Wide receiver is always the deepest position in fantasy football. It’s easy to get excited about Tyreek Hill, DeAndre Hopkins, or Stefon Diggs, but most fantasy football owners prefer to spend their early draft capital on a running back or two. So, what’s the strategy if you miss out on the top-tier WRs? Just start grabbing guys indiscrimination in the third, fourth, and fifth rounds? This is where tiers come into play. Having an idea of how rankings separate into tiers is crucial at any position in fantasy, but especially so at WR, where the top options and viable sleepers seemingly never end.
A lot of the top-tier wideouts will be off the board quickly despite running backs dominating the top of the overall rankings. Tyreek Hill is the only wideout regularly being drafted in the first round, according to Fantasy Pros ADP, so you could get a top-tier WR in the second round depending on where you draft.
Knowing when that first tier ends and second tier begins is important. You don’t want to reach for your No. 1 receiver when there are still stud RBs and someone like Travis Kelce still on the board. You always want to maximize value, and if you agree with us that there isn’t much difference between, say, Allen Robinson and Keenan Allen, you can play it cool even if Robinson is the top remaining name on your draft big board and you don’t have a WR yet.
Unlike other positions, low-tier players are often capable of big weeks at wideout. This isn’t to say that you should wait until deep in the draft to start taking them, but it’s important to have a knowledge of the receivers in the lower tiers and what they bring to the table. This can help you even early in the draft when you’re at a crossroads. Knowing how the rest of your draft could/will unfold if you, say, pass on your first WR for George Kittle early in the third round is important. Will you be happy with the sleepers available late as your WR4 or 5? If yes, then go ahead and take Kittle. If no, then grab a WR and focus on someone like Logan Thomas later in the draft.
Ultimately, it’s all about having a plan. Wide receiver requires less of a strategy than any other position since there are so many options and you’ll be taking them all throughout your draft, but you still want to be prepared for whatever comes your way. You can win with just about any approach, but loading up on receivers early is probably the riskiest. Sure, it’s nice to look at your roster and see three bonafide No. 1 WRs for their respective teams, but when the 11th round comes along and you hate all the players on the board except the WRs, you’ll wish you had a few earlier picks back.
2021 FANTASY AUCTION VALUES (Standard & PPR):
References to ADP (average draft position) will be for standard leagues and courtesy of FantasyPros.
2020 WR Ranking Tiers: Who are the best fantasy football wide receivers?
Rankings and tiers based on standard, non-PPR leagues. PPR leagues could have different tiers, which is highlighted throughout text below.
1 Tyreek Hill, Chiefs
2 Davante Adams, Packers
3 DeAndre Hopkins, Cardinals
4 Stefon Diggs, Bills
Hill, Hopkins, and Adams remain from last year’s top tier, with Diggs joining the exclusive club. Not much needs to be said about Tier 1. They’re all either being taken in the first round or early in the second. Adams, Hill, and Diggs were the top-three wideouts in fantasy last year, in that order. Hopkins finished at WR10 in standard but WR3 in PPR. He had his lowest touchdown total (6) in four seasons last year, and we can expect that number to see a jump.
Even at all of their pricey ADPs, it’s hard to argue against banging the table for one of them, especially if the top tier at running back passes you by in the first round.
5 DK Metcalf, Seahawks
6 Calvin Ridley, Falcons
7 Allen Robinson, Bears
8 Justin Jefferson, Vikings
9 A.J. Brown, Titans
10 CeeDee Lamb, Cowboys
11 Keenan Allen, Chargers
If you selected a WR in Tier 1, you may want to pick a running back before considering someone in Tier 2.
This tier ranges from ADPs of about pick 19 all the way to pick 44. There is incredible value among the guys in this tier. Read the names listed above, and picture any one of them landing in the top five at the end of the year. Would that really be a surprise? Of course not, which is why all are WR1 worthy.
