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Ranking Third-Year Wide Receivers (2021 Fantasy Football)

Jun 14, 2021


The 2019 NFL Draft yielded a handful of fruitful wide receivers from its branches. Now ripe, the pass-catching class looks to pollinate all levels of fantasy rosters in 2021. Below are seven wideouts whom NFL fans met for the first time on stage in Nashville in April 2019. I have ranked them in tasteful tiers for your eat-ification. OK, no more puns.

Expert Consensus Ranking reflects the input of 79 FantasyPros expert rankers for wide receivers in Half-PPR scoring leagues as of June 13, 2021.

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Sweet as a July Mango

1. A.J. Brown (TEN)
At a WR6 ECR, A.J. Brown’s expectations are set at an all-time high. He has been incredibly efficient per target over his first two seasons with the Tennessee Titans, scoring 19 TDs over 190 targets. Worries about Julio Jones taking away a large portion of Brown’s target share are overblown. Last season, Brown had a 23% target rate, good for 12th overall. Former teammate Corey Davis was QB Ryan Tannehill’s second-favorite option, seeing 20% of the throws. Despite Tennessee targeting WRs at only the NFL’s 26th-highest rate, there are still enough balls to go around between an aging Jones and Brown, a blossoming WR1, in 2021.

2. DK Metcalf (SEA)
Russell Wilson gives his wideouts plenty of opportunities to score fantasy points, as the Seahawks were above league average in total WR targets and WR target percentage in 2020. DK Metcalf returns as Wilson’s top target in 2021. He garnered eight or more tosses from his QB in 10 of 16 games last season. Detractors point to Metcalf’s poor finish as a red flag. However, I discussed the reasons behind that rough patch in a previous “Overvalued/Undervalued” article and why fantasy players should expect a strong finish this year. Metcalf’s WR7 ECR is two slots higher than his WR9 average draft position. Somehow, after two seasons of averaging 195 fantasy points in half-PPR scoring, Metcalf is the top early-round WR value in 2021.

3. Terry McLaurin (WAS)
Terry McLaurin walks into 2021 as new Washington quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s number one weapon. McLaurin has outperformed fantasy players’ expectations over his first two seasons despite a quarterback carousel. Now with stability under center, the fifth-easiest projected schedule for wide receivers, and a late third-round ADP, McLaurin’s 2021 sets up to be a hidden asset for “Robust RB” strategists. Washington’s WR1 has a fantasy WR1 skill set without the high sticker price. If you stack RBs early, mix in McLaurin and come away with a valuable fantasy core piece.

Surprisingly Healthy like a Lychee Nut

4. Diontae Johnson (PIT)
Diontae Johnson lands in the second tier because of his increased injury risk. He has suffered a foot sprain, a toe injury, a lumbar issue, recovered from a groin procedure, and exited a game with a concussion all in the previous 365 days. Despite those dings, Johnson produces elite fantasy output when on the field. In his last 19 games played, the Steelers WR has scored 17 or more half-PPR points nine times. His positional ECR of 22 reveals the experts are more willing to assume the draft day risk than his ADP Best (32 OVR) to ADP Worst (97 OVR) separation the public has levied. Johnson’s upside is worth the risk, so he should be in your queue once Round 5 begins.

5. Deebo Samuel (SF)
True or false, San Francisco’s most reliable wide receiver in 2020 was Deebo Samuel when he started? False. This narrative is debunked using our Quality Starts (% games with eight Standard scoring points or more) measure. Brandon Aiyuk led the team in QS last season, helping fantasy teams in 67% of his games. George Kittle comes into 2021 healthy, making targets scarce. Mike Tagliere (@MikeTagliereNFL) gave the WRs 75% of targets and still couldn’t get either in the top-20 range with his season-long projections. Combine all of this with Samuel’s top-100 ADP, and you get an overvalued fantasy player.

Risky as an Elderberry Plant

6. Marquise Brown (BAL)
Marquise Brown’s fantasy managers haven’t experienced much joy since his Week 1 performance in 2019. Brown has been the ultimate boom-or-bust play, touted as a breakout candidate but never filling those big shoes. In part due to the Ravens’ run-heavy scheme and Lamar Jackson’s limited accuracy, and Brown doesn’t see enough volume to be drafted in the first eight rounds. In 2020, he averaged 6.3 targets per game. That’s fewer than Russell Gage, Michael Gallup, and Curtis Samuel, all getting drafted after him in 2021. There’s too much bust and not enough boom for an ADP of 93 overall. Brown is overvalued, again.

7. Mecole Hardman (KC)
Kansas City lost Sammy Watkins to free agency, vacating 5.5 targets per game. Mecole Hardman is the obvious choice to assume the bulk of those throws from Patrick Mahomes. His big-play ability is apparent, averaging 16.4 yards per reception in his brief career. Hardman has converted just 67 career receptions into 10 touchdowns! The public is unsure what to make of the speedy KC wideout, who has been drafted from 81st to 287th overall in 2021. Tyreek Hill remains the primary offensive focus, but perhaps Hardman blossoms in year three under Andy Reid. There’s value in his varying ADP. Keep your eye on how far he falls, and be ready to pounce in the double-digit rounds to ensure the greatest return on investment.

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Aaron Pagliaro is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Aaron, check out his archive and follow him @FantasyTriage.

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