Fantasy Football: 3 second-year WRs who can advance to the next tier in fantasy scoring

2WA2B0H Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Zay Flowers (4) in action during the first half of an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)

Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Zay Flowers: The elite tackle-breaker should finish as a WR2 in 2024.

New England Patriots wide receiver Demario Douglas: New England’s offseason additions will give Douglas more room to work in his specialized short-area role.

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Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

Talented NFL wide receivers frequently establish themselves as perennial top-36, top-24 and even top-12 positional assets in their second season. Identifying which players are likely to do so well in advance gives fantasy football managers a week-winning edge come draft season. The article below details which second-year wide receivers are most likely to advance well past their 2023 positional finishes. 

WR Zay Flowers, Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Zay Flowers is set for a top-24 positional finish in both half-PPR and PPR scoring formats thanks to his underrated receiving ability, fantasy-friendly role, sure hands and elite tackle-breaking ability. Flowers finished as the half-PPR WR27 and the PPR WR25 as a rookie through Weeks 1-17, and his 75.2 PFF receiving grade ranks sixth among 21 NFL 2023 rookie wide receivers to earn at least 25 targets.

Flowers is currently being drafted in line with his 2023 finish as the half-PPR WR26 and PPR WR27.5, perhaps due to his inappropriate labeling as a wide receiver dependent upon gadget usage. While Flowers’ dual-threat usage is likely to increase following his 6.0-yard average on 10 rushing attempts, Flowers is one of just four 2023 rookie wide receivers to earn 100-plus regular-season targets, tying for second overall with 104. 

Baltimore’s offense should increase its complexity and improve its already-elite efficiency (5.7 yards per offensive play, fifth-best among NFL teams) in its second season under offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who deftly dialed up both quick-hitting lay-up targets and field-stretching opportunities that featured Flowers’ 4.42-second 40-yard-dash speed. Among 64 NFL wide receivers to earn at least 65 targets, Flowers produced the 14th-shallowest average depth of target (aDot , 9.1) and the 25th-deepest deep-target rate (19.8%), excelling on short and deep targets alike. His 5.7 yards after the catch per reception and 17 explosive pass plays on targets thrown behind the line of scrimmage to nine yards downfield rank ninth and tie for second, respectively, among 36 NFL wide receivers to earn at least 50 such targets. He ranks top eight across the board in yards per reception (37.9), yards after the catch per reception (8.0) and yards per route run (YPRR,18.3) on targets thrown at least 20 yards downfield, ranked among 38 NFL wide receivers to earn at least 18 such targets.

Flowers should continue dominating short-area work with the front office adding lid-lifting wide receiver Devontez Walker in the 2024 NFL draft’s fourth round while third-year wide receiver Rashod Bateman reportedly has had a strong showing in organized team activities (OTAs). Walker’s 18.2-yard aDot ranks first among 100 Power Five wide receivers to earn at least 65 targets and Bateman’s 14.6-yard aDot ranks ninth among 74 NFL wide receivers to earn at least 60 targets. Both players will give Flowers space to work underneath. 

Flowers established himself as a trustworthy pass catcher last year, ranking in the top eight in catch rate (74.1%), contested catch rate (54.5%), missed tackles forced (21) and missed tackles forced per reception (0.24) among 64 NFL wide receivers to earn at least 65 targets. The latter three data points coupled with his largely injury-free rookie season, aside from an AFC Championship hand laceration assuage concerns over his 5-foot-9, 182-pound frame. 

Flowers should safely produce a top-24 positional finish in 2024.

WR Demario Douglas, New England Patriots 

New England Patriots slot receiver Demario Douglas far exceeded expectations as a 2023 sixth-round rookie, leading the team with 76 targets despite suffering two concussions and abysmal quarterback play. Douglas should leap at least two tiers after finishing as a WR6 in both half-PPR and PPR scoring formats. Fantasy managers should expect a WR4 finish but maintain hope for a WR3 breakout thanks to his reliable target-earning ability and slippery post-catch quicks, aided by his incoming rookie teammates.

Douglas’ target rates stand out against both his 2023 rookie classmates and NFL slot receivers overall. Among 21 NFL 2023 rookie wide receivers to earn at least 25 targets, Douglas’ 23.0% target rate ranks fourth and his 15.4% slot-target rate ranks second. Among 29 NFL slot receivers to earn at least 20 targets against cornerback slot coverage, Douglas’ 24.4% target rate crucially ranks seventh. 

