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Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between – Wide Receivers (2021 Fantasy Football)

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Aug 3, 2021


 
Boom, bust, and everything in between. What does that mean, exactly? If this is your first time reading this piece, you might be wondering that.

When someone mentions that “Player X recorded five WR1 performances last year,” it irks me a bit. It’s like saying something to the effect of “Tyler Lockett finished as the WR8 last year, so he was a rock-solid WR1.” Ask anyone who owned him in fantasy last year if he was the eighth best wide receiver. He failed to score more than 12.3 PPR points in 10-of-16 games in 2020. Stating where someone finished for a particular week doesn’t do us any good, either, because variance is a real thing.

To better help you understand what I’m talking about, the average top-12 wide receiver performance in 2020 was 20.6 PPR points. What you don’t know is that Nelson Agholor scored 21.7 PPR points in Week 7 but wasn’t awarded a WR1 performance because it just happened to be a high-scoring week for wide receivers. On the flip side, Adam Humphries scored 18.4 PPR points in Week 6 and was awarded with a WR1 performance because it was a low-scoring week for wide receivers.

The player’s performance should not be graded on a curve, because we have no control on predicting what that curve is for any particular week. Our goal as analysts is to predict who will have WR1 performances in any given week, which stood at 20.6 PPR points in 2020.

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The numbers vary from year-to-year, which is where the research comes into play. While the WR2 number was 15.3 PPR points in 2017, it lowered to 14.9 PPR points in 2018, then 14.5 PPR points in 2019, but then shot up to 15.6 PPR points in 2020. Every position is different, but know that I’ve gone through each year, each position, and each player, charting how many top-12, top-24, top-36 performances they’ve had according to that year’s stats. Not just that, though, as I’ve added boom and bust categories, which showcases their ceiling and floor on a week-to-week basis. This research is done on PPR leagues because it’s the format that presents the most consistency, which makes it the most predictable.

The number to achieve boom or bust status varies per position, as some have it harder than others. With wide receivers, the number to “boom” wound up on 25.0 PPR points because it would have amounted to eight receptions for 120 yards and a touchdown. That number can obviously be accomplished in a variety of different ways, but again, we just want them to reach that number. A “bust” on the other hand amounted to less than 8.0 PPR points. Below, you can find the chart with the parameters for each position.

Position Boom Bust
QB 26.0 13.9 or less
RB 25.0 6.9 or less
WR 25.0 7.9 or less
TE 20.0 6.9 or less

 

To give you an idea as to something you may find below, here’s an example: Robby Anderson performed as a WR2 or better in 43.8 percent of his games, yet is going as the WR34 in drafts, while Tyler Lockett hit that mark in just 37.5 percent of his games but is going as the WR21.

For the fifth time, welcome to Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between. Here are the wide receivers, while the other positions will be released throughout the rest of the week. You’ll be able to find the links below once they go live.

Quarterbacks
Running Backs
Tight Ends

Wide Receivers

Top-10

Let’s start by taking a look at the target hog receivers being taken inside the top-10, highlighting which ones stand out, as well as which look like they don’t belong. It’s important to note that for a player to accumulate a game played in this study, they had to garner at least one target. If he was on the sideline starting the year and not getting any targets, it shouldn’t affect his percentages.

ADP Player Tgts/gm WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % BOOM % BUST %
1 Tyreek Hill 9.0 46.7% 80.0% 86.7% 33.3% 6.7%
2 Davante Adams 10.6 57.1% 78.6% 85.7% 42.9% 7.1%
3 Stefon Diggs 10.4 43.8% 68.8% 87.5% 31.3% 0.0%
4 DeAndre Hopkins 10.0 50.0% 56.3% 62.5% 25.0% 12.5%
5 D.K Metcalf 8.1 25.0% 50.0% 68.8% 18.8% 18.8%
6 Calvin Ridley 9.5 33.3% 73.3% 80.0% 26.7% 13.3%
7 Justin Jefferson 7.8 37.5% 50.0% 62.5% 25.0% 25.0%
8 A.J. Brown 7.6 35.7% 57.1% 71.4% 14.3% 7.1%
9 Keenan Allen 10.5 35.7% 57.1% 71.4% 21.4% 14.3%
10 Terry McLaurin 8.9 26.7% 46.7% 73.3% 6.7% 20.0%

