In 2020 I wrote an article for Fantrax detailing wide receiver production in College Fantasy Football (CFF), and which kind of programs tend to generate starting CFF wide receiver production. I wanted to give an updated look at how the upper tiers of the WR position in CFF has unfolded since the pandemic-stricken 2020 campaign. I feel like it's a widely accepted opinion that CFF and Campus to Canton (C2C) wide receiver play experiences the widest variance from year-to-year, with throngs of players graduating and OCs constantly shuttling between different programs.
The point of this exercise is to give budding CFF/C2C/Dynasty enthusiasts a glimpse into one of the many methods of player evaluation that I have deployed over my 23 years obsessing over College Fantasy Football and its adjacent realms. In an effort to try and identify how to properly allocate college WR draft capital each year, here is a broad overview and list of data points spanning the last four complete seasons that you should consider when targeting breakout WRs in your upcoming 2023 CFF/C2C Drafts:
WRs with 100+ Targets: 56 (24 from Power 5 and 27 from Group of 5)
WRs with 1,000+ Yards: 37 (20 P5/17 G5)
WRs with 10 TDs in 2021: 25
WRs with 1,000+ Yards + 10 TDs: 16
WRs with 1,000+ Yards + 10 TDs that didn't have 100 Targets: 3 (JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Anthony Johnson, CeeDee Lamb)
Lowest amount of targets with 1,000 yards + 10 TDs: Lamb (89), Arcega-Whiteside (94)
Lowest Amount of Receptions with 1,000 Yards: Justyn Ross (46), 2 others under 60, including A. Johnson)
WRs with 100+ Targets: 58 (24 P5/27 G5)
WRs with 1,000+ Yards: 39 (20 P5/17 G5)
WRs with 10 TDs: 25
WRs with 1,000+ Yards + 10 TDs: 23
WRs with 1,000+ Yards + 10 TDs that didn't have 100 Targets: 7 (CeeDee Lamb, DeVonta Smith, Tee Higgins, Dyami Brown, Dazz Newsome, Rashod Bateman, Sage Surratt)
Lowest amount of targets with 1,000 yards + 10 TDs: Tee Higgins (87), Lamb and Smith (88)
Lowest Amount of Receptions with 1,000 Yards: Dyami Brown (51), Higgins (59), three others under 60
WRs with 100+ Targets: 51 (24 P5/27 G5)
WRs with 1,000+ Yards: 37 (20 P5/17 G5)
WRs with 10 TDs in 2021: 27
WRs with 1,000+ Yards + 10 TDs: 17
WRs with 1,000+ Yards + 10 TDs that didn't have 100 Targets: 2 (Treylon Burks and Cedric Tillman)
Lowest amount of targets with 1,000 yards + 10 TDs: Cedric Tillman (86), Burks (88)
Lowest Amount of Receptions with 1,000 Yards = Tyrese Chambers (46), Dontayvion Wicks (57), Jayden Reed (59)
WRs with 100+ Targets = 53 (20 P5/33 G5)
WRs with 1,000+ Yards = 31 (17 P5/14 G5)
WRs with 10 TDs in 2021 = 18
WRs with 1,000+ Yards + 10 TDs = 13
WRs with 1,000+ Yards + 10 TDs that didn't have 100 Targets = 2 (Jalin Hyatt and C.J. Johnson)
Lowest amount of targets with 1,000 yards + 10 TDs = Marvin Mims (87), Hyatt (89)
Lowest Amount of Receptions with 1,000 Yards = Mims (54), K. Thornton, J. Wayne, Quentin Johnston (60)
Points of Interest
- In 2022, the top 22 CFF point scorers all had 1,000 yards or more, as the millennium mark was a harbinger of CFF success through the air.
- Since 2018 just 9 receivers have cleared the 1,000-yard barrier while catching less than 60 passes.
- Of the 126 1,000-yard WRs with more than 60 receptions in this timespan, only 16 (12.6%) did not reach the 100-target threshold.
- The only player to post back-to-back seasons with 1,000 receiving yards and 10 TDs with less than 100 targets was CeeDee Lamb in 2018 and 2019.
- In 2019, 11 teams produced at least two players with 100+ targets
- The 2021, Western Kentucky and Ohio State each produced three WRs with 100+ targets, while just three teams produced two WRs with 100+ (Alabama, Eastern Michigan, Wake Forest).
- 13-of-18 receivers who scored 10+ receiving touchdowns played for teams that averaged 30+ PPG in conference play. When you factor in the 49 RBs who rushed for 10+ touchdowns in 2022, it becomes clear just how rare elite wide receiver performance is in CFF. For perspective, in 2021 there were 27 CFF WRs who hit the double-digit TD threshold, which is 50% more than we saw last season.
- Of the 31 1,000-yard receivers last year, 24 of them played for teams that scored 30+ adjusted PPG.
- Out of 131 FBS programs, just 20 teams threw for 280+ YPG last year. That is also the exact same number of teams to clear the 280 passing yardage barrier in 2021.
- Of the 20 teams that threw for 280+ yards last year, every one of the top-17 passing teams threw 26 touchdowns or more.
- Of those Top-17 teams, 14 of them tossed 31+ touchdowns. In comparison, just 20-of-131 teams in the FBS connected for 30+ passing touchdowns.
- 2019 was the banner season for high-efficiency wide receivers, as seven different WRs hit the 1,000/10 threshold despite receiving under 100 targets. Lamb, Smith, Bateman and Higgins were all top-35 NFL Draft selections the following year.
