Must-Have Wide Receivers (2021 Fantasy Football)
If anyone reading this is familiar with Cold Stone Creamery, you’ll know that the ice cream chain’s three sizes are not small, medium, and large. They are “like it,” “love it,” and “gotta have it.” Those sizes represent the customers’ desire for ice cream, with “gotta have it” being the largest. Today, I’m going to name wide receivers equivalent to that ice cream sizing. These are my “must-have” receivers, guys who I love nearly as much as a hand-blended Kit-Kat ice cream in a waffle cone.
All players shown with current Expert Consensus Ranking
Stefon Diggs (BUF): WR3
Was there a more surprising performance in 2020 than what we saw from Diggs? He led the NFL in receptions (127) and receiving yards (1,535) in his first season with the Bills and set new career highs in those categories. He and Josh Allen both broke out in 2020, and the connection between the two seems strong and lasting. Buffalo replaced John Brown with Emmanuel Sanders in the offseason and will return Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis in the receiving corps. That leaves Diggs as the clear alpha, and as long as Josh Allen continues to play at the elite level he did in 2020, there’s no reason Diggs can’t be a highly-productive WR1 in 2021 and beyond.
A.J. Brown (TEN): WR5
This one seems like a no-brainer, especially as Brown has risen all the way to WR5 in our current ECR. But, I can’t not mention him in this article. The Titans lost Corey Davis, Jonnu Smith, Kalif Raymond, and Adam Humphries in free agency, and that foursome combined for 207 targets in 2020. The Titans made no significant signings in the receiving corps save for Josh Reynolds, so Brown should be a target monster, a la Davante Adams. Brown finished the 2020 campaign with 106 targets, and with so many looks up for grabs in 2021, he could be in line for a ridiculously-high target share. Volume is king in fantasy sports, and Brown should have that in spades for the upcoming season. He has overall WR1 upside, and reaching for him ahead of his current ranking would not be a bad move at all.
Tyler Lockett (SEA): WR25
Ok, so Lockett was a bit boom-or-bust in 2020… so what? The narrative that his up-and-down campaign is a huge knock on his 2021 value is laughable and one that I can’t get behind at all. Over each of the last three seasons, Lockett has seen his targets and receptions increase. In that span, he’s averaged better than 1,000 yards and scored a whopping 28 times. If you’re concerned with his weekly peaks and valleys, I would suggest staying away from Tyreek Hill and Amari Cooper. A little more consistency would be nice to see from Lockett, but he just went 100/10,54/10. For the life of me, I can’t buy into him ranked as low as WR25. While other fantasy managers are looking down their noses at Lockett, I’ll be drafting him as a steal in any draft I can.
DeVonta Smith (PHI): WR44
Is there any rookie wideout better set up for immediate success? Philadelphia’s receiving corps is one of the least impressive in the NFL, and Smith should be able to find immediate success as the team’s WR1 in his rookie campaign. In his final year at Alabama, Smith went 117/1,856/23 en route to a Heisman Trophy. Though he was selected after Ja’Marr Chase and Jaylen Waddle, Smith is in the best position to produce at an elite level right out of the gate. The Eagles’ current receivers group is headlined by Travis Fulgham and Jalen Reagor. Smith should be Jalen Hurts‘ favorite target and far exceed his current ranking as a low-end WR4.
Mecole Hardman (KC): WR61
Hardman could easily disappoint again in 2021, but at WR61, he can be had as the last pick in your draft as an upside dart throw. Hardman finished third on the Chiefs in targets last season behind Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, but with Sammy Watkins out of town, there’s reason to remain optimistic. Hardman is a home-run hitter in one of the NFL’s most prolific offenses, and he’s a guy who I want on my fantasy team. He set new career highs in targets (65), receptions (41) and receiving yards (560) in his second season, and if he can take another step forward in 2021 with some positive touchdown regression (only four scores in 2020), the sky’s the limit. Factor in a potential lead role if Tyreek Hill is forced to miss time, and Hardman is an easy end-of-draft selection.
Breshad Perriman (DET): WR69
Perriman is going undrafted based on his current ranking, but I can’t understand it. He joins a Lions team that lost Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola in the offseason. Perriman will be an immediate starter alongside Tyrell Williams or Quintez Cephus in what is arguably the worst receiving corps in the NFL. Jared Goff has got to throw to someone other than TJ Hockenson and D’Andre Swift, and Perriman should be that guy. He’s averaged a healthy 16.5 yards per reception throughout his five-year NFL career, and that big-play ability should lend itself to plenty of fantasy-relevant production in 2021. A team’s WR1 ranked at WR69 is an unbelievable value that I’m taking full advantage of wherever possible.
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