During the NFL season, fantasy owners have tons of questions about which wide receivers to start each week. Drafting elite high-volume wideouts can eliminate some decision-making, helping your team's floor and add explosive scoring potential. The struggle comes when believing all WR1s are created equal. The goal is to find the best options that can catch 100+ balls and score double-digit touchdowns.
WR1 (Ranked 1st to 12th)
The top of the 2021 wide receiving inventory has seven players with the talent to catch over 100 passes with plus scoring.
Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
Over the previous three seasons (41 games), Adams caught 309 passes for 3,757 yards and 36 touchdowns. His success breakdown to 7.5 catches for 92 yards and 0.88 scores per week or 21.98 fantasy points in PPR leagues. He remains the clear-cut top receiving option for Aaron Rodgers while offering consistency and explosiveness. Adams draws top ADP (6.1) for wideouts in August.
Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs
Any connection to Patrick Mahomes as a top receiving option should lead to a high ceiling. Even with an excellent 2020 (87/1,276/15 plus 13 rushes for 123 yards and two touchdowns), Hill gained over 100 yards receiving in three of his 15 starts. He earned his edge by scoring 17 touchdowns, but the Chiefs barely looked his way in seven matchups (seven targets or fewer). His overall stats offer impact value, but Hill will have some peaks and valleys given his penchant for big plays.
Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills
The move to Buffalo led to Diggs becoming one of the best receivers in the game. His route running created separation almost at will, and he caught 76.5 percent of his targets (166). Unfortunately, the click and repeat button doesn’t always work the following season after a great season. I expect continued success but regression in his stats. In mid-August, Diggs landed on the injury report with a minor knee issue. I’d much rather buy him in the early second round than tee him up as my franchise's first-round investment.
Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons
In his third season with Atlanta, Ridley turned into the next generation of Julio Jones. He made 23 explosive plays (catches over 20 yards). He has 26 touchdowns over his first 44 games. Ridley fits the elite WR1 bill, and the Falcons tend to attempt top-tier passing attempts. As a result, his ADP (14.1) places him around the turn of the first round.
DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals
In his first season with the Cardinals, Hopkins finished with over 100 catches for the third straight year while averaging 10 targets per game. He ranked first, fifth, and fourth in wide receiver scoring over the span, making him one of the most secure investments at wide receiver. However, his missing ingredient in 2019 and 2020 came in scoring (seven and six touchdowns). I expect better chemistry with Kyler Murray in the red zone this season while delivering first-round value at what should be a second round cost.
DK Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks
The next beast at wide receiver arrived in 2020, and fantasy owners haven’t seen the best of him yet. Metcalf brings an impressive combination of speed and strength, setting him up for a run at 2,000 yards at some point in his career. Scoring touchdowns creates separator scores that win fantasy matchups. His next step is 100 catches for 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns, so don’t be shy on draft day. We should see the final stage of his progression as he seems primed to leap even higher into the top WR tier.
Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings
An August shoulder issue slowed down Jefferson’s climbing ADP. However, he has enough time to be ready for Week 1, which should help his price point as the draft season approaches the opening weekend. His natural progression should be 100-plus catches with plenty of yards and a run at double-digit touchdowns. Before investing, a fantasy owner needs a clean bill of health.
A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans
The next tier at wide receiver starts with Brown. He has all the tools to push his output higher, but he can’t touch his ceiling without a massive jump in targets. In his rookie season, the Titans only looked his way 5.3 times a game, followed up by 7.6 in 2020. Brown has 19 career scores over 30 matchups while averaging 17.4 yards per catch. The two questions that need to be answered this year are: will the addition of Julio Jones hurt his growth in targets? And will the Titans throw more to accommodate their improved receiving corps?
CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys
The sexy breakout wideout in 2021 has to be Lamb. He finished his rookie season 22nd in wide receiver scoring in PPR leagues while playing two-thirds of the season with a backup quarterback. The only thing blocking him from further growth is the right shoulder of Dak Prescott. Lamb rarely makes it past the Christian McCaffrey on the two/third turn in 12-team leagues.
A Handful of Touchdowns from Greatness
Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers
Over the past four seasons, Allen has been one of the most consistent wide receivers in the league. He averaged 101 catches for 1,195 yards and 6.5 touchdowns per season or 259.5 fantasy points in PPR leagues. The Chargers have a young hotshot quarterback, giving Allen a potential boost in scoring. However, his yards per catch declined in each of the previous three seasons (13.7, 12.3, 11.5, and 9.9). As a result, he falls into the possession receiver category while never scoring impact touchdowns.
Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears
Robinson doesn’t have the length of success as Keenan Allen, but he has almost been the identical player in 2019 (98/1,1147/7) and 2020 (102/1,250/6). Despite his high production level, a change at quarterback and potential game flow may lead to a step back in chances. In his sophomore season in the NFL, Robinson scored 14 touchdowns while working more as a big-play receiver (17.5 yards per catch).
