Rookie wide receivers performing well in their inaugural NFL season(s) is not unheard of. Far from it, actually. But in recent years, a select few have absolutely 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 seven TDs, good for 6th in PPR points (WR position only). And in 2021, Ja’Marr Chase of the 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 just a few of the recent examples of what a talented wideout can do, at an early NFL age, when dropped into the right situation.
The New York Jets did not have one of those situations in 2022. Sure, the defense and coaching were much improved over previous years, but that’s about it. Because the offense in the Big Apple (technically NJ) was a big dumpster fire. Rookie running back Breece Hall was an early bright spot, but he only started two games before tearing his ACL in October. Quarterback play was abysmal, with Zach Wilson, Joe Flacco, and Mike White all completing less than 60% of their passes. And the team’s No. 2 and No. 3 receivers combined for less than 1,000 yards. Far from ideal.
However, from the smoldering green ashes, a scarlet and gray phoenix did rise... Ok, that was a bit dramatic, but work with me here. With Hall sidelined, another Jets rookie came on strong, especially during the second half of the season. And now that player is a burgeoning star. His name? Garrett Wilson.
This former Ohio State Buckeye was a bright spot in the otherwise dark, dingy, disgusting NYJ offense (5.5 receptions, 78.9 yards per game after Hall’s injury). And Wilson was rewarded for his stellar play with NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. He showed great versatility for the Jets, and often battled opposing secondaries without much help. Which is something that should have placated his (few) detractors.
Prior to entering the NFL, Wilson spent much of his early Ohio State career in the slot. He then moved outside for most of 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 certain things, over which Wilson had no control, were still held against him. Namely his size (or lack thereof) and the fact that he was constantly and consistently surrounded by other playmakers.
In my humble opinion, Wilson put any and all concerns to rest in 2022. He consistently created separation and came down with contested catches, often as the singular focus of opposing defenses. Footwork and route running are always a work(s) in progress, even for veteran wideouts, so Wilson is far from a finished product, but he showed very few holes in his game as a rookie.
Rookie WRs to be targeted 25%+ of the time and put up 1100+ receiving yards— Alex Caruso (@AlexCaruso) July 7, 2023
That's the whole list
And Beckham has three Top 7 WR finishes
Versatility will be essential for Wilson moving forward, as New York re-tooled and brought on several new (offensive) pieces during the offseason. The biggest new name in town is obviously Aaron Rodgers, but the Jets also added WRs Mecole Hardman, Allen Lazard, and Randall Cobb. The latter two were favorites of Rodgers in Green Bay and will likely cut into some of Wilson’s target share.
Speaking specifically of Rodgers though, his mere presence should boost the value, production, and star power of Wilson, both in real life and fantasy football. And that is why I am all over the former Buckeye early in drafts. He has already proven capable of putting up 80+ receptions and 1,100 yards, and that was as a rookie in a putrid offense! With Rodgers (a no-doubt Hall of Famer) throwing him the ball, I could absolutely see Wilson flirting with 100/1,500 in 2023-24.
That being said, 100 catches is not nothin’, right? So draft Wilson with at least some caution. Because Lazard and Cobb will absorb plenty of targets. Same for Hardman, who has proven to be one of the fastest players in the NFL if nothing else. And the Jets will try to alleviate at least some of the pressure on 39-year old Rodgers by feeding a healthy Hall. There will be plenty of mouths to feed for Gang Green, which is not something you could have said with a straight face last year.
But I am still all-in on Wilson. His current ADP in or around the top-20 does not scare me off one bit. I may even target him earlier, in the mid-to-late teens. I would encourage others to do so as well, because I believe that Wilson has top-5 positional upside. And if you don’t want to buy what I am selling, just check out what a certain future HOF QB had to say.