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Winners and Losers: 2023 Free Agent Wide Receivers

In the 2022 off-season, Christian Kirk got a major contract, Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill were traded, and the Allen Robinson hype train left the station after he signed with the Rams. The 2023 off-season should have some fun wide receiver trades, but the free agent wide receiver group is lackluster. That’s evident by their smaller than expected deals. Regardless, the new faces in new places undoubtedly shakes up the fantasy football landscape!

This article will break down the movement of the 2023 free agent wide receivers. I will declare each of them winners or losers based on their landing spot. Of course, there are still a few significant names still available, so be sure to check back as I update this piece accordingly!

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Wide Receiver Winners and Losers Following 2023 Free Agency

Free Agent Wide Receiver Winners

Robert Woods, Houston Texans

I can guarantee you didn’t expect to see Robert Woods as a winner amongst free-agent wide receivers. First of all, his agent deserves all of the credit in the world for securing Woods a two-year, $15.25 million deal with $10 million guaranteed. Robert Woods’ 2022 numbers with the Tennessee Titans were flat-out disappointing. His 53 receptions, 527 yards, and 9.9 yards per catch are all his lowest since 2017 in seasons he’s played 10 or more games in.

We can point to a few reasons as to why Woods’ 2022 is one of his more lackluster seasons. For starters, he returned from a November 2021 ACL tear after 10 months. He did play in every game for the Titans, but was simply not effective. Secondly, the Titans deployed an injured Ryan Tannehill, rookie Malik Willis, and Joshua Dobbs at quarterback. Neither is close to the level of quarterback play Woods was used to with the Los Angeles Rams.

So why is Woods a winner for 2023 fantasy football? He will be nearly two years removed from the aforementioned knee injury. Additionally, he’s likely the best receiver on the Texans’ roster in Week 1. It’s yet to be determined if Brandin Cooks is on the move via trade, but even beyond him, there are a lot of unproven and unproductive options currently on the depth chart.

Houston is likely going to use the second-overall pick in the 2023 Draft on a rookie. Whoever that is should be looking Woods’ way more than anyone else in the passing game. He will be a solid bang for your buck amongst late round wide receivers in redraft leagues.

Allen Lazard, New York Jets

Allen Lazard is heading to the Jets on a four-year, $44 million deal, half of which is guaranteed. That likely keeps him in New York for just the next two seasons. The Lazard signing looks to be a precursor to trading for quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, as well.

Lazard not only gets to keep playing with Aaron Rodgers, but Jets offensive coordinator, Nathaniel Hackett, is the former Packers O.C. from Rodgers’ 2020 and 2021 MVP seasons. Obviously Hackett is familiar with Lazard, as well. There are probably other teams Lazard could’ve drawn more targets or been the top option in the passing game for, like my prediction of the Baltimore Ravens, but having a history with Rodgers’ timing and play is priceless.

Lazard leaves Green Bay after setting career-highs in targets (100), receptions (60), and yards (788). The 2022 season is his only season in Green Bay without Davante Adams across from him. While Garrett Wilson is an electric, second-year receiver, he’s no Davante Adams.

There’s a good chance Lazard sees another 100 targets in New York. Additionally, Lazard is easily the biggest Jets receiver at 6’5″ and 225 pounds. He should be one of Rodgers’ top targets in the red zone. I think Lazard has a WR3 floor as the newest receiver, but with his old quarterback, on the New York Jets.

Adam Thielen, Carolina Panthers

The Panthers need Thielen just as much as Thielen needs the Panthers. After trading D.J. Moore to the Chicago Bears, in a package for the first overall pick, one of Carolina’s biggest needs in free agency and the draft was wide receiver. His three-year, $25 million deal likely guarantees he’s with the Panthers for at least the next two seasons.

Thielen’s contract includes an $8.3 million signing bonus which likely means he’s expected to have a large role in 2023. It’s plausible Carolina adds another free agent receiver, but Thielen is looking like their WR1.

Though he will be 33-years old by Week 1, Thielen has played 46 of a possible 50 games, including playoffs, over the last three seasons. Justin Jefferson’s emergence as the Minnesota Vikings’ alpha receiver has capped Thielen’s production during that span. However, Thielen has the fifth-most receiving touchdowns league-wide since 2020. He’s also done so on an average of 2.75 games played, 125.5 targets, and 82.25 receptions less than the four players who have scored more than him.

For fantasy football purposes, Thielen’s days of a finishing as a WR1 are over. I do think he will lead the Panthers in targets and can perhaps reach 1,000 yards, for the first time since 2018, based on volume alone. If he can have similar success in the red zone for Carolina as he did in Minnesota, Thielen’s ceiling is a low-end WR2. His presence alone quickly diminishes Terrace Marshall Jr.’s value, as well. Thielen might be hard to trust early in 12-team leagues, but will likely be a weekly flex or even WR3 if healthy for the full season.

