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The Fantasy Optimist: What Are the Highest Ceilings Among the Second Tier of Fantasy WRs?

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Michael Dolan

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Fantasy football championships aren’t won in the early rounds of drafts. Anyone can draft a stud with their first- or second-round picks, but finding consistent production as the draft goes on is a much more daunting task. Typically, the person who wins your league is the one who found a gem (or a few) in those mid-to-late rounds and received top level production for well below a top-level price tag.

 

In this miniseries, I’ll walk through some of the less heralded fantasy players, identify what their ceilings are, and discuss the likelihood of them reaching those ceilings. In part three of this series, I’ll evaluate the 21st-30th ranked wide receivers according to FTN’s expert rankings.

(I already covered quarterbacks and running backs in this series.)

WR21: Amari Cooper, Cleveland Browns

Ceiling: Top 10

Last year, Amari Cooper’s role in the Cowboys’ offense was somewhat unclear. Was he the WR1, or was the up-and-coming CeeDee Lamb taking his role and evolving into the team’s No. 1 option? Luckily for fantasy managers, there’s little ambiguity surrounding Cooper’s role in the offense now that he’s a member of the Cleveland Browns. 

Even without a clearly defined No. 1 role in Dallas last year, Cooper saw 103 targets in just 15 games. Now that he’s the clear alpha in Cleveland, it’s not unreasonable to expect 120-plus targets over the course of a 17-game season. If that’s the case, even if there’s underwhelming quarterback play, Cooper could finish the season as a top-10 receiver based on talent and volume alone.

Likelihood: Low

As much as we like volume in fantasy football, quality of targets still matters. It’s looking increasingly likely that the guy throwing passes to Cooper most of the season will be Jacoby Brissett. While Brissett’s a fine backup, he’s not a quarterback who elevates the play of those around him. Cooper will have a hard time cracking the top 10 this year if Brissett is under center for a significant amount of time.

WR22: Allen Robinson, Los Angeles Rams

Ceiling: Top 10

Prior to getting injured last year, Robert Woods was averaging 12.7 half-PPR points per game as the second fiddle to Cooper Kupp in the Rams’ passing game. With Woods now out of the picture, Allen Robinson is set to occupy the valuable No. 2 receiver role in the Rams’ offense. 

If we forecast a similar level of production for Robinson, those 12.7 PPG extrapolated over the course of a full season would put him just outside the top 10 receivers. He could easily vault even higher up the rankings with just a few additional touchdowns. Last year, Woods had 5 scores (1 rushing) in nine games before getting injured. If Robinson gets a larger slice of the touchdown pie this year, finding the end zone double-digit times in the high-powered Rams’ passing attack is very much in the realm of possibility. 

Likelihood: High

Last year, Matthew Stafford threw 41 touchdowns, 16 of which went to Cooper Kupp. Stafford should once again finish near the top of the league in touchdown passes, and even after Kupp takes his cut there should be plenty of scores available for Robinson to gobble up.

 

WR23: Brandin Cooks, Houston Texans

Ceiling: Top 15

Brandin Cooks is one of those guys who is perennially undervalued. He has six 1,000-yard seasons on his resume, and he’s hit that milestone with four different franchises. The situation around him doesn’t seem to matter, and Cooks should have no problem posting numbers again even in an unexciting Texans’ offense.

The one thing Cooks won’t be lacking in Houston this year is volume. Last year he demanded a 25% target share, and the group of skill position players around him will be more or less the same this time around. Even though it may feel gross drafting him, another high-volume season should be expected for Cooks again in 2022. 

Likelihood: High

Cooks’ ceiling may not be the highest, but it’ll be much easier for him to reach that ceiling compared to some of the other names on this list. It shouldn’t be surprising if he posts another 1,000-yard season, and pairing those yards with even a modest amount of touchdowns should put Cooks in the mid- to high-end WR2 category come season’s end.

WR24: Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos

Ceiling: Top 10

Courtland Sutton 2022 Fantasy Football Optimist Wide Receiver

Courtland Sutton’s best season was his second year in the league (2019) when he finished as the WR19 and was voted to the Pro Bowl. The Broncos featured a revolving door at quarterback that season where Joe Flacco finished the season as the team’s leading passer. The difference between the then 34-year-old Flacco and today’s Russell Wilson is astronomical, and Sutton’s fantasy ceiling is receiving a major boost because of it.

On numerous occasions, we’ve seen Russell Wilson support two top-10 wide receivers in the same year with DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. It’s unknown whether Sutton or Jerry Jeudy will be the team’s No. 1 this year. Either way, a top 10 finish is in the realm of outcomes for Sutton if Wilson plays like the MVP candidate he’s been for most of his career.

Likelihood: Moderate

Of the top two receivers in Denver, Sutton likely has more touchdown upside. If Wilson winds up being worth the lofty price tag the Broncos paid to acquire him, a 1,000-yard season with double-digit touchdowns is in the realm of possibility for Sutton this year.

WR25: Marquise Brown, Arizona Cardinals

Ceiling: Top 10

The trade to Arizona could do wonders for Marquise Brown’s fantasy stock. During the first half of last year before Lamar Jackson was sidelined due to injury, we saw flashes of what Brown is capable of when he gets solid quarterback play. According to FTN’s Splits Tool, he averaged 6 more fantasy points per game with Jackson in the lineup compared to without him. 

Marquise Brown 2021 Fantasy Football NFL Splits

Quarterback play won’t be a reason for concern in Arizona as Brown will be reunited with the quarterback he shared the field with during his college days at Oklahoma – Kyler Murray. The passing volume should be there in Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense, and Murray and Brown could easily make the most of their opportunity. 

