After blockbuster seasons by Cooper Kupp, Deebo Samuel, and Ja’Marr Chase in 2021, NFL teams and fantasy drafters alike are fixated on finding the next great emerging wide receiver. In this previous article, we examined ambiguous receiver situations – team situations where there was no clear alpha and two wide receivers on that team were drafted in the 25-100 range by ADP. From 2016 to 2021, receivers from these ambiguous situations hit as top-24 WRs 53.8-percent of the time. To gain an even greater edge, let’s hone in on some specific receivers who are best positioned to ascend from ambiguity in 2022.
Past Performance Predicts Future Success
40 Ambiguous receiver situations occurred over the past six years (2016-2021). If you simply drafted the player with the better ADP in those situations, you selected the higher-scoring receiver 55-percent of the time. Here’s the edge: instead of choosing the player with the better ADP, choose the player who recorded a top-12 or top-24 season most recently. If they both hit in a given season, choose the one who finished higher that season. If a fantasy gamer drafted the player who outperformed the other most recently, they chose the higher-scoring player 69.4-percent of the time! This tells us we too often draft based on projection, leading us to favor some receivers who have not yet produced (see Jerry Jeudy this season).
Which Receivers Will Ascend?
Below we identify receivers from ambiguous situations with strong potential to produce WR1 and WR2 seasons in 2022. We take the previous production into account. Some of these are also screaming values because of the difference in their ADP versus their same-team counterpart. And finally, we look at one specific situation with two players still on rookie contracts that is definitely an ambiguous duo to target!
Denver Broncos – Jerry Jeudy (ADP 47)/Courtland Sutton (ADP 49)
Courtland Sutton is the Broncos receiver who already displayed the ability to produce as a WR2 in 2019. He is currently being drafted slightly later than Jeudy although Jeudy has not yet hit as a WR1 or WR2. They both get a substantial quarterback upgrade in Russell Wilson. Wilson has sustained two top-24 (or better) receivers two seasons in a row (2020 and 2021). This makes it possible both Sutton and Jeudy hit, but Sutton has the edge having done it before. In addition to winning in routes all over the field, Sutton was at the top of the air yards chart in the NFL in 2021 (No. 8). Wilson is an elite deep-ball thrower, and he likely will throw it deep to Sutton over Jeudy.
Arizona Cardinals – Marquise Brown (ADP 38)/DeAndre Hopkins (ADP 74)
Marquise Brown recorded a WR2 season in 2021 while Deandre Hopkins was in the WR4 range. Hopkins played in only ten games in 2021 but was outdone by Brown’s per-game numbers in targets, receptions, and air yards. Hopkins will serve a six-game suspension to start the 2022 season. That means Brown’s main receiver target competition to begin the season will be unproven second-year player Rondale Moore and a declining A.J. Green. These are the reasons Brown is being drafted ahead of Hopkins, but Brown may still be undervalued. He reunites with his college quarterback, Kyler Murray. Murray is a significant passing upgrade from Lamar Jackson, outdoing Jackson in passing yards, passing attempts, yards per attempt, completion percentage and touchdowns in 2021. Brown himself is still an ascending player. He improved in each of the following categories: targets, receptions, and receiving yards over his first three NFL seasons.
Seattle Seahawks – D.K. Metcalf (ADP 43)/Tyler Lockett (ADP 89)
Tyler Lockett’s current eighth-round ADP is a value. This Seahawks receiver duo is one of the most stable receiver duos the last few seasons. See below their WR finishes in half-PPR since 2019 (D.K. Metcalf’s rookie year):
- 2019 – Lockett WR 14, Metcalf WR32
- 2020 – Lockett WR9, Metcalf WR7
- 2021 – Lockett WR13, Metcalf WR12
Tyler Lockett has one of the most consistently high ceilings in the NFL.
See for yourself. Lockett's last 3 season's 84th percentile weekly outcomes are tightly clustered and among the highest of all WRs. He's going at 90.3, WR44 on @UnderdogFantasy
DK Metcalf is WR21 at 44.5 pic.twitter.com/eJH37HvSJJ
— Bradley Stalder (@FFStalder) June 5, 2022
If both stay with Seattle, they will get the same new quarterback. Based on their current ADPs, however, drafters have decided this affects Lockett far more than Metcalf. Some of the rationale for Lockett’s value being depressed is that he was heavily reliant on downfield chemistry with Wilson. In 2021, however, Lockett’s average depth of target was only one yard greater than Metcalf’s. If Seattle acquires a decent quarterback like Jimmy Garoppolo, the ADP gap could close quickly. Time to exploit the value delta.
Kansas City Chiefs – Juju Smith-Schuster (ADP 56)/Skyy Moore (ADP 83)
Juju Smith-Schuster is the only receiver on the Chiefs who has ever hit in the top-24 amongst wide receivers. He has multiple top-12 (2018) or top-24 seasons (2017, 2020) on his résumé. Smith-Schuster is the alpha in this receiver corps with rookie Skyy Moore as the next best option. He also hooks up with one of the great young quarterbacks in the league in Patrick Mahomes. Smith-Schuster is also one of the best values in this ambiguous bunch. He is the number one receiver on a dynamic offense, still being selected in the fifth round of best ball drafts.
A Specific Ambiguous WR Situation: Two Ascending Receivers on Rookie Contracts
One other ambiguous situation stands out when looking at these team situations over the last six seasons. Four times from 2016 to 2021, two receivers on their rookie contracts, and both yet to hit as a top-12 or top-24 receiver, ranked in ADP from 25 to 100. See them below with their wide receiver finishes in parentheses:
- 2021 – Ja’Marr Chase (WR5) and Tee Higgins (WR22)
- 2021 – Deebo Samuel (WR2) and Brandon Aiyuk (WR36)
- 2019 – D.J. Moore (WR18) and Curtis Samuel (WR36)
- 2017 – Adam Thielen (WR10) and Stefon Diggs (WR19)
— New York Jets (@nyjets) May 18, 2022
Look at those wide receiver finishes. Four of eight hit in the top-24 and here is what is really amazing: all eight – every single one of them – finished in the top-36. These rookie situations are apparently some of the most ambiguous situations of all! The 2022 New York Jets’ top receivers Elijah Moore (ADP 68) and Garrett Wilson (ADP 97) represent one of these ambiguous situations. Moore and Wilson are both ascending rookies being drafted between ADP 25 and 100 and as their team’s WR1 and WR2. Look for both to finish in the top-36 in 2022. They are also some of the lowest-priced of the ambiguous duos this season.
Join the Wide Receiver Revolution
Rookie wide receivers are attractive, but we tend to over-project their success. Most of them enter a receiving corps with an already established alpha. However, a growing number of young wide receivers are becoming difference-makers in fantasy. Target wide receivers from ambiguous duos who have already recorded a top-12 or top-24 finish in the past, or duos with two unproven but high-pedigree first- or second-year players. These ambiguous situations are a great place to find wide receiver value. As other fantasy managers move away from uncertainty, lean in and find some ascending stars. The NFL and fantasy managers continue to hunt the next great wide receiver uprising. The wide receiver revolution is real.