1. Davante Adams (Green Bay Packers) – Now that the offseason drama is behind the Packers, we can once again start considering Adams as early as the third overall pick in fantasy football drafts. His 25.6 fantasy points per game in 2020 was a truly outrageous number, with Michael Thomas’ 2019 season a full two points per game behind as the next best season from a wide receiver over the past three seasons. There are some minor red flags with Adams, such as missing at least one game in each of the past four seasons and six combined over the past two. He’s also sure to regress from his 12% touchdown rate that led to a league-high 18 scores in 2020. But he’s a target monster with 10.6 targets per game or more over the past three seasons, he’s had double-digit touchdowns in four of the past five seasons, and plays with Aaron Rodgers for at least one more season. While the Packers have some added competition for targets this year, none of them are a threat to Adams. He’s almost in a tier of his own.
2. Tyreek Hill (Kansas City Chiefs) – Hill was one of only two qualified receivers to average more than Adams’ 2.41 fantasy points per target in 2020, and it’s a category that Hill has dominated over the past three seasons. With only Travis Kelce to provide competition for targets, Hill is locked into his volume role from last year too, which resulted in a career-high nine targets per game for 135 total on the year. Adams and Hopkins are the only two receivers to top 20 fantasy points per game twice over the past three seasons, and Hill enters his age 27 season with the league’s best quarterback in Patrick Mahomes. Hill even chipped in 123 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns, giving him 17 all-purpose touchdowns last year. Hill’s 12 targets inside the 10-yard line (5th in the NFL) coupled with his elite big-play ability make him in consideration early on in the first round of fantasy drafts.
3. DeAndre Hopkins (Arizona Cardinals) – It’s a small tier drop from the top two to Hopkins, but I’ll call it a tier nonetheless. One of the truly remarkable ball-hogs in the game, Hopkins has averaged at least 10 targets per game in five of the past six seasons, including the last four in a row. Combine that with exceptional durability, and you are looking at a player with between 150-192 targets in each of the past six seasons. Touchdowns are really the only thing holding Hopkins back as of late, as the past two seasons he has only combined for 13 touchdowns. In fact, he’s only had three seasons above 10 touchdowns during his eight-year career, which is the difference between him and the two names ahead of him on this list. He enters his age 29 season as perhaps the most reliable player from a season-long perspective in fantasy football and could be a Kyler Murray breakout away from a WR1 finish. He’s the WR1 in our projections.
4. Stefon Diggs (Buffalo Bills) – Suddenly attached to one of the league’s exciting young quarterbacks, Diggs broke out last year on the way to 20.5 PPR points per game, third-best in the league. Long known as an elite route-runner, Diggs put it all together in his first year with Josh Allen, and there is little reason to think that he can’t repeat in 2021. Diggs’ game was built on volume last year as he lead the league in targets, receptions, and yards, and there is little reason to see that changing this year. It’s impressive that he was able to finish as the WR3 despite just eight touchdowns, and that is a slight knock against Diggs as he has never scored more than nine touchdowns in a season. Diggs was targeted a relatively pedestrian 16 times inside the red zone, with just seven of those coming from within the 10. That’s what keeps him from the top tier, but otherwise, you should be jumping to draft Diggs in the late-first or early-second round of drafts.
5. Calvin Ridley (Atlanta Falcons) – There is a ton more to the Ridley hype outside of the departure of Julio Jones and the massive target share that opens up in Atlanta. Even with Julio healthy for a part of 2020, Ridley broke out, leading the league in Air Yards by almost 300 yards and ranking second to Adams with 22 red zone targets. His 18.8 points per game were fourth-best among wide receivers last year, and Ridley has improved each of his years in the league, reminiscent of the trajectory that Hopkins took when breaking into the NFL. Ridley does have a new coordinator in Arthur Smith this season so the offense will change, and we have seen a team’s number two receiver struggle when the long-time elite option leaves town (hello, JuJu Smith-Schuster). But all indications are that Ridley is a more talented player than JuJu, and Matt Ryan should be locked onto Ridley from Week 1. If Atlanta’s rookie tight end Kyle Pitts is unable to jump in and handle a high-volume role, we could be looking at a league-leading target share from Ridley. We project Ridley as the WR2 this year.
