- Speed kills: Jaylen Waddle and Marquise Brown headline the list as they should be in line to build off of strong seasons, while 2022 undrafted rookie Rashid Shaheed has a case for the most underrated sleeper in fantasy.
- Second-year breakouts with significant capital: Christian Watson, Jahan Dotson, and Treylon Burks all made a name for themselves as top 40 picks with multi-level playmaking ability in 2022 despite leaving a bit of meat on the bones, yet all 3 should be in line for bumps in opportunity.
- On the rebound: Elijah Moore’s time with the New York Jets went out with a fizzle, but hopes are high that his fit with the Cleveland Browns leads to a big leap forward while Kyle Pitts looks to return to his rookie season form in a new- look Atlanta Falcons offense.
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
What are the signs of a valuable fantasy receiver? While yards and touchdowns are great, opportunity, usage, and efficiency are generally fantastic indicators for this type of production as raw stats are not always stable year to year. From shifts in offensive philosophy, injuries or departures of teammates, or unexpected player development, opportunity can come from a multitude of factors that may not be immediately evident but these edges are necessary to identify for fantasy success. Upward and downward trends are a part of the game, but here are 10 players who could see their receiving target totals trend upwards in 2023, and are a must watch at their respective draft positions.
Following a rookie season in which he saw over 130 targets, Waddle followed up with 114 targets in 2022, over 50 less than his running mate Tyreek Hill, who posted 167 targets. In 2021, Waddle was efficient, but he took a huge step forward in 2022, averaging an absurd 11.89 yards per target, 2.66 yards per route run and 3.35 fantasy points per touch. He and Hill both saw adjusted target rates over 25%, but Hill’s 37.9% was far and away the highest in the league among players with more than 50 targets. With Tua Tagovailoa back to full strength and expected to take another step in his development, a lack of other reliable pass-catching weapons and a second year with playcaller Mike McDaniels, Waddle has every right to be featured and see his target share fall more in line with Hill.
After recording 103 targets in just 12 games in what was an up-and-down 2022 season for the Cardinals, “Hollywood” should be in line for an even larger target share in 2023 following DeAndre Hopkins‘ departure. Questions around Kyler Murray’s early season availability may make fantasy owners hesitate but in his four games without Murray, Brown averaged 7.5 targets per game even while playing alongside Hopkins in three of them. Considering the weapons at the Cardinals' disposal this season and the likelihood that the team will be playing from behind, the 2023 passing game should operate through Brown.
In 14 games last season, Watson flashed impressive efficiency and big play ability, posting 2.1 yards per route run and 3.45 fantasy points per touch, yet he was not exactly a point of emphasis for the Packers' passing game out of the gate, seeing just 65 targets roughly on par with his fellow rookie Romeo Doubs (64 targets in 13 games). Entering Year 2, both Doubs and Watson should be in line for a larger role within the offense considering the departures of Aaron Rodgers and his safety blankets Allen Lazard (98 targets in 15 games) and Randall Cobb (48 targets in 13 games) to New York. Watson may not see the same big-play success he did in 2022, but the expected bump in usage should translate to increased fantasy output.
Moore had a tumultuous 2022 season bouncing in and out of Mike LaFleur’s doghouse, finishing the season with just 59 targets in 16 games, 21 of which came in the first three weeks and included an abysmal stretch from Weeks 5-12, where he saw the field for less than 20 receiving snaps each week, epitomized by a healthy scratch in Week 7 following a public trade request. After his request was finally granted in a spring trade to the Cleveland Browns, Moore should be primed to return to form and build off his solid rookie campaign in 2021 in what appears on paper to be a formidable Browns offense. Alongside established targets in Amari Cooper (126 targets in 17 games) and David Njoku (79 targets in 14 games) and a full offseason to work with Deshaun Watson, Moore should seamlessly slot in as a second or third receiving option with his ability to win at all three levels of the field.
