💤 2 Deep Rookie WR Sleepers

The path is there....

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In today’s Fantasy Life Newsletter presented by Epic Seats:

  • 2 Rookie WRs to keep an eye on

  • DK Metcalf vs. Tyreek Hill: Who ya got?

  • Dwain’s WR Tiers: The alphas

  • Team Preview: Green Bay Packers & Chicago Bears

  • It’s 5/25. Take it away, Peter Overzet

It’s hard to find diamonds in the rough at the WR position. But if we pay close attention to the offseason breadcrumbs, we can unearth some affordable players to help our fantasy squads.

Here are two rookie WRs who should be on our late-round-dart-throw radar after some recent buzz…

The buzz: C.J. Stroud is developing chemistry with Dell:

Fantasy spin: The Texans don’t have a lot of options. Brandin Cooks is long gone, Nico Collins is an intriguing downfield option, John Metchie missed all of last year, and Robert Woods is 31 years old and topped out at 527 receiving yards with Tennessee last year. Enter the hometown favorite Dell, who was a target hog in college.

Here’s what Chris Allen said about Dell in his pre-draft profile:

“Despite his frame, Dell can win at all three levels of the field. His acceleration makes him a nightmare on short-yardage routes, while the same quick-twitch ability instantly creates windows on intermediate patterns. And, of course, he can stop and go on a dime for an explosive gain.”

Best ball spin: Dell is available at the end of drafts and makes sense as a backdoor stack option with Stroud or as a Week 17 correlation piece with Titans players.

😴 Rams WR, Puka Nacua

The buzz: The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue asked Rams WR Van Jefferson who to keep an eye on through OTAs, and he mentioned Puka:

“He has come in and taken ownership of the playbook, and tried to learn the best he can. You can just see how it (translates) on the field. He’s been having a great two days that he’s been out here.”

Fantasy spin: Dwain’s WR model didn’t love Puka as an older prospect taken at pick 177 overall, but the Rams WR depth chart is wide open after Cooper Kupp and Jefferson.

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Ben Skowronek, Tutu Atwell, and Nacua will all compete for a role in 3-WR spots, which means it's a battle worth monitoring. Puka earned 3.54 yards per route run (the second-highest mark in college football last year) and could potentially be used similarly to Robert Woods in the Sean McVay offense.

Best ball spin: I’ve been taking Atwell as my last pick on my Matthew Stafford teams to complete double stacks, but I’m going to start sprinkling in some Puka as well.

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Around the Watercooler (August 2022)

🙌 The TE who could get used like Julian Edelman. That’s a fun comp.

🚀 1,000-yard seasons by 7th-round picks since 2000. Interesting list.

📆 The best playoff matchups for fantasy. Ian & Chris draft a mock draft team.

🍖 Don’t invite Cooterdoodle to your MDW BBQ. She’s all business, all the time.

📈 A TE who could lead his team in receptions. I could see it.

🏃 DK Metcalf vs. Tyreek Hill. Who ya got in a foot race?

😯 New wrinkles in the KC playbook? Could be fun.

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Dwain’s Top 150 rankings for 2023 are live now on FantasyLife.com. BUT today, he’s here to walk us through his tiers at the WR position

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Tier 1 – Young Alphas In Great Situations

 🔔 Justin Jefferson | Vikings

  • Target-earning profile: WR1-worthy target earner, WR1-worthy air yards

  • Performance peripherals: WR1-worthy PFF rec grade, WR1-worthy YPRR

  • Projected role: Do-it-all, every-down WR

Jefferson has delivered 16.9, 19.5, and 21.5 points per game in his first three seasons, joining Michael Thomas and Odell Beckham Jr. as one of three WRs to do so since 2011.

Justin Jefferson

The fourth-year WR is so good it is hard to find worthy data comps – he checks every box. Essentially, he breaks the model.

We could see rookie first-rounder Jordan Addison compete for more looks than we saw from Adam Thielen last season. Still, Jefferson has consistently earned his opportunities since entering the league with target shares of 23%, 27% and 26%.

