Fantasy Football 2021 Wide Receiver Rankings + Projections

We’ve already looked at my top-40 quarterbacks for the upcoming fantasy football season, in addition to my top-100 running backs. Now, though, it is time to turn our attention back to the passing game: wide receivers!

The wide receiver position has consistently been replenished with talent in recent seasons, making it a very exciting position to analyze. The more athletic marvels there are, the better! It is truly a pleasure to watch such talented players, and, hopefully, this trend continues for the foreseeable future.

With that, I am excited to publish my 2021 wide receiver rankings! In addition to ranking the top-150 wide receivers for the upcoming fantasy football season, I have placed them in tiers in order to give a better idea of the perceived gap between each player. With this being such a deep position, identifying which players will not only get a lot of targets, but the make the most of those targets is pivotal when it comes to build an ideal receiving corps. Who will lead your team to the standings in 2021? Let’s dig in!

Overall Strategy

Utilizing research and analysis from our deep dive on the correlation and stability of key metrics, here are some takeaways that are important when it comes to ranking wide receivers:

  1. Production at the position is relatively stable
  2. Thus, unlike running backs, quality of the player needs to be balanced with his projected volume
  3. When projecting big-play ability, average depth of target is much more stable than yards after catch/reception and yards/reception
  4. Drop rate, contested-catch rate, and touchdown rate are not stable metrics

As you’ll see, I place a high priority not only on the projected volume, but how those targets will be maximized based on the quality of the receiver. Earlier on, high aDOT players might have too much variance compared to those with a lot of targets, but, later on, you want to chase big-play receivers and embrace that variance. Meanwhile, if a player struggled with drops or poor touchdown luck, they are generally going to be undervalued in subsequent seasons.

Additionally, based on my PFF grade projections for the upcoming season, I was also able to take into the account a few other notable metrics when it comes to each wide receiver’s situation. 

First, listed in each wide receiver’s average opposing pass defense grade projection, ranked from most difficult to easiest schedule:

Similar conclusions can be drawn to this as with the quarterbacks. However, it’s combining the strength of schedule with the quality of the player throwing passes to the wide receivers that helps us evaluate each of their respective situations. With that, using research on the stability of passing grades, here is how each team fares in terms of projected passing grade for the upcoming season:

As you can see, receivers of the Falcons, Bucs, Cowboys, and Bills are in strong situations to succeed. Meanwhile, it’s a difficult time to be a receiver of the Lions, Steelers, and the Giants. All of the first group of teams have high-profile receivers that you may want to consider boosting up your ranks, while the limited quality of the opportunities the second group team’s receivers will have must be factored in.

Finally, utilizing previous research, I also was able to construct projections to forecast each wide receivers’s anticipated fantasy output per game. These projections will continue to be updated as we inch closer to the season:

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Nevertheless, projections are seemly a mean outcome of a wide receiver’s success. Whether it’s the confidence level in said projection, the range of outcomes present, or other factors that may cause their future production to not line up with past years, they should not be expected to be 100% accurate. Rather, they provide the foundation to rankings. With that in mind, let’s rank the top 150 wide receivers for this upcoming fantasy season!

Statistics Courtesy of Pro Football Focus

Rankings

Tier 1: Elite Talents With Elite Volume

Photo via Packers.com

#1: Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers

Usually, it’d be easy to label Davante Adams as the premier fantasy wide receiver. After all, he’s finished in the top-two in PFF expected fantasy points in each of the past two seasons, averaged well over two yards per route run in each of the past three years, and also led the league with a 92.2 PFF receiving grade last season. That is quite the profile! We’ll have to wait to see what happens with Aaron Rodgers, but Adams also has consistently ranked at the top of the league in targets, continues to be used more in the slot, and is simply an incredible talent. Even with the expected touchdown (18) regression, I still am most confident with him as my WR1.

#2: Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

That said, Adams isn’t an easy choice- Tyreek Hill is a fantastic player as well, and offers much more of a big-play skillset. Like Adams, he won’t repeat his touchdown (15) success most likely, yet so could his 9.4% drop rate, and he’s averaged over 2.15 yards/route run in each season of his five-year career. Add in a much more stable quarterback situation, and it’s easy to justify him being the WR1 this year.

#3: Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills

It’s always risky for fantasy when a player changes teams. All of a sudden, he not only has to adjust to a new quarterback, yet has to rely on a new offensive play-caller to utilize his skills properly. With all that uncertainty, it was easy to fade Stefon Diggs in fantasy drafts last year, and I can say I fell victim to this. Well….. that didn’t go as planned. With 127 receptions, 1535 receiving yards, and a 90 PFF receiving grade, Diggs set career highs in every notable category. Now, ironically, one of the best aspects of his profile is situational stability! I feel very confident in his dominance in the intermediate areas of the field, a much more stable aspect of play. Meanwhile, with a super easy schedule and increased usage (31.9% in 2020 vs 16.7% in 2019) in the slot, this is a profile without any red flags.

