Fantasy Football 2021: Wide Receivers

One of the keys to building a winning fantasy team is stockpiling wide receivers. These players can be impacted by many factors beyond their control, including quarterback play, target share and scheme in the long term, and by injuries, match-ups, and weather in the short term. So get a bunch of them.

Wide receiver is deep, but you don’t want to wait too long to start adding them. A 20 round, 12-team draft will see over 80 WR selected. Such an unwieldy number will require me to slightly revise the way I rank them. I’m going to loosely rank them, but once I talk about one WR, I’ll discuss all the fantasy relevant WR on that team at the same time. This will eliminate a lot of repetitive information.

Davante Adams has been tremendously productive in Green Bay, especially in his knack for finding the end zone. Adams and Aaron Rodgers may both be auditioning for new teams this year, so I expect the post-corner routes to continue unabated. Alan Lazard and Marquez Valdez-Scantling provide support but are waiver wire plays in fantasy.

I doubt many here will be drafting Tyreek Hill. There’s no reason to think he won’t continue to produce at an elite level. The Chiefs are counting on Mecole Hardman to contribute this season. He seems to have confidence issues, so moving him the #2 role might just increase the pressure on him. Once Kelce and Hill are done, there doesn’t seem to be a lot left over in this offense.

Stefon Diggs is dependable and explosive. The Bills have a solid WR room, but Diggs will dominate target share again. Draft with confidence on either side of the turn. Cole Beasley could lose target share to Emmanuel Sanders and problems of his own making. Gabriel Davis is the other WR to own in Buffalo. It looks like they’re making an effort to expand his route tree and his role in the offense. Super best ball option as I expect him to run under a few Josh Allen bombs this year.

Calvin Ridley was the WR I was recommending the most enthusiastically last year. He jumped from WR27 in 2019 to WR4 last year. WR1 isn’t out of the question this year. There’s no concern about him attracting attention from top cornerbacks with Julio Jones gone. In eight games without Julio, Ridley averaged 7.3 receptions and 107 yards. Do the math. Russell Gage gets almost no attention, which is weird since he’s the WR2 in a high-volume offense with a bunch of targets up for grabs. Kyle Pitts will keep any WR3 candidates from becoming fantasy relevant.

DeAndre Hopkins will see a zillion targets and he’ll put them to good use. His fantasy WR finishes the last six years: 4th, 26th, 2nd, 1st, 5th, 4th. Do you really need to hear anything else? Despite a reasonably high-volume passing attack, the Cards haven’t generated a viable fantasy WR2 in several years, although Christian Kirk sometimes seems like he’ll be the guy. I would rather take a shot with Rondale Moore. The Cards seem committed to getting him the football in a variety of ways and he is explosive.

The WR1 on the next seven teams could be selected in just about any order. Any of them would make a great anchor for your WR corps.

Justin Jefferson’s efficiency last season was remarkable. He was weirdly scouted before the NFL draft. People were calling him a slot only guy because that what he played when he helped Joe Burrow to a Heisman and a National Title, but the year before, he played primarily outside. I think he’ll siphon off a greater percentage of the target share this season. Regression is coming for Adam Thielen. He should still see in excess of 100 targets, but those 14 TD catches last year were a huge outlier. It is unlikely he’ll convert eight of 12 red zone chances into scores again. I see him in the 20-25 range among WR this year.

DK Metcalf absolutely abused the NFL the first eight weeks of the 2020 season. Only one game with fewer than 92 games, only two games without a touchdown. So why is he not atop this list instead of Davante Adams? Because of the next eight games. The league caught on to Seattle big time and their whole passing game sank slowly into the Pacific. Metcalf only had one big game in the second half, a 10-catch, 177-yard, explosion in Philly. You won’t be sorry drafting him. Tyler Lockett’s season end numbers tend to be outstanding, but he is the epitome of the boom or bust guy from week to week. Incredibly, almost 49% of his fantasy points came in just three games, backboned by a 15 catch, 200-yard, three touchdown immolation of the Cardinals. Lockett should be ranked in the 20-25 range in fantasy football, but I mainly use him in daily leagues due to his inconsistency week to week.

