Best Ball Tiers: Wide Receivers

season

We hope you're enjoying this old content for FREE. You can view more current content marked with a FREE banner, but you'll have to sign up in order to access our other articles and content!

Best Ball Tiers: Wide Receivers

Note: If you haven’t already, go back and read the introduction in the QB Tiers article. In there, you’ll find a top-to-bottom breakdown of roster construction and an RB strategy that will change the way that you think about drafts. SuperHero RB for the win.

Jump to:

Tier 1

ADP range for tier: 5 to 13 overall

Main targets: Adams

Avoids: None

Whether or not Aaron Rodgers is back for a Last Dance or for the long-term remains to be seen, but regardless, his return is welcome news for Davante Adams. While Adams himself is due for a massive new deal, the league’s best duo is back for 2021 and Adams is re-installed as my No. 1 receiver in our Staff Best Ball ranks. I’ve got him ranked at 6 overall, one spot ahead of Travis Kelce.

We have to expect some scoring regression here, but honestly, there is no reason for that to affect his price because Adams’ role and consistency is unmatched among receivers. Since the start of 2018, he’s seen seven or more targets in a whopping 37-of-40 regular season games and turned in a WR2 (top-24) or better performance 78% of the time in this span.

By comparison, Tyreek Hill has finished as a WR2 or better in 60% of his games since 2018. Which is awesome in it’s own right! But that’s still far behind Adams.

Hill might have a slight advantage in his spiked week potential, but it’s not by much. Over the last three seasons, Hill has scored 25 or more PPR points in 30% of his games while Adams is at 24%. In fact, both receivers trail Michael Thomas in 25+ pointers (33%) in this stretch.

Regardless, Hill’s high-floor and high-ceiling locks him in as a top-2 wide receiver and with Sammy Watkins’ 16% target share out of the door, there is a chance Hill’s role grows even more this season. Hill’s finishes by FPG over the last three years are: WR4 > WR12 > WR2.

No team saw an individual player make such a massive difference on their team quite like Stefon Diggs did last season. Diggs' addition alone turned the Bills into one of the most pass-heavy, dynamic attacks in the league and unlocked Josh Allen as one of the game's premier passers. Allen’s talent was never in question, but getting arguably the NFL’s best route runner and dominant receiver against man coverage unquestionably helped bring Buffalo’s offense to new heights.

Diggs’ consistency was only bested by Davante Adams last year. Look at how crazy this is: In NFL history, only two wide receivers have recorded 6 or more receptions in 15 games in a single season all-time. They were Marvin Harrison (in 2002) and, now, Stefon Diggs (2020). Including the playoffs, Diggs averaged 20.6 fantasy points per game across his first 19 starts on his new team and scored double-digit points in every game. He’s a notch below Adams and Diggs in my ranks, but he’s arguably the safest pick you can make in the back half of the first round.

Tier 2

ADP range for tier: 13 to 28 overall

Main targets: Ridley and Allen

Avoids: None

This might seem like a cop out, but I promise it’s not. I absolutely love this entire second round range of receivers and have been buying all of these wideouts and Darren Waller in this pocket, especially if I start my draft with a running back.

The three biggest stands I’ve been making here are Ridley, Allen, and Waller.

Calvin Ridley has the role of a Round 1 wide receiver, but he isn’t being drafted as such.

Ridley has been unstoppable when Julio Jones has missed time over the last two years, putting up a ridiculous 20.2 FPG in eight games with him off of the field. Check this out:

GameReceivingTargetsWeekly FinishPPR Points
18/9110WR1817.1
25/11013WR2516
38/13610WR1021.6
46/50/19WR2017
58/124/112WR326.4
610/163/114WR132.3
75/1309WR1718
88/5212WR3813.2

Of course, all of that production came without Kyle Pitts around, but the Falcons really don’t have any other option but to feed Ridley. Even with Julio active for about half of their games, Ridley led the entire NFL in both end-zone targets (19) and in deep targets of 15 or more yards (65) last season. Ridley is right in the conversation to lead the league in targets and receiving yards, but is routinely taken in the mid-second round as the WR5. I’ve taken him as early as 10 overall.

DeAndre Hopkins is in that same conversation as Ridley. He’s a first-round caliber player, but because the market is jacking up running back prices, you’re getting a discount. Hopkins was absolutely fantastic in his first season out in the desert, finishing the year as the league-leader among receivers in target share (28%) and as the WR5 in FPG (18.2), just behind Ridley (18.8). The rookie Rondale Moore and veteran A.J. Green might reduce Nuk’s target share marginally, but they were more so just necessary additions to what was a very slim depth chart.

DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are two of my favorite receivers to target in all leagues, not just best-ball. And while there is a wide gap in their prices — Metcalf goes 20 overall while Lockett is off the board at 48 — you won’t find such a wide gulf in my ranks. I’ve got Metcalf at 21 and Lockett at 34.

