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WR3s with WR1 Potential (2021 Fantasy Football)

by Jared Lese | @JaredL_FF | Featured Writer
May 28, 2021

With the increased focus on passing in the NFL, the wide receiver position has become overly saturated with plenty of viable options. Teams continue to utilize 11 personnel (i.e., 1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) formations, enabling fantasy managers to target running backs and tight ends early in their drafts while waiting to take receivers until the middle rounds.

To give you some perspective, a receiver with a mid-range ADP has produced immense numbers in each of the most recent seasons (e.g., Stefon Diggs and Justin Jefferson in 2020, DeVante Parker and A.J. Brown in 2019, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Robert Woods in 2018), presenting fantasy managers with high returns on investments.

So, as we enter the 2021 season, which WR3s can return WR1 value? Often, we’re looking for players who disappointed fantasy managers the prior year. Also, receivers who performed well in a limited capacity and are anticipated to see increased utilization in the current season work, too. I’ve selected three receivers ranked outside of the top-24 currently who may offer WR1 upside this upcoming season, each with a unique twist to their 2021 outlook.

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Tee Higgins (CIN)

A popular sophomore currently ranked as the WR27, some analysts anticipate that Higgins will take the next step as the heir apparent WR1 to A.J. Green in Cincinnati. Higgins finished as the WR30 in half PPR leagues last year — his rookie season — with 67 catches on 108 targets for 908 yards (he added 28 rushing yards, too, for what it’s worth) and six touchdowns.

He did so despite underwhelming quarterback play after the catastrophic Week 11 knee injury to franchise quarterback Joe Burrow. In the five games following Burrow’s injury, excluding Week 17, where he saw just 1 target, Higgins amassed 23 catches on 36 targets from Ryan Finley and Brandon Allen. With an anticipated healthy Burrow in 2021, Higgins may be able to follow in the footsteps of Tyreek Hill, DeAndre Hopkins, and D.K. Metcalf, by having an impressive sophomore season and finishing as a fantasy WR1.

D.J. Chark Jr. (JAC)

Many fantasy managers saw D.J. Chark Jr. as a potential breakout player in 2020 after his impressive sophomore season in 2019. That year, he caught 73 of his 118 targets for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns. However, with sporadic injuries and generally volatile performances, Chark was seen as one of the several receiver busts in 2020.

Things are looking up for Chark this year. Unsurprisingly, the Jacksonville Jaguars drafted Trevor Lawrence, who has been touted as the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck, with the top pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. It’s also clear that the Jaguars are trying to boost their passing game in 2021, as conveyed by the addition of Marvin Jones in free agency. He has been a solid deep threat in his several seasons with Cincinnati and Detroit. However, this move shouldn’t worry fantasy managers as it relates to Chark’s stock, as Jones has often been the complementary receiver to the true alpha on his teams (i.e., A.J. Green in Cincinnati and Kenny Golladay in Detroit).

Furthermore, with upcoming sophomore Laviska Shenault primarily working the short-to-intermediate portion of the field, Chark should remain the WR1 for the Jaguars. With a current ranking of WR30 in FantasyPros’ expert consensus rankings (ECR) and an ADP of WR29 in half-PPR leagues, per Fantasy Football Calculator, Chark offers fantasy managers an amazing opportunity to get a potential alpha receiver at a negligible price.

Brandin Cooks (HOU)

I oscillated between Denver’s sophomore receiver Jerry Jeudy and Houston’s veteran receiver Brandin Cooks for the final player as part of this piece. I chose the latter because he is consistently undervalued in ECR and ADP every preseason.

Aside from his rookie campaign in 2014 with the New Orleans Saints — and the disastrous, concussion-riddled 2019 season with the Los Angeles Rams — Cooks’ worst season came in 2017, where he produced 65 catches on 114 targets for 1,082 yards and seven touchdowns.

Coming off a year where he caught 81 of his 119 targets from Deshaun Watson and turned them in 1,150 yards and six touchdowns despite competing with Will Fuller for targets, Cooks is currently ranked as just the WR37 in half-PPR leagues. We can blame much of this on the immense uncertainty surrounding Watson’s availability in 2021 following various allegations of off-the-field misconduct. If Watson remains the presumed starter in Houston come July and August, it’d be difficult to pass on Cooks considering his depressed cost. With such a low ADP, even if Watson misses several games due to a suspension (or he gets traded), Cooks may still present some value to fantasy managers. Cooks is one of the top targets in the mid-to-late rounds as a WR3 with low-end WR1 potential.

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Jared Lese is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Jared, check out his archive and follow him @JaredL_FF.

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