The Fantasy Football Implications of Malik Nabers as a New York Giant

May 09, 2024
The Fantasy Football Implications of Malik Nabers as a New York Giant

With the sixth overall selection of the 2024 NFL Draft, the New York Giants landed LSU stud Malik Nabers, the second of a whopping 10 wide receivers selected in the first 37 picks. After five years of post-OBJ blues — in which no Giants wideout ever saw 100+ targets in a season — GM Joe Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll have finally acquired a true number one on the outside. As the newest product of arguably the best receiver factory in the country (I said "arguably," calm down Buckeyes truthers), expectations are extremely high for Nabers both in East Rutherford and in fantasy football.

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Malik Nabers' Prospect Profile

Buckle up, football fans, we're going on a joyride. Malik Nabers played three years at Comeaux High School before transferring to Southside and missing his senior season because his transfer waiver was denied. That's the low point of his prospect profile. Nabers made the Freshman All-SEC Team in 2021, led the SEC with 72 receptions as a sophomore (with an elite breakout age of 19.1), and was a 1st-Team All-American, a Biletnikoff Award finalist, and led the nation with 120.7 receiving yards per game as a junior in 2023.

Malik Nabors College Production, 2021-2023
Year Targets Receptions Yards Touchdowns YPRR aDOT
2021 47 28 417 4 1.95 11.9
2022 100 72 1,017 3 2046 11.8
2023 128 89 1,569 14 3.64 12.2

This past season, Nabers compiled 89 receptions, 1,569 yards, and 14 touchdowns. Here's a list of all the other guys since 2000 to hit each of those marks in a collegiate season and then earn top-six draft capital: Larry Fitzgerald and Amari Cooper. End of list. Yeah, it's like that. Quick history lesson. Fitzgerald had a slower rookie year playing with Josh McCown and Anquan Boldin, then led the NFL with 103 catches in year two. Cooper had 130+ targets and 1,000+ receiving yards in each of his first two seasons, finishing as the WR21 and WR13 in fantasy despite working with a young Derek Carr and a prime Michael Crabtree.

We'll get to Nabers' situation in a bit, but the profile suggests he could absolutely meet or exceed the early production of those superstars. He had an absurdly high 31.9% college target share (94th percentile, according to PlayerProfiler) and posted those elite numbers while competing for targets with the 23rd overall pick, Brian Thomas Jr.

And, of course, there's the recent LSU pedigree to consider — the last three Tiger wideouts drafted in the first round were Ja'Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson, and Odell Beckham Jr. They finished as the WR5, WR6, and WR6, respectively ... as rookies. Of course, those receivers were their own prospects — there's no guarantee Nabers will follow in their footsteps simply because of a shared alma mater. But the similarities don't end there. All four guys are nearly the exact same size (around 6-foot, 200 pounds). And NFL Network analyst Lance Zierlein listed Jefferson as his comp for Nabers in his draft profile, while PlayerProfiler lists Chase as their best comp for Nabers. The athleticism Chase has displayed at the NFL level is also heavily replicated in Nabers and his metrics, including exceptional speed and elite explosiveness.

On tape, I also like the Chase comp quite a lot and found many of my prospect notes on Chase echoed in Nabers' film. He's an incredibly explosive, long-striding, run-after-catch stud. He wins with speed, nuanced vertical route-running, and dangerous skills in space, in open zones, and through attempted tackles (30 missed tackles forced in 2023, third-most in the Power Five according to PFF).

He was used at all levels of the field at LSU — often on screens and sweeps behind the line — but his clearest calling card is beating defenders vertically. He has the burst to accelerate suddenly and to blaze by press coverage, but also possesses an arsenal of nuanced moves and the necessary long speed to shred off coverage, whether down the field or on comeback routes. His angles and ball-tracking talent, combined with 4.4 wheels, are going to make him an absolute terror of a deep threat at the NFL level.

Nabers also flashed impressive body control, contested catch ability, and hands, however I saw much more inconsistency in those areas than others. He could benefit a ton from more aggressiveness and proactivity at the catch point, especially as he'll be battling NFL corners without the 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame of a typical contested-catch specialist.

Between the stat sheet, the athleticism, and the film, it's no surprise Nabers went sixth overall to a team in desperate need of pass-catchers. Now the question is how much he'll be able to do for that team from the start.

How Malik Nabers Fits With the Giants

There are going to be two major talking points around this landing spot from now until September. The first is the opportunity. New York has nobody else. Their depth chart was "headlined" by undersized upside gadgeteers Wan'Dale Robinson and Jalin Hyatt, and filled out by a smorgasbord of WR3s like Darius Slayton and the Isaiahs (Hodgins and McKenzie). On top of that, Saquon Barkley — good for 75 targets a year — is now with the division-rival Eagles and tight end Darren Waller is heavily contemplating retirement.

