Identifying wide receivers who are poised for a big year, especially given the popularity of fantasy football, has become a staple of the NFL offseason.
While the definition of a “downhill” season is a bit nebulous, the context of each candidate is important. Some players have little previous NFL production and others, like Jahan Dotson or Christian Watson, could improve from, say, 600 yards to 1,000.
However, for our purposes, the limit is players who have yet to surpass 500 yards in any pro season but, through favorable circumstances, have at least 800-yard potential in 2023.
Rookies are not considered because the focus is on wide receivers who can be compared to their past performance.
Yes, there is a small asterisk with Rondale Moore. If she had stayed healthy last season, Moore would have easily passed 500 yards.
However, injuries limited him to 414 yards in eight games, so the Arizona Cardinals put a break from a great year. That possibility remains in 2023, no matter when quarterback Kyler Murray (knee) is ready.
Marquise Brown should be the Cardinals’ key receiver, but the departure of DeAndre Hopkins opens up 96 targets. Moore is well positioned to command a lot of those passes.
And he certainly should score more, too. Over the course of two years, he had a single touchdown each season.
Moore’s production is expected to increase significantly, despite the likelihood that Arizona will have a disappointing record.
John Metchie III is a prime candidate, although he does not technically meet the criteria. He missed the 2022 season due to a form of leukemia and you don’t have a production baseline to measure.
Meanwhile, Nico Collins is someone who has apparently been on the brink of a breakout who just hasn’t quite happened.
As a rookie, he had 33 catches for 446 yards and a score. Last year, Collins went up to 37 receptions for 481 yards and two touchdowns before a foot injury ended his season in early December.
But it seems that the 2023 season is a perfect opportunity.
The Houston Texans not only drafted quarterback CJ Stroud, but also sent top wide receiver Brandin Cooks to the Dallas Cowboys. Now Collins is expected to occupy the number one spot on the Texans’ receiving corps.
Even if Houston has a tough season as expected, Collins may establish himself as Stroud’s target.
Tyquan Thornton showed his advantage with a two-touchdown outing in his second rookie appearance.
Now, the task is to sustain a higher level of production.
Although it was registered 66 percent snaps in 13 games, Thornton had just 22 receptions for 247 yards and totaled three touchdowns. He had multiple sacks in just five of those outings.
Part of that inconsistency can be attributed to the New England Patriots not having a genuine offensive coordinator, which has been corrected by the signing of Bill O’Brien. Another part is Thornton’s own development, which theoretically helps him for the 2023 season.
The addition of free agent JuJu Smith-Schuster, effectively the replacement for Jakobi Meyers, should lead the Patriots. But it’s easy to imagine Thornton surpassing DeVante Parker and Kendrick Bourne in goal percentage.
Romeo Doubs parlayed a strong preseason performance into a steady role for the Green Bay Packers.
When he was healthy, he played 62 percent of snaps. Doubs finished the season with 42 catches for 425 yards and a touchdown, emerging as a mainstay for the future alongside fellow rookie Christian Watson.
But as Green Bay transitions from Aaron Rodgers to the Jordan Love era, the receiving corps is changing as well. Allen Lazard, who paced the team in yards and receptions last year, also headed to the New York Jets. Randall Cobb also followed Rodgers to the Jets.
And the Packers didn’t bring in a single veteran replacement.
The tactic could work — Watson is a next-level standout candidate after racking up 611 yards, and second-round pick Jayden Reed can start immediately — but it’s clear Green Bay will lean on Doubs in 2023.
This is probably an either/or situation, but it feels unfair to mention Skyy Moore or Kadarius Toney without the other.
Smith-Schuster went to the Patriots, Mecole Hardman joined the Jets, and the Kansas City Chiefs did not replace them in free agency. Although the Chiefs added Rashee Rice in the second round of the draft, he is not expected to take a starting job in 2023.
That leaves Moore and Toney as the next best options behind tight end Travis Kelce and Márquez Valdés-Scantling.
And you can be sure that Patrick Mahomes will pitch often.
Expecting both receivers to have breakout seasons is a stretch, barring an injury to Kelce or MVS, of course, but one of Moore and Toney should have a solid year in Kansas City’s prolific offense.
Among the receivers listed, no one faces more pressure to have a breakout season than Treylon Burks.
There’s the unfair context of being the Tennessee Titans’ pick with the draft pick received in the AJ Brown trade. There’s the reality that any first-round pick has substantial expectations. And there’s the matter of now being the most talented wide receiver on the roster.
So yeah, it’s a great season for Burks.
Between injuries and Tennessee’s poor quarterback situation, Burks closed out his rookie year with 33 receptions for 444 yards and a touchdown. For the Titans to truly compete in 2023, they probably need him to double that production, with a lot more trips to the end zone.
Burks, however, has a mountain of potential and is formally the top target after the team released Robert Woods this offseason.