In this pass-heavy era of the NFL, wide receivers are as sought after by fantasy football managers as ever. Different from running backs, the equation for receiver success is a complicated one. They need help from their quarterback, game script, and teammates, but not too much help from their teammates in that their opportunity count is at risk.
Behind in research? Get a trade offer in your dynasty or redraft league? Not sure who to start or sit this week? Leverage PFN’s FREE fantasy tools — our Fantasy Football Draft Kit, Fantasy Football Trade Analyzer and Calculator, and Start/Sit Optimizer! Put the finishing touch on your A+ draft with 1 of our 425+ fantasy football team names.
Top WRs To Draft in Fantasy Football in 2023
The dance that is drafting the receiver position can be a tough one. At running back, it’s a constant search for volume, but the WR position requires some finesse as not all targets are the same. Are you looking for upside targets? Do you want a stable source of points that you can count on, with the understanding that a spike week is highly unlikely?
Personally, I want stability early and upside late. I’m willing to sacrifice target count in the later stages of the draft if I believe that player will carry top-25 upside on a reasonably consistent basis due to the big-play upside. With that in mind, here are the seven receivers that I’m clicking most often.
Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills
No one that I’m aware of is out on Stefon Diggs, but the amount of 12-team drafts I’m in that see him fall either to the turn or out of the first round altogether is a little disrespectful. I understand the raw upside of other players in that neighborhood, but I value the floor/ceiling combination with my first handful of picks, and few do it better than Buffalo’s WR1.
I could tell you that the next time Diggs fails to catch 100 balls as a member of the Buffalo Bills will be the first or that his TD count has increased each season while in Upstate New York. Or that, despite this usage, he was a squeaky wheel heading into camp about his role. Any and all of that would suffice as an argument to make Diggs a first-round pick.
But let’s look at the board. In his general ADP range …
- Tyreek Hill: Target challenger with some inherited QB risk
- CeeDee Lamb: New offensive coordinator
- A.J. Brown: Run first offense with a target challenger
- Davante Adams: QB change
I’ll pass on risk in the first round in favor of stability every single time, which has me landing on Diggs an awful lot in redraft formats.
Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers
You can go ahead and miss me with the concerns over his age in terms of it showing on the field. The man was on a career pace for catches prior to getting banged up last season and remains a savvy route runner that creates space in a hurry.
The concerns are two-fold for Keenan Allen entering 2023, and neither really move the needle in a significant way for me.
The first is the addition of Quentin Johnston, a big-bodied receiver seemingly built perfectly for Kellen Moore’s aggressive approach. I don’t disagree with any of that sentiment, I just don’t see him taking food off Allen’s plate the way he will Mike Williams, the current basketball body type that the Chargers use downfield.
The shift to Moore’s system is the other concern people seem to have. They’re under the impression that a vertical passing attack will leave a more short-range target like Allen under-used. Disagree. This preseason, Allen said that he’s assuming the CeeDee Lamb role, so that’s noteworthy.
But more importantly, a “vertical passing attack” doesn’t exclusively take shots downfield. Rather, an offense built like that is meant to threaten defenses of that potential, thus giving Allen even more room to operate on those underneath routes. I expect any dip in target count to be offset by the value of each individual target, making Allen a steal in drafts and a Soppe staple.
George Pickens, Pittsburgh Steelers
I will admit that part of this call is banking on intelligent decision-making by the coaching staff, but if I (a dumb researcher without an ounce of competitive football on my résumé) can highlight a basic flaw in offensive structure, my guess is that a multi-million dollar franchise can figure it out.
When you first tried to cook a steak, how’d that go? Probably not well, but you didn’t make the same mistakes and you improved with time.
Well, that’s the situation in Pittsburgh. The Steelers tried to play an aggressive brand of football in an effort to see what Kenny Pickett could do. As it turns out, their roster isn’t really built for that.