Douglas’ promising target-earning profile should not be written off as a product of soft target competition; he notably out-played New England’s Weeks 1-8 No. 1 pass catcher, wide receiver Kendrick Bourne before Bourne’s Week 8 season-ending ACL tear, producing a 24.3% target rate over Bourne’s 23.4%. 

The 5-foot-8, 192-pound Douglas routinely left defenders grasping at air. Among 64 NFL wide receivers to earn at least 65 targets, Douglas ties for 16th in missed tackles forced receiving (12) and ranks fourth in both yards after the catch per reception (7.0) and missed tackles forced per reception (0.25). 

Douglas did his damage via the position’s ninth-lowest aDot (8.0) despite the team lacking effective field stretchers tjat can command safety attention. Second-round wide receiver Ja’Lynn Polk’s 13.8-yard aDot and fourth-round wide receiver Javon Baker‘s 17.1-yard aDot rank 24th and fourth, respectively, among 100 Power Five wide receivers to earn at least 65 targets. Both players should fix the issue, creating a favorable environment for Douglas’ post-catch talents.

Douglas should leap into the WR4 tier and has a chance to ascend one step further, with the WR3s.

WR Dontayvion Wicks, Green Bay Packers

The Green Bay Packers crowded pass-catching corps forced 2023 rookie wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks to earn every repetition, limiting him to back-end WR6 results in both half-PPR and PPR scoring formats. Wicks’ advanced metrics hint at a top-24 positional talent profile, which could be realized for fantasy purposes in 2024. His in-house target competition may limit him to a WR3 finish but leaping into the position's top-24 tier is possible thanks to his per-play productivity and potential for a significantly increased role, thanks in part to his explosive pass-play efficiency. Wicks’ 77.0 PFF receiving grade ranks fourth among 21 NFL 2023 rookie wide receivers to earn at least 25 targets.

Wicks’ receiving data among 74 NFL wide receivers to earn at least 60 targets:
NFL WR Receiving  Dontayvion Wicks
PFF Receiving Grade 77.0 (T-No. 29)
Yards/Route Run 1.94 (No. 26)
Yards/Rec. 14.8 (No. 20)
YAC/Rec. 5.3 (No. 20)
Catchtable Pass Catch Rate 95.3% (No. 4)
Missed Tackles Forced/Rec. 0.22 (No. 9)
Explosive Pass Play Rate 46.3% (No. 7)

Wicks’ 2024 range of outcomes includes a No. 1 wide receiver-role takeover, which he perhaps auditioned for last year. Wicks’ 2023 pre-snap alignment routes-run rates are nearly identical to No. 1 wide receiver Christian Watson but Wicks excelled as an intermediate-depth weapon while Watson delivered inferior results in his field-stretching role.

Watson (11 games played in 2023) worked with a medical specialist this offseason after straining his right leg’s hamstring muscle four times since September 2022 but good health in 2024 is hardly guaranteed. 

Wicks and Watson’s pre-snap alignment data, per-route efficiency and intended usage:
Pre-Snap Alignments, Efficiency & Usage Dontayvion Wicks Christian Watson
Wide Left – Target % – YPRR 27.8% – 17.2% – 1.62 25.1% – 21.8% – 1.12
Slot – Target % – YPRR 35.8%% – 21.6% – 2.50 34.0% – 21.9% – 1.94
Wide Right – Target % – YPRR 35.5% – 19.8% – 1.68 38.7% – 14.5% – 1.25
aDot – Deep-Target Rate 10.7% – 13.1% 16.2 – 30.4%

As detailed in Best Values in Rounds 11-20 on Underdog Fantasy, despite Watson’s specialized downfield role, Wicks (16.20) averaged more than twice as many YPRR as Watson (8.00) on targets thrown between the painted numbers and at least 10 yards downfield. Attack this area of the field is a schematic priority for head coach Matt LaFleur’s passing offense. Wicks’ successes there surely caught LaFleur’s eye.  

Wicks has a chance to ascend four tiers, into the position’s top-24 grouping in his second NFL season although a WR3 finish would still be a significant leap. 


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