6. A.J. Brown (Tennessee Titans) – Brown was first in this tier early in the offseason, but the addition of Julio Jones was enough to knock him down ever so slightly. In a historically low-volume passing offense, Brown does now have an ultra-talented teammate to pull targets away from him for the first time. Yet Brown has done nothing but produce since entering the league, racking up 2,126 yards and 19 touchdowns on just 190 targets across two seasons. Brown mostly played through injuries all of last year and underwent surgeries on both of his knees this offseason, which can be taken one of two ways. He’s either due for an even better season in 2021 if he can actually stay healthy, or he is already racking up some wear and tear on his body and can be considered an injury risk. I’m not here pretending to know the answer, but it is a valid debate. Regardless, Brown is a tackle-breaking machine and a big play waiting to happen, and he is just entering his age 24 season. The next step for Brown (other than increased volume) is a bigger red zone role, as Brown had just 12 red zone targets on the year, an area of the field that Derrick Henry tends to rule. But with a couple of breaks, Brown could certainly challenge for top wide receiver status in 2021.
7. D.K. Metcalf (Seattle Seahawks) – Metcalf struggled at times against elite corners (but who doesn’t), and could use an uptick on his 8 targets per game from 2020 to challenge for WR1 overall status in fantasy. But Metcalf is a once-a-generation athlete at wide receiver, a big play waiting to happen, and an underrated red zone option (ninth in targets inside the 10-yard-line). Paired with an excellent quarterback in Russell Wilson, we are just waiting for improvement on Metcalf’s 129 targets and 64% catch rate to reach the top of the position. As Metcalf learns wide receiver and expands his route-tree, expect the targets to follow his improvements. Metcalf fell off with the rest of the Seahawks offense in the second half of 2020, but there is no reason to expect that he can’t continue to improve on his already excellent production. in his third season in the NFL.
8. Justin Jefferson (Minnesota Vikings) – Jefferson posted one of the all-time elite rookie seasons in 2020, and is set to roll into the upcoming season with virtually the exact same ingredients around him that led to his huge production. Only 12 active receivers have had a season with more than Jefferson’s 274 PPR points over the past three seasons, and Jefferson did it in his first taste of NFL action. Jefferson’s 125 targets weren’t exactly elite for fantasy purposes, and Jefferson rode the big play to his massive season. But Kirk Cousins began to lean on him down the stretch, as Jefferson reached double-digit targets in six of his final eight games. There may be times where volume is a concern as he competes with Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen for touches, but I see very few reasons to fade a player who broke rookie records held by Randy Moss. Jefferson finished as the WR9 on a point per game basis despite just 10 red zone targets and a slow start to the season, and he looks ready to dominate once again in 2021.
9. Keenan Allen (Los Angeles Chargers) – Allen is an ultra-consistent player at a sometimes volatile wide receiver position, averaging 144 targets over the past three seasons while scoring between 16 and 18 fantasy points per game in each season. Last year with Justin Herbert, Allen scored 17.5 points per game and as WR7, and I’m excited for what year two may hold with these two paired up. Allen has essentially been an auto-pick for me in the third rounds of drafts this offseason, as his target competition consists of Mike Williams, Autin Ekeler, and not much else. Touchdowns have held Allen back from a truly monster season, but he’s caught between 97 and 104 passes over the past four years. The consistency is hard to beat and who knows, maybe Herbert takes him to another level in year two.
10. Mike Evans (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – Evans has been just as consistent as Keenan Allen despite being a more volatile player, if that makes any sense. It doesn’t? Let me explain. Evans has remarkably surpassed 1,000 receiving yards in all seven of his years in the NFL, while scoring eight or more touchdowns in five of seven years. Yet if you look at the game log for Evans, his production is all over the place. Once a boom-bust player that would spike 200-yard games, Evans barely reached 1,000 yards last year as he battled leg injuries, living off of his 13 touchdowns and massive red zone role. Evans was second to only Davante Adams with 14 targets inside the 10, as Tom Brady used him as almost a goalline back at times. Here are a few of Evans’ more ridiculous stat lines from last year: 1 catch for 2 yards and a touchdown, 2 catches for 2 yards and 2 touchdowns, and 3 catches for 50 yards and 2 touchdowns. Of course, Evans still had his trademark 10 catches for 181 yards and 2 touchdown game as well, and it happened to come during Week 16 fantasy championships. A healthier Evans with an established rapport with Brady could be a scary combination, so don’t let last year’s up and down nature scare you off of the talented 28-year-old.
