Wide Receivers to Avoid (2021 Fantasy Football)
With Free Agency and Draft season in the rearview mirror, it’s now time to look ahead to the 2021 Fantasy Football season. Expert Consensus Rankings remain fluid, but it’s never too early to start analyzing trends in the data. With that said, let’s take a look at four wide receivers that I’ll be avoiding this season based on the early data.
Julio Jones (ATL): WR13
I get it. Julio Jones has had an incredible career and “when healthy” is always a top-10 wide receiver. But the guy missed seven games a season ago and had to leave early from another two with multiple nagging injuries. At 32 years old, it’s hard to imagine it’s going to get any easier for Jones to play full games, let alone play a full season.
Only 4 WRs aged 32 or older (as of Week 1) managed a top-20 fantasy finish over the past five seasons. That's 4 out of 100.
Julio Jones is 32 years old. Will he be a rare exception?
— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) May 3, 2021
If the nagging injuries and age aren’t a concern for you, then what about Kyle Pitts? The Falcons made it a priority to select the most polished pass-catcher in the Draft with the Number 4 overall pick. Make no mistake about it, Pitts is more than just your run-of-the-mill tight end. He’s basically Travis Kelce and will be deployed as such. He’s sure to eat up a bunch of targets in the passing game.
There have also been rumors that teams have inquired about trading for the All-Pro wide receiver. If that happens, his fantasy value becomes even more of a mystery heading into the 2021 season than it would be in Atlanta. As it stands currently, the ECR ranks him above both Amari Cooper (WR16) and CeeDee Lamb (WR19). At that price point, I’ll surely be steering clear of Julio Jones this season.
Brandon Aiyuk (SF): WR24
The 49ers averaged the 14th-most rushing attempts per game a season ago. That was with Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Mullens, and C.J. Beathard combining for 25 rushing attempts. During his sophomore season at North Dakota State, Trey Lance ran the ball 169 times in 16 games. Assuming Lance is the starter on Day One, the 49ers could very well become a “run-first” team, much like the Ravens, Patriots, and Titans were in 2020.
You could probably fade 49ers wide receivers at their current ECR based on that information alone, but there’s even more data that suggests why you might want to fade Aiyuk as the WR24. Let’s take a look at Aiyuk’s splits with and without Deebo Samuel and George Kittle on the field. In four games with both Samuel and Kittle on the field, Aiyuk managed just 3.3 receptions for 47.3 yards on 5.3 targets per game. In eight games without either one of Samuel or Kittle, Aiyuk averaged 5.9 receptions for 69.9 yards on 9.4 targets per game. And believe it or not, Aiyuk was on the field for over 85% of the snaps in the four games Samuel and Kittle were active, so it’s not like he didn’t play.
With a run-first attack led by rookie quarterback Trey Lance, and with a healthy Deebo Samuel and George Kittle, it’s going to be extremely tough for Brandon Aiyuk to live up to his current ECR of WR24 this season.
Will Fuller V (MIA): WR32
Fuller saw 6.8 targets per game on a Texans team that attempted 34.1 passes per game in 2020. That was good for a 20% target share. He joins a Dolphins team this season that has a bunch of mouths to feed in the passing game. Last season, DeVante Parker saw a 21.1% target share, and he’s still there in Miami. No other Dolphins wide receiver saw more than a 12.6% target share (Isaiah Ford). It’s certainly possible Fuller develops immediate chemistry with Tua Tagovailoa and becomes the alpha, but it’s also possible he doesn’t and is in more of a committee than fantasy managers would like.
The Dolphins have clearly made it a priority this offseason to surround their second-year quarterback with as much offensive firepower as possible in order to garner his success. While that’s good for Tagovailoa and the Miami offense as a whole, it’s not great for Fuller. Jaylen Waddle has top-10 Draft capital, so he’s going to be utilized early and often in this offense. Parker will still get his targets. Lynn Bowden Jr. showed what he was capable of down the stretch last season.
#Dolphins 2021 offense
QB Tua Tagovailoa
RB Myles Gaskin
RB Malcolm Brown
WR DeVante Parker
WR Will Fuller
WR Jaylen Waddle
WR Preston Williams
WR Lynn Bowden Jr.
WR Jakeem Grant
TE Mike Gesicki
TE Durham Smythe
TE Adam Shaheen
— Josh Tolentino (@JCTSports) April 30, 2021
The Dolphins have also averaged a mere 1.4 passing touchdowns per game over the last two seasons. Deshaun Watson and the Texans meanwhile averaged 2.1 passing touchdowns per game a season ago, which led to eight Fuller touchdowns (24.2% share). If Fuller has the same touchdown percentage in 2021 with the Dolphins, that will equate to just over five touchdowns.
As it currently stands, I’d rather have Tyler Boyd (WR35), Ja’Marr Chase (WR36), and Curtis Samuel (WR38) than Fuller (WR32) in 2021 with the uncertainty surrounding the distribution of targets in Miami.
Marquise Brown (BAL): WR41
Marquise Brown finished as WR34 in half-PPR leagues a season ago. His 9.63 points per game were fewer than Sterling Shepard (10.79) and just above Emmanuel Sanders (9.59). That type of production doesn’t match the hype that surrounded Brown in 2020. He reached the century mark in targets, but is it possible he did that as the “only game in town?” It’s clear the Ravens wanted to bolster their receiving corps, so much so that they went out and signed Sammy Watkins during free agency and selected Rashod Bateman with their first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
The only other wide receiver options at Lamar Jackson‘s disposal a season ago were Willie Snead IV, Miles Boykin, and rookie third-round pick Devin Duvernay. Together, they combined to see just 107 targets. The Ravens could have sat still and rolled with a similar situation in 2021, but they didn’t. They clearly felt it was necessary to have a more balanced passing attack than it was to force-feed Brown 100 targets. Jackson now has at least three legitimate options to target at the wide receiver position heading into the upcoming season as opposed to just one or two in 2020.
Baltimore now has Mark Andrews, Rashod Bateman, Marquise Brown, Sammy Watkins and Tylan Wallace
They’ve passed the fewest in the NFL since Lamar took over – I’m not sure if this is them wanting to throw more or just have better weapons for when they do throw
— Michael F. Florio (@MichaelFFlorio) May 1, 2021
If the new distribution of targets isn’t enough to concern you, what about the style of play in Baltimore? The Ravens were the most run-heavy offense a season ago, with a league-most 34.6 rushing attempts per game and a league-least 25.9 passing attempts per game. They finished the year with an 11-5 record, so don’t expect the formula on offense to change a whole lot.
The Ravens’ style of play mixed with the increased number of viable options in the passing game has me avoiding Brown at his current ADP (WR41) this season. I have a hard time envisioning he’s going to finish higher than a few guys he’s currently ranked above, including DeVonta Smith (WR44), Laviska Shenault Jr. (WR45), and Michael Gallup (WR46). I could even make an argument for Cole Beasley (WR52) ahead of the Ravens’ third-year wide receiver this season. For the multiple reasons mentioned above, I’ll be avoiding Brown at his current ADP in 2021. Even as the “only game in town” in 2020, Brown caught just 3.6 balls per game.
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