While I’m much higher on Lockett than consensus, I still have Metcalf a round above Lockett because of the type of targets he sees. While Lockett (131) and Metcalf (132) split targets basically right down the middle, Metcalf saw significantly more air yards (41% share) compared to Lockett (28%). Metcalf and Locket did split end-zone targets down the middle, though (16). Regardless, there is a crazy amount of untapped upside in this pair. If new OC Shane Waldron gets to run his offense and not Pete Carroll’s, the Seahawks entire passing attack looks like league-winners. We’ve heard all off-season that Waldron’s system is going to be much faster paced and bring more freedom to their receivers.

The Titans trading for Julio Jones hurts A.J. Brown’s apex ceiling, but still firmly leaves Brown in the back-end of the WR1s. Keep in mind, Brown averaged a strong 17.6 PPR points per game in 15 starts (includes playoffs) which would have made him the WR7 right behind Keenan Allen (17.7). And that was with Corey Davis averaging 6.6 targets per game. So even if Julio takes over Davis’ role and a bit more, there is plenty of margin for error with Brown. Especially if the Titans defense continues to regress, Ryan Tannehill should have to throw just a bit more than he did in previous seasons.

Coming off one of the best rookie seasons of all time, Justin Jefferson never slides past the Round 2/3 turn. Keep in mind, Jefferson did all of his damage in 15 games. He wasn’t a full-time player until Week 3. Over the Vikings final 14 games, Jefferson averaged 95 yards and 18.4 fantasy points per game. And, for reference, that 18.4 FPG would have made him the WR5 over Hopkins (18.2). Damn impressive.

From Week 3 on, Jefferson continued to get better and better and it earned him the No. 1 role over Adam Thielen. He got 28% of the targets and 41% of the air yards while Thielen saw 23% of the targets and 31% of the air yards over the duo’s final 14 games. The one area where Jefferson didn't ascend over Thielen was when the Vikings got into scoring range. Thielen's 20 end-zone targets ranked second-most in the league while Jefferson only had 7 end-zone looks.

I’ve got the final receiver in this tier, Keenan Allen, ranked just a bit higher than Jefferson but have absolutely no problem with where the latter is going in drafts.

Allen just never gets the respect he deserves.

He’s averaging 101 catches and 1,195 yards per 16 games over the last four years, but is routinely left out of the high-end WR1 conversation. Before he got hurt, Allen put up 95/938/8 in 12 starts with Justin Herbert in Week 2-14 and that resulted in him finishing as a WR2 or better (top-24) in 8-of-12 games and scoring double-digit PPR points in 11-of-12.

Allen has very little competition for targets besides Austin Ekeler and Mike Williams, yet his ADP is 8-9 spots behind that of Metcalf and Jefferson’s. I’ll happily take that discount. I’m taking Allen as early as 18-20 overall.

Tier 3

ADP range for tier: 28 to 45 overall

Main targets: Thielen and Woods

Secondary target: Cooper

Avoids: None

I’m filling my shopping cart with all of the receivers in this range.

Criminally underrated and always undervalued, Allen Robinson is coming off back-to-back WR9 finishes in fantasy points per game and will now get the best QB play of his career with Andy Dalton and Justin Fields under center. ARob is fifth among all players in targets per game (9.5) behind Keenan Allen (9.9), DeAndre Hopkins (10.0), Michael Thomas (10.4), and Davante Adams (10.6) over the last two combined seasons and, other than Darnell Mooney, no one on the Bears is going to seriously threaten his volume. We’ve heard that Robinson is going to get more work out of the slot this season and that will only help get him better matchups and free releases off the line.

Terry McLaurin’s ascension continued in 2020 and it culminated in a remarkable season despite the musical chairs at quarterback. McLaurin did have wide splits with the different passers under center, though, as he averaged just 12.9 fantasy points per game when Alex Smith was the starter and 17.4 FPG without Smith under center. A large part of that dip in production was because Smith refused to push the ball downfield and his average depth of target was just 5.1 yards, which was by far the lowest in the NFL. McLaurin’s QB upgrade from Smith to Ryan Fitzpatrick can not be understated. Fitzmagic has a history of supporting elite fantasy receivers in recent years from Brandon Marshall (WR3 in 2015) and Eric Decker (WR14 in 2015), to Mike Evans averaging more FPG with Fitz (17.3) than without him (14.7) in 2017-18, and DeVante Parker scoring a career-high 15.4 FPG en route to a WR16 finish in 2019.

I’ve still got Amari Cooper higher in my overall ranks than anyone on staff, but I have to admit that I’m starting to get pretty worried about his surgically repaired ankle. Cooper hasn’t practiced yet this offseason and is still suffering from inflammation from a surgery he had back in January. Keep in mind, Cooper has a long history of foot/ankle issues that date back to college. The ceiling is still intact — Cooper easily led the team in targets (52) and was the WR9 in Dak Prescott’s starts last year — and you can insulate his downside if you take him as your WR2 in the third round or WR3 in the fourth. Still just 27 years old, Cooper is expected to be back by Week 1 but he carries the most risk in this range.