11. Terry McLaurin (Washington Football Team) – Over McLaurin’s two seasons in the NFL, he has lined up with Alex Smith, Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen, Taylor Heinicke, Case Keenum, and Colt McCoy staring him down from under center. Ryan Fitzpatrick may look like Aaron Rodgers after catching passes from that lineup. McLaurin didn’t quite make the leap that we had hoped for in year two, but that was largely due to scoring just four touchdowns on the season. His lack of touchdowns wasn’t just bad luck, as he only received four targets inside the 10-yard-line and 12 inside the 20. In fact, McLaurin scored just one red zone touchdown on the year, and he probably needs that to change for a true fantasy football explosion. But McLaurin was better with the big-armed Haskins as opposed to the check-down ways of Smith, and Fitzpatrick will certainly take shots downfield. Our projections have McLaurin as the WR11 even with just six touchdowns, so while we need some growth here from McLaurin a big season is certainly possible. The soon-to-be 26-year-old is just hitting the prime of his career, after all.
12. Allen Robinson II (Chicago Bears) – We know Robinson is good, we are now just left wondering if this is the year that he finally plays with a good quarterback. We currently don’t know A: when Justin Fields will start for the Bears, and B: whether Justin Fields will be a good passer in year one. Robinson was WR13 with 16.4 fantasy points per game last year after posting similar numbers in 2019, making Robinson a dependable back-end WR1 for 2021 as well. But I’m just not sure this is the year it all clicks for an elite season. I love Fields as a young quarterback, but not necessarily as a high-volume passer right off the bat. With the same coaching and play-calling in place, there isn’t much other reason to expect a rise up the rankings, and I’ve seen enough of Andy Dalton at this point to know that he isn’t the answer. We should know more about the quarterback situation as the season approaches, and Robinson may rise or fall depending on the outcome of that competition.
13. Chris Godwin (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – Godwin missed time with a concussion, a hamstring strain, and a broken finger in 2020, distracting us from a player that was the WR2 in 2019 and is just 25 years old. Godwin was still the WR15 on a point-per-game basis and scored seven touchdowns in 12 games with a new quarterback in Tom Brady, so this feels like a fair price to pay for the young star. He will certainly be held back a bit by the crowded receiving corps in Tampa as his per-game average dropped from 95 yards per game in 2019 to 75 in 2020, in part due to the additions of Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski. But the injuries didn’t help either, and if this Bucs offense looks like it did down the stretch last season you’ll want as many pieces of the receiving corps as possible. Godwin might not have the largest ceiling outside of an injury to Evans or Brown, but he will be a consistent weekly option that will find the endzone with frequency.
14. CeeDee Lamb (Dallas Cowboys) – Lamb has a substantial jump to make to live up to this ranking, but I’m so willing to bet on the talent that I don’t mind. Lamb averaged 13.6 PPR points per game in his rookie year on 111 targets, an excellent season for a first-year receiver. Considering that he produced with the likes of Andy Dalton, Garrett Gilbert, and Ben DiNucci under center is even more encouraging. In the first five games of his NFL career with Dak Prescott under center, Lamb averaged nearly six receptions for 87 yards per contest. Over the following 11 games, Lamb would not go higher than 85 yards receiving in any one game. So far in Cowboys’ camp, the daily routine has been the posting of a circus catch for CeeDee Lamb, and we are continually hearing rave reviews about his play. He’s just someone I want to be early on, and he’s an Amari Cooper injury away from absolutely ascending up the ranks in year two. Let’s cross our fingers that Prescott is healthy because Lamb could have big things in store in 2021.
15. Robert Woods (Los Angeles Rams) – While I am relatively down on the fantasy prospects of Matthew Stafford due to the math of quarterback scoring in 2021, I am all in on his weapons in the passing game, and Woods is my preferred option. Woods can lineup all over the field, so we don’t need him in the slot like Cooper Kupp, and Woods’ consistency has made him an excellent WR2 in the Jared Goff era. Now he gets Stafford, a much better quarterback, to give him a boost. Woods doesn’t even need much of a boost, by the way, having scored between 15.3 and 16.6 fantasy points per game over the past three seasons. His versatility should keep him involved no matter what the offense looks like, and he quietly snuck in 24 carries for 155 yards and two touchdowns on the ground last year. Worst case you get a consistent WR2, best case he challenges for top ten status.
