Fantasy News & Analysis

Analyzing the top wide receiver free agents for 2022 fantasy football

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin (14) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

There are roughly 25 free agent wide receivers in the NFL who could carve out roles on new teams in 2022. This article will drill into the top 12 options that are most likely to be fantasy-relevant based on PFF grades, underlying efficiency metrics and historical utilization.

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Note: The primary focus of this exercise focuses on the 2022 fantasy football season, not necessarily the best long-term signing options. For example, Chris Godwin is better than Antonio Brown over the long-term but not necessarily next year for fantasy purposes.

TIER 1 – PRIMARY OPTIONS

Player Age PFF Rec Grade Target Share ADOT Slot% YAC/REC TPRR TPRR Man TPRR Zone YPRR YPRR Man YPRR Zone
Davante Adams 29 92.7 30% 9.6 33% 5.1 30% 36% 30% 2.82 3.27 3.02
Antonio Brown 34 87.1 9% 12.0 20% 4.6 31% 33% 32% 2.79 3.15 2.55

DAVANTE ADAMS

More than any other free agent, Adams has demonstrated an ability to carry an offensive passing game with a 33% target share in games played over the last three seasons. Additionally, he is one of only two free agents to eclipse the 30% TPRR and 2.00 YPRR thresholds versus man and zone looks.

In Green Bay, Adams operated primarily in the intermediate depths of the field (9.6 aDOT) but sported the fifth-best YAC/REC (5.1) — which helped fuel his 33% explosive-reception rate.

Adams can succeed in any style of offense but has enjoyed being the funnel option for the Packers with an elite quarterback. If he lands on a team with more weapons and less heavy personnel sets, we could see his target share regress some. His optimal landing spot would be on a team with a similar scheme to Green Bay needing a receiver or a pass-heavy team with an elite quarterback.

The ninth-year veteran does carry some risk of slippage, but we have seen eight different receivers post over 300 PPR points at age 29 and older since 2011.

ANTONIO BROWN

Brown's analysis is purely from an inside-the-lines standpoint — where his underlying data suggests he is still an elite NFL receiver. He carries the second-best PFF receiving grade (87.4) of all free agents and is the only receiver besides Davante Adams to eclipse the 30% TPRR and 2.00 YPRR thresholds against man and zone coverage.

The veteran created a step or more of separation an NFL-high 78% of the time he faced single-man looks (minimum 40 routes vs. single-man). He did this despite additional attention from defensive coordinators. Brown faced more double or help coverage (56%) than Mike Evans, Chris Godwin or Rob Gronkowski. His YAC/REC (4.6) ranks seventh, and his deep target rate (23%) is the fifth-best — demonstrating that he can still make noise once the ball is in his hands.

Brown comes with additional risk heading into his age-34 season, but he can still thrive in an NFL offense with a quarterback who plays with anticipation. However, if Brown lands with some of the see-it-throw-it type passers, his edge could diminish.

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Using historical NFL player comparisons to value top 2022 free agent wide receivers via Kevin Cole

TIER 2 – SECONDARY OPTIONS WITH UPSIDE

Player Age PFF Rec Grade Target Share ADOT Slot% YAC/REC TPRR TPRR Man TPRR Zone YPRR YPRR Man YPRR Zone
Chris Godwin 26 79.4 18% 7.7 70% 6.0 22% 26% 20% 1.97 2.28 1.85
Mike Williams 27 77.6 19% 12.0 17% 5.5 21% 22% 21% 1.97 1.88 2.14

CHRIS GODWIN

Godwin has the third-highest receiving grade (79.4) of the free-agent receivers. Over the last three seasons, he accounts for 21% of the Buccaneers' targets in his active games.

That is a solid target share, but he hasn't shown the ability to demand more looks. Of course, some of that could tie to his surrounding cast of Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski over the last two seasons, but operating from the slot on 70% of snaps also provides him with a distinct advantage against lesser coverage. To his credit, the former third-rounder has posted a 2.10 and 2.46 YPRR in limited playing time on the outside over the last two seasons — proving he could be capable of more with an expanded role.

With the ball in his hands, Godwin is a dangerous weapon. His 6.0 YAC/REC is the highest out of the available receivers with at least 200 routes. However, he doesn't threaten the vertical boundary of the field often, with only 8% of his targets eclipsing 20 yards.

He will only be 26 years old in 2022, so there is an opportunity for him to continue to grow, but his best fit is as a flanker or slot option working the intermediate and underneath areas of coverage. He could lead a team in targets in the right situation, but it will depend on the scheme and depth chart.

MIKE WILLIAMS

Williams exploded out of the gate in 2021 with WR14, WR10, WR1, WR105 and WR2 finishes. Over that stretch, he accounted for 25% of the targets. Then he injured his knee in Week 6 and finished outside the top-36 receivers in seven out of 11 games with a lowly 11% target share.

Jan 9, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams (81) gains yardage against the Las Vegas Raiders during an overtime period at Allegiant Stadium. Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the letdown after a strong start, Williams posted career-highs in target share (19%), TPRR (21%), YPRR (1.97) and YAC/REC (5.5). From 2018 to 2020, his aDOTs were 15.6, 18.3 and 15.8, operating primarily as a field stretcher. However, in Joe Lombardi's scheme, he worked the intermediate and deep areas with a 12.0 aDOT, opening the door for more targets and YAC opportunities.

