Fantasy News & Analysis

Fantasy Football Position Preview: Wide receiver breakouts, sleepers and busts

Bills receiver Gabriel Davis catches one of his 4 touchdowns against the Chiefs.

Wide receivers carry the highest ceiling in fantasy football, but breakout players can be drafted outside the first few rounds every season; therefore, identifying these future stars is the key to winning a fantasy championship. 

We are on a mission to find the next Cooper Kupp, Tee Higgins, Deebo Samuel or Hunter Renfrow none of which were drafted before Round 4 in fantasy football drafts last year, but they all finished as top-10 wide receivers in PPR scoring.

Let’s continue previewing the 2022 NFL season (we've already hit on QBs and RBs) by breaking down breakout players, sleepers and busts at the wide receiver position.


Breakouts 

GABRIEL DAVIS, BUFFALO BILLS

 The Bills are finally ready to unleash Davis as Stefon Diggs‘ running mate. Everyone remembers his 8-201-4 nuclear playoff explosion against the Kansas City Chiefs, which is simply a reminder of his weekly mouth-watering upside.

Davis posted a strong 81.5 PFF grade (12th among all wide receivers) last season and appears ready to make the leap to stardom. Draft Gabriel Davis as a cheaper version of Tee Higgins the clear No. 2 option in an elite offense.

PFF’s fantasy projections rank Davis as the overall WR21 with 1,120 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, and his consensus fantasy ranking is WR23.

Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos

The Broncos finally have their quarterback in Russell Wilson, and Sutton is my pick to emerge as Denver’s WR1. In some ways, Sutton already broke out in 2019, when he tallied an 83.1 PFF grade (10th among all wide receivers) with 1,112 receiving yards and six touchdowns while catching passes from Drew Lock and Joe Flacco.

At 6-foot-4 and 216 pounds with supreme contested catch ability, Sutton can be Wilson’s new D.K. Metcalf in Denver. Sutton was dangerous on passes 20-plus yards downfield in 2019, hauling in 11 catches (10th) for 427 yards (sixth) and three touchdowns (16th). 

Forget about 2020 and 2021 because Sutton was recovering from a torn ACL. Now, Hh looks fully healthy and is ready to take the league by storm as a potential top-10 wide receiver.

Rashod Bateman, BALTIMORE RAVENS

The Ravens traded away Hollywood Brown because they want Bateman to be their WR1. Brown’s departure creates a whopping 146 vacated targets — a large chunk of which should filter down to Bateman. The former Ravens’ 91-1,008-6 receiving line is a reasonable projection for Bateman, who has plenty of upside for more in the event of a true breakout.

PFF’s fantasy projections rank Bateman as the overall WR24 with 968 receiving yards and six touchdowns. His ceiling outcome could push his numbers even higher if he can steal extra targets away from Mark Andrews.

Darnell Mooney, CHICAGO BEARS

 Mooney is one of the most underrated wide receivers in the league and is primed for a third-year breakout. He posted a solid 74.7 PFF grade (35th) and overall WR23 fantasy finish last season despite shoddy quarterback play and atrocious play-calling.

The Bears' new WR1 is now a clear alpha with Allen Robinson‘s departure. If Justin Fields can take a step forward, then Mooney should blow right past 1,000 receiving yards for a second consecutive season. 

PFF’s fantasy projections rank Mooney as the overall WR22, but his ceiling is firmly within the top 15. 

Elijah Moore, NEW YORK JETS

Moore was on the verge of a true breakout midway through last season, as he racked up 28 catches, 392 yards and five touchdowns from Weeks 9-13 before suffering a season-ending injury. He was the overall WR2 in PPR scoring over that five-game stretch, trailing only Justin Jefferson.

The Jets can be a discount version of the 2021 Cincinnati Bengals if Zach Wilson can make a major leap in his development inYear 2. New York’s offense boasts exceptionally talented weapons across the board with Zach Wilson, Moore, Garrett Wilson, Corey Davis, Breece Hall and Michael Carter. 

His consensus fantasy ranking is WR30, but Moore’s best-case outcome is closer to the WR1 mark he demonstrated during last year’s dominant stretch. 


