Sunday, February 21, 2021

Way-too-early 2021 Fantasy Football WR Rankings

The 2020 NFL season is now two weeks behind us.

Even so, it's arguably never too early to look ahead to the upcoming season. NFL free agency in March and the NFL Draft in April will certainly alter our early fantasy football rankings and we will update these rankings after the start of the NFL free-agency period and the NFL Draft.

More way-too-early 2021 fantasy football rankings:

For now, here are our early fantasy wide receiver rankings for 2021 season:

1. Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers

Not only did Adams miss two games in 2020, but he has missed multiple games in three of his past four seasons. Even so, the seven-year veteran led the NFL in receiving touchdowns (18) and yards per game (98.1) and also set a career high in receptions (115). With double-digit touchdowns in four of five seasons, Adams has a total of 58 scores in 71 games over that span. With Aaron Rodgers still playing at an MVP level, Adams is the clear choice to be drafted as fantasy's WR1 in 2021.

2. Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

Few players at any position have as much upside as Hill to erupt for a massive performance in any given week. Setting a career high in touchdowns (17), Hill had 87 receptions for 1,276 yards and 13 carries for 123 yards in 2020.

3. DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals

In his first season in Arizona, Hopkins tied a career high in receptions (115) and his 1,407 receiving yards were the third most of his career while Stefon Diggs (166) was the only receiver with more targets than Hopkins (160). While his six touchdowns were a four-year low, Hopkins still finished as a top-five fantasy receiver in half-PPR formats.

4. Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills

Things could not have gone better for Diggs in his first season with the Bills. Buffalo's starters played fewer snaps than usual in Week 17, as Diggs played a season-low 48% of the team's offensive snaps. Even so, that Week 17 performance (7/76) was the only game over the final five weeks where Diggs had fewer than 128 receiving yards. A top-three performer across all scoring formats, Diggs led the league in targets (166), receptions (127) and yards (1,535) in 2020.

5. D.K. Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks

The sky is the limit for Metcalf, who is coming off a breakout sophomore campaign (83/1,303/10). Through Week 9, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks passing offense were unstoppable and Metcalf had more than 90 yards in seven of his first eight games. Through Week 9, only Tyreek Hill had scored more fantasy points than Metcalf.

The only concern for Metcalf (and Wilson) is the Seahawks resistance to letting Russ "cook." Over the final eight regular-season games, Metcalf exceeded 61 yards in only two games. As great as Metcalf was in the first half of the season, he was tied with Carolina's Curtis Samuel as the WR25 from Weeks 10-17.

6. Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons

Ridley closed the season the same way he started it (with 100-plus yards in four of five games). Along with Davante Adams (six) and Stefon Diggs (three), Ridley was one of three receivers to finish as a top-two weekly fantasy receiver at least three times in 2020. Ridley finished last season with 90 catches on 143 targets for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns and should be a top-six fantasy wide receiver in 2021.

7. Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints

It was an injury-plagued 2020 season for Thomas, who failed to score in seven regular-season appearances. While Thomas played in the four Taysom Hill starts and had a pair of 100-yard games, both against the Falcons, an expected Drew Brees retirement this offseason tempers expectations of what fantasy managers should expect from a healthier Thomas in 2021.

8. Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears

A free agent-to-be in March, it's unclear where Robinson will play football in 2021. Fantasy managers could easily argue that Robinson would benefit by escaping his recent situation in Chicago. Even so, Robinson has a total of 200 receptions and a minimum of 1,147 yards over his past two seasons in Chicago.

9. Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers

Allen missed a couple of games and was limited in others, but he finished with 100 catches for the third time in four seasons despite playing with a rookie quarterback. Although just shy of the 1,000-yard mark and averaging a career-low 9.92 Y/R, Allen tied his career high (set as a rookie in 2013) with eight touchdowns. Along with Davante Adams and Diontae Johnson, Allen was just one of three receivers to get double-digit targets in 10 games in 2020.

10. A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans

Brown missed a couple of games, but he followed up a strong rookie campaign (52/1,052/8) with career highs across the board -- 70 catches, 1,075 yards and 11 touchdowns on 106 targets. Despite playing in a run-first offense, Brown has averaged 17.4 Y/R and scored a touchdown on 15.6% of his receptions through his first two NFL seasons.

11. Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings

Jefferson exceeded all expectations in his inaugural season with 88 catches for a rookie-record 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns. Not only did the former LSU Tiger have seven 100-yard games, but he had double-digit targets in five of his final six games after doing so in only two of his first 10 games. Going forward, Jefferson will be the 1(a) to Adam Thielen's 1(b) in Minnesota's passing offense.

12. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons

Jones missed nearly half of the season, but he finished with at least 94 yards in five of his nine games played in 2020. Averaging 85.7 YPG last year, Jones was still on a full-season pace of 1,371 yards. Before last season, he had a minimum of 1,394 yards in six consecutive seasons.

Even with Ridley taking a massive step forward, Jones is on the WR1 fringe and could reward fantasy managers handsomely if he's able to stay healthy in his age-32 season.

13. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Although he set a career low in yards per game (62.9), Evans exceeded the 1,000-yard mark -- now seven consecutive seasons to begin his career -- and set a career high with 13 scores. Even though I assume the Bucs will re-sign all of these pass-catchers, it's worth noting that Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski are all scheduled to become free agents in March.

14. Kenny Golladay, Detroit Lions

It was a lost season for Golladay, who appeared in only five games and will be an unrestricted free agent in March. When healthy, however, Golladay is a top-10 talent and could be available at a slight discount in 2021 drafts if fantasy managers let recency bias cloud their judgment.

15. Terry McLaurin, Washington Football Team

While the team's quarterback play doesn't do him many favors, McLaurin managed to set career highs with 87 catches and 1,118 yards in his second season. While his Y/R dipped to 12.9 from 15.8, he set career highs in YPG (74.5) and catch rate (64.9%).

As much as Washington may be a potential landing spot for a Round 1/Round 2 quarterback prospect, it's likely that the top four quarterback prospects will be off the board by the time they pick at No. 19. In other words, McLaurin is a high-end WR2 that will likely be held back by quarterback play in 2021.

16. Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

While he's a free agent-to-be, the expectation is that the Buccaneers will re-sign Godwin as they look to make another Super Bowl run with Tom Brady under contract for (at least) one more year. Missing four games, Godwin finished 2020 with 65/840/7 and averaged more than 25 fewer yards per game than in 2019.

17. D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers

Moore averaged only 6.9 targets per game through his first 10 games, but that number ticked up to 9.8 per game over his final five games. In addition, three of his four 100-yard games occurred over that final five-game stretch. Even though his 55.9% catch rate was a career low, the 23-year-old receiver's ADOT (13.2), Y/R (18.1) and receiving yards (1,193) were all career highs.

18. Robert Woods, Los Angeles Rams

It was a disappointing season for Woods and the Rams offense in general. Woods tied a career high in receptions (90), but his receiving yardage (936) and yards from scrimmage (1,091) were three-year lows. Replacing Jared Goff with Matthew Stafford generates some optimism for the skill-position players.

19. Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings

Thielen averaged only 61.7 YPG, but he scored 14 touchdowns in 2020. Only three receivers were targeted more often in the red zone than Thielen (19).

20. Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys

Cooper finished 2020 with a career-high 92 receptions for 1,114 yards and five touchdowns. It was his third consecutive 1,000-yard season and fifth of his career. In 41 games as a member of the Cowboys, Cooper has averaged 73.9 yards per game, which is equivalent to an 1,182-yard 16-game pace.

21. Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers

Tied with Davante Adams and Keenan Allen, no receiver had more games with double-digit targets than Johnson (10). The second-year receiver averaged only 10.5 Y/R, but he turned his 144 targets into 88 catches for 923 yards and five touchdowns. While he needs to cut down on the drops, JuJu Smith-Schuster an impending free agent and Johnson should be one of the league's most-targeted wideouts in 2021.

22. Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams

While Kupp averaged a career-high 6.1 receptions per game, he set career lows with 10.6 Y/R and only three touchdowns. As noted with Woods, the upgrade at quarterback should provide a boost to Kupp, Woods and the offense overall.

23. Tee Higgins, Cincinnati Bengals

From Week 2 (Higgins' debut) until Week 11 (Joe Burrow's knee injury), Higgins scored the 19th-most fantasy points (half-PPR scoring) amongst wide receivers. With A.J. Green set to become a free agent, Higgins will have an opportunity for a second-year improvement in what should remain one of the league's most pass-heavy offenses with good health from Burrow.

24. Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers

In 12 games as a rookie, Aiyuk ended the year with 60 receptions for 748 yards and five touchdowns and added 77 rushing yards. Aiyuk had a six-game stretch through Week 15 with a minimum of 73 yards per game and an average of 94.7 over that stretch.

25. CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys

With a healthy Dak Prescott, Lamb began his NFL career with two 100-yard games and a minimum of 59 yards in each of his first five games. During that five-game span, Lamb scored the 11th-most fantasy points (Amari Cooper was 12th) and ranked sixth in receiving yards (433). Based on skill set, Lamb should eventually emerge as the Cowboys 1(a) to Cooper's 1(b) ... potentially as early as 2021.

