• Jordan Addison immediately becomes WR2 in Minnesota: He will benefit from defenses having to focus on Justin Jefferson, who tied for third last season among wide receivers with a 90.5 PFF receiving grade.
• Tank Dell joins an intriguing offense: A handful of wideouts are ahead of him on the depth chart, but a rookie quarterback and a new offensive coordinator might afford him the chance to produce early on.
• Rams' Puka Nacua cracks the top 10: The BYU product doesn't have much competition to become a top-three wide receiver in Los Angeles' offense.
Estimated Reading Time: 7 mins
Rookie wide receivers are acclimating to the NFL faster and faster, with four first-year players cracking the 1,000-yard mark over the past two seasons. How productive a rookie can be ultimately comes down to how talented they are, but the situation they land in plays a key role.
Here is our ranking of the best situations for all rookie wide receivers heading into the 2023 season.
1. Jordan Addison, Minnesota Vikings
Addison should start immediately in Minnesota, and he has a strong shot at leading the rookie receiver class in snaps played in 2023 for that reason. Of all the rookies, he has the clearest path to an immediate role. He will benefit from defenses having to focus on Justin Jefferson, who tied for third last season among wide receivers with a 90.5 PFF receiving grade and led the league in receiving yards.
Addison is coming off a season at USC where he dropped just 3.3% of the catchable passes thrown his way, and he was one of the most productive receivers in college football the year before at Pittsburgh, notching 2.94 yards per route run to rank 22nd in the nation.
2. Quentin Johnston, Los Angeles Chargers
Johnston’s competition for an immediate role in Los Angeles is Josh Palmer, but he could also see time as the focal point of the Chargers' passing attack, with both Mike Williams and Keenan Allen missing time last year through injury. DeAndre Carter was fourth among Chargers wide receivers with 64 regular-season targets last year, so 60 targets feels like a reasonable floor for Johnston as a rookie.
Dynamic with the ball in his hands, Johnston forced 19 missed tackles on just 60 receptions in 2022 and 45 on 115 receptions over the past three seasons. Drops have been a bit of an issue, with Johnston failing to haul in 11.8% of the catchable passes thrown his way last season, but he has been productive enough beyond that to expect a reasonable output in his rookie season.
3. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks finished 22nd in the NFL with 437 passing plays out of “11 personnel” in 2022, but while that is on the lower end of the league scale, it still represented more than 75% of their passing plays over the course of the season. Smith-Njigba will immediately be their WR3, though that was a role that garnered just 39 targets in 2022.
He’s not a like-for-like replacement for Marquise Goodwin, though, and his skill set, along with the pedigree of being a first-round pick, gives him more of a chance of seeing time in two-receiver sets too. He missed most of the 2022 season but out-produced 2022 first-round picks Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson on a per-snap basis in 2021.
4. Zay Flowers, Baltimore Ravens
Flowers should immediately be the Ravens’ third receiver, and with Todd Monken now as offensive coordinator, there is a reasonable chance we see a more dynamic passing game in Baltimore in 2023. Given 2021 first-round draft pick Rashod Bateman’s struggles to stay on the field in his career so far, and Odell Beckham Jr. coming back after missing all of the 2022 season with an ACL injury, there is also a path for Flowers to be the top player at the position for parts of the 2023 season.
Flowers brings a suddenness to the Ravens' offense that they have lacked since trading away Marquise Brown, forcing 41 missed tackles on 199 receptions in four seasons at Boston College. He can also fill the deep threat role, with his 500 yards on targets 20-plus yards downfield ranking 11th in all of college football last year.
5. Rashee Rice, Kansas City Chiefs
The range for where Rice could fit in the Chiefs' offense in 2023 is relatively wide. The floor is somewhere in the WR4-5 range, a role filled by Justin Watson and Skyy Moore in 2022, with both players finishing the year with just 32 targets. However, JuJu Smith-Schuster’s departure leaves the team with 97 vacant targets, and the Chiefs lack a clear No. 1 wide receiver and second-favorite target after tight end Travis Kelce.
