The first day of the NFL draft was a fun one for fantasy purposes as we saw the snow globe of the wide receiver position continue to shake this offseason. We had six wide receivers selected in the first round on Thursday, with another two young stars changing teams as part of the evening.
With that, we are going to walk through the fantasy-centric selections and trades of the opening night.
Atlanta Falcons – Drake London, WR (No. 8)
London’s 2021 season was setting up to be historic before suffering an ankle injury in his eighth game that forced him to miss the remainder of the season.
Prior to his injury, London was nearly the entire USC passing game. He commanded a target on 41.6% of his routes, averaging 11.0 receptions for 135.5 yards per game, all tops in this class. In those games, London accounted for 42.9% of the USC receiving yardage and 41.1% of their touchdown grabs.
That production paired with being the second-youngest wideout in this class made him a strong pick as the first offensive skill player in the draft.
London immediately goes to a spot to command targets in the Atlanta passing game.
Atlanta wide receivers ranked 31st in the league in targets (14.4), 30th in receptions (9.4), and 32nd in yardage (102.1 yards) per game while tied for 30th in the league with nine touchdown receptions in 2021.
With Calvin Ridley suspended for the entirety of 2022, Damiere Byrd had the most yardage among the 2022 group with 1,421 career yards over six seasons.
Atlanta does not have a stellar quarterback position that will likely turnover again early in London’s career, but on the strength of target potential and touchdown ability alone, he can be a fantasy WR2 as a rookie overall while slotting in as a volatile WR3 on the surface.
For Dynasty purposes, London is my WR1 from this class after landing spot and draft capital are factored in.
New York Jets – Garret Wilson, WR (No. 10)
Wilson is an early declare, early-career breakout who continuously improved throughout college, all while doing so next to other first-round talents at his position, both this year and next.
Wilson enters the NFL coming off a season in which he ranked seventh in this class in yards per route run (3.19) and eighth versus man coverage (3.17) while accounting for 20.7% of the Ohio State receptions and 23.1% of the receiving yardage in 2021, higher rates than his teammate Chris Olave.
For fantasy, this fit is a mixed bag. Wilson is a supreme talent, but he joins another potentially ascending receiver in Elijah Moore to fight for targets from a young quarterback that struggled significantly in Zach Wilson.
New York wideouts ended the season 30th in the league in yards per target (7.0) and dead last in success rate per target (43%), the latter of which was impacted heavily by quarterback play.
Zach Wilson ended 2021 last among all qualifying quarterbacks in the league in success rate per pass play (38.7%), completion percentage (55.6%), and completion rate below expectation (-10.3%) while throwing for 6.1 yards per pass attempt (30th).
This is the Jets giving their young passer all the ammunition they can to aid Wilson’s development, but there is a wide range of outcomes here for their new rookie wideout, as well as how this impacts Moore entering his second season.
Moore only ran 101 routes with Corey Davis and Wilson on the field as a rookie, with Davis out-targeting Moore 24-20 on that small sample. Moore and Wilson connected on just 19-of-42 targets (45.2%) while Moore secured 24-of-35 targets (68.6%) from other New York passers.
Garrett Wilson will slot in as a boom-or-bust WR4 as a rookie with volatility added to Moore as an upside WR3.
New Orleans Saints – Chris Olave, WR (No. 11)
Olave posted 840 yards and 12 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2019 and sustained his per-game production throughout the remainder of his Ohio State career. A touchdown machine, Olave closed his four-year career with 35 touchdown grabs, a school record. 20% of his career collegiate receptions went for scores, the highest rate in this draft class.
Olave was second in this class in 2021 in converting 62.5% of his contested catches while not being reliant on them making up a large sample of his targets (15.7%) in large part due to his straight line speed and the Ohio State scheme.
Olave is almost a clone of Wilson physically (6’0”, 187) while he surprised by running a 4.39 40-yard dash at the combine.
