Fantasy Football Exit Interview: Star receivers popped, rookies closed fast in 2022

When it comes to wide receiver shopping in this fantasy football racket, it’s pretty simple. You get what you pay for. You might find a useful player in the late rounds, but a league-winner is next to impossible. The waiver wire is good for supplementary help, but you’re unlikely to break the game with free loot.

In the fourth and final edition of our Exit Interview series, let’s dig into the wideouts and see where the profits were. We’ll use the general grading system of green, yellow, and red — a green pick is someone you were thrilled about, a yellow pick brought middling returns, and a red player kicked you in the shins. I’m also going to batch the players in ADP Tiers, by 10s, so you can see how the big-ticket items controlled this position in 2022.

If you want to skip to the takeaways, they're batched at the bottom. We see you, TL;DR crowd.

(Editorial note: Because it’s easiest to work with this data through full-point PPR, that’s what I used for final WR finishes. I also included all 18 weeks. Yahoo’s default scoring setting is half-point PPR, so some of your mileage will vary. The end-of-year ranks will be slightly different, nothing major.)

[Complete Exit Interview series: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs]

Top-10 Wideouts by ADP (six green, one yellow, three red)

We'd like to see Justin Jefferson be a little more dynamic with touchdowns, but he was drafted as the WR1 and finished as such. He ran away from the field with targets, catches and yards. If you're looking for negatives on this guy, who just finished his age-23 season, you're trying too hard.

When big-name wideouts change teams, it's not a big deal — at least it wasn't in 2022. Tyreek Hill (WR2, probably the most consistent receiver in the league), Davante Adams (WR3, led league in touchdown grabs) and A.J. Brown (WR6, finally sweet volume) gave us what we wanted.

We drafted Stefon Diggs wanting him to maintain his established level. He did. We drafted CeeDee Lamb expecting a bump forward. He came through.

Ja'Marr Chase is the lone yellow. Injuries and one fateful canceled game pushed him down to WR11 in aggregate, but he was the WR4 in per-game scoring. I know some who will target Chase as the first wideout off the board next season, and it's reasonable.

Cooper Kupp was great before injury, and still finished as the WR23 despite missing two months. But because of opportunity cost, he goes down as a red. Deebo Samuel was also an injury casualty — and the Niners also have a crowded tree, albeit on a loaded offense — and Michael Pittman was done in by the Colts offense crash-landing.

Bottom line, this was a lucrative pocket to draft into. Most robust WR teams did well, so long as you didn’t take Kupp in the first round.

Wideouts 11-20 (one green, four yellow, five red)

Would it be fair to call this a quasi-dead zone? The NFL had surprising quarterback problems league-wise, and this pool felt the sting.

I gave Mike Evans a red tag because he went 11 consecutive games without a touchdown, then posted the best WR game of the season after his managers were likely eliminated. His end-of-year ranking (WR17) is misleading, and it didn't meet his ADP anyway (WR11).

The Gabriel Davis four-touchdown explosion in last year's playoffs turned into a false window. He wasn't terrible, but a WR36 finish was disappointing.

DJ Moore had to deal with poor QB play. Courtland Sutton dealt with injuries and Russell Wilson. Everything went wrong for Allen Robinson, and it was depressing to watch.

I gave Mike Williams and Keenan Allen yellow tags but they could easily be red — both were injured, and the Chargers offense struggled to push the ball downfield. Their production was steady but unspectacular when healthy. Diontae Johnson didn't meet his ADP (or, famously, score a touchdown), but volume kept him somewhat relevant at WR28. Tee Higgins didn't meet his ADP either, but stayed in the WR2 bucket.

The only player in this pocket who smashed his summer tag was Jaylen Waddle (drafted as WR19, finished at WR8). Tua Tagovailoa led the league in passer rating, playing well when not felled by concussions. Head coach Mike McDaniel looks like a winning hire.

Wideouts 21-30 (two green, four yellow, four red)

If you sleuthed preseason that Geno Smith and Jared Goff would be just fine, you likely came up with ADP smashes from Amon-Ra St. Brown and DK Metcalf. Those are your two green lights here.