Free Agent Wide Receiver Losers

Juju Smith-Schuster, New England Patriots

First and foremost, Juju Smith-Schuster is an almost identical comparison player to Jakobi Meyers, who the Patriots chose not to re-sign as a free agent. Both Meyers and Smith-Schuster signed three-year, $33 million deals with their new teams, but Meyers is getting $21 million in guarantees while Juju gets $16 million from the Pats. So, some people may wonder why New England didn’t just keep Meyers, it’s likely due to the guaranteed money.

Anyway, the obvious reason Juju is a loser for 2023 fantasy football is the glaring downgrade in quarterback play for him. With Patrick Mahomes last season, Juju caught a career-high 77% of his targets. He also recorded 933 regular season receiving yards, the most since his 2018 sophomore season with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

He’s now entering a Patriots offense that’s ranked no higher than 21st in pass attempts per game since moving on from Tom Brady in 2020. New England is also averaging just over 21 receiving touchdowns per season since drafting Mac Jones in 2021.

It’s possible Juju leads the Patriots in targets in 2023. Jakobi Meyers did so in 2020, 2021, and fell just shy, behind running back Rhamondre Stevenson, of doing it again in 2022. The quality of targets is nowhere near what it was for Juju in Kansas City, though. There’s also still an expectation this team makes another splash at the wide receiver position. That would further cement Juju as a free agent loser for the 2023 fantasy football season.

Jakobi Meyers, Las Vegas Raiders

When he first signed with Las Vegas, Meyers looked like a complete fade for the 2023 fantasy football season. However, now that Darren Waller is out of the picture, following a trade to the New York Giants, Meyers’ outlook isn’t as bad as it could’ve been.

Meyers leaves New England after leading the team in targets in 2020, 2021, and falling just short of doing so again in 2022. Though not the highest quality of targets, his value relied on the heavy volume in the Patriots’ passing game. Now, in Las Vegas, it’s hard to imagine Meyers hogging targets on the Raiders, especially with Davante Adams playing opposite of him.

Jimmy Garoppolo is an upgrade from Mac Jones, however slight. He does a great job of getting the ball into his playmakers’ hands. Though he’s not a fantasy stud himself, he’s supported high-quality fantasy seasons from the likes of Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and others in San Francisco.

I do think Meyers can still achieve WR2 numbers, specifically in PPR leagues. Had he signed somewhere in desperate need of pass catchers, like Carolina, he would have been a free-agent winner amongst this group of wide receivers.

Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard, and Parris Campbell, New York Giants

Yes, I made sure to group all three of these free-agent wide receivers together to prove a point. Of course, the familiarity Slayton and Shepard have with the Giants’ offense is beneficial. However, they’re returning to a team that’s also bringing in Parris Campbell, and Darren Waller, and already has Isaiah Hodgins and Wan’Dale Robinson. Furthermore, Saquon Barkley is very much an integral part of their passing game.

We’ll keep an eye on this group throughout training camp regarding injuries and possible cuts. If they’re all available in Week 1, though, you won’t find any of them in my fantasy starting lineups, let alone on my rosters. Saquon Barkley and Darren Waller have the most value of any Giants offensive pieces for the 2023 season.

If anything, the biggest winner is Daniel Jones. Bringing back familiar faces and adding players with upside can only further his progress as a starting quarterback. He brings an upside of his own to the table as a runner. With this group, he should throw for more than 15 touchdown passes, his total from the 2022 season. It may not be a flashy pick, but grabbing Jones later in drafts could be the cheapest QB1 option in 2023 fantasy football. This is the best group of pass catchers he’s ever had, but their fantasy value is capped by the presence of one another.

D.J. Chark, Carolina Panthers

Bringing in Chark is a better move for the Panthers than it is for Chark himself. He’s a great combination of size and speed that will provide as a situational asset to a rookie quarterback. It also helps that assistant coach, Duce Staley, is familiar with Chark from their time in Detroit.

It’s hard to imagine this Panthers team torching teams through the air in 2023, though. Having a rookie quarterback take the majority of snaps will have its growing pains. This season, Chark’s quarterback play is more likely than not a downgrade from Jared Goff, however slight.

I still believe Chark can have value in Best Ball formats. He’s averaging 43.7 yards on just 2.46 receptions per game over his last 15 played. That’s a very strong 17.73 yards per reception. Chark is going to have big games. He, like the rest of the Panthers pass catchers, will struggle to boast notable season-long numbers.

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