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7 Darkhorse WR1 Candidates for Fantasy Football in 2024

Drafting a player in Fantasy Football who finished first overall for their specific position in total Fantasy Points scored can give you a major edge in your league. Sometimes these players are obvious choices, and sometimes they come as a major surprise. Take Justin Jefferson in 2023 for instance. Jefferson’s ADP (average draft position) heading into 2022 was the WR2, and he ended up finishing as the WR1. Not a massive surprise there when looking at the big picture of wide receivers someone could have selected.

A much different example was Cooper Kupp in 2021, who was drafted as the WR18 that season but finished as the WR1 overall in Fantasy Points scored. Identifying “Darkhorse” candidates to finish at the top of the position in Fantasy Football can give you an advantage due to the numerous variables that can impact their outcome.

It is always important to individually define terms for Fantasy Football, as these terms can have varying definitions by different content creators. When referencing a “Darkhorse WR1,” I mean a wide receiver that most people would not consider a candidate to finish as the best quarterback in Fantasy Football but has that range of outcomes. These are players who will not be universally ranked and drafted towards the top of the position but could finish at the top. Your obvious candidates to finish as the WR1 for Fantasy Football are CeeDee Lamb, Tyreek Hill, Justin Jefferson, and Ja’Marr Chase. The wide receivers listed below will be drafted after this top-tier group but have the ceiling to finish at the top wide receiver for Fantasy Football in 2024.

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4 Darkhorse WR1 Candidates for Fantasy Football in 2024

History of the WR1 for Fantasy Football

To truly understand what it actually takes to finish as the top wide receiver in Fantasy Football, it is important to look at the WR1s historically. The chart below shows the WR1s from the last 10 seasons in total Fantasy Points scored.

YearWRGTargetsRecsRec YdsY/RRec TDF-PtsF-PPG
2023CeeDee Lamb171811351,7491312403.223.7
2022Justin Jefferson171841281,80914.18368.621.7
2021Cooper Kupp171911451,94713.416439.525.9
2020Davante Adams141491151,37411.918358.425.6
2019Michael Thomas161851491,72511.69374.623.4
2018DeAndre Hopkins161631151,57213.711333.520.8
2017Antonio Brown141631011,53315.29310.322.2
2016Antonio Brown151541061,28412.112307.320.5
2015Antonio Brown161931361,83413.510382.223.9
2014Antonio Brown161811291,69813.213380.923.8

I recently pulled the same data for my Darkhorse QB1 Candidates article and in comparison, the wide receiver data has far fewer major outliers and differences in data. For quarterbacks you had QB1s who threw for a ton of yards, threw for a lot of touchdowns, rushed for a ton of yards, rushed for a ton of touchdowns, and some who had mixtures of all those things. For wide receivers the data seems very straight-up. The WR1 needs to earn a heavy amount of targets, catch a lot of those, produce elite receiving yard numbers and typically they score a quality number of touchdowns. The WR1 across the last decade has averaged 174.4 targets, 125.9 receptions, 1,653 receiving yards, 11.8 receiving touchdowns and averaged 23.15 Fantasy PPG.

Variables such as a wide receiver’s skillset, target competition, target quality, passing volume, quarterback play, scoring opportunities, and other factors. The wide receivers below are my top Darkhorse Fantasy Football WR1 candidates for 2024:

Amon-Ra St. Brown, Lions

The trajectory that CeeDee Lamb had with climbing statistically in all of targets, receptions, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns, and Fantasy PPG through four seasons is the same sort of path Amon-Ra St. Brown has been on through his three seasons:

  • Targets: 119 to 146 to 164
  • Receptions: 90 to 106 to 119
  • Receiving Yards: 912 to 1,161 to 1,515
  • Receiving Touchdowns: five to six to 10
  • Fantasy PPG: 13.4 (#26) to 16.7 (#10) to 20.7 (#4)

Similar to Lamb, Amon-Ra is a dominant slot wide receiver. St. Brown played the fifth most slot snaps (472) in 2023 which ranked just behind CeeDee Lamb who played the fourth most (508). Both receivers finished third in total Fantasy Points scored. Many will look at ARSB and say – “how is the WR3 from 2023 a Darkhorse” but you would be surprised to see the amount of people who have voiced this is not in his range of outcomes. ARSB’s elite numbers from 2023 makes this possible:

  • #5 in targets (164) and #3 in red zone targets (25) = heavy opportunity
  • #2 in yards after the catch (668) = playmaking boost in ceiling
  • #7 in yards per route run (2.7) = efficiency
  • #4 in Fantasy PPG (20.7) = Fantasy Football dominance

Even with Sam LaPorta having a record year for a rookie tight end, and the selection of a pass-catching runningback in Jahymyr Gibbs via the first round, Amon-Ra was dominant. The connection to Jared Goff has been very strong, who finished second in passing attempts (605) and passing yards (4.571) in 2023 with 30 passing touchdowns. If Amon-Ra St. Brown continues to trend up for the fourth straight season, like CeeDee Lamb, he could finish as this year’s #1 receiver.

