2022 Free Agency Preview: Wide Receivers

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2022 Free Agency Preview: Wide Receivers

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The official start to the 2022 NFL season is quickly approaching with the league year and free agency opening at 4 p.m. on March 16. Teams will be able to begin signing free agents and any trades agreed to prior to the new league year will become official starting on that date.

There are a couple of other key dates to remember before the league year officially kicks off. Teams had to designate franchise players by March 8. The NFL also has a legal negotiating window from March 14-16 when teams can start contacting and negotiating with the agents of unrestricted free agents. We’ll hear of some deals breaking throughout that window, even though they can’t become official.

With that said, it’s time to start breaking down the 2022 free agency class, which includes Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, and Mike Williams at the WR position. Be sure to follow Fantasy Points throughout free agency for in-depth breakdowns of every major (and minor) move. We’ll be tracking every off-season transaction from a fantasy perspective through our “Off-season Tracker” articles and Graham Barfield’s “Fantasy Fallout” pieces. We’ll also be constantly updating our Best Ball rankings if you’re looking to get an early start to draft season.

NOTE: Players are loosely ranked based on talent, age, plus previous and expected future fantasy relevance.

Unrestricted Free Agents

Free Agency information courtesy of OverTheCap.com

Potentially Fantasy Relevant

Will Fuller (MIA, 28) — Fuller’s career has been marred by injuries, having never completed a full season after six years in the league. 2020 saw Fuller’s promise as a prospect almost fulfilled, as he averaged 17.2 FPG across 11 games – a mark that tied with AJ Brown for WR7. But Fuller’s strong 2020 ended abruptly with a six-game PED suspension that carried into Week 2 of 2021. When Fuller joined the Dolphins for the 2021 season, he suffered a finger injury which would cost him the rest of 2021 in just Week 4. And Fuller’s saga with this broken finger is a messy one. He was initially placed on IR after the injury in early October, with the Dolphins suggesting he was week-to-week. Come November, Dolphins HC Brian Flores suggested the team believed Fuller would be back in 2021, and that they had been receiving “favorable news” as to his status. But by late December, it was revealed Fuller suffered a setback with the finger injury, and was confirmed out for the remainder of the season. Fuller had surgery on the finger as recently as early February, and while he’s expected to recover by training camp, one would have to think this finger injury saga, combined with his previous injury history, will make long-term suitors almost non-existent for the electric deep-threat.

Potential landing spot: Fuller won’t be regarded as much more than a one or tw-year rental at the position. But that’s not to say he can’t contribute, as the 2.16 YPRR he averaged from 2018 to 2020 showcases elite talent when healthy. Teams in need of a deep threat are Fuller’s most likely suitors, bringing Cleveland and Philadelphia to the front of the mind as potential options, if Miami doesn’t retain his talents.

Odell Beckham (LAR, 30) — Beckham has, confusingly, seen his FPG drop in virtually every season since he was drafted in 2014. His rookie season (24.6 FPG) was the greatest rookie fantasy WR season ever. And while he never returned to that incredible FPG mark, he did post a WR1 season every year until 2019, when he joined the Cleveland Browns. Odell’s Cleveland tenure wasn’t exactly smooth – he eclipsed 20.0 fantasy points just 3 times in 28 games, and scored just 7 TDs while his FPG dropped from 20.4 (during his time in New York) to just 11.1 in Cleveland. And of course, this culminated in Odell Beckham Sr. (Odell’s dad) releasing a YouTube video showcasing all the times Odell had been wide open in Cleveland and wasn’t thrown the ball. Once it seemed the relationship with the Browns was beyond repair, Odell was traded to the Rams, and finally saw his career trajectory turn around. Beckham averaged 12.4 FPG and scored 7 TDs in his 12 games with LA, which was the same number of TDs he scored in 28 games with CLE. He finished the year with a Super Bowl ring, but did tear his ACL in that game (the second time Odell has torn that ACL), and has an offseason of rehab ahead of him if he wants to be ready for Week 1 of 2022.

