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Profiling the 2022 Rookie Wide Receiver Class for Fantasy Football

Treylon Burks - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Rookies, Draft Sleepers

We continue to dive into the NFL Rookie class of 2022 to determine their fantasy football value. Today we look at the rookie wide receivers, and you can also read about the RB rookie class and TE rookie class.

Regardless of your team standing, the rookie draft is a critical part of a dynasty draft. These are the young players that can lead a rebuild, while they can also potentially be finishing pieces or trade assets. In redraft leagues, knowing which rookies to target is very important. Imagine if you could foresee the impact Justin Jefferson, Ja'Marr Chase, and Jaylen Waddle would make in their rookie seasons.

In dynasty, wide receivers are generally the most coveted players. If you draft them in rookie drafts, you'll not only potentially be getting someone who may make an impact immediately, but also a potential long-term piece that rebuilding clubs can cater to. Today, we'll be taking an early look at the wide receivers position, with a top-five ranking, as well as an overall view of the class. To help with this, I will be using my own prospect grading/projection spreadsheet, which takes a look at a player's college production, athleticism, and expected draft capital to try to project how many points they'll score at the next level, based on historical research.

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Treylon Burks, Wide Receiver, Arkansas

  • Projected PPG: 15.87

It's safe to say that the race for this year's #1 receiver spot has been up in the air; there seems to not be a consensus #1 option. In my eyes, though, I see it a little differently.

Treylon Burks is truly one of a kind. The irony that he happened to play for the Arkansas Razorbacks is magnificent; he plays just like a mighty hog. In his junior season, he averaged an absurd 9.3 yards after catch/reception, utilizing a physical play style to his advantage.

Simply put, Burks' production has been absolutely marvelous. Let's take a look at what he was able to accomplish over his final two seasons in college:

  • 2021: 91 PFF Receiving Grade, 3.57 Yards/Route Run, 16.9 Yards/Reception
  • 2020: 88.9 PFF Receiving Grade, 3.07 Yards/Route Run, 16.4 Yards/Reception

Need production after the catch? Burks can do that. Need a big play down the field? Burks can do that. Need a reliable intermediate target? Burks can do that too. He's truly a special receiver, and the production backs it up. You don't post a 45.9% dominator rating (92nd percentile) and a 31.3% target share (93rd percentile) by accident.

There are some concerns about Burks' limited route tree, but we need to acknowledge what Arkansas was trying to do- get the ball in the hands of their best player. Whether it was behind the line of scrimmage, on a slant, or down the field, almost every passing concept was geared towards him. That's precisely the top of dominance you want to see at the college level.

Burks didn't shine at the combine like many thought he would, nor did he have the most complete route tree in college. At the same time, this is a player that was utterly dominant in college, demonstrating the ability to be an incredibly versatile player that can be targeted at all dimensions of the field. I'm not usually the biggest fan of comparisons, but it's hard not to see the comparisons between him and Titans' star receiver A.J. Brown from a size, physicality, and play style standpoint. He may not be the first receiver off the board in the NFL Draft, but he should be the first one off the board in fantasy drafts and potentially the top overall pick in dynasty rookie drafts.


Garrett Wilson, Wide Receiver, Ohio State

  • Projected PPG: 12.44

As you'll see throughout this piece, the Ohio State Buckeyes have built quite the receiving corps. If all goes well, they'll have THREE of their receivers from the 2020 season drafted in the first round, while they have more future first-round talent in their system as well. Simply put, it's clear they've become a pipeline for producing NFL-ready wide receivers.

The top of this year's list would be Garrett Wilson. When it comes to being a complete route-runner and separator, it's going to be awfully hard to find someone who matches what Wilson brings to the table:

Wilson was able to eclipse three yards per route run in each of the past two seasons, along with PFF receiving grades of 84.5 and 82.9, respectively. Meanwhile, he also demonstrated to produce in a variety of ways. In 2020, he was in the slot 73.7% of the time, and ran more of a vertical route tree. In 2021, though, he was only in the slot 17.1% of the time, saw his average depth of target dropped by almost two yards, and remain almost as productive. Whether it's as a vertical slot weapon or someone who can win on the outside, Wilson certainly can fit any NFL passing scheme.