CeeDee Lamb’s ADP has been a rocket ship this entire summer and he’s now overtaken Cooper largely because of his injury concerns. Granted it was a very small sample of games, but Lamb was on an historic pace before Dak’s injury as he averaged 86.6 yards per game in Prescott’s starts. If he kept that up, it would have ranked third-best behind Justin Jefferson (87.5) and Odell Beckham (108.8) for most all-time by a rookie WR. Now we’re going to see Lamb play outside more this season — which has been a major point of emphasis for OC Kellen Moore. Lamb playing on the boundary more will not only increase his chances of getting deeper targets that will give him more upside for our game, it’ll also boost his snaps overall. Lamb ran 93% of his routes from the slot in his rookie year, but as you know, team’s don’t always have three wide receivers on the field. Lamb only played on 65% of the team’s total snaps as a result. With his arrow ticked straight up, we have bumped Lamb above Cooper in our projections.

Coming off seasons of 86, 90, and 90 receptions over the last three years in L.A., Robert Woods is a target of mine in every draft. Woods has finished as the WR17, WR14, and WR18 in fantasy points per game over the last three seasons and now has some room for growth on the upside with Matthew Stafford under center. The Rams offense became so predictable and so conservative last year and they were forced to overly rely on short throws and run after the catch to move the ball downfield. As a result, Woods’ average depth of target was just 6.8 aDOT yards, which ranked 71st-of-77 qualifying receivers. HC Sean McVay will be able to open up the playbook and both Woods and Cooper Kupp will benefit. Woods is almost always available near the Round 3/4 turn and makes for perhaps the safest pick in his ADP range.

While I’m not fading Mike Evans, he is a notch lower than all of these receivers in this range in my rankings because the Bucs’ have an extremely wide target distribution. Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown all played 11 games together last season and their production and total targets were incredibly close:

The good news is Evans’ role is the most bankable in this trio as the deep threat and Tom Brady’s primary target when they get in close to score.

Adam Thielen just finished as the WR11 in PPR points per game and WR9 in half PPR last year, yet is going off the board at… WR20?! That makes sense! Look, there is some baked-in scoring regression that is expected here, but his price drop is still too steep. Thielen became the sixth-receiver in the last 25 years to score double-digit red-zone TDs in a single-season and that very likely won’t repeat in 2021. Still, even though Thielen won’t run as hot in the TD department this year and the fact he is the “1B” to Justin Jefferson, the Vikings target tree is so skinny that it doesn’t really matter if Jefferson is the better player. Thielen will still get his targets. He's my favorite value at the position.

Tier 4

ADP range for tier: 40 to 55 overall

Main targets: Lockett

Secondary targets: Johnson and Kupp

Avoids: Moore, Godwin

DJ Moore has been the hardest receiver to get a pulse on in the first 4 rounds. On the one hand, Moore’s age-adjusted production is phenomenal, especially considering how bad the Panthers QB play has been. Moore has 3,156 yards in his first three seasons, which ranks 18th-most among wide receivers in their first three years ahead of Larry Fitzgerald (3,135), Calvin Johnson (3,071), and Amari Cooper (2,903) to name a few. On the flipside, Sam Darnold is a massive question mark at this point and Moore now has to deal with more competition for targets overall with Christian McCaffrey back and Terrace Marshall added. While his talent is not in question, Moore’s role is — especially in the touchdown department. Moore has scored just 10 TDs in 46 career games mainly because he has just 11 career targets inside of the 10-yard line. For reference, Tyler Lockett had 8 inside-10 targets alone last year. His lack of touchdown upside combined with the Darnold factor has left me without much Moore on my teams.

It’s painful to say, but I’m concerned about Chris Godwin’s role in our game. Like I alluded to above, Tom Brady spread the ball around evenly when he had his trio of receivers healthy, but unlike Mike Evans, where Godwin got his targets weren’t as valuable. Godwin had just six end-zone targets, which is just one more than Antonio Brown got in five fewer starts. Godwin was also fourth on the team in deep targets per game (20 or more air yards) behind Evans, AB, and Scotty Miller. That type of role forces Godwin to come through as a high-volume receiver in between the 20s, which, as we know by last year’s target share split, also isn’t possible. I’ll take Evans when falls a bit and love AB late, but I very rarely take Godwin.

