WR3s with WR1 Potential (2021 Fantasy Football)
A sharp fantasy football manager knows that drafting a RB with your first two picks is a savvy decision because of the plethora of quality options available at WR later in drafts. I’m planning to implement this strategy in 2021, and I’ve identified three WR3s who could return top-12 value at the position. Let’s dive into them now!
Ja’Marr Chase (CIN): ECR WR28
Sure, there are three mouths to feed in Cincinnati, but Joe Burrow‘s voluminous passing attempts showed that he can support multiple weapons. Burrow averaged 40.4 pass attempts per game, which over a 17-game season extrapolates to 687. Can all three of Chase, Tyler Boyd, and Tee Higgins see 150 targets? It doesn’t seem out of the question.
Let’s take a look at the Bengals’ passing and receiving numbers from just a season ago. As mentioned above, Burrow’s pass attempts per game averaged better than 40, while the tandem of Brandon Allen and Ryan Finley averaged just 29 pass attempts across six starts. Volume should be on the side of Cincy’s receivers all year if Burrow remains healthy. On the season as a whole, Cincinnati attempted 581 passes, with target distribution and percentage of team targets to the top three wideouts looking like this:
Green will not return, so over 100 targets will be available. How should we project these three wideouts for the upcoming season? It’s reasonable to assume Chase will step into a high-volume role out of the gate due to his draft pedigree and familiarity with Burrow from the duo’s days at LSU. It’s also reasonable to assume he can take Green’s target share and eclipse it. A conservative number would be 19% of the team’s targets (687, as mentioned above). That works out to just over 130 targets. What about a bolder estimate? What if Chase takes over the WR1 role in Cincy immediately? Can he command a 22% target share? That would get him to 150 targets, which gives him clear WR1 upside.
My estimate for Burrow’s pass attempts is a bit high, but even if he hovers around 610-620 attempts, Chase can realistically see 130-140 targets and potentially more. He’s got the talent, he’s got the relationship with the quarterback, and he should have plenty of opportunities.
DeVonta Smith (PHI): ECR WR41
So you’re telling me, a team’s WR1 is ranked as low as WR41 in ECR? Sign me up, baby! The target share should be enormous for the reigning Heisman Trophy winner right out of the gate, as Smith will immediately step onto the field as the team’s WR1 without clear competition for targets. The expected Jalen Reagor rookie breakout didn’t occur in 2020, and Travis Fulgham‘s weekly WR1 status was simply a flash in the pan. Zach Ertz appears to be a shell of himself, and Smith should be the guy for Jalen Hurts in the quarterback’s first full season as starter.
In four starts as a rookie, Hurts averaged just over 33 pass attempts per game, which are sustainable numbers across a full season. That puts him in the 560-570 pass attempt range, and if Smith can command as large a target share as I’m expecting, the returns could be huge. Last season, the Eagles’ target leader was Greg Ward with a measly 79. With a true alpha on the roster in Smith, the targets should be easy to come by.
Don’t let the arrival of head coach Nick Sirianni scare you off Smith with the though that he’ll turn the Eagles into a run-first team. Over the last three years as offensive coordinator for the Colts, Sirianni’s teams attempted 552, 513, and 644 pass attempts respectively. If Hurts indeed attempts 560 passes and Smith can draw a quarter of them, he’s in the 140-target range. That type of volume comes with a lot of upside.
Mike Williams (LAC): ECR WR50
Is it time for an official Mike-Will breakout? Could the stars align for a massive season in his fifth year? I think there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic, and the WR1 upside is surely there. Williams’ first four seasons have been a bit of a hodgepodge statistically, so let’s take a look at them.
In 2017, he failed to make much of an impact, but he really came to fantasy managers’ attentions in 2018 as a sophomore. That year, Williams 43/664/10, establishing himself as a premier “go-up-and-get-it” guy. He followed that showing with a 49/1,001/2 receiving line in 2019 while leading the league in yards/reception and went 48/756/5 in 2020. Williams has never put together big receiving and big scoring numbers in the same season, but he’s got upside in spades. He should be the clear No. 2 in the Chargers’ passing attack, and there’s a chance to surpass the 87.5 targets and 48.5 receptions he’s averaged across his last two campaigns.
Justin Herbert averaged just north of 39 pass attempts per game as a rookie in 2020, and he should be in line for similar volume in 2021. New offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, a Sean Payton acolyte, could aid Herbert’s development in Year 2, which would be in turn be beneficial for Williams. With a career average of 16.7 yards/reception, the wideout only needs to bump his catches to 60 to hit the 1,000-yard mark this season. If you’re looking for top-12 upside late in drafts, Williams is currently ranked as a WR5 and may be one of the best values in all of fantasy football this season.
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