Knock! Knock! Knock! Hello!! Anyone home?
Shhh!! Shhhh! I think I heard someone at the door.
The whole league’s here.
Who could it be?
I hope it’s not Scott.
Look at me.
Blah, Blah, Blah…
Pipe down everyone. He’ll hear us.
It shouldn’t be Scott. I told him we were in Canton at the Fantasy Expo. Let me check real quick…
Hello! Hello! WR2 Theory back again…
(Door opens slightly) Back again? Do I know you? What do you want?
We met last year. WR2 Theory…you remember…undervalued wide receivers who are going to outperform their ADP and help you win your fantasy league?
It sounds familiar….are you with those ZeroRB guys? They stopped by last week, and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious mumbo jumbo they were spitting….you know they don’t draft running backs….like at all, not a one, just crazy….I’m sorry, you guys are all too much for me, I gotta go, I have something going on…
Wait! I’m not with them and that sounds terrible btw. Who the hell doesn’t draft running backs?
WR2 Theory is nothing like that. You don’t remember last year when I dropped by, I…um…. your dog bit me and I dropped my….Diontae…
Johnson through the mail slot!!! I do remember. It’s all coming back to me now. Your WR2 Theory was spot on last year. Won me a shit ton of money actually.
YES!! That’s Me! I’m so glad you remembered! Congrats on all the winning!
You told me to draft Calin Ridley over Julio Jones…Julio FUCKING Jones man!!
Justin Jefferson over Adam Thielen, CeeDee Lamb over Gallup, Brandin Cooks over Will Fuller, and D.K. Metcalf over Tyler Lockett. Dude, you totally nailed it!
Don’t forget Robert Woods over Cooper Kupp…
I’m actually so glad that you are here!
I thought you would be.
I’m hosting my home league draft night and we were just about to start.
Perfect timing! You can introduce me to the crew. I will be a huge hit!
Yeah…that’s the thing. I can’t do that.
What do you mean?
WR2 Theory is powerful information. I mean, you know. I can’t just let it fall into my league mates’ hands pre-draft. I’ve got a reputation to uphold now.
OK. I see. So how are we going to do this then? You expect me to just whip it out on the porch?
Yeah. Why not? You’ve never done it on a porch before?
I mean sure, yeah. I’ve done it on a porch before, plenty of times, but last year at least you invited me inside. I believe you offered me a craft beer…we laughed about my chewed-up Diontae Johnson…
Here’s a couple of Fireball minis, that’s really the best I can do. I’m in a hurry and I’m woefully underprepared for this draft…I need it bad….Cheers
(Drinks) This is awful, but if you need it bad, I’ll give it to you…here on the porch, I guess.
You are the man!! I promise I’ll share it on Facebook with all my friends once I’m finished…
Hold on, while I get a grip on it, it’s big… Gotta use two hands here. Tell me when you are ready.
I’m ready….Oh! That’s massive…
WR2 Theory Origin Story
It’s been a year since WR2 Theory was officially launched into fantasy football ether. If you missed the origin story, WR2 Theory’s roots can be traced to a brief but meaningful Twitter exchange with JJ Zachariason in February 2020. JJ posted a tweet asking for questions for his Late-Round Podcast mailbag. All the stars aligned as I stumbled upon it and posted a question that I had been mulling over the last few seasons. Simply put, I wanted to know how accurately we (as the fantasy community) were at successfully predicting which wide receiver finished the season as the WR1 on their team. I was sure that this question had already been answered by fantasy football analysts and if JJ could just kindly push me in the right direction, I could get that info and get on with winning all my leagues….in February….don’t judge me.
After talking to JJ, it quickly became apparent that the easy answers I was seeking were not readily available to be effortlessly plucked from the fantasy football tree of knowledge. If my question was going to be answered, I was gonna need to take the fantasy stats into my own hands. I started immediately and never looked back.
