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AFC South Wide Receivers (WRs): A Fantasy Football Breakdown

By Jared Smola 6:23pm EDT 8/4/23

AFC South Wide Receivers: Draft Targets and Fades

You know about the exciting fantasy WRs in Jacksonville.

But the AFC South is also home to one of our favorite sleeper WRs and a sophomore breakout candidate.

Let’s run through the fantasy value in AFC South WRs.

Find out where these AFC South WRs (and everyone else) rank in YOUR fantasy league.

  

Houston Texans Wide Receivers

Top Fantasy Target: Nico Collins
Other Draftables: Robert Woods, John Metchie, Tank Dell

The Sleeper Candidate

Collins is the cover boy for our 2023 Fantasy Football Sleepers article.

You can read about the full case for him there. But here’s the skinny:

  • Collins was an intriguing prospect coming out of Michigan, with a strong combination of size and athleticism.
  • He took a nice second-year leap in 2022, claiming a 20.1% target share and ranking 37th among 96 qualifying WRs in yards per route run.
  • Collins should get a significant QB upgrade with the arrival of rookie C.J. Stroud.

Collins’ ADP has been steadily climbing all offseason, but it still sits about 10 spots lower than where we have him ranked.

Anyone Else Worth Drafting?

With a new coaching staff led by defensive-minded HC Demeco Ryans and Kyle Shanahan disciple OC Bobby Slowik, we’re projecting Houston to be a run-leaning offense. So there’s not much excitement for the guys behind Collins.

On the plus side, Woods, Metchie, and Dell are all super cheap, sitting outside the top-75 WRs in ADP. There’s room for at least one of them to provide useful numbers.

What’s Left in Woods’ Tank?

Woods turned 31 in April and is coming off career lows in:

  • yards per game
  • yards per catch
  • yards per target
  • and yards per route.

It’s possible he’s just about donezo. 

The optimistic view? Woods was coming off a November 2021 ACL tear and playing in a low-volume Titans passing game.

Perhaps he bounces back a bit this year. The Texans gave him a two-year deal with $10 million guaranteed that makes him a strong bet to open the season in a significant role.

It’s tough to see big upside with Woods, but he could turn into a fine value pick in full PPR leagues.

Metchie Ready to Debut

Metchie missed his entire rookie season with leukemia. He was cleared for the offseason program, though, and has been a full-go in camp.

The Texans spent the 44th overall pick of the 2022 NFL Draft on Metchie, following his big 1,142-yard, 8-TD junior season at Alabama. He’s undersized at 5’11, 187 pounds but is capable of emerging as Houston’s primary slot receiver.

Is Dell Just Too Small?

Size is an even bigger issue for this 5’8, 165-pound rookie. In fact, DeVonta Smith is the only sub-170-pound WR to reach 700 receiving yards since 2000.

So we’re betting against Dell emerging as a reliable fantasy play.

That said, he put up massive numbers at Houston the past 2 seasons: 1,329 yards and 12 TDs in 2021 and 1,398 yards and 17 TDs this past year. And he’s reportedly built a strong rapport with Stroud already.

Dell might be worth considering as an end-of-draft best ball pick.

 

Indianapolis Colts Wide Receivers

Top Fantasy Target: None
Other Draftables: Michael Pittman, Alec Pierce, Josh Downs

Why We’re Fading This WR Corps

Simple: This projects as one of the run-heaviest offenses in the NFL. (And that’d be a big departure from last year, when the Colts ranked eighth in pass attempts.)

The Colts named Shane Steichen their new HC this offseason. Steichen spent the past two years as Eagles OC, helping Jalen Hurts emerge as one of the game’s top QBs.

Steichen got his new Hurts (at least the Colts hope so) in Anthony Richardson, a raw passer but top-notch runner.

So expect Steichen to go run-heavy, like he did in Philadelphia.

Eagles Rank in pass rate rank in pass attempts
2021 32nd 32nd
2022 27th 23rd

We’re projecting the Colts to throw 99 fewer passes this year than last.

Pittman’s Targets Likely to Sink

Pittman has registered nice 24.8% and 24.6% target shares the last two years. That’s helped him finish 18th and then 22nd among WRs in half-PPR points.

But he’ll need to grow that share significantly to maintain that level of production. We’re projecting him for a 25.0% target share this season. But with the drop in passing volume, that equates to 7.4 targets per game – down from 7.6 in 2021 and 8.8 last year.

Pittman’s WR33 half-PPR ADP is reasonable. But he sits 1 spot lower than that in our WR rankings.

Pierce Makes Sense in Best Ball

Pierce is coming off a 593-yard rookie campaign and is theoretically a good fit with Richardson. 

Pierce was a downfield dynamo at Cincinnati and averaged 14.5 yards per catch on an 11.7-yard average depth of target last year. Richardson was at his best going long in college, ranking 20th among 148 qualifiers in Pro Football Focus’ deep-passing grades last year.

The duo should connect for some big plays this season, making Pierce a worthy late-rounder in best-ball drafts. But it’s tough to envision him drawing enough targets to be a reliable play in lineup-setting leagues.

TIP

Weekly volatility is more valuable in best-ball than lineup-setting leagues. Learn more about our Best Ball Strategy.

Downs the Favorite for Slot Duties

Downs only needs to beat out journeyman gadget guy Isaiah McKenzie for the starting slot job. Based on camp reports, it sounds like Downs is on track to do so.

