Justin Jefferson Highlights Fantasy Football’s Most Valuable Third-Year Wide Receivers
Season after season, the NFL seems more and more to stand for ‘Not For Long.’ However, players entering the league with decent draft capital tend to get at least three full seasons to showcase their talents. Of course, some break out earlier, while others don’t even get a third year to prove themselves. Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings and CeeDee Lamb of the Dallas Cowboys are both considered elite receivers despite suiting up for just two seasons a piece. However, not every wideout entering his third NFL season is their team’s go-to target or has been given the same number of opportunities as Jefferson or Lamb have seen in their respective young careers. Most wideouts officially break onto the scene by their third season while others never live up to expectations. Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jalen Reagor still has yet to figure it out and is widely considered a massive bust at this point. Let’s take a look at the top 10 wideouts entering their third NFL season!
2022 Fantasy Football Third-Year Wide Receiver Rankings
1. WR Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings
Not only is Jefferson the top wideout entering his third year in the National Football League but an argument can be made that he’s the most valuable wide receiver in all of fantasy football. He’s currently only being drafted after Los Angeles Rams superstar Cooper Kupp among all receivers and is the consensus No. 8 pick off the board according to our ADP Rankings. That means that Jefferson is already a consensus first-round selection despite suiting up for just two seasons thus far in his young career. Similar to Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry before him, as well as Ja’Marr Chase who took the league by storm as a rookie last year, wide receivers out of LSU have done quite well for themselves in recent years.
Jefferson has been an absolute revelation since being drafted by the Vikings out of LSU. He now has the most receiving yards in NFL history (3,016) in a player’s first two seasons. Additionally, he has caught 196 passes on 292 targets, has 17 touchdowns to his name, and is Pro Football Focus’s second-highest-graded receiver since entering the league. Jefferson was fantasy’s WR4 in 2021 after averaging 19.5 PPR points per game and was just about as consistent as one can get in fantasy football. At just 22 years old, the second-year pro finished within the top 20 wideouts in 76% of his outings (13 of 17). With veteran quarterback, Kirk Cousins, under center, Jefferson commanded the league’s third-highest target share (27%) and led the NFL in air yards share (44%). There isn’t much to suggest that Jefferson will slow down any time soon. The Vikings still have Adam Thielen but are sincerely lacking in wide receiver depth after that. Yes, they still have the highly volatile K.J. Osborn but there aren’t a ton of options on the roster after him and tight end Irv Smith. Jefferson is going to put together another massive season as Minnesota’s go-to option in the passing game. In the post-Mike Zimmer era with Kevin O’Connell putting his mark on this offense, Jefferson should only see his stats increase. The Vikings need to keep Dalvin Cook fresh and healthy which may mean the team will opt to throw the ball more than they did last year.
2. WR CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys
Lamb has already produced 1,000+ receiving yards in his first two professional seasons but he’s poised to produce career highs across the board now that Amari Cooper has been shipped off to the Cleveland Browns. The Dallas Cowboys’ offense now officially flows through Lamb, especially now that Ezekiel Elliott has started to see a steep decline in his numbers out of the backfieGalluphael Gallup and Dalton Schultz will see plenty of opportunities but Lamb is Dak Prescott’s go-to target. His ability to cut on a dime, then quickly zip into open space on the field makes him very difficult to guard. Last season, Lamb was 13th in yards per route run and was a beast after the catch. He ranked fifth in tackles forced among wide receivers. If defenders don’t finish their tackles, Lamb is the type of player to make them pay by bringing it to the house. He’s a touchdown threat whenever he steps onto that field.
3. WR Tee Higgins, Cincinnati Bengals
Higgins was overshadowed by Ja’Marr Chase for much of last season but his 23% target share was actually higher than Chase’s 21% target share during the 2021 regular season. Without Higgins, there is absolutely no way that the Bengals would have made it to the Super Bowl. Although Higgins doesn’t have that WR1 overall upside that his teammate Chase has, Higgins brings consistency to the table. He will continue to see a ton of targets as the Bengals won’t hesitate to let Joe Burrow sling the ball out of the pocket in 2022. Higgins is still just 23 years old and is coming off a season in which he tallied 74 receptions, 1,091 receiving yards, and eight touchdowns. He was even better in the postseason. Higgins will provide solid value to fantasy owners for many years to come.
4. WR Michael Pittman Jr., Indianapolis Colts
Pittman is poised to have another solid season though he will have a new quarterback tossing him the pigskin in Matt Ryan. He served as Indianapolis’ true WR1 in 2021. The coaching staff clearly believes in him since they allowed him to suit up for 96% of the team’s offensive dropbacks. That was third to only Cooper Kupp and Ja’Marr Chase through 17 weeks. Pittman additionally finished the season tied for the league’s eighth-highest target share (24%), which was 11 percentage points higher than the next closest member of the Indianapolis Colts, Zach Pascal, at 13%. With Matty Ice under center and no significant competition for targets in the wide receiver room, Pittman could finish among the top 12 wide receivers as a true WR1 based on volume alone. Don’t forget that Matt Ryan has a history of delivering monster seasons for monster wide receivers. Remember Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley? The Colts’ offense still runs through running back Johnathan Taylor but Pittman will be the receiver opposing defenses game plan to stop in the passing game. Fantasy owners should consider the third-year wideout in the late-third or early-fourth round of drafts.
