Not every wide receiver is created equally. There are some that are virtually perfect in every way as if they were created in a special pass-catching lab, like Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones, and A.J. Green. But most of them have specific parts of their game that are great and other parts that might not be so great. Some guys are fast, some can go get jump balls, some are shifty, and some are great run blockers. Those traits can often translate to different roles in NFL offenses like the split end, flanker, slot, and field stretcher. We're here to do a deep dive on this free agent wide receiver class to figure out who can do what and where they might land when the 2023 NFL free agency officially opens on Wednesday, March 15th. The legal tampering period actually opens today so there is no time to waste!
2023 Top NFL Free Agent Wide Receivers
As we suggested, we are going to separate the players into one of four different “roles” in NFL offenses. Yet, different guys move around and do different roles within the offense so it's not always that simple but we are going to do our best to categorize them (and explain a little bit about the roles) to give you a better idea of how these guys might fit within their new offense. So let's get started!
You need 11 guys on the line on every play in football. The two most wide guys are eligible to catch passes. As they are tethered to the line, they can’t go in motion unless they first take a step back and someone else steps forward. Your options are to use a tight end or a split end. These guys are typically bigger as they are much easier to jam with their alignment but there have been some smaller guys who are just really good with their first step or beating tight coverage, like Brandin Cooks. Not every wide receiver can line up at split end so it’s an important skill set - that’s why there’s seemingly always a market for guys like Corey Davis and Davante Parker.
DJ Chark has the prototypical size and speed for a split end at 6’3” and 199 pounds with a 4.34 forty that he ran at the official combine (97th percentile for WRs, per Player Profiler). The knocks on him have been that he can’t stay healthy and that he doesn’t play up to his size (struggles with contested targets and high-pointing the ball). That said, we’ve already seen him put up a 1,000 yard season on the Jaguars so the upside is always there. He’s also still only 26 years old so just now entering the age apex for WRs.
Potential Landing Spot: New York Giants - This one could have fans groaning as they just went through the trauma of trying a former Lion WR at split end in Kenny Golladay with tragic results. The Giants only have a couple of wide receivers under contract right now - Wan’Dale Robinson is locked in but beyond that nothing is set in stone. Isaiah Hodgins did a good job filling in but he really struggled when they faced top corners like the Eagles in the playoffs where he only caught one pass.
Lazard isn’t the flashiest player but he has a lot appealing qualities - especially his run blocking. He’s capable of lining up out wide, in the slot, and even in line at times (he lined up at tight end over 50 times in back-to-back years for the Packers. He’s 6’5” 227 so not an easy guy to deal with at the line or in the red zone.
Potential Landing Spot: Kansas City Chiefs - The Chiefs liked having bigger guys capable of run blocking on the field which is why Justin Watson and Noah Gray played ~60%+ of the snaps at time. Lazard would immediately give them something they haven’t had since Sammy Watkins. The Chiefs are quietly middle of the pack in cap space which is rare for a Super Bowl winner and current Chiefs WR and former teammate Marquez Valdes-Scantling is already campaigning for Lazard to join the Chiefs.
If salary weren’t in issue, he would probably still be with the Minnesota Vikings. Alas, it is a business after all and veterans like Thielen aren’t going to go through the grind of an NFL season for less than they are worth. He may not be as quick as he once was but he’s still a consummate pro and natural red zone threat that should help someone out.
Potential Landing Spot: Detroit Lions - The Lions just lost DJ Chark. They have Jameson Williams at flanker and Amon-Ra St. Brown in the slot. What this team could do is use Jameson Williams and ARSB whenever they have two tight end sets then they could bring in Thielen to play split end for three WR sets and move ARSB to the slot. He’d land on a competitive team and he wouldn’t necessarily need to play 100% of the snaps like the Vikings asked him to do, which could prolong his career.
