2022 Pre-Draft Fantasy Rookie Rankings: Wide Receivers 11-40

Earlier, we covered the top-10 wide receivers in this class pre-draft. For more of an idea on the methodology on what goes into these early ranks, make sure to check out the intro to that post. Keeping things in order, we’re following suit here on the rest of this class, with individual notes on wide receivers 11-20. This class has more tangible depth than last year’s class, so we should see a number of these players still come attached to draft capital on Day 2.

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11. Christian Watson, North Dakota State, FY Age: 22.6 (MR: WR12)

Watson has been a post-season climber after a strong Senior Bowl showing and he carried that into the combine, closing out as a 94th percentile athlete in terms of physical score in the model at 6’4” and 208 pounds. Watson has an extremely limited production profile playing in a run-heavy FCS offense, posting just 2.3 receptions over his career (38th in this class), but his 19.4 yards per catch rank fourth.

We have seen wide receivers elevate their draft stock at the combine with marginal production, but if Watson comes with tangible draft capital in April, he fits the profile of what we look for in small-school, non-early declares that could potentially hit.

12. Jalen Tolbert, South Alabama, FY Age: 22.8 (MR: WR8)

Tolbert has a strong production profile, posting back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons at South Alabama. This past season, Tolbert built on his 2020 breakout by producing an 82-1,474-8 line, accounting for a class-high 55.5% of his team receiving yards and 33.3% of yards from scrimmage while ranking seventh in share of receptions (30.0%) and receiving touchdowns (36.4%). 

Tolbert gives me Gabriel Davis vibes coming out as a potential boundary option and lid-lifter in the middle rounds. 53.3% of his Tolbert’s targets came on throws over 10 yards downfield (sixth in this class) while he was second in this draft class in targets on throws 20-plus yards downfield (33) while leading the group in targets (23) and catches (12) on throws 30-plus yards downfield while finishing behind Jameson Williams in yardage on targets (544-534).

13. Wan’Dale Robinson, Kentucky, FY Age: 21.0 (MR: WR9)

Robinson popped in a big way in 2021. After two seasons with 793 and 701 yards at Nebraska as a dual-threat asset, Robinson tallied a massive 1,445 yards this past season. After being used in both the run and pass game, Kentucky scaled back Robinson’s rushing to just seven carries after 88 and 46 the previous two seasons and instead used primarily as a pass catcher, with 104 of his 111 touches coming through the air.

Robinson had the highest rate of targets in this class come behind the line of scrimmage (33.6%) to replace the rushing attempts, but he also had 30 targets on throws over 20 yards downfield, which were the fourth-most in the class. By the end of the season, Robinson accounted for 42.9% of the Kentucky receptions and 46.8% of their receiving yardage, rates that were first and second in this draft class.

While Robinson is fun as hell, he is an archetype I rarely gravitate towards in fantasy because he is a master of none. At 5’8” and 178 pounds, Robinson is a smaller frame that is tough to project for high usage at any position. Chasing the next Percy Harvin is a tall ask in catching that lightning in a bottle while Robinson is nearly 30 pounds lighter than Deebo Samuel was at the combine.

We just lived through a limited first season for Rondale Moore in an offense suited for his strengths, leaving us at the mercy that wherever Robinson lands can get him the opportunities necessary to carry being a football player over having a defined position. Just 5.1% of Robinson’s career receptions were for touchdowns, the lowest rate in this draft class.

14. Alec Pierce, Cincinnati, FY Age: 21.7 (MR: WR11)

Pierce closed his career out at Cincinnati with a modest 52-884-8 line, but where he really started to pick up steam was following the combine. Checking in at 6’3” and 211 pounds, Pierce tacked on a 4.41 40 time while jumping out of the gym with a 92nd percentile explosion score (vert plus broad). 

A vertical downfield threat is exactly the archetype that Pierce not only profiles as but was on the field at college as well. 33.6% of Pierce’s targets were go routes, the highest rate in this class. The next closest wideout (Treylon Burks) was at 21.3%. Pierce had just one target on a screen all season as he led this class in average depth of target (16.0 yards) while 34.1% of his targets were contested catches, the highest rate in this class. His usage played a role in averaging just 2.9 receptions per game for his career. 

Pierce will surely be a riser based on being one of the larger and more athletic receivers in this class while his peripherals also give off a Chris Conley vibe, who exploded at the 2015 combine and got himself into the third round of the draft.

15. Khalil Shakir, Boise State, FY Age: 21.9 (MR: WR14)

Shakir broke out in 2019 with 21.9% of the Boise State receptions and 23.8% of the yardage, building on that breakout in just seven games in 2020 (52-719-6) and then capping his career off with a strong 77-1,117-7 season this past year in 12 games. Shakir was targeted on 33.2% of his routes (ninth in this class) while averaging 3.11 yards per route run (10th) and 2.73 yards per team attempt (seventh). 49.7% of Shakir’s targets resulted in a first down or touchdown, second in this class.

