• Kansas City Chiefs WR JuJu Smith-Schuster: He showed up on the biggest stage of his career with seven receptions for 53 yards in the Super Bowl and could be a strong No. 2 option for the Carolina Panthers.
• New Orleans Saints WR Michael Thomas: Thomas appeared in just three contests in 2022 but flashed his elite ability. He takes a one-year flier with the Kansas City Chiefs in this projection.
• Free agent WR Odell Beckham Jr.: The Dallas Cowboys remain a logical landing spot with CeeDee Lamb likely not signing his extension until the 2024 offseason.
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Jakobi Meyers, New England Patriots
2023 team prediction: Houston Texans
We have a reunion here between Meyers and Houston Texans general manager Nick Caserio, who came from the Patriots organization. The Texans are expected to draft a quarterback early in this year’s draft, and Meyers has proven to be a great receiving option for a rookie signal-caller. Meyers saw 50 more targets than any other Patriots player in 2021 with rookie quarterback Mac Jones and led the team again this year despite New England trading for veteran DeVante Parker and trading up in the 2022 NFL Draft for Tyquan Thornton.
The Texans arguably need speed, more so than a possession receiver, to make up for the eventual departure of wide receiver Brandin Cooks, but 2022 second-round pick wide receiver John Metchie III, who was diagnosed with leukemia shortly after the draft, could return as early as the offseason program, per Caserio.
Over the past three seasons, Meyers’ 3.1% drop rate ranks ninth among qualifying wide receivers, and he rarely loses in contested situations. The thing is, particularly with a lower average depth of target receiver, you don’t really want to see many contested targets. Nevertheless, Meyers is certainly capable of creating separation with sharp route running.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kansas City Chiefs
2023 team prediction: Carolina Panthers
Smith-Schuster showed up on the biggest stage of his career with seven receptions for 53 yards in the Super Bowl, as well as drew the defensive holding call on Philadelphia Eagles cornerback James Bradberry that effectively sealed the victory. Over the course of the season, Smith-Schuster hit key statistical benchmarks that earned him a ton of extra money, in particular by eclipsing 65 receptions (78) and 900 receiving yards (933).
Smith-Schuster’s one-year flier with the Chiefs carried a base value of just $3.76 million, but he earned an additional $6.5 million in incentives. He earned $2 million of that from the AFC championship game and the Super Bowl, a potential benefit that only the Kansas City Chiefs provide a great shot at earning on an annual basis.
The former second-rounder will still be just 26 years old for the first half of the 2023 season, his seventh in the league, and earned a 72.2 receiving grade in 2022 — his best since 2018. He has been credited with just six regular-season drops over the past three seasons on 247 targets, with a drop percentage below 4% in each season. While he has sustained a few injuries over the years, Smith-Schuster has proven his toughness, notably pushing hard to play in the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ 2021 playoff game, which was quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s last NFL outing.
The Carolina Panthers effectively have no receiving weapons to speak of beyond wide receiver D.J. Moore, and Smith-Schuster profiles as a strong No. 2 option.
Odell Beckham Jr., Free Agent
2023 team prediction: Dallas Cowboys
Beckham and the Dallas Cowboys had extensive discussions about him potentially joining the team late in the 2022 season, but, ultimately, nothing came to fruition. Beckham has made it clear he wants to plant roots somewhere for a few years as opposed to reprising his role as a mercenary for the Los Angeles Rams.
The Dallas Cowboys make a lot of sense as a landing spot — just ask Micah Parsons — with CeeDee Lamb likely not signing his extension until the 2024 offseason. In the meantime, Dallas can have two mid-tier wide receiver contracts with Michael Gallup and Beckham. The Cowboys have to regret recouping just a fifth-round pick for Amari Cooper — and every other team that didn’t beat that price should, as well — but with Beckham they don’t have to break the bank on a game-changing wide receiver when healthy.
Beckham may not be the weekly six-catch, 85-yard wide receiver he was to start his career, but teams looking for players who can make key plays in big moments have to be interested in what he can bring to the table. Beckham’s 84.7 receiving grade during the 2021 playoffs ranked fourth among wide receivers, his four contested catches were tied for the lead and his eight explosive receptions were tied for the third most.
Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
2023 team prediction: Kansas City Chiefs
Thomas could take a page out of the notebook of JuJu Smith-Schuster, who was able to capitalize on the brilliance of the Kansas City Chiefs‘ offense and get his career back on track after playing just five games in 2021. Thomas appeared in just three contests in 2022 but flashed his elite ability. His 77.4 receiving grade ranked 12th among wide receivers, his three touchdown receptions tied for second and his eight contested catches were the most in the NFL through the first three weeks.
Older Thomas stats almost seem unfair to highlight given how long it has been since he was a dominant force, but it’s clear that he can still be an upper-echelon wide receiver when healthy. While injuries are never a good thing, Thomas has avoided taking many big hits over the past few years, which could serve him well over the next few years.
Here, in the absence of any team stepping up with a significant multi-year offer, the Chiefs take a flier on Thomas and he makes the best decision to max out his 2023 campaign before re-entering free agency.
D.J. Chark Jr., Detroit Lions
2023 team prediction: Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings will reportedly work to keep wide receiver Adam Thielen in the fold going forward, but there is no guarantee the two sides work things out, so here we have them finding a replacement in the speedy D.J. Chark Jr.
Chark is not quite the route-running technician that Thielen has been over his career, but you can always use 4.34-second 40-yard dash speed with a 6-foot-4 frame. Thielen started to show some signs of aging, as well, in 2022, struggling at times to create short-area separation — which had always been a strong suit for him. With Chark, the Vikings get a downfield threat who can take the top off opposing defenses, clearing room for his former LSU teammate in Justin Jefferson and also taking a playmaker away from the division rival Detroit Lions. Tight end T.J. Hockenson will also have more room to operate over the middle.
Over the past four seasons, Chark’s 33 receptions on passes thrown 15-plus yards downfield rank tied for 14th among wide receivers and his 11 touchdown receptions on such passes tie for eighth. This is despite his hardly playing in 2021 due to injury, though injuries have been a bit of a concern during his career.