The former top-seven draft pick can work all field levels from the outside, making him an intriguing free-agent option. If his second-half collapse in 2021 was injury-related, Williams could still develop into a Tier 1 option.

PFF’s WR/CB Matchup Chart is a fantasy football tool you can use to help set the best lineups. You can toggle between showing the Matchup Advantage column against all projected coverage, or the individual defenders.

TIER 3 – SECONDARY OPTIONS

Name Age PFF Rec Grade Target Share ADOT Slot% YAC/REC TPRR TPRR Man TPRR Zone YPRR YPRR Man YPRR Zone
Odell Beckham Jr.* 29 72.2 17% 12.9 23% 4.1 19% 28% 17% 1.45 2.09 1.33
Allen Robinson II 29 67.0 13% 12.6 36% 2.4 18% 21% 18% 1.13 1.76 1.07
Christian Kirk 25 72.7 18% 12.1 79% 3.1 19% 19% 20% 1.81 1.95 1.88
Michael Gallup 26 73.1 9% 12.2 8% 3.6 18% 27% 16% 1.37 2.04 1.20
Russell Gage 26 76.0 17% 9.9 49% 3.9 24% 35% 21% 1.96 2.91 1.76

*Stats with the Rams

ODELL BECKHAM JR.

Beckham didn't explode after signing with the Rams but did carve out a solid secondary role. Through the divisional round of the playoffs, he accounts for 17% of the targets — second-most on the team.

The veteran isn't the elite separator he once was, with 46% of his targets against single-man coming against tight coverage — which is 11% higher than the NFL average. However, his YPRR against man (2.09) is encouraging.

The days of OBJ operating as a target hog are probably behind us, but he could provide WR3 value in a pass-heavy offense as the No. 2 option.

ALLEN ROBINSON II

Robinson hit a cliff in 2021 and is now heading into his age-29 season. The offensive environment and multiple injuries didn't help his case. Of receivers with at least 200 routes run, he ranked 110 out of 115 receivers in catchable pass rate (62%), which was certainly a component of his career-lows in YPRR (1.13) and TPRR (18%).

Despite his issues, he generated a step or more of separation against single-man looks 9% above the NFL average at 61%. He also had a 32% TPRR (+4%) in those situations. Pairing this with his low catchable-target rate leaves some room for hope. However, he is entering a career period where slippage in production can occur.

CHRISTIAN KIRK

Most won't think of Kirk as a secondary option, but he carries the seventh-highest PFF receiving grade (72.7), third-best target share (18%) and the fifth-best YPRR (1.81) of the free-agent wide receivers.

Seattle, Washington, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk (13) runs for yards after the catch against the Seattle Seahawks during the second quarter at Lumen Field. Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The former second-round pick needs to land on a team that plays three wide receivers in their base offense where he can operate from the slot. His YPRR from the slot is 1.75 over the past two seasons, but that dips to 1.31 when he plays outside.

At only 25 years old, Kirk is one of the younger available talents.

MICHAEL GALLUP

Gallup has topped the 2.00 yards per route threshold only one time in his career (2019) and now must recover from a late-season ACL tear. His career-high in target share is 19%, and it is 22% for TPRR (also in 2019).

The fourth-year receiver created a step or more of separation on 46% of his routes against single-man coverage, which is 6% below the NFL average. However, Dak Prescott trusts him in those situations, targeting him 32% of the time — leading to a solid 2.04 YPRR.

Gallup may not be ready to start the 2022 season, but he could become a solid contested-catch receiver for a team looking for a No. 2 weapon. However, it won't be a good fit if he lands on a team with a quarterback unwilling to throw into tight coverage. Against single-man, 55% of his targets came in tight coverage — well above the NFL average (35%).

RUSSELL GAGE

Gage sports the fifth-highest PFF grade (76.0) among the free-agent wide receivers and the fifth-highest YPRR (1.96), making him a fascinating option. In addition, his 35% TPRR and 2.91 YPRR against man coverage are elite — especially considering he didn't work exclusively from the slot (49%).

The 26-year-old receiver barely missed Tier 2 due to his below-average separation rate against single-man (49%) after removing free looks from the defense. If he lands in a pass-heavy offense as the No. 2 or No. 3 option with an accurate quarterback, he could surprise in 2022.

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TIER 4 – HONORABLE MENTIONS (didn't play much in 2021)

Will Fuller barely played in 2021, but his elite speed will push him up draft boards this summer if he lands in a friendly offense. He provides teams with many ways to extract value, considering his ability to play outside or create yards after the catch underneath.

JuJu Smith-Schuster has a 1.04 YPRR playing outside over the past two seasons, making him strictly a slot receiver. He must find a home in an offense that uses 11 personnel as their base offense. Despite all of his detractors, he will only be 25 in 2022.

D.J. Chark Jr. flashed big-play ability, but consistency has been an issue. At a minimum, he can provide an offense with a deep threat but has a shot to offer more in the right situation.

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