When players make the jump from college football to the NFL, one of the underrated struggles rookies face is essentially a non-stop year of football. From the start of their college seasons to the NFL Scouting Combine and pre-draft process to organized team activities, minicamps, training camp, and then their rookie seasons, first-year NFL players don't really get a chance to catch their breath.
That's why so many can experience a gigantic uptick in production in their second seasons: They finally experience a few months off for the first time in a long time, allowing their bodies to recover and recharge.
With that in mind, here is a look at six second-year wide receivers who could become game-changers in 2023 entering their sophomore seasons in the NFL.
There is no more obvious wide receiver breakout candidate than Garrett Wilson. The reigning Offensive Player of the Year (the only New York Jet to win the award) led the entire 2022 rookie class in catches (83) and receiving yards (1,103) while catching passes from the following quarterbacks: Zach Wilson, Joe Flacco, Mike White and Chris Streveler. Wilson, 23, also added four receiving touchdowns. Now, in case you live under a rock, Wilson will be catching passes from future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers, a four-time NFL MVP and Super Bowl XLV MVP. Rodgers is now to pepper his favorite receivers with targets, and Wilson should be no different. Rodgers has already compared the second-year player to three-time First-Team All-Pro Davante Adams, his longtime Green Bay Packers top option.
"Yeah," Rodgers said on July 20 when asked if Wilson reminds him of Adams. "Look, I love Davante. I saw him this summer. Davante is in a category by himself still, but that 17 [Wilson] reminds me of the other 17 [Adams] as far as his [Wilson's] ability to get in and out of breaks and his quick twitch at the line of scrimmage, for sure."
Yes, it's only the preseason, but the new Gang Green duo already has their jump ball chemistry down, as evidenced by their 14-yard touchdown against the New York Giants in their preseason finale. Expect Wilson and Rodgers to make similar music all season long.
The Jets receiving corps became much competitive in terms of target distribution with the additions of wide receivers Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb, two of Rodgers' top Packers targets as well as former Kansas City Chiefs speedster Mecole Hardman. Still, Wilson is the lead singer and should be the best receiver for the Jets -- and one of the best for Fantasy managers as well.
In seven games with Joe Flacco or Mike White, Wilson averaged 17.6 fantasy PPR points per game, including three outings with at least 24 PPR points. At that average, he would have been the No. 7 PPR receiver in 2022. That's the type of upside that Wilson has, a league-winning type of potential. As long as New York's offensive line can keep Rodgers upright, Wilson should produce play at that level for a entire season. He is worth drafting in late Round 2 or early Round 3 in all leagues, and he should be viewed as a top-10 fantasy receiver in all formats. -- Jamey Eisenberg
Chris Olave was on pace to top former Ohio State Buckeyes teammate Garrett Wilson for Offensive Rookie of the Year before a hamstring injury sidelined him for two games. He had to "settle" for 72 catches and 1,042 receiving yards in addition to four receiving scores. His catches and receiving yards were second in the 2022 rookie class, trailing only Wilson.
However, his underlying metrics indicate he could be in for a bigger season in Year 2. Olave averaged an incredibly efficient 2.42 yards per route run in 2022, the seventh most in the NFL among the 127 players who ran at least 300 routes last season. The only players who averaged more yards per route run than Olave from that group in 2022 were First-Team All-Pro Tyreek Hill (3.21), 2022 Offensive Player of the Year Justin Jefferson (2.62), Pro Bowler A.J. Brown, speedster Jaylen Waddle (2.59), Pro Bowler Stefon Diggs (2.50) and 2022 First-Team All-Pro Davante Adams (2.46).
Olave also received an upgrade at quarterback, going from Andy Dalton and Jameis Winston to four-time Pro Bowler Derek Carr, the Raiders all-time leader in passing yards (35,222) and passing touchdowns (217). Michael Thomas, who has played in 10 games since 2020, is also supposedly entering the upcoming 2023 season, and his presence should help pull coverage away from Olave.