 

Davante Adams is a king, and no, it’s not just one year. In fact, his 2018 season was better than his 2020 season. Here are the last three years on his resume:

YEAR WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % BOOM % BUST %
2020 57.1% 78.6% 85.7% 42.9% 7.1%
2019 41.7% 66.7% 66.7% 8.3% 8.3%
2018 60.0% 100.0% 100.0% 20.0% 0.0%

 

Now that we know Aaron Rodgers is back, Adams should be a locked-in first-round pick and would be my first receiver off the board. Meanwhile, Tyreek Hill and Stefon Diggs aren’t far behind, but that’s the end of the first tier.

DeAndre Hopkins saw plenty of targets in his first season with the Cardinals, but seeing that he produced WR3 or better numbers just 62.5 percent of the time moves him out of the elite tier. One could make the argument that Calvin Ridley belongs in the elite tier with Adams, Hill, and Diggs, especially knowing that Julio Jones is now out of the picture.

There’s just one receiver in this bunch who produced WR2 or better numbers in less than 50 percent of his games, and that’s Terry McLaurin. He does get a quarterback upgrade this year, but there’s also much more talent around him, which could cap his target upside. We’ll talk more about him later.

There really aren’t too many mistakes drafters are making with the top-10 wide receivers, though some should be shuffled around, including A.J. Brown over Justin Jefferson and D.K. Metcalf. You can see Brown posted essentially identical numbers to Keenan Allen but with nearly three fewer targets per game. Sure, Julio Jones is now there, but that shouldn’t necessarily be used as a negative, as he’ll see more single-man coverage.

11-20 Range

This seems to be the range where most fantasy owners believe a player will take a leap in production, as they’re drafting them as WR2s most of the time. But when you select someone in a draft, you’re looking for equity in the pick to grow, so they almost need to have top-10 upside to be justified.

ADP Player Tgts/gm WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % BOOM % BUST %
11 Allen Robinson 9.4 31.3% 43.8% 68.8% 18.8% 12.5%
12 Mike Evans 6.8 18.8% 50.0% 62.5% 12.5% 25.0%
13 Julio Jones 7.6 33.3% 55.6% 66.7% 11.1% 33.3%
14 CeeDee Lamb 6.9 12.5% 31.3% 50.0% 6.3% 12.5%
15 Chris Godwin 7.0 16.7% 50.0% 75.0% 8.3% 16.7%
16 Amari Cooper 8.1 18.8% 50.0% 75.0% 6.3% 18.8%
17 Adam Thielen 7.2 40.0% 46.7% 60.0% 26.7% 26.7%
18 Robert Woods 8.1 25.0% 50.0% 56.3% 12.5% 12.5%
19 Cooper Kupp 8.3 20.0% 26.7% 53.3% 13.3% 13.3%
20 Tyler Lockett 8.3 25.0% 37.5% 43.8% 18.8% 31.3%

 

Anyone who tells you that Tyler Lockett was the No. 9 wide receiver last year, I want you to direct them to this chart. He was a WR3 or better just 43.8 percent of the time, which ranked 44th among wide receivers in 2020. But yeah, sure, he was a WR1 at season’s end. This chart was also not kind to CeeDee Lamb and Cooper Kupp, who performed as a WR2 or better in less than 40 percent of their games. The reason for optimism here is that they’ll both have a quarterback upgrade in 2021, and we’ve already seen Kupp produce better numbers in the past.

Some might say that Adam Thielen is being undervalued this year, though I’d disagree with that sentiment. He’s properly valued as a WR2, as touchdowns heavily impacted his performances last year, and that shows when you look at his bust rate. It’s no surprise that both Theilen and Justin Jefferson had the same number of busts as they did booms, because the offense doesn’t have a ton of volume, leading to a bit of inconsistency.

