Wide Receiver Slant: Will the DJ Moore, Keenan Allen pair work for fantasy football?

With the dust settling from NFL free agency, many big-name fantasy wide receivers will be on new teams in 2024. Matt Harmon gives his early take on what he expects from each of them this season.

Calvin Ridley, Tennessee Titans

The Titans made an aggressive move to sign Calvin Ridley, smashing any previously imagined contract numbers for the veteran receiver to steal him from Jacksonville. While the per-year and guaranteed dollars surprised people, it makes sense why the Titans targeted this player.

The Titans were as light as it gets on their wide receiver depth chart. Beyond DeAndre Hopkins, who is firmly in the back-nine of his career, they did not have a single reliable body. For the group overall, separation was a serious concern. A receiver corps like that is not the way to get a feel for how young quarterback Will Levis will develop, especially if this coaching staff wants to run anything remotely similar to the isolated routes from the Cincinnati passing game.

Even though Ridley was clearly a tad rusty last season, he still proved he’s a fantastic route runner. The Titans have a verified separator in place now, and it stands to reason that they can get more out of Ridley than Jacksonville from a deployment perspective.

With Hopkins in place at the X-receiver position, they can align Ridley off the ball and move him around. That’ll allow him to run a more diverse route tree. It’s a nice fit for his skills at this stage of his career.

Early fantasy outlook: As much as I like the fit with the Titans from a player and team perspective, it’s going to be tough to rank Ridley too high in my fantasy rankings. He’s set to share the field with another high-volume wideout in DeAndre Hopkins and we’re still not sure exactly where Levis’ ceiling lies. Ridley won’t be an all-out avoid for me, but he likely falls outside my top-35 receivers. There are younger players like Jayden Reed or Zay Flowers I’d prefer to take a chance on.

Marquise Brown, Kansas City Chiefs

Everyone knew the Chiefs needed wide receiver help and they were able to land Marquise Brown on a great deal (one-year, up to $11 million). Brown is not a flawless player but has been a strong route runner against zone coverage and provides speed.

I don’t agree with what seems like the consensus view that he is a replacement for Marquez Valdes-Scantling. They don’t line up in the same spot nor come with the same route tree. Despite his speed, Brown isn’t as much of a deep threat as he is a volume sponge on in-breaking routes.

Brown can get open in the intermediate areas, which no Chiefs player did consistently last season. His addition doesn’t preclude the Chiefs from adding a wideout early in the draft but it does remove the urgency to make sure that play is a Day 1 impact option.

Early fantasy outlook: The fantasy community has been too aggressive on Chiefs wide receivers in just about every season since Tyreek Hill was traded. Despite the massive need for pass-catchers, there is a bit of a logjam for targets up at the top of the pecking order between Brown, Kelce and Rice. Brown certainly digs into the target upside of Rice, as he’s been an overall underrated target-earner. But his weekly output is destined to be volatile. He feels most likely to end up a high-upside, low-weekly-floor WR4 in my ranks.

Keenan Allen, Chicago Bears

Keenan Allen and the Chargers were unable to agree on a pay cut so the franchise legend was swiftly dealt to a team willing to carry his high cap figure. The Bears will slide Allen in as their slot receiver and give Caleb Williams one of the best and most established wide receiver duos any rookie quarterback has played with in recent memory.

I love the way DJ Moore and Allen’s skills complement each other at this point in their respective careers. Allen is one of the league’s premier technicians and still separates on short and intermediate routes. He’s incredibly quarterback-friendly with great hands and ideal timing as a route runner. However, he doesn’t separate down the field anymore and the Chargers offense stalled out when they didn’t have a vertical X-receiver to run alongside him. The Bears have just that player in Moore.

Early fantasy outlook: There’s a near-0% chance that Keenan Allen approaches the 11.5 targets per game mark he held with the Chargers last season. DJ Moore is a strong option as the No. 1 outside receiver and Chicago will likely be more conservative from a run/pass ratio standpoint with a rookie quarterback than Los Angeles was under Justin Herbert. That doesn’t mean Allen can’t catch 80-plus passes and be a useful player in fantasy football. He’s just more of a back-end WR2 than what we’re used to seeing given the environment change, unless Caleb Williams is a superstar right away.

Diontae Johnson, Carolina Panthers

The Panthers had limited resources this offseason to acquire a difference-maker at wide receiver, but the Diontae Johnson move was a clever and low-cost way to get it done. Johnson is a mistake-prone player who appeared to fall out of favor in Pittsburgh but there’s no question he has the ability of a top-tier receiver.

Guys that separate like he does are difficult to find. Just ask the 2022 Carolina Panthers, who did not employ a single outside receiver who could get open routinely.

Johnson will be a big factor in Bryce Young’s development. This was a big get for the Carolina Panthers, even if his time in Pittsburgh had run its course. Dave Canales did an excellent job designing route concepts and variable trees for his wideouts in Tampa Bay last year. That should help iron out some of Johnson’s previous per-target metrics inefficiencies. His addition also shouldn’t preclude the team from pursuing more outside receiver help in the draft.

