2023 Free Agency Preview: Wide Receivers


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2023 Free Agency Preview: Wide Receivers

The official start to the 2023 NFL season is quickly approaching with the league year and free agency opening at 4 p.m. on March 15. Teams will 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 have to designate franchise players by March 7. The NFL also has a legal negotiating window from March 13-15 when teams can start contacting and negotiating with the agents of unrestricted free agents. We’ll hear of some deals breaking during that window even though they can’t become official.

With that said, it’s time to start breaking down the 2023 free agency class, which includes Jakobi Meyers, Odell Beckham, and JuJu Smith-Schuster 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 with our friends over at Underdog Fantasy (Promo code: FANTASYPTS). New signups to Underdog get both a deposit match of up to $100 and a Fantasy Points Standard subscription for just $5.

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

Available via Trade

Fantasy Starters

DeAndre Hopkins (Ari, 31) — The Cardinals had high hopes for their offense in 2022 but the season got off on the wrong foot with Hopkins suspended for the first six games for PED use. The Cardinals’ season never got on track even after Nuk returned to the lineup, and owner Michael Bidwell elected to tear things down after the season. Hopkins is a major candidate to be traded this off-season as one of the many moves to reset the franchise for new GM Monti Ossenfort. Hopkins posted 64/717/3 receiving (11.2 YPR) on 96 targets (31.1% share) to finish as the WR9 with 17.0 FPG. He played on 88% of the snaps and ran 362 routes (40.2 per game) in nine contests, missing time for his suspension and a late-season knee issue. Nuk is still one of the NFL’s biggest ball hogs after averaging 10.7 targets per game last season, and he’s remarkably averaging 9.9 targets per game over the last nine seasons. The concern is that he could be losing a step as he enters his 11th season at 31 years old. He matched a career-worst mark in YPR (11.2) and had his second-worst average in yards per target (7.5). Hopkins still averaged a solid 1.98 yards per route run, and it’s notable that Colt McCoy threw the majority of passes in four of his nine games in 2022. This year’s free agency class is lacking #1 WRs, and it’s even thin on #2 options, which makes Hopkins even more appealing as a potential for a team searching for an alpha receiver in their passing game.

Unrestricted Free Agents

Note: An unrestricted free agent is a player with four or more accrued seasons and an expired contract who is free to negotiate and sign with any team.

Fantasy Starters

Odell Beckham (FA, 30) — Beckham tore his ACL in Los Angeles’ Super Bowl LVI victory in February 2022, and he ended up never finding a home at the end of last season. He tore the same ACL in 2020, and it took him nearly 11 months to return to action, and he’ll now be 19 months removed from surgery when he returns to game action this fall. Odell’s Cleveland tenure wasn’t exactly smooth, eclipsing 20+ FP just three times in 28 games. He scored just seven TDs while his FPG dropped from 20.4 in New York to just 11.1 in Cleveland, and his relationship with Baker Mayfield and the Browns was eventually beyond repair in the middle of the 2021 season. The Rams acquired Beckham for their title run and he finally saw his career trajectory turn around, averaging 4.2 catches, 52.3 receiving yards, and 6.5 targets per game in his final 11 contests with the Rams. He also scored seven TDs in that span, which was the same number of TDs he scored in 28 games with the Browns. Time will tell if OBJ has lost a step after his second ACL surgery, and the team that will find out will likely have to do it on a multi-year deal based on his demands at the end of last season.

Fantasy Relevant

Richie James (NYG, 27) — James hasn’t been given many chances to show what he can do as a receiver since he came into the league as a 2018 seventh-round pick out of Middle Tennessee State. He needed ACL injuries to both Sterling Shepard and Wan’Dale Robinson to jump into a full-time role, and he became Daniel Jones’ go-to receiver with 37/378/4 receiving in seven games in Weeks 11-17 to rank as the WR22 (14.1 FPG) in that span. Overall, James posted 57/569/4 receiving (10.0 YPR) on 70 targets (17.3% share) to finish as the WR66 with 8.0 FPG. He played on 52% of the snaps and ran 344 routes (22.9 per game) in 15 contests on his way to leading all WRs with an 81.4% catch rate. James missed the entire 2021 season for a knee injury but owns a career 1.58 yards per route run average with 95/1258/7 receiving on just 794 career routes. James has excelled when he’s been given playing opportunities, and we’ll if at least one team will give him a chance to compete for a starting job in free agency. If he draws limited interest, the Giants would at least keep him in the mix as insurance for Robinson as he comes off of his ACL injury.

Mecole Hardman (KC, 25) — Hardman has been a slight disappointment through four seasons based on his late second-round draft capital and ambitious fantasy expectations as a piece of Kansas City’s top-ranked offensive attack. He appeared to be set up for a breakout in 2022 as Tyreek Hill’s potential replacement, but he remained a secondary option for Patrick Mahomes before a groin injury sacked him after eight games. Hardman posted 25/297 receiving (11.9 YPR) on 34 targets (11% share) to finish as the WR32 with 11.7 FPG — he added two short rushing TDs to help his cause. He played on 53% of the snaps and ran 200 routes (25.0 per game) in eight contests. Hardman tried to return to action in the AFC Championship Game but aggravated his groin injury, which he had surgery to correct after Kansas City’s Super Bowl victory. He hasn’t developed into a downfield threat with a career aDOT of 8.9 yards, but he’s averaging 8.4 YAC mostly as a slot option where he’s run 52.3% of his routes. Hardman hasn’t quite been the dynamic playmaker that many expected him to become when he came out of Georgia in 2019, but he’ll get an opportunity to be a #3 WR on a multi-year deal.