Sleepers 

Christian Watson, Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers has registered over 4,000 passing yards in each of the last four seasons, and the reigning two-time MVP is going to surpass that mark again in 2022  — PFF’s fantasy projections predict he'll throw for 4,522 passing yards. 

Green Bay surrendered a king’s ransom to move up and select Watson with the 34th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. At 6-foot-4 and 208-pounds with 4.36-second speed in the 40-yard dash, Watson possesses all the physical tools to be a dominant wide receiver. He posted a stellar 89.5 receiving grade and 4.33 yards per route run at North Dakota State last season. 

Whoever emerges as the Packers' WR1 is going to be a league-winning fantasy player considering their cheap prices. Allen Lazard is the market’s choice right now, but he does not fit the typical size/speed/skill archetype of a true No. 1 receiver. His career-high receiving total is just 513 yards, and he likely settles as a very solid WR2.

Lazard is undoubtedly a safer draft pick, but I will take the discount on Watson and shoot for a true ceiling outcome. 

Josh Palmer, Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers boast one of the league’s most explosive offenses, as Justin Herbert is the betting favorite (+600 per DraftKings Sportsbook) to lead the league in passing yards. Palmer is the cheapest way to access the Bolts' passing attack – fantasy managers can draft him for free at the end of fantasy drafts.

The talented second-year player was a favorite of PFF analyst Mike Renner during last year’s NFL draft process, as he compared Palmer to Terry McLaurin. Per The Athletic, Palmer has been running with the first-team offense in minicamp and is the favorite to start in three-receiver sets.

Palmer finished this past season on a high note, racking up 185 yards and three touchdowns in the final five games. He also carries huge handcuff value if Keenan Allen or Mike Williams missed any games this upcoming season.

K.J. Osborn, MINNESOTA VIKINGS

The Vikings pass-catcher was one of the biggest fantasy football surprises last season, posting a 50-655-7 receiving line as the No. 3 receiver on Mike Zimmer’s run-centric offense. Osborn was lethal from the slot, where he registered an otherworldly 147.4 passer rating from his targets (first among all wide receivers). 

Minnesota will feature a more aggressive passing offense under new head coach Kevin O’Connell with similar formations to the Los Angeles Rams‘ offense. The reigning Super Bowl champions used 11 personnel (three wide receivers and one running back) on a league-high 85% of snaps last season, so Osborn should be a near every-down player on a pass-happy offense.


Busts 

D.K. Metcalf, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

The Seahawks wide receiver situation is a true 1A/1B split between Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. They posted nearly identical numbers last season, as Metcalf finished as the fantasy overall PPR WR14 while Lockett was the WR16. 

Accordingly, I cannot understand why there is such a stark difference in their draft cost this season. Metcalf usually comes off the board somewhere in Round 4 or 5 while Lockett typically lasts until the eighth or ninth round. 

Seattle will suffer a serious quarterback downgrade from Russell Wilson to either Drew Lock or Geno Smith. This offense is a lock to be ranked in the bottom five of total points scored, but I want to spend my early draft picks on players in elite offenses — not poor ones. 

Avoid Metcalf early in your fantasy draft and buy the discount on Lockett instead. 

D.J. Moore, CAROLINA PANTHERS

Now that the Panthers have traded for Baker Mayfield, expect Moore’s average draft position to skyrocket into the early part of the third round. This is far too rich a price for a wide receiver on what will still probably be one of the worst offenses in the entire league.

The embattled Mayfield is surely an upgrade over Sam Darnold, but Carolina’s poor supporting cast will likely result in extremely inconsistent play. Moore should post a few spike weeks, but his overall statistics are likely to resemble last year’s 93-1,157-4 receiving line. Jarvis Landry tallied the best numbers for a Mayfield pass-catcher back in 2019 with an 83-1,174-6 receiving line (one fantasy point shy of Moore’s 2021 stat line).

I would rather draft Mike Williams, Keenan Allen or Michael Pittman Jr. over Moore and attach my wide receiver to a significantly better offense. 

PFF’s fantasy projections are very bullish on Moore, ranking him as the overall WR13. However, I’ll take the under on that number

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