Early fantasy outlook: It will be fascinating to see where Johnson falls on draft boards. He’s in a position to inhale a ton of volume and has been a target sponge because of his separation skills. Yet, there are obvious quarterback and ecosystem concerns — not that he’s a stranger to such questions. If he hangs around past Round 7, I’ll be interested.

Jerry Jeudy, Cleveland Browns

Jeudy is a mercurial player who has yet to deliver on the promise he held coming into the league. He’s not the route runner many bill him to be but he can beat man coverage, especially on in-breaking routes. That does make him an intriguing fit in the Browns offense that wants to hit big shots off play-action.

Those looks could help cover up some of the volatility in Jeudy’s work against zone coverage and bring out the strengths of his game. The Browns did incur a good bit of risk by handing him a sizable extension prior to seeing him work with the team. Yet, the team needed more wide receiver depth as it looks to spread the field in a more Deshaun Watson-centric offense.

Early fantasy outlook: My general rule of thumb is I’d like to avoid pass-catchers with crowded target trees on offenses with murky quarterback play. The Browns are sneaky deep with Amari Cooper, David Njoku, Elijah Moore and Jeudy. It’s unlikely he rises any higher than third in that rotation. That’s a tough sell when there is no tangible evidence since he’s arrived in Cleveland that Watson can be a consistent quality starting quarterback anymore. Jeudy projects as a volatile bench receiver.

Curtis Samuel, Buffalo Bills

I’ve been a Curtis Samuel truther for quite some time. So you could say I was a little excited by this landing spot.

Samuel is a painfully underrated player. He can beat man coverage, has speed to burn and offers inner-positional flexibility. He can bring the same deep-game upside that the Bills had with Gabe Davis but has far more separation chops in the intermediate areas. I expect Samuel to contribute at both flanker and slot, likely alternating with Khalil Shakir. We should also anticipate him working as the primary motion man and a rusher in Joe Brady’s offense. The two succeeded with Samuel in that role during the 2020 season in Carolina.

Early fantasy outlook: There’s a good chance we file Samuel into the “better real-life addition than fantasy needle-mover” category. However, given the target-earning skill set he presents and his familiarity with the coaching staff, there’s a chance he is far more involved than most imagine. I’ll be willing to draft him just about every time if his ADP settles into the double-digit rounds. We can’t go too crazy, though, because Buffalo can and should still target a long-term X-receiver prospect early in the draft.

Mike Williams, New York Jets

The Jets made an intelligent gamble bringing in Mike Williams on a one-year incentive-heavy deal. Their depth chart beyond Garrett Wilson was highly problematic. Even a diminished version of Williams offers them a dimension they were not getting elsewhere.

His biggest impact may be what he allows the Jets to do with their young players. As a proven vertical threat, he’ll force safeties to think twice about stacking the box against Breece Hall. He should take most of his snaps out at X-receiver, allowing Wilson to be moved around the formation and run vertical routes from the slot.

Early fantasy outlook: All that said, I don’t expect Williams to be a high-volume player in New York. The Jets should be a run-heavy team that throws to Garrett Wilson on nearly a third of their pass plays. Williams is a fine best-ball dart throw because he should have a strong connection on shot plays with Aaron Rodgers. His presence is more exciting for what he offers the younger guys on the roster than his own fantasy impact.

Gabe Davis, Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars' free-agency plan at wide receiver didn’t come to full fruition with Calvin Ridley chasing the bag in Tennessee. Now, they’ve essentially just downgraded at the X-receiver spot by swapping Ridley for Gabe Davis. The former Bills receiver showed he functions best in a low-volume, lid-lifting role over the last two seasons.

If Jacksonville doesn’t add another receiver high in the draft — which does feel like a lock — they’re in danger of asking too much out of Davis. He can be part of a quality core and should clear out the underneath area for guys like Christian Kirk and Evan Engram. The Jaguars just can’t be done at this position.

Early fantasy outlook: The best place for Gabe Davis to hit his production ceiling is a vertical offense with an aggressive quarterback willing to test tight windows and can connect with him on broken plays. That sounds an awful lot like the situation he just left. Perhaps Trevor Lawrence can be the JV version of Josh Allen, but we’re not there yet. Davis likely won’t be inside my top 50 receivers.

Darnell Mooney, Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons desperately needed to beef up the wide receiver depth chart behind ascending star Drake London. Mooney drew a bigger payday than most observers anticipated but he does fit this offense, which needed an injection of speed. As an off-ball flanker and vertical slot player, he is a prime candidate to work on the full-speed pre-snap motion plays that Zac Robinson will bring from the Rams offense.

Mooney is a solid player but ideally your No. 3 receiver. The Falcons also traded for Rondale Moore, a pure gadget and created-touch player. Atlanta still needs another true outside receiver to complete this group. Another addition should come from the draft, although Kyle Pitts and London should be the target dominators on this team.

Early fantasy outlook: Mooney likely won’t selected in traditional redraft formats. However, a bigger-than-anticipated early-season role could have him on waiver-wire lists in due time.