone passing rate last season. I don’t see them dropping outside the top 5-10 teams this season in either category. Addison could be a WR2 in fantasy if he can pass T.J. Hockenson in the target pecking order.
Dotson’s overall rookie season numbers don’t jump off the page. He was the WR38 in fantasy with a 15.9% target share (56th), a 24% air yard share, and 1.50 yards per route run (50th). All of these figures paint an inaccurate picture of his true upside. After he returned from injury, the season’s final five games offered a clearer view of what a breakout sophomore season for Dotson could look like. In Weeks 13-18 of last season, Dotson ranked 20th in target share (24%), third in end zone target share (50%), 17th in weighted opportunity, and 13th in yards per route run. Sam Howell or Jacoby Brissett at the helm in 2023 doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence, but Dotson is a skilled wide receiver well-versed from his college days in dealing with pitiful quarterback play. Dotson is a WR4/5 that could take a huge leap in his second season. I won’t rule out him giving Terry McLaurin a run for his money for the team lead in targets this season. Investing in talented second-year wide receivers are strong bets to make.