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Tue Jul 18th 2023

Wide Receiver Training-Camp Battles

Last week I wrote about ten running back battles I would pay close attention to during training camps. This week, I write about ten wide receiver battles. Some of these teams have one alpha wide receiver, so I will listen and watch to see which receivers are emerging as the WR-2 and WR-3 on those teams. In other cases, the wide receiver room makes it unclear which players can emerge as their teams' WR-1. Like I did last week, I'll declare which players I think will win these battles, and in a few cases, I'll admit that I have no idea how things will unfold. I'll follow these ten wide receiver battles closely during training camp.

The Giants

  • The Giants have the most undetermined wide receiver depth chart in the league, with multiple players on one-year contracts who hope to prove worthy of a starting position. They re-signed their own players, Isaiah Hodgins, to a one-year contract and Darius Slayton, to a two-year contract, though they have an easy out after one year. Then they added Parris Campbell to a one-year deal via free agency. They retained Sterling Shepard, who is in the last year of his contract. They drafted Jalin Hyatt in the third round after drafting WanDale Robinson in the second round the prior year. There's a lot of talent in the room, but not a clear WR-1, especially since Darren Waller and Saquon Barkley will be very involved in the passing game. Sterling Shepard is this group's most proven and most talented receiver, but he's the oldest and always gets injured. WanDale Robinson never had much time to prove himself after battling injuries last season. He and Campbell should fight for the slot role, while Slayton and Hodgins should have the first chance to win the outside roles. Slayton is the best deep threat. However, Hyatt can easily take his role if he learns the offense. The most secure role is Hodgins', their best big-bodied possession and red-zone receiver. His role among the receivers is the most secure. He's the receiver I want most among this group in the short term. From a dynasty perspective, Robinson, Hyatt, and Campbell are players whose value could increase the most if one can emerge as a starter. 

The Packers

  • The Packers are loaded with first and second-year receivers. I believe their top three receivers are set with Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, and Jayden Reed. The question is which one becomes the top target of the Packers' new quarterback, Jordon Love. In OTAs, Doubs was reportedly his most targeted receiver. Doubs outplayed Watson early in the season last year, while later in the season, Watson outplayed Doubs. However, each played better while the other was injured, so it is still to be determined who will become the WR-1 when they are both healthy. Watson is the Packers' best big-play threat both downfield and in the screen game, but Doubs could become a better possession receiver. Jayden Reed will start in three-receiver sets and challenge the second-year guys for touches. He'll have every chance to compete with Watson and Doubs and could become Love's top target by the end of the year. Doubs will get the most targets and receptions this season, but Watson will have more touchdowns and fantasy points. I love all three players, but I am concerned about the offensive downgrade at quarterback. Love will need to improve a lot to boost their dynasty value more than where they are currently.

The Panthers

  • If not for the Giants, the Panthers have the most difficult wide receiver room to predict. Their new head coach, Frank Reich, brought in two veterans, Adam Thielen and D.J. Chark, to compete with two highly drafted but thus far unproductive young players, Terrace Marshall and Laviska Shenault. Additionally, they added Jonathan Mingo in the second round of the draft. Bryce Young, the first pick in the draft, gets to distribute the ball to this mashed-together group of pass catchers. For Carolina, I am not going to make a prediction. I humbly admit that I do not know who will emerge as the top pass catcher in this offense. Reich wants to allow Thielen and Chark to lead the way as veterans, but he has to develop his young receivers along with his rookie quarterback too. Chark still has some tread on his tired, but Thielen's is nearly out, if not gone already. Shenault seems stuck in a gadget role or slot behind Thielen. Terrace Marshall and Jonathan Mingo have the best chance to improve their dynasty value if they develop into starters and earn targets from their new franchise quarterback. This training camp battle will be most intriguing, as will seeing the slightly built Bryce Young on an NFL field.

The Cardinals

  • The Cardinals are the odds-on favorite to earn the first pick in next year's draft. Their offense could be terrible, and they have every reason to play younger players this season. Marquise Brown is their WR-1, but beyond that, anything could happen. Rondale Moore has never been able to make a sustained fantasy impact since getting drafted in the second round two years ago. Greg Dortch has had better fantasy stretches than he has since he joined the team as a free agent. Michael Wilson was the Cardinals' surprise third-round draft pick last year, and he has an open door to playing time with unproven and often injured guys ahead of him, though he was injured all the time in college. Dortch is available on the waiver wire in many leagues right now. I plan to bid him on this week after spending more time thinking about this wide receiver corps. He's had the second-most productive NFL season so far among their receivers. As much as I loved Rondale Moore in his rookie class, the verdict is out on him. If he gets training camp hype, I will try to sell him. If Wilson gets training camp hype, he'd be hard to buy, but I'd consider it. Next year the Cardinals could have Caleb Williams as their quarterback. They accumulated a lot of 2024 draft picks, too, so any wide receiver on this team could get replaced by a player they draft to pair with Caleb Williams in next year's draft. From a dynasty perspective, it's a scary group of receivers to trust.

The Rams

  • We all know Cooper Kupp is the Rams WR-1. He's practically their WR-1 and WR-2 with the number of targets he gets. We all want to know if anyone could emerge from this Rams group of pass catchers as a reliable number two that's not named Tyler Higbee. My bet is on Higbee to become the second leading target of Matt Stafford, which will pump his dynasty value up considerably this year. That said, I'm most curious to see if Van Jefferson or Puka Nacua can emerge as a playmaker in the Rams' offense. Jefferson's draft capital gives him the first right to win the job. He's a better player than his NFL career has shown thus far, but he's had three years to prove something and has yet to. Nacua's versatile skillset and the OTA buzz he received have me believing he will have a chance to earn a unique role on the team. Ben Skowronek is used more in the run game as a blocker, so I doubt he will emerge with any production in the passing game. The Rams are a team I'll watch closely during training camp, even though it will be the Kupp and Higbee show.

