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Dynasty Spotlight: Rookie WR Report Card

By C. H. Herms 10:39am EST 12/8/23

Who's a Keeper? Whose Issues Run Deeper?

The 2023 draft class provided dynasty managers with several awesome WRs who have immediately impacted fantasy lineups.

Of course, not all have been immediate hits. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should give up on them.

Which players should you feel safest about? Who is worth targeting via trade? Is there any hope for certain players who’ve fallen flat?

Let’s parse through these players and figure all that out …

TIP

Never make a deal without consulting our dynasty trade value charts.

‘Safe’ Rookies

These rookie WRs have already broken out. If you roster these players, hold onto them. If you don’t, there’ll be a hefty price to acquire them.

Puka Nacua, Los Angeles Rams

Among 65 WRs who’ve seen at least 50 targets, Nacua ranks 10th in Pro Football Focus receiving grade and yards per route run (2.51). He’s on pace to break Jaylen Waddle’s rookie receptions record (104).

He also ranks seventh among all players in receiving yards (1,061). And after Tank Dell’s injury, Nacua might be the only member of this class to reach 1,000 yards this season.

We’ll see what the next few years hold at QB for the Rams. Matthew Stafford turns 36 in February, but his contract runs through 2026.

Of course, we’re not docking Nacua for any QB uncertainty after this terrific debut.

Tank Dell, Houston Texans

Despite the season-ending leg fracture, there’s much to be stoked about with Dell’s future.

He entered this past weekend ranked 13th in PPR points per game (16.5), 12th in air yards per game (107), and tied for fifth in air yards share (42%) among all WRs. His big-play prowess has been difference-making. Dell leads his team by nearly 2 full yards in average target depth, according to Pro Football Reference.

He’s tied to a phenomenal QB in C.J. Stroud and should continue to be integral to Houston’s offense.

Jordan Addison, Minnesota Vikings

Addison has stepped up in the absence of superstar teammate Justin Jefferson.

Since Week 6, he leads the Vikings with 30% air yards share and stands as the WR21 in PPR points per game (14.7).

Addison also holds the third-lowest drop rate (3.5%) among 14 rookie wideouts who’ve seen at least 40 targets.

Although he’s not likely to be a true “alpha” in Minnesota as long as Jefferson is around, you shouldn’t be shying away from a highly productive WR2.

Think DeVonta Smith to A.J. Brown with the Eagles.

Zay Flowers, Baltimore Ravens

Flowers holds the second-best catch rate (75.3%) among rookie WRs and leads the Ravens with a 24.2% target share.

Baltimore’s run-heavy offense (30th in pass rate) limits the target upside. But you can’t complain about a first-round WR immediately grabbing the No. 1 role and attaching himself to a high-upside franchise QB.

 

‘Buy Now’ Rookies

These WRs haven’t achieved as much yet as the aforementioned group. But they’ve shown enough to make us optimistic and might still be affordable via trade.

We’ll give loose frameworks for trade offers, based on our trade value charts.

Josh Downs, Indianapolis Colts

Downs has shown flashes of tantalizing potential.

His 19.4% target share ranks second on the Colts and third among rookies. Additionally, Downs has recorded five top-30 weekly PPR finishes and stands eighth in YPRR (1.61) among 14 rookie WRs with at least 40 targets.

Downs rookie season looks similar to what Bengals WR Tyler Boyd did over the past three years.

Stat Boyd (2020-22) Downs (2023)
YPPR 1.45 1.64
Slot % 86.0% 81.4%
YAC/rec 4.6 5.5
PPR Points
Per Game
11.710.1

That span for Boyd covers the first three seasons of Tee Higgins' career and the first two for Ja'Marr Chase. Downs already faces less competition in Indy -- he trails only Michael Pittman -- which puts him in better position for opportunities than what Boyd has seen.

It’s also worth noting that the Colts got just two full games of QB Anthony Richardson this season and that Downs has played through a knee injury that limited him to 26 total snaps across weeks 9 and 10.

It’s not hard to imagine this offense – and Downs – continuing to get better.

Potential Trade Offer: two second-round rookie picks

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Rashee Rice, Kansas City Chiefs

Among WRs with 50+ targets this season, Rice ranks:

  • second in yards after catch per reception (8.0)
  • 13th in yards per route run (2.44)
  • 18th in PFF receiving grade

Rice has finished as a top-36 WR in six of the past eight weeks and ranks 36th among WRs in PPR points per game (11.7).

He has yet to reach 70% playing time in a game but has seen 50+% route participation in every game since Week 6 and already looks like the team’s best wideout. 

Rice should be a go-to guy for Patrick Mahomes for a while.

Potential Trade Offer: two second-round rookie picks

Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Seattle Seahawks

The former Ohio State standout hasn’t broken out in the way many dynasty managers hoped for.

We talked about how injuries to the Seahawks’ offensive line issues early this season affected Smith-Njigba in a prior spotlight from October. But he has started to gain some traction of late.

Since Week 7, Smith-Njigba ranks as the WR39 in PPR points per game (11.0). Among 38 WRs who’ve seen at least 25 targets in that span, he ranks 17th in YPRR (1.94) and fourth in YAC per reception (7.4).

Don’t devalue JSN because he hasn’t smashed right away on a team with D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Doing so is just double-counting something we entered the season knowing as a risk.

If you don’t already have Smith-Njigba, consider buying him at depressed valuation.

Potential Trade Offer: 2024 late first + 2025 third

Demario Douglas, New England Patriots

We didn’t get a chance to see Douglas in Week 13 due to a concussion, though we shouldn’t forget how good he’s been over the past several games.