Potential landing spot: Beckham screams WR2 at this point in his career, but that’s certainly still valuable enough to draw significant interest. Philadelphia certainly lacks WR depth behind DeVonta Smith, and could pursue Beckham for a short-term deal to surround Jalen Hurts with more immediate talent. New England could also enter the fray, given up and coming QB Mac Jones has a relative lack of receiving talent at this point in his career.

TY Hilton (IND, 33) — Hilton hasn’t exceeded 800 receiving yards in any of the last three seasons, likely signaling he’s in the twilight of his career. Hilton played just 10 games in 2021 (due to quad and toe injuries, alongside a concussion), and while he posted middling efficiency numbers, his volume suggested he was largely an afterthought in this Colts’ offense. Hilton never exceeded 5 targets in an individual game, and scored more than 12.0 fantasy points just twice. While it’s easy to blame QB play, or a run-heavy offense, it’s difficult to see a scenario where Hilton is able to carve out more volume, regardless of destination. He’s simply reached an age where it’s not reasonable to expect his efficiency to recover. And after averaging just 7.4 FPG in 2021, Hilton can’t be regarded as more than an end-of-draft dart throw in redraft, and even then, the upside seems minimal.

AJ Green (ARI, 34) — Green went from perennial All-Pro – averaging at least 14.2 FPG in each of his first eight seasons – to one of the least efficient WRs in fantasy football, failing to eclipse 10.0 FPG in each of the last two seasons. In fact, Green’s drop off couldn’t be more stark. In his first 8 seasons, he averaged 2.36 YPRR. Among 2021 WRs, that would rank 9th-best, just behind Ja’Marr Chase. But over the last two years, Green’s YPRR has fallen to just 1.31. In 2021, that would’ve ranked 24th-worst (out of 94 qualifiers), and it represents a massive 45% decrease in Green’s per-route efficiency. So, what’s going on? Well, while it’s somewhat encouraging Green was slightly better in 2021 than he was in 2020, the reality is that he’s likely hit an age cliff. Meaning we have to assume his best fantasy days are well behind him. Green could certainly manage a WR4 or WR5 season in 2022 should he get ample volume in the right destination (re-signing with Arizona, perhaps?). But who exactly will give him that opportunity, especially in a deep FA class that’s full of much younger WRs? It’s difficult to say, suggesting Green’s destination is of massive importance, as he will need a full-time role to hang on to any semblance of fantasy relevancy.

Emmanuel Sanders (BUF, 35) — Sanders has been a classic example of a “mercenary” WR, having played for four teams in the last four seasons. 2021 saw Sanders join the electric Bills’ offense, and he made the most of that opportunity, at least initially. Through the first six weeks of 2021, Sanders averaged 15.0 FPG – a mark that would’ve made him WR19 over the full season. But then the veteran WR seemed to fall off. He averaged just 5.2 FPG in his final eight regular season games, and saw his route participation cut down substantially in the playoffs in favor of the much younger Gabriel Davis. Given the harsh drop off in Sanders production and overall offensive involvement, one would have to think he’s contemplating retirement, which is exactly what he’s hinted at thus far in offseason interviews. Should Sanders choose to play in 2022, it’s difficult to see a path towards fantasy viability. Outside of depth and a veteran presence, he can’t really bring much to an offense at this stage of his career. He can be safely ignored in almost all formats.

Keelan Cole (NYJ, 29) — It’s difficult to view Cole as much more than a depth addition for most teams. He’s never been particularly efficient, and even in an injury-riddled Jets’ receiving corps, only exceeded 5 targets in three of 15 games this past year. We have to assume his upside is rather limited, as he hasn’t managed to stand out on either Jaguars’ or Jets’ teams who were both eager for someone (anyone?) to step up at the position. Still, he may be able to compete for a starting spot on thin receiving groups like Philadelphia or Cleveland, but even that seems optimistic.

