3 WRs to Remember in 2021 (Fantasy Football)
In the Players to Remember series, we highlight three players at each position that you should be keeping an eye on as we head into draft season. These aren’t players you should necessarily be reaching for, but they are guys you can take can later in your drafts, or even pick up off the waiver wire if they go undrafted. Usually, players highlighted in this series have changed teams or come back from injury and could be a sneaky pick-up that your league mates may have forgotten about.
In this installment, I will highlight the wide receiver position.
Don’t forget, these are not players you absolutely must draft. This article should serve as a reminder of the changing circumstances that could affect the potential future output so you can make the best-informed decisions at your draft.
Antonio Brown – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It may be easy to forget about Brown amid superstar names such as Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. He did only finish as the WR66 after coming back from a year full of scandal. He posted 45 receptions on 61 targets for 483 yards and four touchdowns for a total of 94.6 points in half-PPR scoring.
It’s important to remember some critical factors in Brown’s production last year. First of all, he only played the last eight games of the season after serving an eight-game suspension. He wasn’t even signed to the team until October 27 and saw his first game in Week 9 on November 8. That is not a lot of time to get acclimated to a new city, on a new team, with a new QB who was also dealing with the same issues.
His WR66 finish is misleading given the lack of time to adjust as well as the lack of time actually on the field. Brown was actually “on pace” to see 129 targets, 95 receptions, 1026 yards, and eight touchdowns had he played a full season. That would give him 201 fantasy points and put him squarely at the top of the WR2 category behind Allen Robinson at WR12 with 211.9 points and Robert Woods at WR13 with 200.1 total points.
Imagine what Brown could do for you (see what I did there?) with a full offseason, mentally and physically healthy or at least on the right track, with a team that is finally able to grow together. Not that it really mattered much for Bucs who still won the Super Bowl. For fantasy purposes, however, I want a piece of this explosive offense. With so many mouths to feed, spending high draft capital on Evans (4.08) or Godwin (5.01) carries risk. Brown is currently being drafted in the middle of the 12th Round and has the opportunity to be a consistent low-end WR1 or high-end WR2. The value is incredible.
Russell Gage – Atlanta Falcons
There is so much hope and hype surrounding tight end rookie phenom Kyle Pitts, that it seems Gage has been nearly forgotten as a wide receiver on the Falcons team. He was second in targets with 110 behind Calvin Ridley who saw 143. With Julio Jones off to the Titans, Ridley becomes the WR1, and Gage assumes the WR2 position by default, at least on paper.
We saw some extraordinary flashes from Gage in 2020, although he was wildly inconsistent. He even played QB for a big play to Jones who ended up dropping the sure-fire touchdown pass. He finished as the WR15 and WR20 in Weeks 1 and 2 then slowed down to a crawl until Week 14. He then finished that week, Week 15, and Week 17 as the WR13, WR16, and WR11 respectively. All without Jones on the field.
Gage and Ridley seem to have a near-perfect fit as the wide-out and slot guy now that Jones is gone. Gage lined up 561 out of 759 snaps while Ridley saw 508 snaps out wide out of 822. There was some minor crossover between the positioning, but not enough to say that these two players each have their very own distinct identity in the offense.
There are just a few problems for Gage heading into 2021. I already mentioned his name earlier, but the addition of Pitts could be a big problem for the young wide receiver. Although Pitts is a tight end, there is nothing stopping Atlanta from utilizing his talents all over the field, including in the slot where Gage normally plays. The other issue is whether or not QB Matt Ryan can sustain two or even three fantasy-relevant receivers.
One thing is for sure, Gage is at the end of his rookie contract and will need make some big waves in the 2021 season if he wants to advance his football career. He is currently being drafted in the middle of the 15th Round and requires barely any draft capital to take a chance on him. If it works out and he becomes the team’s solid WR2, you got him for an absolute steal. If it doesn’t, you can release him to the waiver wire with little fuss.
Diontae Johnson – Pittsburgh Steelers
Diontae Johnson slightly deviates from the usual players I highlight in this series, but I want to bring him up regardless. When Johnson is healthy and on the field, he has the opportunity to produce WR1 numbers. Unfortunately, Johnson dealt with injuries over Weeks 3 through 6 that hurt his overall 2020 performance. On top of that, he also had a case of the drops with 14 last season. Luckily for Johnson, that deficiency can be improved, especially with a more normal offseason, camp, and preseason than we had last year.
Ben Roethlisberger routinely looked Johnson’s way, allowing the receiver to rack up 144 targets with 88 receptions, 924 yards, and seven touchdowns. His counterpart, WR Chase Claypool, gets a lot of attention on this offense because of his huge boom games. Both options for the Steelers are worth a look, but Johnson provides a bit more safety with a higher floor than Claypool.
Johnson’s ADP is toward the end of the 6th Round around players like Tyler Lockett, T.J. Hockenson, and Cooper Kupp. Johnson has clear WR1 potential as a WR2 or WR3 for your roster.
If you haven’t already, make sure you have the 2021 Ultimate Draft Kit to dominate your draft this season.