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Fantasy Football 2021 Wide Receiver Tiers: Stefon Diggs tops the charts

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WR Tier 1 - Elite WR1s

1 - Stefon Diggs

2 - Davante Adams

3 - Tyreek Hill

Any of these three wideouts could be the first off the board this year and I wouldn’t blink an eye. All three are elite talents, have bankable target shares, and are tethered to high-level quarterback play. That’s the mix of ingredients you need for a WR1 overall type of season.

Stefon Diggs led the NFL with 166 targets in 2020 and I’m projecting the same for this season. He is an elite alpha-level receiver who plays on one of the NFL’s most pass-friendly offenses in neutral situations. With Cole Beasley and veteran Emmanuel Sanders looking ticketed for the No. 2 and 3 receiver spots on the depth chart, Diggs could be freed up to do more downfield damage this year. With just a 4.8 percent touchdown rate in Year 1 with the Bills, Diggs is actually due for some positive movement in the scoring column as long as his volume stays strong.

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14)
Stefon Diggs should continue being a monster as the Bills WR1. (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)

WR Tier 2 - Strong WR1s

4 - DeAndre Hopkins

5 - Calvin Ridley

6 - A.J. Brown

7 - Justin Jefferson

8 - DK Metcalf

9 - Allen Robinson

10 - Keenan Allen

11 - Terry McLaurin

This tier of players features an exciting mix of receivers who are true No. 1 wideouts either entering, or firmly in, the prime of their careers. Despite the excellent running back options going in the second and early third round this year, it’s difficult to pass up someone from this cohort.

Calvin Ridley already finished as a top-five player last year with Julio Jones in the mix for half the season. We should have no hesitation slotting him this high now that Jones is out of the mix. Ridley has already proven he’s an alpha receiver.

Clearly, I still want to remain all-in on A.J. Brown despite the addition of Jones. Brown is already established as the guy in this offense with Ryan Tannehill. We should expect this uber-efficient phenom to lead the team in looks. Brown also comes with the upside of absolutely dominating the target share if Jones was ever to miss time.

Terry McLaurin and Allen Robinson are about to walk into the best quarterback situations of their career. I want to be ahead of ADP with these two elite separators who are littered with contested-catch ability.

WR Tier 3 - High-end WR2s with WR1 upside

12 - CeeDee Lamb

13 - Chris Godwin

14 - Tyler Lockett

15 - Mike Evans

16 - Cooper Kupp

17 - Amari Cooper

18 - DJ Moore

19 - Robert Woods

With Amari Cooper struggling through injuries during training camp while CeeDee Lamb takes reps on the outside, we got the final variable needed to justify Lamb’s ascension. Lamb did almost all of his damage from the slot as a rookie, running over 90 percent of routes there. With an expanded assignment in Year 2 that will naturally result in more vertical, high-leverage targets — we’re looking at the start of something truly special.

The Rams and Buccaneers duos feature a set of exciting teammates where I have the WR going lower in consensus ADP ranked higher. Of course, a few spots between players within the same tier doesn’t really matter much. For the Rams, I’m placing a chip on Kupp reaching a high touchdown ceiling. He’s bested Woods in red-zone target share each of the last two years. With Godwin and Evans, I’m slightly prioritizing Godwin because of his role as a slot target and a demonstrated elite ceiling in 2019.

The real takeaway is that by ranking both wide receivers inside the top-20 at the position, I’m clearly bullish on both the Buccaneers and Rams offense taking a leap in 2021.

WR Tier 4 - Strong WR2s

20 - Brandon Aiyuk

21 - Julio Jones

22 - Adam Thielen

23 - Diontae Johnson

24 - Odell Beckham Jr.