Metcalf is the most expensive option among this tier, and for good reason. He’s a walking tank with incredible deep-ball skills in an offense led by Russell Wilson. If you took a running back in the first round, Metcalf is definitely a solid way to follow that up. The running back closest to his ADP (21.5) is Antonio Gibson. If you aren’t enamored with Gibson or dedicated to the idea of picking two running backs first, Metcalf makes all the sense in the world.
Ridley’s gain is Brown’s loss, at least in fantasy. If Julio Jones had remained in Atlanta with Ridley, it’s likely that he and Brown, who now competes for targets for Jones, swap places in the rankings. Nonetheless, they both fit comfortably in the second wave of wideouts. They currently have an identical ADP of 23.8, but Ridley is much more likely to see a jaw-dropping number of targets in Atlanta. In PPR formats, Ridley is arguably in Tier 1, and has a little more cushion on Brown. JK Dobbins and Clyde Edwards-Helaire are the top two running backs in this range.
Allen and Jefferson bring a similar route-running savviness to their games but have different skillsets. They will easily be candidates for 100-plus receptions, but a lot of Allen’s standard-league success will depend on touchdowns; Jefferson creates chunk plays (more yards/reception than Metcalf last year). Allen is going about nine picks after Jefferson, so depending on your draft position, you might even be able to land both. In PPR settings, they’re both arguably in Tier 1.
Robinson and Lamb are unquestionably the best values in this tier. At ADPs of 40.8 and 44.0, respectively, they’re a steal at this point in the draft. Robinson has been a steady top-12 WR in the past, and his quarterback situation likely better in Chicago. Lamb may fall even further than his ADP suggests in some leagues. He had a relatively quiet but fantastic rookie season. With Dak Prescott back at the helm in Dallas, Lamb is set for an explosive second-year breakout.
Fantasy WR Rankings Tiers: Low-end WR1s, high-end WR2s
12 Mike Evans, Buccaneers
13 Cooper Kupp, Rams
14 Terry McLaurin, Washington
15 Amari Cooper, Cowboys
16 D.J. Moore, Panthers
17 Robert Woods, Rams
18 Julio Jones, Titans
19 Chris Godwin, Buccaneers
20 Odell Beckham Jr., Browns
21 Tyler Lockett, Seahawks
22 Kenny Golladay, Giants
23 Brandon Aiyuk, 49ers
24 Courtland Sutton, Broncos
25 Adam Thielen, Vikings
26 Michael Thomas, Saints
Tier 3 showcases just how incredibly deep the wide receiver position is. Although many of these guys have finished as top-12 wideouts in the past, they all have their own reasons for being just below the second tier.
McLaurin, Moore, Golladay, and Sutton all have a similar problem: Questionable (or bad) QB play. They don’t have quarterbacks who can elevate their level of play (we shall see with Daniel Jones), boosting them into a higher tier. Sutton feels like a real steal at his current ADP (82.5) as the 33rd wideout off the board, but he’s coming back from a torn left ACL.
Evans, Godwin, Kupp, Woods, Aiyuk, and Jones all have the potential to be their respective teams’ No. 1 wide receiver. Obviously Godwin/Evans and Kupp/Woods are competing among themselves for the nod as the top option on the Bucs and Rams, respectively. They are directly limiting each others’ ceilings for that reason. Jones definitely has the chance to surpass A.J. Brown as the Titans No. 1 WR, but it’s more unlikely than likely. In a low-volume passing offense, it’s tough to project him higher than a fringe top-20 player at the position. Aiyuk is assumed to take a stranglehold on the 49ers WR1 spot, but we have to see it over a full season before he moves up further in our list. Plus, George Kittle is the real “No. 1 receiver” in San Francisco anyway.
Then you have the guys who are seemingly set in stone as their team’s 1B, if not No. 2: Cooper, Lockett, and Thielen. Luckily, they are still highly targeted players with a history of solid fantasy production. You can live with any of these aforementioned guys as your WR1 if you’re targeting RBs early and/or Travis Kelce, Kittle, or Darren Waller, but once you get past Godwin, things start to get shakier. Ideally, you’re slotting these guys into your WR2 or even WR3 spots, but don’t feel you have to pass up on great value at RB in order to do that. There are still plenty of good WRs available.