16. Amari Cooper (Dallas Cowboys) – Cooper has never quite made the leap after coming into the league as a 21-year-old and recording a 1,070-yard season. He’s been really good, topping 1,000 yards in five of six seasons, but his career-high of 1,189 in 2019 leaves a bit to be desired for fantasy purposes. Last year he ranked just 43rd in air yards per game and starts training camp on the PUP list, though he can be activated at any point and appears to be fine. Expect those air yards to shoot up with Prescott back, but he’s battling to hold off Lamb from taking the WR1 role. Add in Michael Gallup, a good running game, and two capable tight ends, and Cooper has significant target competition in 2021. He’s scored between 14 or 15 fantasy points per game each of the past three years, and where he goes from here is one of the more intriguing stories to watch in the NFL.
17. Julio Jones (Tennessee Titans) – Jones ripped off a 6-year stretch from 2014 to 2019 where he averaged 1,564 receiving yards a year for the Falcons. Then last year he missed seven games due to injury and was promptly traded to the Titans. Jones was still in the ballpark of his elite production when he did play, averaging nearly six receptions for 86 yards per game. His Air Yards per game ranked a respectable 20th, and he was third in the NFL in yards per target among wide receivers. The Titans will throw less than the Falcons to be sure, but this Titans offense is built around play-action and should fit Jones’ deep speed nicely. Our projections have Jones dropping to WR38 on a point-per-game basis due to a reduced target share and a mediocre touchdown projection (Jones has just one 10 touchdown season in his illustrious career). I still think this offense is good enough of a fit where I’m interested in drafting Julio, but he seems to get drafted just before I am willing to pull the trigger. This will be a situation to monitor in training camp.
18. Adam Thielen (Minnesota Vikings) – I’m beginning to worry that I’m too low on Thielen, but a few points of his profile scare me. For one, he enters his age 31 season, far from the end for a talented wide receiver, but there’s a chance we have seen his best fantasy season. And what a season it was, as Thielen caught 113 passes and nine touchdowns for 19.2 fantasy points point per game. That’s elite territory, and while Thielen was still excellent with 16.9 points per game in 2020, he lived almost totally off of touchdown scoring. Thielen had just 108 targets as Jefferson emerged last year, 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 and scored 14 touchdowns. 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. Of course, Thielen is just really good at scoring touchdowns, and it is still Thielen, Jefferson, Dalvin Cook, and not much else in Minnesota. I’m betting against the profile here, but I won’t be surprised if the player defies the odds again.
19. Cooper Kupp (Los Angeles Rams) – Another pass catcher that benefits from the addition of Stafford, the hope is that the Rams run more three-wide receiver sets with Stafford as opposed to the two tight end sets they started to favor with Goff. That will allow Kupp to play the slot, where he thrives. Kupp saw his touchdown total fall from ten in 2019 to three in 2020, and the team should be in more consistent scoring position with the quarterback change. Kupp had posted back-to-back 17 fantasy point per game seasons before last year’s dip to WR30, and that was with Goff under center. Kupp needs to regain his red zone role, which dipped from 10 targets inside the 10-yard-line in 2019 to just 5 in 2020. But if this Rams offense takes off as it could, Kupp may get back to his elite fantasy production.
20. Ja’Marr Chase (Cincinnati Bengals) – Yes this is an aggressive ranking, but we have recent evidence of rookie receivers thriving from the start. In 2020, Justin Jefferson was the WR9 on a point per game basis, Brandon Aiyuk was the WR18, CeeDee Lamb was the WR33 without Prescott at quarterback, and Chase Claypool was the WR35. Tee Higgins would have been higher than WR40 with his quarterback healthy for the entire season. Where does Chase fit into that range? I’m willing to bet closer to the top than to the bottom. The fifth overall draft capital that the Bengals used on Chase is massive, and it is in everyone’s best interest for him to succeed early on. Chase and Joe Burrow played together in college, so the connection is there already. And his athletic profile and college production are both excellent. This seems like a no-brainer to me, and ignore the round you are taking him in for a moment. When I can draft two elite receivers early and get Chase as my WR3, the upside feels especially well worth the gamble. This is a crowded receiver room that I am willing to bet on, and if the 2020 version of A.J. Green can get 104 targets in this offense, I don’t see Chase struggling to get past that number. Our projections have him at WR29, but I believe there is room for more.