The List: Way Too Early Fantasy Football Rankings for ’21

Erik Smith releases his initial PPR rankings for the 2021 fantasy football season

WR Rankings


  • Calvin Ridley had some truly impressive numbers from the 2020 season upon closer inspection. Ridley was first in the league in total air yards by nearly 300 yards, racking up 2,063 air yards compared to second place D.K. Metcalf‘s 1,783. And on a per-game basis, Ridley led second-place Tyreek Hill by more than 20 air yards per game. This passes the eye test, as Ridley was consistently missed on deep balls where he had a step on his defender. Ridley ranked second only to Davante Adams with 22 red zone targets, so Ridley’s nine touchdowns actually have room for improvement. It will be interesting what approach the new head coach and play-caller Arthur Smith will take with the Falcons offense, but Ridley has room for improvement on his 18.8 PPR points per game. Maybe the Falcons become more run-heavy, and maybe Julio Jones is healthier and eats into Ridley’s work. But after making a jump into elite receiver territory in 2019, Ridley may have another leap left in his fantasy profile after all.
  • A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf both have very similar profiles. Each broke out in 2020 in their second year in the NFL, though lack of volume held them back at times. Brown produced 2.33 PPR points per target on just 106 targets while battling injury all year, and Metcalf scored 2.10 PPR points per target on 129 targets. Brown ranked fifth in points per target among all receivers with 50 or more targets in 2020, a number that may be hard to replicate. But an uptick in targets is very possible, and Brown possesses the run after catch ability that should make him a force for years. Metcalf struggled at times to shake lockdown corners, but he’s among the most feared deep threats in the league and is still developing as a route runner. Both the Titans and Seahawks would be wise to increase Brown and Metcalf’s usage, locking them at the top of tier 3 heading into 2021 drafts.


  • Justin Jefferson had a shockingly great rookie season, and he’s my WR9 with room for more upside. Only 12 active receivers have had a season with more than Jefferson’s 274 PPR points over the past three years, and Jefferson did that with an abbreviated offseason in his first year in the NFL. Volume will always be an issue for a receiver in Minnesota’s run-heavy offense, but Jefferson’s 125 targets are more than Chris Godwin and Kenny Golladay have ever seen in their impressive careers. There’s room for growth for Jefferson, who was ninth in the NFL in air yards per game, and if he steals some red zone work from Adam Thielen there is certainly room for another elite fantasy season.
  • Speaking of Adam Thielen, he’s my WR18 as of now and appears headed in a different direction than his teammate Jefferson. The big issue with Thielen is the drop off he will likely face in the touchdown department, as his 14 scores from 2020 are due for regression. Thielen had just 108 targets as Jefferson emerged, down from his previous highs of 142 and 153 targets in 2017 and 2018. Despite the reduced volume, Thielen was third in the NFL with a whopping 20 red zone targets. If Thielen falls to 7 or 9 touchdowns like he scored his previous two seasons, his fantasy outlook will take a large hit without an increase in volume. Thielen saw 5 or fewer targets in 7 of 15 games in 2020, a concerning development for the once-great PPR asset. The worry is that he goes the route of Cooper Kupp, whose consistent red zone role fell off a cliff in 2020 and resulted in just 3 touchdowns on 124 targets.


  • I’m really high on Will Fuller V heading into this year’s drafts, and while he is a free agent and could certainly land in a poor spot, I’m holding out hope for now. Fuller will be suspended for the first game of 2021 as a part of his PED suspension, which should make him a value in drafts as managers avoid him. Fuller scored 2.52 points per target, the best of all wide receivers with more than 50 targets in 2020. Fuller stayed on the field before the suspension and had developed a more consistent fantasy game, and if he can link up with a talented quarterback in free agency his upside is immense. You won’t have to draft him as the WR17, but grab him in drafts before it’s too late.
  • Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp make a leap up the ranks with Matthew Stafford joining the Rams, and I’m curious to see where this offense goes from here. Kupp especially has been squeezed out as the Rams have gone to more two-tight end sets with Jared Goff, but maybe that slot role he excels in comes back with Stafford under center. Stafford needs to show that he can stay healthy for a full season, and this will likely be a run-heavy offense regardless. But suddenly this offense has some much-needed life.


  • As with the running back position, the rookie receivers are just placeholders for now, and I will update them as I research them further — especially after the NFL Draft. The landing spot for a rookie receiver is so important, it’s hard to draw too many conclusions as of now.


WR Rankings

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