One of the best ways to find discounts on star players is to seek out talented, heavily-used post-hype sleepers who were in undesirable situations the previous year. Whether it be awful quarterback play, injury, or simply bad luck that caused a down season, we want to go back to the well for players with good profiles. Regression to the mean is a nearly universal law: we pay attention to players who are due for negative regression, and we must also look for players due for positive regression.
In this article last year, we told you to draft Saquon Barkley in the 2nd round, A.J. Brown in the 3rd, and Brandon Aiyuk in the 8th – all coming off of a relatively down 2021 season. Here are three post-hype stars coming off of a down 2022 to draft at ADP.
Diontae Johnson – ADP: 5.10 (WR29)
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Wide receivers are going off the board earlier than ever in 2023 fantasy drafts. Whether you are going true Zero RB or need to catch up at the position after snagging some running back value, you’ll still need wide receivers after the post-4th round dropoff.
Diontae Johnson’s ADP has been rising of late, but he is still a bargain at the end of the 5th round. You won’t find any players who touch his target ceiling anywhere around his ADP, and targets are the lifeblood of fantasy points. Earning targets is a skill, and few are better at it than Diontae Johnson:
Only eight players have accumulated 500+ targets since 2019.
Six of those eight will be playing at age 29+ this season (Adams, Diggs, Kelce, Hill, Kupp, Allen).
The only two on the preferred side of the age curve?
🔹 Diontae Johnson (27)
🔹 DJ Moore (26)
— Dave Kluge (@DaveKluge) July 6, 2023
Unfortunately, last year went about as bad as it could have been for Diontae. Despite the 6th-most targets in the league, he somehow scored zero touchdowns (144, an NFL record for not scoring). He finished as the WR32 and ranked 101st out of 104 qualifiers in yards per route run amongst receivers with 200+ routes – ahead of only the corpse of A.J. Green, Tyquan Thornton, and Michael Gallup.
The scoreless statistic is even more shocking when you consider he was top-10 in red zone targets:
2022 WR Red Zone Target Leaders:
Justin Jefferson- 28
DK Metcalf- 27
Ja’Marr Chase- 26
Stefon Diggs- 23
Amon-Ra St Brown- 22
Adam Thielen- 22
Christian Kirk- 22
Davante Adams- 22
Garrett Wilson- 19
Diontae Johnson- 18
— Alex Caruso (@AlexCaruso) July 7, 2023
Unsurprisingly, Johnson finished first among all wide receivers in fantasy points under expectation. His 72.6 fantasy points under expectation are more than double the next receiver (Drake London) – Johnson would have finished as the WR9 if he had performed at expectation, and is now going as the WR29.
Despite the above, Johnson still got open at an elite rate and is one of the best route runners in the NFL:
Diontae Johnson is the most underrated Route Runner in the NFL
— Luke Sawhook 🪚🪝 (@lukesawhook) July 3, 2023
While Pat Freiermuth and George Pickens look to take the next step in their young careers, so will sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett. The Steelers handled him with kid gloves last year, as he ranked 21st in the league in pass attempts with a meager 184 passing yards per game.
The Steelers bolstered their offensive line in the draft while adding the calcified husk of Allen Robinson as their only meaningful pass-catcher (rookie TE Darnell Washington is much more of a blocker). With a little bit more volume and improved efficiency in Pickett’s sophomore season, Freiermuth and Pickens can both take leaps while Diontae still sees 130+ targets.
Although Diontae is far from the definition of an efficient receiver, his touchdown luck and peripheral stats still scream positive regression from his nightmarishly fluky 2022 season.
Kyle Pitts – ADP: 6.10 (TE5)
Few players burned fantasy drafters as much as Kyle Pitts in 2022. After being one of the summer’s most hyped players, owners had to painfully watch Marcus Mariota miss a wide-open Pitts time and time again until Pitts went down with a knee injury. Only watch if you’re a glutton for punishment:
26% of Marcus Mariota’s passes were deemed uncatchable last season.
Here is a bunch of plays where he missed Kyle Pitts.
— Nick Penticoff (@NickPenticoff) April 18, 2023
Indeed, the film matched the stats (thanks to the RotoViz Advanced Stat Explorer): Among passers with 150+ attempts, Marcus Mariota ranked 37th out of 39 quarterbacks in Catchable Pass Percentage (65%, ahead of only Zach Wilson and Taylor Heinicke) and 38th in On-Target Pass Percentage (59%, ahead of only Wilson).