Likelihood: Moderate

While the transition to Arizona likely improved Brown’s fantasy outlook right out of the gates, things will get a little murkier once DeAndre Hopkins returns from his six-game suspension. Hopkins will likely assume the No. 1 WR receiver role upon his return, and that’ll leave Brown fighting with Zach Ertz for the second most targets on the team. 

WR26: Rashod Bateman, Baltimore Ravens

Ceiling: Top 10

Marquise Brown isn’t the only player who could benefit from his trade to Arizona. With Brown now out of the picture, Rashod Bateman has a golden opportunity to step into the WR1 role in the high-powered Baltimore offense. 

While the Ravens aren’t expected to be a high-volume passing attack in 2022, their target distribution will likely be somewhat top-heavy. Last year Brown and Mark Andrews led the team in target share with 24% and 26% respectively, while Bateman was third on the list with just 11%. The expectation is once again the passing game will primarily go through two receiving options, and Bateman is in pole position to snag that second spot alongside Andrews. 

Likelihood: Moderate

The Ravens clearly believe in Bateman. They wouldn’t have traded Brown away if they didn’t. And now the former first-round pick has a golden opportunity to demand a high percentage of the targets in what should be a very good offense. 

WR27: Jerry Jeudy, Denver Broncos

Ceiling: Top 10

The case for Jerry Jeudy is essentially the same as it was with Sutton. With Russell Wilson in the Mile High City, the likelihood of a top-10 receiver emerging from the Broncos offense drastically increases. The difference is, Jeudy’s yet to produce at the level we’ve seen from Sutton in the past. 

However, the lack of previous production doesn’t mean the potential isn’t there for Jeudy. He was the second receiver drafted in 2020 — ahead of guys like CeeDee Lamb, Justin Jefferson and Tee Higgins – so it’s not unreasonable to think he’s got the talent to dominate at the NFL level. He showed flashes of brilliance in Week 1 last year prior to injuring his ankle, and if he stays healthy and gets improved quarterback play, Jeudy could be in for a monster season.

Likelihood: Moderate

It feels as though the Jerry Jeudy breakout is coming soon, and with Russell Wilson quarterbacking the suddenly high-powered Denver offense, this could be the year for it. The situation around Jeudy is great, and he’ll have every opportunity in the world to show the NFL that he’s just as good as the rest of the guys in his draft class. 

WR28: Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Ceiling: Top 5

Chris Godwin 2022 Fantasy Football Optimist Wide Receiver

It’s easy to envision what Chris Godwin’s true ceiling looks like because we’ve seen him reach elite status before. If we knew he’d be on the field and 100% for all 17 games, he’s be among the position’s elite. Unfortunately, an ACL injury late last season has led to many questions surrounding Godwin’s potential in 2022. Tampa Bay has shown no indication that they want to rush their star receiver back, and even a small amount of missed time will drastically hamper his odds of finishing the season as highly as he has in years past.

On the bright side, there aren’t many other causes for concern with Godwin. We’ve seen him thrive in Tampa Bay, especially with Brady under center, and even in a shortened season last year he still eclipsed the 1,100-yard mark and scored five touchdowns. If he winds up recovering ahead of schedule, even with a few missed games mixed in there, he could be an elite fantasy option for the games when he suits up.

Likelihood: Low

While a fully healthy Godwin is a low-risk receiver with massive upside, no one’s sure what version of Godwin we’re going to see in 2022, or how much we’ll see whatever version we do see. “Top 5” is more within his range of outcomes than it is for any other receiver on this list; the problem is that it’s very hard to imagine a scenario where he gets there in his first year post-injury. He’s gone from a high-floor, high-ceiling option to one with a much lower floor than we’ve ever seen from him before. It’s unlikely he plays enough games at full strength to achieve the WR1 status we’ve seen in the past, but a mid-level WR2 season isn’t out of the question even if he gets off to a slow start.

 

WR29: Darnell Mooney, Chicago Bears

Ceiling: Top 10

Darnell Mooney was one of the lone bright spots in an otherwise uninspiring Bears’ offense last year. The second-year receiver flashed some serious speed and playmaking ability en route to his first 1,000-yard season. While the Bears’ offense may not have gotten much more exciting this year, the departure of Allen Robinson means the WR1 role in Chicago is Mooney’s for the taking.

The biggest question mark for Mooney this year is simple. How good will Justin Fields be? Fields showed plenty of promise in his debut campaign, and any progress entering year two would be fantastic news for Mooney’s fantasy season. The Bears, and therefore Mooney, will go as Fields goes this year. If Fields can lead the offense to at least a league-average ranking, a top 10 fantasy finish is in the cards for Mooney.

Likelihood: Low

The Bears could surprise people this year, but the most likely scenario is once again their offense isn’t very good. It’s going to take a major step forward from the entire group for Mooney to reach his ceiling in 2022, and betting on that outcome is a risky proposition.

WR30: Elijah Moore, New York Jets

Ceiling: Top 15

Prior to getting injured, we saw flashes of the elite potential Elijah Moore can bring to the Jets offense. In Weeks 8-13, Moore scored double digit fantasy points in all but one game and hit the 20-point threshold twice. The Jets’ front office made it clear this offseason that they’re working to build an elite offense, and if their plans work out Moore will be a primary beneficiary.

It’s not unreasonable to predict a sophomore leap from both Moore and his quarterback, Zach Wilson. They each showed reason for optimism in 2021, and with a full NFL offseason under their belts a much0improved 2022 isn’t out of the question.

Likelihood: Low

While Moore’s upside is tantalizing, it’s still going to be hard for him to vault past some of the game’s proven studs ranked higher in the fantasy rankings. With Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall entering the equation this year, the Jets suddenly have a crowded group of offensive weapons, and it could be tough for Moore (or any of them) to demand a large enough role to sustain fantasy relevance in an unproven offense. 

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