#4: DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals

Speaking of receivers that changed teams last year, some of the general concerns when it comes to changing teams showed up with DeAndre Hopkins’ first season. Between not being move around much (just a 10.2% slot rate) and a lower average depth of target (9), we can argue whether he was utilized properly. Yet, when you get 154 targets, those concerns are mitigated tremendously. We’re still talking about one of the top receivers in the league, so efficiency isn’t a problem, and Arizona’s pass-heavy nature and thin receiving corps means that there’s no reason not to expect a boatload of targets again. Sign me up!

#5: Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons

Volume is key, and with Julio Jones now a member of the Titans, Calvin Ridley is going to have plenty of it this year in Atlanta! It is typical for wide receivers to reach their peak performance in the third season, and that’s exactly what happened with the 26-year-old. With 2.44 yards/route run, 15.3 yards/reception, and 1374 receiving yards, he not only took over as the premier option in Atlanta, but cemented himself as one of the top receivers in the NFL. It’s rare to find players with high projected targets and such a lofty average depth of target (15.2), and with new head coach Arthur Smith on board, there is so much to like! Matt Ryan isn’t a slouch, he has an easy schedule, and they’ll have to pass a lot. Put it this way, I hope I can have a lot of shares of him in my leagues.

Tier 2: So Close To Tier 1, But Something Small Holding Them Back

Photo via ESPN

#6: Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints

Last season, Michael Thomas was the consensus WR1, which was to be expected after he broke the receptions record in 2018. Now, he’s a fringe top-ten receiver based on ADP. I’m sorry, what? Obviously, last season did not go as planned – only seven games played, 438 receiving yards, 0 touchdowns – but are we going to punish him for being hurt the entire season. Not catching passes from Drew Brees might be seen as a negative for him, yet his numbers without the future hall-of-fame quarterback have been as strong as with him! Assuming Jameis Winston is under center, Thomas will get more opportunities to work down the field, and I expect Winston to cater to him as a contested-catch weapon. With less of a target share going to running backs, the wide receivers will benefit, as will those who capitalize on one of the game’s elite receivers being priced as WR9 currently.

#7: Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings

As mentioned earlier, receivers don’t generally peak until their third season. Well, either Justin Jefferson didn’t get the memo, or that third year is going to be historic! Heck, his rookie season was unprecedented. Who goes from not starting the first two games of the season to averaging 2.66 yards/route run and earning a 90.5 PFF receiving grade? In fact, he only got better as he played more as a strict outside receiver (ironic since he was used only in the slot in college), and there isn’t anything to suggest his production will massively decline this season. Rather, it’s likely we’ll continue to see the 22-year-old pair his vertical receiving skills with tremendous reliability (72.7% catch rate 2020, 82.8% his final year in college)- not something you see everyday!

#8: AJ Brown, Tennessee Titans

Once upon a time, AJ Brown was destined for all of the targets in the world and a tier-one WR1 season. Alas, Julio Jones’ presence in Tennessee relegates Brown back to the second tier, but don’t let that lose all optimism regarding the Ole Miss product’s fantasy outlook! With 2.65+ yards/route run in each of the past two seasons, he’s consistently been one of the most efficient receivers in the NFL and his big-play ability (17.4 Y/REC, 7.3 yards after catch/reception) cannot be matched. Thus, he doesn’t need an absurd amount of targets to produce at a high level, and assuming Tennessee is forced to pass more this season, he might get more opportunities naturally. This might be my favorite receiver to watch in the NFL, and I’m fully expecting another top-notch season this year!

#9: DK Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks

Can you believe that Ole Miss once had Brown and DK Metcalf? What a receiving corps! Similarly to Brown, the 23-year-old Metcalf, although less productive, has also performed well (2.06 yards/route run 2020), especially in the big-play department (15.7 yards/reception 2020). Even when Seattle went to a more conservative approach down the stretch, it was Tyler Locket, not Metcalf, that saw his targets suffer, and there were barely any games last season in which he didn’t produce at a high level. The combination of enough targets + not needing a lot of targets to have a lot of fantasy value is hard to overlook as he heads into the golden third season.

#10: Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers

A polarizing player, three young guns, and …… steady Keenan Allen. It is fun to chase upside, but if you want to get the safest option of the bunch in tier 2, the Chargers’ #1 receiver is your best bet. Over the past four seasons, he has earned a PFF receiving grade of 81.7 or higher, received 125+ targets despite missing some time, and has thrived in multiple different roles. In a new offensive system, I’d love to see his average depth of target (7.3) increase. Quarterback Justin Herbert clearly trusts him, so if his efficiency improves with more yards per reception, we could once again be looking at top-five finish for one of the game’s most consistent receivers.

