6 Wide Receivers Likely to Be WR1s (2023 Fantasy Football)

The goal of fantasy football is to win, and one of the ways we accomplish that is by identifying WRs who finish near the top of their position. It’s pretty easy to draft a WR inside the top 12 that ends up as a WR1, but it’s much harder and more valuable to draft a WR outside of the top 12 to finish as a WR1.

This article breaks down some historical markers for WR1s, then identifies the WRs drafted outside the top 12, by average draft position (ADP), who have the best chance to finish as a WR1.

Identifying WR1s (2023 Fantasy Football)

Data overview

For my research, I looked at the top 12 WRs by points per game. game (PPG) who played a minimum of eight games in their respective seasons over the past 10 years, where we’ve seen passing volume remain relatively stable. This gives us a sample of 120 data points, plenty large enough to draw conclusions from. I compiled each WR’s PPG, the year in the league in which they finished as a WR1, their target share the previous year, and their team’s pass attempts that season.

The last three stem from the following hypothesis:

  • 1: WR1s are more likely to come from certain experience levels
  • 2: WR1s don’t appear out of nowhere
  • 3: WR1s play on teams with a greater passing volume than the league average.

The table below shows an overview of these statistics.

State 95th percentile Average 5th percentile
FPG 23.1 18.5 15.4
Year in the league 10.0 5.2 2.0
TS% previous years 30.5% 24.0% 15.6%
Tm PA this year 681 595 514

We see that, on average, WR1s are in their fifth season, earn a target share of 24% in the previous year, and their teams throw the ball 595 times. The year-in-league average is a little misleading, as the chart below gives us a better idea of ​​what season WR1s are playing in.

We can see that WR1s most often come from a player’s third year in the NFL, while years 2, 4, 5, 6, and 7 all have WR1 rates of 10% or more. We also see a steady and consistent decline in WR1 completions beginning in a player’s sixth year in the NFL.

What is most interesting to me is the brief dip in the WR1 rate in Year 4. Looking at the massive WR1 rate in the previous year, Year 3, it seems logical that this increase and then decrease can be explained with contract extensions. Most teams don’t discuss contract extensions until after a player’s third season, so it makes perfect sense that good players seeking massive contracts produce quite well in their third season.

Then, after receiving their contract, they don’t feel pressured to perform and fall off a bit in their fourth season.

The last thing to note is how few rookies there are WR1s. In the last 10 seasons, we’ve only seen this happen four times, representing just 3.3% of all WR1s since 2013. The four players to accomplish this feat are Odell Beckham Jr. (2014), Michael Thomas (2016), Justin Jefferson (2020) and Ja’Marr Chase (2021).

All four produced WR1 numbers at least one more time in their careers, so this doesn’t necessarily help us identify rookies who could end up as WR1s (stay tuned for a later article that dives deeper into that). Still, it shows that if a rookie finishes as a WR1, it’s not a fluke. He is good at football.

The next metric to examine is a recipient’s target share. As seen in the table above, the average WR1 over the last decade had a target share of 24% in the previous year, meaning he was heavily used the year before. This supports my hypothesis that WR1s don’t come out of nowhere – they are usually a significant part of their offense the year before their WR1 finish.

The fifth percentile target share of 15.6% suggests that any WR who had a target share less than that in 2022 probably shouldn’t be considered a potential WR1 in 2023.

Finally, let’s examine the WR1’s total pass attempts. On average, a WR1s team will throw the ball 595 times. In the same 10-year span, the NFL average for team pass attempts was 564. This shows that WR1s play on teams that throw the ball at a higher rate than the league average. This makes perfect sense as we know that elite fantasy performance is driven by volume.

The fifth percentile shows a team passing a total of 514, which helps us eliminate teams expected to run tough offenses. A few examples of teams that likely won’t reach 514 pass attempts are the Bears, Colts and Falcons.

Now that I’ve broken down these metrics, we can begin to identify the WRs most likely to become WR1s. When I do this, I will look at all WRs currently being drafted outside the top 12 at their position using FFPC ADP data. Here are six receivers, two drafted between WR13-WR24, two between WR25-WR36 and two between WR37-48, that I think fit all or most of the criteria I’ve laid out for who could be WR1s in 2023 .