Fast-Forward to 2021
WR2 Theory was a huge hit last year, successfully predicting the breakout of eight top 25 wide receivers, claiming three who finished inside the top 10 (Calvin Ridley, D.K. Metcalf, & Justin Jefferson). WR2 Theory was so hot it even caught the attention of renowned WR whisperer Matt Harmon from Yahoo Fantasy! He graciously invited me on the Yahoo Fantasy Football Podcast to unpack my theory and identify a few wide receivers that are primed to pop in 2021. (Listen here)
I began by pouring over the last 6 seasons of WR ADP data and then compared it to where WRs finished at the end of the fantasy season. Next, I filtered that data through the vacated targets tool created each year by John Daigle of NBC SportsEdge to see if there was a correlation between breakout WRs and vacated targets. Afterward, I studied the team-specific factors and circumstances to identify and document the conditions that led to the shift in the WR value for each team. Finally, I created criteria for success that incorporated all of the key data points and then used them to determine WR2 breakout candidates for 2021. WR2 Theory had been reborn for 2021.
As I dug further into the data, I started to see a pattern emerge. Each year there are wide receivers that are routinely undervalued and outperform their ADP. Last season only 44% of wide receivers drafted as the WR1 on their team finished the season as the WR1. 13 players who were drafted as the WR2 on their team, finished the season as the WR1. In 2020, Calvin Ridley, Robert Woods, D.K. Metcalf, and Justin Jefferson, were all drafted as the WR2 on their respective teams and finished as the WR1. In the case of D.K. Metcalf and Justin Jefferson, both had teammates (Tyler Lockett and Adam Thielen) who finished in the top 10. You don’t have to be Nimble with Numbers to see the discrepancy between consensus wide receiver ADP and true wide receiver value. The question then becomes, how do we identify the next WR2 to become a WR1 or the WR3 who will greatly outperform their ADP?
WR2 Theory Criteria for Success
Every evaluation/prediction process needs criteria for success to determine how
Vacated Targets: Targets that are available in an offense.
High Volume Passing Offenses: Offenses that consistently/historically see an increased percentage of passing volume when compared to the league average.
Emerging Talent/Rookies: The infusion of talented younger players into offensive schemes.
Injuries: Increased workload due to injury to a teammate.
One important tool that I used to help me identify potential WRs who fit into the WR2 Theory was the 2020 vacated target data. Here is the list of 2021 vacated targets brought to you by John Daigle from NBC SportsEdge (@notJDaigle on Twitter). I updated it with color graphics and made it sortable and accessible here.
The AFC South wide receiver targets are up for grabs this year, with three teams in the top four in vacated targets, including Julio Jones being added to a team that already has King Henry and A.J. Brown. Good thing they take defense seriously in the AFC South and there won’t be many points scored either.
The Detroit Lions have the most vacated targets losing all three of their starting wide receivers to free agency, and currently, all of their new wide receivers are free in the later rounds of drafts. I like Amon-Ra St. Brown out of USC to emerge as the leader in the clubhouse by the end of the season, but the WR1 on the Lions will be T.J. Hockenson or D’Andre Swift.
The New England Patriots quarterback and passing options are all currently in a wait-and-see situation as they sort out how the offense will run and who will be running it. I like Jonnu Smith as the TE1, but the wide receiver quagmire is harder to navigate. I’ll give Bill Belichick the “W” and avoid the Patriots pretty much altogether.
A Passing League
It is undeniable that the NFL has become a passing league. Last year eight teams featured at least two wide receivers who finished in the fantasy top 30, with the Carolina Panthers and the Pittsburgh Steelers offenses each supporting three wide receivers.
Explosive Offenses: Over the last 6 years the following teams supported 2 top 24 WRs.
2020 – Carolina Panthers, Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks, Pittsburgh Steelers (L.A. Rams, Cincinnati Bengals, and Buffalo Bills all finished with 2 in the top 30)
2019 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys, L.A. Rams
2018 – Atlanta Falcons, L.A. Rams, Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2017 – Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles, Detroit Lions, Pittsburgh Steelers
2016 – Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, New Orleans Saints
2015 – Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit Lions, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos
The common-sense wisdom in redraft leagues has always been to wait on rookie wide receivers, who typically are unreliable and breakout later on in year two or three. Last year Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, and Chase Claypool turned that thinking on its head, Jefferson finishing as a WR1 and Lamb and Claypool finishing as WR2s. The 2020 NFL wide receiver class was stacked with talent, and they did not disappoint. Here is the list of rookie and second-year WRs who finished in the top 35 in 2020 (Bold indicates 2020 rookie).