AJ Brown, Eagles

AJ Brown is one of three players to finish with over 1,300 receiving yards in back-to-back seasons (1,456 / 1,496). AJB has finished with over 1,000 receiving yards in four of his five seasons, with his one season under being a season of just 13 games played. Across Brown’s last four seasons, he finished three of them averaging top-eight Fantasy PPG: 17 PPG (#8) in 2023, 17.6 PPG (#8) in 2022, and 17.7 PPG (#6) in 2020. There has been a history of massive AJ Brown games, and in 2023 there was a major explosion of them across a stretch of games:

  • Week 3: 131 receiving yards, 22.1 Fantasy Points, WR11
  • Week 4: 175 receiving yards, 2 TDs 38.5 Fantasy Points, WR1
  • Week 5: 127 receiving yards, 18.7 Fantasy Points, WR13
  • Week 6: 131 receiving yards, 20.1 Fantasy Points, WR7
  • Week 7: 137 receiving yards, TD, 29.7 Fantasy Points, WR2
  • Week 8: 130 receiving yards, 2 TDs, 33 Fantasy Points, WR3
  • Week 9: 66 receiving yards, TD, 19.6 Fantasy Points, WR7

During this span of seven games, AJ Brown led all wide receivers with 831 receiving yards, with Tyreek Hill second at 759 and Ja’Marr Chase third at 586. During this span of games, AJB averaged 26 Fantasy Points and led all wide receivers with 181.7 Fantasy Points with Tyreek Hill in second at 164.8. Following the Week  10 BYE, Brown’s production took a hit with just one of his remaining eight games as a top 12 Fantasy wide receiver. The ceiling for production was evident though, it is just a matter of consistency.

The ceiling of AJ Brown as an explosive playmaker is as high as any wide receiver in the NFL. Jalen Hurts and AJB have a great connection, and that is evident through the major games Brown has had as an Eagle, it is just a matter of consistency. If AJ Brown can find consistency on a weekly basis in 2024 to be utilized at a high level and produce to his ceiling, he is an easy candidate to finish as the WR1.

Chris Olave, Saints

This will be a controversial plug here, maybe due to people not liking Derek Carr or maybe people being lower on Olave as an individual player. When it comes to checking the boxes of growing production each year, receiving yard upside, and Fantasy production though there has been plenty to like about Olave through two seasons.

  • 2022 (rookie season): 119 targets, 72 receptions, 1,042 receiving yards, four touchdowns, 13.2 Fantasy PPG (#25)
  • 2023: 138 targets, 87 receptions, 1,123 receiving yards, five touchdowns, 14.5 Fantasy PPG (#19)

We can see growing statistics through Olave’s first two seasons. Olave ranked #6 (1,834) in 2023 and #8 (1,670) in 2022 in air yards along with #4 (32) in 2023 and also #4 (29) in 2o22 in deep targets the last two seasons. In 2023 Olave ranked #20 (13.3) and in 2022 he ranked #9 (14) in average depth of target. These are all metrics that can push high upside receiving numbers that can translate to high Fantasy Football production.

One of the biggest questions for Olave’s ceiling is Carr, for a lot of people. On a positive volume note, Carr finished 2023 with the 10th most passing attempts (548), the ninth most air yards (4,318), and the 13th most passing yards (3,878). The issue for Carr has been his career touchdown passing ceiling, with only one season with 30 or more. This is a metric that needs to change for Olave. Carr likes to chuck the ball and chuck it deep, but Olave needs the touchdowns to be in WR1 contention. The target competition in New Orleans is small, which means Olave will continue to be the feature of the passing game. Should Olave continue to tick up in receiving yard production, and add a handful more touchdowns, he could be in business for a massive 2024.

