- Perennial WR1s due for regression: Tyreek Hill and Mike Evans have been fantasy mainstays for several years, but following outlier years in 2022, they may be due for some negative target regression.
- A new name in Seattle: Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s landing spot in Seattle is great for Seahawks fans and fantasy managers alike. However, doling out targets between “JSN”, D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett is not as simple as it may seem.
- Can the breakouts continue?: Zay Jones, Parris Campbell and Allen Lazard among others enjoyed career years in 2022 and look to carry that momentum into this season despite some clear hurdles.
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Finding value in fantasy football tends to skew toward identifying undervalued players with a chance to exceed their draft position, but what does the flip side of this look like? Targets and usage rates are generally a good predictor for fantasy production year over year, but free agent and rookie additions, new teams and new faces at quarterback are all major factors when looking to a new season. Identifying outliers in usage categories can provide further significant edges when planning for the fantasy season, as it clears up not only who to target, but who may also be a letdown relative to draft position.
In his first year in Miami, Hill posted 167 targets, good for third in the league on an absurd 37.9% adjusted target share, which far exceeded other receivers in this tier, such as Justin Jefferson, Davante Adams and Stefon Diggs. His production backed this up, leading all WRs with 0.43 fantasy points per snap. Looking to 2023, Hill figures to be a major focal point once again for the Dolphins receiving game, but Jaylen Waddle will look to demand a higher target share while the run game can be expected to take another step forward under Mike McDaniel’s tutelage. Hill is a fantasy superstar due to his efficiency and big-play ability, but it is unfair to expect 170 targets year over year.
Johnson was the epitome of bad touchdown luck in 2022, as not one of his 141 targets resulted in a score. Also, despite his gaudy target numbers, Johnson was one of just two players that earned over 130 targets to fail to crack 1000 receiving yards, averaging just 6.26 yards per target. The Steelers are not bereft of weapons with budding stars in George Pickens, Pat Freiermuth and Najee Harris as well as newly arrived vet Allen Robinson, giving them a range of skillsets for Kenny Pickett to spread the ball around to. On the bright side, positive touchdown regression is a certainty for Johnson, which will help offset a potential drop in usage.
“Hock” was finally unleashed in 2022 after his trade to Minnesota, seeing almost 10 targets a game from Week 9 onward to post a robust 123 targets on the season, second only to Travis Kelce among tight ends. As a disclaimer, it is quite possible that Hockenson hits the 120-target mark again in 2023 even with the addition of rookie first-round pick Jordan Addison, but projecting the 10 targets per game he earned with the Vikings over a full season is unsustainable for a tight end, as they are generally dependent on matchup week to week. Justin Jefferson obviously receives a lot of attention, but now the Vikes’ can alleviate that stress with Addison as well as Hockenson while K.J. Osborn (85 targets in 2022) still figures to receive a fair amount of work in 11 personnel looks as well.
As consistently great as Evans’ career has been to this point, he did not see over 120 targets in his entire time with Tom Brady outside of last season’s 123 targets. Enter Baker Mayfield, who is slotted in as the Buccaneers starting QB for 2023. Evans' projections are all over the place for 2023 and beyond. He has long been known as a respected deep threat and contested catch savant, and there is no reason to believe his role changes moving forward. However, Mayfield has never been the model of consistency, and it is hard to say exactly how the Bucs’ offense will function with him at the helm, but Chris Godwin’s profile on hitches, crossers and slants meshes much more favorably than Evans. A major falloff in production for Evans feels like a big stretch with his red zone upside and ability to win at the catch point, but regression in usage into the 100-110 target range for 2023 feels likely.
Alongside Christian Kirk, Jones enjoyed a breakout in his first season with Jacksonville, averaging a touch over seven targets per game over 16 games for a total of 117, which he turned into a modest 823 yards and five touchdowns as well as eight dropped passes. Jones established himself as a go to target for Trevor Lawrence inside the red zone, ranking 11th among receivers in 2022 with 32 targets inside the 20-yard line. Looking to 2023, the introduction of Calvin Ridley is sure to hamper Jones overall usage ceiling, as his separation ability will undoubtedly make him a Lawrence favorite between the 20s, but Jones still has upside as a touchdown hawk as really the only reliable bigger receiver the Jags can boast at the moment outside of tight end Evan Engram.