#11: Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears

A frustrating aspect of fantasy football is that poor quarterback play can often hold back very talented receivers. Well, unless you’re Allen Robinson. Despite catching passes from Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles last season, the 27-year-old ranked as a top-ten receiver last season, and even finished 5th in expected points (poor touchdown luck). As a high-volume receiver who thrives more in contested-catch situations than after the catch, Andy Dalton isn’t the ideal fit, yet it shouldn’t be long before he’s catching passes from Justin Fields, easily his best quarterback of his seven-year career. Add in expected positive regression in his contested catch rate (42.9% vs career 50.8% rate), and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him a career-best season in 2021.

Tier 3: I Like Them, But Do I Love Them?

Photo via Pro Football Talk

#12: Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys

I don’t know why, but it never feels like Amari Cooper gets the recognition he deserves. Whether it’s because of high-draft pedigree, his style of play, or his $100 million contract the narrative around him generally makes it seem like he’s been a disappointment as a former top-five pick. Yet, we’re talking about a player who has ranked in the top-ten in yards/route run last season and has totaled 1000+ yards in all but one season of his career. Last season, it was encouraging to see him used much less as a pure vertical threat and more as a versatile chess piece, which is the best way for him to accumulate optimal fantasy value. Meanwhile, he was the 12th-ranked receiver in expected fantasy points as is, and with Dak Prescott last season, was the WR1 in expected fantasy points. At his current ADP, you’re drafting him below his floor, which is music to my ears!

#13: Terry McLaurin, Washington Football Team

Some quarterbacks get to catch passes from talented quarterbacks, and some get to catch passes from ….. Dwayne Haskins, Case Keenum, Kyle Allen, and post-injury Alex Smith? How Terry McLaurin has been able to be one of the most productive receivers in the NFL over the first two years of his career is a mystery impossible to solve. Or, is he simply just amazing at this lovely game we call football? In his rookie season, the 25-year-old was more successful than last, and that came when utilized much more down the field. Well, considering Ryan Fitzpatrick takes over as the quarterback, that average depth of targets is going UPPPPP. It’s harder to project him moving forward, especially with Washington adding a lot to their receiving corps this offseason, but how can you bet against McLaurin?

#14: CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys

Justin Jefferson set the world on fire last year, but don’t let that cause your to overlook the productive season CeeDee Lamb had in Dallas last season! Working almost exclusively in the slot, the Oklahoma product finished with a very respectable 1.81 yards/route run and 72.6 PFF receiving grade, though doesn’t tell the whole story for the 22-year-old. Over the first five games of the season, he ranked in 12th in both receptions and receiving yards, which is quite impressive for a rookie, and its his numbers that suffered the most when Dak Prescott went down with an injury. On the bright side, Prescott clearly favored Lamb over Michael Gallup, and it’s hard to not be optimistic about a second-year leap for the young receiver. His 10.8% drop rate and 29.4% contested-catch rate will likely improve, he benefits greatly from being a slot receiver, and there is enough volume within this offense for everyone to get their fair share of targets. There’s some projection needed here, yet so much intrigue.

#15: DJ Moore, Carolina Panthers

How can you not admire what DJ Moore has accomplished over the first three years of his career? Since being drafted in the first round of the 2018 draft, the 24-year-old has been nothing short of amazing. Over the past two seasons, he’s averaged well over two yards per route run, had PFF receiving grades around 80, and also has combined for 2368 reaching yards. With a new offensive coordinator in Joe Brady taking over, Moore was utilized much down the field, and assuming he is again this year, there is so much to like. Now, let’s get him an upgrade at the quarterback position!

#16: Julio Jones, Tennessee Titans

There are freaks of nature, and then there is Julio Jones. Put it this way; in a “down year”, he still ranked 4th in yards/route run. That is simply absurd! Now 32-years-old, some may be worried about how much longer Jones can sustain such a high-level production, yet given how high his baseline is, I believe those concerns are a little overblown. I don’t love that he’s in a situation and his target share is difficult to project, yet the upside here is tremendous. Even with the uncertainty, I sure would want to hedge my bets on one of the best receivers of all time!

#17: Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers

If you are a believer in betting on players likely to benefit from positive regression in unstable metrics, then you are going to LOVE Diontae Johnson. The chances that he drops passes at a 13.7% rate, after doing so at just a 4.8% rate in his rookie season, are next to nothing. Thus, not only did he rank 8th in expected fantasy points per game last year, but he that is including two games he barely played in. To put up that type of production when your stats are skewed by a game with Mason Rudolph, being benched at halftime, and getting hurt in two games is ridiculously impressive. He likely won’t be on pace for 181 targets/16 games like he was last year, though he still figures to lead the Steelers in targets by a decent amount. If so, the ceiling could be much higher than this ranking.

