Fantasy Football draft prep 2021: FFT’s wide receiver breakout candidates who can be league winners

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We’ve finally reached August, and that means Fantasy Football draft preparation is kicking into full gear. We won’t go another Thursday without football from this point on until the end of Thursday Night Football,  so we’ve got that going for us, which is nice. This weekend also marks the start of weekend preseason football! We’ll be tackling different position groups in the coming weeks, and this week we are focusing on the wide receiver position, arguably the one group Fantasy managers spend the most time debating.

Today, we’re tapping the Fantasy Football Today team to gauge the wide receivers they think can break out in a big way in 2021. Without further ado, let’s dive into it.

Wide receiver breakouts

Jamey Eisenberg’s picks

CeeDee Lamb, Cowboys

I’m enamored with Lamb this season, and he should be the first Cowboys receiver drafted this year. Lamb getting a full season of Dak Prescott (ankle) should make him a star Fantasy option, and Lamb was on his way toward making that happen as a rookie before Prescott was injured in Week 5. In his first five games, Lamb averaged 16.2 PPR points per game, and he averaged eight targets per game over that span. Only once without Prescott did Lamb top 16.0 PPR points per game for the rest of the year, and it will be fun to see Lamb improving in his second season with better quarterback play. Amari Cooper will still have a prominent role in the passing game, and the Cowboys are loaded with talent with Michael Gallup, Ezekiel Elliott and Blake Jarwin also needing the football. But Lamb should end up as a weekly Fantasy starter in all leagues, and he’s worth drafting as early as Round 3.  

Terry McLaurin, Football Team

McLaurin could be a top-five Fantasy receiver this year with the addition of Ryan Fitzpatrick. Since 2010, in stops with the Bills, Titans, Texans, Jets and Dolphins, Fitzpatrick has eight seasons with at least nine starts. Over that span, his No. 1 receiver — Steve Johnson (three times), Kendall Wright, Andre Johnson, Brandon Marshall (twice) and DeVante Parker — had at least 128 targets on the year. There were seven times where the No. 1 receiver had at least 72 catches, six times where the No. 1 receiver had at least 1,000 yards and three times where the No. 1 receiver had at least 10 touchdowns. McLaurin was solid as a rookie with 58 catches for 919 yards and seven touchdowns on 93 targets in 14 games in 2019. In 2020, he had 87 catches for 1,118 yards and four touchdowns on 134 targets in 15 games. I’m expecting this to be his best season yet, and he’s worth drafting as early as Round 3 in all leagues.

D.J. Moore, Panthers

I thought Moore was going to take a step forward in 2020, which was his third season in the NFL. Instead, he regressed, going from 15.3 PPR points per game in 2019 to 14.1 last year. He still posted respectable stats last season with 66 catches for 1,193 yards and four touchdowns, but I know Moore has more to offer. And with Curtis Samuel gone, I hope the Panthers use Moore in the slot, which should help his reception total. We also could see Sam Darnold do more for the Panthers receivers than Teddy Bridgewater, which bodes well for Moore, Robby Anderson and rookie Terrace Marshall. The touchdowns are once again the key for Moore being a breakout receiver, and he only has 10 total touchdowns for his career and has yet to top four in a season. If that stat improves in 2021, we could be looking at a top 10 Fantasy receiver in all leagues, and he’s someone to target in Round 4 on Draft Day this year.

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Dave Richard’s picks

Robert Woods, Rams

Look, if Woods can muster up 1,000-yard seasons with Jared Goff’s shrinking aggression, he can blow-up for over 1,300 yards with Matthew Stafford’s skills. He’s L.A.’s best all-around receiver, and he’s been used like it with over 120 targets and over 15 rush attempts in three straight seasons. So take the number of targets he gets and expect a boost in his efficiency — that’s how you come to the conclusion he’ll have career-best numbers. It’ll help a whole bunch that Cam Akers is out — that absence in the run game should mean more pass attempts for Stafford, and thus more targets for Woods. He has legit top-10 upside with 100 receptions, over 1,300 yards and at least seven touchdowns. That makes him a top-40 pick.

CeeDee Lamb, Cowboys

You could draft Lamb because of a few sweet highlight-reel catches he made in practice if you want to. Or, you could draft him because he’s the Cowboys’ youngest, healthiest and likely best pass-catcher. The evidence for Lamb began a year ago when he caught 73% of his targets from Dak Prescott over five games, scoring at least 10 PPR points in each but topping 16 in three of five. Mind you, that happened while Lamb had 16.7% of Prescott’s targets — a jump should be counted on this year. It is anticipated that Lamb will line up everywhere and attempt to exploit zone and single-man coverage, which is perfect considering the Cowboys’ expected pass-happy ways. Everything sets up nicely for Lamb to be a high-volume receiver whom Prescott will throw at. That’ll even be the case when it looks like Lamb is covered — those crazy practice catches are proof he’s able to adjust to off-target throws and win in competitive situations. He’s worth the Round 3 price tag.

