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Must-Have Wide Receivers (2021 Fantasy Football)

by Jeff Bell | @4WhomJBellTolls | Featured Writer
Aug 7, 2021

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While quarterbacks get the headlines and running back selections almost always start drafts, wide receivers often provide the backbone of roster construction. The depth of the position fills flex positions, and many leagues feature three wide receivers. Boom potential is weighed against consistency to create a team capable of swinging weekly matchups. 

But knowing who to target is critical and can vary greatly depending on the league format. Outside of tight end premium scoring, wide receiver ranks and values are the most volatile depending on scoring. For context, Tyreek Hill (WR – KC) scored 16.1 standard points per game, while Davante Adams (WR – GB) lead the league at 17.4. Flipped to a PPR format, Adams spiked to 25.6, growing the gap on Hill’s 21.9 by 2.4. Standard formats benefit splashier plays while volume creates PPR monsters.

To identify must-have WRs, look for those who stand out in a particular format.

Average Draft Position (ADP) referenced using FantasyPros Consensus ADP

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Points Per Reception Gainers

Keenan Allen (WR – LAC) WR9, ADP 27 
Allen gained 41% of his points via receptions, placing him third in the league via added PPR value. Allen’s 10.4 standard points ranked him 14th, while he rose to 7th at 17.5 PPR points. A 9.9 yards per reception ranked him outside the top 100. Allen frequently works underneath routes, where his separation excels, and his top-end speed liabilities are masked. He is a perfect compliment to Mike Williams’ (WR – LAC) big-play threat, who unsurprisingly ranks in the bottom ten in points gained.

The Chargers are bringing in a new offense with coordinator Mike Lombardi coming from New Orleans. Early camp buzz has Williams taking over Michael Thomas’ (WR – NO) lucrative fantasy role. Frequent highlights have shown Justin Herbert’s (QB – LAC) ability to attack vertically, fitting more of Williams’ traditional role.  

Allen has staked a reputation on consistency, but he surprisingly ends up as a boom/bust proposition. If Williams takes a much more significant role, Allen’s previous lack of big plays lowers his ceiling. But on the flip side, Thomas posted one of the greatest fantasy seasons working with Lombardi in 2019. If Allen falls into that heavy of usage, he may post career highs, finally leaping into the upper bounds of elite production. 

Cooper Kupp (WR – LAR) WR19, ADP 50
Kupp displayed the most significant swing switching from standard to PPR scoring, with 44% of his points coming from receptions. Kupp and Allen should paint a picture of the type of players who gain value with the scoring switch, high volume WRs who lack splash playmaking ability. Kupp had a very disappointing 2020, placing at standard WR39; he salvaged a bit in PPR by jumping to WR30.

Kupp has shown his upside previously. Operating under Sean McVay, he finished PPR WR4 in 2019, an upgrade from standard WR7. Matthew Stafford (QB – LAR) presents an upgrade over what Jared Goff (QB – DET) had become in a season full of Rams’ offensive disappointment. The Rams loss of star RB Cam Akers (RB – LAR) shifts the balance of talent firmly towards the passing game, creating a situation ripe for Kupp to outperform his WR20 placement.

Standard Gainers

Mike Evans (WR – TB) WR13, ADP 40
Evans is one of the most polarizing WRs in fantasy football. Switching formats swings him hard. His 13 touchdowns placed him 4th in the league and propelled him to WR10 in standard formats. In PPR, inconsistent volume lowered him to WR17. Evans has detractors and has found himself facing a wide range of draft outcomes.

The market has valued Evans at his floor. With seven straight 1,000 yard seasons and evident physical ability, he finished WR3 in 2019. The ability to grab a player capable of producing a top-five season in the mid to late fourth calls to league swinging value similar to Stefon Diggs (WR – BUF) in 2019. In standard scoring, the market has priced out the risk.

The Buccaneers receiving room rivals the deepest in the league. Tom Brady’s (QB – TB) comfort in his second year in the system can tap into the upside Bruce Arians’ offense has historically produced. The market has overlooked Evans’s history, and he provides a WR1 ceiling at a WR2 price.

A.J. Brown (WR – TEN) WR8, ADP 24 
Brown finished standard WR4 in ppg, only .1 point behind third-place Calvin Ridley (WR – ATL). Before the addition of Julio Jones (WR – TEN), his ascension towards the top of the position seemed inevitable, but the perception of a crowded room cooled his price. Brown tied Evans among the least affected by the switch of scoring formats.

The situation can be perfectly aligned to put Brown at WR1. Hitting his prime age range, playing opposite Jones can sway defensive attention while providing mentorship in the locker room. The departure of Arthur Smith as offensive coordinator opens the door to pass more, utilizing the new talent while preserving Derrick Henry (RB – TEN) for a postseason run. Brown is a proven producer who is only missing volume to take the final step.

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