There’s something incredibly satisfying for a fantasy football owner to be the one who hits on the next big rookie.
If you drafted Ja’Marr Chase last year, you looked like a genius – and you very well may have won your fantasy league. If you passed on him, well, not so much. In Week 17, Chase’s stat line against the Chiefs was 11 catches for 266 yards and three touchdowns.
That game coincided with fantasy championship games and swung those games toward Chase owners, reinforcing his value as the top rookie in fantasy and the NFL Rookie of the Year. No surprise, but owners who rostered Chase and made it to their championship games won a reported 90% of the time.
It’s impossible to predict which – if any – of the top six first-round receivers taken in the 2022 NFL Draft will have a Chase-like impact for fantasy owners. It’s just as likely that none of them will meet lofty fantasy expectations, but shrewd owners have a chance to find the rookie sleepers who can impact their seasons.
But which of this year’s first-round receivers will have the most fantasy value this season? Are there any who can help owners win their leagues?
6. Jameson Williams’ knee injury keeps him on the sidelines
Jameson Williams would have possibly been the first receiver off the board in April if not for a knee injury suffered in the National Championship Game.
At 6-foot-1 and with a sub-4.3 time in the 40, Williams figures to be a difference-maker for the improving Lions when he is cleared to play, but that won’t happen until the second half of the season, and there’s no reason for the Lions to rush him into the lineup. They will rightfully protect their investment in their prized rookie.
Williams is still rostered in 24% of ESPN fantasy leagues by owners hoping for a stunning midseason debut or those in keeper leagues looking toward the future.
Given the time he will miss this season, it’s difficult to imagine him being much of a factor for fantasy teams. That doesn’t mean he’ll be a bust – it just means he’ll be absent for a while.
5. Drake London joins the Falcons’ questionable passing game
Drake London is getting a lot of fantasy love these days.
It’s understandable – to a point. He’s 6-4, 213 pounds, and can play in the slot or outside.
He’s a big target for Marcus Mariota, the team’s new starter, but training camp injuries have slowed him down in the preseason. When the regular season gets here, he’ll join a run-heavy scheme with a QB getting a second chance to be a successful NFL starter.
He’s expected to be the team’s No. 1 wideout, and fantasy owners are treating him as a sleeper pick, rostering him in 88% of leagues with an average ADP in the 12th round.
4. Garrett Wilson and Zach Wilson are forming a new Jets duo
Elijah Moore, the Jets’ second-round pick out of Ole Miss in 2021, came on strong for the Jets at the end of last season, averaging 14.5 fantasy points per game over his last five contests.
The Jets went back to the WR well in the first round of the 2022 draft, selecting Garrett Wilson out of Ohio State at No. 10, creating a formidable receiving corps with Moore and veteran Cory Davis.
If QB Zach Wilson – last year’s first-round selection – can take a significant step forward and remain healthy, Wilson could be in line for an outstanding rookie campaign, but there will be competition for targets with a talented group of receivers. He’s rostered in 81% of ESPN fantasy leagues and could be a flex value in the later rounds of fantasy drafts.
3. Treylon Burks can add another dimension to the Titans’ offense
The Titans grabbed the 6-2, 225 Treylon Burks out of Arkansas with the 18th pick of the first round, giving QB Ryan Tannehill a big target with run-after-catch skills.
In his last preseason game, Burks caught three passes on as many targets for 33 yards and a touchdown, which bodes well for the regular season in Tennessee’s run-first offense behind Derrick Henry and the mobile Tannehill. Burks could be more valuable if the Titans utilize Burks in a Swiss Army knife/Deebo Samuel role as a runner and receiver. He has the size and decent 4.5 speed, and that’s the role he played with the Razorbacks.
Fantasy owners looking for Burks to be a sleeper in the later rounds hope the Titans get creative and find ways to get him touches. He’s being drafted in about 70% of ESPN leagues.
2. Jahan Dotson is precisely what the Commanders needed
Jahan Dotson is used to the ball coming his way – a lot. At Penn State, Dotson was targeted about 30% of the time. He probably won’t get that kind of target share from Carson Wentz with the Commanders, but he gives the cast-off QB a needed weapon to go with No. 1 WR Terry McLaurin and veteran Curtis Samuel, who is returning from two injury-plagued seasons.
The Commanders selected Dotson at No. 16 overall, and he immediately was slotted in as the team’s No. 2 wideout.
Obviously, Wentz, who is playing with his third team in as many seasons, is a question at quarterback, but Dotson is undoubtedly worth his late-round ADP with upside as a Flex/WR3. He has the tools to be a fantasy star as a rookie.
1. Chris Olave is a perfect fit for Jameis Winston and the Saints
The pairing in New Orleans may not end up being Ken Stabler-to-Cliff Branch, but drafting a vertical passing threat for a QB who averaged over 12 yards per attempt last season seemed a prudent move by the Saints.
Chris Olave, chosen 11th overall by the Saints out of Ohio State, gives QB Jameis Winston another weapon to go with Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry at receiver and RB Alvin Kamara. The Saints’ offense is set up to be prolific if Thomas is healthy and if Winston returns to the form he exhibited prior to a midseason knee injury ending his 2021 campaign.
All of the cogs in the New Orleans offense are worthy of fantasy consideration. Olave is rostered in 83% of ESPN leagues with a 12th-round ADP.
His numbers may not approach Ja’Marr Chase’s from 2021, but he has a chance to be the top WR out of this year’s first-round draft class. Overall, though, it’s difficult to ignore second-round selections George Pickens of Pittsburgh and Kansas City’s Skyy Moore as the top rookie sleepers at the position. They may make teams regret passing on them at the top of the draft.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference