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.
Last year was rough for the entire Denver offense. Nothing came together under new head coach Nathaniel Hackett, and he was fired before the season ended. Sean Payton steps into a new role without Drew Brees but with a former star in Russell Wilson, who struggled in his first year in Denver. Expecting Payton to fix everything would be naïve, but Denver's whole offense is a candidate for positive regression.
Jeudy managed to set career highs in receptions, yards, and touchdowns last season, and he is a former first-round pick with breakout potential. His rank as the 20th receiver seems fair. Sutton improved his catches and yards from 2021, proving the struggles couldn't bring down the talented duo. As the 43rd-ranked receiver, he is easy to add as depth, and there is room to grow if Payton infuses life into the offense.
Mims was drafted at the end of the second round. He may be a name to know in the future, but starring right away seems unlikely. One note about all Denver players: they play the Raiders in Week 1 who I think will struggle to stop the pass, so Wilson, the receivers, and tight end Greg Dulcich are good streaming options to start the season.
Verdict: Jeudy could be a WR1 this season if things break right. At worst, he is a good option to play most weeks with a chance for some big performances. Sutton hasn't consistently put it all together, but he will also probably benefit from a much-improved offense. I am targeting him in the late rounds as a matchup-dependent depth player. Mims might get there, but he isn't a player to target now.
Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City has a league-high six receivers rated in the top 100, but only Toney is in the top 50. With the best quarterback in the league throwing them the ball, KC receivers would seem to be in high demand, but two things are holding that back. First, none of the players on the roster have a track record of high-level output and/or health. Second, and probably most importantly, Travis Kelce is their number one receiver. I've written recently about Kelce's dominance, and he will probably be the one leading the team in targets, catches, yards, and touchdowns.
Toney has no record of health or production, but Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs coaches and front office have been talking him up and expecting big things. He is listed at the top of the depth chart, and he is expected to be ready for Week 1 after minor knee surgery. He might flame out again, but he is available at the end of drafts, and the reward could be great.
Valdes-Scantling represents the old guard as he enters his sixth season. He had a career-high 42 receptions last season, but he's more of a boom or bust player with only three games over 70 yards last season and nine games under 30 yards. Valdes-Scantling did have six catches for 116 yards and a touchdown in the AFC championship game, but he's more of a player to sit at the bottom of your roster if you have him.
Moore, Rice, and Ross are all in their first or second season, and none of them have shown anything yet. Keeping an eye on all KC receivers is smart, but don't believe in these guys until they prove it. James is entering his sixth season but missed all of 2021, and he has been a bit player his whole career. He fits into the same group as the three young guys and might not make the cut going into the regular season.
Verdict: The Chief receivers have the greatest advantage in the league playing with Mahomes, but nobody can be counted on to be consistently productive. Valdes-Scantling has a chance for more opportunities, but he will be very hit and miss. Toney has the support of the team and first-round pedigree, and I love the idea of picking him up at the end of drafts, though he's a lottery ticket more than a player you can count on.
Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders went from a consistent but low-ceiling option in Derek Carr to an inconsistent and low-ceiling option in Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback. From his first full season as the supposed starter in 2018 through 2021, Garoppolo missed 25 of 65 regular season games. He filled in admirably last season when Trey Lance went down in San Francisco, but he again suffered an injury and played only 11 games.
Jimmy G's health is especially concerning for the Las Vegas receivers because the options after him are Brian Hoyer, who will turn 38 in October and hasn't thrown 100 passes in a season since 2017, and rookie Aidan O'Connell who was drafted in the fourth round. There is no path to even average quarterback play if (when?) Garoppolo misses time.
That being said, Adams is a superstar receiver. Over the last five years, he has averaged 106.4 receptions, 1,365.2 yards, and 12.2 touchdowns per season. He's rated as the seventh-highest receiver for a reason, and even a dip in quarterback play probably won't torpedo his season.
Meyers has played well the last few seasons in New England and will join a familiar system with head coach Josh McDaniels in Vegas. Over the last three years, he has averaged just under 70 catches, 800 yards, and three touchdowns: respectable numbers. He is a lower-level second receiver, though, and more of a good option to target at the end of drafts for depth.
Renfrow broke out as a top option in 2021 but struggled to recapture that magic with a lower volume last year, dropping from 7.5 targets per game to only five. The addition of Meyers would seem to block him from regaining his past form, and Renfrow will likely struggle to make a fantasy impact without an injury.
Verdict: Adams is a star, and while I prefer to draft running backs early, he is a great option to target. (Adams just had a little injury scare, but it doesn't look too serious.) Meyers could find a role and isn't a bad player to draft in the late rounds to provide depth, but he won't be consistent. Renfrow has a recent history of success, but his lack of opportunity will probably hold him down below fantasy consideration.
Los Angeles Chargers
Allen is 31 this season and missed seven games last year, but he had four games with at least eight catches and four games with at least 90 yards in the 10 games he did play and has a recent history of success and health. Over the previous five seasons from 2017 to 2021, Allen missed only three games and averaged 101.8 receptions, 1,183.6 yards, and 6.4 touchdowns per year. There is risk, but the Chargers also have an ascending quarterback and plenty of opportunities to go around. I've been happily drafting Allen as my WR1.
I initially thought Williams was more injury risk than I wanted, but further investigation shows he has only missed seven games over the last four years, though he has played at less than 100% at times. He had a 76-1,146-9 line in 2021, and his numbers last year extrapolated to the same 16 games would have matched the number of receptions and yardage (with five touchdowns). I am comfortable expecting production near that and approaching Allen.