Combine that with the 6th-highest sack percentage on a team that threw the 5th-fewest passes per game of any team since 2000, and it’s an environment where no pass-catcher is going to succeed. It won’t come as a shock to you that Pitts finished a mind-blowing 1st out of 114 qualifiers in fantasy points under expectation among tight ends.
By the time Desmond Ridder took over, Pitts was already done for the season. This is quite a shame, considering the massive upgrade Ridder proved to be when compared to Mariota. Ridder’s Catchable Pass Percentage (79%) and On-Target Pass Percentage (72%) were on par with Patrick Mahomes and Kirk Cousins, and they passed at a higher rate with Ridder at the helm:
When the Falcons mercifully moved on from Marcus Mariota, their pass attempts scaled up by 21% in 4 games! pic.twitter.com/XUVL3byXga
— Davis Mattek (@DavisMattek) July 8, 2023
The good news? Pitts’ usage and peripherals were exactly where we wanted them. He finished 1st among 20 tight ends who ran 100+ routes in the following statistics: Targets Per Route Run, Air Yards Per Route Run, Weighted Targets Per Route Run, and aDOT (Average Depth Of Target) – all in games that Drake London played. If Ridder was starting the whole season, we probably aren’t having this conversation. Ridder is also likely to improve as he enters his sophomore campaign with an elite offensive line and running game. Defenses simply can’t key in on Pitts with Bijan Robinson and Drake London on the field as well – their presence may actually be a positive for Pitts in many ways.
Let’s not forget that Kyle Pitts is absolutely a generational prospect, and he won’t turn 23 years old until October. In fantasy leagues, simply being “above-average” makes you a loser – we have to beat 11 other owners in order to win. Risks and home-run swings must be taken. Especially at the weakest position in fantasy, an elite season out of Pitts turns him into a league-winner at a multiple-round discount from last season.
It is unlikely that the Falcons pass as little as they did in 2022, so we should be betting on regression to the mean. As long as he stays healthy he is a lock for TE1 production even if things go slightly awry, making him a massive hit/medium-miss kind of selection at the end of the 6th round. That is what we are shooting for in fantasy leagues.
Elijah Moore – ADP: 8.03 (WR44)
After an overall WR1 stretch during his rookie season that put him on a star trajectory, we were hoping for an improvement by Zach Wilson and a sophomore jump for Moore. It’s safe to say neither of these things occurred.
There’s no getting around the fact that Moore was really bad in 2022, being shuffled in and out of the lineup while failing to earn targets in any meaningful way. He finished 130th out of 141 receivers with 100+ routes run in the Targets Per Route Run metric, barely edging names like Kenny Golladay and Tom Kennedy. But it’s tough to overstate just how bad the Jets’ quarterbacks were. Per Shawn Siegele’s awesome RotoViz article on the Browns:
“All three Jets passers finished below 60% completions, and Wilson actually led the trio in yards per attempt, despite finishing dead last in the NFL in catchable (65%) and on-target (55%) passes, both by wide, wide margins.”
Here is some visual evidence for the above:
Elijah Moore being missed when open in 2022.
Buy stock in this man before it’s too late pic.twitter.com/wCLPeHWRLD
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) January 19, 2023
After being traded to the Browns this offseason, a change of scenery may be all Moore needs to breakout. Deshaun Watson represents potentially a massive upgrade at quarterback and his only real target competition at wide receiver is Amari Cooper, who will be playing this season at age 29.
While he’s a good receiver, only elite receivers continue to produce at a high level as they approach and reach their 30s. Cooper has zero WR1 PPG finishes in his entire career and has never reached 1,200 yards, making it a smart bet that his decline begins sooner rather than later.
Let’s not forget just how good Moore was in college:
- Moore posted a 4.35 40-yard dash at his Pro Day and earned a 97th-percentile Agility Score.
- He also broke out at a young age (19.4 breakout age, 81st-percentile) and was insanely productive (87th-percentile Dominator Rating and 99th-Percentile Target Share).
- The combination of his yards per route run metric and overall production in his final college season is among the six best overall such seasons in the past four years (along with Jaxon Smith-Njigba, CeeDee Lamb, Tee Higgins, and DeVonta Smith).
So far this offseason, Moore has drawn nothing but rave reviews. Per beat writers, it is apparently “…clear the Browns want to get him the ball on short passes and let him create”, and “…is an easy pick as an early breakout candidate based on the Browns’ spring work.”
He’s also received some high praise from the Browns’ own coaching staff:
— Graham Barfield (@GrahamBarfield) June 19, 2023
With a potentially very good quarterback and narrow touch distribution that absolutely needs contributors behind Nick Chubb and Amari Cooper, there are multiple avenues to a big Moore breakout in 2023.