NFL South divisions: Wide receiver fantasy investigation

Sunday, Aug 13, 2023 at 12:33 pm ET

Wide receiver production, both in real and fantasy football, is affected by multiple factors, none less than their quarterback. Great talents can struggle to put up numbers while similar talents are making the Pro Bowl in a similar situation. I wanted to see which players are in the best situations and who to target depending on their rankings in fantasy. I am looking at the wide receivers ranked in the top 100 in standard scoring by Fantasy Nerds, going division by division. Most stats are from ESPN, and numbers and rankings are correct as of 8/11/23.

Additional analysis available. Check out the:

AFC South

HOUHouston Texans

Nico CollinsTop-100 WR: Nico Collins #59, John Metchie III #78, Robert Woods #79, Tank Dell #98

Four Houston receivers in the top 100 seems excessive, but none of them rank before Collins at 59. Rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud might be the most NFL-ready quarterback in this class, but he will still have rookie struggles, and the uninspiring group in the receiving room won't help matters much. Collins is the de facto number one for the Texans, but he has had a limited impact in his two seasons, averaging 35 receptions and 463.5 yards and scoring three total touchdowns. I see him as a non-factor until he proves otherwise.

Metchie has traveled a long road in only two years, tearing his ACL in his last year of college before missing last season fighting leukemia. He was an impact player in college and a second-round pick, but he's another player I want to see something from before adding him. Dell is only 5'10 and 165 pounds, and he is likely just a gadget player who will get some reps (though he made a fantastic catch in the first preseason game).

Woods is interesting as a deep, late-round flier. He had three seasons from 2018-2020 in which he had no less than 86 catches or 936 yards, twice hitting 90 catches and topping 1,100 yards. He was injured in 2021, playing only nine games, and struggled after being traded to Tennessee last season. He's now the only veteran option for a rookie QB who will need a safety net (other than tight end Dalton Schultz), and he could find a volume role. Woods is also 31 years old and two years removed from his last good season, so this is more of a lottery ticket than a smart play.

Verdict: Pass on the Houston receivers unless someone shows something. Collins would be ok at the bottom of your roster with hope of volume, and Woods has a track record of successful seasons, but I don't see any receiver on this team making a real impact.

INDIndianapolis Colts

Michael PittmanTop-100 WR: Michael Pittman #36, Alec Pierce #74, Josh Downs #88

Indianapolis is another hard team to trust, as Gardner Minshew and rookie Anthony Richardson are fighting for the starting quarterback role with Richardson likely to see the most playing time this year (including starting Week 1, I predict). I love Richardson as a fantasy option, as I've mentioned several times recently, but that's more about his running ability than what he will do as a passer.

There will be big plays, but consistency will probably be lacking. Pittman topped 1,000 yards in 2021 and had 99 catches last season, but he probably won't see the same volume as the 270 targets he's had the last two years. Justin Fields in 2022 is a good comp for what I expect Richardson to be this season, and no wide receiver on the Bears had more than 40 catches, 493 yards, or three touchdowns. Pittman is better than any receiver the Bears had last season, but 61 targets was also the top number.

Pierce was a second-round pick last year, and Downs a third-round pick this year, but neither figure to make an impact in fantasy. Pierce could be a good player one day, but he's still developing and will have uneven quarterback play. Downs is undersized at 5'9 and 171 pounds, but he's an absolute burner who will make fun plays. He won't be able to be counted on for production, though.

Verdict: Pittman isn't a bad target later for receiving depth, but George Pickens, Brandin Cooks, and a slew of running backs are being drafted in the same region. I prefer those options. The young guys might have a future, but they won't see many big games in 2023.

JacksonvilleJacksonville Jaguars

Calvin RidleyTop-100 WR: Calvin Ridley #18, Christian Kirk #30, Zay Jones #61

Quarterback Trevor Lawrence began showing why he was the top pick in 2021 at the end of last season, leading the Jaguars to a division title just two years after having the worst record in football. After a win over the Chargers in the Wild Card Round, Jacksonville looks like an ascending team with an improving quarterback.