After being rumored to have a second-round grade a year ago at draft time, Olave bet on himself increasing that stock and it paid off.
The Saints received back-end production from their wideouts in 2021, ranking 29th in the league in targets (15.4) and yardage (125.9 yards) per game from their wide receivers.
The team really asked Jameis Winston to operate a short-area offense a year ago when he was under center, but that was with Alvin Kamara leading the team with 34 targets from Winston followed by Marquez Callaway at 29, and then no other player over 16 targets. With the return of Michael Thomas paired with Olave, the Saints should expand things for Winston.
Unfortunately, Olave still carries more dynasty appeal than short-term 2022 appeal in a vacuum due to Thomas commanding such a large target share in the intermediate game and in terms of “fantasy-friendly” targets.
That said, Winston is not scared to press the football down the field and found success with Deonte Harty a year ago. Winston and Harty connected on 12-of-16 targets (75%) for 236 yards (14.8 yards per target) with a 130.2 rating.
Olave is a bench receiver and token “better in a best ball” fantasy option for 2022.
Detroit Lions – Jameson Williams, WR (No. 12)
Following two Ohio State teammates the previous two picks, Williams actually transferred from Ohio State to Alabama when it was clear that he was road blocked by both Wilson and Olave.
Immediately stepping into an offense losing both DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle to the NFL, Williams exploded for a 79-1,572-15 line in 2021.
At 6’1” and 179 pounds, Williams has a similar build to the previous two wideouts, but he won downfield more than both. Williams is the draft’s premier deep threat among the top prospects, averaging 19.9 yards per catch. 28.3% of his targets were on throws over 20 yards downfield (fifth in this class) while no receiver in this class has more yards (544) and touchdowns (seven) on throws 30-plus yards in the air this season. All of that went into Williams sporting 3.51 yards per route run (fifth in this class).
The one thorn for Williams is that he suffered an ACL injury in the National Title game on January 10th, pushing back his availability this offseason and potentially the start of his rookie season.
With the return of Williams in question for 2022 at this time, the majority of Williams’s appeal is tied to Dynasty formats.
Taking that route, we still need a quarterback change for the Lions’ big picture. On throws 15 yards or further downfield, Goff has ranked 35th (31.9%), 29th (38.4%), and 30th (39.0%) in completion rate over the past three seasons.
Cardinals Trade for Marquise Brown
The Cardinals were rumored to covet Jameson Williams and were in dire need of a field stretcher. Missing out on Williams, Arizona traded their first-round pick to acquire Marquise Brown from Baltimore.
The move reunites Brown with his college quarterback from 2018, when Brown caught 75 passes for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns with Kyler Murray at Oklahoma.
Brown is coming off his best NFL season, catching 91-of-146 targets for 1,008 yards and six touchdowns.
We were finally seeing the emergence of Brown as a lead wideout until the injury to Lamar Jackson torpedoed a potentially top-scoring receiver season from Brown in Year 3. Brown was averaging 17.4 points per game through 10 games and then limped to the finish line with 8.8 points per game afterward.
With Jackson under center, Brown caught 67.3% of his targets for 12.7 yards per catch, 8.5 yards per target, and averaged 2.03 yards per route run compared to catching 52.1% of his targets for 6.8 yards per catch, 3.6 yards per target, and 0.80 yards per route.
That drop-off is a signal that Brown is not the type of wideout that can overcome and elevate a poor offense, but this move also pairs him with a quarterback that has shown massive success downfield to start his career.
Since entering the league, Kyler Murray has completed 41.5% (34/82) of his passes of 30-plus air yards, the highest rate in the league (league average is 30.3%). His EPA per dropback on those throws (0.91) is second behind Justin Herbert.
Christian Kirk accounted for 30 of those targets, with the next highest player (DeAndre Hopkins) coming in at 12.
Hollywood is second in the NFL in those targets (43) since entering the league behind Tyreek Hill (45). But Brown has secured just 9 of those targets (20.9%) with 14 of those targets deemed inaccurate due to the quarterback, the most in the NFL over that span per TruMedia.