Olave had some of the highest highs as a rookie in 2022 despite inconsistent and unaggressive quarterback play. Almost nothing was more impressive about Olave's rookie season than his 1,531 air yards, the eighth most in the NFL. They showed off his ability to create separation on the vertical plane. He also commanded a 25% target share overall. Consistency was an issue for Olave, and he finished eight games during his rookie season as a WR3 or worse. However, a lot of that was luck. He scored just four times. Positive touchdown regression seems likely in 2023. Olave is a popular breakout pick in 2023, and you'll have to use a third-round pick to get him. -- Dan Schneier
Prop bet outlook
Olave is -115 to go over 75.5 receptions in 2023, according to SportsLine, a total he likely would've hit simply with better health. Now, he was a stronger quarterback with Carr, so 76 receptions shouldn't be a problem.
"If he [Aaron Rodgers] doesn't trust you, he's not going to throw you the ball, I promise you that," New York Jets wide receiver Randall Cobb said on the most recent episode of "Hard Knocks," via Bleacher Report. "He does not like throwing interceptions. If he doesn't trust you're going to run the right route, he's not going to throw it."
Christian Watson learned this truth the hard way in Green Bay in 2022 after having an ugly drop on his first throw from Rodgers in Week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings, dropping what would've been a 75-yard touchdown. It took Watson until Week 10 against the Dallas Cowboys, when he broke out with 107 receiving yards and three touchdowns on four catches in a 31-28 overtime victory, to earn Rodgers' trust. From there, he exploded, finishing the year with nine scrimmage touchdowns.
The nine touchdowns were tied for the most among all rookies with Seattle Seahawks running back Kenneth Walker III. They were also tied for the fourth most in the entire NFL among all wide receivers with a few of the league's best: the Vikings' Justin Jefferson, the Bengals' Ja'Marr Chase, the Cowboys' CeeDee Lamb, the Browns' Amari Cooper and the Seahawks' Tyler Lockett. Watson's seven receiving touchdowns from Weeks 10-18 were tied for the third most in the entire NFL with former Packers great Davante Adams.
Being on the same page with Jordan Love from the get-go in Year 2 could mean more fireworks for Watson.
Watson's speed combined with his large size and huge catch radius makes his Fantasy profile desirable, but he could be limited by how accurate Jordan Love is in the Packers' retooled offense. Watson caught just three of four targets from Love in 2022 but turned one of them, a short slant off play-action, into a 63-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Those other two receptions went for at least 15 yards each, a promising result even if as a small sample size. Ultimately, Watson is assumed to be the top target-getter in this offense, and even if the quality of targets he'll get isn't like what it was last year, he should still have some jaw-dropping plays. At least, we better hope so: Four of his seven touchdowns as a rookie came on throws of 14 or more Air Yards, tied for ninth-most among WRs. Expect Watson to go between 40th and 50th overall in all leagues. -- Dave Richard
Prop bet outlook
Watson is +5,000 for the most regular-season receiving yards (22nd-best odds in the NFL via Caesars Sportsbook) and +3,500 for the most receiving touchdowns (24th-best odds in the NFL via Caesars). If Love can display Rodgers-like traits every now and then in his first year starting following three seasons watching him play from the sidelines, these bets may be more interesting than what they appear to be on the surface.
Romeo Doubs, like Watson, was also a rookie in 2022. Therefore, he and Rodgers had some trust issues. The 39-year-old quarterback targeted the 23-year-old receiver frequently to begin the season, Doubs averaged 6.1 targets per game in the first eight weeks. However after an ankle sprain cost him four games from Weeks 10-13, Doubs struggled to get back on Rodgers' radar, averaging 4.3 targets per game in his last four games.
Numerous training camp reports have indicated Love's penchant to go Doubs' way, and Packers head coach and offensive play-caller Matt LaFleur compared. If his application of that skill set becomes more tangible than conceptual, Doubs could be in for a huge breakout.
"I want to temper this comparison, but he's got some Davante Adams-type movement skills," LaFleur said. "Now, he's got to learn how to use it and how to harness that, but he's got that twitch that you're looking for. I don't think there's a route that he won't be able to run. We're just going to have to give him enough reps where he can continue his progression."