Garrett Wilson, Jets, and Drake London, Falcons

Is it lazy to lump these two together? Maybe at first glance but 1) their situational changes and potential outcomes align in 2024 and 2) you can read all about them in my WR Breakouts article. What do they have in common here? A list –

  • Former first-round talents from 2022 with alpha wide receiver skillsets that have the potential to produce at an elite level
  • Both have had poor quarterback play the last two seasons but flashed through that low quarterback play
  • A major veteran quarterback upgrade in Aaron Rodgers for Wilson and Kirk Cousins for London in 2024
  • Those quarterback upgrades have supported former overall WR1s in Fantasy Football. Davante Adams for Aaron Rodgers and Justin Jefferson for Kirk Cousins

High target volume, consistent target volume, improved target quality, and the potential to take massive steps forward due to those changes give both Garrett Wilson and Drake London high ceilings in 2024. The two of them are amazing talents that finally have a chance to escape mediocre quarterbacks and truly show their skill sets in year three. Neither has finished higher than WR30 in Fantasy PPG through two seasons, which makes their inclusion in this article spicy, but they both have the potential to do something special in 2024.

Michael Pittman Jr, Colts

After floating around the same range of WR22 (2021) and WR21 (2022) in Fantasy PPG, Michael Pittman Jr took a leap forward in production in 2023. 156 targets ranked ninth, 109 receptions ranked fourth, 1,152 receiving yards ranked 14th, and 15.6 Fantasy PPG ranked 14th. This was with former Colt turned Raider Gardner Minshew attempting 490 of the Colts’ 574 passes on the year. The 30.5% target share ranked fourth and Pittman finished 10th in yards after catch (513). One statistic that pops is ranking ninth in red zone targets (19) but only finishing with four total touchdowns, which is a statistic that held back Pittman from having a top-12 Fantasy season in PPG.

2023 fourth overall pick Anthony Richardson played a small window of games in 2023 but flashed as a passer within this window. 223 passing yards and a one-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio in AR’s debut was not a bad start. 200 passing yards and two passing touchdowns in Week 4 was another quality flash. These were the two full games Richardson played in, with his other two games playing just 32% (Week 2) and 33% (Week 5) of the snaps. Week 1 Pittman opened up with a great week connecting with Richardson, catching eight of his 11 targets for 97 yards and a touchdown for a WR8 overall finish at 23.7 Fantasy Points.

Josh Downs had a quality rookie season in 2022, earning 98 targets while catching 68 of them for 771 yards and two touchdowns. Adonai Mitchell was selected in the second round of this year’s NFL Draft, and profiles as a field stretcher that I believe will take over the WR2 role behind Pittman. These two are complementary pieces to the alpha in Michael Pittman Jr, rather than receivers that will cap his ceiling. Jonathan Taylor being healthy opens this offense up and makes the Colts more dynamic. This is a sneaky good offense that can be in scoring position more often than people credit for 2024. With the red zone attention of Richardson running it in and Taylor punching it in could mean a bump in Pittman’s touchdowns. Richardson’s arm strength in general can mean a bump in Pittman’s touchdowns. 2024 could end up being a huge year for Pittman Jr. who can translate his skills into more Fantasy dominance than people think is possible.

DK Metcalf, Seahawks

There is just a piece of me that wants to end this article on a spicy note, a piece of me that wants to close my eyes and toss the dart on someone who could fit the mold. Enter DK Metcalf. Athleticism, statistical upside, past Fanatsy production and the hope that all of the positive signs through five years comes together.

Metcalf has finished with over 1,000 receiving yards in three of his five seasons. In two of his five seasons, he has finished with double-digit touchdowns. He has three straight seasons averaging 13-ish to 14-ish Fantasy PPG as a top 24 wide receiver in the metric, but he finished 10th in Fantasy PPG back in 2020 with 17. He had a career-high 141 targets in 2022, a career-high 90 receptions the same year, a career-high 1,303 receiving yards in 2020, and a career-high 12 receiving touchdowns in 2021. Now take all of those things and put the best together into one season and you have Fantasy dominance.

Geno Smith took a step backward in 2023 from his 2022 career turnaround, partially due to playing two fewer games but also with a lot less production. This was a surprise because the Seahawks selected Jaxon Smith-Njigba in the first round of 2023, who was the first wide receiver off the board to pair with DK and Tyler Lockett. Either Geno steps up in 2024 or newcomer Sam Howell takes over who threw for 3,945 yards and 21 passing touchdowns for the Commanders as a first-year starter.

When you have seen the signs for a guy in the past, but they have yet to come together in one season, it makes you wonder “What if.” That is where I am with DK Metcalf. “What if”. I love me some JSN, and have promoted him taking a massive step forward, but if he does indeed follow my hope then that could be a major positive for DK in the end. Let’s circle back to this one to either roast me or toast me at the end of 2024.

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