This team needed a number one and they needed him badly. So they spent the sixth overall pick on Malik Nabers. He will land at the top of the pecking order immediately, be on the field for every pass play, and lead the team in targets. He will be the alpha OC Mike Kafka has never had and HC Brian Daboll hasn't had since Stefon Diggs was an elite WR1 for the Bills in 2020 and 2021. Of course, back then Daboll and Diggs had Josh Allen. Nabers has Daniel Jones, who remains the Giants' starter despite being one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL for five years. And that's the second major talking point.

Jones, who is recovering from an ACL tear, does not inspire confidence as a distributor (nor does backup Drew Lock). Pick a passing stat and scan the list for Daniel Jones and you'll almost always find him at the very bottom next to guys like Zach Wilson, Sam Darnold, and Mac Jones (all of whom have been justifiably relegated to backup duty).

Daniel Jones Career Stats
Statistic Number NFL Rank*
TD Rate 3.3% 2nd-worst
Passing Success Rate 42.8% 2nd-worst
Adjusted Yards/Attempt 6.3 4th-worst
Passer Rating 85.2 5th-worst
*Among 34 QBs w/ 1,000+ attempts since 2019

In only six games last season, Jones was particularly ineffective, posting several career lows — including yards per attempt (5.7), passer rating (70.5), and touchdown rate (1.3%, worst in the NFL) — as well as a career-high 3.8% interception rate. The $160 million extension New York handed Jones in 2023 is looking more atrocious by the day and creates a black cloud of uncertainty around Nabers' upside for the foreseeable future.

Ultimately, the degree to which Nabers' opportunity translates to fantasy success will depend heavily on whether his presence elevates Jones and the offense more than the questionable quarterback play caps his upside. If you're looking for the positive spin: Jones has a solid 107.7 passer rating on deep balls in his career (where Nabers will win often) and should be capable of connecting with Nabers in the quick game to unlock the rookie's run-after-catch upside.

Projecting the Giants Offense in Fantasy Football

All things considered, it's hard to imagine Nabers commanding less than a 20% target share as a rookie. A brief look at the recent history of receivers with his pedigree and draft capital further legitimizes that claim.

Rookie WRs Drafted Top 6 Overall Out of Power Five Conferences
Player Overall Pick (Year) Rookie Targets Rookie Target Share
Ja'Marr Chase 5th (2021) 128 23.7%
Jaylen Waddle 6th (2021) 140 23.4%
Amari Cooper 4th (2015) 130 21.6%
Sammy Watkins 4th (2015) 128 22.4%
Justin Blackmon 5th (2012) 132 22.8%

This data is so consistent, that it almost feels fabricated. It's not. Every prospect to meet the Nabers criteria since 2012 landed between 128 and 140 targets, with a target share between 21 and 24%. It's also worth noting that some of those receivers had much more legitimate target competition than Nabers does (Chase had Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, Cooper had Michael Crabtree, etc). Given the opportunity in New York and his elite college target share to boot, it's a veritable lock that Nabers will fall within (or above) these brackets in 2024. And the average output for receivers in that target window is around 200 fantasy points, which would make Nabers a high-end WR2. Even a highly inefficient year would likely leave him in the WR24-30 range.

After that, if you'll pardon the language, it's an absolute crapshoot. The remaining Giants pass-catchers could fall in nearly any order from Nabers down, though it's unlikely any sniffs triple-digit targets. If Jones took an unexpected step forward and one of the ancillary wideouts developed into a solid complementary piece, that one wideout could hold waiver wire intrigue down the line. But that's a whole lot of "ifs" for little payout, and we won't know who to bet on until late preseason ... if at all.

Meanwhile, Devin Singletary may be asked to carry an oversized workload given the state of the running back room behind him — a bunch of late-round backup talents like Eric Gray and Tyrone Tracy Jr. — and could fall into RB3 territory if he manages to find the end zone enough. And finally, Daniel Jones and his rushing upside could bring (very) speculative value in 2QB leagues or as a streamer if he can take that step forward with Nabers in his arsenal.

Bottom Line

  • The Giants invested heavily — the sixth overall pick — to make Malik Nabers the centerpiece of their air attack and their offense on the whole.
  • Nabers has a superb production profile, explosive athletic metrics, exceptional pedigree and pro comps, and exciting film. All together, that makes for a top-tier NFL and fantasy prospect.
  • The New York offense was mostly too irrelevant in fantasy for the Nabers addition to matter much, but the big takeaway is that there are no hurdles between the rookie receiver and elite opportunity.
  • According to current Underdog best ball drafts, Nabers is coming off the board as the WR19 (28.1 ADP), in a tier of names like D.J. Moore, Jaylen Waddle, and Michael Pittman Jr. That price bakes in the inefficiency Nabers is expected to suffer at the hands of poor QB play, so it feels like perfect value, right between his floor around WR30 and his ceiling around WR5.
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