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11 Wide Receivers + Tight Ends To Target (2021 Fantasy Football)

Jun 23, 2021

Note that readers can find our 0.5 PPR expert consensus rankings (ECR) by clicking here.

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Q1. Which player outside the top 30 WRs has the best chance to finish as a WR1 for the season?

Jerry Jeudy (WR – DEN) ECR: WR38
I thought Jeudy was not only one of the most gifted wide receivers in the 2020 NFL Draft class, but he was also polished and ready to contribute immediately. Things did not go well for him last year. Similar to the other rookies, he had to learn on the job during a pandemic, which made life very difficult for rookies looking to adjust to the NFL. He had a quarterback situation that saw him have to play with Drew Lock, Jeff Driskel, and Brett Rypien behind center. He even had a game where Phillip Lindsay was the starting quarterback. Combine that with all the injuries the Broncos had on the offensive side of the ball and Jeudy battled his own ankle injury that limited his production late in the season. Despite all those hurdles, he still posted 113 targets, 52 receptions, 856 yards, and three touchdowns. I think the addition of Teddy Bridgewater should bring some stability to the quarterback position and Jeudy should benefit from a normal offseason. While he will have to compete with Courtland Sutton and Noah Fant for targets, he is also an elite talent who will demand the ball on his own. If the Broncos can make any strides in their passing game and if Jeudy continues to develop, he is a player outside the Top-30 that has the talent to be a fantasy WR1. He just needs to put everything together this year and he needs a quarterback that can deliver him the ball.
– Derek Lofland (@DerekLofland)

Jerry Jeudy is an immensely talented, young wideout out of the University of Alabama but became the victim of extreme offseason hype entering his rookie season with the Denver Broncos. Jeudy saw 113 targets with the inefficient play of Drew Lock under center, resulting in only 52 receptions and three touchdowns. Lock regressed immensely in his second season, scoring a passing touchdown on an adjusted 3.86 percent of offensive snaps, down from 4.84 percent of offensive snaps during his rookie season. However, there are two major reasons for why Jeudy has the best chance to finish as a WR1 amongst wideouts ranked outside of the top-30 in ECR. The first reason is the return of WR Courtland Sutton. The fourth-year wideout suffered a torn ACL in the second week of the 2020 season, forcing Tim Patrick into the veteran role amongst rookies Jeudy and K.J. Hamler. Sutton returns fully healthy and is a year removed from producing a 72 reception, 1,112 yard, six touchdown season where he finished as the WR19 in half-PPR formats. Jeudy will have much softer coverage with Sutton demanding equal attention from defenders along the opposite sideline, allowing the quarterback in Denver to throw more catchable balls to him, which means positive touchdown regression and an increase in reception efficiency. Notice that I said quarterback, not Drew Lock. The acquisition of Teddy Bridgewater from Carolina this offseason signaled that the Broncos’ organization understands the need to upgrade the quarterback position. Bridgewater actually fared worse than Lock in 2020 as a starter for the Panthers, averaging a passing touchdown on just 3.49 percent of offensive snaps. However, the quarterback competition will be alive and well at training camp, which will force both players to improve their play to earn the starting job. This all benefits Jeudy. He received more targets than three receivers who finished as WR1s during his rookie season and will have an improved receiving corps and quarterback in 2021. I love Jeudy’s talent and situation heading into this season and believe he is going to finish as a WR1.
– Matt MacKay (@Matt_MacKay_)

I’m jumping on this bandwagon for several reasons. Jeudy passed the eye test if you’ve seen him play, with a fluid running style, superior route running for such a young player, and a potentially incredible opportunity in Denver. Buying shares of him right now is like buying lottery tickets. If Aaron Rodgers finds his complicated self in Denver (or Deshaun Watson with a minimal/postponed suspension), Jeudy could be in instant superstar. I also view the Teddy Bridgewater acquisition in a favorable light (although far down the scale), as I believe Bridgewater will be more accurate and decisive if he wins the job. If not, he is the perfect motivating factor to push Drew Lock to play with more consistency. The return of Courtland Sutton should also help Jeudy, forcing defenses to allocate less resources his way. At worst, you have a supremely talented young receiver with a year under his belt, but the sky could be the limit this year.
– Sheldon Curtis

