Historically, rookie wide receivers are better investments than they get credit for. That is especially so in the second half of their rookie seasons. Could Arizona Cardinals rookie WR Michael Wilson be one of those guys who emerge down the stretch? Is he someone fantasy football managers should target late in deeper leagues?
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Who is Michael Wilson?
Let’s start by saying Wilson does not look like your typical successful prospect. He spent five years in college, and his best season saw him catch 56 passes for 672 yards and five touchdowns (2019). He’s already 23 years old as a rookie.
Wilson is a good athlete, though. His 4.58 40-time at 6’1″, 216 pounds, gives him a 68th percentile speed score. He also has a more traditional outside flanker size. Although, I’m not sure if that’s necessarily a good thing anymore, as more and more prospects seem to look like DeVonta Smith rather than Courtland Sutton.
One of the biggest red flags on Wilson’s prospect profile was his injury history. There’s a reason that the 2019 season was his best; it was the only year he was able to stay healthy for an entire year.
The Cardinals selected Wilson in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft. It may have been very late in the third round, but it was still the third round. There’s a huge difference in the likelihood of success between Day 2 and Day 3 picks. Wilson has that going for him.
Could Michael Wilson Earn a Starting Role as a Rookie?
It’s safe to say Wilson is not going to start Week 1. But that doesn’t mean he can’t work his way up the depth chart. For fantasy managers in deeper leagues, you can afford to sit on a guy much longer than in shallower leagues. As long as there’s hope for Wilson, you can justify using the roster spot.
This offseason, the Cardinals released DeAndre Hopkins and didn’t replace him. That bumps everyone else up one spot on the depth chart.
Marquise “Hollywood” Brown is the clear WR1. Provided he stays healthy, he is going to lead this team in targets. We’re not looking nor expecting Wilson to challenge Brown at all. It’s the rest of the wide receivers that he is competing with.
The presumptive WR2 is Rondale Moore. While Moore is far less established than Brown, it is still exceedingly unlikely that Wilson is able to jump him. However, Moore has had trouble staying on the field. He missed three games as a rookie and nine games as a sophomore due to injury.
Last season, when Moore missed time, Greg Dortch stepped into his role. While Dortch was solid, there’s no reason Wilson couldn’t play his way ahead of him on the depth chart.
Beyond Dortch, the Cardinals have free agent acquisition journeyman Zach Pascal and a bunch of rotational depth pieces that Wilson should already be ahead of.
Figure Wilson opens training camp behind Brown, Moore, Dortch, and Pascal. Ideally, fantasy managers would want to see him find his way into the WR2 role. But let’s say he merely opens as the WR4. Would Wilson still be a viable late-round dart throw in deeper leagues?
Should Fantasy Managers Target Michael Wilson Late in Deep Leagues?
Even in leagues deeper than your average size, no one is drafting Wilson. He has a WR97 ADP. It’s easy to understand why. He’s a third-round rookie no higher than fourth on his team’s depth chart. And he’s on the Cardinals, who project to be the worst team in the NFL.
It’s actually situations like this you may want to target for surprising fantasy assets. With Kyler Murray recovering from a torn ACL, the Cardinals enter the season with Colt McCoy or Clayton Tune as the starting quarterback. Suffice it to say they are going to lose games.
If the Cardinals are losing games and mired in a lost season, what incentive do they have to keep putting someone like Pascal out there? Why not see what the rookie has to offer?
Given Wilson’s size, he probably doesn’t even need to jump Dortch on the depth chart. Last season, the Cardinals used Dortch as a one-to-one Moore replacement. Dortch would probably only play ahead of Wilson if Moore gets hurt.
Essentially, Wilson could quickly find himself in the Cardinals’ WR3 role, even without any injuries. In deep fantasy football leagues, managers need to consider the upside of players that could benefit from injuries in front of them on their NFL team’s depth chart. Wilson is a guy no one is really looking at for redraft, but he has the raw athletic ability and size to play on the outside should something happen to Hollywood Brown.
The Cardinals probably don’t want to throw the ball 62% of the time again, but the game script may force their hand. Last season, the Cardinals ran 532 plays while trailing by at least seven points. That was the most in the league by a whopping 70. And now they won’t have their starting quarterback for at least roughly half the season.
This brings me to the sneakiest part of Wilson’s ceiling outcome. What if he earns the WR3 role, is elevated to WR2 via injury, and Murray returns midseason? Wilson only needs to be a fantasy WR4/5 to be a worthwhile pick at his ADP in deep leagues.
Imagine a second half of the 2023 season where Wilson is starting for a team constantly trailing with Murray at quarterback. Admittedly, this is a true “everything went right” scenario. But even if Wilson is merely the WR3 on an offense throwing the ball 60% of the time, he will have productive weeks.
In the late rounds of fantasy football drafts, the only thing we care about is upside. If you’re playing in a standard-sized 12-team league, do not even consider drafting Wilson. You’re likely going to get no production for several weeks before you even have any idea that something might be there for the second half.
But in deep leagues where many more players are rostered, Wilson might be a worthwhile selection to stash on your bench with the hope that he could be a WR4 over the second half of the season.
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