Rookie wide receivers finding success in the NFL is not unheard of. Far from it, actually. But in recent years, a few special rookies have dominated both on the field and in fantasy football lineups. They now find themselves firmly inside the top-10 of players at their position.
Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings finished the 2020 season with 88 receptions for 1,400 yards and 7 TD, good for sixth in PPR points (WR position only). And in 2021, Ja’Marr Chase of the AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals quickly became the alpha of an already-established receiving core, putting up totals of 81/1,455/13 (5th in PPR). These players are the most recent examples of what a talented wideout can do – at an early NFL age – when dropped into the right situation.
The New York Jets are hoping that they have created a similar situation — one that will be conducive to putting up big yardage and big point totals via their very young offensive core. It is certainly a gamble to count on a bunch of young pups, but the Jets are in rebuilding mode, and have had enough draft capital and salary cap space to take said risk(s).
They have (hopefully, for them) identified Zach Wilson as their franchise quarterback of the future, and brought in Garrett Wilson to potentially be his No. 1 option. If the young battery can develop chemistry quickly, the former Buckeye has all the skills and talent to become a big-time fantasy football asset.
Wilson spent much of his early Ohio State career in the slot before lining up primarily outside throughout the 2021 season. No matter where the Buckeyes put him, he excelled as a playmaker. The speed, the hands, the ability to make plays after the catch — all facets of his game were dialed in, and continued to improve over the course of three seasons in Columbus. But his size (or lack thereof) was a question mark for some debating his NFL potential.
In my humble opinion, Wilson put size concerns to rest in 2021 by regularly creating separation and coming down with contested catches. The footwork and the route running are always a work(s) in progress – even for veteran wideouts – so he is not a finished product, but the Jets saw very few holes in his game, leading to Wilson becoming the 10th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. And the team certainly did not spend such a high pick to have the rookie sit and develop slowly. Unless he is a catastrophic bust (fat chance), Wilson will be thrown quickly into the fire. I expect him to perform well, and there is a realistic scenario in which he becomes the team’s go-to receiver.
Versatility will likely be key for Wilson, as the Jets have a bit of a funky WR depth chart. The team drafted Elijah Moore last year, and he performed well as a second-round draft pick. The 5-foot-10, 180 pounder is currently a projected starter. Same goes for Corey Davis, a former high draft pick who signed with New York as a free agent. He has thus far failed to reach his ceiling, but is a big-bodied pass catcher at 6-foot-3, 210. Braxton Berrios and Denzel Mims are the backups and near-copies of Moore and Davis, but the group as a whole is largely unproven.
Whereas the incumbent four fit some sort of mold, the 6-foot, 185 pound Wilson falls somewhere in the middle. He is nowhere near the size of those possession guys, but plays much larger than the slot-only receivers. The Jets should be able to move this former Buckeye all around the field, similar to how Ohio State used him in certain matchups.
If Zach Wilson progresses after a long offseason spent hunting cougars, it will go a long way in boosting the fantasy potential of the individual weapons around him. The team brass certainly wouldn’t mind either, but this is a fantasy football preview, not an AFC East preview. Wilson (Garrett, from here on out) has by far the highest upside of the skill position players, and should be taken as the first Jet off the board. Moore has PPR potential, the young NY running backs are skilled, and the team has nearly a dozen tight end options, but Wilson is the elite prospect you want to target in drafts.
Some prognosticators have suggested that the Jets are an up-and-coming team to watch out for. With just one winning record in their last 11 seasons, I’ll believe it when I see it. As such, the team could find itself behind often, and throwing the ball with regularity. Their young QB struggled at times as a rookie, but he has a cannon of an arm and love to extend plays. That is where Wilson comes in. If he is able to pick things up quickly, I don’t see any reason why he would be unable to rise up the depth chart. From there, it will be about using his skills and athleticism to hopefully become the next Ja’Marr Chase.
Wilson currently has an ADP outside the top 100, and is barely being looked at as a top-50 WR option. Target him earlier in fantasy drafts. Because it might take time to find his footing in the NFL, but I just can’t imagine him ever being a bust... at least not due to his talent, or lack thereof. If Wilson struggles, I would guess that it is a result of QB play.
That being said, PPR points might be hard to come by, so don’t go nuts. Draft him knowing that he is a much better dynasty pick than he is a 2022 certainty. But I will definitely be taking into account upside when I target Wilson in my own fantasy drafts. I would rather pick up the former Buckeye two rounds too early, as opposed to sitting on his ADP and hoping I get lucky. Wilson has fantasy stud potential, it’s a matter of whether or not things come together for he and his other young teammates.