Beckham Jr. and Thomas share a lot of the same concerns, namely, injuries. Beckham is the Browns’ No. 1 wideout, but the offense is so run heavy, it hasn’t shown the ability to produce elite fantasy production. Add the injury concerns, and he’s not recommended as a No. 1 receiver. With that being said, it’s not impossible for Beckham to return to prime form, so if he falls much lower than his WR29 ADP, he’s a good value with tremendous upside.
Thomas is being drafted at WR10 at the time of this article. His ADP should see a plummet of epic proportions after news of his left ankle surgery. Thomas figures to miss at least the first month of the season, but it’s unclear how long he’ll be out. Given last year’s struggles, the nagging injuries, and the uncertainty surrounding the Drew Brees-less offense, Thomas can’t be considered a WR1 on draft day. If he resembles anything close to his former self once he sees the field, he will be a steal, which makes him an ideal WR3 candidate if you can get him at a reasonable price.
2021 Fantasy Draft Strategy: Should you ‘wait’ on WR?
27 Robby Anderson, Panthers
28 DeVante Parker, Dolphins
29 Ja’Marr Chase, Bengals
30 DJ Chark, Jaguars
31 Chase Claypool, Steelers
32 Tee Higgins, Bengals
33 Diontae Johnson, Steelers
34 Deebo Samuel, 49ers
35 JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers
36 Mike Williams, Chargers
37 Antonio Brown, Buccaneers
Clearly, there’s still a ton of value at the right spots in Tier 4. You might not do a victory lap after hitting the draft button on some of these guys, but they have the potential to help you do a victory lap after the fantasy playoffs. If you’ve waited around for your WR2 and WR3, you need to secure someone from this tier in the early middle rounds. The ADPs are more spread out in this tier, so it’s tough to say where each will go in your draft. That said, it’s likely many will think these players fell “too far,” which shows why it’s not a bad idea to focus more on other positions in the earliest parts of your draft.
Many will view Chase as having the most upside in this tier. He’s being drafted as the WR20, ahead of Kupp, Lockett, Moore, Golladay, etc. Justin Jefferson’s rookie season has a lot to do with the hype surrounding him. Not all rookies start out that hot, so be careful not to overdraft. Teammate Tee Higgins, might have something to say about Chase’s prospects at Cincinnati’s WR1, but it’s possible they both explode in what should be a high-volume passing attack. Think last year’s Vikings with Jefferson and Thielen (WR6 and WR7).
The trio of Steelers WRs are a tricky group to navigate. It wouldn’t be all too surprising to any of the three had the best season. However, you can acquire any of the three around the same point in the draft, with Johnson being the most expensive option (ADP 64.3). There’s an argument to be made that Johnson may have reached his fantasy ceiling in 2020 with the insane number of targets (144), but he didn’t even top 1,000 yards and scored a relatively mediocre seven TDs. Claypool feels right around the appropriate spot with an ADP of 71 (WR28), though he loses a little value in PPR formats. Smith-Schuster is probably being undervalued. Yes, he was a massive letdown in ’20, but his 79.3 ADP seems quite low. We’ve seen what he’s been able to do in the past, and in relation to his ADP, he presents the most upside of the bunch.
Anderson, Chark, and Samuel have the chance to at least be a part of a 1A/1B receiving duo. Although Moore is a much better player, Anderson saw the easy targets in the shallower parts of the field last season (135 targets). Chark has Laviska Shenault Jr. and Marvin Jones right on his heels in contention to be Trevor Lawrence’s best friend, and he likely won’t replicate his 2019 Pro-Bowl season with upgraded options around him. Samuel has injury concerns and has most likely lost his place as the premier wideout in San Francisco. Still, he’s a threat to produce solid fantasy outings thanks to his rushing and playmaking ability.