In his two seasons in the NFL, Terry McLaurin has posted 145 receptions, 2,037 yards and 11 touchdowns. Nice, but not amazing numbers until you consider his quarterbacks in those games were Dwayne Haskins, the shattered version of Alex Smith, Kyle Allen, and Taylor Heinicke. Fitzmagic has always dreamed of having a Scary Terry to run under his bombs. Curtis Samuel and Dyami Brown will take enough defensive attention away to help McLaurin thrive. Curtis Samuel showed a huge bump in efficiency playing under Joe Brady. He’s a very solid receiver going in the WR40 range despite finishing as WR24 last year.

Keenan Allen backs up his talk, The last four years, he been good for roughly 100 catches, 1,100 yards and half a dozen scores, leading to fantasy WR finishes of 3rd, 12th, 6th, and 14th. He has left the injury prone label in the dust. Invest confidently. I thought Mike Williams was a massive reach as the 7th overall pick and he has failed to live up to his draft pedigree. Long guy who can leap, he makes some incredible contested catches, but the overall production has been pedestrian and declining. He went from WR24 to WR38 to WR45 the last three years. I think WR45 is about where he should be drafted, though, I never own him. I may regret that the year he scores 13 touchdowns, but that season may never come.

AJ Brown is a sensational player in real life who is held back by the low volume passing attack in Tennessee. When I say low volume, I mean it. A dozen NFL teams attempted at least 100 more passes than the Titans last season. Brown has 190 targets the last two season. He should be seeing 150 balls a season at a minimum. Of course, the addition of Julio Jones doesn’t bode well for Brown’s target share, even though he’s the superior receiver now. Julio can be had at a bargain but I’m avoiding him this year. Low volume passing game, already nursing an injury, adjusting to a new scheme and quarterback. Just too many red flags for me. It’s possible I’ll regret not owning any Julio shares for the first time in maybe ever, but there are safer bets @ his ADP of 44.

CeeDee Lamb was a star as soon as he entered the NFL. He was WR12 in fantasy until Dak went down and finished as WR24. Needle is pointed straight up. Lamb took 666 snaps from the slot and was hell of defenses. The plan is to line him up outside more this year, which will mean more vertical routes. Amari Cooper is durable and productive. He has also become much more consistent week to week. The days of getting sonned by shutdown corners are far less frequent now. Michael Gallup just doesn’t get enough looks in this offense and he may receive even fewer with Lamb ascending. This is too bad because Gallup produces when he sees the football, but his sporadic target share leads to inconsistent performances week to week.

Allen Robinson II’s plan to escape Chicago never got off the ground. He has ridden volume to top ten finishes in fantasy the last two years. 151 and 154 targets in 2019 and ’20, respectively. This generation’s Andre Johnson as far as quarterback support goes, but even with the hacks hucking it to him, Robinson is refining his game. His catch rate has steadily improved in Chicago. Darnell Mooney is everything since departed Anthony Miller was supposed to be. Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles screwed this kid badly. Only 68 of his 98 targets were considered catchable. So, he managed to haul in nearly 90% of his catchable passes last season. This is outstanding. Matt Nagy says his route running looks even crisper this year. Hidden gem in round 11. Keep Dazz Newsome on the radar, but he’s likely a year away.

Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp should both benefit from the big upgrade to Matt Stafford. They will also face one of the easiest schedules in the league. Draft either with confidence. The Rams are very deep @ WR with DeSean Jackson, Van Jefferson and Tutu Atwell providing support but the top two are locked into high volume roles in what should be a very potent offense.

I gave out Chris Godwin as the WR to own in 2019 and he delivered a fantasy WR2 season. He only played 12 games last season and was less efficient in an offense that was more efficient overall. Mike Evans is going to get over 1,000 yards with a high YPC and he’ll score between 8-13 touchdowns. He’ll finish as one of the top 15 WR in fantasy. His consistency and battle over targets in Tampa may lull people to sleep in some drafts. Take advantage. There are people saying Antonio Brown could lead the Bucs in targets and I suppose that’s possible. He is 33 and unpredictable in his personal life. He had his lowest receiving average as a starter in 2020. There are safer players with more upside in round nine.

