Fantasy Football Slack and Forth: Which Early-Round Receivers Should You Prioritize?

Wide receiver is loaded in fantasy football this season.

Not only is it deep overall, but it's also chock full of quality options at the top end.

It's those top-level wideouts we're going to parse through in this piece -- specifically the nine receivers with an ADP inside the first two rounds, per FanDuel's best-ball ADP. Those nine are Cooper Kupp, Ja'Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson, Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, Deebo Samuel, Mike Evans, Tyreek Hill, and CeeDee Lamb.

I got together with fellow numberFire editor Austin Swaim to chat on Slack about which early-round wideouts we prefer. Here's what we had to say.

Austan Kas:
Let's start right at the top. According to FanDuel's best-ball ADP, three wideouts -- Cooper Kupp (pick 2.5), Ja'Marr Chase (5.9) and Justin Jefferson (6.1) -- are among the top six players. Of those three, who are you most into and why?

Austin Swaim: It has to be Jefferson for me. The reason why is that I don't think we've seen his ceiling at this ADP versus Kupp's or Chase's.

I know that sounds crazy to say for the first guy in NFL history with more than 3,000 receiving yards in his first two seasons, but that was in a Gary Kubiak-style offense that had the 13th-lowest early-down first-half pass rate in the NFL last year. Now, Jefferson is going to be unlocked by new coach Kevin O'Connell's offensive system, similar to the one Kupp and Chase have been in -- an offense that resulted in the Los Angeles Rams having the seventh-highest pass rate this last season.

Jefferson, someone with crazy natural talent, has been producing in a safer, more conservative offense, and he is now entering the same conditions that Kupp and Chase have been thriving in. Watch out.

What about you?

Austan Kas: For me, it's Kupp as the WR1. What he did last year was astonishing. He totaled 367.0 half-PPR points, averaging 21.6 points per week and leading all flex-eligible players in total points.

And it's not just the year-end numbers; it's the week-to-week consistency. Receivers are supposed to be super volatile on a weekly basis, yet Kupp scored at least 12.7 half-PPR points in 16 of 17 games. He put up at least 15.0 points in all but two games and hit the 20.0-point threshold an eye-popping 10 times. He did it via stellar volume, seeing at least seven targets in every game, including 10-plus looks in 14 of 17 outings.

Of course, it's not a given that Kupp produces at that kind of level again in 2022, but there's room for him to regress from a historically outstanding season to just a great campaign and still be the WR1. He posted 66.5 more half-PPR points than any other receiver last season, and the number-two receiver -- Deebo Samuel -- also played running back. Among true wideouts, Davante Adams was the WR2, and Kupp outpaced him by 84.2 points.

Everything is in place for Kupp to shine once more, and our model has him as the clear WR1, projecting Kupp for 308.3 half-PPR points -- 44.0 more than the next-closest receiver (Jefferson).

The lone issue I have with Kupp is that to get him, I have to bypass taking an elite running back. Assuming Jonathan Taylor comes off the board first, I'm then looking at Kupp, Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey. Historically I've been someone who prioritizes elite backs, but Kupp's weekly floor/ceiling combination is making me think long and hard about that. As of now, I would take Kupp 1.02, but ask me five minutes from now and you might get a different answer.

Would you take Henry or CMC over Kupp and Jefferson, or are you in favor of taking one of those wideouts at 1.02?

Austin Swaim: I think you absolutely have to consider it. In a half-PPR environment, I'm more than open to Henry over Kupp or Jefferson because his injury was more of a freak occurrence, but McCaffery now has two consecutive years of injury concerns to worry about.

At this stage, Kupp and Jefferson have had very few injury woes. Plus, they're in the kind of pass-first environments where we've seen Sean McVay disciples lean heavily on an individual receiver in the red zone. Part of the reason that Kupp (1.6 touchdowns over expected, per PFF's expected points model) and Chase (4.9) overperformed so dramatically in the scoring department is that they were schemed specific opportunities.

Kupp, especially, led the NFL in red zone targets. I think of Davante Adams with the Green Bay Packers under Matt LaFleur, as well. When it comes to Jefferson, Adam Thielen -- who outperformed touchdown expectation again in 2021 -- remains a concern for that style of role, but these offenses are overwhelmingly using their receivers now as primary scorers, and that's what is thrusting these wideouts into the top-tier consideration we've previously reserved for running backs.