Julio played just nine games last year, but he was just as explosive and efficient as he’s always been. Julio ranked 4th in yards gained per route run after ranking 1st, 1st, 1st, 2nd, and 5th in his previous five seasons. And just like we’ve seen for years, Julio remained effective on deeper targets. Per SIS, Jones was 4th in EPA (expected points added) per target when he saw throws of 15 or more yards downfield. Only Curtis Samuel, Emmanuel Sanders, and Justin Jefferson were better. Even though he’s now 32, Julio was still playing at an extremely high level while dealing with a nagging hamstring all year that ultimately ended his season. His presence is a positive for the Titans attack not only because it gives Ryan Tannehill an upgrade in replacing Corey Davis, but it should lead to more scoring opportunities for the offense as a whole. Julio still has the ability to drop 9-catch, 180-yard, 2-TD hammers — but now you don’t have to pay for his floor games as the WR15-20 off the board in the fourth round.

After an up-and-down 2020 to say the least, the market is relatively tame on Diontae Johnson’s outlook this season. Johnson’s ADP (49 overall | WR22) hasn’t budged all summer, but even if the Steelers go way more run-heavy with Najee Harris in the backfield, there is still value here. Johnson was Ben Roethlisberger’s unquestioned favorite target last year and it’s why he kept coming back to him even though Johnson struggled with drops all year. In the 14 full games that he played and did not leave early for an injury, Johnson averaged an impressive 11.2 targets per game (includes playoffs). And, in those games, Johnson put up 17.4 FPG, which would have made him the WR7 tied with A.J. Brown. So, even if the Steelers run the ball more, there is enough built-in wiggle room in Johnson’s ADP as a back-end WR2.

Cooper Kupp dipped below Robert Woods as a floor WR2 last year, finishing the season as a top-24 weekly option just 5 times while Woods had 9 such performances. It’s largely because Woods’ role has more upside built in, as he led the duo in targets of 10+ air yards (47 to 35). Matthew Stafford is going to be far more aggressive than Jared Goff, but there is a gap in the way Sean McVay has used these two receivers. While Woods rarely leaves the field and doesn’t get many snaps off when the Rams go into 2-TE personnel, Kupp does. Over the last two years, Kupp’s snap rate has dipped below 75% in 10-of-31 games. Woods has gone below three-quarters of the Rams snaps just twice in this span. Still, even with a slightly lesser role, Kupp is the WR15 in FPG these past two years. So if we’re expecting Stafford to take this offense to new heights, there is still a good amount of equity in Kupp’s WR20 ADP.

Like I mentioned earlier, both DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are a part of my plan in every draft — Lockett more so, because he’s a lot cheaper. It feels like everyone has a bad taste in their mouths after Lockett hurt so many teams down the stretch as Seattle’s offense melted down, but is that really fair? Seattle’s struggles over the last eight games have been well-documented and none of their problems had anything to do with a dip in Lockett’s play. Their offense was just structurally broken. In their first eight games, Lockett was the PPR WR4 while Metcalf was WR2. That’s Lockett’s ceiling. His WR19 ADP is the floor. Wilson/Lockett stacks have such killer upside. I’m higher than the entire staff on Lockett by a wide margin.

Tier 5

ADP range for tier: 50 to 65 overall

Main targets: Claypool

Avoids: Golladay

Brandon Aiyuk is such an exciting player and his rookie season was incredibly impressive, but there is a big dose of context needed. Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel and George Kittle were all on the field for a combined four games last year, and their absences largely opened up the opportunity for Aiyuk’s breakout. Aiyuk finished as a WR2 or better (top-24) in every game and never dipped below 17.5 points in Weeks 7-15, but he played that stretch without Samuel being fully healthy and Kittle missing five games. In the four full contests that this trio did play, Kittle (40) led them in targets while Aiyuk and Samuel had 22 each. With Trey Lance starting soon, we could see the Niners center their offense around the run game and Lance’s legs, further making Aiyuk’s volume murky. I had a ton of Aiyuk in the late rounds last year, but there always seems to be someone who is higher on him than I am in draft rooms this season. I’d rather just take the 2-3 round discount on Deebo Samuel.

Even if Joe Burrow is eased back in slowly, there is still so much to love about their passing attack. In Burrow’s nine starts, the Bengals were a goldmine for fantasy. They played fast (8th in pace), ran a ton of plays (1st), and were top-12 in pass rate in all three key game situations. That combination put Burrow on pace for a league-leading 658 attempts before he tore up his knee. Now, you could argue that HC Zac Taylor put too much on Burrow’s plate too early behind a shoddy offensive line but the flip side is that they had to throw to stay competitive in games. In Burrow’s 10 starts, the game was within a score or they were trailing going into the fourth quarter 8 times. So, even if Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd all see 18-22% of the team’s targets — there is enough runway for all three to see enough total volume to pay-off as WR3s, Chase and Higgins especially. Those two are going to get the majority of the deep / end-zone targets while Boyd continues to play in his slot-only role. I absolutely love drafting either Chase or Higgins as my WR3 in the sixth round.