Shakir has solid size (6’0” and 196 pounds) comparable to a number of prospects in this class but does profile on the field as an interior receiver at the next level. His average depth of target was just 9.1 yards, running 77% of his routes from the slot, while he has just 29” arms. With solid draft capital and the right home, Shakir has a shot to be a discounted version of Skyy Moore.

16. Justyn Ross, Clemson, FY Age: 22.0 (MR: WR16)

Ross exploded as a 19-year-old freshman for a 46-1,000-9 line, leading Clemson in receiving yardage, on a team with Tee Higgins and Hunter Renfrow. Ross took a small step back in 2020, catching 66 passes for 865 yards and eight touchdowns, but still accounted for over 20% of the Clemson receptions, yards, and touchdowns that sophomore season.

Ross then required surgery for a spinal fusion condition that sidelined him for all of the 2020 season. 

He then returned to the field this season but did not quite recapture the early-career production pre-injury, catching 46 passes for 415 yards and three touchdowns. Ross ran into poor offensive attachment as Trevor Lawrence left for the NFL as only 73.6% of Ross’s targets were on-target per Sports Info Solutions, 31st in this class. 

Like Pickens, Ross is a former 5-star recruit with an early career breakout and the size (6’4” and 205) that not many receivers in this class have, but his injury history could push him down the board more than Pickens.

17. Tyquan Thornton, Baylor, FY Age: 21.4 (MR: WR17)

Thornton broke out as a 19-year-old sophomore with a 45-782-5 line, producing 24.9% of the Baylor receiving yardage and 20.8% of their receiving scores. After a shortened 2020 season of just five games (16-158-1), Thornton capped off his college career with a 62-948-10 senior season. 

Thornton made noise at the combine by initially looking as if he challenged the record for the 40-yard dash before it was corrected to a still impressive 4.28 time at 6’2” and 181 pounds. Thornton was exactly as advertised in correlation to that raw speed, running 58.8% of his routes as an isolated receiver, producing a class-high 71.9% of his yardage lined up on his own as Baylor tried to create mismatches downfield and on slant routes to utilize his speed.

24.5% of Thornton’s targets came on throws over 20 yards downfield (eighth in this class) while he carried an average depth of target of 14.9 yards, second in this class. 25.8% of his routes came on slants, second among this class.

Thornton may be limited in having a full arsenal out of the box as he was dead last in this class in yards created after the catch per reception (3.05), but his raw speed will tantalize some team to take a swing on him earlier than his overall production lies as a field stretcher.

18. Calvin Austin, Memphis, FY Age: 22.8 (MR: WR19)

From one splash-play option to another, Austin produced back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with 20 total touchdowns to close out his career at Memphis. By letter of the law, Memphis is required to put out at least one interesting and athletic prospect each season. Austin was the third-fast receiver at the NFL combine, running a 4.32 40-yard dash.

At just 5’8” and 170 pounds, Austin leaves a lot desired in frame, but his play on the field backed up his displayed speed as he produced an explosive gain on 26% of his targets, sixth in this class. Austin was more universal than Thornton, producing 7.2 yards after the catch per reception (eighth). While Austin’s frame is undersized, his speed alone will draw interest from teams as early as day two.

19. Bo Melton, Rutgers, FY Age: 22.6 (MR: WR31)

Melton never produced more than 638 yards or six touchdowns in a season but was saddled on pathetic Rutgers offenses and passing games. For context, his 618 receiving yards accounted for 37.6% of his team production in 2021, which was the sixth-highest rate in this class. Melton only caught three touchdowns, but Rutgers had just nine passing touchdowns in 13 games in 2021.

Melton was a surprise at the combine, running a 4.33 40-yard dash at 5’11” and 189 pounds while he also registered in the 62nd percentile in explosion score (vert plus broad jumps). Melton doesn’t have the strongest production resume, but the former four-star recruit accrued 26 offers entering college, he just chose an anemic program. With proper draft capital, Melton can find greener pastures in the NFL.

20. Danny Gray, SMU, FY Age: 22.8 (MR: WR21)

You can sense here that Gray was another late-career producer who put up a good time at the combine. Gray was a JUCO transfer who caught 33 passes for 448 yards and four touchdowns over eight games in 2020 before coming back as the lead receiver in his senior year in 2021 to grab 49 passes for 803 yards and nine scores. 

Playing on an aggressive offense didn’t hurt as Gray was just 29th in this class in yards per team attempt (1.72), but he produce 2.92 yards per route (12th) and 8.5 YAC per reception (fifth) to go along with running a 4.33 40-yard dash at 6’0” and 186 pounds in Indy. Another pick with a ton of variance in when he could be selected, some team will surely dabble on the speed alone.