DJ Moore has a couple 1,100 yards seasons and a prominent role in the Carolina offense. He has only scored 10 touchdowns in 46 games which feels more like a misprint considering how great he is after the catch. I could easily see this number undergoing a correction this year with Moore scoring in double digits. He’s the NFC’s AJ Brown. Robby Anderson sure took to Joe Brady’s offense in a strange way. Targets, catches, and catch rate through the roof. ADOT and YPC fell off the table. Very strange breakout. I am trying to own Terrace Marshall in every league. Outstanding physical specimen. Well versed in Joe Brady’s offense. Spent all summer lighting fools up. Curtis Samuel saw 97 targets as the #3 WR for Carolina last year. Robby Anderson already limping. Okay, I’m done.

You all know Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy are studs and so is KJ Hamler. Goddamn good feeling if you ask me.

Diontae Johnson has led the Steelers in targets the last two years and that won’t change. If he could iron out the drops, he can be elite. Chase Claypool is a great optimum lineup option as he is about as boom or bust as you get, mixing in monster games amidst 11 sub-60-yard performances. A bit of touchdown regression and his numbers could slip. I own a couple shares of JuJu Smith-Schuster, and he makes me very uneasy. He can’t run away from anyone and playing him in the slot killed his big play potential last year. His ADOT was minuscule and his YPC would have been okay for a running back. This is a guy who had 97-yard receptions each of his first two seasons.

Ja’Marr Chase is supposed to come in and dominate the target share in Cincy to the detriment of Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. At least that was the story most of the summer. A shaky camp and domestic violence allegations have caused Chase’s ADP to fall and that of Higgins to rise. Higgins should have always been higher, but people remember Chase’s LSU days with Joe Burrow quite fondly. Tyler Boyd is one of the most dependable slot receivers in the league. They say Chase has had a great week of camp, but he’s also a vertical receiver in an offense that can’t block long enough to get downfield. I like Higgins and Boyd a lot this year and haven’t seen Chase fall far enough to my liking.

The surest sign that NFL opening day is near is the sight of San Francisco skill position players with soft tissue injuries. Brandon Aiyuk was the WR15 after week four, which very impressive for a rookie. YAC machine in an offense that delivers him the football with ease. Slight hamstring strain is the official word. They lie, you know. Possibly a buying opportunity. Wrecking ball Deebo Samuel doles out as much punishment to himself as he does would-be tacklers. Strained glute they’re calling it. Deebo is a superstar if he can stay healthy, but he hasn’t done it yet.

DeVonta Smith is already the Eagles #1 WR. He is a technician with great hands and advanced instincts for the game. His only real negative is an inaccurate quarterback. I don’t expect to own any Jalen Reagor shares this year. He only cracked 50 yards twice last season and both times just barely.

His first three seasons, Odell Beckham, Jr was the epitome of a superstar fantasy WR. 288 catches, 4,122 yards, 35 touchdowns and he did it with style. Injuries and an offense that wants to run make him an easy fade this year. Jarvis Landry is a durable, boringly consistent slot receiver in an offense that wants to run. He won’t see enough volume to matter unless Beckham gets hurt. So, he will be relevant at some point. Donovan Peoples-Jones is 6’2”, he runs a 4.4 and his vertical at the Combine was 44.5”. He has used these attributes to clown people all summer and blaze past Rashard Higgins on the depth chart like Usain Bolt. I’m drafting him with both hands late in drafts. He will be the true beneficiary of any Beckham injury and he will take advantage.

I don’t think people realize how good the Jaguars WR corps is now. Laviska Shenault is a broken tackle machine who was the Jags best player in training camp. Arrow is pointed straight up, and injuries are baked into his price. DJ Chark played very similarly to his 2019 breakout in a couple fewer games, but inferior quarterback play sunk him. Marvin Jones is one of the most consistently underrated players in fantasy football. Excellent deep threat year after year.

Michael Pittman was a tough sonofabitch of a running back for 11 NFL seasons and his kid is even bigger. Michael Pittman, Jr plays like they took something from him. There are a bunch of targets available in Indy this year, relatively speaking as they want to pound you with that O line. The Colts WR room is in transition, but there’s a lot of talent here. I was already fading TY Hilton before his most recent injury, and I won’t own him this year. Or probably ever again. So long, TY, it was fun. Parris Campbell has played nine games in two seasons, so he’s a lottery ticket, but he looks healthy now and he played well in camp. He wasn’t injury prone @ OSU. He’s well built, and he ran a 4.31 40 with a 40” vertical at the Combine. Zach Pascal has always been productive when given opportunities. Mike Stachan is a king sized WR who was just the fourth player ever drafted from Charleston College. He has had a nice camp, too. Indy could be a WR FAAB source this season.