Aging Contributors

Jarvis Landry (NO, 30) — Landry is coming off back-to-back career-worst seasons with age and injuries catching up to him. He’s missed 13 games the last two seasons because of ankle and knee injuries after never missing a game in each of his first six years in 2014-2019. Landry posted 25/272/1 receiving (10.9 YPR) on 39 targets (15% share) for 6.7 FPG while playing on 57% of the snaps and running 207 routes (23.0 per game) in nine contests. Landry’s days of 100+ targets and 72+ catches as he accomplished in his first seven seasons are long gone. He can still be a useful #3 WR out of the slot if he can manage to avoid the injuries that have sidetracked his last two campaigns.

Marvin Jones (Jax, 33) — Jones is still chugging along entering his 12th NFL season as a former fifth-round pick by the Bengals back in 2012. He took a small step back last season with Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, and Evan Engram entering the picture in Jacksonville, which ended a streak of 700+ yards in the last seven seasons when he played at least 13 games. Jones posted 46/529/3 receiving (11.5 YPR) on 81 targets (14.7% share) to finish as the WR73 with 7.3 FPG. He played on 66% of the snaps and ran 474 routes (29.6 per game) in 16 contests, missing a game for a knee issue. Jones’ YPR has fallen under 12.0 yards in back-to-back seasons after hitting 12.3+ YPR in seven straight seasons in 2013-20, but he’s still a downfield threat with an aDOT of 14.2 yards last season. He could fall off a cliff at any point if his age finally starts to catch up to him, but he still has a spot in the league as a top backup perimeter option.

T.Y. Hilton (Dal, 33) — Hilton didn’t find a home in 2022 until the Cowboys called off their pursuit of Odell Beckham and settled on the veteran speedster in mid-December. He posted 7/121/0 receiving (17.3 YPR) on 10 targets (8.9% share) for 6.4 FPG while playing on 27% of the snaps and running 35 routes (11.7 per game) in three contests. Hilton added 3/38 receiving in two postseason games and registered at least one first-down reception every game. He also averaged 2.01 yards per route run in his limited five-game sample, and he averaged fewer than 1.74 YPRR just once in his career in 2021 when he dealt with a major neck injury. He even caught a pass with a 51-yard aDOT from Dak Prescott in his return to NFL action, showing that he can still be a situational deep threat entering his 12th season.

Jamison Crowder (Buf, 30) — The Bills signed Crowder to replace Cole Beasley and to challenge Isaiah McKenzie for slot WR snaps, but his time in Buffalo never got off of the ground because of a fractured ankle after 93 snaps. Crowder posted 6/60/0 receiving (10.0 YPR) on 10 targets (9.2% share) for 3.0 FPG while playing on 33% of the snaps and running 71 routes (17.8 per game) in four contests. He’s missed four or more games in four of his last five seasons, and he’s a slot-only receiver, having run 72% of his routes or more from inside in his first eight seasons. Crowder will have to settle for another one-year deal to compete for slot snaps.

Julio Jones (TB, 34) — Tom Brady recruited Julio late last summer for a title run that never came close to materializing for a dysfunctional 2022 Buccaneers squad. Jones played in 10 or fewer games for the third straight season with his third different team — he previously played for the Titans (2021) and Falcons (2020) — with knee and hamstring issues limiting him to career-worst numbers across the board. He posted 24/299/2 receiving (12.5 YPR) on 43 targets (9.8% share) for 7.0 FPG while playing 48% of the snaps and running 245 routes (24.5 per game) in 10 contests. Julio didn’t have much of a market last off-season, and he can’t be counted on to stay healthy for long at this stage of his career.

Other UFAs

Olamide Zaccheaus (Atl, 26)

Byron Pringle (Chi, 29)

DeAndre Carter (LAC, 30)

Chris Moore (Hou, 30)

Kenny Golladay (NYG, 29)

Robbie Anderson (Ari, 30)

Demarcus Robinson (Bal, 28)

N’Keal Harry (Chi, 25)

Randall Cobb (GB, 32)

Dante Pettis (Chi, 27)

Sammy Watkins (Bal, 30)

Justin Watson (KC, 28)

Damiere Byrd (Atl, 30)

Khaderel Hodge (Atl, 28)

Scotty Miller (TB, 26)

Breshad Perriman (TB, 29)

Marcus Johnson (NYG, 29)

River Cracraft (Mia, 28)

Jake Kumerow (Buf, 31)

Miles Boykin (Pit, 26)

Rashard Higgins (Car, 28)

Kristian Wilkerson (Ind, 26)

Olabisi Johnson (Min, 26)

Restricted Free Agents

Note: A restricted free agent is a player with three accrued seasons and an expired contract. RFAs are free to negotiate and sign with any team, but their original team can offer them one of various qualifying offers ("tenders") that come with the right of first refusal and/or draft-pick compensation. If the tender is withdrawn by a team, the RFA becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Jalen Guyton (LAC, 26)

Tom is a Senior Writer at Fantasy Points who specializes in fantasy and betting analysis. He’ll be helping you to navigate the waiver wire and manage your fantasy teams while also keeping our betting content robust all year long, especially during the season. Tom's Best Bets against the spread won at 61.5% clip in 2019 and he was a perfect 8-0 on his Best Bets for season win totals in 2020.