I was on Golladay as an upside WR3 in May/June, but have cooled off considerably as of late. I just don’t want to be in the business of drafting players that are already hurt — not just rehabbing an injury like Amari Cooper, for example. I’m still willing to look past the concerns Jason Garrett presents as a play-caller because Golladay is going to get fed his deep targets and looks when they get in close to score, but Golladay’s lingering hamstring issues are a major pause for concern.

On the flipside, I have really warmed up to Chase Claypool this summer. It’s super impressive that Claypool managed to put up 873 yards (fourth-most among the rookie WRs) despite not being a full-time player and having a noodle-armed QB. Claypool ran just 27.3 routes per game, which ranked 74th among receivers. That’s set to change in 2021. James Washington is asking for a trade and, if Washington is gone, that would be the final box Claypool needs to tick. He already has a monopoly on the Steelers deep targets after seeing 31 looks of 20 or more air yards in his rookie season, which easily led the team. Diontae Johnson had 20 deep targets while Washington had 16. JuJu Smith-Schuster had just 7. Perhaps most importantly, Claypool has the profile of a future stud just based solely off of his production in his rookie year. Claypool’s 13.4 FPG in his first year ranks 9th-most among receivers taken in Round 2 or later of the NFL Draft since 2010. For reference, Terry McLaurin’s rookie year ranks 6th-best, AJ Brown’s 7th-best, and Tyreek Hill’s 8th-best. Not bad company!

Tier 6

ADP range for tier: 65 to 80 overall

Main targets: Jeudy, Samuel

Avoids: Chark, Beckham

If Jerry Jeudy or Courtland Sutton are going to be difference-makers in fantasy this year, we need to collectively say a prayer that the team transitions to Teddy Bridgewater sooner rather than later. Drew Lock was simply the worst non-Dwayne Haskins starting quarterback last season:

  • On his throws of 10-19 yards downfield, Lock was on-target just 59% of the time per SIS (third-worst behind Carson Wentz and Sam Darnold).

  • On throws of 20+ yards, Lock was on-target 49% of the time (also third-worst).

  • When he was pressured, Lock’s passer rating was 26.2 (worst in the league).

  • Lock’s passer rating against man coverage was 62.9 (also worst in the league).

  • Jerry Jeudy led the league in uncatchable targets with 35.

  • Just 65.5% of Jeudy’s total targets were catchable, which is the second-lowest rate among the 196 WRs with at least 70 targets over the last three seasons.

Sure, Jeudy had a few uncharacteristic drops, but Lock was a 500-pound cement block that weighed down this entire offense. I’m betting on Jeudy’s talent and route-running prowess winning out and hoping that the Broncos see the writing on the wall and just let Bridgewater start. Because, as we saw last year with DJ Moore, Curtis Samuel, and Robby Anderson — Bridgewater can keep receivers afloat in fantasy.

Speaking of Robby Anderson, I’d much rather take a stab on him as my WR3-4 in Round 6/7 than DJ Moore in Round 3/4. Anderson actually averaged more targets per game than Moore (8.5 to 7.9) last season and, obviously, has built in chemistry with Sam Darnold. Anderson had the quietest 95-catch season in NFL history last year, but like Moore, his scoring upside is low. Anderson got just four targets inside of the 10-yard line last year and has never really been viewed as a red-zone threat. His career-high mark for inside-10 targets was 5 back in 2017. While you’re paying a high price for Moore’s lack of scoring upside in the fourth, you don’t have to with Anderson in the sixth.

DJ Chark has been sliding all summer and that’s going to continue with him likely missing all of Training Camp after undergoing a hairline fracture in his finger. While that won’t cause him to miss any game time, it will cost him valuable reps to get on the same page with Trevor Lawrence. Considering both players fill similar roles, there shouldn’t be a 4-5 round difference in Chark and Marvin Jones’ ADP.

Deebo Samuel offers a 2-3 round discount on Brandon Aiyuk, and while some of that gap in price is fair, it still makes Samuel a fantastic value. In his 17 career games where he’s played at least half of the team’s snaps, Samuel has averaged 12.6 PPR points per game — which is, at worst, right in line to pay off his ADP as the WR36 (at 79 overall). For reference, Aiyuk averaged 15.4 FPG last season. Of course, Samuel’s biggest problem has been availability but he’s back to full health after nagging foot and hamstring injuries plagued him all of last year. We’ve seen Samuel flash what could be plenty, including a five-game stretch last season in Weeks 5-7 and 12-13 where he averaged 6.1 catches and 71.2 yards per game. With Trey Lance potentially taking this offense to new heights, there is untapped upside with Samuel as a WR4.