Consistently flashing in his rookie season in Washington outside of missing five games with a hamstring injury, Dotson posted a four-game stretch to end the season where he averaged seven targets per game and found the endzone three times. Despite this strong finish, Dotson saw an 18.3% adjusted target rate over the whole season, implying there is certainly room to grow next to incumbents Terry McLaurin (115 targets in 17 games) and Curtis Samuel (87 targets in 17 games). Question marks around the Commanders QB room of Sam Howell and Jacoby Brissett are fair concerns as to whether the offense can support three fantasy-relevant WRs, but Dotson’s first-round draft capital and big-play ability absolutely give him a path to demanding a larger piece of the receiving pie in 2023.
It is no secret that Pitts’ 2022 season was largely a disappointment after posting over 100 targets and 1,000-plus yards in his 2021 rookie campaign. He saw 56 targets over 10 games in 2022 despite posting 1.69 yards per route run and just a single dropped pass. Extrapolated over a whole season, Pitts would have seen roughly 95 targets had he not been shut down with a knee injury after Week 11, but most concerning in 2022 was his red zone usage, as he saw just eight targets inside the opponent's 20-yard line compared to his counterpart Drake London’s 31 targets (in 17 games) in the opponent’s red zone. The Falcons will look like an almost entirely new offense in 2023 with Desmond Ridder at the helm, who Pitts did not get to see the field with in 2022 regular season play, as well as with the introduction of Bijan Robinson in the backfield. Robinson and Drake London will command their fair share of targets, but Pitts is entirely too talented to not be more involved than he was in 2022. Breaking 100 targets should be more of an expectation than a projection.
Burks got off to a bit of a rocky start in his rookie campaign between conditioning concerns in the preseason and lack of usage through the first four weeks, but he came around to flash some legitimate playmaking ability down the stretch. Overall, Burks finished with a respectable 25.4% adjusted target rate and 53 total targets, good for just a touch under five targets per game. The current Titans offense is tough to get a read on with aging centerpieces in Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry surrounded by a mostly underwhelming receiving corps outside of Burks and fellow sophomore Chigoziem Okonkwo. Given his first-round draft capital, flashes in 2022 and lack of competition for targets, Burks should be in line to be a focal point of the Titans' offense in 2023.
After missing the first five games of his rookie season, Dulcich established himself as a target Russell Wilson can rely on, drawing 51 targets from Weeks 6-16. His 21.3% adjusted target rate sat just below fantasy mainstays in David Njoku, Dallas Goedert and Tyler Higbee, and if extrapolated over a full 17-week fantasy season, his 82 targets would have put him inside the top 10 among TEs. Looking to 2023, the Broncos have brought in Sean Payton and Joe Lombardi to help the offense rebound from their shaky 2022 performance, and with that comes an expectation for the offense to improve across the board to the benefit of talents like Jerry Jeudy, Javonte Williams and Dulcich. Tight ends always seem to take a few years to make a significant impact, but heading into his sophomore season Dulcich appears to be in a comfortable position to elevate his usage and opportunities while the offense looks to positively regress.
Amidst what was largely a lost 2022 season for the Panthers, Marshall made the most of his opportunities after a slow start to his career in 2021, averaging 17.5 yards per reception and 1.5 yards per route run on just 47 targets and a 17.9% adjusted target rate with Baker Mayfield, P.J. Walker and Sam Darnold at QB in 2022. Enter first-overall pick Bryce Young and a revamped skill position group, and much of the Panthers' offensive production is still largely to be determined. While Adam Thielen and Hayden Hurst may project more favorably with a rookie QB, Marshall’s development path, success at the intermediate level (29/47 targets over 10-plus yards), and ability after the catch (5.1 yards after the catch per reception) should mesh well with Young and give him a path to a featured role and a drastic increase in targets.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Shaheed was one of the most notable stories of 2022 after bursting onto the scene with a 44-yard touchdown run in Week 6 and a 53-yard touchdown catch in Week 7. Over the rest of the season, Shaheed saw his opportunities rise and sustained his efficiency, parlaying 34 targets into 28 catches, 17.4 yards per reception and 2.59 yards per route run. With Derek Carr now in the fold, a general increase in production for the Saints' passing game seems likely despite question marks around Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. With the expected trend of the offense and Shaheed’s explosiveness, a dramatic bump in targets seems to be on the horizon as the Saints search for playmaking.