Terry McLaurin, Washington Football Team
After minimal opportunity at Ohio State (133/2,170/26) over 52 games, McLaurin has been an excellent investment by Washington while playing in a below-par offense with questionable quarterback play. He slipped more into a possession role in 2020 (87/1,118/4) after showing more scoring (seven touchdowns) and explosiveness in his rookie seasons (15.8 yards per catch). McLaurin has a do-it-all feel while waiting for Washington to find their franchise quarterback. Ryan Fitzpatrick will air the ball out and give his best receivers chances to win jump balls. His overall ceiling appears to be higher than Keenan Allen and Allen Robinson, but McLaurin may not match them in targets.
WR2 (Ranked 13th to 24th)
The steady scoring of the WR2 position adds more fuel to teams wanting to add running back talent over the first three rounds of the draft in 2021. Since that consistent WR2 scoring can be found later in the draft and volatile RB scoring pushes drafters to want to secure their preference at RB earlier. As a result, at least half of the picks in the 25 to 48 range will be wide receivers.
Robert Woods/Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams
A change at quarterback for the Rams invites more intrigue with their top two wideouts.
Over the past three seasons, Wood finished 11th (265.60), 14th (232.90), and 14th (246.60) in fantasy points at wide receiver in PPR leagues. His ADP (31) priced him as the 13th wideout off the table. He gains added value by receiving chances in the run game (19/157/1, 17/115/1, and 24/155/2).
In comparison, Kupp missed eight games in 2018 (40/566/6) while averaging 16.89 fantasy points per game. He finished as the fourth-highest scoring wide receiver (270.70 fantasy points) in PPR leagues. Last year, he lost his scoring ability (three touchdowns) with regression in his yards per catch (10.6 – 14.1 in 2018), but Kupp finished over 90 catches for the second straight season with strength in his catch rate (74.2).
I can’t pay full price for Woods despite his consistency, but Kupp has an attractive feel if he slides to the three/four turn in 12-team leagues. I expect a rebound in scoring and more length in his catches, plus his route running should keep him in rhythm with Matthew Stafford.
Mike Evans/Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In his first season playing with Tom Brady, Evans set a career-high in touchdowns while gaining over 1,000 yards for the seventh consecutive year. In three of his previous four seasons, he finished with below elite WR1 catches (71, 67, and 70).
Godwin finished second in wide receiver scoring (276.10 fantasy points) in 2019 while gaining 15.5 yards per catch and missing two games. His success last year over 12 games (65/840/7) projected over an entire season came to 87 catches for 1,120 yards and nine touchdowns or 253 fantasy points in PPR leagues.
Tampa has three viable lead wide receivers, creating questions if there are enough balls to go around. Godwin has top-12 upside while coming off the board 17th wide receiver. He should lead the Bucs in catches and receiving yards in 2021 while having a chance at double-digit scores.
The Rodney Dangerfield of Wide Receivers
Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks
The famous line from Mr. Dangerfield was “I Get No Respect.” Lockett finished as the eighth-highest scoring wideout (272.30 fantasy points) while succeeding in 2019 (82/1,057/8). Over his previous 48 games, he has 28 scores while seeing his targets grow in back-to-back seasons (2018 – 4.4, 2019 – 6.9, and 2020 – 8.3). At the same time, his yards per catch declined (16.9, 12.9, and 10.5). His path in 2020 led to a good portion of his stats coming in three games (9/100/3, 15/200/3, and 12/90/2). Lockett is an excellent receiver with a high-catch rate (72.6), but he needs Seattle to throw him the damn ball.
Steal or No Deal
Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers
The winner of the top three wide receivers in Pittsburgh in fantasy drafts in 2021 is Johnson. He led the team in targets (144) while having 10 or more chances in 10 of his 15 games. Despite his success, his catch rate (61.1) was underwhelming due to 15 drops. In addition, he gained only 10.5 yards per catch. Growth should be expected, but JuJu Smith-Schuster is better value later in the draft.
Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals
After two games in the preseason, Chase only has one catch for 16 yards or four targets, which helps keep him from flying up draft boards. His game has elite upside with a future of being a first-round player in the fantasy market for multiple seasons. One only has to look at the success of his former teammate (Justin Jefferson) in his rookie season (88/1,400/7) to the potential of Chase, who already posted an electric year (84/1,780/20) under the guidance of Joe Burrow. Great player with the talent to land in the NFL Hall of Fame. Chase is a player to target in drafts, not finesse.
WR1 & WR2 ADP Final Thoughts
By looking at each group of wide receivers, a fantasy owner can get a feel for player flow and possible targets within the draft. The key is to know the drop-offs at each position in the draft once you know your starting draft slot. A fantasy owner will see where he may leave himself with a challenging decision during the draft, leading to a possible weak link in the starting lineup if taking the wrong path with his roster development.
ADPs are great tools to get a feel for each player’s value, but a fantasy owner must think quickly if a targeted player comes off the board earlier than expected. Wide receivers win overall championships, so the goal is to find the right players with scoring ability and high-volume opportunities.
The rest of my insights on the WR2 options in 2021 are listed on each team’s outlook page.
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Senior analyst Shawn Childs is a multi-sport, high-stakes fantasy legend with lifetime earnings in the high six-figures. He has been providing in-depth, analytical break downs for years all while helping his subscribers to countless titles and winnings across season-long & DFS. An inaugural inductee of the NFBC Hall of Fame, Shawn can teach you how to prep like a champ!