5. WR Jerry Jeudy, Denver Broncos
With Russell Wilson taking over for Drew Lock at quarterback in Denver, a healthy Jerry Jeudy should have a career third year. Though he was injured last season and missed seven games, his numbers in his first two seasons as a wideout for the Broncos are worthless if you take into consideration who threw him the ball in 2020 and 2021. With Teddy Bridgewater, Jeudy produced 858 receiving yards and averaged 16.5 per catch in his rookie season. But injury setbacks and Drew Lock held Jeudy to below 500 receiving yards and zero touchdowns in his second NFL season. With Wilson in town, Jeudy’s fantasy value raised exponentially. It’s critical to know that he played for a rough team with poor quarterbacks in his first two seasons. Russell Wilson leading the charge in 2022 immediately makes Denver a playoff-hopeful team this upcoming season. His number one option at wideout will likely be Jeudy, who now has at his disposal one of the best passers in the game. This should be a breakout third year for Jerry Jeudy, who was drafted alongside Ceedee Lamb and Henry Ruggs IIi in the 2020 NFL Draft.
6. WR Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers
Aiyuk started last season extremely slow but began to put it together at the perfect time just before the postseason. As long as Deebo Samuel remains in San Francisco and Aiyuk doesn’t need to serve as the first option in this offense, he should finish as a top 30 wideout in PPR formats. Still, he does need to compete with Deebo and George Kittle for targets and the Niners have always employed a run-heavy offense. Aiyuk won't see as many targets as fantasy owners would like.
7. WR Darnell Mooney, Chicago Bears
Mooney surprised everyone last season when he completely outplayed Allen Robinson and finished as the Bears' most productive wideout. With A-Rob now in Los Angeles with the Rams, Mooney could produce his best season to date. He barely has any competition for targets as the Bears didn’t do much to address the position this offseason. They did bring in Byron Pringle but Mooney is the WR1 in Chicago. The question will be whether Justin Fields can improve enough in his second season. Fields really struggled his rookie year and Mooney’s upside is directly tied to Fields. That said, Mooney did see a whopping 26.7% target share, good for sixth in the NFL. If Mooney continues to see the majority of targets in Chicago, he can outproduce his current ADP as the 25th wideout off the board in PPR formats.
8. WR Gabriel Davis, Buffalo Bills
Davis showcased his immense talent at the end of the regular season and during the playoffs last year. While he is still competing with Stefon Diggs, Jamison Crowder, Isaiah McKenzie, and tight end Dawson Knox for targets, Davis proved that he is one of Josh Allen’s favorite red-zone targets and that he has a nose for the end zone. Davis is a late-round wide receiver who could exceed expectations big time in 2022.
9. WR Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh Steelers
Drafting Chase Claypool won’t be nearly as sexy a pick as it was last year after his 2020 breakout season and with Ben Roethlisberger still under center. Now, Claypool will have to line up as the WR2 in Pittsburgh's run-first offense with rookie Kenny Pickett at the quarterback position. After scoring 11 touchdowns his rookie year and finishing as the WR23 overall, Claypool’s second-year breakout campaign was halted by Big Ben’s inability to get the ball downfield. Claypool’s bread and butter have always been his deep ball skills. He thrives when he stretches the field. Unfortunately for him, Big Ben ranked 31st out of 38 quarterbacks on throws of 20+ air yards last season. Despite Roethlisberger’s deteriorating play and the fact that Claypool only managed one trip to the end zone all year, he still managed to finish as the WR41 overall. It was also encouraging to see that he demanded 27% of air yards and led the team in air yards in the final four weeks of the season. Clearly, Pittsburgh knows that they need to connect with the youngster in the deep passing game. Time will tell how long it will take for Pickett and Claypool to develop chemistry but better days are indeed ahead for the young wide receiver.
10. WR Van Jefferson, Los Angeles Rams
In the Rams’ Super Bowl-winning season, Van Jefferson finally showed some life, finishing with a career-high 802 receiving yards and six touchdowns. In terms of fantasy points per game, he was the WR41, which isn’t too shabby for a guy who had to play behind Cooper Kupp, Odell Beckham Jr., and Robert Woods. With Beckham and Woods out of the picture and Allen Robinson now in the fold, fantasy owners should expect Jefferson to serve as the field=stretching wideout in Matthew Stafford’s passing game. He won’t be on the field for most two wide receiver sets but he still has value due to his propensity for big plays.
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