Even though he’s coming off a torn ACL and has never produced like his old self in Cleveland, drafters are still chasing Odell Beckham’s Giants days. OBJ is routinely going in the 6th round of drafts and even sneaks into the 5th in Underdog’s extremely WR-heavy market. On a run-first team coming off a major knee injury, I see Beckham as priced at or near his ceiling. Even at 100%, he’s not going to come close to recreating his production from New York:

DeVonta Smith’s ADP has really started to slip since he’s dealing with a sprained knee. To start the month of August, Smith has dipped down to the WR43 in drafts at 96 overall. His price floor probably hasn’t been found yet. Besides the fact that he’s undersized and the Twitter Hive Mind automatically has deemed him a bust because of his low BMI, Smith’s profile as a prospect is ridiculous and there is so much to like about him as a player. For fantasy, though, the concerns are that he’ll be capped on a run-first offense while Jalen Hurts has yet to prove himself as a passer. I steered clear of Smith when he was going in Round 7/8 before his knee injury, but might end up being a buyer if he slides into Round 10/11. I never want to take receivers that are already injured at anything less than a massive discount, and that’s where we’re trending with Smith.

Tier 7

ADP range for tier: 75 to 100 overall

Main targets: Gallup, Brown

Avoids: Fuller, Thomas, Samuel

If there is a “wide receiver dead zone” that mirrors the running back zone, this is it.

Since it was announced that Michael Thomas is going to miss multiple games to start the season, he’s slipped to just 51 overall in BB10 drafts and into the 70 overall range on Underdog. Thomas is in his second year dealing with complications with his ankle and foot injury, and the team is obviously frustrated with the way Thomas handled the situation this summer. We know Thomas still carries a WR1 ceiling, but this Athletic article suggests that it’s no guarantee he’s going to be back to his usual self when he does return in October or November. Even with the injury concern, Thomas is going much earlier in drafts than our consensus ranks would suggest. The only way I am taking Thomas is if I can insulate his downside risk with 4-5 strong starting options that will carry my team in the first half of the season.

Courtland Sutton will be 11 months removed from his ACL surgery by the time Week 1 rolls around, which is plenty enough of a timeframe from him to be close to 100% form again. However, just like we discussed with Jerry Jeudy, the Broncos QB situation continues to hang overhead. Sutton’s impressive 72/1112/6 season two years ago was largely fueled by playing with Joe Flacco, as Sutton averaged 15.2 fantasy points per game in Flacco’s starts but just 11.9 FPG when Drew Lock started the final five games. Again, we need Teddy.

Injuries abound in this tier and Curtis Samuel (groin) and Marquise Brown (hamstring) are both nursing muscle tightness to start camp. Samuel hasn’t practiced yet while Brown’s injury occurred in the first week of Training Camp. To be fair, it does sound like both teams are just playing it safe, but it does leave pause for concern with Samuel considering he may not practice much at all with his new team before Week 1. For now, both of these guys are rarely in my player queue.

All of the Dolphins pass catchers are tough to really buy into confidently. DeVante Parker, Will Fuller, and Jaylen Waddle are a dynamic trio with clearly defined roles but not a great deal of projectable volume. I’ve kept the light on for Parker because he’s usually the cheapest of the trio, but he averaged a measly 9.4 FPG in the eight games Tua Tagovailoa played in last season and now he has to deal with way more competition for targets. Miami sorely needed a deep threat and they made one of my favorite signings in free agency this spring with Will Fuller on a one-year deal. The QB and volume downgrades sting, though. Jaylen Waddle is the WR47 by ADP while Fuller is WR40 and Parker is WR52. I’m just taking a few shots on whomever is the cheapest of the trio and that is never Fuller.

Brandin Cooks is a shoo-in to lead the Texans in targets in 2021, but his QB downgrade from Deshaun Watson to Tyrod Taylor or Davis Mills is a massive concern. Taylor averaged just 17 TDs and 2,950 yards per 16 games in Buffalo and now has a significantly worse supporting cast and coaching staff around him in Houston. Cooks’ target volume is the only saving grace here.

With a full offseason to practice and participate with the team, it’s logical to expect Antonio Brown’s role to grow a bit more in 2021. In the 11 full games (including postseason) he played with the Bucs’ last year, he saw a fairly strong 18% of Tom Brady’s targets and scored 13.0 FPG. While both of those figures were third-best behind Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, he didn’t trail them by much. If we discount his first game of the season (Week 9), AB closed out the season finishing as the WR31 or better in weekly scoring in 5-of-7 games and he got 15% or more of the team’s targets in 5-of-7. Brown’s floor is a WR3 at worst, but he’s being drafted as a WR5.

Rounding out this range is my favorite mid-round receiver to target… Michael Gallup.

The Cowboys are absolutely smitten with the work Gallup has put in this offseason and are preparing to deploy him more in the slot and at “Z” receiver this year after he largely spent all of last season as their “X.” This move would directly coincide with OC Kellen Moore’s desire to move CeeDee Lamb out wide more, as Gallup ran just 6% of his routes from the slot last season. Considering Gallup’s average depth of target downfield was 17.6 yards (fifth-highest among WRs) when Dak Prescott was healthy, getting him a few layup opportunities out of the slot will boost his floor. Just think of it this way: The Cowboys have a legitimate shot to lead the league in scoring and the receiver who has a chance to threaten for the team lead the team in air yards is being drafted as a WR5. Gallup saw 26% of the team’s air yards in Prescott’s five starts last season, which barely trailed Cooper (28%).