Antonio Brown (WR – TB) ECR: WR47
Although there are a few options ranked outside the top 30 WRs who I think can definitely finish the season as a top 12 WR in 0.5 PPR leagues, I wanted to highlight a player whose ADP is amazingly low and can easily provide a huge return on investment: Antonio Brown. In his first few games after joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Brown was uninspiring, totaling just 168 yards on 20 catches across four games. However, in the four weeks following his bye, he accumulated 315 yards on 25 catches and four touchdowns on a whopping 33 targets. If we were to extrapolate this to a 17-game season, Brown would have generated 106 catches on 140 targets for 1,339 yards and 17 touchdowns. Most likely, this won’t happen considering the immensely talented WR corps for the Buccaneers. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are amazing WRs, so they’ll command a ton of targets as well from Tom Brady. However, Brown is arguably a first ballot Hall of Famer and showed that, even if he did experience a decline in his skill level, he can produce effectively in the NFL. Ranked as the WR47 and drafted as the WR45 for ADP in 0.5 PPR leagues, Brown may be a league-winning player for fantasy managers in 2021.
– Jared Lese (@JaredL_FF)

It’s literally been every year for the past decade that we’ve asked the question, “is this the year Tom Brady FINALLY breaks down?” He’s immortal. Let’s just accept that fact. So, first, don’t bet against Brady. Secondly, Brady loves Antonio Brown. And what’s not to love? Other than the endless off-the-field problems, of course. Don’t be too cheeky when you draft him though; Antonio Brown is a 32-year old former WR1. Like…THE OVERALL WR1 FOR MULTIPLE YEARS IN A ROW. You may be concerned about Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Rob Gronkowski also fighting for targets, but there were plenty of targets to go around last year. During the last four weeks of the regular season, Brown led the team in receptions. Brown had 25, Evans had 22 and Godwin had 16. Yes, we could point to injuries as the reasoning for Brown’s success. Or…we could acknowledge that Brown still has enough left in the tank, that Godwin and Evans keep AB from being double-covered, and that Brady clearly wants to throw to him. Don’t be shocked when Brown goes from WR47 to your league-winner.
– Tim Meltzer (@Timmy_The_Metz)

Tyler Boyd (WR – CIN) ECR: WR37
Boyd is currently ranked at WR37 in ECR but he could easily finish as a top 12 WR this season. Sure, the Bengals added Ja’Marr Chase to go with Joe Burrow, and they still have second-year stud Tee Higgins on the team, but Boyd is a perfect slot companion to those two deep threats. As teams have to decide who to cover, safeties will be forced to follow the speed guys down the sideline, leaving Boyd covered by a linebacker underneath. In PPR leagues, Boyd is a WR2 for me already, with huge WR1 upside, but he’s being criminally underrated in redraft rankings this year. With Burrow back healthy, Mixon looking to make a big impact, and Higgins and Chase burning defenders outside, gimme Boyd all day at his price.
– Andrew Hall (@AndrewHallFF)

DeVonta Smith (WR – PHI) ECR: WR41
This may look a questionable pick, but hear me out. There are a lot of factors that are foreshadowing a massive year for Smith. First, he’s automatically the most talented receiver on his team and the WR1. He’s the most dynamic with the ball in his hands on the Eagles and is an exceptional route runner, which helps demands targets. Hurts will be looking his way a lot this season, and rightfully so. Next, I expect Hurts to take a step forward as a passer this season and make the Eagles an even better offense. The offensive line is now healthier, which will lead to better protection for Hurts in the pocket, and for Smith to get open for easy targets. Nobody was projecting a finish like Justin Jefferson had last year, so it’s very possible. Smith is a former Heisman trophy winner and a very talented player. His slim build could be a concern, but I don’t like to project injuries. If he stays healthy, he’s going to demand a large target share and has the talent and ability to put up good touchdown numbers. He’s one of my favorite players to target in the later rounds.
– Connor Rigg (@ConbonNFL)

Brandin Cooks (WR – HOU) ECR: WR35
Believe it or not, over the last six seasons Cooks is in elite company among some of the games best wideouts. He has turned in five seasons where he has finished as no worse than a WR2, making him just one of five receivers in the league to carry that distinction. Now he is in a situation that could make him the best value among receivers for fantasy purposes. Cooks’ situation for 2021 carries with it a potent combination of the Texans likely finding themselves playing from behind most weeks but without much offensive weaponry to lean on. The current receiving corps in Houston includes Randall Cobb, Keke Coutee, Chris Conley, Alex Erickson, and Nico Collins, which means Cook is the clear alpha in the room. Despite the cloudiness of Deshaun Watson’s current situation, the Texans recently signed Tyrod Taylor, giving them a solid contingency plan in the event Watson doesn’t play a snap this year. If you recall, Taylor is the only quarterback to get Sammy Watkins to 1,000 yards in a season. That gives me some confidence that he can push Cooks into elite territory, especially he they can establish rapport early. With the Texans likely throwing the ball from being behind on the scoreboard, this is a bet on volume. However, if Cooks gets 140 targets, he will be a WR1 this season.
– Jason Kamlowsky (@JasonKamlowsky)

Check out our Consensus Dynasty Rankings here >>

Q2. Who’s Your Favorite Late-Round TE (TE10 or later)?