Sammy Watkins (BAL, 29) — Watkins initially appeared to have carved himself out a starting role in the Baltimore offense, seeing at least 7 targets in each of his first four games while running a route on 87% of team dropbacks during that stretch. But, after sustaining a hamstring injury in Week 5, Watkins never managed to earn more than rotational snaps. He saw just 17 targets in his final eight games and saw his route participation collapse to just 37%. If getting out-targeted in your final eight games by Devin Duvernay isn’t a massive red flag, then I’m not sure what is. Watkins’ receiving grades and overall efficiency has fallen to the level of a roughly league-average player, and at 29 years old, we would have to think Watkins only has a year or two left in the tank. I’d expect teams to view Watkins as a solid WR4/WR5 depth addition, but certainly not as a WR who should be seeing significant volume in any regard. His days of fantasy relevancy are close to over, if not over already.

Albert Wilson (MIA, 29) — Wilson has never gotten much love as a WR, having averaged just 3.8 targets per game across his career. But, Wilson does possess elite speed and agility, and that’s translated to solid big play ability throughout his career. Since 2017, Wilson has had games of 24.7, 21.5, and 33.0 fantasy points, despite having never earned more than 11 targets in a game. So, while he doesn’t offer a strong enough skillset to carve out a full-time role as WR, he has shown great upside on occasion, granted those occasions are certainly few and far between. Wilson is at a stage in his career where he will be asked to handle around 30-40 touches in a season, and not much more. His season-long upside is massively capped for this reason, but if injuries open the door to Wilson earning 6 or more touches in an individual game, then he could still post a WR1 score. Worth keeping an eye on for DFS purposes, but can be safely ignored in most other formats.

DeSean Jackson (LV, 36) — Even at 36 years old, Jackson still has some gas left in the tank. He recorded just 34 targets with Las Vegas, but still managed two games with 19.2 or more fantasy points, thanks to his legendary deep-threat ability. Jackson still has enough speed for a team to bring him on as a downfield specialist, but he’s so far removed from his days of seeing decent target volume that his only fantasy contributions come from the occasional big play, which, at 36, would be expected to be few and far between.

Tre’Quan Smith (NO, 26) — Smith has been remarkably consistent during his 4 years in the league, averaging between 6.5 and 8.0 FPG every season, and seeing exactly 50 targets each of the last 2 years. But outside of that consistency, there isn’t much to get excited about with Smith. He’s still young, yes, but he failed to draw decent target volume on New Orleans receiving corps that were desperate for either a No.2 option behind Michael Thomas, or an alpha WR1 in 2021. Smith should have no problem finding work as a WR3 or WR4, but it’s difficult to get excited about any fantasy upside when he couldn’t stand out in a thin Saints’ receiving corps these last few years.

Other UFAs

John Ross (NYG, 27)

Cam Sims (WAS, 26)

Danny Amendola (HOU, 37)

Marquise Goodwin (CHI, 32)

Adam Humphries (WAS, 29)

Mohamed Sanu (SF, 33)

Marcus Johnson (TEN, 28)

Noah Brown (DAL, 26)

Damiere Byrd (CHI, 29)

Dede Westbrook (MIN, 29)

Kenny Stills (NO, 30)

Tavon Austin (JAX, 32)

Kha’Darel Hodge (DET, 27)

Tajae Sharpe (ATL, 28)

Chester Rogers (TEN, 28)

DeAndre Carter (WAS, 29)

Malik Turner (DAL, 26)

Dante Pettis (NYG, 27)

Isaiah Ford (MIA, 26)

Marcus Kemp (KC, 27)

Cameron Batson (TEN, 27)

Auden Tate (CIN, 25)

Restricted Free Agents

Free Agency information courtesy of OverTheCap.com

Christian Blake (ATL, 26)

Lil’Jordan Humphrey (NO, 24)

Malik Taylor (GB, 27) — Taylor is an exclusive rights free agent.

Trenton Irwin (CIN, 27) — Irwin is an exclusive rights free agent.

Jake Tribbey is a recent college graduate and lifelong football fan obsessed with extracting every edge possible from NFL DFS, Best Ball, and player props/futures.

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