#18: Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

If we were ranking players just on real-life value, Chris Godwin might be in the top five. He’s earned a PFF grade above 80 in every season as a pro, has as versatile of a skillset as there is, and was PFF’s most-valuable receiver in 2019. Sadly, though, his fantasy outlook is more murky than you’d like it to be. He was only 28th expected fantasy points per game last season, saw his target share decrease even further with Antonio Brown in the picture, and was utilized much more on shorter routes, limiting his big-play ability. He’s someone I’d want on my team just for the chance he gets more targets than expected based on how talented he is, though this is a situation where we need to separate real-life value from fantasy value.

#19: Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Wait, Mike Evans is being drafted ahead of Chris Godwin? I get that his higher yards/reception is intriguing because he had a similar target share to Godwin last year, but remember that Godwin also is receiving much higher-percentage targets, which makes him less volatile on a week-to-week basis. With how touchdown-dependent he was last year, there were games where he was shut out, and without as much big-play ability with a lower average depth of target (13), there is a lot of risk to this profile. Personally, I’d probably recommend looking at other receivers should he keep his current draft spot (WR13-WR15).

#20: Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings

Touchdown dependent, volatile, inconsistent target share….. that’s also the story with Adam Thielen! His 14 touchdowns last season were much higher than any other season, while his yards/route run was the lowest it was in a full season since 2016; worrisome considering he’s now 30-years-old. That said, he still ranked 15th in expected fantasy points per game despite the touchdown luck, and has his fair share of high-end weeks. Really, how you rank him depends on your expectations on the pass-heavy nature of the Vikings, which is something I’m more skeptical of.

#21: Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks

Volatility, you say? Meet Tyler Lockett. The high-end outcomes with the Seahawks receiver are evident- he had 200 receiving yards and three touchdowns in a Week 7 game at Arizona last season. Unfortunately, there also will be weeks where he has 23 receiving yards (Week 12 at Philadelphia), which is the nature of his style of play. Interestingly, after mainly being a vertical threat for most his career, the 28-year-old Lockett saw his average depth of target (10.2) decrease significantly, which led to a career-low 10.5 yards/reception. Thus, it makes sense that he was more affected when Seattle adopted a much more run-heavy offense, and makes me worried about the low-range of outcomes he could have this season. I love the player and love the upside; I just don’t love head coach Pete Carroll establishing the run.

Tier 4: Want Them on My Team as WR2s

#22: Robert Woods, Los Angeles Rams

Who needs volatility when you can have Robert Woods? The 29-year-old is one of the more consistent week-to-week performers, and has demonstrated the ability to succeed with various average depth of targets. With Matthew Stafford replacing Jared Goff under center, I’d expect Woods to be utilized similar to how he was in 2018 (11.8 aDOT), which led to his most productive season (2.05 yards/route run, 1219 receiving yards) as a pro. The high range of outcomes aren’t there compared to some of the players listed ahead of him, yet there’s something about the lack of risk in his profile that is very intriguing.

#23: Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams

Rinse and repeat with teammate Cooper Kupp. The 28-year-old slot receiver also has been utilized much more in the short passing game, relying on production after the catch and overall reliability to produce strong fantasy numbers. Honestly, with him likely to be on the right side of touchdown regression and less overall uncertainty regarding his role in 2021, I’m a little surprised that there is such a noticeable difference in drafts between him and Woods. In fact, a strong case can be made that Kupp is the better option.

#24: Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals

A rookie receiver ranked in the top 25? That’s how special of a talent Ja’Marr Chase is. Yes, rookies are risky investments to make, but it is impossible to overlook how elite of a prospect the 21-year-old is. As a sophomore at LSU, he earned a 91.3 PFF receiving grade, averaged 3.52 yards/route run, and worked a vertical route tree (14.3 aDOT, 21.2 yards/reception). He now gets to team back up with his college quarterback in Joe Burrow, and is in position to lead a pass-heavy offense in targets. Given his big-play skillset, that could mean a very special season.

#25: Tee Higgins, Cincinnati Bengals

What is it with teammates and being back-to-back in this tier? Even if Chase ends up with more targets, trust me, there will plenty of targets for Tee Higgins as well. From Weeks 2-11, games in which both he and Burrow played in, he was the WR14 in terms of expected points per game, and was on pace for 120 targets with him in that span. It’s easy to forget how many targets were vacated from this offense by parting ways with AJ Green, so volume is not a concern Higgins. Rather, the only reason to worry about the 22-year-old is that you can’t extrapolate data from a limited sample size, and his numbers without Burrow were quite poor. Outside of that, expect a strong sophomore season from a player that had no business falling to the second round of the 2020 draft.

