Wide Receivers to Avoid (2021 Fantasy Football)
At the right price, every usable fantasy football player is worth drafting. Despite that, the following trio of receivers are players I’m avoiding at anything resembling a spot they’ll fall relative to their average draft position (ADP) in point-per-reception (PPR) formats.
JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR – PIT): 74.3 ADP and WR31 in PPR formats as of June 25
How thoroughly dug in on being out on JuJu Smith-Schuster am I? Obviously, I won’t select him at his ADP. However, I’ll go a step further. In 12-team BestBall10 leagues drafted between May 1 and June 25, Smith-Schuster’s max ADP is 93, and he’d have to slip at least a couple of rounds beyond that for me to consider him.
He’s sliding down the pecking order for looks. He finished second on the team in targets in 2020 behind Diontae Johnson, receiving 128 targets to Johnson’s 144. He led the team in receptions (97), although he ranked just third in receiving yards (831), which hints at the problem.
Smith-Schuster’s efficiency is dreadful. According to Pro-Football-Reference, out of 153 qualified pass-catchers (running backs, tight ends, and receivers), Smith-Schuster ranked tied with noted game-changing tight end Hayden Hurst for 115th with 6.5 yards per target. It doesn’t end there. Out of 84 receivers targeted a minimum of 50 times, he ranked tied for 68th with 1.29 yards per route run (Y/RR) per Pro Football Focus.
Out of that same group of receivers, he ranked tied with Greg Ward for dead last in average depth of target (6.0 yards ADOT). His dink-and-dunk usage could face stiff competition this year via incoming rookies. The Steelers spent a first-round pick on running back Najee Harris and a second-round pick on tight end Pat Freiermuth. Both possess plus pass-catching chops. Further, using their first pick on a running back is almost certainly a sign they intend on re-establishing the run. All in all, I don’t like where things are trending for Smith-Schuster, and he’s a fringe top-50 receiver in my rankings.
DeVante Parker (WR – MIA): 111.0 ADP and WR44
DeVante Parker led the Dolphins in targets (103), receptions (63), receiving yards (793), and tied for second in touchdown receptions (four). However, his marks were all mediocre, and they represented a disappointing outcome following his breakout 2019 campaign. In fact, last year’s production was largely in line with his play before 2019.
I’m not going to call his career year a fluke yet. However, I’m skeptical of a bounce-back. In addition, I’m not fond of his quarterback situation, and he’ll face new, stiff competition for targets from incoming speedsters, in free-agent addition Will Fuller and rookie Jaylen Waddle.
Expanding upon the quarterback situation I alluded to above, I’m leery of how Parker will fair with Tua Tagovailoa. His chemistry with Ryan Fitzpatrick was impeccable, bringing out the best in him. Fitz was not only a gunslinger, but he was effective playing in that fashion.
Among qualified quarterbacks last year, Fitzpatrick had the second-highest aggressiveness percentage (21.7 AGG%), per NFL Next Gen Stats. I was surprised to see Tagovailoa had the sixth-highest mark at a 20.3 AGG%. However, his aggression didn’t bear fruit as often as Fitz’s did.
Out of 41 quarterbacks with a minimum of 100 dropbacks last year, Fitzpatrick ranked 25th in Pro Football Focus’s big-time-throw metric (4.2 BTT%), which they define as a pass with excellent ball location and timing, generally thrown further down the field and/or into a tighter window. That’s not a great finish for Fitz, yet it’s markedly better than Tagovailoa, tying for dead last with a 2.3 BTT%.
Tua will need to make major strides passing into tight windows if Parker’s going to rebound. Namely, since the veteran wideout ranked tied for dead last with A.J. Green among qualified pass-catchers in separation, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. There’s also the possibility Tua finds the sledding easier airing out to blazing speedsters Fuller and Waddle if they generate more separation than Parker. I’d consider Parker in the vicinity of his max selection of 155 in BestBall10s. However, I’m fading him in traditional leagues managed weekly.
Jalen Reagor (WR – PHI): 181.7 ADP and WR60
In a 2020 season in which a handful of rookie receivers balled out, Jalen Reagor didn’t receive an invite to the party. In 11 games, he produced a modest 2.8 receptions and 36.0 receiving yards per game with only one touchdown. An underwhelming rookie season hardly sounds the death knell on his long-term outlook. Still, I’m not foreseeing a sophomore surge with Jalen Hurts running a new offense.
Hurts will be tasked with learning a new offense in his second season after a poor showing as a passer last season. As a rookie, he ranked dead last in NFL Next Gen Stats’ expected completion percentage (55.5 xCOMP%). He also ranked 38th in Pro Football Focus’s passing grade out of 44 quarterbacks with a minimum of 100 dropbacks.
Hurts’ value is largely derived from his rushing ability presently, and it’s unlikely that’s lost on the new head coach and former Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni. It’s unclear what his offensive philosophy and tendencies will be since he will be a first-time play-caller this season. However, he did help Colts head coach and play-caller Frank Reich install the gameplan, and Indy passed at exactly the league average (57%) with a scoring margin between trailing or leading by seven points in 2020, per Sharp Football Stats. Using the same scoring margin, they ranked just 17th in pace of play.
Knowing Hurts’ shortcomings as a passer and the rare talent he provides as a runner, I suspect hovering around an average pass ratio is probably closer to the ceiling than the floor. Until we see Sirianni deviate from a middle-of-the-pack pace, that’s a reasonable expectation for Philadelphia’s offense in 2021.
Now, the elephant in the room is the addition of a probable new top dog in the passing game. The Eagles traded up to select receiver DeVonta Smith with the 10th pick in the NFL draft. They also selected pass-catching back Kenneth Gainwell in the fifth round, Boston Scott returns as a viable receiving option out of the backfield as well, and tight end Dallas Goedert should retain an integral role in the passing attack.
Reagor’s role in the offense should grow. However, his field-stretching usage and the presence of more versatile alternatives leads me to believe he’ll be a feast or famine player. I can live with that player type in best balls. I can even tolerate the volatility in traditional leagues with weekly managed lineups if the high-risk, high-reward receiver is tied to a talented quarterback and high-octane offense. Unfortunately, Reagor’s not attached to either. As it stands, I’m viewing Reagor as a bye-week fill-in and infrequent streamer option rather than a breakout candidate who sticks on rosters and outperforms his ADP.
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