Gallup is my most-drafted receiver in best ball.

Tier 8

ADP range for tier: 100 to 135 overall

Main targets: Moore

Secondary targets: Williams, Jones, Mooney

Avoids: Shenault, Pittman, Gage

As a group, we are much lower than the market on Laviska Shenault. Collectively, we have him ranked in the WR40 range, but he always goes much earlier than that. The drafters that are bullish on Shenault likely see a Curtis Samuel-type role, but after HC Urban Meyer said he was devastated to miss out on Kadarius Toney in the first round, I don’t think we can make that assumption. Not only will Shenault have to compete for targets with DJ Chark and Marvin Jones on the boundary, he’ll have to fight Travis Etienne for the shallow looks too. Shenault was basically a running back playing receiver last year and his targets traveled just 6.2 yards on average, which ranked 104th out of 108 qualifying receivers. Shenault seems like a classic case of the Twitter Hive Mind hyping up a player with so many ancillary factors working against him.

With Carson Wentz likely out for Week 1 and potentially longer, all of the Colts receivers are on my fade list. Michael Pittman especially. He was already somewhat blocked by TY Hilton and now that we have to deal with Sam Ehlinger and Jacob Eason starting multiple games, I’m out. Hilton out-targeted Pittman 61 to 51 in their 10 games played together to close out last season.

In the eight games that Julio Jones has missed over the last two combined years, Russell Gage has averaged 11.7 fantasy points per game and saw a sturdy 17% target share. That 11.7 FPG equates to mid-range WR4 numbers, but that was obviously before the selection of Kyle Pitts, and the team changed coaching staffs. At the end of the day, Calvin Ridley and Pitts are going to dominate targets here and leave Gage as a distant third on the totem pole. Joe Dolan and I were both all-in on Gage when he only cost an 18th-19th round pick last year, but he’s now going in a range where I’m shooting for upside — not floor.

The Jets bringing back Jamison Crowder takes some of the steam out of Elijah Moore’s ceiling, but on the plus side, it has kept Moore’s price palatable all summer. Moore’s separation skills and route-running savvy have immediately earned him snaps as a boundary receiver in the Jets 3-WR sets and he’s earned glowing praise all during Training Camp from coaches and beat reporters alike. Moore is a FantasyPoints darling and Scott Barrett favorite after his fantastic final season at Ole Miss. After sitting behind DK Metcalf and AJ Brown, Moore only played in eight games last season, but he led all collegiate WRs in yards per game (149.1) ahead of DeVonta Smith (142.8). This Jets passing attack will center around quick throws and run after the catch, which is exactly at what Moore excels at. It’s a perfect marriage of talent and role.

After years of being burned, I’m keeping the lights on for Mike Williams in the 9th/10th rounds of drafts as a WR4 or WR5 target one last time. The Chargers, once again, don’t have a legitimate threat for targets beyond Allen and Ekeler and will need to rely on Williams’ ability as a field-stretcher as a focal point of their offense. Williams' average depth of target (15.8 yards) ranked fifth-highest among WRs last year and helped culminate in three spiked weeks where he finished as a WR1 (top-12) in weekly scoring.

While Chark (WR33 in ADP) and Shenault (WR38) go much earlier, Marvin Jones comes off of the board much later in the 120-130 overall range at WR53. I’m just playing an arbitrage game here and taking the cheapest receiver on the Jaguars by far that has familiarity with Darrell Bevell’s scheme. And as Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception process highlights, Jones still has juice. He got open often despite being on the wrong side of 30 last year.

Darnell Mooney’s pathway to a breakout was made even clearer with Chicago casted Anthony Miller away to Houston and left little on the depth chart behind A-Rob and Mooney. Last year, Mooney earned a full-time role by Week 4 and averaged 6.7 targets per game over the Bears final 12 contests. Mooney has been “on fire” in Training Camp with his route running and is now primed to be Andy Dalton and Justin Fields’ No. 2 target. His ADP is shooting up, so it’s hard to land him in this range now.

Tier 9

ADP range for tier: 135 to 165 overall

Main targets: Moore, Hardman, Meyers

Avoids: Agholor, Ruggs

I’ve been largely avoiding Nelson Agholor at his inflated 12th-13th round ADP and instead focused more on Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne as the cheap Patriot receivers to target. The only question is who will play the slot? Meyers likely has the inside track — he ran 83% of his routes from the slot last year — but Bourne can play there, too. In fact, Bourne lined up in the slot on 68% of his routes last season in San Francisco per SIS. My guess is that Bourne will end up being the Patriots “Z” receiver with Agholor at “X” when they are in their 12-personnel (2 WRs, 2 TEs) sets and then Meyers will come on to the field in 11-personnel (3 WRs, 1 TE) and mainly play in the slot only.