Irv Smith (TE – MIN) ECR: TE13
Smith’s biggest obstacle has been usage — he has only 90 targets, 66 receptions, 676 receiving yards, and seven touchdowns in his two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. That has been due to Kyle Rudolph being the starter and the Vikings ranking 30th and 27th in pass attempts the last two years. There just have not been enough pass attempts in the offense to support a backup tight end in fantasy football. Rudolph is now with the New York Giants and Smith figures to have an expanded role this year as the starter. Smith showed flashes of TE1 potential in the last four weeks of the 2020 season, when he had 20 targets, 15 receptions, 183 receiving yards, and three touchdowns in those four games. Smith is going to be the starter this year, he is entering his third season, and he does not turn 23-years old until August. He is a great value at the 113th overall player and 13th ranked tight end. This could definitely be a breakout year for him after two years of playing behind Rudolph.
– Derek Lofland (@DerekLofland)

A second-round pick out of Alabama in 2019, Irv Smith’s first two seasons have been a disappointment. Mike Zimmer kept veteran Kyle Rudolph involved but that should change in 2021, however, as Rudolph departed as a free agent. Outside of a big Week 16 performance in a blowout loss to the Saints in 2020, Smith has been a non-factor for fantasy and real football purposes. Despite Zimmer’s mindless coach speak stating Smith won’t be more involved, there isn’t a scenario where he won’t improve upon his 43 targets from 2020. If he can manage to get into the range of 70-plus targets, Smith should be an easy top-10 player at the position. Given Minnesota’s narrow passing game distribution, I expect that to be the case.
– Jason Kamlowsky (@JasonKamlowsky)

Tyler Higbee (TE – LAR) ECR: TE12
Higbee was a target for many fantasy managers last season following an insanely productive five-game tear to close the 2019 season. He caught 43 -f-56 targets for 522 yards and two touchdowns over those five games, which would have equaled 146 catches on 190 targets for 1,775 yards in a 17-game season. This won’t happen but it does show what he’s capable of on a multi-game sample. At 28, there’s no reason to believe he’s the next Travis Kelce; however, at TE12 in 0.5 PPR leagues, Higbee presents league-winning upside for fantasy managers. I recently wrote an article (and participated in other collaborative ones) in which I noted how indistinguishable TEs are in fantasy football after the top tier or two (depending on if you include Kelce in his own tier ahead of Darren Waller and George Kittle). In 2020, there was very little difference between the TE3 and TE12. So, waiting on a TE and drafting Higbee as the TE15 in ADP, which is even lower than his consensus ranking of TE12, is a great strategy in 2021. Of course, Higbee may flame out in 2021 and underwhelm managers like he did in 2020, but there are a few changes about the Los Angeles Rams offense that’ll benefit him: 1) a major upgrade at QB with the transition from Jared Goff to Matthew Stafford; and 2) fellow TE Gerald Everett left the Rams to join the Seattle Seahawks in free agency, leaving Higbee as the primary TE in this pass-happy offense. If I don’t get one of the premier three TEs, unless T.J. Hockenson also falls in my drafts, I’m waiting on the position and targeting Higbee in the later rounds of my drafts.
– Jared Lese (@JaredL_FF)

Okay, we’ve all been burned by Higbee. It’s time to forgive and forget. In 2019, Higbee finished as the TE8 in half-point PPR. That finish was due mostly to a stretch of five games when his teammate Gerald Everett was out or playing through injury. That finish led to him being taken as the TE7 in 2020, but he disappointed and ended as the TE18. So shouldn’t you curse his name? Not just yet. Everett is in Seattle now and the Rams upgraded their QB from Jared Goff to Matthew Stafford. The offense is poised for liftoff and Higbee has little competition for targets. Consider Higbee’s otherworldly stretch in 2019, from Weeks 13-17. During that time, his 17-game averages were 146-1775-7. Yes, those numbers are outlandish, but as the TE12…it’s worth the investment to find out how close he can get.
– Tim Meltzer (@Timmy_The_Metz)