Justin Jefferson – WR6
D.K. Metcalf – WR7
A.J. Brown – WR14
Terry McLaurin – WR20
Diontae Johnson – WR21
Chase Claypool – WR22
CeeDee Lamb – WR24
Tee Higgins – WR28
Brandon Aiyuk – WR35
Injuries are never something that you can predict, but you can prepare for them by having a strategic plan if one of your starters goes down. Targeting rookie wide receivers in the later rounds is one of my favorite ways to guard against player attrition each year. I will leave 2021 drafts with 2-3 rookie wide receivers on all my teams.
2021 WR2 Candidates
Here are my 2021 WR2 Theory break-out candidates identified by round. All 2021 ADP rankings come directly from 4for4’s ADP tool and are based on a 12 Team PPR league.
Julio Jones – Tennessee Titans – WR16
What a difference a year makes. Last season Julio Jones was the WR1 on the Atlanta Falcons, being drafted as the overall WR3 in 12 Team PPR leagues. Jones disappointed fantasy managers in 2020, battling injuries and finishing as the WR52, failing to score 150 points.
Fast forward to 2021 and Julio finds himself traded to a Tennessee Titans team that needs to replace 47% (244) of its vacated targets from a season ago. Over his career, Julio averages 1.89 fantasy points per target. It’s not unreasonable to project Jones for 125 -135 targets, which roughly ranges between 236 – 255 fantasy points.
I’m not drafting Julio before A.J. Brown, or predicting that he finishes as the Titans’ WR1 at season’s end, but Julio has weekly WR1 upside and you can currently draft him in the middle of the fourth round. I understand if his injury history and lack of touchdown equity give you pause, but the upside outweighs the risk in Julio’s case. I’m comfortable drafting him a the WR2 in a 12 Team PPR league.
Tyler Lockett – Seattle Seahawks – WR18
Last season Tyler Lockett was BOOM, or bust, bust, bust, bust…failing to score at least 10 points seven times in 2020. The whole Seahawks offense struggled down the stretch last year. Russell Wilson’s fantasy points per game summed up the story pretty well. First eight games Wilson averaged 26 points per game, the last eight games he averaged 15 points per game, and Brian Schottenheimer no longer is employed as the Seahawks Offensive Coordinator in 2021.
Enter former Los Angeles Rams pass game coordinator Shane Waldron, brought in by Pete Carroll to add pace to a Seahawks’ offense that ranked 22nd and 24th in the pace of the play the last two seasons. Look for Tyler Lockett to directly benefit from the new fast-paced scheme that will look more like the Rams’ ariel attack than the predictable one Russell Wilson has helmed the last few years.
According to Matt Harmon from Reception Perception, “Lockett is one of the most underrated receivers in the NFL who just doesn’t get enough credit for his ability to get open.”
Lockett’s success rate vs. coverage is unbelievable.
|Coverage||% of Routes||Success Rate||Percentile|
Lockett finished 2020 as WR8, scoring 265 points. He’s one of four wide receivers in 2020 with 100 catches and over 1,000 receiving yards. He’s currently being drafted at the end of the 4th round as the WR18. The shade is just ridiculous and doesn’t make any sense given how good Lockett has been and has the potential to be playing alongside Russell Wilson. I’m drafting him in the late 4th to early 5th round every chance I get.
Chase Claypool – Pittsburgh Steelers – WR25
The writing is on the wall for a Chase Claypool breakout! During his rookie campaign, Claypool only started six games, had a 57% catch rate, only had 62 receptions, and still finished as the PPR WR22. That was with JuJu Smith-Schuster finishing WR16 and Diontae Johnson as the WR21. Things that make you say, “hmmmmm.”