See, he may not stand out in any particular area, but Wilson does not appears to have a weakness. He was much better when it came to producing after the catch (6 YAC/REC) this season, while he maintained strong production despite being in a competitive receiving group. It should be noted his 4.38 40-yard dash time did come with him weighing 183 pounds; his speed score is actually worse than Treylon Burks, who was seen as having a disappointing combine. That being said, it is clear he has the speed to take the top off of defenses.

If I had to guess, Wilson will be the first receiver taken off the board. Between his pedigree, skills, solid all-around production, and athleticism, it's easy to see why. Personally, I see the #2-#5 players on this list as an interchangeable tier, as I think Burks has a step up on the rest. That being said, the team that gets Wilson should get a very complete, polished receiver ready to make an impact immediately. Now, it's up to the football gods to pair him with a quarterback that can take advantage of his separation skills!


Jameson Williams, Wide Receiver, Alabama

  • Projected PPG: 12.24

How talented was Ohio State's receiving corps in 2019 and 2020? They had no need for one of college football's best receivers last season. If that doesn't show how dominant they've been at the position, I don't know what does!

Of course, I am talking about Jameson Williams, who, as I stated, was absurdly productive last season. Over the first two years of his career, he was a complementary vertical threat for Ohio State, running only 229 routes with 25 targets in that span. For the sake of his career, it made sense for him to transfer, and he ended up in a great spot in Alabama.

I mean, there aren't much better places to go than arguably the most successful college football program with a Heisman Trophy winner throwing him the ball. Finally, the breakout for Williams could take place. Overall, he earned an 85.1 PFF receiving grade, while posting 3.12 yards/route run. Furthermore, his production after the catch (9.3 YAC/REC) was at the same level as Burks, while he was as explosive as it gets with 20 yards/reception. Truly, he's as electric as it gets.

However, those numbers don't tell the whole story for Williams. As you'd expect for someone with a new team and starting for the first time, it took some time for Williams to get into a groove. From Week 10 to the National Championship game, though, he was as unstoppable as it gets:

  • 88.7 PFF Receiving Grade, 4.27 Yards/Route Run, 21.2 Yards/Reception

Remember, this is during a stretch where Alabama had to deal with the likes of Georgia, Cincinnati, and an overall tougher schedule than you may expect. Against Georgia in the SEC Championship, he hauled in nine passes for 175 yards, while he also was performing extremely well (4.06 yards/route run) against them in the National Championship before going down with an ACL injury, which we'll certainly get to. Against the toughest competition, he certainly passed the test.

Whatever team gets Williams is going to be getting a very exciting playmaker to work with. On passes behind the line of scrimmage, he was able to thrive after the catch. Where he shined, though, was working down the field. Just look how strong his numbers were when working 10+ yards down the field:

  • Medium (10-19 yards): 99.9 PFF Receiving Grade, 16.24 Yards/Route Run
  • Deep (20+ Yards): 97.8 PFF Receiving Grade, 20.97 Yards/Route Run

Those are absurd numbers. Could you imagine the production he could do as the third weapon for the Chargers? How about in Buffalo or Kansas City? The amount of teams that could desperately use someone who can threaten defenses with the explosiveness he has certainly can't be counted with two hands.

Of course, the caveat with Williams is that he is coming off of a torn ACL, while he also didn't perform until his junior year. With a longer track record of production and better health, he'd rate out even better in terms of my projection for him. Assuming he's fully healthy upon coming back, the ceiling is through the roof, though you may get less production in his rookie year. In dynasty, I'd recommend buying the dip associated with the injury, though there's more pause to be given in standard redraft leagues. Either way, there's no denying the talent; he's as dynamic as it gets!


Drake London, Wide Receiver, USC

  • Projected PPG: 11.96

As much as it would be nice if we could use a standard, calculated approach to evaluating each college prospect, each prospect has his own story.

Drake London definitely has a different path to the NFL than your average wide receiver prospect. During the first two years of his career, he played basketball along with football, which may explain his limited production during that span. However, by his junior season, he was strictly playing football. As we hoped for, the breakout performance came.

In 2021, London averaged 3.52 yards/route run and earned a 91.8 PFF receiving grade. Furthermore, he transitioned from playing strictly in the slot to mainly out wide (86.2%), and became the team's clear focal point with 119 targets in just eight games. Unfortunately, he then missed the final four weeks of the season after fracturing his right ankle, but we had seen what we needed to see.