With Sammy Watkins now in Baltimore, the Chiefs have to fill a somewhat sizable role in their attack. Before he got hurt and missed the entire middle of the season, Watkins opened the year with a quietly strong 16% target share as their third fiddle behind Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce in Week 1-5. That was basically the same exact usage that Watkins saw in 2019 when he earned a 15% target share as the Chiefs primary slot receiver. Now, what will happen to that 15-16% share of Patrick Mahomes targets? Well, this could finally be Hardman’s time. He had a great, consistent minicamp and Hardman was recently praised by Patrick Mahomes for his maturity and work that he’s put in during Training Camp. When you’re taking your WR5, WR6, and WR7 in drafts, you’re really only looking to get 2-3 “usable” weeks out of them and taking a shot on the cheaper end of the Chiefs receivers and attaching yourself to Mahomes makes a ton of sense.

One thing Kyler Murray has been missing at receiver is an explosive play-maker who can dominate after the catch, and he finally has it in Rondale Moore. My sense is that HC Kliff Kingsbury will use Moore as an extension of their run game and try to get the ball in his hands in space quickly on screens and shallow crossers. While it may take time for Moore to carve out a consistent role, it almost doesn’t matter if he doesn’t contribute early in the year. I want rookie receivers stashed as my WR6, WR7, or WR8 to come on hot and contribute on my teams for the stretch run. If you build around receivers in the mid-rounds, you won’t have to worry too much if your rookie that you drafted in the 13th round is giving you useful weeks in Week 4. Moore is an excellent late-round pick and easy to pair with Murray.

Henry Ruggs was a fade for me last year and I’m back at it again. Sure, Nelson Agholor is gone, but the team simply replaced him with John Brown who fills the same exact role that Ruggs does. No matter which way you slice it, Ruggs’ rookie season was a disaster. He only got four or more targets in a game 4 times last season and was largely an afterthought all year. Since 2010, a total of 39 wide receivers have been drafted in the first round. Of this group, Ruggs’ season ranks 25th in yards per game (34.8) and 27th in fantasy points per game (6.5). The first-round receivers worse than Ruggs in FPG since 2010? Corey Davis, Breshad Perriman, Demaryius Thomas, N’Keal Harry, Jonathan Baldwin, Josh Doctson, Nelson Agholor, Phillip Dorsett, Mike Williams, Laquon Treadwell, A.J. Jenkins, and John Ross.

With Brown added, Bryan Edwards healthy, and Darren Waller still locked-in as the team’s No. 1 target — Ruggs’ path to really beating his ADP is a tough one to follow.

Final note here: When I take Josh Allen, I always go out of my way to pair him with one of the receivers in this range. Davis and Sanders are my favorites.

Tier 10

ADP range for tier: 165 to 225 overall

Main targets: Toney, Marshall, Watkins, Robinson, Pringle

Avoids: Campbell, Slayton, St. Brown

First round wide receivers rarely go in the 18th / 19th rounds of fantasy drafts no matter how low the public is on a player, but that is exactly the case with Kadarius Toney. After missing some of OTAs because of a contract issue, Toney was reportedly “behind” in May. That isn’t the case anymore, though. Toney has been getting some burn with the first-team offense in Training Camp with Kenny Golladay sidelined. Much like Rondale Moore, Toney’s role early in the year is ambiguous, but you’re not drafting him to start for you in Weeks 1-5. You want him busting out late in the season when championships are being chased.

All of that same logic applies to Terrace Marshall and then some. Marshall is 100% and getting first-team reps in camp, which is a fantastic sign after injuries plagued him so much at LSU. The Panthers are going to try Marshall out as an explosive, big slot receiver to start the season which could immediately mesh well with Sam Darnold’s tendencies. Over the last three years, Darnold has targeted his slot receivers at the fifth-highest rate in the league.

Sammy Watkins is back with his old OC Greg Roman from his days with the Bills and is the cheapest Raven pass catcher to stack with Lamar Jackson, who I’m all-in on. That’s my entire rationale. Watkins is on a lot of my Lamar teams as a WR7 or WR8.

I’ve been putting Marquez Callaway in my player queue in the final few rounds a bunch recently. He’s got a runway to full-time snaps with Michael Thomas out and Deonte Harris facing a suspension.

Finally, both Chiefs receivers are on my list in the final few rounds of drafts. I’ll take my chance that one of them can pop for 1-2 spiked weeks and pop into my lineup as a WR3 during the bye weeks.

Graham Barfield blends data and film together to create some of the most unique content in the fantasy football industry. Barfield is FantasyPoints’ Director of Analytics and formerly worked for the NFL Network, Fantasy Guru, and Rotoworld.

Recent Articles