Julio Jones has been a stud in this study for years despite not having high touchdown totals, and though injuries affected his numbers in 2020, he has a new team in 2021. I’d be willing to say that Ryan Tannehill is an upgrade over Matt Ryan, though the volume in his new offense may not be as high as it was in Atlanta, moving him into high-end WR2 territory. It’s hard to understand why he’s going after Mike Evans considering the history of the two.

21-30 Range

We’re now to the point where you’ll see some of the more consistent options who may not have the WR1 upside that those in the 11-20 range do, but they are typically the receivers who come with a better floor.

ADP Player Tgts/gm WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % BOOM % BUST %
21 Diontae Johnson 9.6 40.0% 46.7% 66.7% 6.7% 20.0%
22 Kenny Golladay 6.4 0.0% 60.0% 80.0% 0.0% 20.0%
23 D.J. Moore 7.9 13.3% 40.0% 53.3% 6.7% 13.3%
24 Odell Beckham Jr. 6.1 14.3% 28.6% 28.6% 14.3% 42.9%
25 Brandon Aiyuk 8.0 41.7% 58.3% 66.7% 0.0% 25.0%
26 Ja’Marr Chase DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
27 Tee Higgins 6.8 20.0% 33.3% 53.3% 0.0% 26.7%
28 Chase Claypool 6.8 18.8% 37.5% 50.0% 6.3% 37.5%
29 DeVonta Smith DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
30 JuJu Smith-Schuster 8.0 25.0% 56.3% 62.5% 0.0% 25.0%

 

This was an eye-opening revelation I had while putting this article together. Why draft Terry McLaurin in the third round when you can draft Diontae Johnson in the fifth (and sometimes sixth) round? Sure, you can do both, but take a look at this:

Player Tgts/gm WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % BOOM % BUST %
Terry McLaurin 8.9 26.7% 46.7% 73.3% 6.7% 20.0%
Diontae Johnson 9.6 40.0% 46.7% 66.7% 6.7% 20.0%

 

Keep in mind that Johnson wasn’t even particularly efficient with his targets last year. Every other receiver who saw more than 8.5 targets per game is being drafted as a top-12 wide receiver. This is your chance to steal Johnson at a major discount.

Kenny Golladay‘s numbers suggest he’d be a great WR2 to have, but his new team and quarterback are discounting his price, and rightfully so. The other superstar in this territory is Brandon Aiyuk, who should be way up in the low-end WR1/high-end WR2 conversation based on his 2020 numbers. However, there are a lot of different things we need to factor in. The 49ers have a healthy stable of running backs, a rookie quarterback that figures to take over before long, and most importantly, they have George Kittle and Deebo Samuel back in the lineup. There were just four games where the trio were on the field together, and during that time, Aiyuk saw just 21 targets (the lowest of the three) and had 13/189/1 combined in those games. It’s enough to discount his price, but the upside is surely there.

Odell Beckham’s numbers were worse than I thought in 2020. He’s been tumbling down the charts as the years have gone on, but his price in drafts finally reflects that. After being absolutely dominant (was the best charted receiver in this study for the first five years of his career), he’s now trended in the wrong direction in back-to-back years.

YEAR WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % BOOM % BUST %
2020 14.3% 28.6% 28.6% 14.3% 42.9%
2019 12.5% 31.3% 56.3% 6.3% 25.0%
2018 41.7% 66.7% 83.3% 16.7% 0.0%
2017 50.0% 75.0% 75.0% 25.0% 25.0%
2016 37.5% 68.8% 68.8% 25.0% 6.3%
2015 53.3% 73.3% 73.3% 40.0% 6.7%
2014 58.3% 83.3% 91.7% 41.7% 8.3%

 

Getting him as your WR3 in the sixth or seventh round leaves you incredible growth potential, and if you miss, it’s not like we can’t find another WR3 on the waiver wire or later in the draft.

