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Must-Have Wide Receivers (Fantasy Football 2021)

by Josh Shepardson | @BChad50 | Featured Writer
Jun 23, 2021

The wide receiver position is loaded. It feels like that’s the case every year in recent seasons. In the interest of offering wideouts available at a variety of spots in point-per-reception (PPR) fantasy football drafts, I’ve highlighted three players ranging in average draft position (ADP) from 35.7 to 115.7. No matter what draft slot you draw, you’ll have the opportunity to select the following players.

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Terry McLaurin (WR – WAS): 35.7 ADP in PPR Scoring
I’ve spent this offseason stumping for Terry McLaurin. I’m staying consistent and including him here as a must-have receiver. In short, I won’t let him slide through the third round. With an ADP of essentially the last pick in the third round of 12-team drafts, that’s my guy that round. Whether I land a pair of stud running backs, one of the top tight ends and a running back, a running back and an elite receiver, or I fade the backs entirely (an unlikely scenario, to be clear) and snag a tight end and receiver with my top two selection, McLaurin is my target in the third round.

The third-year receiver has excelled despite playing with a motley crew of quarterbacks to date. Ryan Fitzpatrick represents a monumental upgrade at the position. As I previously discussed, it’s a match made in heaven. The YOLO-ball Messiah is one of the game’s most aggressive quarterbacks, as defined by the NFL Next Gen Stats aggressiveness percentage (AGG%) measure. Among qualified quarterbacks in 2018 and 2019, he ranked fourth in AGG%. Last year, he ranked second in AGG%.

I’ve seen concerns voiced in the fantasy football community regarding the influx of talented pass-catchers and Washington’s top-flight defense leading to playing ball-control offense. However, I view the additions as a bigger threat to tight end Logan Thomas‘s value since it’s volume-driven, and McLaurin’s a more talented player. In fact, the improvement to the offense enhances the team’s touchdown-scoring upside, which I view as a plus for McLaurin.

As for the ball-control offense talking point, their defense was excellent last year, and that’s not how they operated. According to Sharp Football Stats, when trailing or leading by seven points, the Football Team tied for the seventh-highest pass rate at 60 percent, three percent higher than the league average in 2020. Further, using the same scoring margin, they tied for the fifth-fastest pace of play. Having upgraded at quarterback and with a returning head coach and offensive coordinator, I don’t see a reason to expect a sizable philosophical change to how they run their offense. All systems are a go for McLaurin finishing as a top-10 receiver.

CeeDee Lamb (WR – DAL): 43.7 ADP
CeeDee Lamb had an excellent rookie season, despite Dak Prescott suffering a season-ending injury in Week 5. Still, I’m chiefly as bullish on Lamb’s stock this year as I am due to his work with Prescott the first five weeks.

According to Pro Football Focus, among receivers targeted a minimum of 10 times in Week 1 through Week 5, Lamb’s 2.26 Yards per Route Run (Y/RR) ranked tied for 20th out of 111 qualified receivers. To add more perspective to that mark, it would have ranked ninth among receivers targeted a minimum of 50 times for the 2020 regular season.

The Cowboys are poised to be an explosive offense opposite a — likely — bad defense again this year. Additionally, they play at a breakneck pace. Dallas played at the fastest offensive pace in 2020 when trailing or leading by seven points. I’d be elated to snag Lamb in the fourth round of drafts, right in line with his current ADP.

D.J. Moore (WR – CAR): 60.7 ADP
D.J. Moore will have to adjust to playing with yet another quarterback in his fourth NFL season. He’s proven to be quarterback-proof thus far, though. Although, he should benefit from the familiarity of playing for the same head coach and offensive coordinator combo of Matt Rhule and Joe Brady for the second straight season.

According to Pro-Football-Reference, Moore ranked tied with more ballyhooed studs D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown, and George Kittle for eighth out of 153 pass-catchers at 10.1 yards per target. Moore also checked in 11th out of 84 receivers targeted at least 50 times with 2.23 Y/RR.

I’m also encouraged by his electric finish to 2020, surpassing 100 receiving yards in three of his last five games and hauling in five or more receptions in four of those games. It’s possible his heater to close 2020 is an indication Brady figured out how to use him best.

Speaking of usage, Moore’s versatile. His average depth of target (ADOT) has climbed from 9.0 yards as a rookie to 11.1 yards as a second-year player and reached 13.2 yards last year. He has run-after-catch ability should Brady opt to dial back his depth of target. However, as he showcased last year, he can excel in a vertical, field-stretching role, too. I’d be content with Moore as my WR2. However, Moore’s ADP makes it possible to snag McLaurin, Lamb, and him as the WR3 while doubling up on running backs or grabbing a back and tight end in the first two rounds, either scenario representing a tantalizing start to a draft.

Michael Pittman Jr. (WR – IND): 107.7 ADP
Michael Pittman Jr. didn’t light the world on fire in his rookie season. However, he didn’t embarrass himself either. The Colts failed to add top-flight talent to their receiving corps in the offseason, and a returning Parris Campbell following a two-game 2020 season cut short by injury is the most notable person brought into the 2021 fold.

Pittman has an opportunity to carve out a big role in Indy’s passing attack. The addition of Carson Wentz further fuels my optimism. Looking at who’s succeeded in the past, catching passes from Wentz, big-bodied receivers immediately stand out.

In Wentz’s best season as a pro back in 2017, Alshon Jeffery paced the club in targets (120) and touchdown receptions (nine) while finishing second in receiving yards (789) and third in receptions (57). Wentz’s 2020 was an unmitigated disaster, but Travis Fulgham balled out for a five-week stretch from Week 4 through Week 8 with Wentz running the offense. The trio of Pittman, Jeffery, and Fulgham all have strikingly similar measurables.

Sure, using body type for fantasy projection is flawed. However, Wentz seems to have a type — big-bodied receivers with a large catch radius –, and Pittman fits the bill. At his cost, the upside more than outweighs the risk.

Antonio Brown (WR – TB): 115.7 ADP
I recently discussed Antonio Brown as an undervalued player. I don’t have anything to add to the analysis I provided there. Still, I’d be doing you, the readers, a disservice if I failed to include him here. Brown’s upside belies an ADP outside the top-115 players.

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Josh Shepardson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Josh, check out his archive and follow him @BChad50.

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