The running back dead zone has generally been rounds three through six. Running backs in this range have struggled historically compared to wide receivers and even tight ends in the same span.
A couple of factors go into the running back dead zone. The top one is fantasy players pushing running backs up in the ADP after seeing an early run at the position in the first two rounds. However, that has changed over the past year or so. The general public has become more willing to draft wide receivers early in their drafts. With more wide receivers getting drafted in the first two rounds, running backs have been more appropriately ranked and drafted.
While the dead zone has shrunk, there are still several wide receivers fantasy players want to target in that draft range over running backs. Below are my three favorite wide receivers to draft inside the dead zone this season.
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Wide Receivers to Target In the Running Back Dead Zone
Chris Olave (NO): ADP 30.3 | WR12
The fact that Olave is getting drafted in the middle of the third round as the 12th wide receiver off the board is a steal for fantasy players. Last year the former Ohio State star was the WR25, averaging 10.8 half-point PPR fantasy points per game. The rookie was a solid fantasy producer despite catching passes from Andy Dalton and Jameis Winston. Thankfully, the Saints added Derek Carr in free agency. While he isn’t a superstar, the veteran is a massive upgrade over any quarterback New Orleans has had since Drew Brees’ prime years.
Meanwhile, Olave and Garrett Wilson were the only two rookie wide receivers with over 1,000 receiving yards last season. Yet, Olave is getting drafted nearly an entire round later than his former Ohio State teammate. More importantly, the Saints lost Jarvis Landry and Marquez Callaway this offseason, replacing them with only a sixth-round rookie and some career journeymen wide receivers. Yes, New Orleans kept Michael Thomas. However, the former superstar has only played 20% of the games over the past three years. No one on the roster can challenge Olave’s projected massive target share. The second-year player has a long-shot chance to be the overall WR1 in 2023.
Keenan Allen (LAC): ADP 45.3 | WR18
Allen struggled with injuries earlier in his career. The veteran played only nine games over the 2015 and 2016 seasons because of injuries. However, he stayed mostly healthy until missing seven games last year with a hamstring injury. Unfortunately, the injury caused Allen to end the 2022 season as the WR41, scoring 131 half-point PPR fantasy points, the lowest total of his career when the veteran played at least nine games. However, the star receiver was still one of the best when healthy last season.
While the hamstring injury cost Allen almost half the year, the veteran was the WR12 on a points-per-game basis, averaging 13.1 fantasy points per contest. Last season was the sixth consecutive year Allen averaged at least 12.8 fantasy points per game. Furthermore, the star receiver averaged 15 half-point PPR fantasy points per game in the eight games after returning from the hamstring injury. Over a 17-game pace, the veteran would have ended last season as the WR6 with that fantasy points per game average. While the Chargers added Quentin Johnston in the offseason, the rookie is mostly a threat to Mike Williams‘ fantasy production, not Allen’s.
Drake London (ATL): ADP 62.7 | WR23
Many thought London would be the top-scoring rookie wide receiver last season. Atlanta lacked pass catchers with upside outside of Kyle Pitts. Therefore, fantasy experts believed the rookie would have a significant target share and fantasy upside. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned as he ended his rookie season as the WR35, averaging 8.4 half-point PPR fantasy points per game. However, London did finish 22nd among wide receivers in targets (117) last year. Meanwhile, he has plenty of upside in 2023 after the Falcons didn’t improve their receiving core this offseason.
Atlanta had only three players with over 31 targets last season – London (117), Olamide Zaccheaus (61), and Kyle Pitts (59). Zaccheaus left in free agency, while Pitts missed seven games last year. Instead of signing a high-priced free agent or spending their first-round pick on a wide receiver, the Falcons signed Mack Hollins and drafted Bijan Robinson. Yes, the rookie running back has significant receiving upside. However, he won’t stop London from having a sophomore-year breakout. Last season the wide receiver was held back by Marcus Mariota. He finished 27th in target quality rating and 31st in catchable target rate. Unless Desmond Ridder is as awful as Mariota was last year, London has top-12 upside.