Fantasy Football: Wide receivers to target and avoid based on their 2024 role

Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin (14) celebrates after catching a touchdown during the first quarter against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Diontae Johnson returns to the X receiver role: The Carolina Panthers traded for Johnson, which will bring him back to the role where he thrived with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Chris Godwin is back to the slot: Godwin’s return to his usual role will be helpful, but only because Liam Coen is his new offensive coordinator.

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Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

On Wednesday, I dug into what a wide receiver's role means for their fantasy production. Using that information, I put together four situations to target and one to avoid based on their projected roles on their team in 2024.

Target: Rashee Rice and Hollywood Brown, Kansas City Chiefs

The role that most consistently produces top-12 fantasy performances are the X receivers in two-receiver sets who play in the slot in three-receiver sets. The only players to have that role with any level of consistency last season were CeeDee Lamb, Adam Thielen and Rice. The rookie receiver took that role most weeks from Week 8 on, and he was WR16 over the second half of the season.

Rice could be dealing with a suspension due to legal trouble, but there is another receiver to be excited about in Kansas City based on his potential role,  Hollywood Brown. He was consistently the lead Z receiver for his team and consistently finished top 24 in fantasy points per game. Brown was moved to the X role last season with the Arizona Cardinals after DeAndre Hopkins‘ departure, leading to more contested targets and less fantasy production.

With the Chiefs, Brown will ideally replace Marquez Valdes-Scantling as the Z receiver. Brown has consistently been among the best separators based on our charting data while Valdes-Scantling has been among the bottom of the league. Brown has tremendous potential paired with Patrick Mahomes.

Target: Diontae Johnson, Carolina Panthers

Johnson is similar to Brown in that he spent most of his career at one position before switching spots last season but switching back this season. Johnson had been the Steelers' X receiver and a top-30 fantasy asset from 2020-2022, including the overall WR8 in 2021. His fantasy production declined in 2022 without any touchdowns. His new role leads to more touchdowns and more yards per reception but fewer targets and not any better fantasy production as the Z.

Johnson is now with the Panthers where he was told he would be the X receiver. New head coach Dave Canales’ X receiver has finished among the top-16 fantasy wide receivers each of the last four seasons, and Johnson has minimal competition for targets. Johnson’s fantasy production will somewhat depend on how much better Bryce Young plays at quarterback, but that is built into his ranking. He has top-10 potential if Young improves.

Target: Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Godwin has historically been a Z receiver who moves to the slot in three-receiver sets. Last season, he stayed at the Z receiver reportedly to avoid further injuries. This season he will be moving back to the slot.

Generally, Z receivers who move to the slot in three-receiver sets slightly outperform Z receivers who stay at the Z. Godwin has generally produced just as well from the Z spot in three-receiver sets as he has in the slot, so his role switch didn’t play that big of a deal last season. He also graded well at a 78.9 receiving grade, which is very consistent with most of Godwin’s seasons, so the injury didn’t seem to impact his play last season.

Godwin’s down fantasy season last year was mostly a lack of touchdowns, but luckily, his role will be different with Liam Coen as offensive coordinator. When Coen was with the Los Angeles Rams, no team completed more passes to slot receivers in three-receiver sets. This included the fourth-most touchdowns by slot receivers in three-receiver sets. Los Angeles also ran more snaps out of 11 personnel, but even on a per-snap basis, the Rams were throwing touchdowns to slot receivers at an above-average rate. The Rams have generally kept their receivers in their roles more than most teams, and that’s also been true about the Buccaneers. 

Godwin should continue to play well like he’s always done, but a rebound in touchdowns should lead to better fantasy production.

Target: Rashod Bateman or Devontez Walker, Baltimore Ravens

Twenty-nine of the 32 receivers projected to be the X on their team have an ADP in the top 175 using consensus ADP. One exception is the New England Patriots, where the depth chart is completely in flux, and another is the Los Angeles Rams, where Demarcus Robinson is a very clear third receiver on the team. This leaves the Baltimore Ravens.

In Baltimore, Zay Flowers will hold down the Z receiver role while Nelson Agholor is the slot. Rashod Bateman rotated with Odell Beckham Jr. last season as the X receiver. Todd Monken was among the top-five play callers in keeping wide receivers in their typical role, with either Bateman or Beckham often on the field, and rarely both. If their fantasy production had been combined last season, they would have been WR35.

Bateman was given a contract extension with high expectations on him this season. Given his three years of disappointing fantasy results and PFF grades, it would be understandable that some might not be high on Bateman given his history. In that case, Devontez Walker could be worth a late-round flier in deeper leagues. The fourth-round rookie has the measurables that more closely resemble an X receiver. Our draft guide mentioned Walker was not a polished player in 2022 or 2023, but if he develops a lot in the next two months, he could take over as the X receiver and be a great late-round steal.

Avoid: Jayden Reed, Green Bay Packers

Reed was a very productive wide receiver as a rookie, but the only problem was his 24 routes per game. He ran that few routes because he exclusively played in three-receiver sets.

In the preseason, he played the slot role with the starters and lead backups but never played a single snap in any of the 71 two-receiver sets with any unit. The Packers took 378 snaps in two receiver sets in the regular season, including several without Christian Watson, and Reed took only 14 snaps in two receiver sets. He was out-snapped by Romeo Doubs, Watson, Dontayvion Wicks, Malik Heath, Bo Melton and Samori Toure. Of those 14 plays, Reed was primarily used as a rushing option or rushing decoy.

It could be difficult for Reed to gain more time in two receiver sets in his second year. The Packers kept their wide receivers in their usual roles the second-most of all teams last season. Romeo Doubs was the X receiver, Christian Watson the Z and Dontayvion Wicks the primary backup to both. Wicks graded slightly better than Reed, and if anyone gains more playing time in two-receiver sets, it might be Wicks. Even Melton emerged as an option late in the season, earning an 85.1 receiving grade on 79 routes, almost all from the final four weeks of the season.

The easiest way for a slot receiver who doesn’t play in two receiver sets to become a consistent fantasy asset is the team playing a lot of 11 personnel, but the Packers were right at league average at a 63.3% rate. They were at 54.2% during tie games, which was well below league average compared to other teams when tied. They were also at a 57.0% rate when playing with a lead, which is a lower rate compared to others with a lead, and at 71.0% when playing from behind, which was slightly higher than average. The Packers spent early draft picks on both Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft last season. Both played fine for rookie tight ends last season, so it’s unlikely we see a significant increase in 11 personnel usage. 

This leaves his rushing production as his main way of standing out despite the low playing time. From Weeks 11-14, he ran the ball nine times for two touchdowns, but he only ran the ball once in his final five games. Aaron Jones was injured for nearly all of that four-week stretch, and the Packers invested in Josh Jacobs and MarShawn Lloyd at running back.

Reed’s fantasy value blew up at the end of last season, but that corresponds with both Musgrave and Jones missing time due to injury, giving Reed more carries and more receiving opportunities. With a fully loaded Packers offense, Reed should still have some great weeks, but they will be hard to predict, potentially leaving fantasy managers frustrated with Reed more often than not.


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