"The Gold Zone"
We should all acknowledge Oklahoma WR CeeDee Lamb as a pantheon CFF/C2C Fantasy God. CeeDee is the only WR to post back-to-back seasons of 1,000+ yards and 10 TDs (1000/10) on less than 100 targets. What makes his ruthless efficiency even more impressive is that CeeDee actually hit 1,000/10 on less than 90 targets both times, finishing top-three nationally in fewest targets to 1,000/10 in each season. The receivers who hit that 1,000/10 in less than 90 targets benchmark have all been players who were sought-after draft commodities. Accordingly, when a receiver hits 1,000/10 in less than 90 targets, he is officially entering “The Gold Zone”.
Power 5 Players who reached “The Gold Zone” in last half-decade:
The Immortal CeeDee Lamb 2X
That's a serious list. There are numerous variations of statistical models that attempt to correlate collegiate production to the NFL level. While all have their merits, the ability to convert limited targets into elite production in the SEC and Big Ten is a clear pathway to Day 1/Day 2 draft capital. Interestingly, until Lamb broke the mold in 2018, no other college receiver achieved Gold Zone status dating back to 2013. To put it boldly - CeeDee Lamb is quite literally the Father of the Gold Zone scale.
However, history simply cannot forget the Justyn Ross True Freshman Year of Doom in 2018. 1,000 yards/9 TDs (just missed Gold Zone status) on just 73 targets as a true freshman is a feat that cannot be understated. 91.4 PFF Overall Grade with an absolutely astounding 4.98 yards per route average. A true freshman WR breakout by which all true freshman WR breakouts should be measured. I truly want to see a CFF legend like Justyn Ross overcome his terribly unfortunate neck issue and be able to catch passes from Patrick Mahomes on Sunday afternoons. NFL fantasy value aside, just seeing Ross active and on the field would be an inspiring moment for a supremely-talented player who once had legitimate first-round potential.
"The Rule of 35"
In 2022, Ohio State and WKU were joined by UTSA, Washington, Akron(!) and UCF as teams who fielded two high-volume wideouts each. However, the team that produced the most high-volume wideouts was actually Georgia Southern, with Khaleb Hood (127), Houston transfer Jeremy Singleton (103) and Derwin Burgess Jr. (101) who all cleared the century mark. It should also be noted that WKU WR Daewood Davis (95) was just five targets away from giving WKU back-to-back seasons with three WRs with 100+ targets. Surprisingly, Akron's Alex Adams (90) was just 10 targets away from giving the Zips a trifecta of target hogs. Bless HC Joe Moorhead for the joy he will bring us all in MACtion this autumn. Arizona (Singer 98), Tulsa (Santana 94) and ECU (CJ Johnson 93) narrowly missed having two WRs with 100 targets.
In order to identify the very few elite CFF/C2C wide receivers before they breakout, you need to whittle down which teams you are focusing on according to their potential aerial potency. Factors such as HC/OC coaching changes, QB turnover and schedule will go a long way towards dictating the efficacy of many lower to mid-level programs. While teams like Tennessee, Ohio State, WKU and Washington will continue to score 35+ PPG with devastating passing attacks, they are known commodities. When highly-targeted WRs from less explosive offenses emerge, it's often NFL draft sleepers like Xavier Hutchinson (Round 6, Texans) who led the nation with 161 targets for an Iowa State team that struggled to score (113th in nation) or run the ball effectively. Thus, HC Matt Campbell was forced to air it out 40 times per game (12th most in FBS) following the departure of Jets star RB Breece Hall. Plus, they weren't getting blown out either, which necessitates a heavier passing script, as ISU fielded a stout defense that was 18th in the country in PPG allowed (20.3) led by 15th overall 2023 NFL Draft selection Will McDonald.
Target volume helped savvy Devy and C2C managers identify lower level, Group of Five 2023 NFL draftees Tank Dell (291 targets L2Y = #1), who was selected in the third-round by the Texans, and Kansas City 2nd-rounder Rashee Rice (156 targets in 2022 for SMU = #2 in FBS).
If you are rostering G5 wideouts in C2C/Devy who aren't definitively hoarding targets at an elite level, you are likely wasting a roster spot for NFL projection purposes. If you are in a C2C format with unlimited waivers, you can shuffle the G5 dart throws through your roster with impunity. However in The Program C2C league and many other Campus-To-Canton formats, you are only allowed four Free Agent pickups per year, making any G5 receiver on your roster an albatross unless they are consistently producing at a collegiate WR3 benchmark.
In summation, when evaluating a new crop of CFF/C2C/Devy sleeper wideouts who could overperform their draft position, I start with players on teams that fit what I call “The Rule of 35”. Specifically, devote ample energy on teams that have the potential upside to average 35+ points, and/or 35 pass attempts per game. This is just the beginning of the unearthing process, however. Extensive player analysis, film work, team reports, combing local media publications etc. are then required to further pare down the potentially undervalued assets on each roster. But knowing where to look is a great start. After I write each conference profile this offseason, I plan to follow up with a companion article breaking down my favorite breakout passing offenses and the players who I think are the best CFF/C2C WR values at each respective program.
I felt compelled to start with WRs, since they are mystical, ethereal beings in which year-to-year evaluations can often be a frustrating exercise. However, I will also be profiling the production-heavy CFF/C2C/Devy running back position, the always quirky tight ends, and of course the conductors of our CFF/C2C orchestra - quarterbacks - in the coming weeks. So stay tuned for those pieces as well!