Rice's other advantage situation-wise is that he will be catching passes from the best quarterback in the NFL in Patrick Mahomes. Rice finished fifth in the nation with 566 yards on passes targeted 20-plus yards downfield last year and was the focal point for the SMU offense. His 3.05 yards per route run tied for ninth in college football.
6. Jalin Hyatt, New York Giants
Hyatt led the nation with 677 yards on 20-plus-yard targets in 2022 and had at least one reception of 45-plus yards in seven games over the course of the season. That skill set should provide him an immediate role in the Giants' offense. Isaiah Hodgins, Darius Slayton and Parris Campbell are his competition for a major role in the offense, so there’s a path to a featured role there, but at a minimum he should see his share of deep targets in 2023.
7. Tank Dell, Houston Texans
Dell had one of the most intriguing landing spots, finding himself in Houston with Nico Collins, John Metchie III and Robert Woods ahead of him on the depth chart, a rookie quarterback in C.J. Stroud and a new offensive coordinator in Bobby Slowik who should bring some elements of the San Francisco 49ers offense to the team. Dell is undersized but put up more than 1,300 yards in each of the past two seasons and forced 19 missed tackles on receptions in both 2021 and 2022.
8. Cedric Tillman, Cleveland Browns
The range for Tillman is anywhere between WR2 and WR5 for the Browns, which, going by 2022, would put him in position for anywhere between 10 and 95 targets. To be the second wide receiver, he would need to leapfrog Donovan Peoples-Jones and compete with 2022 third-round draft pick David Bell to do so. The newly acquired Elijah Moore is also a threat. Tillman is coming off an injury-hampered season where Jalin Hyatt became WR1 for Tennessee, but the new Cleveland Brown ranked sixth in the SEC in 2021 with an average of 2.46 yards per route run.
9. Jayden Reed, Green Bay Packers
Reed has a pretty clear path to being on the field in three-receiver sets right away in Green Bay. Given that Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb combined for 82 targets from the slot in 2022, that could be a productive role. The concern here is that we don’t know how good Jordan Love will be, and the impact that would have on the Packers' receivers is unclear. Reed caught all 16 of his catchable targets in the slot last season.
10. Puka Nacua, Los Angeles Rams
The lowest-drafted receiver to crack the top 10, Nacua has to get by one of Van Jefferson (90 career receptions) or Ben Skowronek (50 career receptions) to be a top-three receiver in this offense alongside Cooper Kupp, but even WR6 in this offense saw more than 31 targets in 2022. Nacua’s 3.53 yards per route run was the second-highest mark in college football last year, as was his 90.1 PFF receiving grade.
Other notable top-100 selections
- Jonathan Mingo, Carolina Panthers
- Marvin Mims, Denver Broncos
- Josh Downs, Indianapolis Colts
- Tyler Scott, Chicago Bears
It’s not out of the question for Mingo to be the Panthers' top wide receiver by the end of the year, but in doing so he's going to have to leapfrog Adam Thielen, who saw 103 targets in Minnesota last season, while D.J. Chark could be the primary deep threat after pulling in 15 receptions on targets of 20-plus yards downfield in Detroit last season.
Mims is incredibly talented but lands with a team where targets were dominated by the top two receivers last season. Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy saw 106 and 100 targets, respectively, with Kendall Hinton third at the position with 31.
Downs could be WR3 in Indianapolis, but if Anthony Richardson starts at quarterback, there is likely to be less passing volume, at which point Downs would have to get ahead of either Michael Pittman Jr. or Alec Pierce.
The Bears had the second-lowest passing volume in the NFL last season (52.5%). That might change some in 2023, but considering Justin Fields‘ success as a runner in 2022, a complete departure from that seems unlikely. With D.J. Moore, Chase Claypool and Darnell Mooney ahead of him on the depth chart, it’s hard to see a clear path for Scott to earn a featured role as a rookie.