Many would be surprised by Tee Higgins‘ numbers, which suggest he was more of a WR3 than a locked-in WR1 or WR2 last year, though losing Burrow for the last two months of the season certainly didn’t help. It seems many are expecting Chase Claypool to take a massive leap in 2021 seeing he’s going ahead of JuJu Smith-Schuster, whose numbers were better across the board in the same offense last year. Now that we’ve mentioned Smith-Schuster, it’s a good time to bring up that he’s the discounted version of Robert Woods.

Player Tgts/gm WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % BOOM % BUST %
Robert Woods 8.1 25.0% 50.0% 56.3% 12.5% 12.5%
JuJu Smith-Schuster 8.0 25.0% 56.3% 62.5% 0.0% 25.0%

 

31-40 Range

It’s tough to say what owners look for in this range, as some like to play it safe with a veteran who’s a lock for seven targets per game, while others are willing to take their shots on players who offer week-winning upside, even if it means sacrificing a fantasy floor.

ADP Player Tgts/gm WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % BOOM % BUST %
31 Courtland Sutton 6.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
32 D.J. Chark 7.2 15.4% 23.1% 30.8% 15.4% 30.8%
33 Deebo Samuel 6.3 14.3% 28.6% 57.1% 0.0% 42.9%
34 Robby Anderson 8.5 6.3% 43.8% 56.3% 6.3% 18.8%
35 Michael Thomas 7.9 0.0% 42.9% 42.9% 0.0% 28.6%
36 Tyler Boyd 7.3 13.3% 40.0% 53.3% 6.7% 26.7%
37 Jerry Jeudy 7.1 12.5% 12.5% 25.0% 12.5% 43.8%
38 Will Fuller 6.8 36.4% 54.5% 81.8% 9.1% 9.1%
39 Brandin Cooks 7.9 26.7% 33.3% 60.0% 20.0% 20.0%
40 Jarvis Landry 6.7 6.7% 26.7% 40.0% 6.7% 33.3%

 

*It should be noted that I moved Michael Thomas to WR35 based on ECR rather than ADP simply because it hadn’t caught up by the time I started writing this.

If you look strictly at the targets here, you’ll notice that Robby Anderson sticks out like a sore thumb. He was a solid WR2/3 to rely on and would fit in with right behind guys like Terry McLaurin and Robert Woods, though he lacked the WR1 performances to get there. Still in the same offense, he should be going a tad higher, though the move to Sam Darnold does create some uncertainty.

Will Fuller is the clear outlier in this group, but he’s going from Deshaun Watson to Tua Tagovailoa, and will be surrounded by more weapons in Miami. The numbers he posted in 2020 were absolutely top-10 worthy, so it’s a shame to see him leave (though Watson might as well). The receiver left behind in Houston is Brandin Cooks, who is also looking like a value late in drafts. Getting a player as a WR4 who produced as a WR3 or better 60 percent of the time is amazing value. If Watson were to play this year, Cooks should be in the low-end WR2/high-end WR3 range.

We’ve known Jarvis Landry to be a player we could rely on for consistent, steady production, but that wasn’t the case in 2020, and that was with Odell Beckham missing most of the season. Him falling to WR40 makes more sense than his end of year finishes in recent years. If Drew Lock is the starter, it’s bad news for Jerry Jeudy, who had no reliability last season.

41-60 Range

This is the territory where fantasy managers have to understand the players they have on their roster, because this is bench territory. Do you have a bunch of proven players who might lack some upside? This is your area to take some risk. Do you have a lot of upside players who might bust? This is your area to snag some safer players.