Unlike a lot of the other receivers in this draft class, London isn't a big-play threat. His career 13.4 yards/reception ranked in just the 33rd percentile, while he was mainly targeted behind the line of scrimmage (23.5%) or between 0-9 yards (41.2%) this past season. Overall, he's been able to create yardage after the catch (5.5 YAC/REC), though, for the most part, he's settled in as a reliable chain-mover.

For fantasy purposes, this could mean London accumulates a lot of targets, which is nice from a PPR standpoint. At the same time, since he doesn't create big plays, he's going to need those targets. We did not see him run at the combine due to his injury, but there are some questions about his overall speed and separation ability. He specialized a lot with contested catches in college, but that's not necessarily something that translates to the NFL level. Hopefully, USC was just limiting him, and we can see him flourish at the NFL level.

There are definite questions with London. Why didn't he produce at all during his first two years? Can he create big plays? Hence, why he's behind the top-three receivers on this list. At the same time, there is at least some reason for his limited early college production, and he was playing at an extremely high level before his injury. I hate to give him a comparison to someone from the same school, but there are a lot of similarities between him and Michael Pittman Jr. He's young for the class, which will be on his side, and should be highly drafted. Hopefully, the landing spot gives him a chance to showcase his full potential!


Chris Olave, Wide Receiver, Ohio State

  • Projected PPG: 11.91

That's right; we aren't done with Ohio State yet. See what I mean now? How many teams would Chris Olave be the #1 alpha receiver for?  Yet, at Ohio State, he was their #3 option in the passing game! That is astonishing!

After an elite season in which he averaged 3.33 yards/route run, the expectation was that Olave would declare for the 2020 NFL Draft, where he'd likely be a first-round pick. Surprisingly, though, he decided to "run it back" for one more season. It was certainly a risk considering he'd have a new quarterback and was coming off of a productive season, but it was one he was willing to take.

In a way, that risk did not pay off. His yards/route run regressed to just 2.29, while he earned his worst PFF receiving grade over his three-year run as a starter (79.9) as well. That being said, his draft stock hasn't slipped much, and, when you study the body of work, it's easy to see why.

Prior to this season, Olave had earned PFF receiving grades of 84.8 and 86.6, respectively, while he had eclipsed three yards/route run in each of those two seasons. With a career 15.5 average depth of target, he's certainly a deep threat, and has performed extremely well when working 20+ yards down the field. It's likely that any team that drafts him employs him to stretch the field at the next level.

There are some nits to pick with Olave's profile, though. For starters, there was the "down year" this season compared to his previous norms, which bring his overall numbers down. Then, there is his complete lack of production after the catch (3.7 YAC/REC), which concerns me. Even as a vertical threat, where you should be catching the ball in stride, he didn't create big plays as much as you'd expect, and relied on his separation skills and air yards for the total amount of his yards gained. For that reason, I'd call him pretty quarterback-dependent, which I wouldn't say for the top three players on this list.

Altogether, Olave is a very interesting prospect. Here's hoping he can improve his production after the catch at the next level, though he still profiles quite well given his production and success as a deep threat. In my opinion, there are more limitations that should keep him out of the top three, yet there is definitely a lot to like as well, and here's hoping that he can land in the right situation!


Rookie Wide Receivers Overview

Outside of these top-five players, there are more players to be interested in, as it's a relatively deep class. Christian Watson, with an elite combine performance and big-play ability, is an interesting name to watch. He's more of a "boom-or-bust" pick coming from North Dakota State (there's limited data on him), but the tools are there if he lands in the right offense.

Meanwhile, George Pickens had an elite freshman season (88 PFF receiving grade) at Georgia, though a torn ACL took away almost his entire junior year. After testing better than expected at the combine, he's starting to get first-round buzz, and should only continue to rise throughout this process.

With five wide receivers that are almost a lock to go into the first round, this is a pretty strong class, as we're starting to become accustomed to at this position. It's very interesting to see how little of a consensus there is on the top of this class, as it mainly comes down to evaluation strategy. Personally, Treylon Burks' dominance in college should put him in a tier of his own, though it's easy to see why others may prefer other options. That's the fun of this all!

If your team, whether in real life or in dynasty, needs a receiver, you're in luck! Meanwhile, we could see another year where rookie receivers make an impact right off the bat, which certainly will catch the eyes of those in redraft leagues. Really, I just can't wait until we get to watch these players at the NFL level!

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