Fantasy Football: Which second-year WRs are the best breakout bet of 2022?

·8-min read

Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals

The 2021 rookie phenom lived up to the fantasy hype and then some. Ja’Marr Chase will enter this year with high expectations and will likely leave draft boards in the first round across all leagues.

Biggest selling point

Well, for one, he’s extremely good at the game, and you could argue he already broke out. Chase doesn’t have any fundamental flaw as a player. He’s an underrated route-runner who makes big plays downfield and with the ball in his hands. The fact that he’s tethered to an ideal situation with an established quarterback in a good offense is just icing on the cake.

Biggest obstacle

You could fret about the reality that his projectable target share won’t reach the same heights as other Round 1 receivers like Cooper Kupp, Justin Jefferson or Stefon Diggs. There are simply too many good receivers around Chase to allow him to get near that 27- to 30-percent range. But even if some of his per-target totals regress from his rookie results he’s still going to be efficient enough to offset those concerns.

Jaylen Waddle, Miami Dolphins

After a rookie season that was defined by his high floor, many were left wondering if there was more juice to squeeze out of Jaylen Waddle’s ability. Projecting a more ceiling-based outcome became complicated after the Dolphins traded for Tyreek Hill.

Biggest selling point

Waddle can absolutely do more than just run the high-percentage, short-area routes he was targeted on as a rookie. The more we saw Waddle in 2021, the better and more explosive he looked. He’s a complete receiver who can rack up catches underneath and has a still-untapped ability to rip big plays in the deep game.

Biggest obstacle

While Waddle and Hill combine to form without a doubt one of the most tantalizing receiver duos in the league, they’re a tough fantasy equation. The Dolphins are likely to be a run-leaning outfit under new head coach Mike McDaniel. There are some consequential ancillary players behind Hill and Waddle in the passing game. Projecting enough volume — especially in an offense with an, at best, unproven passer — for both Hill and Waddle to make good on top-20 position ADPs is going to be difficult.

DeVonta Smith, Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles made a huge splash by trading for A.J. Brown during Round 1 of the NFL Draft. Don’t let Brown’s addition overshadow the fact that DeVonta Smith is coming off a great rookie campaign.

Biggest selling point

The Eagles asked Smith to line up at the hyper-difficult X-receiver spot and win in isolation as a rookie. Smith performed with excellent precision, getting separation at all levels. Betting on receivers who flashed as he did as a rookie taking another leap in Year 2 has historically been a good pick.

A.J. Brown #11 and DeVonta Smith #6 of the Philadelphia Eagles could be a star fantasy duo
A.J. Brown's addition should help DeVonta Smith's fantasy bottom line. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Biggest obstacle

If Philly leans into a run-heavy identity as they did to end 2021, it’ll be difficult for Smith to garner enough targets to be a steady every-week starter. And as good as Smith is, Brown should see the lion’s share of the volume in this passing offense. Having to slice off a smaller piece of a theoretically shrinking pie would make Smith a volatile producer no matter how good he may be as an individual talent.

Elijah Moore, New York Jets

The Jets' offense is suddenly stocked with a variety of quality pieces. Chief among them is second-year receiver Elijah Moore, who brings all the skills we want in a breakout player.

Biggest selling point

Moore is just unbelievably good at football. Once he received a full snap share and got steady quarterback play last year, he went off. Moore was a legitimate top-10 receiver for a stretch. He was pigeon-holed as a slot-only player coming out of the draft but already thrived as a perimeter option in the NFL. Guys who can separate like this so rarely fail.

Biggest obstacle

The biggest issue for Moore might be his quarterback. There were very few promising signs from Zach Wilson last season while playing in an admittedly dysfunctional ecosystem. I’m open to Wilson making a huge leap in 2022 now that the skill-position groups and offensive line have received an injection of talent. If he doesn’t, it’ll be difficult for Moore to shine in a crowded and likely non-voluminous passing game.

Rashod Bateman, Baltimore Ravens

A training camp injury stalled Rashod Bateman’s rookie season and his starting quarterback was well out of the picture by the time he was fully integrated into the offense. The Ravens showed extremely good faith in their evaluation of Bateman as a future No. 1 receiver when they shipped off Marquise Brown to Arizona. Fantasy managers should get on board, as well.