Parker and Williams are extra attractive in standard formats due to their deep-threat, spectacular-catch abilities. Parker has an incredibly low ADP, being taken as the 48th WR off the board. Go into your draft knowing that he’s absolutely a boom-or-bust candidate after Miami added Will Fuller V and Jaylen Waddle, but that ADP still seems to be too low. At that spot in the draft, only backup running backs and old receivers like T.Y. Hilton remain. Chase Parker’s upside if those are your options.
Brown is heading into his second season with Tom Brady’s Buccaneers. His target share improved as the season went on, and we already know he’s been an absolute fantasy superstar in that past. If it weren’t for the crowded receiving room in Tampa Bay, he’d likely join Tier 2 or 3. Still, he could have numerous weeks of WR1 production with another year of comfort in the system.
2021 Fantasy WR Tiers: Potential wide receiver sleepers & breakouts
38 Jerry Jeudy, Broncos
39 Michael Pittman Jr., Colts
40 DeVonta Smith, Eagles
41 Will Fuller, Dolphins
42 Brandin Cooks, Texans
43 Christian Kirk, Cardinals
44 Tre’Quan Smith, Saints
45 Corey Davis, Jets
46 Tyler Boyd, Bengals
47 Marquise Brown, Ravens
48 Michael Gallup, Cowboys
49 T.Y. Hilton, Colts
50 Gabriel Davis, Bills
51 Henry Ruggs III, Raiders
52 Jarvis Landry, Browns
53 Jakobi Meyers, Patriots
54 Jalen Reagor, Eagles
55 Marvin Jones, Jaguars
56 Curtis Samuel, Washington
57 Laviska Shenault Jr., Jaguars
The “sure things” are drying up by Tier 5, but that’s not to say there isn’t fantastic value here. By now, you’ve likely selected three receivers, but you might be looking for a third starter or flex in addition to high-upside bench options. You could live with most of these guys as one or even two of your Week 1 starters, and given the mid-to-late-round price tags on them, you won’t regret waiting too much.
The trio of Hilton, Landry, and Jones don’t fit the “sleepers and breakouts” mold, but these vets shouldn’t be completely overlooked. Landry isn’t the prettiest option in standard, but he does see a lot of targets, making him a high-floor PPR staple. Hilton may finally be replaced as the Colts go-to guy, which is why Pittman Jr, is ranked above him. Jones actually presents the most upside among the three vets, but the uncertainty of his new surroundings makes him a bit risky. Still, the No. 1 receiver spot is open for the taking in Jacksonville, and Jones has been an underrated fantasy commodity in prior seasons. At WR51 in ADP, he’s worth the pick for the upside.
One of the greatest college wideouts of all-time, DeVonta Smith, is clocking in at an ADP of 80.3. It’s not too often you can snag a prolific No. 1 wide receiver that late in the draft (although potential Patriots No. 1 WR Jakobi Meyers is going at WR86). His range of outcomes is anywhere from top-12 to merely top-60. For every Justin Jefferson rookie breakout, there’s twice as many Jalen Reagors or Denzel Mims that come along. It’s hard to see Smith flopping so hard after watching him terrorize the SEC, but his QB situation doesn’t exactly give you a ton of confidence.
Speaking of Reagor, he is the 68th wide receiver coming off the board. Depending on how deep your league is, he’s going to sit comfortably on the waiver wire at the start of Week 1. However, he is worth monitoring. The addition of Smith can only help Reagor. Yes, he’s not going to be the WR1 in the offense, but he should be in a more ideal spot to flourish. We can’t just completely give up on him yet. He’s worth your last pick in the draft. It’s safe to put Henry Ruggs III in the same category, though he’s more likely to be his team’s top wide receiver.
Jeudy, Pittman, Tre’Quan Smith, Shenault and Gabriel Davis are on breakout alert. Smith’s ADP is currently WR72, but that will rise.
Samuel, Brown, Cooks, Fuller, Kirk, and Corey Davis have all been around a while, but they’re still relatively young veterans. We’ve seen what they bring to the table, but all have new opportunities — and a wide range of outcomes — in 2021. Cooks looks to be the best value here (WR39 ADP), especially if Deshaun Watson is miraculously his quarterback for all or part of this season.