ADP Player Tgts/gm WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % BOOM % BUST %
41 Antonio Brown 7.6 12.5% 25.0% 62.5% 12.5% 25.0%
42 Curtis Samuel 6.5 26.7% 46.7% 53.3% 6.7% 20.0%
43 Marquise Brown 6.3 6.3% 25.0% 56.3% 0.0% 31.3%
44 Jaylen Waddle DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
45 Michael Pittman 4.7 0.0% 15.4% 15.4% 0.0% 69.2%
46 Laviska Shenault 5.6 7.1% 21.4% 42.9% 0.0% 28.6%
47 Corey Davis 6.6 21.4% 35.7% 50.0% 14.3% 21.4%
48 DeVante Parker 7.4 7.1% 35.7% 50.0% 0.0% 35.7%
49 Mike Williams 5.7 21.4% 28.6% 35.7% 7.1% 42.9%
50 Henry Ruggs 3.3 0.0% 7.7% 15.4% 0.0% 69.2%
51 Michael Gallup 6.6 18.8% 18.8% 25.0% 12.5% 43.8%
52 T.Y. Hilton 6.2 13.3% 20.0% 33.3% 13.3% 33.3%
53 Cole Beasley 7.1 20.0% 33.3% 46.7% 13.3% 20.0%
54 Marvin Jones 7.2 25.0% 31.3% 50.0% 18.8% 18.8%
55 Mecole Hardman 3.9 6.3% 12.5% 18.8% 0.0% 68.8%
56 Darnell Mooney 6.1 0.0% 18.8% 25.0% 0.0% 37.5%
57 Sterling Shepard 7.5 16.7% 25.0% 41.7% 8.3% 25.0%
58 Christian Kirk 5.6 21.4% 21.4% 35.7% 0.0% 42.9%
59 Elijah Moore DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
60 Rashod Bateman DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP

 

It’s amazing to get Antonio Brown where we are in drafts. His WR3 or better rate of 62.5 percent ranked 17th in the NFL, tied with DeAndre Hopkins, Justin Jefferson, and Mike Evans. Keep in mind that’s after a year off football and learning a new offensive system on the fly. He might be the best value in fantasy football drafts. Some might be thinking about Curtis Samuel‘s marks on this chart, but don’t forget he’s no longer on the Panthers. He’s going back to Scott Turner’s offense, which wasn’t so kind to him in 2019.

Why is Corey Davis lasting as long as he is? He went from being the No. 2 in a low-volume offense, to now being the No. 1 option on a team that’s going to throw the ball a lot more than the Titans did. His situation got better, while Tyler Lockett‘s remained the same. Now, take a look at the chart below and explain to me why there’s a 7-8 round gap between these two in ADP:

Player Tgts/gm WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % BOOM % BUST %
Tyler Lockett 8.3 25.0% 37.5% 43.8% 18.8% 31.3%
Corey Davis 6.6 21.4% 35.7% 50.0% 14.3% 21.4%

 

Unless the Raiders completely revamp the offense and change how they view/utilize Henry Ruggs, his ADP makes little sense. It’s still the same quarterback and the same offense, so there’s little reason to think there’ll be a drastic change. I’d much rather take players like Michael Gallup, Cole Beasley, Sterling Shepard, and Christian Kirk.

DeVante Parker has been a value in recent years, and his numbers in 2020 were better than his current ADP, but I’d argue he should move further down with the acquisition of both Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle. Marvin Jones is going to a new team with a rookie quarterback, which brings volatility to his projection, but he’s proven to make it work with different quarterbacks throughout his career. It’s possible he’s being undervalued.

61-80 Range

This is the pure sleeper territory for those who are selected with one of your final picks. These are the guys you’ll cut if they don’t perform in Week 1 to snag the hot waiver wire pickup.

