Late-Round Draft Targets: Wide Receivers (2021 Fantasy Football)
Few things are more rewarding in fantasy football than absolutely nailing a late-round selection. In addition to that feeling of being right, a valuable late-round player can make your team a championship contender.
Today, I’m looking at the wide receiver position. Imagine drafting Justin Jefferson in 2020 or D.J. Chark in 2019. Massive late-round success stories are more common at wide receiver than running back, though they certainly aren’t common in the general sense of the term.
Numberfire’s J.J. Zachariason identified four main characteristics of breakout wide receivers in this 2020 article. To summarize, they are:
- On teams with ambiguous wide receiver groups
- Playing alongside a wide range of quarterback talents
- Not completely out-of-nowhere breakouts
The two players mentioned above fit all four criteria. In 2020, Jefferson was a first-round rookie playing for a good but not great Kirk Cousins and joining a group with a gaping hole at WR2.
In 2019, D.J. Chark entered his sophomore season after going in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft. He played for subpar quarterbacks in Nick Foles and Gardner Minshew on a team with no clear standout wide receivers.
This article is not specifically targeting breakout wide receivers, but rather any wideout currently drafted as a WR5 or worse (outside the top 48) who could realistically be a value for your fantasy team in 2021. In an ideal world, the receivers listed would check all four of Zachariason’s boxes, but there are only so many players to go around.
I am essentially looking for any wide receiver — focusing on younger players — with a plausible path to a starting role.
Average Draft Position (ADP) referenced is FantasyPros consensus ADP for Half-PPR formats
Cole Beasley (BUF): ADP WR50
Of course, the first name fits just about none of the criteria. Cole Beasley is 32 years old with not much ambiguity in his team’s wide receiver corps, but his ADP creates the value.
Putting aside concerns about Beasley’s poor decisions on Twitter and the increased possibility he may end up suspended for violating NFL Covid protocols, he averaged 13.5 PPG last season en route to an overall WR33 finish. Not every late-round hit has to be a smash like Jefferson; sometimes you just need to get on base.
What exactly has changed for Beasley? He has averaged exactly seven targets a game for two consecutive seasons, finishing second on the Bills each year. Stefon Diggs remains the alpha WR1, and the only other change is Emmanuel Sanders essentially replacing John Brown as the team’s WR3. Beasley’s role in the slot remains unchanged. I like Gabriel Davis just as much as you, but he’s the WR4. If he ascends higher than that, it will be at Sanders’ expense, not Beasley’s.
The downside of Beasley as a late-round selection is you know you’re not getting a WR2 season. But unless he retires, his WR50 ADP feels very much like his floor. You can do far worse than Beasley as a solid WR4 on your bench to plug and play when you need him. He could return WR3 value once again.
Mike Williams (LAC): ADP WR49
It seems extremely unlikely that Mike Williams’ WR5 ADP will hold throughout August. Yet even if he creeps inside the top 48, he will remain a worthy selection. Williams isn’t as young as we’d prefer, but he’s still just 26 years old. He’s tethered to a young, ascending quarterback in Justin Herbert, and the Chargers have no clear WR2 behind Keenan Allen.
Williams was bad last season, averaging just 11.0 PPG, but he still finished as a low WR4. Although fantasy managers often scoff at WR4s, those guys still have utility. You are going to need them at various points throughout the season.
Williams is currently drafted around WR49, but closer to WR55 on some sites. Even if that spikes to WR45, that is right around his floor. We’ve already seen two versions of his ceiling in the past. In 2018, Williams caught 10 touchdowns on just 66 targets. In 2019, he led the NFL with 20.4 yards per reception. Herbert can support three fantasy-viable pass catchers. Right now, we are only certain of one. If things break right, Williams has WR2 upside.
Jalen Reagor (PHI): ADP WR68
Another largely undiscussed aspect to finding late-round wide receivers is a willingness to accept you might be wrong. I don’t particularly like Jalen Reagor as a talent, but it’s important to assess the situation objectively.
Reagor is entering his sophomore season and has a new head coach, and a mostly new starting quarterback. The Eagles may have spent a high first-round pick on DeVonta Smith to be their WR1, but their wide receiver corps is still quite uncertain. Outside of tight end Dallas Goedert, no one has a defined role.
Reagor’s 2020 numbers aren’t worth looking at. He was terrible, but he fits the criteria for a breakout wide receiver and is the type of player you can get a read on early. If Reagor starts in two-receiver sets and actually gets targeted, you have something. If Reagor is an afterthought two weeks into the season, you can easily drop him. With a WR68 ADP, this is as low-risk as it gets.
Parris Campbell (IND): ADP WR75
Third-year wide receiver Parris Campbell is exactly what we want in a late-round wide receiver. He’s 24 years old on a team featuring 31-year-old T.Y. Hilton and fellow unproven 24-year-old Michael Pittman. Campbell’s competition for targets is a second-year wide receiver who didn’t do much as a rookie and a possibly washed-up veteran who has rarely produced without Andrew Luck.
Why not Campbell? He has blazing 4.31 speed and a 97th percentile burst. Campbell looked poised to break out in 2020 after starting the season with a nine-target game, but injuries quickly derailed his rookie campaign. Sure, Campbell is quickly earning an injury-prone label, but at a WR75 ADP, I’ll roll the dice on him staying on the field this season.
While I don’t see a top-24 finish in Campbell’s future, a top-36 finish is well within his range of outcomes if he stays healthy.
Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams (DET): ADP WR82 | WR 106
I understand the aversion to all things Jared Goff. Actually, you know what, I don’t. Goff produced perennial WR2s in Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp in Los Angeles. Obviously, Goff is not as good as he looked in that historic 2018 season, but the former No. 1 pick is mildly competent. He’s not Blake Bortles.
The Lions will be bad, but even bad teams score some points. Goff may attempt 600 passes this season. Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones are gone. Danny Amendola remains a free agent. Detroit’s wide receiver corps is probably the most mysterious in the entire NFL.
Enter Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams, two aging veterans who have flashed in the past, but never put together any sustained success.
Fantasy managers love to get rookie-happy, but Amon-Ra St. Brown won’t start on this team. He’s a Day 3 pick with 4.66 speed. According to this 2020 tweet from Marcus Mosher, 157 wide receivers have run a 4.61 or slower 40 time since 2020. Only a handful of them ever mattered — and even fewer as rookies — in the NFL. St. Brown is no more or less likely to break out than teammate Quintez Cephus, another former Day 3 pick with sub-4.61 speed. If anything, Cephus has a leg up because he’s got a year of NFL experience under his belt.
Perriman had that epic five-game run to close out 2019 when he was the last man standing after Mike Evans and Chris Godwin went down. Williams has battled through injuries during his career, but he had a 1,000-yard season back in 2016. These two are both going outside the top-75 wide receivers. Someone not named T.J. Hockenson and D’Andre Swift has to catch passes in Detroit. Especially in deeper leagues, both Perriman and Williams are worth a shot as the final position player on your roster.
Whether you’re new to fantasy football or a seasoned pro, our Fantasy Football 101: Strategy Tips & Advice page is for you. You can get started with Starting Your Own Fantasy Football League or head to a more advanced strategy – like What is the Right Amount of Risk to Absorb on Draft Day? – to learn more.