#26: Kenny Golladay, New York Giants

There aren’t many high-end receivers whose BEST trait is dominated in contested-catch situations, but with a career 60.2% contested-catch rate, Kenny Golladay might be the player to trust the most in a 50/50 situation. In fact, he’s actually improved his success there in every season, and although there may be nothing to that, it’s obvious he’s one of the premier deep threats (16.8 yards/reception) in the NFL. With that in mind, his fit with the Giants is a strange one. Daniel Jones only threw a pass 20+ yards down the field on 9.6% of his passes, which is where Golladay is at his best. Now, Jones has been accurate targeting those routes, so the hope is that adding a player of Golladay’s skillset enables more aggressiveness. For me, there is too much uncertainty here for me to feel comfortable in his 2021 outlook.

Tier 5: Certainly Intriguing At The Correct Price

Photo via Still Curtain

#27: Odell Beckham Jr., Cleveland Browns

It is crazy how narratives and recency bias can drive the perception of a player to the extent that it has for Odell Beckham Jr. Apparently, there’s a thought that the Browns offense is better without him? I don’t know about you, but I generally think that offenses are better off with ultra-talented receivers, but that might just be me. If you take out the game he left after one route due to injury, Beckham Jr. averaged nearly 15 expected fantasy points per game to start the season, while he received 6+ targets in five of those six games. Assuming his absurdly low yards after catch/reception (1.9) and catch rate (53.5%) improve back to career norms, you’re looking at someone with WR1 upside, with the high floor even if it doesn’t. Just remember; he didn’t even get to be a part of the offense when it was functioning last season, nor had a full offseason to accumulate to it! The fact that he was as productive as he was considering the circumstances was impressive, making his ACL injury really the only potential drawback to his profile.

#28: Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals

Imagine having an offense with three top-30 receivers! That’s what the Bengals have, and why I’m going to watch as many of their games as possible, no matter how strange that may sound. If you take away two games he left early, Tyler Boyd averaged around 14.5 expected fantasy points per game, and has been as steady of a performer as there is working out of the slot. Remember, this offense had three different receivers get 100+ targets last year. There’s more than enough targets to go around, and based on his remarkable reliability, Boyd is a safe bet to make the most of every opportunity he gets for PPR formats.

#29: Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos

It’s easy to forget because he missed almost all of the 2020 season due to a torn ACL, but Courtland Sutton ranked 21st in expected fantasy points per game in 2019. In fact, the massive leap he took during that season (80.5 PFF receiving grade, 2.08 yards/route run) is extremely impressive, particularly when factoring in that he caught passes from Joe Flacco, Brandon Allen, and Drew Lock. Now, the quarterback situation is still poor, and targets will be harder to come by this season, yet Sutton’s high air-yard totals give him a very high ceiling, especially if Drew Lock wins the quarterback job (he’ll give him more opportunities). The rationale around draft him really depends how much risk you can afford to take.

#30: Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers

Last year really was the year of the rookie receiver! What if I told you that Brandon Aiyuk ranked 9th in expected fantasy points per game this season, yet can be drafted much lower than that? Sadly, that is mainly justified. See, a lot of the 23-year-old fantasy value came from an extremely high target share down the stretch. Yet, with Deebo Samuel and George Kittle back in the fold, and the 49ers likely to have more leads than they had in 2019, it’s quite likely that his overall volume numbers take a hit. I absolute love his skillset as a player, though you’re really banking on him usurping Samuel to invest an early-round pick on him.

#31: Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh Steelers

How a player finishes his season often sticks with us more than what they did for the entire season. It is an unfortunate bias that is difficult to overcome, and is something that may affect Chase Claypool. For the first half of the season, the 22-year-old was on a tear, but the team limited his snaps down the stretch, which limited his overall numbers. Still, Claypool managed to post two yards/route run despite being in a very low aDOT offense, making his presence felt after the catch (5.4 yards after catch/reception) and down the field (13.8 aDOT). Whereas Juju Smith-Schuster is on a one-year deal, Claypool is an ascending young piece of Pittsburgh’s offense, so it’d be silly to expect his target share not to be even better this season. Thus, even if the Steelers pass the ball less frequently, he’ll still receive enough opportunities to thrive, even if the pathway to elite fantasy success was made more difficult by the team’s offseason moves.

#32: DJ Chark Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars

Clearly, receivers have been able to burst onto the scene as a rookie, yet that isn’t always the case. Take DJ Chark Jr., for instance. With just a 51.6 PFF receiving grade and 0.90 yards/route run, he had as poor of a rookie season as one could have, but has improved greatly since then. Overall, his 1.6 yards/route run since then is super impressive, keep in mind the poor quarterback play and no offensive continuity has hurt him significantly. Now, he’ll be catching passes from Trevor Lawrence. With how much Jacksonville likely will have to pass in 2021, the upgrade at quarterback, and likely positive variance in terms of his 57.6% catch rate (8.6% drop rate), there is a lot pointing towards to a breakthrough fourth season for the 24-year-old; you’ll have to bake in some risk, though.