The Vikings offer a great offensive environment with a QB who is one of only five passers in the NFL to average 260-plus yards passing in each of the last three seasons. Only Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady share that honor. Kirk Cousins may get his share of criticism in the real NFL world, but he can support multiple weapons through the air for fantasy football.

Additionally, the Vikings leaned heavily into the passing game last season with Kevin O’Connell taking over. Minnesota ranked 5th in dropback rate in every type of game script.

  • Trailing by four-plus points: 73% (+5)

  • Within three points: 66% (+6)

  • Leading by four-plus points: 57% (+8)

At 24, Jefferson is worthy of the No. 1 pick in PPR and half-PPR formats.

🔔 Ja’Marr Chase | Bengals

  • Target-earning profile: WR1-worthy target earner, WR1-worthy air yards

  • Performance peripherals: WR2-worthy PFF rec grade, WR2-worthy YPRR

  • Projected role: Do-it-all, every-down WR

Chase bested his 18-point-per-game average as a rookie in his sophomore campaign by reaching 20.5 per game. He joins Beckham Jr. as only the second WR since 2011 to register 18 or more points per game.

Ja'Marr Chase

Despite playing across from Tee Higgins, Chase averaged 25% of the targets when only including games Higgins finished. However, in games without Higgins, we saw Chase erupt with a 34% share and 23.1 points per game – he has the talent to operate as the centerpiece of an offense.

In addition to his alpha target-earning profile, he resides in a high-end offensive attack projected to win 11.5 games by BetMGM. Joe Burrow averaged 279 passing yards per game over his first three seasons, and the Bengals morphed into a pass-first operation in 2023, opting to throw the ball more than the NFL average in all situations.

  • Trailing by four-plus points: 70% (+2)

  • Within three points: 72% (+13)

  • Leading by four-plus points: 56% (+7)

Thanks to his age and the high-end QB pairing, Chase separates himself from aging options with more offensive questions in Tier 2.

Tier 2 – Aging Alphas

🔔 Cooper Kupp | Rams

  • Target-earning profile: WR1-worthy target earner, WR1-worthy air yards

  • Performance peripherals: WR1-worthy PFF rec grade, WR1-worthy YPRR

  • Projected role: Do-it-all, every-down slot WR

Kupp will be 30 this season, but no other WR averaged more fantasy points per game in 2021 (25.7) or 2022 (22.6). With Matthew Stafford back for another go, the veteran slot WR could post numbers that look more like RB1 numbers again in 2023.

Cooper Kupp

If Kupp is on the edge of breaking down, it isn’t showing up in his ability as a target earner or the advanced peripherals. His 88.1 PFF receiving grade was still WR1-worthy.

The Rams didn’t add any noteworthy competition. Kupp doesn’t have any other WR or TE teammates inside the top 36 or 12 at their positions, respectively.

The Rams' offense has questions with Stafford getting older and a questionable offensive line, ultimately pushing Kupp a tier below the young alphas. However, there is no doubt about his demonstrated upside. He is worthy of an early- to mid-first-round selection in PPR and half-PPR formats this summer.

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Fantasy Life senior analyst Ian Hartitz is breaking down all 32 NFL teams over the next two months. Let’s take a look at the Packers, who are about to rebuild on the fly with a new QB…

🏈 RBs

  • Aaron Jones (Ian’s RB18)

  • A.J. Dillon (RB32)

Jones joins Derrick Henry as the two marquee RBs hitting the dreaded age cliff this season. Of course, absolutely nothing about Jones’ performance in 2022 indicated a serious decline is imminent:

  • PFF rushing grade: 90.7 (No. 2 among 33 qualified RB)

  • Yards per carry: 5.3 (No. 1)

  • Yards after contact per carry: 3.2 (No. 10)

  • PFF receiving grade: 64.6 (No. 12)

  • Yards per route run: 1.25 (No. 8)

  • Elusive Rating: 71.4 (No. 8)

Perhaps the six-year veteran tells Father Time to buzz off for one more year, but drafting Jones as the RB16 he’s currently priced as means giving up the middle-WR3 tier in addition to the last true upside options at TE (George Kittle, Kyle Pitts) and QB (Justin Herbert, Trevor Lawrence).