Michael Thomas should be back sometime in October. How well he’ll mesh with Jameis Winston remains to be seen. Marquez Callaway is not a secret anymore. He is likely to lead the team in targets until Thomas returns. Tre’Quan Smith has been a big disappointment so far. Winston seems like an ideal quarterback for the speedster, but I’m not trying that hard to roster him.

Kenny Golladay is going to a new offense, and he hasn’t practiced in weeks. Two big strikes against him. One thing the lanky deep threat has going for him is Daniel Jones is surprisingly effective delivering deep balls, ranking first in the NFL in efficiency, though with a modest sample size. Sterling Shepherd is a low ceiling slot receiver on a team that keeps bringing in more slot receivers. He struggles a bit outside. Darius Slayton must improve his catch rate to become a consistent producer. He’s an outstanding athlete but a boom or bust fantasy player with a lot more competition for targets than he had last year. Kadarius Toney is likely a year away.

We’re starting to get into passing attacks that are less than optimal. Low scoring teams provide fewer scoring chances is the most obvious thing I’ve ever typed.

Jakobi Meyers runs his routes way under the radar nationally, but he is very talented, and he had a great camp. Galaxy brain types will argue that the newly acquired Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry will bleed away targets, but this offense has always fed slot receivers and Meyers is a better receiver than their new tight ends by a considerable margin. Nelson Agholar has returned and he’s a deep threat now. ADOT and YPC exploded, and he was the Raiders most valuable WR last season. Not sure how he fits in this offense, but he costs nothing.

Will Fuller V accessed another level last season. The injury prone deep threat was having a breakout season when his season ended. Jaylen Waddle figures to get plenty of opportunities to make something happen this season. He was a low volume receiver for Alabama. It might take him some time to start putting up big days for the Dolphins. It’s not surprising DeVante Parker took a small step backward after his breakout season. This season will probably fall somewhere in between last year and 2019.

Corey Davis never came close to living up to fifth overall pick status, but he had what can truthfully be called a breakout last season. Still inconsistent week to week, he showed big improvement in all phases last year. The caveat is how he’ll respond to being a #1 WR with a big contract in New York. He faced the pressure of being a top five pick, but this will be more extreme. Elijah Moore is tough but small and he lacks length. He had a good camp but is troubled by a quad injury. Rookie with a rookie QB and Jamison Crowder looming to siphon away slot reps. Not an ideal situation for either of these guys.

I miss the days of people telling me to fade Darren Waller because Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards were coming to town. Those guys couldn’t even threaten the targets of Nelson Agholar and Hunter Renfrow. Ruggs is a dynamic talent, and he will eventually be a fine NFL player, hopefully for someone other than the Raiders. They really didn’t put him in position to succeed. He was utilized mostly as a decoy to pull away safeties and open things up underneath. His ADOT of 17.3 was huge, but at Alabama he thrived on catching slants then destroying tackling angles on his way to the end zone. The muscular Edwards faces huge expectations in Vegas again this year. I was lower on him than most coming out of South Carolina. I questioned his ability to separate in the NFL and I still do. Hunter Renfrow is a great kid who looks nothing like an NFL player. He will outperform his ADP and still not be worth rostering except in deep leagues.

The Marquise Brown Experience: Being the second option behind a tight end in an offense that attempted 250 fewer passes than the Steelers; soft tissue injuries; long, exhilarating touchdowns where he makes NFL defensive backs look slow. I was higher on Rashod Bateman than most and I think the Giants will regret passing on him. Right now, he’s an already injured rookie is a poor passing attack. Sammy Watkins is a certified dummy and the most overrated player in recent memory.

Brandin Cooks has caught passes from Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Deshuan Watson and, uh, Jared Goff. This year, he’ll catch passes from Tyrod Taylor, who is so risk averse he makes Teddy Bridgewater look like a gunslinger. Or from Davis Mills who sucks bad. Anthony Miller has a new fan base to disappoint. Draft Cooks, I guess, if he drops into the low teens, but someone must get him the football and that guy isn’t on the roster.

Tyrell Williams is the man in Motown. The release of Breshad Perriman, and Amon-Ra St Brown’s slow realization that he won’t be able to fight his way across the NFL, make Tyrell the Lions top WR by default.

Good luck this season!