The Patriots

  • The Patriot offense can't get worse than it was last year. The new OC, Bill O'Brien, will make the team better. The only question is which (if any) player will benefit. With Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki at tight end, some reports indicate that the Patriots will run a lot of 12 personnel, making it tougher for the wide receivers to carve out enough of a target share to become reliable fantasy starters. DeVante Parker signed a new contract this month, and Juju Smith-Schuster was signed in free agency. I predict they will be the Patriots leading receivers, ahead of Kendrick Bourne, last year's draft pick, Tyquon Thorton, and this year's draft pick, Kayshon Boutte. Unlike many dynasty managers who think Thorton will earn a role this year, I believe the veterans, Parker and Smith-Schuster, will hold him and others off again. I am sure each of the veterans will have their fair share of productive games, but it will be difficult to predict which one, if any, from week to week, especially if Henry and Gesicki are involved as pass catchers.

The Ravens

  • The Ravens gave Lamar Jackson everything he could possibly need to improve as a passer under his new OC, Todd Monken. Rashaad Bateman, Jay Flowers, and Odell Beckham Jr. make up the most potent wide receiver room he's ever had in Baltimore. As the oldest among them, OBJ will be limited in his touches, but Flowers and Bateman will compete for the WR-1 role behind Mark Andrews, who Jackson will target the most. That said, I think the new offensive scheme will target receivers more than they have in the past. Bateman has the most prototypical size and will become the WR-1 if only he can stay healthy. Flowers will be used more underneath and in the short passing game. Together, all of the pass catchers will put a lot more stress on defenses, giving each of them more opportunities than the Raven's offense has traditionally given its wide receivers. My bets are on Bateman to break out like he did at the start of next year before he injured his foot. He'll become the WR-1 with Flowers as a reliable WR-2 role that also has a fantasy impact.

The Browns

  • Everything the Browns did this offseason indicated that they plan to become more pass-heavy after DeShaun Watson struggled with the offense last year. They re-signed David Njoku, traded for Elijah Moore, and drafted Cedric Tillman. Their three-receiver package is set with Amari Cooper, Elijah Moore, and Donovan Peoples-Jones. I think Tillman will take a backseat role in his rookies season and develops as a player they hope will become a starter after Amari Cooper's contract expires in 2024 or his age catches up with him. Moore received the most buzz in OTA's, and I am hopeful that he will live up to how I valued him in his rookie class. I can't believe how he fell out of favor last year in New York after this string of breakout games during his rookie season. I believe the hype and think he will quickly surpass DPJ in targets, but will battle with Njoku to become the second most-targeted player on the team. After his rusty return to the field, Watson will improve mentally after fighting a year's worth of rightful criticism. 

The Texans

  • I'm very intrigued by the Houston wide receiver room because C.J. Stroud was my highest-ranked quarterback in this year's rookie class. He will quickly and radically change the offense from what we've seen in recent years. Nico Collins is the surest player to benefit, given his lead role last year. He's among my favorite players to see his dynasty stock rise significantly next year, but that's the only thing I am sure about. The Texans added Robert Woods in free agency and drafted Tank Dell early and Xavier Hutchinson late. They have last year's second-round pick, John Mitchie, returning from his cancer treatment. The battle for wide receiver target behind Collins will be one to watch because each player has unique skills and challenges. Woods is past his prime, but I would not put it past him to have a late-career surge. Dell is one of the tiniest receivers to ever play in the NFL, but his college production was unreal, with 17 touchdowns in his final season at Houston, and he has significant draft capital in the third round. Hutchinson had a very productive college career and has prototypical size, but he was drafted way later than I expected in the sixth round. As for Metchie, there's not a lot of history regarding guys returning from cancer treatment, but he was a star in the Alabama program and has the highest draft capital on the team. I'm convinced Stroud will elevate the production and dynasty value of his pass catchers, but I am uncertain who will benefit most. Metchie makes the most sense to believe in, but I was lower on him in his rookie class than most dynasty managers and analysts, so I need to see it before I believe it. Even at his size, Dell is the one I'm most hopeful for, given that he was drafted by the new coaching staff and drafted much higher than was expected, and Stroud reportedly had a say in drafting him. Woods will help the team and be mildly productive to start the season, but Dell will chip into his role in the slot as the season progresses. Hutchinson and Metchie will battle for the other role, and Metchi has the leg up to start the season. His role and future depends on his full return to health. Watching the new coaching staff work with this group and seeing how it plays out in training camp and into the season will be fun.

The Chiefs

  • As it was with the Panthers, so it is with the Chiefs. I have very little confidence about what to expect. Marquez Valdes-Scantling is what he is. I don't think he can do more than he did last season with the Chiefs. The battle between first and second-year players Skyy Moore and Kadarius Toney and rookie Rashee Rice is where I throw up my hands. Additionally, I'm not convinced that five-year veteran, Justin Watson, is not a better player than all three of the younger guys. Travis Kelce is the effective WR-1 in Kansas City, and their running backs are too involved to give the wide receivers the target share they need to become an every-week starter. When the Chiefs let Tyreek Hill go and signed Patrick Mahomes to his new contract, they effectively told us they could win without a WR-1. If one or more of the K.C. wide receivers get buzz during training camp, I would look to sell them. I don't have confidence in any of them, and not much could cause my confidence to grow.

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