Johnston and Palmer are reportedly fighting for the WR3 and WR4 spots on the depth chart, but new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said he envisions a lot of four-receiver sets and plenty of work for each of them. Johnston is a player I loved coming into the Draft in April and envision him as a DK Metcalf-type player, but it will probably take a year or more to realize that potential. Palmer had 107 targets last year but will be squeezed for opportunities barring an injury.
Verdict: Allen and Williams both fit where they are ranked, and I am ok with either of them as my WR1 (particularly Allen). Johnston and Palmer have a chance to shine, but it's hard right now to tell who might break out. Either one is fine for end of the roster depth, but expecting more will leave you thin at receiver.
Brown came to Arizona last year from Baltimore for a first-round pick (with more to the trade), and he failed to live up to that level as he missed five games and struggled for consistency, especially after Kyler Murray got hurt. In four games without Murray, Brown averaged 3.5 catches for 36 yards with no touchdowns. Compare that to 6.6 catches for 70.6 yards and three touchdowns in eight games with Murray, and it's clear his upside is limited without his top quarterback.
Murray's status is the biggest obstacle to either of these receivers making an impact in fantasy, as he is expected to miss time this season with no clear idea on when he'll be back. Colt McCoy or rookie Clayton Tune are likely to play early.
Moore was a second-round pick in 2021, but he has struggled to find efficiency and hasn't topped 435 yards with only two total touchdowns. He will likely continue to produce low numbers as the offense searches for answers.
Verdict: Neither Brown nor Moore is likely to outplay his ranking, and they will probably both struggle to find quality opportunities. I'm staying away from Arizona receivers this year.
Los Angeles Rams
Kupp is returning from an ankle injury and should be back at full strength to start the season. He had a phenomenal 2021 with a 145-1,947-16 line, and he wasn't far off last year, as his numbers over 17 games would prorate to 141.7 catches for 1,533.8 yards and 11.3 touchdowns. Kupp will produce at a high level and is rated appropriately.
Jefferson went for 50-802-6 in 2021, but he hasn't hit more than half of those numbers in his other two seasons. There will be opportunity, but Jefferson is unlikely to be a consistent option. Nacua is a fifth-round rookie and getting some hype, but he needs to show something before we project him to make an impact.
Verdict: Kupp is back and should pick up where he left off. Feel confident if you take him early. Jefferson and Nacua are both likely to disappoint in fantasy most weeks, but keep an eye and make sure they don't go off if the Rams return to top status (unlikely to happen).
San Francisco 49ers
Samuel had 1,405 yards in 2021, averaging 18.2 yards per catch. He averaged 11.8 in 2020 and 11.3 in 2022 and maxed out at 632 yards. San Fran's quarterback situation is somehow very convoluted as they are Super Bowl contenders, but the defense and game planning of head coach Kyle Shanahan seem to matter more than who is under center. I don't see Samuel reaching his heights of 2021 no matter who throws him the ball, and I see him as over-ranked at 15. He has run the ball 101 times over the last two years, but that number is likely to fall with Christian McCaffrey around for a full season.
Aiyuk had 78 catches for 1,015 yards and eight touchdowns last season, all career highs, and might be a more consistent receiver than Samuel while lacking the top-end talent. Aiyuk isn't better than Samuel, but I like him a lot more as the 26th receiver than Samuel at 15. Again, shuffling quarterbacks might affect production week to week.
McCloud returns punts and kicks, but he has never hit 40 catches or 300 yards in a season and has only one receiving touchdown. His name is more fun than his fantasy production.
Verdict: The 49ers will likely be a very good team, but there is more uncertainty here than with any other contender. While both Samuel and Aiyuk will produce, I don't see Samuel hitting top-15 heights and have passed on him in mock drafts. Aiyuk isn't more than depth and matchup-dependent on your team, but he will likely have good games and is fine at 26. McCloud shouldn't be on your radar.
Metcalf and Lockett both have at least 73 catches and 967 yards over the last three seasons with Metcalf topping out at 1,303 yards and Lockett not falling below 1,000 (since 2018, actually). Both players have had at least 100 targets each of the past four years. I've been happy with Metcalf as my WR1 in mock drafts, and he should continue to produce as one of the most physically imposing receivers in football.
Lockett turns 31 early in the season, but he hasn't showed signs of slowing down. His spot second on the depth chart would seem locked in, but Smith-Njigba is probably the most talented rookie receiver to enter the league this year. Smith-Njigba had the most receptions and yards in 2021 on an Ohio State team that had first-rounders Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson on the roster. He was limited by injuries to three games last season, but Smith-Njigba is for real. He has a chance to carve out a role immediately, especially if Lockett loses a step or needs more plays off.
Geno Smith had a career year last season and solidified his spot as the starter this year, but it remains to be seen if he can keep up his high level of play. If so, there should be plenty to go around for all three of these receivers, and the way targets are divvied up will be fascinating to watch during the season.
Verdict: Metcalf is a true number one receiver and would have even better numbers if he were in a pass-first offense. His spot in the top 20 is justified. Lockett might show signs of aging, but he has stayed consistent and can be used in the right matchups. I'm most excited about Smith-Njigba, though, and would wait to grab him rather than Lockett in the middle rounds. He is a lottery ticket that you can stash at the end of the bench and hope he breaks out.