Packers Team Preview

I’m not completely fading Jones this year, but, at cost, I prefer the lower-end RB3 tier with guys like Samaje Perine, Devon Achane and Antonio Gibson, who each regularly go four-plus rounds later than the Packers’ longtime RB1.

Jones has stayed healthy for the heavy majority of his career, but the Packers have been willing to give Dillon a near every-down role on the four occasions that their nominal starting RB has been limited to 25 or fewer snaps:

  • Week 11, 2021: 11-53-0 rushing, 6-44-0 receiving, 75% snaps

  • Week 13, 2022: 18-93-1 rushing, 3-26-0 receiving, 68% snaps

  • Week 16, 2022: 11-36-1 rushing, 2-12-0 receiving, 58% snaps

  • Week 17, 2022: 12-41-1 rushing, 0-0-0 receiving, 46% snaps

Overall, Jones boasts relatively modest advantages in targets (137 vs. 80) and rush attempts (384 vs. 373) compared to Dillon over the past two seasons; the Packers rotate them far more as 1.A/1.B options than clear early-down/pass-down complements.

Week-to-week scoring upside isn’t expected to be as prominent in the post-Rodgers era; just realize Dillon should still see double-digit touches far more weeks than not, and he’d immediately be a must-start option with a theoretical three-down role should Jones miss any time.

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And while we are at it, Ian Hartitz previews their division rival, the Chicago Bears…

🏈 QBs

  • Justin Fields (Ian’s QB5)

  • P.J. Walker (QB46)

All the Bears’ QB1 did last season was work as one of the most fantasy-friendly players at the position, ripping off 10 top-12 finishes in his final 11 games of 2022. This stretch included five finishes inside the position’s top-five signal-callers.

Already the NFL’s all-time record holder for most career 50-plus yard touchdown runs in the Super Bowl era (!), Fields combines elite top-end speed with the sort of tackle-breaking moves that can make Chris Berman go from six to midnight in a hurry.

There has truly only been a handful of seasons ever featuring a QB putting up this sort of rushing production. The following leaderboard denotes the most fantasy points per game from purely rushing production in a single season by a QB in NFL history:

  1. 2019 Lamar Jackson (10.84)

  2. 2022 Justin Fields (10.82)

  3. 1972 Bobby Douglass (10.34)

  4. 2022 Jalen Hurts (10.27)

  5. 2010 Mike Vick (10.1)

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Fields is an absolutely incredible rushing threat. Cool? Cool. But, of course, the passing part of the equation needs some work.

Don’t get it twisted: Fields can sling the rock and has put more than a few examples of this on tape at the NFL level.

That said, averaging 152.3 passing yards per game in 27 career contests is not great. In fact, it’s the 13th-lowest mark among 91 QBs to start at least 16 games between 2010 and 2022. Fellow dual-threat talents like Tyrod Taylor, Tim Tebow and Taysom Hill are below Fields and still made it work more times than not in fantasy land, but that’s not a great group to be in.

The hope is that the supporting cast around Fields improves in a major way. PFF’s reigning 32nd-ranked offense in team receiving grade unironically entered the offseason with Darnell Mooney, Chase Claypool and Equanmieous St. Brown as its top-three WRs. But D.J. Moore provides a big-time upgrade.

Of course, even with Moore, it’s still tough to call this group an above-average unit relative to the rest of the league.

Ultimately, 13 of 14 QBs with 125-plus carries in a season posted top-12 fantasy numbers on a per-game basis. That last part (per-game basis) is important. I didn’t just reward the overall finishes for those lucky enough to stay healthy; high-usage rushers at QB join high-volume receiving RBs as the closest things that fantasy football has to cheat codes.

The only QBs I would draft above Fields this season either also have his sort of rushing upside (Jalen Hurts, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson) or are possibly the greatest QB we have ever seen (Patrick Mahomes).

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