21. Velus Jones, Tennessee, FY Age: 24.6 (MR: WR36)

Jones had just 58 catches for 627 yards and four touchdowns through five seasons at USC and Tennessee before producing a 62-807-7 line in 2021 to close out his career. Failing to produce much before age 24 season is a major red flag, but Jones also drew a lot of attention at the combine, running a 4.31 40-yard dash at 5’10” and 204 pounds.

Tennessee clearly knew they had an athlete to give the ball to as 25.0% of Jones’s yardage came solely of screen passes as 29.3% of his targets were at or behind the line of scrimmage (third in this class). 75.6% of his targets came inside of 10 yards, the highest rate in this class. Jones will surely get an extra look due to his speed and size, but as an older prospect with a limited profile, he is still a longer play.

22. Kevin Austin, Notre Dame, FY Age: 21.8 (MR: WR23)

We are firmly in the workout warrior portion of the class — over production — now. Austin was a former four-star recruit with 34 offers entering college, but that initial potential never materialized at Notre Dame as he caught a total of 54 passes for 996 yards and seven touchdowns, with 48-888-7 coming in his senior season. 30.6% of Austin’s targets were over 20 yards downfield (second in this class) 27.1% of his targets were contested catches (second).

Looking like a potentially discounted version of Alec Pierce with albeit less collegiate production, Austin came out of the combine with a 91st percentile athletic score, running 4.43 40 with a 94th percentile explosion score at 6’2” and 200 pounds. There is pedigree going back to leaving high school to back up the athleticism if a team takes a swing on him on day two.

23. Isaiah Weston, Northern Iowa, FY Age: 24.2 (MR: WR24)

Another small-school prospect, Weston comes with a limited production resume, averaging just 2.7 receptions per game over his collegiate career (35th in this class), but led this class in yards per reception (22.6 yards) over his career at Northern Iowa. 19.3% of Weston’s career catches went for touchdowns, second in this class behind Chris Olave.

Like Christian Watson, he also ripped up the combine, checking out of the event with a 94th percentile athletic score at 6’3” and 214 pounds. With that kind of size, Weston would also fit the mold of small-school, non-early declares that slip through the cracks, but the only downside is he is already a full two years older than Watson is. 

Ranking the Rest

24. Romeo Doubs, Nevada, FY Age: 21.7 (MR: WR15)
25. Erik Ezukanma, Texas Tech, FY Age: 21.9 (WR22)
26. Dai’Jean Dixon, Nicholls State, FY Age: 23.2 (MR: WR20)
27. Dontario Drummond, FY Age: 24.4 (MR: WR33)
28. Jalen Nailor, Michigan State, FY Age: 22.8 (MR: WR30)
29. Reggie Roberson, SMU, FY Age: N/A (MR: WR25)
30. Makai Polk, Mississippi State, FY Age: 20.4 (MR: WR26)
31. Ty Fryfogle, Indiana, FY Age: 22.9 (MR: WR34)
32. Slade Bolden, Alabama, FY Age: 22.9 (MR: WR40)
33. Kyle Phillips, UCLA, FY Age: 22.5 (MR: WR27)
34. Charleston Rambo, Miami, FY Age: 22.4 (MR: WR29)
35. Josh Johnson, Tulsa FY Age: 22.2 (MR: WR28)
36. Devon Williams, Oregon, FY Age: 21.5 (MR: WR32)
37. Mike Woods, Oklahoma, FY Age: 21.8 (WR35)
38. Braylon Sanders, Mississippi, FY Age: 22.9 (MR: WR37)
39. Tre Turner, Virginia Tech, FY Age: N/A (MR: WR38)
40. Johnny Johnson, Oregon, FY Age: N/A (MR: WR39)

Hitting the back end of the draft class, it is hard to project tangible draft capital for this group, leaving us at the mercy of seeing where they are selected in April with each as longer plays. 

The model likes Romeo Doubs the most of this group after he posted 2,111 yards and 20 touchdowns the past two seasons attached to Carson Strong and an aggressive Nevada offense. Doubs also has solid size at 6’2” and 201 pounds…

Jalen Nailor has interesting peripheral stats as he was targeted on 33.5% of his routes (sixth in this class) while producing a class-high 9.8 yards after the catch per reception…

Makai Polk is the youngest receiver in this class, coming off a 105-catch season at Mississippi State, but he averaged just 10.0 yards per catch with an average depth of target of 7.8 yards while checking in as 14th percentile athlete at the combine, leaving a lot of that production manufactured…

Dai’Jean Dixon was second in this draft class in averaging 86.5 receiving yards per game at Nicholls State.