What 2022 Can Tell Us About The 2023 Fantasy Season: QB & WR

By Rhys Knott

Understanding trends is a key component of a successful fantasy season. With NFL football just hours from returning, Rhys Knott takes a look at what we can learn from last year’s fantasy performances to help us to a title in 2023 – with his second article focusing on the QB-WR relationship:

Passes Make Prizes

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Fantasy expert Mike Clay of ESPN says in a recent article the most important factor to consider before drafting fantasy players is “opportunity”. If that’s true then a quick peek at last season’s numbers might just provide some useful info heading into 2023.

“Opportunity” means different things for receivers and quarterbacks. One way or another a QB will usually touch the ball on every snap the offense plays, so for quarterbacks “opportunity” = starts. But for receivers’ opportunities are linked to play calling (although “smash mouth football” has pretty much gone the way of the dodo) and who the QB feels comfortable passing to.

2022’s statistics provide some very broad hints about the QB’s. But nobody is more affected by coaching changes than a QB. And in the current era most QB’s are just as likely to pull the ball down and take off as they are to throw. So, it’s difficult to project last season’s statistics forward to the new season with any level of confidence.

Who Threw The Most Passes?

But what do we know about the fantasy outlook for the top quarterbacks heading into 2023? Well, last year Tom Brady attempted more passes than any other QB in the league, and that’s frankly not very helpful at all. Although it wouldn’t be a total shock if he actually reappears in the league later in the year.

But back to the guys who definitely have a contract this season. Of the active QB’s Justin Herbert threw the most passes (699) and because Mike Thomas and Keenan Allen were battling injuries on the reg, Joshua Palmer was the Chargers most targeted receiver. He saw 107 passes across the entire season, but that was only 28th in the league.

Here’s the thing in L.A; their most targeted “receiver” in 2022 was actually Austin Ekeler. He led all running backs in the league with 127 targets, 19 more than Christian McCaffrey. So, that’s good news for Herbert and Ekeler but it makes the Chargers receiver situation unpredictable. When you add rookie Quentin Johnson into the mix there’s a strong “ensemble cast” vibe to the Chargers receiving corps.

If you leave out Tom Brady (and TB12 was the only QB to throw more than 700 passes last season!), four players threw more than 600 times. Patrick Mahomes was third, 51 attempts behind Herbert. Mahomes’ most targeted receiver was JuJu Smith-Schuster (who is now a Patriot) with 101 targets. But unsurprisingly, he wasn’t Mahomes favourite target. That honour fell to Travis Kelce who saw 152 passes thrown his way. Kelce led all tight ends ending the season 23 targets ahead of the guy in second place.

And Who Caught The Most Passes?

The other two signal callers who threw more than 600 passes in 2022 were Kirk Cousins and Joe Burrow. Cousins is no surprise either; he had Justin Jefferson to aim at after all. Justin Jefferson led the league with 184 targets.

Burrow’s favourite target was his BFF from LSU, Ja’Marr Chase, he saw 134 targets, which also shouldn’t surprise anyone. The surprise comes when you remember Chase missed five games last season and his number of targets still ranked 14th in the league! His average of 10.3 targets per game was behind only Jefferson and Davante Adams.

There’s a new face in the Bengals receiving corps too this season. Technically there are two, but Charlie Jones figures to be a special teams’ maven. Princeton graduate (and heptathlete) Andrei Iosivas is not just a very smart cookie with a degree in Politics and Government. He’s also 6 feet 3 inches tall and ran a 4.43 40 at the combine. And that’s a problem for defenders. Another physical receiver in Cincinatti could cut into Chase’s number of targets, but Burrow won’t mind throwing even more passes if he has to.

And The Best Of The Rest?

That’s not even a comprehensive list of the most targeted receivers though. Davante Adams was the second most targeted wide out in the league, but that was with his college bestie Derek Carr at QB. Adams saw 32.3% of the Raiders total targets last season! Jimmy G might like to share the targets out a bit more.

Herbert, Mahomes and Cousins, all find them in situations where their receivers are much better than their running backs. And their teams have defenses who will allow opponents to score. So they will all be throwing as much this season as they did last season, if not more. Their teams all drafted receivers too, so it would actually be a surprise if they adopt balance offenses in 2023.

The rest of the top 10 “busiest” receivers in 2022 begins with Tyreek Hill, who says he’s going to break 2,000 receiving yards this season. And if he and Tua stay healthy there’s a strong chance he will (that’s a big if though). He caught 119 of his 170 targets last season, but he suffered an ankle injury in preseason. The Dolphins are playing it down, but an ankle injury for a player who relies on his speed seems a concern.

Chris Godwin, who says he’s happy to be healthy headed into the 2023 season, was the 10th most targeted wideout last year. But what the Buccaneers offense looks like in 2023 remains to be seen. What we do know is they’re heading into a transition period with a new quarterback. And Ryan Jensen’s untreated knee injury has again become an issue. If Baker Mayfield has to throw more than 700 passes in 2023 Tampa fans will be better off watching the Lightning play hockey.

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A.J Brown saw 146 targets in Philadelphia, 28.7% of the team’s overall targets (the same as Justin Jefferson in Minnesota). With a changed offensive line in Philly, plus a new offensive coordinator there may be some alterations to the offense. But Jalen Hurts is still a great decision maker, so he’ll be looking to involve the best Eagles players.

Garrett Wilson was targeted by the numerous Jets’ quarterbacks 147 times. Only 91 of those targets were actually catchable passes though. With Aaron Rodgers throwing the ball that should improve. But with Allen Lazard, Mecole Hardman and Randall Cobb also arriving, who knows who the favourite receiver will be this season?

CeeDee Lamb saw a whopping 28.6% of the Cowboys targets in 2022 which equates to 156 passes. And he only dropped six of them, 42 of them were uncatchable though. Fans in Dallas will be hoping Dak Prescott (or maybe Cooper Rush) can stay healthy for the entire season. Resolving Zack Martin’s holdout might help in that respect.

Whoever the Cowboys’ quarterback is there’s a new offensive coordinator in town. Brian Schottenheimer is reunited with Mike McCarthy after 25 years. But who knows who will be calling the plays in Dallas? Rumour has it that it will remain McCarthy’s offense. And with no Zeke Elliott maybe Lamb will see even more targets?

Steffon Diggs also saw 156 targets (but he was in chilly Buffalo most of the time) in 2022. That was 28.1% of the Bills targets. There is a lot of speculation Diggs is unhappy in Buffalo and wants to be traded. So, Diggs’ future seems unclear at the moment. Even if he stays the Bills offense seems beholden to how well Josh Allen’s elbow ligaments have healed.

Feature Image Credit: USA Today Sports



Rhys has been watching the NFL for 30 something years and still hasn’t managed to pick a team to support. When he’s not fixatED on pass rushers you can find him blithering on about most sports on Twitter @wrhys_writes