Who will be 2022 fantasy football's WR1 overall: Can Justin Jefferson take the crown from Cooper Kupp?

·Fantasy Analyst
·12 min read

Over the last several seasons, I’ve discussed the “three pillars” a player must have in their outlook in order to become the fantasy WR1 overall. Cooper Kupp ended up shocking the world in becoming that player last year but he absolutely checked all three boxes. It's a win for the theory even if the fantasy industry didn't properly rank him as such.

Those three pillars are:

1 - Must own a dominant target share in their offense

2 - Must be tethered to an efficient quarterback/offense

3 - Must be verifiably great at football

Time to spin forward. So, using those pillars, let’s take a look at my Top-13 ranked receivers to examine how clean their path is to potentially push for the WR1 overall title in 2022.

Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams

Target share pillar: Yes

Kupp maintained an absurd 32 percent target share in the 2022 Rams’ offense and he’s poised to approach that number again this season. While Allen Robinson was a huge addition to this passing game, they don’t have many other threats beyond the top two receivers to siphon looks away from Kupp.

Efficient offense/QB pillar: Yes

This is a clear affirmative as long as Matthew Stafford’s elbow situation doesn’t approach nightmare territory. The Stafford-to-Kupp connection was one of the most lethal in the game last year.

Verifiably great at football pillar: Yes

You don’t win the NFL’s Triple Crown if you aren’t a baller. Kupp has long been one of the NFL’s most unique wide receivers and supreme zone-beaters.

Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings

Target share pillar: Yes

Jefferson was third in the NFL with a 28% target share last year. There’s the idea that he’s getting a Kupp-type role in the new Vikings offense with Kevin O’Connell taking over as head coach. That’s gravy but he doesn’t really need it to earn a high target total.

Efficient offense/QB pillar: Yes

Say what you want about Kirk Cousins, he can get his good players the ball. Cousins should clear 600 pass attempts for the first time since 2018 and he’s ranked 10th, 2nd and 7th in yards per attempt the last three years. He’s more than good enough.

Verifiably great at football pillar: Yes

Jefferson is already a truly elite player. He beats all forms of coverage and wins at every level of the field. It would not be a shock at all if we’re talking about him as the best receiver in the league by the end of the year.

Justin Jefferson #18 of the Minnesota Vikings is already a fantasy star
Justin Jefferson has all the tools to be fantasy's No. 1 WR. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

Ja'Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals

Target share pillar: Yes

Chase is a little bit more complicated than the other guys ahead and behind him on this list. He maintained a 23% target share as a rookie, the same as teammate Tee Higgins. I’m projecting a slight bump to 24.4% for Chase; almost a quarter of the Bengals’ passing game is more than enough.

Efficient offense/QB pillar: Yes

Burrow showed last year when he ranked third in touchdown rate and first in yards per attempt. This duo is going to be awesome for years to come.

Verifiably great at football pillar: Yes

Chase just had a top-three all-time rookie season. He doesn’t have any holes in his game and could even take another step in areas he’s already strong. I loved the way they used him on more layup targets at the end of the season.

Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills

Target share pillar: Yes

The fantasy community has spent all offseason debating the players behind Diggs in this passing game but the man himself could lead the NFL in target share this season. He’s had back-to-back seasons of 160-plus targets and there is no reason to expect that to stop.

Efficient offense/QB pillar: Yes

The Bills throw the ball at one of the highest rates in the NFL and Josh Allen is one of the game’s premier quarterbacks.

Verifiably great at football pillar: Yes

Diggs is an elite wide receiver. He’s one of, if not THE, best route runners in football and is a maven in the contested-catch game. He’ll have more spike weeks in 2022.

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CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys

Target share pillar: Yes

My god, yes. Lamb could easily lead the NFL in targets this year. The fact that the Cowboys/Dak Prescott hasn’t produced a high-target wide receiver the last three years is irrelevant because they’ve never had a wide receiver that’s deserved it and the competition for targets has been dramatically different than the weak group Dallas will roll out this year.

Efficient offense/QB pillar: Yes

Prescott is a very good quarterback who is capable of being a high-end distributor. He was on fire before a calf injury derailed his 2021 comeback season. He’s more than good enough for Lamb to smash.

Verifiably great at football pillar: Yes

I strongly believe that when viewed in isolation, Lamb is clearly extremely good at the game. He’ll be an upgrade in Amari Cooper’s vacated flanker role. The Cowboys need to do more to let him shine after the catch.

Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Target share pillar: Maybe leaning yes

The Bucs added a handful of guys to the equation in Russell Gage and Julio Jones but don’t forget they lost two big-time target earners in Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski. Those two can replace their roles while also providing insurance for Chris Godwin as he comes back from an ACL tear. Evans should still be the dominant target leader in this offense. I’ve got him down for 22% which is … close to what we want.

Efficient offense/QB pillar: Yes

Tom Brady showed no signs of decline last year and was more aggressive as a vertical passer than ever. I’ll believe he’s cooked when I see it.

Verifiably great at football pillar: Yes

Somehow, Evans still feels relatively underrated. He’s developed into an excellent route runner who separates almost as well as he wins jump balls. He could lead the NFL in receiving touchdowns this year.

Davante Adams, Las Vegas Raiders

Target share pillar: Maybe leaning yes

Adams maintained a 31% target share in Green Bay’s offense last year. I’d be shocked if he comes close to that in Las Vegas. I’m still projecting him to lead the team in targets by a healthy bit but Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller will push for near 20% shares themselves.

Efficient offense/QB pillar: Yes

Derek Carr played quite well in an unfavorable situation last year. He’s more than good enough to push this passing game to the next level with the best set of pass-catchers he’s played with in years.

Verifiably great at football pillar: Yes

Adams is the best wide receiver in football.

