I fondly remember my sophomore year of college. You return to school with a good sense of what's what; you know the hot spots on campus, the classes to target, where the weekend fun is. But the looming pressure of the real world is still a few years off. It's probably the most stress-free year of the college experience.
Sophomore receivers in the NFL this season? Oh, a much different story. This class has basically bankrupted the fantasy market.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, draft proactively into these young wideouts. Plenty of them carry high NFL Draft pedigree — six of them went in the first round back in 2022, with seven more in the second round — and several of them were rookie-year contributors. We like to draft ascending talents. We like players still on the escalator.
Alas, sometimes that escalator is actually headed down. And that's been the 2023 story for the Class of 2022. If you avoided this entire subset of players, you'd be much better off.
So it's time to ask the obvious question — what the heck happened?
Garrett Wilson (Drafted WR8, currently WR29)
Of all the second-year disappointments, this is the one I'm least bothered by. Wilson was likely going to the moon, but no one could foresee Aaron Rodgers getting hurt on the first series of the season. Zach Wilson had targeted Garrett Wilson liberally, but those targets are often too late or to the wrong spot. It's gotten so bad that the Jets are turning to Tim Boyle in Week 12, the same Boyle who had one touchdown pass and 13 interceptions for his college career. If Rodgers is back for 2024, I will draft Wilson proactively, again.
Chris Olave (Drafted WR11, currently WR20)
As much as I love Olave's talent, here's a semi-miss that I think we could have solved before the year. Derek Carr's efficiency stats were worse in 2022 than Andy Dalton's — and the Saints couldn't wait to escort Dalton out of town. If we could reconcile that Carr was a lateral move or possible a move down from Dalton, we could figure that Olave's value could be tenuous this year. Olave managers enjoyed a brief respite in Week 10, which was sparked by Jameis Winston entering the game after a Carr injury. If the field-attacking Winston returns to action, Olave becomes a start-with-confidence player. If we're stuck with Carr, Olave becomes a manage-expectations player. It's not satisfying, but it's the reality.
Christian Watson (Drafted WR21, currently WR77)
Fantasy managers had to consider the pros and cons of Jordan Love as they formulated their Watson draft plan. But what's actually done Watson in is something else — the other younger receivers in this offense look like better players. Consider the yards per target of the major pieces here — Dontayvion Wicks is at 10.3, Jayden Reed is at 9.1, Watson is at 6.9, and Romeo Doubs is at 6.1. Perhaps Watson's rookie year was mostly the result of that delicious Aaron Rodgers volume.
Drake London (Drafted WR23, currently WR45)
Sometimes you can get into trouble with arbitrary endpoints, but I couldn't unsee the way London ended the 2022 season. Over the last four games (all Desmond Ridder starts), London had a 25-333-0 line on 33 targets. No, there weren't any touchdowns, but I figured it at least spoke to Ridder and London having a connection. Maybe this is something we can build on. Unfortunately, head coach Arthur Smith has a history of not prioritizing his highest draft capital — Kyle Pitts, Bijan Robinson and London have all been frustrating to watch in 2023. It will be interesting to see how the Falcons return from their bye week, off a loss and with Ridder — at least he's better than Taylor Heinicke — returning to start.
George Pickens (Drafted WR30, currently WR33)
The overall chart for Pickens doesn't sound too bad, but it's been an erratic boom-or-bust return weekly: WR51, WR9, WR39, WR72, WR4, WR19, WR45, WR103, WR45, WR49. A consistent profile would be far more useful. The Steelers seem to know who they are, a team that has to win with good defense, a committed run game and a hide-the-quarterback passing game. Everyone in fantasy felt like OC Matt Canada was holding this offense back — and Canada was let go Tuesday — but Kenny Pickett might not be fixable. Every Pittsburgh game feels like a race to 17 points. It's hard to see much 2023 upside for Pickens, or Diontae Johnson for that matter.
Jahan Dotson (Drafted WR32, currently WR44)
This is one of my biggest regrets, as I thought Dotson could lead this team in touchdown catches and be close to Terry McLaurin in fantasy value, at a discounted price. Alas, even with Sam Howell having a surprise breakout year, the Washington passing tree has been extremely wide, and Dotson has not commanded heavy target shares on a weekly basis.
Skyy Moore (Drafted WR42, currently WR86)
At least Moore quickly revealed himself as a fantasy drop — he didn't clog rosters for long. The Chiefs have never viewed him as anything close to a full-time player, and he's been inside the WR50 cutline just once all year. The Kansas City receiver room is desperately searching for answers — we saw that all night in the Monday loss to Philadelphia — but the team doesn't have faith that Moore is worth an expanded role.
Treylon Burks (Drafted WR47, currently WR124)
He's been hurt some, the Tennessee offense has mostly been a mess, and when rookie QB Will Levis does chuck it downfield, it's usually to DeAndre Hopkins.
Jameson Williams (Drafted WR56, currently WR100)
Williams occasionally makes a downfield splash play, but he's usually capped at 2-3 targets per week, and the Lions are unlikely to make major changes as they hum along at 8-2. Detroit drafted Williams with an eye towards the future — his college career ended with a torn ACL — but it's possible his career could be limited to a specialty field stretcher, not someone who runs a diverse route tree.
I don't want this entire piece to be melancholy, so let's at least mention two small hits from this class.
Romeo Doubs (Drafted WR51, currently WR31)
Doubs is outkicking his summer ADP, but it's mostly about touchdown deodorant (seven spikes) and not about his efficiency, which has been mediocre. Jayden Reed is the receiver I want in Green Bay, and I'm also curious about Dontayvion Wicks. I'd only play Doubs if backed into a corner.
Khalil Shakir (Drafted WR92, currently WR61)
Shakir has a chance to be useful down the stretch. He's played in 65% or more of the snaps for four weeks running, and he has a 14-288-1 line over that span, including an 81-yard touchdown against the Jets. The efficiency sings as well — he's catching 88% percent of his targets, and he's averaging 16.5 yards per catch.