Five Receivers Who Quietly Dominated in 2022
Probably you’re tired of hearing about how good the below wideouts are if you had them on your fantasy squads in 2022 and got maddeningly inconsistent production from them over four frustrating months.
I get it. Pass catchers trapped in bad or stubbornly run-first offenses are going to be far more dependent on game script than equally productive pass catchers in balanced or pass-heavy schemes. Kyle Pitts drafters are seething with every word I write. Seethe away. You’ve earned it.
Below are five wide receivers whose peripheral stats demonstrate a rare -- an extremely valuable -- ability to dominate targets and air yards. These are the guys who could make early-round running back roster builds viable in 2023 -- alpha receivers hiding in the middle rounds of your draft. While peripheral numbers don’t pay the proverbial bills or feed your proverbial children, evaluating opportunity domination should be a key part of your offseason process, whenever that starts for you.
Five WRs Who Quietly Dominated in 2022
Chris Olave (NO)
A mere five receivers had a higher percentage of their team’s air yards than Olave did in his rookie campaign. Six wideouts -- all of them in the league’s elite tier -- posted a higher yards per route run than Olave. He was top ten among receivers in air yards plus yards after the catch. It was all very good.
And yet Olave finished the season as the WR25. Curious.
Tape grinders and analytics nerds alike know Olave’s quarterback situation was less than stellar in 2022. Andy Dalton, latter day Jameis Winston, and Taysom Hill aren’t going to create a massive fantasy season for any wideout. In a New Orleans offense with the league’s 22nd highest EPA per play and the seventh lowest pass rate over expected, Olave had little chance of a blowup rookie campaign. The poor guy had six or fewer targets in seven of his 15 games.
His efficiency and ability to command a hefty target share should be the main (only?) take away from his rookie season. Any time the Saints were forced to the air in 2022, Olave delivered. The problem: New Orleans had a positive pass rate over expected in a meager four games.
Take Week 7: Chasing points against the Cardinals, the Saints were above their expected pass rate and Olave caught seven of 14 targets for 106 yards. He saw 44 percent of the team’s air yards and 30 percent of the targets. In Week 2, when the Saints were again above their expected pass rate, Olave commanded 32 percent of the targets and a whopping 64 percent of the air yards. When the Saints turned to the air against the Rams in Week 11, Olave nabbed five of his six targets for 102 yards and a touchdown. He was second among all wideouts in yards per route run that week.
No one is expecting massive offensive philosophical changes for the down-bad, stuck-in-the-mud Saints in 2023, but Olave will likely be drafted near or below his fantasy floor if fantasy gamers are bogged down in his spotty rookie year production.
Drake London (ATL)
London and Kyle Pitts had the terrible misfortune of being mired in an Arthur Smith offense designed to trigger football analytics geeks the world over. Atlanta in 2022 had the NFL’s second lowest pass rate over expected, not once exceeding their expected pass rate in 17 games. The Falcons were an incredible 18 percent below their expected first down pass rate.
You gotta hand it to Smith, the ultimate run establisher.
London’s 29 percent target share didn’t mean a whole lot in the way of volume: 19 wideouts had more targets than London’s 114 looks. There’s also a fair amount of context within London’s low-key excellent rookie season. London saw 8.5 targets per game from Week 12-18, after Pitts went down with a season-ending knee injury. From Week 1-11, London had seen a measly six targets per game.
Still, it’s noteworthy that London had the NFL’s second highest target share (32 percent) and third highest air yards share (40 percent) during Pitts’ absence. Not a single NFL pass catcher had a higher yards per route run than London following Pitts’ Week 11 injury.
That London posted the league’s 13th best yards per route run is another reason to be bullish on the second-year wideout even as he battles Pitts for target supremacy in the run-heavy Atlanta offense. Arthur Smith, if you’re reading this, please consider using the forward pass in 2023.
Garrett Wilson (NYJ)
Wilson, catching passes from three guys who would fare better in the XFL than the NFL, demonstrated every trait of a budding alpha pass catcher in New York’s offense. His late-season command of the team’s targets and air yards were especially impressive. Only Keenan Allen and Justin Jefferson had more expected fantasy points than Wilson over the regular season’s final eight weeks. Wilson was sixth in expected wideout fantasy points on the year.
Wilson finished the year 16th in wideout target share and took in a solid 30 percent of the Jets’ air yards. He certainly didn’t dominate air yards and targets the way Olave and London did, but Wilson will (very) likely be under-drafted in 2023 with the Jets primed to upgrade at quarterback.
D.J. Moore (CAR)
Headed into his age-26 season, Moore has still never caught passes from a halfway decent quarterback. It’s a crying shame, and I mean that in a literal sense as a Moore drafter who has openly wept while watching the Panthers waste the best years of an unquestionably elite receiver’s career.
That Moore finished as the 24th highest scoring receiver in fantasy last season is a testament to his domination, even if his stat lines left you cold for much of the season. Adjust for QB play and Moore’s WR24 finish might be the greatest fantasy season of all time.
Moore’s domination showed in myriad ways last year, including his 60 percent air yards share during the season’s final two months, his top-ten yards per route run over the same stretch, and his overall 28 percent target share. Moore had the league’s 12th highest yards per route run rate on downfield targets, quite the feat considering the Panthers’ quarterback play. On an offense with the league’s fourth lowest pass rate over expected, such domination matters little.
Carolina’s hiring of Frank Reich and a highly impressive offensive staff bodes well for Moore -- far better than the roster and staff cobbled together by expert grifter Matt Rhule. There’s a good (great?) chance the Panthers open up the passing game under Reich, assuming Carolina lands a viable starting quarterback in the coming months.
Any Moore truther worth their salt knows his 2022 air yards and target share domination was no fluke. Since the start of the 2019 season, Moore ranks first among all NFL wideouts in air yards share. Only eight receivers have a higher target share over that span.
The hope for 2023 is that Reich knows what he has in Moore: A top-level wideout who can win downfield and in the intermediate area. I’m once again in on D.J. Moore.
Jerry Jeudy (DEN)
We are going to ignore the demands of FBI Special Agent Phillip Jeffries and talk about Jeudy. He ended 2022 on a hyper-efficient run: No wideout had a higher fantasy points over expected than Jeudy during the season’s final seven weeks. He was (finally) fully healthy and showcasing his skills in a bland Nathaniel Hackett offense captained by a washed Russell Wilson.
Jeudy commanded 30 percent of Denver’s air yards in that late-season stretch, the 14th most among wideouts. His 26 percent target share equaled that of CeeDee Lamb, DeAndre Hopkins, and DK Metcalf. Jeudy ate up man coverage in 2022, posting the highest yards per route run and the sixth highest yards after the catch per reception against man. With some injury luck, Jeudy could be the main beneficiary of what should be a vastly improve Denver offense under head coach Sean Payton in 2023.