By Zach Attack @FFChalupaBatman
Fantasy Football is all about exploiting value and picking the player the year they break out to maximize their value. After the breakout, the value is gone; you will have to use an early round pick at that point. This article highlights five WRs that finished as a WR2 or WR3 in 2020, but is capable of finishing as a top 5 WR in 2021.
*all ADPs are from mock drafts from 1/22/21-4/6/21 from fantasyfootballcalculator.com and scoring is PPR
- Terry McLaurin (WR20 in 2020) – current ADP 4.02 (WR14):
Terry McLaurin’s stock has been on the rise since Ryan Fitzpatrick signed with the WFT this offseason. Last season, McLaurin did not experience quality QB play, but was still able to average 14.9 ppg and the top 5 WR’s average 20.9ppg (includes Adam’s being 3.7 ppg better than the WR2). Now he is going to play with a QB that likes to hyper-target his WR1, who could forget Brandon Marshall’s 173 targets in 2015 with Fitzpatrick on the Jets. Eric Decker also had 132 targets that season and I do not expect Curtis Samuel to see that many targets. Ryan Fitzpatrick only had 562 pass attempts in 2015, and the WFT had a team total of 601 pass attempts in 2020. It is not unreasonable to project McLaurin to be close to 170 targets (10 per game) in 2021.
McLaurin was the WR20 in 2020 and only scored 4 TDs. If you just give him 3 more TDs, which is the total he had his rookie season playing one less game, then he would have been WR15 and only 12.2 total points from WR10 in 2020. It is not hard to expect positive TD regression for McLaurin in 2021.
- CeeDee Lamb (WR22 in 2020) – current ADP 4.11 (WR18):
Most people would not say Lamb is even the WR1 on the Dallas Cowboys, but the 2nd year WR showed a lot of potential. Also, Dak Prescott is expected to be healthy for the start of the regular season. In the first 5 games of the season (when Dak was healthy), Lamb averaged 8 targets and 5.8 receptions per game, which would have extrapolated to 128 targets and 92.8 in a 16-game season. Lamb was the WR11 between Weeks 1-5 in 2020, and would have been the WR7 if he continued that pace for 16 games. He would have finished 0.6 points behind Justin Jefferson (WR6) and 7.9 points behind Calvin Ridley (WR5). As of right now, Dallas’s defense is not expected to be much better than last season, so there is a good chance the offense will be passing a lot with Dak, and Lamb could take a leap in his 2nd season that puts him square in the top 5.
- Diontae Johnson (WR21 in 2020) – current ADP 5.04 (WR21):
Diontae Johnson saw a significant increase in production in 2020 from 2019 (while playing 1 less game).
Stats increase in 2020 (15 games) from 2019 (16 games)
People may focus too much on the drops Johnson had in 2020, but he was a focal point of the Steelers passing offense. He had more targets and receiving yards than Juju Smith-Schuster and Chase Claypool, but had 2 less TDs than both of them. The Steelers rushing offense was terrible last year. It would not surprise anybody to see them continue to be a pass-centric offense even under a new OC. I expect Johnson to take another leap in his third season. If he hits double-digits TDs in 2021, after he had 7 TDs on 144 targets in 15 games in 2020, then it is not far-fetched to see him finish as a top 5 WR even though he is being drafted as a low-end WR2 right now.
- Tee Higgins (WR28 in 2020) – current ADP 7.01 (WR31)
First, for Tee Higgins to have a chance at being a top 5 WR then Joe Burrow needs to come back healthy to start the season. There is no guarantee of that right now, but that uncertainty seems to already be baked into Higgins current ADP. It would not be too risky to draft him in the 5th or 6th round, and you would still get great value. Higgins only played 10 games with Joe Burrow and he had 61 targets, 40 receptions, and 4 TDs during that span. At a 16 game pace that would have made him WR21 in 2020, and only 9.6 points behind Brandin Cooks (WR17). AJ Green has moved to Arizona, and he had 104 targets in 2020. Most draft experts expect the Bengals to use an early round pick on a top OL player in the NFL Draft. That would be great since Burrow was sacked 32 times in 10 games. It is an outside shot, but there is a lot of upside for Higgins in his 2nd season and not at a high cost to draft him.
- Brandin Cooks (WR 17 in 2020) – current ADP 7.12 (WR36)
Brandin Cooks has been underrated for several years now, but he seems to always get at least 1,000 yards every year (5 out of the last 6 years on 4 different teams). There is a lot of talks that he is “injury-prone,” but in those last 6 seasons, he has only missed 3 games (1 in 2020 and 2 in 2019)! I cannot speak on Watson’s legal issues and if he can play in 2021 we don’t know if he will play for the Texans, but so far the team has not wavered on their no-trade stance. Cooks’ ADP is as low as it is right now because of the Watson uncertainty, so at that draft, price why not gamble and potentially get a lottery ticket in the 7th or 8th round. Cooks is the obvious WR1 for the Texans now that Will Fuller signed with the Miami Dolphins, and there is nobody else on the roster that will challenge him for targets. In 2020, Cooks had 119 targets in 15 games, but it is not unreasonable to project 170+ targets (10 per game) next season. Will Fuller had 75 targets in 11 games in 2020. Nobody thinks the Texans have a good roster for the 2021 season, but Cooks should be the one bright spot and he can shine bright if he potentially leads the league in targets.