Last week Isiah Pacheco and Kenneth Gainwell led the way in my Breakout Running Backs piece – a Chief and Eagle on Super Bowl week! – while this week we turn our attention to some high-flyers and explosive players in the passing attack. Let’s dive in and take a closer look at my potential breakout wide receivers for the 2023 fantasy football season.
George Pickens, Pittsburgh Steelers
Pickens opened a lot of eyes in training camp last season, but he wasn’t able to parlay that into regular-season success with veteran Mitchell Trubisky under center. While Trubisky was barking the signals for Mike Tomlin’s blue-collar squad, he tended to favor Diontae Johnson through the air.
But when it became clear that it was “same old, same old” from Trubisky – some flashes of decent play, mixed with some absolutely mind-boggling turnovers – the Steelers turned the keys over to their highly-touted draft pick Kenny Pickett, who was also featured in my Breakout Quarterbacks piece a couple of weeks back. Pickett understandably showed his rookie inexperience, but he also showed a very sharp preference for Pickens over Johnson – especially on attempted explosive plays.
Physically, Pickens has it all – he’s fast, can jump out of the gym and his technical skills are better than you’d expect for such a young wide receiver – so we know he’ll be going high off the board this year. He has the WOW highlight reel clips mixed with the WOW real-world ability. Sky’s the limit for this young man if Pickett can improve his timing and pro-level understanding of his position.
Drake London, Atlanta Falcons
London started off hot with veteran Marcus Mariota under center but then tapered off as the long grind of the season set in. The flashes of greatness already constitute a good start, though. London now has the opportunity to grow alongside young quarterback Desmond Ridder, whose passing stats were actually better than I assumed: 86.4 QB rating as a rookie (better than Derek Carr, Justin Fields, Mac Jones, Russell Wilson and Pickett) in a short sample size, to go along with two touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Now, this isn’t going to become a high-powered passing attack overnight. This is going to be a gradual grind for Ridder, London, head coach Arthur Smith and enigmatic tight end Kyle Pitts. For me, that makes London more of a Dynasty play than a must-have Redraft guy this upcoming season. I know we’ll see the continued improvement of London’s wide-ranging technical skills, but I also see scenarios where he’s over-drafted based on “name” value. He was a high pick in his draft class, which makes him a known commodity in our fantasy football world.
Allen Lazard, Free Agent
I had Lazard as my No. 2 fantasy free agent at the wide receiver position, and that momentum carries over into my Breakout piece, here. At 6’5″, 227 pounds with long arms and plus athleticism, Lazard should greatly benefit from a change of scenery this NFL season. His production improved over time with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, but it was gradual and sometimes not noticeable at all.
Lazard needs to go somewhere he’ll be treated as a high-priority WR1 or 2. Some possibilities that jump out at me are the Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans, New York Giants, Carolina Panthers and Los Angeles Rams. If Lamar Jackson sticks in Baltimore, I’d love to see that potential downfield connection play out. If not, imagine how dominant he could be with Cooper Kupp drawing all of the double teams in Los Angeles. If Lazard and his agent make a wise choice this offseason, he’ll be a strong producer as a fantasy football wide receiver.
Donovan Peoples-Jones, Cleveland Browns
A quarterback makes all the difference in the world. Not always for the good or bad, but when you change quarterbacks, everything changes. As I noted earlier, we saw the differences in target distribution when the Steelers transitioned from Trubisky to Pickett. Now, the changes in Cleveland were undeniable when Deshaun Watson finally took the ball away from Jacoby Brissett.
During my fantasy target reports throughout the season, veteran Amari Cooper would pop up frequently in Brissett’s games. Cooper looked reinvigorated given his change of scenery from Dallas to Cleveland – there were a lot of complaints about his “attitude” and work ethic with the Cowboys – and he actually had a strong 2022 fantasy campaign overall. However, the drop-off was clear once Watson took the ball. That’s when Donovan Peoples-Jones – commonly referred to as “DPJ” – really started to shine.
At 6’2″ with very long arms and electric athleticism, I’m not surprised Watson took an immediate shine to DPJ. The Browns were already out of the AFC playoff race, so why not start to build some long-term chemistry? I expect that momentum to continue this season because Watson and DPJ really started developing some trust out there. QB-WR combinations come with a very delicate balance. It’s all about reps, trust, anticipation and seeing the field in the same ways. Watson and DPJ clicked from the get-go. The latter could be a steal in 2023 fantasy.
I’ll see ya right back here next week for my Breakout Tight Ends!
John Frascella is a published sports author who has been covering the NFL for 19 years. Follow him on Twitter @LegendSports7 for all things fantasy football and basketball.
Lazard to Da Bears!!!
We gots all da money, and holes at every position. Moreover, we need big body WRs that can block for Fields, assuming Fields remains our QB. Lazard may be the most blocker of any WR in the NFL, let alone free agency. Dude is from Iowa, played cooked for his home state Cyclones, and spent past couple season in frozen tundra. My man doesn’t mind playing in the cold. Get him Poles! You already screwed up and didn’t draft Pickens last year, then gave up too much for Claypool. Now atone!!
Love this article, if you couldn’t tell, Bears season has just begun. It’s our offseason folks, it’s all we got
Terrible sentence structure, but just trying to say Lazard is great fit in Chicago.
Cold weather guy entire career, and best run blocking WR in NFL. On top of it all, he is humble as it comes, no diva nonsense.
Sign me up!!!
Foxman, I definitely like the idea of Allen Lazard to the Chicago Bears, no issues with that here… let me ask you… why wasn’t it working with Chase Claypool in the short-term? Lack of chemistry with Justin Fields, or something?
Great question. Why trade for a WR in the middle of an obvious tanking? They gave up so much for Claypool, and I read that it was because this year’s WR free agency was so weak. By the time he got to Chicago the team had set their sites on the #1 pick. Tough to evaluate anything with that offense in the 2nd half of season. If they stick to their run-first ways (don’t trade Fields) then I can’t see Claypool ever being more than a WR3 in fantasy.
Thanks for the reply, and keep up the great job on these articles.
Foxman, it’s my pleasure and thanks for reading! And I definitely agree… it looks like Claypool is a boom-or-bust WR3 for his squad at this particular point in time