A New Wave of AFC Receivers is Emerging
Matt and James are behind the mic again after Week 4 and they’re taking a deeper look at a few wide receivers from the AFC Division. But first…running backs? Yes. You read that right, running backs.
It was quick and painless though. Matt humbly bragged about being besties and podcast partners with Austin Ekeler, who went absolutely bonkers on Sunday with three touchdowns.
Plus, the two discussed the controversy surrounding Alvin Kamara from the London game this weekend. (Spoiler Alert: neither of them feels bad if you missed getting Kamara out of your lineup. If you’re looking for sympathy, please look elsewhere.)
That’s all the running back talk we need, though. Let’s get to the meat and potatoes of this week’s episode of Reception Perception: The Show.
Has George Pickens been unlocked? His targets continue to go up weekly and in Week 4 against the Jets, he saw 8 targets for 6 receptions. Pickens finished the game with over 100 receiving yards, a feat Diontae Johnson hasn’t accomplished yet this season.
Leading up to last week, Pickens was captain of the all-exercise team. He was primarily used as a field stretcher. In Week 4, the Steelers finally stretched out Pickens’s route tree though. Through four weeks the rookie wide receiver is supporting a 70.4% success rate vs. man coverage and a 74.1% success rate vs. press coverage.
Not including the end of game Hail Mary, according to Next Gen Stats:#Steelers QB Kenny Pickett was 4-for-5 for 80 yards and one interception (Chase Claypool deep shot) on passes 10-plus air yards. Plenty to feel good about right there from the rookie.— Josh Carney (@ByJoshCarney) October 3, 2022
The Steelers have now benched Mitchell Trubisky in favor of rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett. (Bless the broadcasters and podcasters alike that are going to have to keep the last names, Pickens and Pickett, straight.) Pickett has already shown a propensity to push the ball downfield more than his predecessor Trubisky, which will benefit Pickens.
There have been some hot takes about Pickens becoming the WR1 in Pittsburgh, even overtaking fantasy darling Diontae Johnson. Matt and James both weigh in on the likelihood of that happening this season, as well as Pickens’s long-term fantasy outlook.
So, has Pickens been let loose? Do we get to see more insane catches like this one? Or maybe this one? Matt and James think so and they believe it will serve to elevate his comrade Diontae Johnson and 1st round rookie QB Kenny Pickett.
Let me start with a not-so-gentle reminder to check out Matt’s In-Season Charting Tracker that just got a Rashod Bateman update earlier this week. This is a tool you should be using. It will make you smarter and I’m not just saying that as a writer for Reception Perception.
Matt immediately queues in on the biggest issue with Bateman so far this season, his route participation percentage. That percentage took a massive hit in Week 4, from hovering in the 70% range to a 52.6% participation on dropbacks. This decline in route participation could be attributed to Bateman being banged up, but even pre-injury he was running fewer routes than TE Mark Andrews.
Health aside, Matt thinks Bateman falls in that boom/bust wide receiver category. It’s so fun when he booms, but such a gut punch when he busts. The guys talked about volatility at the WR position just last week, and Bateman is the perfect example of that.
Bills WR Corps
Fantasy managers were salivating at the idea of the Bills wideouts vs Ravens secondary and we were let down, tremendously. What Josh Allen needs is for a WR outside of Stefon Diggs to emerge. Right now, Devin Singletary is the team’s second leader in receiving yards. Matt and James agree something has got to give in that wide receiver room.
Yes, Gabe Davis is dealing with an ankle injury that held him out of Week 2, but for as much discourse as the fantasy community had surrounding Davis in the off-season his production has been a letdown to start the season. Davis is playing 95%+ of snaps but only seeing targets on 9.5% of his routes run.
No matter how you cut that target pie in Buffalo, a second pass catcher has to step up for Buffalo. They just lost Jamison Crowder indefinitely to injury, Isaiah McKenzie started to show a little something in Week 4 before leaving the game with a concussion, Davis is battling injuries, for lack of a better word – it’s bleak.
Matt’s got his eyes on 5th-round rookie WR Khalil Shakir. Shakir was a good college player and a solid route runner, but where he really excels is in the open field. I believe he’s what the kids call a “YAC Monster”. With injuries plaguing the wide receiver room (and Dawson Knox, for what it’s worth) Shakir has an opening to make a statement.
Colts fans are getting excited about rookie WR Alec Pierce in Indianapolis. Matt thinks there’s good reason for that excitement. Peirce has been collecting air yards like Pokemon cards the last two weeks as the Colts are using him to stretch the field. He finished Week 4 with 80 yards on 4 receptions.
The trouble with Pierce is in his lack of routes run. He’s got to pump those numbers up. Pierce needs to take over Parris Campbell on the depth chart. Also a problem for the 2nd-round receiver, QB Matt Ryan. The quote of this episode is courtesy of Matt: “Ryan’s fumbling problem would even make Melvin Gordon blush.” Ouch, but totally fair.
Still, it sounds like both Matt and James have confidence that Pierce will be the WR2 behind Michael Pittman Jr. with a chance to become fantasy relevant this season.
Bonus Spoiler: Matt comped Pittman Jr. to two wideouts that the fantasy community loves. I am not going to tell you who they are though. You’ve got to listen for that delicious little nugget.