Austan Kas: Really good points, and it's something everyone with an early pick will have to ponder this fall. These receivers really have turned into the top scoring options for their offense.

Moving on. Outside of Kupp, Jefferson and Chase -- the top three by ADP -- is there another receiver who is going in the first two rounds who you're super high on?

Austin Swaim: The problem in fantasy drafts right now is there are so many. I think one guy you have to vault into consideration with even the aforementioned three is Stefon Diggs. When your team is favored to win the Super Bowl and your quarterback is the betting favorite to win MVP, you're probably going to be in line for a monstrous season, but Diggs has even more going in his favor.

He led Buffalo in targets last year (162), but there's a gigantic amount of additional targets vacated this season with Cole Beasley (112) and Emmanuel Sanders (72) out of town. The Gabriel Davis hype train has left the station, but there's a reason he and Dawson Knox were below both Beasley and Sanders in targets last year; they didn't earn them overall.

Diggs will have a wonderful opportunity to break 170 targets for the first time in Buffalo, and that's the type of workload you'd hope for in a potential WR1 overall. He's got less competition for targets than any of the top three we've discussed, and you could make the argument he's attached to the best quarterback in the sport. That's a pretty spicy combination for a second-round pick.

There are plenty to choose from, so I'm sure you've got a different guy in mind, right? You could ask five people and get a different answer each time.

Austan Kas: CeeDee Lamb is a guy I'm trying to scoop up in every league. I touched on the early-first decision of elite running back or elite wideout, and in my eyes, part of the pull to go running back early is that Lamb is available at the end of the second -- ADP of 22.8 (WR9)-- and I think he has the upside to finish as the WR1 this season.

Playing in a crowded Dallas Cowboys offense his first two campaigns (with just five games of Dak Prescott as a rookie), Lamb hasn't seen top-shelf usage yet. That should change in 2022. Amari Cooper is gone, and Michael Gallup -- Dallas' number-two wideout -- isn't expected to be ready for Week 1 after last year's season-ending injury. It should be the Lamb Show, and volume has been the only thing holding back Lamb -- who we know was a superb talent coming into the NFL -- from a monster breakout.

He ranked a measly 38th in target share (19.8%) among receivers a year ago. We project him for 144 targets this season -- 24 more than his Year 2 total -- but I think there's room for more in a Cowboys attack that had the 11th-highest pass rate in 2021. With Cooper, who led Dallas with a 17.2% red zone target share last season, out of town, Lamb is also due for an uptick in looks in that area as he recorded a red zone target share of just 10.1% last season.

Despite the blah volume in 2021, Lamb finished as the half-PPR WR18. He was one of only three receivers (Mike Evans and Tyler Lockett) to finish among the top 20 at the position while seeing 120 or fewer targets. What can he do with top-tier volume?

Lamb is our WR8, and the ceiling is immense.

What's your view on him?

Austin Swaim: Strangely enough, I got to do a segment for FanDuel on the Cowboys, and after seeing his potential situation, I love CeeDee, too.

He is a slam dunk fit for the same criteria I skirted around with Diggs. In the past five years, every WR1 overall has gotten at least 150 targets, no more than 100 tossed at another pass-catcher in their offense, and the team's top running back had fewer than 200 carries.

In short -- WR1s have been the focal point of their offense.

Lamb could absolutely be that on a Cowboys team that has lost the talent you mentioned. It's another reason why I'm not as high on Ja'Marr Chase, who could easily fail to meet all three of those categories at a much higher ADP than what Lamb or Diggs have.

Austan Kas: *Nodding aggressively*

Austin Swaim: And, besides Diggs and Lamb, we haven't even mentioned Davante Adams, Mike Evans, or Tyreek Hill. I think this is why we wanted to talk about wideouts. Not only is it a tough call whether to go receiver or running back in the first two rounds, it's difficult to pick between all these top-notch wideouts.

But I can tell you one thing I'm not doing -- taking a quarterback over any of them.

Austan Kas: Just you hating on Patrick Mahomes, per usual. I knew your Las Vegas Raiders fandom would make an appearance! But jokes aside, you absolutely can't take a quarterback this early.

Talking about all these guys has me wanting to start drafts with two straight wideouts. The group is that good; it's easy to like all of them.

Thanks, Austin, for taking the time to chat. Let's do this again soon on another fantasy football subject.

Austin Swaim: Sounds good!