The Steelers were admittedly a one-dimensional offense last season, relying exclusively on the pass to move the ball downfield. The addition of first-round running back Najee Harris will mean fewer passes this season, but don’t let his presence scare you off of Claypool. The balance Harris brings to the Steelers’ offense will keep defenses honest and result in more favorable matchups for Claypool.
Per Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception charting, Claypool had a 75.4% success rate vs. press (80th percentile). The Steelers will look to maximize the mismatches Claypool creates with his 6’4” 240lbs frame. Oh, did I mention that he has 4.41 speed? He’s gonna be a matchup nightmare all season long and has the potential to score eclipse his 11 touchdown total from 2020.
Chase Claypool is hot!! Since I started writing this article last week, his ADP has moved from WR28 to WR25. By the time you read this, it might even be higher. I love him at his current 6.04 ADP, but don’t be surprised if you need to dip into the fifth round to secure him now.
Robby Anderson – Carolina Panthers – WR31
Last season under first-year head coach Matt Rhule, the Carolina Panthers offense supported three top 25 wide receivers, with Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback no less. For better or for worse, the Panthers are now in the Sam Darnold business. Though reaction across the football world has been mixed at best, one person you might not hear complaining is Robby Anderson.
Anderson has experience playing with Darnold and had this to say, “When I walked in the building I could see a new energy out of him, like a glow, charisma that I didn’t really see in New York,” Anderson said, according to ESPN’s David Newton.
Much like Darold, Anderson is fighting for respect as well. Despite finishing as the WR17 last season, topping 1,000 yards receiving for the first time in his career, Anderson is being drafted more than two rounds after his teammate, D.J. Moore. Anderson only scored three touchdowns in 2021, a number that should positively regress to the 6-7 he saw when he played with Darnold in the Big Apple.
Jerry Jeudy – Denver Broncos – WR32
Jerry Jeudy is no secret. He’s one of the most hyped and talked about breakout wide receiver candidates this year, and for good reason. We saw glimpses of his immense talent last season with his 92-yard touchdown reception in Week 17 against the Las Vegas Raiders. Jerry Jeudy has upside and upside is what you want in your fantasy football wide receivers.
After lack-luster training camp reports regarding Sutton, Jeudy’s ADP is on the rise. Initially, Jeudy was being drafted after his teammate Courtland Sutton, but just recently the two have pulled even and are being drafted back-to-back. The slip-in value hurts a little as the cat is out of the bag a bit with Jeudy, but he’s still worth the pick at 7.04 as a WR3 who offers WR2 upside in plus matchups.
Antonio Brown – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – WR39
Antonio Brown is like the Step Brothers of NFL Super Stars. He was down and out until Tom Brady heard him sing at the Catalina Wine Mixer, invited him over to make bunk beds, and wail on his drumset and the rest is Super Bowl history.
Brown starts the 2021 season with a full training camp under his belt. He proved last season what he’s still capable of, scoring four touchdowns the last three weeks of the season and averaging, averaging 23.5 points in those three games.
Bruce Arians likes to throw the football, a lot. Last year the Buccaneers threw the football at the third-highest rate in the league, a delicious 62.95% of the time. Given a full season in the Tampa Bay offense, Brown is likely to see over 100 targets, which makes his floor a WR3, and his weekly upside in the WR2 range.
Brown is currently being drafted at the back end of the 8th round, but not for sharps who understand his potential in this Tom Brady-led offense. I’m comfortable reaching into the seventh for Brown and rolling with him as my WR3 in 2021.
Laviska Shenault – Jacksonville Jaguars – WR43
Last season rookie Laviska Shenault turned 79 targets and 18 rushing attempts into 157 fantasy points and a WR46 finish. Not bad for a rookie on a terrible offense that practically quit a few games into the season and decided no one would notice them tanking for Trevor Lawrence.