Hopkins missed seven games in 2021. While on the field, he averaged 4.2 receptions and 57.2 yards per game, by far his lowest totals per game since 2016. Hopkins was able to stay afloat for fantasy weekly since he still scored eight times in 10 games. 32.6% of his PPR points came via touchdown production alone, the highest rate in his career and just the second time he has been over 20%.
As a wide receiver who is not a burner and wins on the boundary, contested catches, and nuance, Hopkins comes with the fragility he may not age gracefully and last year was a warning sign to fully eject.
He also was banged up, but with the addition of another viable target, Hopkins will be on the fringe-WR1 outlook for fantasy.
The biggest winner here for Arizona is Murray, who has already flirted with fantasy-MVP caliber starts the past two seasons before midseason injuries and fading production.
The biggest overall winner here through the move has to be Rashod Bateman, however.
Bateman gave us a couple of hot spots as a rookie, but ultimately his playing time never consistently materialized while he was still extremely behind both Mark Andrews and Brown on the pecking order.
Bateman still managed to show us a floor, finishing as a WR3 or better in half of his 12 games played while only pulling in a 10.6% target share. Now with Brown leaving 146 targets (24.7%) on the table with the depth here severely lacking, Bateman has a runway to vault up to a fantasy WR2.
Washington Commanders – Jahan Dotson, WR (No. 16)
After trading back from pick No. 11, which ended up being a wide receiver, Washington selected another wideout in Jahan Dotson.
Dotson continuously improved at Penn State. He closed with a sturdy 91-1,182-12 line, tasked to do some heavy lifting this past season, accounting for 31.3% of the receptions (fifth in this class), 48% of the receiving touchdowns (second), and 24.5% of the yards from scrimmage (fourth).
No receiver in this class may have a better catalog of impressive catches on their resume, but at 5’10” and 178 pounds, Dotson is not a physically dominant receiver while he was not as clean in production per route as some of the previous wideouts selected.
Quarterback play did him no favors at Penn State, now Dotson joins a Washington team that was once again at the bottom of the league in production from their passing game, exiting 2021 23rd in the league in EPA gained via passing (22.6 points). They ranked 22nd in yards per pass attempt (6.8 Y/A) and 22nd in team passing rating (85.8).
Wentz threw for just 6.3 yards per attempt over the final 11 games of the season, failing to recapture the production that he had early in his career paired with Frank Reich.
Playing alongside Terry McLaurin with Wentz, Dotson will be handled as a splash-play dependent WR5 in drafts for 2022.
Philadelphia Eagles Trade for A.J. Brown
In arguably the biggest move of day one for fantasy, the Eagles pulled off a trade for A.J. Brown, signing him to a massive extension immediately afterward as part of the deal.
Brown teased us once again with the upside he holds in 2021. Brown was fourth among all wide receivers in the league in target rate per route run (29.1%), but once again missed time (four games) while being saddled in a low-volume passing offense.
Brown gave us moments that reminded us of his upside when healthy with games 10-155-1, 8-133-1, 11-145-1, and a 5-142-1 in the playoffs, but he also had another seven full games played with fewer than 50 yards receiving. Brown was able to average a career-high 8.1 targets per game, but that still forced efficiency more than his WR1 peers as it ranked 16th at the position.
Brown will once again be tasked to rely on efficiency to carry water for him, joining an Eagles team that found their offensive stride in 2021 when they dialed back their offense through the air.
Jalen Hurts rushed for 784 yards and 10 touchdowns this past season while showcasing a strong fantasy floor, but still needs to show more growth as a passer in year three to be the long-term answer for the Eagles and give us confidence that he can float elite talents in fantasy. Hurts closed 2020 41st in completion rate (61.3%) while second to last in the league in expected completion percentage (61.5%).
Hurts is the biggest winner from a fantasy stance here.