That's good news for Ridley, who makes his return after missing all last season due to a gambling suspension. He had 90 receptions, 1,374 yards, and nine touchdowns in his last full season (2020) and looked like a budding star. Hooking up with Lawrence could return him to his status near the top of the league. I've been happy getting him as my WR1 in some mock drafts.

Kirk signed a big contract last year that threw things out of whack in the receiver market, and he responded with the most targets, receptions, yards, and touchdowns of his career, along with his second-highest average yards per catch. He is something of a boom or bust player, but he had at least 70 yards in nine games last season with six of those over 90 yards. He saw 14 targets and scored a touchdown in each of the two playoff games, also. The arrival of Ridley might cut into Kirk's production, but he's a decent depth target in the later rounds.

Jones had his best season last year, his first in Jacksonville, racking up career bests with 82 catches for 823 yards and five touchdowns. He has some potential if one of the top two get injured, but working as the third option makes Jones hard to trust any week.

Verdict: Ridley is ranked 18th amongst receivers, but I see him as a candidate to approach the top 10. I am excited to see what he does with Lawrence. Kirk is fine for depth, but don't reach for him. He's going too high in the 7th round. Jones will be intriguing if one of these guys misses extended time, but that's his only path to fantasy relevance.

TENTennessee Titans

DHopTop-100 WR: DeAndre Hopkins #25, Treylon Burks #38

Hopkins had a stretch as maybe the best receiver in football, but he has only played 19 games the last two seasons due to injury and suspension. In those 19 games, though, he had 106 catches for 1,289 yards and 11 touchdowns, meaning he kept up a high level of play. Hopkins may get uneven quarterback play in Tennessee, but he has overcome that before, and he will be the clear number one target. I have been drafting Hopkins as my first receiver in a lot of mock drafts after loading up on running backs early. I believe he will easily have a top-20 season.

Burks was unfairly pigeonholed into “A.J. Brown's replacement” as Brown went to Philadelphia and put up a career year. He was a first-round pick last year, but he played only 11 games and averaged 3 catches and 40 yards per game in those contests with one touchdown. Expecting better play in year two makes sense, but Burks is too high for me as the 38th receiver. I want to see him prove it before adding him.

The Titans have a reputation as a run-first team, but the top receiver on Tennessee had over 100 targets in 2020 and 2021 when Ryan Tannehill started every game. Last year when Tannehill played in 12 games, Robert Woods had over 90 targets. There will be opportunities for the wide outs.

Verdict: Hopkins is at the top of the depth chart with recent high-level production, and I see him as a great option. There is risk, but there's top-10 upside. Burks isn't a bad option for receiver depth, but he didn't show enough in a compromised rookie season to earn my trust.

NFC South

ATLAtlanta Falcons

Drake LondonTop-100 WR: Drake London #28, Mack Hollins #100

Hollins isn't currently ranked in the top 100, but he was at the final spot recently, so I'll mention him quickly. Hollins had his best season for the Raiders last year with a 57-690-4 line, but he hadn't topped 16 receptions or 226 yards before that (since 2017). It will take a huge jump for him to be relevant in fantasy.

London had a good rookie year, playing all 17 games and finishing with 72 catches for 866 yards and four touchdowns. He has a chance to improve in his second season, especially as some quarterback stability is expected. Desmond Ridder was a third-round rookie and played in four games last year, so improvement is expected from him as well. I am somewhere in the middle on London, however, as improvement isn't guaranteed, and the offense could struggle with uneven quarterback play.

He also must fight for opportunities with budding tight end Kyle Pitts, who has averaged more than six targets per game in his career, and rookie running back Bijan Robinson, drafted eighth overall. The offense will probably be based mostly around the run game and play action, and big shots for London might be lacking. We might look at him as a star after this season, but I'm not totally trusting London this year.

Verdict: I'm comfortable grabbing London if I haven't drafted two receivers by the time it gets to him, but I predict inconsistent play with big games mixed in. Proceed with caution. Hollins isn't relevant in fantasy unless he proves otherwise.

CARCarolina Panthers

D.J. CharkTop-100 WR: D.J. Chark #57, Adam Thielen #60, Jonathan Mingo #65, Terrace Marshall #99

Carolina hopes they drafted their quarterback of the future in Bryce Young, but he's stepping in as a rookie without high-level talent around him, and the passing game will probably struggle this season. Chark had a 73-1,008-8 line in 2019, but he has otherwise failed to top 53 receptions or 706 yards in a season. He's listed at WR2 behind Thielen, but neither is likely to be worth a spot in fantasy.