26. Odell Beckham, Cleveland Browns

Beckham tore his ACL in Week 7. Outside of a massive three-TD performance against the Cowboys in Week 4, Beckham performed as a weekly top-40 wide receiver in only one other game. Excluding Week 7 when he sustained the injury, he averaged only 3.8 receptions per game and never exceeded five catches any week.

27. Will Fuller, Houston Texans

Once again, Fuller missed five games, but this time it was due to suspension. In fact, he will finish serving his six-game suspension in Week 1 of the 2021 season. If he's re-signed by Houston and the Texans don't trade Deshaun Watson, there is enormous upside as Fuller had set career highs in receptions (53), yards (879), YPG (79.9), Y/R (16.6) and touchdowns (eight) with DeAndre Hopkins in Arizona. Before the suspension, he was on a 77/1,279/12 pace.

28. Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks

The full-season numbers (100/1,054/10) look great and Lockett now has back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns and three consecutive seasons with at least eight touchdowns. That said, there were three huge games (9/100/3, 15/200/3 and 12/90/2) and mostly modest performances the rest of the season. From Weeks 4 to 16, Lockett finished as fantasy's weekly WR45 (or worse) in nine of 12 games. Given Seattle's run-first tendency, there is week-to-week volatility with the team's top pass-catchers.

29. Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos

Sutton missed nearly all of 2020 with a torn ACL, but he had a breakout season in 2019 with 72 catches for 1,112 yards and six touchdowns. Even though the team drafted Jerry Jeudy in the first round last spring, Sutton should reinsert himself as the team's top receiver and he's an upside WR3 heading into 2021.

30. Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh Steelers

Claypool scored 11 touchdowns -- nine receiving and two rushing -- in the regular season and added two more receiving scores in the team's playoff loss to Cleveland. Especially if the Steelers let JuJu Smith-Schuster sign elsewhere in free agency, Mapletron would have enormous upside in year two.

31. D.J. Chark, Jacksonville Jaguars

Chark missed three games in 2020 and averaged 12.9 yards per game less than in 2019, but it's a virtual lock that the Jaguars will draft Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick in April. Improved quarterback play makes Chark a bounce-back candidate for 2021.

32. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers

After averaging 65.5 and 89.1 yards per game, respectively, in his first two seasons with the Steelers, Smith-Schuster has averaged 46.0 and 51.9 per game in 2019 and 2020, respectively. As an unrestricted free agent, it's likely that JJS signs elsewhere given the Steelers salary-cap situation. Per Over the Cap, the Steelers are more than $30 million over the cap and only three teams have less salary-cap space.

33. Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals

Boyd had just one catch for one yard in Weeks 15 and 17 -- he was out in Week 16 -- as he failed to extend his 1,000-yard streak to three seasons. Through Week 11 (when Joe Burrow tore his ACL), however, Boyd was averaging 71.0 yards per game, which put him on a 16-game pace of 1,136 yards. With a healthy Burrow, Boyd is a solid WR3.

34. Brandin Cooks, Houston Texans

Averaging a career-high 76.7 YPG, Cooks finished his first season in Houston with 81 catches for 1,150 yards and six touchdowns. From Week 5 on, Cooks had at least 59 yards in 10 of 11 games. During that 11-game span, he averaged 6.5 catches and 92 yards per game. Provided that Deshaun Watson isn't traded and that Will Fuller signs elsewhere as a free agent, Cooks could move much higher in our rankings when/if we get that clarity.

35. DeVante Parker, Miami Dolphins
36. Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers
37. Robby Anderson, Carolina Panthers
38. Jarvis Landry, Cleveland Browns
39. Corey Davis, Tennessee Titans
40. Jerry Jeudy, Denver Broncos
41. Marquise Brown, Baltimore Ravens
42. Michael Gallup, Dallas Cowboys
43. Curtis Samuel, Carolina Panthers
44. Antonio Brown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
45. Laviska Shenault, Jacksonville Jaguars
46. Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers
47. Cole Beasley, Buffalo Bills
48. Marvin Jones, Detroit Lions
49. T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
50. Jamison Crowder, New York Jets
51. Sterling Shepard, New York Giants
52. Darius Slayton, New York Giants
53. Christian Kirk, Arizona Cardinals
54. Ja'Marr Chase, Free Agent
55. Emmanuel Sanders, New Orleans Saints
56. Jalen Reagor, Philadelphia Eagles
57. DeVonta Smith, Free Agent
58. John Brown, Buffalo Bills
59. Allen Lazard, Green Bay Packers
60. Jaylen Waddle, Free Agent

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