Eagles wide receivers ranked dead last in the NFL in targets per game (13.7) and 31st in yards per game (117.2). Philadelphia ended up ranking 29th in the league in success rate (46%) targeting their wide receivers while only DeVonta Smith (53%) had a success rate over 50%.
Smith accounted for 43.5% of the Philadelphia wide receiver targets (sixth at his position), something sure to come down with the addition of a target-earner in Brown.
Smith (64-916-5) proved he can be a lead receiver with a diverse route tree right away as he demonstrated in college. While the talent is clearly here, we still have to question whether or not his immediate situation paired with Brown and the potential schematic limitations Hurts could place on the offense is going to delay his fantasy stardom from matching that displayed talent.
Smith played in an offense that was 29th in the league in pass attempts per game and was attached to a quarterback that was 28th in the league in expected completion percentage. That combination ended up placing Smith 52nd among receivers in receptions per game (3.8) without Brown on the roster and left us with a lot of lean fantasy weeks. Smith cleared six targets in a game just six times as a rookie, posting nine weeks as the WR52 or lower as a byproduct.
Even Dallas Goedert takes a small hit, although his positional depth allows a much softer landing.
After Zach Ertz was traded after Week 6, Goedert ran a pass route on 79.7% of the Philadelphia dropbacks (a mark that would have been third over the full season) while commanding 24.5% of the Eagle targets in his games played (which would have ranked second). Goedert showed big play ability, posting a career-high 14.8 yards per reception and 10.9 yards per target.
The only blemish here is that the Eagles’ run-first offense still limited his raw totals to just 24.6 routes run and 6.2 targets per game over that span, which had him 16th in expected points per game (10.0) over that same span. He was able to clear seven targets in just two of those games. Goedert is a bit of a discounted version of George Kittle if the Eagles remain so limited through the air, but still a mid-TE1 option capable of spike weeks at a limited position.
Tennessee Titans – Treylon Burks, WR (No. 18)
With the Titans moving A.J. Brown, they had a massive void to fill. A year ago, the Tennessee pass-catching depth was exposed due to injuries to Brown and Julio Jones.
Brown played just 69% of the offensive snaps while Julio Jones played only 58%. The team released Jones this offseason. As a byproduct, 31.3% of Ryan Tannehill’s dropbacks were with both off the field. On those plays, Tannehill averaged just a meager 5.5 yards per pass attempt.
Treylon Burks was comped to Brown by a number of people this offseason. Although asking him to perform on the same level as Brown is a tall ask, where Burks wins does fit the Tennessee offense.
In this draft class, Burks ranks first in yards per route run (3.93), third in yards per team pass attempt (3.52), fourth in the share of team receptions (32.2%), third in share of yardage (45.0%), and first in receiving touchdowns (50%).
A prototypical alpha frame (6’2” and 225 pounds), Burks does carry some volatility in terms of refinement, while he also was not nearly the same measurable athlete at the combine as lofty comparisons placed upon him such as Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant. Burks did still register a 75th percentile speed score with his 4.55 40 at his weight, but he did fall short of being a transcendent athlete on the measurable level.
Burks is amazing with the football in his hands. 57.2% of his yardage in 2021 came after the catch (third in this class) while he was second in yards after the catch per reception (9.6 yards). Arkansas did whatever they could to get him the ball. 24.4% of Burks’ targets were on screen passes, the highest rate of this draft class.
Despite the high usage near the line of scrimmage and running 67.7% of his routes in the slot, Burks also eviscerated press coverage on his limited exposure, averaging 6.4 yards per route run the past two seasons in that department per Pro Football Focus. When operating as an isolated receiver last season, Burks was targeted on 22-of-37 routes (59.5%) for a robust 20-439-4 line, averaging 11.9 yards per route.
Although Burks needs expansion in route diversity, he was strong on go routes, ins, and slants, three of the most popular routes used in the NFL per work done by Dwain McFarland earlier this offseason. Those in-breaking routes are a staple of the Titans’ offense stemming off play-action and the use of Derrick Henry.
