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Top Wide Receivers Outside the ECR Top 50 (2021 Fantasy Football)

Listen, I love the expert consensus rankings (ECR) point-per-reception (PPR) WR50, Mike Williams, and WR51, Cole Beasley. Having said that, I recently highlighted them as late-round PPR targets. So instead of regurgitating why I love them, I include a fresh quartet of receivers worth a look.

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John Brown (WR – LV):  WR56 ECR in PPR formats as of 7/6
Nelson Agholor rehabbed his long-term outlook as a highly successful vertical option for the Raiders last year. Tight end Darren Waller was the top pass-catching option and projects to be the same this year. However, the departure of Agholor to the Patriots in free agency creates a need for a home-run receiver.

Fantasy gamers are drafting second-year burner Henry Ruggs III as the heir apparent to the role. However, John Brown has a chance to be that guy. Smokey was limited to nine games in the regular and three postseason games for the Bills last year. Although, he was still productive when on the field.

According to Pro-Football-Reference, out of 153 qualified pass-catchers last year, Brown ranked tied for 41st with 8.8 yards per target (Y/Tgt). He was even better in 2019, ranking tied for 25th with 9.2 Y/Tgt. However, Brown set a new career-high with 5.2 Yards After Catch Per Reception last year, per Sports Info Solutions. So, he’s proven to be more than just a deep-ball weapon, averaging 4.4 receptions and 63.3 receiving yards per game in 24 games across two years with the Bills.

Still, Smokey’s greatest trait is his ability to take the top off of defenses. In his superb 2019 campaign, Brown’s average depth of target of 14.3 yards tied for the 12th-deepest mark. Likewise, his new running mate at quarterback, Derek Carr, excelled on deep balls last year. According to Pro Football Focus, out of 44 quarterbacks who threw a minimum of 10 passes 20-plus yards, Carr earned Pro Football Focus’s second-highest pass grade behind only 2020 NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers.

Brown’s a tremendous bounce-back candidate. As the No. 1 option in Buffalo’s offense led by still-raw Josh Allen in 2019, he scored the 15th most PPR points among receivers and ranked 22nd (excluding Antonio Brown’s single-game played) in per-game scoring at the position, per our Fantasy Leaders page. Waller’s significantly better than who he competed for targets with on the Bills in 2019. Having said that, Brown can perform like a top-40 receiver this year, making him an attractive option at his ADP.

Mecole Hardman (WR – KC): WR58 ECR
Primarily used as a tertiary option in his first two years, Mecole Hardman’s single-season high for receptions and receiving yards is only 41 and 560, respectively, totaled last year. Still, his 10.7 yards per target is eye-catching. Further, Hardman could be in store for a move up the depth chart.

In a recent mailbag for The Athletic, Nate Taylor pegged Hardman as the front-runner to fill Sammy Watkins’ vacated role as the No. 2 wideout, declaring him a breakout candidate. However, there’s no question Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill are the top options in Kansas City’s offense.

Regardless, sign me up for a crack at the potential third option in a Patrick Mahomes-led offense, namely a player with the game-changing speed Hardman possesses to turn one touch into a useful fantasy week. The third-year receiver has ample room for growth after playing the position only two years in college and learning on the fly in the NFL. At his draft cost, if he flops, the damage is minimal. If he hits, though, the impact could be massive.

Gabriel Davis (WR – BUF): WR65 ECR
The departure of Smokey from the Bills creates an opportunity for the emergence of a third option in Buffalo’s pass-happy attack behind Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley. The club signed Emmanuel Sanders, and he’s in the mix. He had a stellar 2019 season. Yet, this is his age-34 campaign, so there’s always a chance for a cliff season.

Additionally, Gabriel Davis could perform better and earn more looks in his second season. As a rookie last year, he averaged an eye-popping 17.1 yards per reception while scoring seven touchdowns. He netted high-value targets. Among receivers and tight ends targeted a minimum of 50 times, Davis’s average depth of target of 15.0 yards downfield was sixth deepest.

He also ranked tied for 19th in yards per target (9.7 Y/Tgt). Additionally, he was a red-zone weapon. Davis was targeted 12 times in the red zone, hauling in seven grabs, four for scores. The valuable targets alone make Davis a viable draft option a bit earlier than his ADP.

However, there’s room for growth in total targets, too. The Bills passed at the third-highest rate (63%) with a scoring margin between trailing and leading by seven points, per Sharp Football Stats. They also ran receiver-heavy personnel packages, tying for the sixth-highest percentage of 11-personnel (one running back, one tight end, and three receivers) at 71% and ranking second in 10-personnel (one running back, zero tight ends, and four receivers), using it 15% of the time in 2020.

The Bills didn’t utilize their tight ends or running backs much in the passing game in 2020. Those position groups may carve out a more substantial role this year. However, it’s also possible the receivers do the heavy lifting. Davis offers cheap exposure to a potent offense with a chance at a sophomore surge.

Nico Collins (WR – HOU): WR104 ECR
With the last spot in this space, I wanted to include a receiver for gamers in deep leagues and someone for folks to keep tabs on in the preseason as a potential helium guy. Nico Collins opted out of the 2020 season. He never bested 40 receptions or 750 receiving yards in a single season for the Michigan Wolverines. Still, he showcased big-play ability en route to 17.8 yards per reception and 13 touchdowns in 27 games, per Sports-Reference.

The Texans weren’t armed with much in the way of draft ammo this year. Yet, after selecting quarterback Davis Mills in the third round with their first pick, they traded back into the third round to pop Collins. General Manager Nick Caserio explained the thought process of trading back into the third round to select Collins, essentially admitting the move was driven by the player they targeted, Collins.

As Coty Davis of Texans Wire for USA Today noted back on April 30, the 6-foot-4 receiver adds a size element the receiving room lacked before his addition. Pro Football Focus declared his size and speed combo as his biggest strength. The big wideout ranked a solid-if-unspectacular 107th on Pro Football Focus’s final top-300 prospects list.

Scouting is an imperfect practice, and opinions differ. Interestingly, the NFL.com draft analysts graded him as the seventh-best receiving prospect, directly in front of first-round pick Rashod Bateman. NFL Analyst Lance Zierlein provided a more detailed scouting report with an overall overview, strengths, and weaknesses.

Since the draft, Collins has done his part to impress new teammate and fellow receiver Brandin Cooks. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who could start for the Texans while Deshaun Watson’s legal troubles are sorted out, also voiced a positive opinion about how quickly Collins is “picking up the system.

The Texans have completely overhauled their roster, including at the receiver position. It’s a largely unimpressive receiving room beyond Cooks — and, to a much lesser extent, ho-hum slot receiver Randall Cobb. According to the Betting Pros consensus, the Texans have an ugly team win total of only 4.5 wins. They’re likely to be playing catch-up often this year. Can Collins force his way into the fantasy picture on a team constantly airing it out while playing from behind? It’s certainly possible.

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Josh Shepardson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Josh, check out his archive and follow him @BChad50.

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