Choosing between D.K. Metcalf (139 targets in 17 games) and Lockett (109 targets in 16 games) was not easy, as both are extremely talented and still have major roles locked up in the Seahawks offense, but both have some points of contention moving forward. Rookie addition Jaxon Smith-Njigba and his QB-friendly separation ability should demand a fair share of targets right off the bat. It’s not out of the question for a Geno Smith-led offense to support three fantasy-relevant receivers, but Smith-Njigba’s slot skillset clashes a bit more with Lockett than Metcalf. Lockett has hovered around 110 targets for the last four seasons aside from a boom year in 2020, where he saw 132 targets, but a slight drop in usage while retaining his deep-threat ability and efficiency could relegate Lockett to the No. 3 role sooner than later.
In a mostly lost 2022 Rams season, Higbee and his 104 targets were one of the few bright spots. His efficiency took a hit from his previous seasons, as his production on a points per-snap and points per-target basis put his performance well below expectations. The Rams' tight end usage has been puzzling the last few seasons as Sean McVay has been picky about matchups to really feature Higbee, and despite the lack of competition for targets in 2022, last season saw his average depth of target drop to a paltry 3.4 yards while his yards per reception dropped to below nine yards for the first time in his career. With Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp back in the fold, the Rams offense should positively regress to put up more fantasy production, and Higbee should be a benefactor with the potential to push for TE1 numbers again as his efficiency numbers are likely to positively regress, but it is hard to see him retaining his 24% adjusted target share.
Lazard exceeded many expectations in 2022 as a late-round flier by stepping into the de facto No. 1 role for Aaron Rodgers. He parlayed his 98 targets into a solid 2.82 fantasy points per touch, ultimately finishing as the WR34 on the year. Moving to New York with Rodgers provides a solid floor for Lazard to carry some of that momentum into next season, but the Jets boast a much deeper skill position group than the Packers did in 2022 — headlined by Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall. A deep target role to soften the defense as well as retaining his strong red zone target share (11 targets in the end zone in 2022) will make Lazard a solid late-round flier as a flex option once again, but expecting WR2 usage is a bit of a reach.
Posting a relatively quiet 95 targets in 2022, “DPJ” went on to finish as the WR42 in PPR despite a paltry 0.15 fantasy points per snap rate. After Deshaun Watson took the helm in Week 13, Peoples-Jones averaged 5.6 targets per game over five games, which was largely propped up by a career high 13 targets in Week 14. The Browns offense in 2023 should be a clear step forward from what we saw in 2022 as Watson gets more comfortable. Peoples-Jones still looks to be a major factor in three-receiver sets, but his usage may tail off a bit as Elijah Moore establishes himself while David Njoku and Amari Cooper look to build off of strong 2022 seasons. Peoples-Jones will definitely still have boom weeks in 2023, but expecting in the realm of 90 targets is a tough ask with so many mouths to feed.
In his first full season in 2022 after three seasons seeing less than seven games a year, Campbell finally gave fantasy managers a taste of what made him such a touted draft prospect in 2019, but maybe not in the way they were expecting. With 85 targets in 2022 on a 17% adjusted target rate, Campbell saw 59 of his 85 targets within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Now in New York, he will compete with second-year pro Wan’Dale Robinson for a similar role as a slot weapon and safety valve for Daniel Jones. In 2022, Campbell found himself in the No. 2 role in Indy, something that will be an uphill battle to achieve in 2023 as he looks to factor into a receiving group that has more talent across the board than the Colts’ squad last season.
Hollins enjoyed a breakout season in Las Vegas after a quiet start to his career in Miami and Philadelphia, establishing himself as more than just a big bodied deep threat and finishing as the WR46 on the year with 154.8 fantasy points on 89 targets over 17 games. Hollins was a major benefactor of a lack of weapons in Vegas, as while Davante Adams ate up a massive chunk of targets, other weapons — such as Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller — missed significant time to injury. As an almost exclusively outside receiver, his fit next to Drake London and Kyle Pitts in Atlanta may be a bit awkward, as they’re all built in a similar mold. The hope for Hollins to retain some fantasy relevance in 2023 hinges on his ability to sustain a strong red zone target share and experience some positive touchdown luck, as targets will be hard to come by in Atlanta behind London, Pitts and Bijan Robinson.