Second-Year Breakout Wide Receivers (2021 Fantasy Football)
Wide receivers often take a huge step in year two, and 2021 is expected to be no different. A historic rookie class gives us a lot of potential wideouts to discuss, but for these purposes, we will avoid the most obvious names in Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, Brandon Aiyuk, Tee Higgins, and even Henry Ruggs. Instead, we will focus on some often less heralded receivers who are ready to take their games to the next level.
Laviska Shenault Jr. (WR – JAC)
The Laviska hype train has already left the station. Touted by local beat writers as the most talented receiver on the Jaguars practice field, it appears that the coaching staff and local media are finally coming to grips with a fact that dynasty managers knew the second he was drafted. Laviska is a unique talent who can do-it-all as a receiver but also has incredible size. Many receivers can handle carries, but not many can handle 100+ and tip the scales at over 220 lbs (which is more than most modern running backs weigh in at). Given the requisite snaps, it would be an upset if Shenault did not hit at least 1,000 receiving yards as Trevor Lawrence‘s top target. Shenault has easy WR2 upside when we add in his expected rushing production. I will not go on and on about him because you are going to be slammed by hype pieces all summer, but I will say this: they are all warranted.
Gabriel Davis (WR – BUF)
The most popular breakout candidate aside from the ones named above is Gabriel Davis of the Buffalo Bills. There is not much projecting needed here. Davis was already pushing for the number three role in Buffalo and is expected to be a three-wide starter now that John Brown is in Las Vegas. He will need to fend off Emmanuel Sanders, Isaiah Hodgins, and Marquez Stevenson but seemed to have cemented his future as a long-term part of the receiver rotation in Buffalo as a rookie. He posted an exciting 35-599-7 line, showing off his prowess both downfield and in the red zone. Davis will be auditioning for the full-time number two role, and if the team has its way, will push Cole Beasley to be second on the team in receptions. Seventh in the league with 17.1 yards per reception, Davis is a big play waiting to happen. Consider him a flex with elite WR3 upside.
Chase Claypool (WR – PIT)
I debated whether or not Chase Claypool should even be included on this list. He flashed dominant fantasy potential as a rookie but should take another step in year two. The Steelers now have a running game to keep defenses honest, and Ben Roethlisberger has likely come to grips with the fact that JuJu Smith-Schuster will never be the player he was when Antonio Brown was on the roster, in and out splits be damned. If the Canadian can build on the 62-873-9 line he had as a rookie, Claypool will become a true fantasy superstar, which is quite the accomplishment for a player who had to bombard schools with his highlights via Facebook in order to get an NCAA opportunity. Claypool may have some growing pains in year two as teams will likely look to roll safeties his way due to Diontae Johnson and JuJu seeing a higher percentage of underneath targets. Still, after an exciting line as a rookie and a jaw-dropping seven reception, 110 receiving yards, and three receiving touchdowns, and one rushing touchdown performance, palpable upside and the limit being the sky do not seem to truly express his upside. He may turn out to be nothing more than a WR3 in 2021. However, his ceiling places him amongst the elite fantasy receivers.
Jalen Reagor (WR – PHI)
Jalen Reagor dealt with injuries and shaky QB play as a rookie and managed to post a severely underwhelming 31-396-1 line. He should be much better in year two if he has more luck with injuries. Infamously drafted over Justin Jefferson in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the selection of Reagor was not a bad, or the wrong, decision. He is more suited to play on the outside like the Eagles brass suggested and is the more versatile player. Jefferson was always going to be a prolific weapon. Reagor needed the right landing spot and supporting cast to reach his ceiling, something he did not have as a rookie. Reagor will slide down to the number two spot on the depth chart, which is something that should help him shine in 2021. An electric receiver who can win on all four levels, Reagor should post flex-worthy numbers in year two. Jalen Hurts will likely have accuracy issues but is a big play waiting to happen in both the running and passing games. Reagor and Smith will be the primary beneficiaries of Hurts’ big arm and ability to buy time and throw off-platform. Reagor’s ability to contribute at or behind the line of scrimmage should only increase his touch count for the season. Will he get a fair chance from Eagles fans before his true breakout? Probably not. Will he play well enough to make believers out of even the most vociferous critics? All signs point to yes.