HONORABLE SPLIT END MENTIONS:
- Kenny Golladay
- Sammy Watkins
- Julio Jones
- N’Keal Harry
- Breshad Perriman
- Noah Brown
- Damiere Byrd
- Jake Kumerow
- Demarcus Robinson
- Justin Watson
Flanker is the role on the outside opposite of the split end. They usually line up outside of the tight end and a step back off the line though different formations move them all over. And that’s the beauty of flanker - not only do you get that extra step off the line but you are free to go in motion. A lot of flankers also spend time in the slot but we’ll break down the real difference between pure slot WRs and flankers in the Slot section below. A lot of the best playmakers in the league are flankers like Chris Godwin and Ja’Marr Chase.
Juju is versatile enough to line up in the slot and at flanker opposite the split end, as we saw during his Steelers days with Antonio Brown. That’s when he’s at his best - when he doesn’t need to lineup out wide against the other team’s top corner. He signed a prove-it deal and won the Super Bowl with the Chiefs so now it’s time for him to cash in on a long-term deal somewhere. And, since he’s only 26, he’ll probably get paid.
Potential Landing Spot: New England Patriots - We view guys like Julian Edelman and Jakobi Meyers as slot WRs but they were really flankers. We’ll talk about Jakobi Meyers next but Edelman never came off the field - in three WR sets he played slot, and in two WR sets he played flanker. The Patriots have the seventh most cap space so they could fill this spot with a guy like Juju or they could also draft someone like Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Or just bring back Meyers. They have DeVante Parker at split end and a couple tight ends but there is a wide open flanker spot.
Meyers isn’t particularly big and he’s not particularly fast but his route running and attitude are what have made him a guy worthy of 100+ targets. The best landing spot for him might actually be the team he is leaving but Bill Belichick has a habit of using these undrafted free agents then letting them walk to new teams in free agency. So he might be gone. Some will call him a slot guy and he does line up there often but he’s played 964 snaps in the slot over the last two years and 689 out wide so he can clearly do both.
Potential Landing Spot: Tennessee Titans - Mike Vrabel is no stranger to bringing over former New England Patriots. And he’s had mixed results with that. But the reality is that the Titans have young promising players at split end and tight end with Treylon Burks and Chigoziem Okonkwo but could use a split end opposite Burks. Meyers would play a huge role right away.
We all pretty much know the story with this guy. At his peak he was one of the best in the game. And we’ve seen flashes of that since. But injuries have derailed his career to the point that he didn’t play at all in 2022. The upside is tantalizing enough though that, if he is healthy and in shape, some team is going to give him a shot.
Potential Landing Spot: Buffalo Bills - There are some reports that he wants too much money which would take this off the table completely as the Bills simply don’t have it. But it sure would be fun to see him play opposite Stefon Diggs in that offense if they could make it happen. Former teammate Von Miller has been doing a bit of recruiting and the Bills did attend his recent workout…
HONORABLE FLANKER MENTIONS
- Darius Slayton
- Marvin Jones
- Byron Pringle
- Olamide Zaccheus
- Rashard Higgins
- Cam Sims
- Ashton Dulin
- Chris Moore
The important distinction between a pure slot WR and a flanker is pretty simple. One stays on the field for two WR sets and the other comes off. Cooper Kupp and Chris Godwin line up in the slot for three WR sets but, when they go to two WR sets, they move to flanker. A guy like Tyler Boyd used to do that with A.J. Green but, now with Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase, he comes out of the game in favor of those guys. These are the WRs that pretty much exclusively operate out of the slot rather than doing battle on the outside with top corners.
The former second round pick has battled injuries throughout his career but he finally flashed this last season when he was playing a near full time role. He played 756 slot snaps this year (running the third most routes from the slot of any WR behind only Tyler Boyd and Christian Kirk) while also playing 218 snaps out wide. Campbell can clearly play some flanker but he profiles as your prototypical slot guy. He’s still only 25 and relatively unproven so there is a lot of upside there.