With just a 30-year-old Robert Woods coming off an ACL injury to contend with, Burks is set up to command one of the best immediate target shares of this class. The downside, of course, is something similar that we had consistently from Brown, in that he will have to carry efficiency as the raw counting volume stats just do not exist in this passing game. Even with Brown in 2021, he still posted seven full games played with fewer than 50 yards receiving.
Like Drake London, Burks carries WR2 upside as a lofty outcome, but has a wider range of outcomes with the potential overall target limitations of the offense if he cannot be efficient out of the box.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Kenny Pickett, QB (No. 20)
The Steelers carried no secrets that they were after a quarterback at pick 20 and they kept Kenny Pickett in Pittsburgh as the only quarterback selected in the first round.
Through four years at Pitt, Pickett posted pedestrian output, never having a season with a higher completion rate than 61.6%, a higher yards per attempt than 7.7 Y/A, or more passing touchdowns than 13. Then in 2021, Pickett spiked for a 67.2% completion rate, 8.7 Y/A, and 42 touchdowns through the air.
Pickett is also another modern passer that isn’t a zero in the run game, rushing for 801 yards and 20 touchdowns over his career.
His mobility is something the Steelers and Matt Canada desire to make this offense work as intended. Something they could not do with Ben Roethlisberger. Only Tampa Bay had fewer dropbacks outside of the pocket than the Steelers in 2021.
Roethlisberger also used play-action on just 18.5% of his dropbacks, 36th in the league, while Roethlisberger was fourth in the league in dropbacks using shotgun.
Pittsburgh did add Mitchell Trubisky this offseason, but Trubisky only carries a dead cap hit of $2.6 million in 2023 if the Steelers need to move on, while his $10.6 million cap hit overall in 2023 is palatable for a backup with a quarterback on a rookie contract.
Expect Pickett to immediately compete with Trubisky to start the season while it won’t be long for him to get his actual opportunity to be the next Steeler quarterback attempting to fill the shoes of Roethlisberger.
For fantasy, Pickett vaults to the top of the class for dynasty since he was the only rookie passer selected in the first round but is still a lower-end QB2/QB3 for 2022.
Having attachment to a rookie passer is always questionable for fantasy wideouts. Rarely do they support one front-end option, let alone keep multiple options above water.
Even with how Roethlisberger played a year ago, there is added fragility to the outcomes for Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool.
After jumping to WR22 in points per game in 2020, Johnson reached WR9 in that department in his third season, catching 107 passes for 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns. Johnson has amassed a gaudy 313 targets over the past two seasons.
While some of the overall girth of targets can be credited to the limitations of the Pittsburgh offense and late-career Roethlisberger, Johnson is one of the league’s best wide receivers at getting open on his own merit as well. There absolutely is a non-zero outcome where Johnson can still improve in terms of target quality, but he is more volatile than the previous floor-based reception versions of the previous two seasons.
Claypool did not take the step many had hoped in Year 2, especially not after the Steelers lost JuJu-Smith Schuster so early in the season.
Claypool remained stagnant to his rookie efficiency, posting nearly identical catch rates, yards per catch, reception, and yardage per game. The one thing he did not roll over from his rookie season was finding the end zone. After 11 trips to the paint in 2020, Claypool scored just two times last season.
Claypool’s lack of jump was not entirely Roethlisberger related, which is what makes him an intriguing case moving forward. Claypool has struggled to separate through two years in the league and has struggled to win in contested catch situations, which is a combustible combination. 37.7% of Claypool’s targets last season were contested catches, which was sixth in the league. He secured 17-of-41 (41.5%), which was 27th out of 35 wide receivers with 20 or more contested targets.
Claypool’s rookie season touchdown total is more than enough to keep the lights on as a WR3/FLEX, but he also could be on an early-career Mike Williams trajectory where he ultimately becomes a volatile touchdown-dependent fantasy option.