As you stare at the draft board, debating who to take with your next selection, the clock is ticking down, and you look back at your roster one last time. You know your lineup is looking sharp, but who should you take as your WR3? It may seem inconsequential when you’re feeling giddy about the top playmakers on your roster, but this is where league winners come from.
Before Amon-Ra St. Brown was en route to becoming a fantasy force and finishing as WR7, he was being drafted as the WR31 last year. DeVonta Smith finished as the WR9 after being drafted at WR35, while Amari Cooper, who was drafted as WR34, landed at WR10 on the year. Even Christian Kirk, who I wrote about last offseason, took his WR40 average draft position (ADP) all the way to a WR12 finish.
If you drafted one of these players at their ADP, you likely had a good season. Let’s get ahead of the curve and see who this season’s candidates are.
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WR3s with WR1 Potential
Now that DeAndre Hopkins has been released, it’s inevitable that we will see Marquise “Hollywood” Brown’s WR38 ADP increase. We saw Brown operate without Hopkins in Weeks 1-6 last season when Hollywood was the WR5 during that stretch. The performance came with Kyler Murray healthy, a luxury that Brown does not currently have, but the upside is clear. During those six weeks, Brown scored three touchdowns and was held below 50 yards just once. Although his ADP may be on the rise, he’s still likely to be a value.
Last season, while attached to an inept offense, Jerry Jeudy finished as the point-per-reception (PPR) WR21 in points per game and WR22 overall. He played three of his 15 games with significant injuries, battling a high ankle sprain and a bruised sternum. If we remove those three games, Jeudy catapults all the way up to 16.5 points per game (PPG) and a WR12 finish. There’s an additional reason for optimism this season with the exit of Nathaniel Hackett and the arrival of Sean Payton.
Upon Hackett’s firing, Russell Wilson looked more like the QB we are used to, tallying four touchdown passes to go with 505 yards in the last two games. We know what Payton was able to pull out of Drew Brees, but less publicized is the fact that he produced eight WR1 seasons in his 15 years on the Saints sideline and his leading wide receiver finished in the top 20 in 11 of those 15 seasons.
Perhaps most importantly, we finally began to see Jeudy unlock his elite route running and ability to get open last season. The Broncos’ offense has become crowded, and we still need solid showings from Payton and Russ, but Jeudy has the potential to find himself in the WR1 range if things break right.
The third-year wide receiver breakout is mostly considered a thing of the past. It still comes to fruition quite often, but it’s far more common to see a second-year wide receiver breakout in the modern NFL. After being selected with the eighth pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, London is a candidate for a second-year breakout after posting 866 receiving yards and four touchdowns in his rookie season.
Nearly 40% of his yardage total (333 yards) came in the last four weeks with Desmond Ridder under center. Part of that can be attributed to London getting comfortable in the NFL, but there’s no doubt Ridder inspires more confidence than Marcus Mariota. London produced the second-highest target per route run rate with 32.4%. His 2.4 yards per route run placed him at 11th best, while his 2.09 yards per team pass attempt was 16th overall.
In addition, London’s 15 red zone targets were 18th most in the NFL. Long story short, London has many elements working in his favor of a big breakout season.
In a rare occurrence, Brandon Aiyuk makes the list after already turning in a breakout season. Despite finishing as the PPR WR15 last season, Aiyuk is being drafted as the WR33 this offseason. Meanwhile, his teammate Deebo Samuel who garners much of the spotlight, finished last season as WR38 but is being drafted as WR16.
It’s fair to note that Samuel missed four contests, but that’s not abnormal for Samuel. Aiyuk outscored Samuel on a per-game basis as well, with 13.4 points per game compared to 13 for Deebo. Regardless, the point here is not to diminish Deebo Samuel or compare his game with Aiyuk’s but rather to point out Aiyuk’s upside. No matter who is under center for the 49ers, Aiyuk’s consistent separation will allow him to garner a quality target share, and this just might be the season he takes over the top spot in San Francisco.
George Pickens and Diontae Johnson are being drafted right next to each other at WR36 and WR37, respectively. It’s possible either one of the two take a jump into WR1 territory this season, and PPR tends to favor the underneath targets like Johnson. Pickens, however, sported a 15.06 average depth of target (aDOT) for the third highest clip in the league to go along with his 28 deep targets, good for seventh most in the NFL.
He’s much more of a big play threat than Johnson, and the Steelers are in desperate need of more chunk plays downfield. Pickens finished 12th in yards per target (15.4) and 18th in fantasy points per target (1.96). If he builds on his 85 targets from last season with similar efficiency, Pickens is a no-brainer breakout pick.