#33: Robby Anderson, Carolina Panthers

Poor quarterback play is one thing, but failing to be utilized properly is as great of a hinderance when it comes to a wide receiver’s ability to produce at a high level. For the first four seasons, Robby Anderson was strictly a deep threat for the Jets, to which his production was relatively inconsistent. The world, however, was gifted with him being paired with a smart offensive mind in Joe Brady, which led to a career-best season for him in Carolina. Worked much more in the short passing game and in the slot (9.8 aDOT, 32.6% SLT), Anderson had the first 1000-yard season of his career, demonstrating great prowess when it came to producing after the catch (5.3 yards after catch/reception). Being paired again with Sam Darnold again isn’t ideal, though Teddy Bridgewater wasn’t especially accurate last year, so I’m not sure it will hurt him as much. In Joe Brady we trust.

Tier 6: Would Prefer as a Flex Spot/WR3 Ideally

Photo via Sun Sentinel

#34: Devonta Smith, Philadelphia Eagles

#35: Jerry Jeudy, Denver Broncos

#36: Jaylen Waddle, Miami Dolphins

#37: Will Fuller V, Miami Dolphins

I promise you, I did not rank Smith, Jeudy, and Waddle together on purpose! To think that Alabama had all three of these players, in addition to Henry Ruggs, is absurd. Smith immediately inserts himself as the #1 receiver in Philadelphia after a historic senior season last year, but between some physicality concerns and lackluster quarterback play, there are some questions that relegate him to this tier. Poor quarterback play also figures to continue to be an issue for Jeudy, who is likely to get positive regression from his 18.8% drop rate, but also will lose targets to Courtland Sutton and continue to suffer from inadequate passing.

Then, there’s new teammates Waddle and Fuller. Fuller is the more proven commodity, though he will be suspended for a game and Waddle has more familiar with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Even if Tagovailoa fails to be aggressive throwing down the field, both offer enough after the catch to produce at a high-enough level to warrant flex/WR3 consideration, with considerable upside if one of them takes greater share of targets. I guess it just depends on your need for speed!

#38: Antonio Brown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

#39: Brandin Cooks, Houston Texans

#40: Curtis Samuel, Washington Football Team

#41: Juju Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers

#42: Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers

#43: Jarvis Landry, Cleveland Browns

Used much more in the short passing game, Curtis Samuel had his best season in terms of real-life value in 2020. He’ll likely move back outside and work a vertical route tree now that he’s reunited with old offensive coordinator Scott Turner, but he still averaged 13 expected fantasy points in that role, as more air yards makes him more appealing for fantasy. Brown might be one of the best receivers of all time, and is a great value if you can get past his off-field issues. That said, I can completely understand if you don’t think he lasts the whole season or just don’t want to draft him. Then, there’s his former teammate. Juju Smith-Schuster started to work a more vertical route tree at the end of the season, but he’s also averaged just 1.37 yards/route over the past two seasons- you’re drafting him expecting him to be more of the player he was in his first two seasons, when he benefitted greatly from better quarterback play and playing alongside Brown. Cooks has been extremely consistent and figures to be the top option in Houston’s passing game, yet the efficiency of his targets could be very poor with the worst quarterback play he’s ever had to deal with. Furthermore, Samuel (2.2 aDOT) and Landry (11.7 yards/reception) each will be useful in PPR just based on their receptions, though they’re completely reliant on yards after catch- their ceiling is limited.

#44: Corey Davis, New York Jets

#45: Laviska Shenault Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars

#46: Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers

#47: Michael Gallup, Dallas Cowboys

The range of outcomes with these players is wide, though their style of play makes them intriguing. Davis has a chance to be the #1 receiver for a pass-heavy Jets offense next season, and although his efficiency will take a hit in a less-favorable situation, his volume numbers may go up. Shenault Jr. figures to be utilized much more as a traditional receiver this season, to which he could be heading towards a breakthrough year based on his rookie year, college track record, and the opportunities he’ll get. Williams and Gallup, meanwhile, are efficient vertical threats, though both are secondary options in their respective offense’s passing attacks and thus might be volatile on a week-to-week basis.

Tier 7: Bench Stashes Part 1

Photo via New York Jets

#48: Cole Beasley, Buffalo Bills

#49: Marquise Brown, Baltimore Ravens

#50: Devante Parker, Miami Dolphins

#51: Mecole Hardman, Kansas City Chiefs

#52: Marvin Jones Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars

All of these players have questions regarding their pecking order in the passing game. Beasley has finished 41st and 39th, respectively, in 2020 and 2019 when it comes to expected fantasy points per game, though you’re really just drafting him hoping for a high-reception total. Brown, meanwhile, is the exact opposite as a true deep threat, though between his volatility and some of the additions Baltimore had made to their receiving corps, I’m skeptical of his fantasy value this season. The same goes for Parker, who’ll go from being the alpha #1 receiver to sharing targets with Will Fuller, Jaylen Waddle, among others.