Biggest selling point

The Ravens haven’t had a true X-receiver who can separate at all levels, beat press coverage routinely and win at the catch point in years and certainly not during the Lamar Jackson era. Rashod Bateman is that player. He brings everything you want in a true alpha receiver and the runway is completely clear for him to lead the wide receiver room in all statistical categories.

Biggest obstacle

As long as Jackson is the starting quarterback, the Ravens will always be run-heavy. Bateman doesn’t have a massive target ceiling. However, considering the options behind him in the receiver room, it’s highly likely that Bateman and tight end Mark Andrews coming for 40-45% of the team’s overall targets. That’s more than good enough for Bateman to enjoy a breakout season.

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Kadarius Toney, New York Giants

The flashes from Kadarius Toney as a rookie were truly enthralling. However, those flashes came in limited moments and were often preceded or followed by an injury or some strange off-the-field development. He’s a tricky player to evaluate.

Biggest selling point

He looks like he’ll walk into one of the starting outside receiver spots for the Giants. Fellow starter Kenny Golladay was straight up bad as an individual player last season. Toney has rare ability in the open field to make plays on designed touches and showed a knack for finding space in zone coverage as a rookie.

Biggest obstacle

The Giants' offense might still be bad even if Brian Daboll ups the pace and brings the design of the unit into the modern age. There should also be some questions about just how good Toney is as a player right now. He is still quite raw as a route runner and doesn’t routinely beat press or man coverage outside. He can work around that if Daboll schemes things up for him and right now his ADP (WR42 in early best ball drafts) has most of the other risks baked in.

Amon-Ra St. Brown, Detroit Lions

No one ended the season hotter than Amon-Ra St. Brown, as he caught 33 of 43 targets for 401 yards with four touchdowns and a rushing line of 6-59-TD in the final four weeks of 2021. As we all know, his ascension coincided with other players getting hurt so there are some out there willing to totally write him off.

Biggest selling point

You don’t put up numbers like St. Brown did unless you can play. He also operates in a quarterback-proof, Bud-Light-Cooper Kupp-style role for the Lions. He beats zone coverage, has great hands and wins in the open field. This archetype of player has won fantasy leagues in recent seasons. He is not just a product of other players getting hurt last year.

Biggest obstacle

The Lions did add players like D.J. Chark and Jameson Williams (though he won’t be ready for a few weeks) and will get T.J. Hockenson and D’Andre Swift fully integrated into the offense again. St. Brown won’t get the same type of volume that he received at the end of last year. But with his ADP hovering around WR30, no one is asking you to believe he will.

Rondale Moore, Arizona Cardinals

With DeAndre Hopkins set to serve a six-game suspension, we need to figure out where the ball is going to go in an offense we like. Rondale Moore will likely be asked to step up in his second season.

Biggest selling point

Kyler Murray is a good quarterback and has elevated receiver talents over the last couple of seasons. Christian Kirk leaving creates a vacuum in the slot receiver position which is where Moore needs to line up. He has legitimate juice after the catch.

Biggest obstacle

There’s really no way around it: Moore didn’t even play REAL wide receiver last season. So projecting him to be a full-time starter that handles real volume is an unknown. The team also traded for Marquise Brown who projects better as Kirk’s replacement as a vertical slot option.

The Other Guys

Terrace Marshall Jr.

D’Wayne Eskridge

Tutu Atwell

Josh Palmer

Dyami Brown

Amari Rodgers

Nico Collins

Anthony Schwartz

The only two guys who really stick out to me here are Josh Palmer and Nico Collins.

Palmer could slide in as the WR3 on a really good offense with a great quarterback. He would have extreme upside if either Keenan Allen or Mike Williams gets hurt. On a weekly basis, however, he would be difficult to trust as the fourth or fifth option on his own offense.

Collins flashed real X-receiver traits in brief moments as a rookie; he can play. The Texans receiver corps looks like it’s coming together and Davis Mills was solid in spurts last season. Collins is not going to be drafted in most leagues and makes for an excellent last-round selection.

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