Doubs fizzled after a fast start in 2022, particularly because the Packers unleashed Christian Watson over the second half of the season. He had five drops over 67 targets last year, didn't have excellent metrics (10.1 yards per catch), only saw eight red-zone targets and went from 6.1 targets per game in the first eight weeks to 4.3 in his final four. Watson remains the prized piece of the passing game, and the team added receiver Jayden Reed in the draft along with a couple of fresh tight ends, Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft. Tack on the Packers offense changing gears with Jordan Love under center instead of Aaron Rodgers and Doubs' upside comes with some serious doubts. He's at best a bench WR who might not even be worth the sizzle of a 10th-round pick. -- Dave Richard
Did you know 74.3% of the routes Jahan Dotson ran as a rookie in 2022 went for either a first down or a touchdown, marking the fifth-highest such rate in the entire NFL? Most impressive about that statistic is Dotson was one of the most efficient receivers in football while predominantly catching passes from Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke. Wentz is still unemployed and Heinicke is Desmond Ridder's backup with the Atlanta Falcons. Instead, Sam Howell is set to be his starting quarterback in 2023.
Dotson also has the ability to heat up quickly: He caught four touchdowns in his first four games prior to missing Weeks 5-9 with a strained hamstring. Once he fullly got his legs back underneath him, Dotson ripped off three more receiving scores from Weeks 13-16. In his one game with Howell, the Commanders' 2022 regular-season finale against the Dallas Cowboys, Dotson hauled in three catches for 72 yards on four targets.
Doston should perform even better with longtime Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy calling the plays in the nation's capitol in 2023 plus more quarterback continuity. With Washington's top wideout, Pro Bowler Terry McLaurin, entering the year with a , Doston could spend the early portion of 2023 establishing himself as Howell's top target.
Dotson quietly had a standout rookie campaign in 2022, and hopefully that carries over to his sophomore season in 2023. He's worth drafting as a No. 3 Fantasy receiver in all leagues as early as Round 6. Dotson played in 12 games in his rookie season and scored seven touchdowns. He had six games with at least 13 PPR points. In his lone start with Sam Howell in Week 18 against Dallas, Dotson had four targets for three catches and 72 yards. Hopefully, Howell and Dotson continue to connect on a high level this year, and Dotson should be considered the 1A receiver in Washington behind Terry McLaurin. The two will hopefully coexist and produce plenty of standout stats, and Dotson might even outperform the veteran if Howell leans toward the younger receiver. Dotson has breakout potential in 2023, and he could emerge as a weekly starter in all leagues. -- Jamey Eisenberg
Drake London, the eighth overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, started off his pro career with a bang, totaling 214 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns in his first three games. However, the team shifted away from the passing game to become the run-heavy offense in football, 32.9 rushing attempts per game (the most in the NFL) as Marcus Mariota's off-target throw rate soared to 17.7%, the second highest in the league among 33 qualified quarterbacks. That rate was lower than only New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson's 18.6% off-target throw percentage.
The good news for London is Mariota is a Philadelphia Eagle in 2023, and head coach Arthur Smith should call more pass plays in 2023, great news for London. His 29.3% team target share was the third highest in the entire NFL last season, trailing only Raiders First-Team All-Pro Davante Adams (32.3%) and Dolphins First-Team All-Pro Tyreek Hill (30.2%). Sure, a healthy Kyle Pitts and 2023 eighth overall pick Bijan Robinson may take a bite out of his volume, but Smith will ensure London still gets his fill.
London put together a rookie season that looked much better on game film than in the Fantasy box scores in large part due to inconsistent and inaccurate ball placement from Marcus Mariota. The final outcome was a finish at WR43 overall, but that hasn't stopped expectations from moving him up draft boards in 2023. The 117 targets last year coupled with the third-highest target share in the NFL are reasons to get very excited about London in 2023 because volume is king. Of course, the return of Kyle Pitts and addition of Bijan Robinson will eat into London's volume. London is a gamble on upside rather than production (his best stretch as a rookie still put him closer to the back-end WR2 range). If you want to make that gamble, you'll likely have to do it as early as Round 5. -- Dan Schneier
Prop bet outlook
Drake London is -115 to go over 70.5 receptions in 2023, according to SportsLine. London went over that total with 866 receiving yards on 72 catches to go along with four receiving touchdowns in 2022 when Atlanta was the NFL's most run-first offense. He should have no issue clearing that figure in 2023 as long as he remains in good health.