Thielen has hit all-pro highs in the past, but he will be 33 before the season starts and has lost effectiveness over the last few years. Though his targets and receptions were about the same from 2020 through 2022, his yardage, average yards per catch, and touchdowns have dropped significantly. His numbers falling further is more likely than finding new life in Carolina.

I loved Mingo coming into the NFL Draft this year and see him as a DK Metcalf type, but it will probably be a year or two before he reaches those heights. Keep an eye on him, but he's unlikely to help in fantasy this year. Marshall was a second-round pick, but he only has 45 catches in his two seasons and now sits as the fourth receiver.

Verdict: Stay away from Carolina receivers this season unless someone shows something. Young is a good QB prospect, but he isn't expected to step in as a star. Each of these players will struggle to make a consistent impact or have big games.

SaintsNew Orleans Saints

Chris OlaveTop-100 WR: Chris Olave #13, Michael Thomas #42, Rashid Shaheed #72

Olave finished his rookie season with 72 catches for 1,042 yards and four touchdowns, fulfilling his first-round status while mostly catching the ball from Andy Dalton. The Saints upgraded to Derek Carr in the offseason, and Olave will surely benefit from more consistent quarterback play. Olave only had less than 50 yards three times in 15 games last year, and he looks like a real top option.

Thomas is a former superstar, but he has only played 10 games over the last three seasons. He has averaged 5.6 catches and 60.9 yards in those games, but there is no reason to think Thomas is going to play most games or find his old form. There are worse options for the bottom of the roster, holding hope that he can stay healthy and make a connection with Carr, but don't go out of your way to grab Thomas.

Shaheed had the second-most receptions and yards among Saints receivers last year as an undrafted free agent, but that only amounts to 28 catches for 488 yards. He may find a role on the team, but it's hard to see him as a fantasy option until he shows something.

Verdict: Olave is a candidate to improve his numbers in his second year, and drafting him as a WR1 is sensible. Thomas has a great resume, but he hasn't been able to stay healthy the for three years. Grabbing him as your last pick or in super deep leagues is an option, just to see if he finds any youth, but don't count on him. Shaheed won't make an impact unless something changes.

Tampa BayTampa Bay Buccaneers

Mike EvansTop-100 WR: Mike Evans #29, Chris Godwin #31, Russell Gage #88, Rakim Jarrett #94

Evans has been incredibly consistent in his career, never having less than 67 catches or 1,000 yards. His quarterback situation has usually been good, with Jameis Winston airing it out and Tom Brady holding down the fort the last few years. This year is probably his most uncertain at passer, as Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask battle for the starting gig.

The offense figures to struggle with either player under center, and that explains why Evans and Godwin are ranked around 30th among receivers. Godwin had his first 100-catch season and third 1,000-yard season last year, and he was very efficient with Brady at the helm. Things figure to be tougher this year, but Godwin will see more volume than Evans.

Gage had his best years in Atlanta, and he will be pressed for opportunities as the third option on a bad offense. Jarrett is an undrafted rookie and a bit of a head-scratcher to be rated in the top 100. He's not someone on my radar this season.

Verdict: Evans and Godwin feel appropriately ranked, even if both were much higher the last few years. The quarterback situation will limit the ceiling of either player, but I feel a little better about grabbing Godwin as a matchup-dependent option. Gage and Jarrett are too far down the line to be fantasy relevant.

Join the Discussion

Be the first to comment on this post

Recent News & Advice

Week 17 Championship Start'em / Sit'em
Dec 27, 2023 2:05 pm by FN Staff
Week 16 - Players to Start and Sit
Dec 20, 2023 3:46 pm by FN Staff
Week 15 Players to Start and Sit
Dec 13, 2023 9:53 pm by FN Staff
Week 14 - Players to Start and Sit
Dec 6, 2023 9:05 pm by FN Staff
Week 13 - Players to Start and Sit
Nov 29, 2023 9:58 pm by FN Staff
Write Fantasy Football Articles for us!