Our analysts have put together fantasy football projections for all fantasy relevant players. You can find them on our player pages and via our Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR). These will be updated throughout the preseason to help you navigate your fantasy football drafts using our multitude of tools, including our FREE Draft Simulator and cheat sheet creator. We cover players in different groups to help you identify those to target and others to avoid. Let’s take a look at wide receivers to target in the running back dead zone.
The Running Back Dead Zone is generally referred to as rounds 3-6, which has historically been an area in drafts where running backs have performed poorly compared to wide receivers drafted in a similar area. As the wider public has become more aware of the dead zone in the last two years, it has led to changes in the players we see there.
Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Targets in the RB Dead Zone
Here are 2023 fantasy football wide receivers to draft in the running back dead zone. Derek Brown gives his outlook on the following receivers.
Diontae Johnson (PIT)
There is only one explanation for Diontae Johnson’s 2022 season. After an offseason workout in rainy Pittsburgh, he walked into his house with an umbrella still drawn and tripped over his black cat, causing him to jump into his full-length entryway mirror, shattering it in a million pieces. This improbable yet possible turnaround is the only possible explanation for his woefully unlucky season. Despite ranking 13th in goal percentage, tenth in red zone goals and WR20 in projected fantasy points per game, Johnson finished the season with zero touchdowns as WR39 in fantasy points per. match. Kenny Pickett’s play was a factor, but Johnson simply had a terrible run-out. Regression is coming for Johnson and this offense. Johnson is still ranked 11th in total road wins, so there is no dropoff involved here. It’s just a case of legendary bad luck. Johnson is a WR3 with top-15 upside.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba (SEA)
Since Jaxon Smith-Njigba was announced as the Seahawks’ pick in the NFL Draft, concerns have circulated about Seattle’s use of three wide receiver sets and his target share with DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Those are valid concerns, but before I push back against them, let’s discuss Smith-Njigba as a talent. In 2021, he was first in yards per carry. route running and first in PFF receiving grade (minimum 50 targets per PFF) while posting a 22.7% target share along with Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. Smith-Njigba is typecast as a low aDOT player, but he has also shown the ability to win downfield. In 2021, he was ninth in yards per carry. route running and tied for first in PFF’s deep reception rate (minimum 15 deep targets per PFF). Smith-Njigba is an elite-level prospect. That said, I have a hard time believing the Seahawks burned a first-round pick on a player they don’t plan on playing with, so I think they’ll be running a ton of 11-man in 2023. On the subject of goal share, Smith-Njigba can put those concerns to rest quickly and hit the ground running as the second option in this passing attack. While I don’t want to take anything away from Tyler Lockett, he hasn’t been a high-end scorer. Over the past four seasons, he has never ranked higher than 36th in goals per game. route driving. The addition of Smith-Njigba could allow Lockett to return to stretching the field. Since 2019, he has ranked top-12 in deep targets twice. Last year, he logged the second-lowest aDOT of his career and the lowest YAC per. receipt mark. Smith-Njigba should rack up goals early and often in 2023. Draft him and enjoy.
Treylon Burks (TEN)
Treylon Burks is staring down another season with plenty of opportunities at his disposal to put his disappointing rookie season in the past. Burks saw a 17.6% completion rate last season while ranking 35th in air yardage and 32nd in yards per carry. route. While neither of those numbers will instill confidence in Burks entering year two, his 17th-ranked route win rate and 24th-ranked open rate (tied with Marquise Brown, according to ESPN analysis) should. Burks enters the offseason with only Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, Kyle Philips and Chigoziem Okonkwo competing for targets in 2023. Burks falls into the WR3/4 bucket, but he could easily shatter that expectation.
Jordan Addison (MIN)
Last year, Adam Thielen achieved a goal share of 17.0% and 107 goals. He did this while ranking outside the top 55 wide receivers in yards per carry. route run and route win rate (per Playerprofiler.com). Why can’t a talented first-round wide receiver match (or easily exceed) those volume numbers in his first season? Addison can. He absolutely can. Addison ranked 22nd or higher in yards per carry. route, and PFF has received grades in each of his last two collegiate seasons (minimum 50 targets per PFF). The Vikings were third in neutral pass percentage and second in red zone last season. I don’t see them falling outside of the top 5-10 teams this season in either category. Addison could be a WR2 in fantasy if he can pass TJ Hockenson in the target pecking order.
Jahan Dotson (WAS)
Dotson’s overall rookie season numbers don’t jump off the page. He was the WR38 in fantasy with a 15.9% target percentage (56th), a 24% aerial percentage and 1.50 yards per carry. route driving (50.). All of these numbers paint an inaccurate picture of his true upside. After he returned from injury, the final five games of the season offered a clearer picture of what a breakout second season for Dotson could look like. In Weeks 13-18 last season, Dotson ranked 20th in target percentage (24%), third in end zone percentage (50%), 17th in opportunity weight and 13th in yards per carry. route driving. Sam Howell or Jacoby Brissett at the helm in 2023 don’t inspire a ton of confidence, but Dotson is a capable wide receiver who is well-versed from his college days in dealing with pitiful quarterback play. Dotson is a WR4/5 who could make a big jump in his second season. I wouldn’t rule out him giving Terry McLaurin a shot at the team lead in goals this season. Investing in talented second-year wide receivers are strong bets to make.
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