Marquise Brown, Ravens

Why draft the slim receiver with a suspect hamstring in Fantasy Football? Because he’s a doggone bargain even after flashing what he’s capable of last year. Brown was deployed differently in his final eight games (two playoff games, six in the regular season), running shorter routes and becoming more of a security-blanket type for Lamar Jackson. It worked — his receiving average, his catch rate and his yards after catch all went up, and so too did his red-zone targets. Brown became uncoverable near the goal line, speeding away from defenders even in tight spaces to fit in as a touchdown maven. He had at least 12 PPR points in those games. There’s always a chance the Ravens tweak his role again, particularly with Sammy Watkins and Rashod Bateman added to the offense, but smart money is on Brown being healthy just in time to reclaim his role as Jackson’s most reliable receiver.

Heath Cummings’ picks

A.J. Brown, Titans

Thought Brown already broke out? You aren’t wrong, but he isn’t done yet. Injuries and low pass volume have kept Brown from producing a top-12 season and from fully realizing his potential. Year 3 would be a great time to cross both off his list. That starts with an increase in targets, which can still happen even with Julio Jones on the team. Last year the Titans threw 150 passes to receivers other than Brown. I project a small increase in pass rate from Tennessee if only because their run-heavy scheme has been such an outlier the past two years. I have Brown projected as my No. 4 receiver in full PPR with 142 targets and that includes a pretty sizable efficiency regression. In other words, No. 4 isn’t his ceiling; it’s as high as any receiver in Fantasy.

CeeDee Lamb, Cowboys

CeeDee Lamb is the free space of receiver breakouts this season, even if I don’t particularly like his ADP. Lamb is an elite talent with a star quarterback in an offense we project to be one of the top pass offenses in football. The only thing that keeps him out of my top 12 is the depth of this offense. If something happens to Michael Gallup or if Amari Cooper can’t stay healthy, Lamb has top-10 upside easy. Unfortunately, you may have to draft him that high even with Gallup and Cooper healthy.

Terry McLaurin, Football Team

McLaurin is another third-year breakout candidate in a slightly different mold than Brown. McLaurin has already earned 134 targets in a season but saw his efficiency crater last year because of poor quarterback play. Ryan Fitzpatrick should help in that area, especially when it comes to throws downfield. McLaurin’s ability before the catch gives him 160-target upside, and if his efficiency bounces back even half way to his 2019 number, that will make him a top-five receiver.

Chris Towers’ picks

Jerry Jeudy, Broncos

If you’re worried about Jeudy’s 10 drops as a rookie, you’re worried about the wrong thing. The fact that he was open so often all over the field as a rookie and kept earning targets despite the drops is what matters. He proved he could get open as the Broncos’ top option as a 21-year-old rookie, and now he’ll have Courtland Sutton flanking him and drawing defensive attention away. There are questions about the QB play in Denver, which holds me back from buying fully into Jeudy as a top-24 WR, but he’s unquestionably got the talent for it. He was productive from a young age in college, he was productive despite some rough spots as a young rookie in the NFL, and now he has the chance to blossom into one of the best receivers in the league. If the QB play takes a step forward in Denver — Teddy Bridgewater as a backup plan for Drew Lock should raise the floor, at least — don’t be surprised if we’re talking about Jeudy in the same breath as Lamb next season.

Curtis Samuel, Football Team

Would I feel better about Samuel’s chances of breaking out if he wasn’t currently out of camp with a groin injury? Of course! On the other hand, this is your chance to buy him low. Samuel finished as WR26 in PPR points per game in 2020, and though he is switching teams this offseason, he’s also reuniting with former coach Ron Rivera in Washington. Samuel didn’t exactly put up huge numbers in his time with Rivera, but his 2019 season was very close to being a big success, and Rivera sounds like he’s going to use Samuel in similar ways this season. Samuel saw 27 deep (20-plus yards downfield) targets in 2019, but only 22 of them were catchable, per PFF. Samuel was ninth in the league in total air yards that season and could have had much better numbers with better QB play;  only 19 of the Panthers’ deep passes were catchable in 2019 total. Over the past two seasons, Ryan Fitzpatrick is at a 42.6% on-target rate. If Samuel gets anything like the role he had with Rivera in 2019 — which also included 19 carries and 130 yards — with better QB play, it’s not a stretch to say he could be a top-15 WR this season. 

Mike Williams, Chargers

Williams almost fits in the post-hype sleepers category, but I think there’s been enough buzz about him this summer that he doesn’t quite count. Still, he seems like one of the best high-upside fliers you can take in the WR4/5 range on Draft Day, because he’s already shown the elite potential in his career. Williams has been consistently efficient — 9.5 yards per target overall, 8.9 last season — and has both a 1,000-yard and a 10-touchdown season under his belt. Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi has said Williams will play the X role in the offense, the same one Michael Thomas played in the New Orleans offense Lombardi is porting over to L.A., and while you shouldn’t take that to mean Williams is going to see 150-plus targets, don’t be surprised to see a career-high in targets — his previous high is only 90. If Williams sees an uptick in usage and can combine some of 2019’s big-play upside success with his touchdown dominance from 2018, a career year could be in the works. I’m betting on at least that.

So which sleepers, breakouts and busts should you target and fade? And which QB shocks the NFL with a top-five performance? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy cheat sheets for every single position, all from the model that called Josh Allen’s huge season, and find out.



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