Potential Landing Spot: Cleveland Brown - The Browns have Amari Cooper at split end, David Njoku at tight end, and a couple speedy outside guys in Donovan Peoples-Jones and Anthony Schwartz. But David Bell might not be the answer in the slot and they don’t have time to waste. Campbell went to Ohio State so he’d quickly be a fan favorite and Deshaun Watson just renegotiated his contract to free up cap space.
The issue Landry has run into lately is that teams have asked him to do too much. The Browns had him bulk up to play flanker and run block. The Saints had him as an every down player as well. At this stage of his career, Landry would best be utulized as a part time player out of the slot where I’m confident he can contribute to a team’s success. And he brings a positive veteran attitude to your locker room which is always a plus.
Potential Landing Spot: Dallas Cowboys - The Cowboys have Michael Gallup at split end and Ceedee Lamb at flanker. Jarvis Landry could come in and make an immediate impact as the third wide receiver out of the slot and he wouldn’t cost a whole lot. He also has the exact personality that Jerry Jones seems to go for.
Richie James quietly played really well. He and Wan’Dale Robinson showed enough that the Giants decided they should just take Kadarius Toney and get whatever they could for him. James could end up back with the Giants playing slot with Wan’Dale at flanker (Giants GM Joel Schoen said he does want to prioritize current free agents). But he could also hit the market in search of a new payday.
Potential Landing Spot: Baltimore Ravens - New Ravens offensive coordinator Todd Monken runs the Air Raid offense which is a far cry from what Greg Roman did. It uses three and even four WR sets so the Ravens are going to need to load up. They could even go for multiple options. Rashod Bateman can play split end or flanker and I could see them going for an outside WR in the draft so Richie James could be a cheap option as one of the slot WRs they are going to need.
HONORABLE SLOT MENTIONS
This really is just a subcategory of split end/flanker. But it’s a role within offenses and an important one to real life success. You take a speedy guy and put him on the outside to keep defenses honest. Think KJ Hamler in the Broncos' offense. It doesn’t always translate well to fantasy football as you don’t get points for “opening things up underneath”. But real NFL teams don’t care about your fantasy team.
Formerly, Robbie or Robbie Anderson, he’s recently been released by the Arizona Cardinals for cap space. There have been some questions about his attitude but there have never been questions about his speed.
Potential Landing Spot: Atlanta Falcons - The Falcons are loaded up on size with Kyle Pitts and Drake London. And they can often just use those two guys as their outside WRs. When they do move Pitts to inline tight end, someone like Anderson could come onto the field as a flanker and really help to open things up. He might be a little old for the direction they are moving in though.
Agholor really wasn’t a great fit with New England but that might mostly be because Mac Jones was fairly hesitant to take shots downfield. With the Raiders the speedy Agholor put up almost 900 yards with 8 touchdowns though so he could still be a useful player in the right spot.
Potential Landing Spot: Buffalo Bills - It’s hard to predict these spots as most teams could use these guys. The Buffalo Bills are a team that has lacked high-end speed since John Brown and Emmanuel Sanders left. They could bring in Agholor on a cheap deal to stretch the field while also getting some intel on New England in the process.
Hollins was the replacement for Nelson Agholor in the Raiders offense as their field stretcher. And, like Agholor, he had the best year of his career in that role. He’ll fit in with a team somewhere but most likely as a part-time outside player taking the top off defenses.
HONORABLE FLANKER MENTIONS
Follow Andrew Cooper on Twitter @CoopAFiasco for more NFL and fantasy football insights and stay tuned as we hit on all 32 NFL teams in this series leading into NFL free agency!
- Like & Subscribe to the Fantasy Alarm YouTube Channel!
- Dynasty Fantasy Football Team Breakdowns
- Fantasy Football NFL News
Fantasy Alarm is the home of all things Fantasy Sports. Bringing you the best Fantasy Football, Fantasy Baseball and Fantasy Basketball content all year long. Be sure to also check out the best fantasy promo codes on offer today!