Boyd and Gallup have eerily similar situations. They’re talented and have produced solid fantasy seasons, but they are buried behind two first-round talents. Consider them solid picks who could really outproduce their ADPs if there’s an injury to another receiver on their teams’ depth chart.
Fantasy WR Deep Sleepers & Boring Veterans
58 Darnell Mooney, Bears
59 Jaylen Waddle, Dolphins
60 Cole Beasley, Bills
61 Emmanuel Sanders, Bills
62 Jamison Crowder, Jets
63 Tyrell Williams, Lions
64 Nelson Agholor, Patriots
65 John Brown, Raiders
66 Marquez Callaway, Saints
67 Darius Slayton, Giants
68 Russell Gage, Falcons
69 Allen Lazard, Packers
70 Breshad Perriman, Lions
71 Mecole Hardman, Chiefs
72 Kadarius Toney, Giants
If you’re not in a particularly deep league, this tier may have no importance to you. If you are, these guys are late-round fantasy prospects to stash on your bench. Some will undoubtedly emerge as fairly reliable every-week plays, but it’s tough to predict who will make that leap. At the very least, the talent in this tier shows why there will always be a receiver worth selecting at any point in your draft.
Of this tier, the guys with the highest upside are Mooney, Callaway, Williams, and Gage. For all their own reasons, they will likely each see career-high volume. Any of the three could sneak up to a top-24 or top-36 player at the position, especially in PPR for Mooney, Callaway, and Gage.
Waddle, Hardman, and Toney present similar fantasy profiles. It’s tough to imagine significant volume for any of them, but they are explosive players, which will lead to some explosive weeks.
Beasley and Sanders fight for the right to be, at best, the No. 2 option at wideout in Buffalo. However, anybody on the receiving end of Josh Allen passess certainly has a bit of upside.
Brown and Agholor are deep threats who have struggled to maintain any kind of significant target shares, but they aren’t in strong wide receiver rooms, so perhaps they’ll have career years.
Crowder, Slayton, Perriman, and Lazard all figure to be behind at least a few pass-catchers on their teams’ pecking order, so barring injuries, they’ll likely be matchup-dependent plays
73 Sammy Watkins, Ravens
74 A.J. Green, Cardinals
75 Van Jefferson, Rams
76 Elijah Moore, Jets
77 Denzel Mims, Jets
78 Demarcus Robinson, Chiefs
79 Rashod Bateman, Ravens
80 Rondale Moore, Cardinals
81 Josh Reynolds, Titans
82 Tim Patrick, Broncos
83 Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Packers
84 DeSean Jackson, Rams
85 Randall Cobb, Packers
Half of the guys in Tier 7 aren’t going to see a roster spot, even in deep leagues. The rookies in this list are more worthy of a roster spot because their ceilings (and floors) are completely hypothetical at this point. However, injuries happen, and any of these guys could step into significant roles as a result. At very least, be on the lookout.
Bateman, Rondale Moore, and Elijah Moore are only in this tier due to uncertainty. Bateman could step in as the Ravens No. 1 WR, but how impressive can that be in the Ravens offense? Rondale has no pressure to play right away and is likely to start slow with the abundance of veteran WRs in Arizona. Plus, he has a checkered injury history, to say the least. Elijah Moore could also stake claim at the No. 1 WR spot in New York, but that offense is expected to struggle with all the youth in the starting lineup. Mims is seemingly already getting outplayed by Moore in training camp, and with the addition of Corey Davis, he’s probably not worth a draft pick.
Watkins, Green, Jackson, and Cobb are the old men of the group. They aren’t what they once were and don’t look to be major contributors in their offense, but they’re all in explosive offenses, so they’re at least worth keeping on watchlists.
Jefferson, Reynolds, Robinson, Patrick, and Valdez-Scantling are all playing with WRs and/or tight ends that command much higher target shares. These four specifically are great injury replacements if something were to happen to the stars on their teams.
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