25 - Ja'Marr Chase

There’s no getting around it: This is a pure “bet on talent” ranking for Brandon Aiyuk. If he’s to hit his ceiling, it’ll have to come at the expense of George Kittle and Deebo Samuel’s volume, especially since the 49ers will be operating with a mobile rookie quarterback at some point. Targets aren’t going to be easy to come by in this offense. However, Aiyuk is simply too good of a player to not command volume.

It’s highly unlikely we ever see Odell Beckham recapture his truly transcendent form from the New York days. However, he looked far better as an individual player to start off 2020 than given credit for. I don’t buy the idea Baker and Odell simply can’t just “figure it out” when it comes to this lack-of-chemistry narrative. It’s more a matter of coincidence that Mayfield’s worst play has overlapped with Beckham’s time in Cleveland. After all, Mayfield didn’t start to play truly excellent football until the last five-plus games of last season where he averaged 8.3 adjusted yards per attempt.

It didn’t happen the instant Beckham went down; correlation doesn’t equal causation.

WR Tier 5 - WR3 options you’ll want to start more often than not

26 - Kenny Golladay

27 - Tee Higgins

28 - Robby Anderson

29 - Will Fuller

30 - Chase Claypool

31 - Jerry Jeudy

32 - Michael Gallup

33 - Tyler Boyd

34 - Courtland Sutton

It’s really difficult for me to understand how a Drew Lock/Teddy Bridgewater offense that’s likely to be run-heavy is supposed to produce two top-30 receivers. The presence of Noah Fant and some ancillary players that folks are excited about like Tim Patrick and K.J. Hamler further muddles the target projection. Before you remind me that three Panthers receivers totaled 1,000 scrimmage yards with Bridgewater last year, don’t forget that the Broncos’ defense should be one of the league’s best. That will keep the Broncos out of most pass-heavy scripts. Camp reports that Courtland Sutton is still a little hesitant in his comeback from an ACL injury that happened almost one full year ago broke the tie between these talented wideouts in favor of Jeudy.

While I’m comfortable with Ja’Marr Chase clearly leading the Bengals receiving corps in air yards and fantasy points in Year 1, I believe Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd should be in the same tier. Reports out of Bengals camp that the offense is completely stuck in the mud have me hesitant on the downfield passing game as it is. That could benefit a short-average-depth-of-target player like Boyd.

If I’m excited about CeeDee Lamb moving out of the slot more often in 2021, then I’m buying Gallup running more layup routes. He was just locked into the high-variance X-receiver role last year but it sounds like change is coming. He is one of my biggest buys this season.

WR Tier 6 - High variance WR3s with solid season-long projections

35 - Corey Davis

36 - Curtis Samuel

37 - Antonio Brown

38 - Deebo Samuel

39 - DJ Chark

40 - JuJu Smith-Schuster

41 - Michael Thomas

42 - Brandin Cooks

Antonio Brown feels like he’s being ranked (outside the consensus Top-40) as “some team’s solid No. 3 receiver” with a history of serious baggage. While the latter part is very real, the idea that he was just some solid player for Tampa Bay by the end of last year couldn’t be further from the truth. Brown wasn’t as good as his old Pittsburgh prime but played at a high level to end 2020. His target share should be locked in while playing for a great offense.

No ADP gap needs to close more than that of the Jaguars receivers. At different points this offseason, DJ Chark was going in the sixth to seventh round while Marvin Jones was falling beyond Round 10. That makes no sense to me. It would be completely unsurprising if Jones straight-up out-produces Chark this year. Both players should come closer to LaViska Shenault’s ADP ... just from opposite directions.

I was ready to be bullish on Michael Thomas as a top-10 receiver this year. Playing with a quarterback who could push the ball downfield in Jameis Winston was actually a tantalizing experiment. With Thomas' injury status, however, he had to be pushed down to “flier” territory.