Bryan Edwards (WR – LV)
Some may argue that Henry Ruggs belongs on this list, but his status as the first receiver off the board in the 2020 NFL Draft, makes him an obvious step forward candidate. Bryan Edwards, a player many opined had more alpha receiver in him than Ruggs, is the player fantasy managers will want to keep believing in. A breakout age and dominator rating legend, Bryan Edwards could quickly become the Raiders’ number one receiver. John Brown will operate as the number one in name and will likely see the top corner on game days, but Ruggs may quickly change the focus of opposing defenses. What seems fairly certain is that Edwards will be able to feast in single coverage against number two and three corners for the majority of his 2021 snaps. That could change if he has the breakout we are projecting, but the speed of Ruggs and Brown is what defenses will likely hone in on, even if Edwards proves to be more productive. Edwards will be drafted as a bye-week filler/bench stash but has the upside to become a WR3 option in short order.
Michael Pittman Jr. (WR – IND)
Michael Pittman appears to be primed to take a massive step forward in 2021. He posted a pedestrian 40-503-1 line as a rookie, spending most of the year with depth chart or injury issues. However, Pittman posted two games with over 90 receiving yards and should quickly become a favorite of Carson Wentz this season. His upside makes him a worthwhile WR4 option, especially since he could join the WR3 conversation by Week 3. He will not reach the heights he would have if T.Y. Hilton moved on, but if Pittman and Parris Campbell manage to stay healthy this season, we will likely see a changing of the guard at the wide receiver position. A three-level weapon with great size, Pittman should push for 850+ receiving yards and five-plus touchdowns.
Darnell Mooney (WR – CHI)
Darnell Mooney is set to have a breakout season for the Chicago Bears, especially if Justin Fields starts from Week 1. The Bears coaching staff loves him, and the retirement of Taylor Gabriel combined with Anthony Miller‘s failure to take the next step should leave Mooney as the team’s number two receiver to open the season. Mooney will likely remain more of a boom or bust player, but his 2021 game log provides some reason for excitement. He never cracked 100 receiving yards but did hit 93 in a 13 reception game. The Mooney hype train should really start to take off by mid-July, but the puff pieces have already started to surface. The most notable? Head coach Matt Nagy comparing Mooney to Tyreek Hill and DeSean Jackson. After a 61-631-4 line as a rookie, no one should be surprised to see Mooney hit 950+ yards if he can manage to remain healthy. Consider him a WR3 with WR2 upside who can be had for a WR5/WR6 price.
Devin Duvernay (WR – BAL)
Duvernay has become a bit of a forgotten man following the additions of extremely talented rookies Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace, but that may be a mistake. We all know Sammy Watkins is sadly in the decline phase of his career and was signed due to his near-elite run blocking. Duvernay has been one of the three most impressive receivers at the Ravens camp, along with Marquise Brown and Bateman, and will man the slot when he is on the field. Lamar Jackson has been more efficient over the middle portions of the field, something that could help push Duvernay to weekly fantasy value. For now, he is more of a deep league stash who can be had at the end of drafts. If he hits, you have a volatile flex option with WR3 upside. If he does not, you use his roster spot to address other needs down the line. However, with how excited head coach John Harbaugh was to land the rookie just last year, expect the former Longhorn to surprise.
Quintez Cephus (WR – DET)
Quintez Cephus had a wash of a rookie season but remains one of the more underrated second-year receivers. When teammate and 2020 first round pick Jeff Okudah was asked about the toughest receiver he faced, he quickly responded with Cephus, and this was before they even became teammates. When the top corner from a draft class singles out a Day 3 pick, you pay attention. A physical possession receiver who can also win downfield, Cephus could quickly become a favorite of Jared Goff. The Lions have some journeymen clogging up the depth chart, but it may very well be Cephus joining Amon-Ra St. Brown in two-wide sets by the end of the year. Cephus is a bench stash who can prove to be a lottery ticket.