ADP Player Tgts/gm WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % BOOM % BUST %
61 Jamison Crowder 7.3 33.3% 41.7% 50.0% 16.7% 33.3%
62 John Brown 5.8 0.0% 44.4% 55.6% 0.0% 33.3%
63 Russell Gage 6.9 6.3% 31.3% 43.8% 6.3% 43.8%
64 Rondale Moore DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
65 Gabriel Davis 3.9 0.0% 25.0% 31.3% 0.0% 50.0%
66 Nico Collins DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
67 Jalen Reagor 4.9 0.0% 0.0% 9.1% 0.0% 45.5%
68 Emmanuel Sanders 5.9 14.3% 21.4% 50.0% 0.0% 21.4%
69 Amon-Ra St. Brown DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
70 Nelson Agholor 5.1 25.0% 25.0% 43.8% 6.3% 37.5%
71 Allen Lazard 4.6 10.0% 20.0% 30.0% 10.0% 50.0%
72 Denzel Mims 5.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 44.4%
73 Terrace Marshall DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
74 A.J. Green 6.5 0.0% 12.5% 25.0% 0.0% 56.3%
75 Sammy Watkins 5.5 10.0% 10.0% 20.0% 0.0% 60.0%
76 Kadarius Toney DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
77 Parris Campbell 4.5 0.0% 0.0% 50.0% 0.0% 50.0%
78 Tre’Quan Smith 3.6 7.7% 7.7% 23.1% 0.0% 38.5%
79 Darius Slayton 6.1 12.5% 12.5% 18.8% 6.3% 62.5%
80 Jakobi Meyers 6.8 8.3% 33.3% 41.7% 8.3% 25.0%

 

The first thing you’ll notice is that Jamison Crowder was better than you thought last year. In fact, he had better numbers than Tyler Lockett across the board. However, this isn’t the same offense or same regime. The Jets have a new head coach, new play-caller, new quarterback, and more importantly new receivers, including second-round pick Elijah Moore. They essentially forced Crowder to cut his pay in half if he wanted to stay with the team, and while he did, it wouldn’t shock me to see Moore pass him on the depth chart relatively quickly.

John Brown is on a new team, so these numbers don’t really mean a whole lot, but he should be the No. 1 option at wide receiver on the Raiders. Health has always been an obstacle for him, but when on the field, he’s much better than his WR62 ADP. Nelson Agholor is the one Brown is replacing, as he went off to the Patriots. It could turn out that Agholor is just better than his time in Philadelphia showed, as he posted solid numbers year one with the Raiders. Can he do the same with the Patriots? It’s pretty much free to find out.

Based on this chart, it would appear Russell Gage is being undervalued as well, but don’t forget it’s a new offense that doesn’t run nearly as many 3WR sets as the Falcons did last year. If they did, he’d be the cheaper version of Cole Beasley.

One of my favorite values late in drafts is Jakobi Meyers, who essentially took over Julian Edelman’s role in the offense once he went down. Keep in mind that his numbers on the chart include a game where he saw one target as Edelman’s backup.

What We Learned

It’s pretty rare to find wide receivers who’ll produce WR1-type numbers more than 33 percent of the time. There were just 11 of them in 2020. Heck, there were just three of them in all of 2019. The position just isn’t nearly as consistent as running backs.

With more three- and four-wide receiver sets, we’re seeing more receivers contribute on a weekly basis, though it’s removing the weekly consistency of elite target shares. For the template on wide receivers, you should be aiming for your WR1 to hit WR2 or better numbers at least 55 percent of the time, with WR1-type numbers 33 percent of the time. Your WR2 should be hitting WR2 or better numbers at least 45 percent of the time with WR1-type numbers 25 percent of the time. And lastly, your WR3 should be posting at least WR3-type numbers at least 55 percent of the time.

Some of the players who stood out here in this article (without their situations being changed for the worse) based on where they’re being drafted include Calvin Ridley, Diontae Johnson, Robby Anderson, Antonio Brown, Corey Davis, and Jakobi Meyers.

Some of the players who don’t look so great when compared to their ADP include D.K. Metcalf, CeeDee Lamb, Cooper Kupp, Tyler Lockett, Odell Beckham, Jerry Jeudy, and Henry Ruggs. Does this mean all of them will fail to live up to their ADP? No, there are factors that make me like some of them quite a bit, but they should come at a bit more of a discount considering their performances in 2020.

In case you missed it, the running backs were posted yesterday, with the quarterbacks and tight ends coming in the next few days.


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Mike Tagliere is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeTagliereNFL.

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