WR Tier 7 - Late-round targets with opportunity upside

43 - Michael Pittman

44 - DeVonta Smith

45 - Jarvis Landry

46 - Mike Williams

47 - Laviska Shenault

48 - Marvin Jones

Michael Pittman was locked-in as my favorite ninth-round pick heading into August and was slotted into Tier 6. However, with Carson Wentz’s injury throwing yet another shadow on this offense, I bumped Pittman down. He’s still worth drafting as a potential breakout receiver and the idea that his quarterback might not be good was and always should have been baked into ADP.

Mike Williams is so underrated. He gets too much flack for not playing up to the level of a top-10 pick but who cares at this point? Williams wins downfield and there is a dearth of proven pass-catching talent beyond Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler. Williams should moonwalk into 100 targets from Justin Herbert if he stays healthy. But yes, that is a big if.

WR Tier 8 - Priority players in final rounds

49 - John Brown

50 - Jakobi Meyers

51 - Darnell Mooney

52 - Marquise Brown

53 - Rashod Bateman

54 - Elijah Moore

55 - Henry Ruggs III

56 - Cole Beasley

57 - Nelson Agholor

It’s hard to see why John Brown, if he stays healthy, can’t produce in the very same role Nelson Agholor did as LV's vertical receiver. He and Henry Ruggs’ ADP should be much closer.

I’ll add that same note for Jakobi Meyers and Agholor now that the veteran has moved to New England. Meyers might just be the best receiver on that team.

Rashod Bateman and Elijah Moore don’t have the clearest path to a high target total given their situations. Yet, they are truly excellent prospects and sometimes the cream just rises to the top at wide receiver. The Ravens have never had a receiver anywhere close to Bateman’s talent level. He could change the way that team operates as a passing attack.

WR Tier 9 - Bankable best-ball targets

58 - Sterling Shepard

59 - Jaylen Waddle

60 - Emmanuel Sanders

61 - Mecole Hardman

62 - T.Y. Hilton

63 - Russell Gage

64 - Tyrell Williams

All of these receivers project really well from a playing time standpoint and therefore should give you a handful of usable best-ball weeks. Knowing when to start them in a typical redraft league is going to be difficult.

Mecole Hardman has a chance to really rise up the charts if he continues to have a good offseason. The fantasy community seems way too scorned by him after a slow 2020 season. He could really outkick his ADP if he’s truly the WR2 in Patrick Mahomes’ offense.

WR Tier 10 - Major role/target share questions but on the radar

65 - Amon Ra-St. Brown

66 - Tre'Quan Smith

67 - Jalen Reagor

68 - DeVante Parker

69 - Terrace Marshall

70 - Gabriel Davis

DeVante Parker started camp on the PUP and is the worst theoretical fit with Tua Tagovailoa’s skill-set among the top-three Miami receivers. He’s the most proven receiver in this tier by a good margin but it’s tough to see the path to season-long upside.

Folks rightfully like Gabriel Davis because he’s a big-play receiver who makes splash plays. But he’s extremely raw as a route-runner and could fall behind both Cole Beasley and Emmanuel Sanders for targets.

WR Tier 11 - Ultra-late best-ball fliers

71 - Randall Cobb

72 - Christian Kirk

73 - Sammy Watkins

74 - Keelan Cole

75 - Jamison Crowder

76 - Rondale Moore

77 - Van Jefferson

78 - Denzel Mims

79 - Breshad Perriman

80 - Darius Slayton

81 - Anthony Miller

Several of these players could end up operating in important roles for their team even if they don’t project for a high season-long target share. So, they’re good names to remember for the end of your best-ball squads and daily fantasy.

A few who stand out to me as guys who could be something more? Rondale Moore, Van Jefferson, and Denzel Mims.

Moore is a fun, created-touches type of prospect who should fit well in Arizona’s quick passing game. I’m not buying the A.J. Green renaissance. Van Jefferson is my favorite pick for the Rams' WR3 gig and might end up splitting the vertical receiver role with DeSean Jackson. Mims is just a bet on a player who has flashed real ability but seems to have a murky role with the new Jets staff.

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