If there are two players that can ascend themselves from this tier, I believe it’d be Hardman and Jones Jr. Does anyone realize that Hardman has had a similar target/route run number as Tyreek Hill with elite production after the catch? (8.8 yards after catch/reception). Sadly, Andy Reid doesn’t appear to have based on the limited amount of routes Hardman has been asked to run, and so much of the Chiefs offense is condensed between Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. As for the 31-year-old Jones Jr., he’s quietly been very productive in Detroit, though a lot of that was due to a much higher target share than he may have in Jacksonville. Considering his talent is mostly not in question, however, he’s an intriguing option in this range.

#53: Elijah Moore, New York Jets

#54: Michael Pittman Jr., Indianapolis Colts

#55: Darnell Mooney, Chicago Bears

#56: Henry Ruggs III, Las Vegas Raiders

#57: Jaelon Reagor, Philadelphia Eagles

Let the young bucks shine! Outside of Moore, all of these players are looking to make major strides forward in their second seasons, though the Ole Miss product still ranks supreme. Simply put, I think there’s a great chance that Moore ends up the player every fantasy team owner wish they had drafted. He earned a 92.4 PFF receiving grade in his final year of college, projects as a high-volume receiver with a lot of receptions, and all indications from training camp are that he could be the WR1 in the Jets offense. That’s quite enticing for such a talented prospect.

Of the second-year players, it really is about picking your position. Mooney was the most productive, yet comes with less of a track record of college success and it’s unclear how he’ll mesh with Andy Dalton next season. Ruggs III and Reagor, meanwhile, offer similar big-play ability, even if both had very questionable rookie season. As the first receiver taken in the 2020 draft, I’d expect Ruggs to get a greater target share in Las Vegas, while Reagor came on down the stretch with Jalen Hurts and was hurt tremendously simply based on Carson Wentz’s ineffectiveness under center. On the contrary, Pittman Jr. was used in the intermediate passing game and produced based on his abilities to make plays after the catch. He offers the least value per touch, but also has the best chance of receiving the most volume of this group to be effective.

#58: Sterling Shepard, New York Giants

#59: TY Hilton, Indianapolis Colts

#60: Rashod Bateman, Baltimore Ravens

#61: Parris Campbell, Indianapolis Colts

#62: Rondale Moore, Arizona Cardinals

It is very difficult to project the Colts’ passing pecking order this season with Carson Wentz now under center. Being a 31-year-old deep threat isn’t great when projecting TY Hilton moving forward, and given Wentz’s inaccuracy down the field and Hilton’s inability to produce in poor quarterback situations, there’s a chance things could go poorly next season. Campbell, on the other hand, has very little track record whatsoever, but works in the slot, could eat into Hilton’s downfield targets, and is someone the coaching staff clearly values- there’s more variance with him.

Variance is generally not a factor with Sterling Shepard, though the Giants’ additions with their receiving corps makes it very unlikely he receives a similar target share this year. As someone with no guaranteed money left on his contract after this year and no touchdown upside, you’re really banking on Daniel Jones continuing to be as conservative as one can be.

Then, we see a couple more rookies make their way on this list. Ironically, Rashod Bateman and Rondale Moore could not be more different when it comes to their play style. Bateman’s production down the field at Minnesota is on full display, and as a more reliable option, there’s a decent chance he overtakes Marquise Brown as the Ravens’ target leader at the wide receiver position. Moore, meanwhile, will be used much more in a “gadget” role with a very short average depth of target, though this offers a) more ways for him to contribute and b) a higher certainty that he’ll be consistently involved. In dynasty, I’d greatly prefer Bateman, though it’s much closer for redraft leagues.

#63: Nelson Agholor, New England Patriots

#64: Breshad Perriman, Detroit Lions

Agholor and Perriman are big-play receivers who might lead their respective wide receivers in targets, but do you want to put stock into the Patriots and Lions when it comes to passing the football. Both aren’t great fits for their respective quarterbacks, so not only will their efficiency potentially be very poor, but there might be less volume than anticipated.

Tier 8: Bench Stashes Part 2

Photo via NFL.Com

#65: Tre’Quan Smith, New Orleans Saints

#66: Gabriel Davis, Buffalo Bills

#67: John Brown, Las Vegas Raiders

#68: Russell Gage, Atlanta Falcons

#69: Jamison Crowder, New York Jets

#70: Emmanuel Sanders, Buffalo Bills

Is this the Tre’Quan Smith breakout year? We can all hope! The 25-year-old’s best season was his rookie year, and if he’s utilized similar as a contested-catch vertical threat with Jameis Winston under center, he could be a factor as New Orleans’ #2 receiver. He offers very similar big-play upside to Gabriel Davis and John Brown, whereas Brown’s replacement, Emmanuel Sanders, is the best real-life receiver of the bunch but doesn’t offer that same “boom” potential without enough targets.

