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Wide Receivers to Avoid (2021 Fantasy Football)

by Kevin Tompkins | @ktompkinsii | Featured Writer
Feb 27, 2021

As we get deeper into the offseason, we all have our favorite targets at each position. There will invariably be those players that for whatever reason, we always skip in the draft queue to take a player that we have much better feelings on, that are in a perceived better situation, have a better quarterback throwing to them, and so on.

At the wide receiver position, there’s unmatched depth in comparison to the other positions as the NFL truly becomes “a passing league”. Still, the receiver position is not without warts littered within its rankings, so we’re going to highlight a few that have some warning signs attached to them, making them wide receivers you should be avoiding.

Expert consensus rankings are for 0.5 PPR leagues and can be found here.

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Deebo Samuel (WR – SF)
Samuel was bitten by the injury bug before the 2020 NFL season even began, suffering a Jones fracture in his foot in mid-June. A Jones fracture is one of the worst possible injuries for a player to get and his timetable for a return was 12 to 16 weeks. All Samuel had to do was look over to his fellow wide receiver Trent Taylor to see how damaging that particular fracture can be, undergoing five surgeries on that foot and eventually missing the whole 2019 season. Research from the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports done in 2018 showed that “50 percent of all players with a previous Jones fracture demonstrated incomplete healing.”

In Week 4, we did see the return of Samuel to the 49ers’ lineup, but he only played seven games but played pretty well in spurts and held a sliver of fantasy relevance as a WR3 for those managers who stuck it out with him through the season.

A statistic that shocked me in doing research was Samuel’s average depth of target (aDOT) of 2.4 yards per target.

Another big negative for Samuel is Brandon Aiyuk’s ascension as the top deep target for the 49ers. When San Francisco gets their weapons playing together, Samuel will likely be the third target in that offense. That’s not even factoring in the running game where we know head coach Kyle Shanahan loves to run the ball at the second-highest clip in the NFL in 2020. Of receivers that had at least 40 receiving targets, Samuel had the worst aDOT in the NFL by far in 2020. There has not been a wide receiver who has reached 1,000 yards with an aDOT of fewer than 5 yards since 2010.

At Samuel’s current average draft position (ADP), which right now stands at WR34, I’m still not comfortable taking him there with the receivers around him having a much higher upside to tier jump. His floor is very high, but his ceiling is relatively low. He’s not somebody I’m targeting very often, if at all in fantasy leagues.

Marquise Brown (WR – BAL)
We expected more out of “Hollywood” Brown in 2020. Sure, his targets bumped up from 71 to an even 100 in year two. He raised his fantasy production a bit, but he still ended up as WR34 on the season. While that finish equates to low-end WR3 in fantasy terms, we thought that he would assert himself more than he has in year two. So what’s going on with Brown?

Well, he only had one game with more than five receptions, one game over 100 yards receiving, and his overall consistency was lacking, though he scored half of his touchdowns in weeks 12 through 16. In 12 out of his 16 games, he had less than five receptions or less than 50 yards. Where is this “upside” we’ve heard so much about? I don’t see Brown’s 2021 upside in a run-first offense like Baltimore’s.

As it stands, the Ravens really could use a prototypical “X” receiver in free agency or the NFL draft. For 2021, it’s likely not going to be Brown as the sole downfield target. It’s hard to throw support behind more than one option in the passing game in an offense that threw the ball 376 times (a league-low in 2020). We know Mark Andrews will get his and will be drafted relatively high based on the tight end position’s inherent positional scarcity. If the Ravens go out and get a receiver, that’s just going to bump Brown down to “I like him better in best-ball” levels. I mean, he already may be at that level.

Right now, Brown’s ADP sits at WR39. I’m not drafting him there, and if an addition to the Ravens’ passing game happens to become a reality, Brown could take a tumble down the rankings even further. 

Darius Slayton (WR – NYG)
FantasyPros’ own Isaiah Sirois hit the nail on the head the last offseason correctly targeting Slayton as a screaming negative regression candidate. He finished WR55 in half-PPR and WR72 in points per game. His 2020 statistics looked an awful lot like his 2019 except in one glaring and ultimately damning area: touchdowns.

Slayton couldn’t even get downfield that often with the Giants’ offense having the sixth-worst 15-plus air yard pass attempts in the league, Daniel Jones‘ struggles, and the just weird playcalling of offensive coordinator Jason Garrett.

With Kyle Yates selecting Devonta Smith in his latest mock draft, it’s clear the Giants could use another playmaker to put a spark into the passing game. Golden Tate is likely gone from the Giants, leaving Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram, and Slayton as the remaining pass-catchers. If Giants GM Dave Gettleman decides to add another pass-catcher via free agency or the draft, Slayton will continue his slide down the target hierarchy as one of those “I like him better in best-ball” receivers. Even at WR53 in FantasyPros’ consensus rankings, I’m holding off.

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Whether you’re new to fantasy football or a seasoned pro, our Fantasy Football 101: Strategy Tips & Advice page is for you. You can get started with Starting Your Own Fantasy Football League or head to more advanced strategy – like What is the Right Amount of Risk to Absorb on Draft Day? – to learn more.

Kevin Tompkins is a correspondent at FantasyPros. To read more from Kevin, check out his archive and follow him @ktompkinsii.

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