Since Week 7, he’s averaged 7.6 targets, 5.2 catches, 53.4 yards, and 11 PPR points per game with a commanding, team-leading 22% target share and matching air yards share in that span.

While the Patriots are currently in disarray, they’re likely to draft a QB early in the 2024 NFL Draft, whether it be North Carolina’s Drake Maye or someone else.

Douglas is an intriguing buy. You shouldn’t be looking to shell out anything significant in a deal to acquire a sixth-round wideout, but his effectiveness this season may be enough for him to carve out a major role in New England in the future.

Potential Trade Offer: two third-round rookie picks

 

These Guys Could Go Either Way

Jalin Hyatt, New York Giants

Hyatt’s Week 12 route participation (75.7%) was his highest since Week 6. He saw a target on 19.2% of those routes.

His usage has been inconsistent for the season, but Hyatt has fared well when given opportunities. In the three games he’s seen greater than 66% route participation, Hyatt is averaging 68.3 receiving yards and 10.2 PPR points.

The field-stretching speed he exhibited in college has already started to translate. Hyatt’s 21.9-yard aDOT ranks highest of any WR this season with at least 35 targets.

Will he ever become a more well-rounded receiver with more diverse usage? Who knows. It can only help his chances that the Giants don’t have any WR with a long-term outlook clearly better than Hyatt’s. QB needs fixing, though.

We won’t knock Hyatt for that. The team’s on track for a high draft pick and could have an exciting option by April. But it’s one more unknown for now.

Hyatt’s a dynasty hold for now, perhaps a mild buy as part of a larger deal. Don’t go out of your way to chase after him, though.

Marvin Mims Jr., Denver Broncos

Mims hasn’t had the chance to show us much.

He has only had three games of greater than 50% route participation, and the Broncos rank just 30th in pass attempts per game.

We knew Mims might have trouble finding targets right away, though.

It would have been nice to see him carve out a big role immediately. But it’s at least strongly positive that HC Sean Payton has talked up Mims’ ability and boosted his playing time after the Week 9 bye (at least temporarily).

It’s also worth remembering that the Broncos traded up in the second round to take Mims, the first pick of Payton’s tenure.

Teammate Jerry Jeudy is only under contract for one more season, and Courtland Sutton has a potential out this offseason. There may be an opportunity for the young wideout on the horizon.

Mims is still more hold than buy, because it’s tough to see upside beyond becoming a good No. 2 NFL wideout.

 

Potential Busts

Jonathan Mingo, Panthers

The Panthers’ offense has been terrible this season, but that doesn’t make Mingo immune from criticism.

Among 65 WRs with at least 50 targets this season, he ranks:

  • 64th in yards per route run (0.89)
  • 65th in catch rate (52.2%)
  • 65th in NFL passer rating when targets (56.7)

Mingo can share some of the blame with QB, Bryce Young, but this is alarming.

Since 2013, 20 other rookie WRs have recorded a catch rate of 52.2% or lower with at least 50 targets in their rookie season(s). Just 12 of those players have gone on to produce at least one season of 150+ PPR points (roughly WR50 level). Only nine have had multiple seasons with that level of production.

Player Rookie Year Catch Rate 150+ PPR Seasons
Kenbrell Thompkins 2013 46.4% 0
Aaron Dobson 2013 51.4% 0
Robert Woods 2013 47.1% 5
Taylor Gabriel201450.0%1
John Brown201447.1%2
Sammy Watkins201450.8%2
Kelvin Benjiman201450.3%2
Devin Funchess201549.2%1
DeVante Parker201552.0%3
Dorial Beckham-Green201547.8%0
Corey Coleman201645.2%0
Breshad Perriman201650.0%0
Tajae Sharpe201649.4%0
Will Fuller V201651.1%1
Zay Jones201736.5%2
Keelan Cole Sr.201750.6%0 (149.4 in 2020)
Michael Gallup201848.5%2
Marquez Valdes-Scantling201852.1%0
Courtland Sutton201850.0%4
Jerry Jeudy202046.0%2

The fact that Mingo has quickly established a significant role in the Panthers’ offense (81.5% route participation, 26.1% air yards share, both second on the team) is encouraging. It indicates the team believes in him, at least vs. other wideouts already on the team.

Mingo is a bit too risky to pursue actively on the trade market, but you should feel comfortable holding him for now if he’s on your roster.

Quentin Johnston, Los Angeles Chargers

Unfortunately, Johnston hasn’t been much better than Mingo in several areas:

  • 62nd in yards per route run (0.93)
  • Tied for 43rd in catch rate (63.0%)
  • 61st in PFF receiving grade

To put Johnston’s struggles into some context, his 0.93 yards per route run would’ve ranked second-to-last ahead of Patriots WR Tyquan Thornton among 2022 rookies and last among rookie WRs from the 2021 class (min. 40 targets).

Here’s how Johnston ranks among 141 WRs who’ve seen at least 40 targets in their rookie season since 2013:

  • 131st in receiving yards per game (20.2)
  • 86th in receiving success rate (47.7%)
  • 132nd in PPR points per game (4.7)

The player he compares to most favorably here is Zach Pascal, who has never finished higher than PPR WR52.

On top of that, it took until Week 9 – after Josh Palmer’s knee injury – for Johnston to get more than 80% route participation, despite Mike Williams going down in Week 3.

Will Johnston ever live up to his first-round draft capital? Based on the evidence so far, that’s trending toward a no.

It’s too early to give up completely on Johnston, but don’t be afraid to move him for decent value if a league mate thinks it’s a buy-low opportunity.

 

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