2023 NFL Free Agency Preview: WRs
Our 2023 NFL free agency preview rolls along with another edition, this time focusing on the WR class.
Candidly speaking, this is not a particularly good group of players from a fantasy perspective. Each guy below serves a functional purpose in an NFL offense and will find work somewhere next season. The likelihood of a fantasy superstar emerging from this group is slim, though.
You never know what can happen. Few people would have believed that Jaguars WR Christian Kirk would be a borderline WR1 in 2022 after signing his contract last offseason. That said, only 5 of the top 50 WRs in PPR scoring through Week 16 were acquired via free agency. The goal here is not to insult these players but rather to point out that expectations should be low.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chiefs
- DLF December Startup ADP: WR34, 89.00 overall
- Draft Sharks Dynasty Rank: WR36
There was one point in time in which Smith-Schuster was an elite dynasty asset. Just 3 years ago, the former Steelers wideout was the WR5 (17.25 overall) in DLF’s startup ADP.
Now? Not so much.
Smith-Schuster entered the league at 20 years old, tallying the 14th-most receptions (211) and 13th-most receiving yards (2,895) as the WR17 overall in PPR points per game (14.47) from 2017 to 2019. Over his next 2 seasons, Smith-Schuster found himself pigeonholed into a slot-heavy role that severely limited his fantasy output.
Between 2019 and 2020, Smith-Schuster’s slot route percentage jumped from 66.7% to 85.3%. That number dropped a bit in 2021 to 80% in his final season with the Steelers, but still limited his versatility. From 2020 to 2021, Smith-Schuster fell to WR31 in points per game (12.80) and sat well outside of the top 24 in both receptions and receiving yards. The WR's dynasty stock subsequently plummeted.
His opportunity to reinvent himself came in 2022 in Kansas City. The opportunity has largely yielded positive results. Smith-Schuster ranks as the WR24 overall in PPR scoring with 12.6 points per game. The production is certainly positive but still a far cry from his former dynasty WR1 status. To his credit, however, Smith-Schuster ranks 31st in PFF receiving grading (min. 50 targets) with only 41.6% of his routes coming from the slot. He’s shown glimpses of his former self this season.
Draft Sharks Bottom Line: Smith-Schuster is making a strong case to see his “prove it” deal pay off. He’s done well considering the fact he’s competing for targets in an offense largely built around the efforts of TE Travis Kelce.
Still, the 26-year-old is unlikely to ever regain alpha status. Smith-Schuster is currently appropriately priced as a WR3/flex option with some potential to be more given what we’ve seen in 2022. Of course, it'll be tough to find a better landing spot than K.C. if he departs this spring.
Jakobi Meyers, Patriots
- DLF December Startup ADP: WR44, 111.67 overall
- Draft Sharks Dynasty Rank: WR48
Mad props to the former UDFA. Meyers worked his tail off to achieve real-life and fantasy football relevance. The Patriots’ passing offense is certainly no bastion of aerial supremacy by any means, but Meyers has been a suitable pseudo-alpha in his situation since 2021.
He’s achieved a 20%+ target share that leads the Patriots in each of the last 2 years while ranking 28th among WRs in raw targets (206). He's averaged a respectable 11.64 points per game since 2021. This season, Meyers comes in with the 25th-best PFF receiving grade (min. 50 targets). His recent statistical output is partially handicapped by the “who else are they going to throw to?” anecdotal argument, but it would be unfair to wholly diminish his achievements as a result of this circumstance.
Draft Sharks Bottom Line: Simply put, we really don’t know what Meyers can be away from the Patriots' offense. History suggests that retrofitting past production in New England from any player onto future outlook elsewhere is a fool’s errand. HC Bill Belichick plays his own game of 4-D chess. Fantasy managers have seen many former Patriots fail after moving on.
That said, Meyers is a fairly productive slot receiver (64.6% career slot route rate) that could perhaps be Tyler Boyd-esque in a different environment. He’s certainly worth a flier as a speculative depth buy/middle-round startup draft investment.
Allen Lazard, Packers
- DLF December Startup ADP: WR46, 121.67 overall
- Draft Sharks Dynasty Rank: WR64
Lazard is someone who entered 2022 with de facto WR1 status on his team, merely out of circumstance. But as expected, he came nowhere close to filling the shoes of WR Davante Adams.
Even so, Lazard is no bum. He concluded his 2021 campaign as the WR8 overall in PPR from Week 14 through Week 18. He even opened 2020 as the WR10 in PPR over the first 3 weeks before succumbing to injury. Flashes of past production make Lazard worthy of conversation on this list.
He ranks as PFF’s 32nd-highest graded receiver with a team-leading 20.9% target share and 33.3% air yards share. QB Aaron Rodgers looks Lazard’s way a ton, and while an 11.35 PPR point per game output is not remarkable (39th-best among WRs in 2022), it is noteworthy.
Draft Sharks Bottom Line: Hopefully Lazard remains with the Packers. He’s not dissimilar to former teammate Marquez Valdes-Scantling (our dynasty WR77) from an archetypal standpoint, but he has shown greater upside to date in his career. That said, Lazard just carries too small of a sample size to reasonably project huge success elsewhere. There’s a reason we have him ranked where we do for dynasty purposes.
D.J. Chark, Lions
- DLF December Startup ADP: WR68, 170.00 overall
- Draft Sharks Dynasty Rank: WR67
Like Smith-Schuster, Chark began his career in a strong fashion, followed by a steep decline.
Chark’s value in DLF’s startup ADP in December 2019 was WR17 (48.25 overall), fresh off a sophomore campaign that yielded 1,008 receiving yards and a 15.1 PPR points per game average. That ranked 20th-best among WRs.
Injuries -- including a broken ankle in 2021 -- hampered his value over the next 2 seasons. He ultimately landed with the Lions on a 1-year “prove it” deal last March.
Poor luck in the health department slowed Chark down once again this year, but since Week 13, he’s been a pleasant fantasy surprise. He’s logged 90+ receiving yards in 3 of 4 games with 13.4 PPR points per game. Outside of a dud performance in Week 15, Chark jumps to 17 points per game with a 30.5% air yards share. Maybe there’s something to this late-season breakout.
Draft Sharks Bottom Line: Chark is producing well enough to warrant some interest in the 2023 NFL free agent market. Perhaps this level of output interests the Lions enough to bring him back into the fold long-term as the franchise continues to retool into the future.
Even if it does, Chark is a traditional X-type receiver who runs 77.2% of his routes out wide in his career. That type of player has limited appeal without remarkable efficiency in today’s game. Turning 27 in September, Chark is a fun late-year storyline that likely doesn’t carry a ton of future upside in dynasty leagues.
Sterling Shepard, Giants
Mecole Hardman, Chiefs
Parris Campbell, Colts
Darius Slayton, Giants
Mack Hollins, Raiders
Greg Dortch, Cardinals