Some will argue Chris Godwin (drafted as WR30, finished WR19) deserves a green tag, but I didn't see enough week-to-week upside. His rank feels more like a case of survivor bias. He also benefited from Tom Brady's burning desire to throw the ball as soon as possible — anything to avoid a hit.

Jerry Jeudy slightly beat his ADP (WR25 summer, WR22 finish), a miracle in the Denver mess. Just once I want to see Terry McLaurin play with a plus quarterback. JuJu Smith-Schuster was okay, not great, despite Patrick Mahomes posting an MVP season.

The reds are mostly about injury — Marquise Brown, Rashod Bateman and Darnell Mooney. Brandin Cooks was finally held back by a mediocre supporting cast.

Wideouts 31-40 (four green, three yellow, three red)

The four green winners in this pocket all beat their summer ADPs by over 20 receiver slots. Christian Kirk benefited from good coaching, an ascending quarterback, and a narrow target tree. Amari Cooper was another change-team wideout who did just fine. Brandon Aiyuk was a win for the "last year's flop" angle (buy at a discount), and DeVonta Smith spread his wings in Year 2, part of one of fantasy's cleanest and most explosive offenses.

Adam Thielen and Allen Lazard were playable as WR3/flex guys more often than not, but lacked upside. DeAndre Hopkins was good-not-great after his return, and lacked touchdown equity (not entirely his fault).

Michael Thomas might be done as a viable NFL player. Hunter Renfrow turned pumpkin after his 2021 breakout, though injuries didn't help. Elijah Moore clashed with the New York Jets coaching staff, and was passed in priority by rookie Garrett Wilson.

Winners outside the Top 40

When it comes to receivers, you're unlikely to make a major profit with a late pick or a waiver-wire smash. Tyler Lockett (WR45 ADP, WR13 finish) was the only deep pick to crash the Top 20.

Plenty of rookies made an impression, especially if you waited for them to acquire some experience. Garrett Wilson (WR21) and Chris Olave (WR25) were good all year. Drake London (WR31), George Pickens (WR40), Christian Watson (WR41) and Jahan Dotson (WR51) underscored the importance of trying to acquire rookie receivers in the middle of the year, mindful that the light could go on at any time.

Zay Jones (WR26) and Jakobi Meyers (WR29) were handy if not seismic, good fits for their respective teams. Curtis Samuel (WR33), Josh Palmer (WR37), Tyler Boyd (WR39) and Donovan Peoples-Jones (WR39) provided low-ceiling depth.

Takeaways, Take Me Away

• There will always be some fantasy managers who want to go cheap at quarterback or tight end, and Zero RB is still a thing, too. But if you try to make Zero WR work, you’re setting yourself up to fail. It’s unrealistic to expect that you’ll run hot enough in the middle rounds to catch up, and the waiver wire seldom has a home run for you — when you merely find a single or a double off the wire, you want to start hugging strangers.

• Once upon a time, we fretted when receivers changed teams. (Sometimes that was tied to a player jumping in depth importance, to be fair.) But most of the wideouts who changed teams this season clicked. Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams and A.J. Brown were three of the biggest right answers of the summer, and others supplemented them (Christian Kirk, Amari Cooper). Only Allen Robinson and Marquise Brown flopped from this subset.

• Almost everyone at this position, even the Top-10 guys, posted a handful of off weeks. Variance runs high with the wideouts. I’m not going to look for reasons to ding a Jefferson or an Adams because they did little in some games. You can say this about 95% of the position, and even the guys who mostly beat this trend in 2022 (Hill, for example, was remarkably consistent) are no guarantee to duck it next year.

• Some rookies hit the ground running, specifically Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. Ohio State, you sure know how to recruit wideouts. But try to be patient if your preferred rookie wideout doesn't do much early; maybe it's coming in the second half. Christian Watson, Jahan Dotson, George Pickens and Drake London posted some nifty games down the stretch. It makes intuitive sense; a young player might need adjustment time, but could be Circle-of-Trust ready after Halloween or perhaps after Thanksgiving.