Rob Gronkowski (TE – TB) ECR: TE17
I know it’s a name everyone’s heard of before, but Gronk has a connection with Tom Brady that just can’t be put into words. Gronkowski gets open underneath and Brady finds him early and often in matchups. With the likes of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown all demanding coverage, much like Boyd, Gronk should see weaker coverage for those shorter passes. On top of that, everyone loves a good Gronk Smash TD celebration, and with the way the Bucs played last year, I expect him to smash plenty again this year, finishing within the top 8 TE at season’s end. His current ECR as TE14 is a steal for me and someone I’m definitely targeting later in drafts this year.
– Andrew Hall (@AndrewHallFF)

Adam Trautman (TE – NO) ECR: TE27
Trautman is one of my favorite tight ends to target in drafts. Being drafted as the TE27 is just asinine for a talented, starting tight end in a good offense, with no true WR2 on the team. He’s an awesome blocker, which helps him stay on the field more often. His snap share and opportunity share are going to increase exponentially. The Saints traded up for Trautman in the 2019 draft in the 3rd round, which means they have big plans for him. Now, it’s still a question mark on who the Quarterback will be this season. I’m hoping Jameis Winston starts, because he has a sore eye for tight ends. Last year, PFF came out with an article mentioning that Winston has the fifth-best passer rating when targeting tight ends since coming into the league. This is great news for Trautman if he wins the job. If Hill wins the job, it’s a little bit harder to project, but I still believe Trautman will be a security blanket for Hill. Either way, Trautman is poised for a breakout season and is a legit sleeper at a very shallow Tight End position.
– Connor Rigg (@ConbonNFL)

Dan Arnold (TE – CAR) ECR: TE32
If there’s one thing the Panthers neglected in 2020, it was their tight end position. Carolina generated a league-low 7.8 percent of its target share towards tight ends, as the lack of a legitimate receiving option forced Teddy Bridgewater to feed D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, and Curtis Samuel. The league has seen tight ends transform from big-bodied blockers to elite-handed receivers. Ian Thomas‘ skill set fits into the classic blocking tight-end prototype, which unfortunately withheld the full potential of the Joe Brady-led offense during his initial season as play-caller. The Panthers addressed this issue through the signing of former Arizona Cardinals TE Dan Arnold, who emerged as a legitimate receiving threat in the Desert last season. Arnold turned 45 targets into 31 receptions for 438 yards and four touchdowns, earning just five starts during an impressive stretch considering the relatively low target total. Sam Darnold was acquired this season and reportedly impressed many in attendance during minicamp. He just turned 24 and has LSU rookie Terrace Marshall Jr. and a healthy Christian McCaffery to complement Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore. It’s a loaded offense and I’m willing to bet Arnold will be the player least accounted for and often targeted in the red-zone, as he displayed an efficient 2.8 targets per game with the Cardinals despite being held to no more than five targets per game. The defense is still young, which translates into expected deficits, leading to more offensive drives that emphasize the pass to get downfield quicker. Arnold will be the missing cog in the Joe Brady offensive machine in Carolina, and as such, will ascend from his current ECR of TE32 to TE10 by the end of the 2021 fantasy season.
– Matt MacKay (@Matt_MacKay_)

Evan Engram (TE -NYG) ECR: TE14
I’ve come to notice that there are at least one or two guys who everyone is supposed to hate every offseason in fantasy football. Engram definitely seems to be that guy this year, but sometimes it’s wise to zig when everyone is zagging. I will plead out that there have been too many drops, but too many people simply point to a famous drop that might not have been noticed much at all if he played in Jacksonville. Depending on which list you look at (drops are not an official stat), Engram had eight last year, which is too many of course. I’ll also say this puts him behind Dionte Johnson, CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy who don’t seem to get the same kind of heat for their drops. Another point I’ll make is that Daniel Jones might not be awesome but he could help rectify this problem with slightly more accuracy this year. Whether he’s capable of that or not is debatable, but Jones seems like the kind of player that could get on a hot streak at any time. I really don’t think there’s any debate about the speed of Engram, as he is elite in that category. I will also admit that durability is another legitimate concern with Engram, but you may be able to snag him as your second tight end and find that you end up starting him most weeks this season.
– Sheldon Curtis


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