Make a Call in Fantasy Football: What to do with Davante Adams, George Pickens and Christian Watson?

Steelers receiver George Pickens has shown plenty of big-play potential, but can he become a more consistent fantasy asset with more opportunities this season? (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Steelers receiver George Pickens has shown plenty of big-play potential, but can he become a more consistent fantasy asset with more opportunities this season? (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

This is the second part of a new series that will examine players who are tough to rank. Today we're examining the pros and cons of three wide receivers.

Pickens’ full season’s pace without Diontae Johnson on the field last season was 72 catches for 1,517 yards and nine touchdowns on 140 targets. He registered a 38.4% first-read target rate over those four games without Johnson, when Pickens’ targets per route run rate (24.1%) ranked top-20, and his yards per route run (2.93) ranked top-five. Pickens’ end-zone target share also jumped to 42% with Johnson off the field. Pickens’ yards per target (10.27) ranks second among all wide receivers over the last three years, and now he gets to play without Johnson for a full season.

Moreover, Russell Wilson will be an upgrade over Pittsburgh’s quarterback play last season, as Kenny Pickett owns the lowest TD% (1.8) among 391 quarterbacks with at least 500 attempts in NFL history. Pickens ranked top-20 in ESPN’s Open Score last season, and offensive coordinator Matt Canada is gone, so the wideout can finally run routes over the middle of the field.

Pickens hasn’t earned a 22% target share during either season of his career yet, and he’s been a big-play merchant. He was in the 88th percentile in yards per route run last season but just the 62nd percentile in first downs per route run, which is better at predicting next year’s fantasy stats.

While any OC is likely an upgrade over Canada, Drake London’s fantasy managers had plenty of issues with Arthur Smith’s play calling (and results), and last year’s Falcons had by far the lowest pass rate over expectation (-9.7%) in the league. It’s also possible Wilson is completely washed, and Justin Fields could become a problem.

Pickens has flaws in his game, but there’s real potential entering Year 3. He’s plenty capable of scoring more touchdowns, even in a shaky offense with questions at quarterback. With Johnson in Carolina and an incredibly thin depth chart (Van Jefferson, rookie Roman Wilson) behind him, Pickens’ upside outweighs his risks.

Pickens is a fantasy target and my WR22, which is six spots ahead of his expert consensus rank.

Watson led Green Bay’s receivers in snaps, targets, yards, touchdowns and more when healthy over Weeks 4-13 last season. He saw the most targets and dominated the Packers’ air yards when Romeo Doubs, Jayden Reed and Watson all played together. Watson led the NFL in end-zone target share when on the field and finished among the league leaders in EZ targets despite playing only nine games last year, which has helped him average the third-most expected fantasy points per target since entering the league.

Watson finished 12th in yards per route run as a rookie and is on an ascending Green Bay offense, and he worked with hamstring specialists during the offseason to stay healthier.

Watson has a poor health track record while missing 11 games over two seasons in the NFL, and his coach has admitted “time will tell” if they’ve gotten a handle on his persistent hamstring issues. The Packers are also loaded at wide receiver; Doubs took over as the team’s No. 1 receiver in the playoffs, when a hobbled Watson earned just three targets over two games. Reed is possibly an emerging star, while Dontayvion Wicks needs to see the field more in 2024. Green Bay also has two capable pass-catching tight ends, while Jordan Love was overly reliant on big plays last season and is due for touchdown regression.

Love had by far his lowest Passer Rating (69.8) when targeting Watson among seven Green Bay pass-catchers last season, as the Packers’ passing game was objectively worse when Watson was the team’s primary target.

A healthy Watson has clear ability to produce spike weeks in bunches, but he’s properly ranked as the WR41 given his injury history and the crowded Green Bay receiver room.

Adams may be on the downside of his career, but he still ranked second in the league in targets (175), target share (33.1%), target rate (31.1%) and red-zone targets (29) last season; he ranked first in air yards share (44.2%) and first-read target rate (40.6%) and fifth in expected fantasy points per game (22.0). Adams put up the best two seasons of his career in Green Bay under new Las Vegas OC Luke Getsy. Adams plays indoors, has averaged 110 catches, 1,397 yards and 13 touchdowns over the last four seasons and just saw 175 targets.

Adams’ fantasy production has dropped three straight seasons, and wide receivers have historically seen a 34% decline in baseline production during their 11th year in the league. Adams was the WR5 by expected fantasy points per game but finished as just the WR17, and his uncatchable target rate is unlikely to improve with Gardner Minshew and Aidan O’Connell battling for Las Vegas’ quarterback job. The Raiders managed just 4.9 yards per play last season, and Antonio Pierce wants to run the football. Teammate Jakobi Meyers matched Adams in top-12 WR weeks (four) last season, and the Raiders took Brock Bowers with the 13th pick of the draft.

Adams’ yards per route run versus man coverage has fallen from 3.06 to 2.00 to 1.66 over the last two seasons, when he’s started to show real signs of decline since joining Las Vegas.

Adams has a nice floor given his target projection, but he’s 31 years old and in a bad situation with possibly bottom-three QB play. He’s the WR9 in ECR, but he’s my WR14. I prefer younger ascending wideouts like Marvin Harrison Jr., Drake London, Brandon Aiyuk and Jaylen Waddle. I’d even draft Cooper Kupp higher, given his superior offensive environment.

Adams is on the wrong side of his career to be drafted as a top-20 overall pick.