Tyreek Hill, Miami Dolphins

Target share pillar: Yes

It’s difficult to make the math work for both Jaylen Waddle and Hill but I’m expecting the latter to lead the team in looks. I like Waddle but Hill has shown to be an elite-level player. I’ve got him at 24% this year.

Efficient offense/QB pillar: Maybe leaning no

There are outstanding questions about both the structure of Miami’s offense with a new coaching staff in town and how good Tua Tagovailoa can be as a quarterback. We can’t completely rule out that he’s that guy yet but if you’re saying it’s anything more than a maybe, you’re being disingenuous. I think Tua levels off as an early-career Andy Dalton-level player — but I'm ready to be proven wrong.

Verifiably great at football pillar: Yes

Even when viewed in isolation, Hill is still a great receiver. He had an awesome season with Alex Smith back in 2017.

Michael Pittman, Indianapolis Colts

Target share pillar: Yes

Pittman maintained a 25% target share in Indianapolis last year and there’s no reason to think anyone siphons much of that away. We have questions about all the other surrounding pass catchers, even if I’m optimistic about some of them. Either way, targets are earned and Pittman is an ascending player who will continue to ascend.

Efficient offense/QB pillar: Maybe

I strongly believe Matt Ryan is a big quarterback upgrade over Carson Wentz. Pittman is a pretty misunderstood player. He’s not just a jump-ball receiver and is a pristine separator on digs, slants and curls. Those are great Ryan routes. I do think, however, that we need to bake in the reality of the risk with Ryan’s age at this point though.

Verifiably great at football pillar: Maybe leaning yes

Based on my work, I confidently believe that the answer is going to be a hard “yes.” However, I’ll give it a maybe for the “nNeed to see it first” crowd.

Tee Higgins, Cincinnati Bengals

Target share pillar: No

Higgins is a great player. I’m drafting him. He’s just not going to out-target Chase.

Efficient offense/QB pillar: Yes

As I said in the Chase section, Burrow is quite good.

Verifiably great at football pillar: Yes

Higgins might be a step down from Chase but he’s a truly excellent wide receiver. He’s a better route runner than credited and has a trump-card trait in his ability to win balls in tight coverage. I think he’s a 1B type of receiver to Chase, not a true WR2.

Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers

Target share pillar: No

Samuel maintained a 26% share last year and that was with Brandon Aiyuk in the doghouse for almost half the season. That’s not happening again and George Kittle is still in the mix. I don’t see a viable scenario for Deebo to dominate targets here with Aiyuk destined to make the leap this year.

Efficient offense/QB pillar: Maybe

I’m a Trey Lance believer but can admit this one might go either way. There’s definitely a question to be asked about how well the styles of Samuel and Lance overlap. However, if Lance is good, he’ll elevate this entire offense from a potency standpoint.

Verifiably great at football pillar: Yes

Samuel is fantastic and one of the truly unique players in the NFL. Even if some of his receiving work dips, he’ll still be involved as a rusher. That helps salvage his fantasy ceiling.

DJ Moore, Carolina Panthers

Target share pillar: Yes

Moore quietly ranked fourth in the NFL with a 28% target share. I’m projecting him in the same range again. If Christian McCaffrey plays more games this year, he could eat into that number but the lack of other great receivers or tight ends should keep Moore in the 150 to 160 neighborhood.

DJ Moore #2 of the Carolina Panthers
DJ Moore has been able to maintain a heavy target share. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Efficient offense/QB pillar: Maybe leaning no

Baker Mayfield is an average starter in the NFL. That’s a big upgrade for the Panthers and on anyone Moore has played with lately. Mayfield is still unlikely to be good enough to give Moore a WR1 overall season. We’re more so asking him to push Moore into the 6-8 touchdown range.

Verifiably great at football pillar: Maybe leaning yes

Moore has been a steady player for years now. I think he’s a top-flight player. I wish the Panthers would use him more creatively than just rolling him out almost exclusively as the X-receiver.

A.J. Brown, Philadelphia Eagles

Target share pillar: Maybe leaning yes

All of the reports out of Philadelphia’s training camps indicate the Jalen Hurts and A.J. Brown connection is one fire. I’m buying them. Even if it comes at the expense of good players like DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert. Brown certainly deserves an alpha-level target share.

Efficient offense/QB pillar: Maybe

Hurts has gotten better each of his last four seasons. His adjusted yards per attempt jumped from a 9.5 average in Alabama to 12.2 in his 2019 season at Oklahoma. He improved from his 6.8 adjusted yards per attempt as a rookie to 7.1 in 2021. I think it’s still best to leave this as a “maybe,” though, and see what happens.

Verifiably great at football pillar: Yes

Brown obliterates press and man coverage, wins difficult catches and is a terror in the open field. He checks every box. He has top-five wide receiver talent in the league and it sounds like the Eagles want to fully unleash that this year.

Later-ranked dark horses

Terry McLaurin, Washington Commanders: The quarterback pillar is a hard “no,” but McLaurin is absolutely, verifiably great at football and should see a 24% target share at a bare minimum. Wentz would have to play well above his expected level to get McLaurin there but, but the receiver could do it in a better situation.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kansas City Chiefs: He has the quarterback to do it and carries a 2021 Cooper Kupp-like resume this season. He’s unlikely to get the dominant target share needed with Travis Kelce still around and is more of a strong complementary receiver and not a legit WR1.

Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos: We know he got the huge quarterback upgrade and now that Tim Patrick is out for the year and no one else has stepped up at tight end or WR3, the targets are going to be pretty concentrated between Sutton and Jerry Jeudy. Sutton could inch north of 25% of the Broncos targets. I just wish he was coming off his best individual season, even if you can make an injury excuse.

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