In 2022, Diontae Johnson saw his aDOT spike by 20.7%, and it resulted in one of the all-time weirdo seasons in NFL history (86 catches, zero TDs). On balls thrown 10 yards downfield, George Pickens saw eight fewer targets than Johnson, and yet, he had four more catches and 244 more yards. You tell me who the deep threat is on this offense.
I think Pittsburgh was directionally correct in Year 1 of the Pickett experience in that challenging defenses downfield is sharp. Pickett ranked 12th in aDOT over the second half of last season (27th in the first half). If that continues, Pickens could outperform his current ADP by a few rounds.
EXCUSE ME GEORGE PICKENS! pic.twitter.com/5CyjcRJ57r
— Nick Penticoff (@NickPenticoff) August 1, 2023
Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos
I’m not out on Jerry Jeudy, nor am I crazy bullish on Courtland Sutton. But as we’ve begun rolling out content in bunches, it’s become quite clear that I’m the most skeptical about the industry assuming that Jeudy is the unchallenged alpha in Sean Payton’s passing game.
First, there’s the role to evaluate. For his career, 82.8% of Sutton’s fantasy points have come when lined up out wide. If we are truly buying into Russell Wilson trending toward his Seattle days, that’s a worthwhile note, considering that from 2020-21, he was the top-rated perimeter passer in the game courtesy of the highest TD rate on those passes.
Then, there’s Jeudy. He’s great and offers plenty of upside, I’m not arguing that. But the gap in ADP is similar to Amari Cooper/Elijah Moore and Keenan Allen/Quentin Johnston. Like, what? How can you people operate with that level of certainty in Denver?
Over the past two seasons, Sutton has one fewer drop on 51 more targets than Jeudy. Again, I’m not saying he tops J-squared, I’m just not in the business of writing him off.
Donovan Peoples-Jones, Cleveland Browns
And now begins the “deep threats that I believe can be more” portion of the program. Donovan Peoples-Jones was one of four players last season who, on balls thrown 10 yards downfield, posted a 62% catch rate and 500 yards. The others?
- Justin Jefferson (ADP: 1st overall)
- Tyreek Hill (6th)
- Travis Kelce (7th)
Did I just put DPJ on a list with fantasy royalty? You bet I did.
The 24-year-old improved as a target earner last season (16.8% of his routes yielded a look, up from 14.1% in 2021), and Cleveland even upped his slot rate to 30.5%. We all want to bet on the Browns’ offense this season, and DPJ is a cheap way to get a piece of the pie!
Rashid Shaheed, New Orleans Saints
The Saints are one of the teams I’ve fallen more in love with as the preseason process has worn on, and Rashid Shaheed’s spike-ability is part of that. Part of the feedback I get when touting Shaheed is skill duplication with Chris Olave and him being the lesser of those two options. I get the angle, but the math doesn’t support that concern.
Terry McLaurin (10th in aDOT) and Tyreek Hill (15th) were both WR1s on their respective offenses with a downfield role … well, Jahan Dotson (sixth) and Jaylen Waddle (17th) had no issues in overachieving alongside them. Why can’t Olave and Shaheed be a version of that, given the pass trajectory of Derek Carr?
Carr’s development, aDOT
- 2018-19: 6.38 yards
- 2020-21: 7.78 yards
- 2022: 8.73 yards
Darius Slayton, New York Giants
Unique. When I’m digging down the ADP board, and it’s getting late on draft night, I want uniqueness. What Darius Slayton does isn’t necessarily unique in the scope of the NFL, but to the slot-loving Giants, his skill set puts him in position to possess a weekly ceiling that is rare for those surrounding him in ADP.
The 6’1” athlete owns a career aDOT of 13.4 yards over a 59-game sample, giving him a true profile of a deep-ball option. Not only is that unique in New York’s offense that seemingly has a different slot receiver for every day of the week, but it also blends nicely with Daniel Jones’ development.
Mr. Dimes has seen his completion percentage on passes thrown more than 10 yards increase each season, topping at 55% last season, a rate that ranked third in the NFL. If he can sustain that accuracy and increase the number of deep shots taken, Slayton could shift from a bye-week filler to a reasonable Flex option in rather short order.