DK Metcalf (SEA) | WR15

DK Metcalf is no stranger to finishing as the WR1. Metcalf finished WR10 in 2020, his second season, and then WR22 in 2021 and WR24 in 2022. He has been quite efficient throughout his career, averaging 8.5 yards per carry. goals and a TD rate of 7%. Like Diontae, Metcalf is entering his fifth season, played on a team that threw the ball 573 times and had a 25.5% field goal percentage in 2022.

His teammate Tyler Lockett is getting older and Jaxon Smith-Njigba is a rookie, so it could be the wheel up for Metcalf in 2023.

Jerry Jeudy (DEN) | WR22

It feels like Jeudy is hyped up as a breakout candidate every year, but this might just be his year. Jeudy finished 2022 with a healthy 20.8% field goal percentage in a Broncos offense that struggled under one-and-done head coach Nathaniel Hackett. Russell Wilson now has the legendary Sean Payton as his HC, and Jeudy is still awaiting a contract extension, though the Broncos still appear to be into him as they picked up his fifth-year option back in May.

The Broncos threw the ball 571 times last, just above the league average. I think it’s likely that number could go up a bit since they used a high draft pick on WR Marvin Mims and didn’t bring in much RB competition, a possible signal that they want to be more pass-heavy in 2023.

Diontae Johnson (PIT) | WR29

While Diontae’s ADP is significantly lower on FFPC than Underdog, where he leaves the board as WR35 on average I still feel he is a great value. Diontae received a 27.0% target share last year, well above the 24.0% average for WR1s in their previous season. He’s also entering his fifth season, the year we’ve seen the second most WR1s come from.

Finally, the Steelers threw the ball 571 times last year, which, while respectable in its own right, will likely increase as Kenny Pickett enters his second season in the NFL. Diontae is fading due to an improbable zero TDs in 2022 on 147 targets. Expect him to see regression to the mean in 2023 in that category.

Marquise Brown (ARI) | WR31

This one may come as a surprise since Kyler Murray’s the status is up, but Brown is another player I’ve been high on all offseason, and my research backs up my position. Brown fits my WR1 metrics well as he enters his fifth season, had a 23.7% field goal percentage last year and his teams threw the ball a whopping 664 times in 2022.

It’s fair to predict a drop in pass volume due to Murray’s likely absence for a few games, but Hopkins is now gone, cementing Brown as the clear #1 option in Arizona’s offense.

Kadarius Toney (KC) | WR38

Once you get past the top 36 WRs, it’s hard to identify guys in the mid-late round with WR1 potential, but hitting those picks is key to fantasy success. Toney presents an interesting profile as he enters his third year (where we most often see WR1s), and he’s tied for an extremely high passing offense on the Chiefs, whose 651 pass attempts ranked fifth in the NFL in 2022.

His problem is proven success. In his two seasons in the league, Toney has played in just 19 of 38 games and has already played for two teams. This year, however, he has a full offseason to get used to the offense and sync up with Patrick Mahomes. He has shown some efficiency in his limited playing time with Kansas City, scoring twice on just 17 targets and posting 10.1 yards per carry. The WR1 role is wide open, so why not Toney?

Jordan Addison (MIN) | WR39

I hesitated to include Addison since I have an article similar to this one focusing only on rookies coming out next week, but he probably has the best shot of any player in this lineup to be a WR1. First, Minnesota has a high-volume offense. Kevin O’Connell arrived as the Vikings HC in 2022 and they proceeded to throw the ball a whopping 672 times, third most in the NFL a season ago.

Next, Minnesota also used their first-round pick on Addison, showing that they value him highly. Finally, Minnesota is no stranger to backing two WR1s. It goes without saying that Vikings man Justin Jefferson will finish at the top of his position if he stays healthy. Still, history suggests there is room for another top-12 finish on this team.

In 2020, Justin Jefferson finished as WR1, as did his teammate, Adam Thielen. If Addison is as good as he was in 2021 with Pittsburgh, he could easily finish as a WR1 and be a league winner.

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