With Julio Jones now with the Titans, could this lead to a major role for Russell Gage? He was quietly very productive last season, though his yards/route run (1.52) indicates that was more due to sheer volume than anything else. Still behind Calvin Ridley and Kyle Pitts, I’m not sure his target share will be high enough to justify lackluster efficiency numbers now that he won’t get as much time in the slot. Speaking of, I wonder if Jamison Crowder also plays more on the outside with the emergence of Elijah Moore in New York. He relies a lot on targets for fantasy value, but he’s also a monster after the catch and could get a higher target share than expected, so he’s worth monitoring.

#71: Nico Collins, Houston Texans

#72: Christian Kirk, Arizona Cardinals

#73: Terrace Marshall Jr., Carolina Panthers

#74: Allen Lazard, Green Bay Packers

#75: Amon-Ra St.Brown, Detroit Lions

Rookie alert! My pre-draft projection analysis was quite high on Nico Collins, who averaged 19.7 yards/reception as a junior at Michigan, suffered from poor quarterback play, and tested out very well athletically. Now, ineffective quarterback play could be a factor in Houston, though he also has the easiest path to targets of anyone else ranked similarly. That is, besides Amon-Ra St.Brown, who is the type of reliable, lower aDOT slot receiver Jared Goff may cater to, though he’s more reliant on targets than Collins. As for Terrace Marshall Jr., many thought he was a first-round talent and he’s rank higher with a more certain role. That said, we aren’t even sure he starts as the team’s #3 receivers, and it’s important to remember how many targets will go to DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, and Christian McCaffrey.

Christian Kirk’s efficiency numbers have taken a hit since head coach Kliff Kingsbury took over, though that at least matters less with how pass-heavy Arizona’s offense is. Lazard, meanwhile, was on a tear for the first three games of the year before going down with injury. There’s some “upside” if he regains his role in the Packers offense, though there’s nothing to suggest that will happen.

#76: Denzel Mims, New York Jets

#77: Jakobi Meyers, New England Patriots

#78: Darius Slayton, New York Giants

#79: Ka’Darius Toney, New York Giants

#80: KJ Hamler, Denver Broncos

As a Denzel Mims supporter, I’d like an explanation why he’s been getting snaps with the team’s second-team receivers! He performed quite well in games not quarterbacked by Sam Darnold, and his high aDOT-style would seemingly pair well with Zach Wilson. Sigh. I guess we’ll look elsewhere in the Big Apple, where the Giants aren’t making lives easier for fantasy owners as well by drafting Ka’Darius Toney in the first round. As a different animal after the catch, I’d expect Toney to work in a similar “gadget” role to Rondale Moore, though there’s overall less passing likely with the Giants offense. That isn’t great news for Darius Slayton, who becomes more redundant with Kenny Golladay on board and whose numbers look a lot worse if you adjust for his projected target share this season.

Volume-adjusted numbers also don’t point a pretty picture for Jakobi Meyers. His 2.24 yards/route run was remarkable last season, yet 24 of his 78 targets came in just two games and New England has added a lot to their receiving corps- there isn’t much big-play ability present. That isn’t a concern with KJ Hamler, though do you really want the fourth option of a passing game quarterbacked by Drew Lock? (Sorry Broncos fans!)

#81: DeSean Jackson, Los Angeles Rams

#82: Randall Cobb, Houston Texans

#83: Tyrell Williams, Detroit Lions

#84: AJ Green, Arizona Cardinals

#85: Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Green Bay Packers

I remember the days where DeSean Jackson was an elite deep threat, Randall Cobb was a prolific receiver, and AJ Green was considered on of the true “alpha” receivers in the NFL. Sadly, that time is no longer now. Jackson will have to compete for targets just do be the third receiver with the Rams offense, though he offers value-per-touch upside that only Valdes-Scantling, who is in a similar situation can match. Cobb, Williams, and Green, to boot, may all receive more targets, though there’s not a lot that you can expect to happen with those opportunities.

Full Rankings

Superlatives

  • Best Values: Michael Thomas, Diontae Johnson, Odell Beckham Jr., Antonio Brown, Tyler Boyd
  • Least-Optimal Values: Mike Evans, Marquise Brown, Robert Woods
  • Most Intriguing Late-Round Targets (Non Rookie): Mecole Hardman, Tre’Quan Smith
  • Most Exciting Rookies (Value): Elijah Moore, Ja’Marr Chase (duh)
  • Players With Widest Range of Outcomes: Tyler Lockett, Kenny Golladay, Chase Claypool, Brandon Aiyuk

3 thoughts on “Fantasy Football 2021 Wide Receiver Rankings + Projections

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