He boasts one of the most impressive production profiles in this year’s rookie WR class. Downs broke out with a 100-catch, 1,335-yard sophomore season in 2021 and then racked up another 94 catches, 1,029 yards, and 11 TDs this past year.

He figures to be a short-range target as a pro, though, meaning he’ll need lots of volume to pay off. He’s unlikely to get it in 2023.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars Wide Receivers

Top Fantasy Target: Calvin Ridley, Christian Kirk, Zay Jones

We go from a Colts passing game to avoid to a Jaguars passing game worth targeting aggressively.

QB Trevor Lawrence enjoyed a breakout sophomore season in 2022 and could be even better this year. He enters his third NFL season and second in HC Doug Pederson’s offense. And Lawrence has a shiny new toy to play with.

The Return of Ridley

We haven’t seen Ridley play a regular-season game since October 2021. That had us projecting him very conservatively to start draft season.

But the reports on Ridley since spring workouts have been glowing – both from the media and his coaches.

If he’s regained pre-suspension form, there’s big upside here.

Ridley topped 800 yards in each of his first two NFL seasons and then busted out for a huge 90-1,374-9 line in 2020. He ranked fourth among WRs in half-PPR points and seventh among 99 qualifiers in yards per route run.

Ridley was off to another strong start in 2021, averaging 10.5 targets, 6.8 catches, and 64 yards over the first four games.

But he played in just one more contest before stepping away for mental-health reasons.

There’s still risk on a guy who has played just five games over the past two seasons. And Ridley faces stiff target competition in Jacksonville.

But Ridley’s 237.8 half-PPR ceiling projection would make him a top-10 WR. That’s what you’re buying at his WR19 ADP.

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Ceiling projections matter. So do floor and baseline projections.

Value in the Other Guys

Ridley’s arrival has pushed Kirk's and Jones’ ADPs well below where they finished last year.

Christian Kirk zay jones
2022 Half-PPR Finish 12th 26th
2023 Half-PPR ADP 30th 61st

That seems like an overreaction.

Kirk was good last year, setting a career-high and ranking 28th in Pro Football Focus receiving grade among 96 qualifiers. He finished 29th in yards per route run.

Jones wasn’t quite as good but finished a respectable 51st in yards per route run while drawing a 22.0% target share.

There’s room for Ridley to take over as the lead target but for Kirk and Jones to still beat ADP. Keep in mind that WR Marvin Jones leaves behind 81 targets from last year.

And if Ridley stumbles, Kirk and Jones will both prove to be huge values.

 

Tennessee Titans Wide Receivers

Top Fantasy Target: Treylon Burks
Other Draftables: DeAndre Hopkins

Burks Still a Candidate for Year-2 Leap

Full disclosure: Burks was the favorite to be our 2023 Breakout Pick before the Titans signed Hopkins.

His rookie season was marred by injuries, but Burks was good when he was on the field. 

Not Chris Olave or Garrett Wilson-level good. 

But Burks’ 1.75 yards per route run ranked 33rd among 96 WRs with 40+ targets last year and was right in line with 2021’s top rookies:

  • Jaylen Waddle -- 1.75
  • Amon-Ra St. Brown -- 1.74
  • DeVonta Smith -- 1.73
Burks was a strong-looking prospect coming out of Arkansas.

He led the Razorbacks in receiving yards as a true freshman and then accounted for more than 40% of the receiving yards and 50% of the receiving TDs across his sophomore and junior campaigns.

Hopkins’ arrival obviously lowers Burks’ fantasy ceiling. But he can still claim a big target share in a passing game with very little behind the top 2 WRs.

Plus, Burks’ ADP has sunk since the Hopkins news. We like him as a WR4 or even as a lower-end WR3.

TIP

Find out where to target Burks in the 2023 Fantasy Football Draft Guide.

Hopkins Looks Overvalued

Hopkins missed the first six games of 2022 serving a PED suspension and the final two with knee trouble.

Across the other nine, he averaged:

  • 10.7 targets
  • 7.1 catches
  • 79.7 yards
  • 0.3 TDs

Hopkins finished 10th among WRs in half-PPR points per game. 

He also ranked a solid 18th in yards per route run among 96 qualifiers. Although his 73.5 Pro Football Focus receiving grade ranked just 36th and was his lowest mark since his 2013 rookie year.

Still only 31, Hopkins isn’t yet in danger of a big drop-off – at least according to our historical aging curves. But it’s safe to say his best days are behind him.

2023 Concerns

Now he’s tasked with learning a new offense with a new QB alongside an ascending Burks.

Plus, the Titans again project to be a run-centric offense – even if they push a bit toward the pass after adding Hopkins.

Here’s where the Titans have ranked in pass rate and total pass attempts since RB Derrick Henry broke out five years ago:

Pass Rate pass attempts
2018 31st 31st
2019 29th 31st
2020 30th 30th
202131st25th
202229th30th

It’s also worth noting that our Injury Predictor has Hopkins projected to miss 3.4 games this season.

Add it all up and Hopkins looks overvalued at his WR20 ADP.

   

When to Draft AFC South Wide Receivers (and everyone else)

Exactly how valuable all these AFC South Wide Receivers are in YOUR fantasy league depends on myriad factors, including:

  • Scoring system
  • Team needs
  • ADP
  • Upside
  • Injury risk

We factor 17 value indicators into the rankings on your customized fantasy football cheat sheet.

Get your cheat sheet now!

   

Learn More About Customized Cheat Sheets Powered by the Draft War Room

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