Well, it worked! The Jags snagged their generational quarterback Lawrence with the first pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. The Jags offense is primed to rebound, also landing Lawrence’s Clemson teammate Travis Etienne with their other first-round pick.
A rising tide lifts all ships, and in this analogy, the S.S. Shenault will benefit from the direction and stability the new Urban Meyer coaching staff brings to the previously choppy Jaguars’ seas. Laviska is a playmaker, whose PlayerProflier comp is A.J. Brown. Look for Meyer to create opportunities to showcase Shenault’s talents, unlike the previous coaching staff. I’m targeting Shenault as my WR4 in the 8th round.
Michael Gallup – Dallas Cowboys – WR44
Last season Michael Gallup was being drafted as the WR32 with Dak Prescott. He finished the season as the WR38 without Dak playing most of the season. Now he is being drafted as the WR44 with Dak Prescott returning. I’ll let you do the math on that one.
Gallup scored 212 fantasy points in 2019 with a healthy Dak, amassing over 1,100 yards on 66 receptions. I’m not predicting that Gallup will finish ahead of Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, but he’s currently being drafted 32 spots behind Lamb and 29 spots behind Cooper. This disparity oozes value for those who don’t want to pay up for their fantasy points.
You are not going to find another wide receiver with his ADP who has the potential to finish as a top 30 wide receiver. I am comfortable targeting Gallup as my WR4, even reaching into the late 8th round to snag him. He’s currently being drafted at the 9.11 in 12 Team PPR leagues.
Darnell Mooney – Chicago Bears – WR49
Darnell Mooney had the quietest 98 target season of all the 2020 rookies, but who could blame him given the lack of quarterback talent throwing him the football last year. To the cheers of many, the Bears upgraded their quarterback situation in the offseason by first acquiring Andy “The Red Rifle” Dalton and then trading up for first-round pick Justin Fields from Ohio State.
Anthony Miller has been traded to the Houston Texans, setting the stage for a Mooney breakout in 2021. Look for the Bears to feature a one-two punch with Allen Robinson underneath and on the perimeter and Darnell Mooney stretching the field as a vertical threat. I expect Mooney to have several highlight touchdowns, burning safeties, and man coverage over the top and down the seem.
There are 110 vacated wide receiver targets the Bears have to do something with, so it makes sense to project Mooney closer to 130 than 100 targets this season. If that’s the case he has the potential to finish as a top 35 wide receiver and that isn’t even his ceiling.
I love his current late 10th round price tag and will be snatching him up so I can yell at the top of my lungs, “SHOW ME THE MOONEY” when I draft him.
Russell Gage – Atlanta Falcons – WR57
The Atlanta Falcons traded away Julio Jones and in doing so, vacated 93 targets at the wide receiver position. Russell Gage already saw 110 targets last season, a number that is bound to increase due to the Falcons’ high passing volume.
Gage finished 2020 as the WR37, totaling over 181 fantasy points. Now he’s primed for an expanded role in the offense and his ADP is depressed at WR57. This is just ridiculous and proof that some folks are just plain doing it wrong in the fantasy streets.
Gage has the potential to score 200 fantasy points this year which would land him squarely as a top 30 wide receiver. Gage won’t outscore Calvin Ridley, but I’m not making the mistake of missing on Gage in rounds 11-12 and neither should you.
Elijah Moore – New York Jets – WR65
The New York Jets are all new for 2021. New head coach, Robert Saleh. New rookie quarterback, Zach Wilson. New rookie wide receiver, Elijah Moore. New is good! It’s no secret that I’m super bullish on Elijah Moore in 2021. The early training camp highlights were deep touchdown after deep touchdown. All but fanning the flames of hype, analysts like myself have been heaping on him.
But Moore has been sidelined for over a week with a strained quad, which will keep him sidelined another week, causing him to miss out on precious pre-season reps with rookie Zach Wilson. I’m tempering my breakout predictions given his training camp setback, but he is still a player who will have weekly WR2-3 upside and should see close to 100 targets. Vegas has set the Over/Under for Jet’s wins at six in 2021, they will be trailing and they will be looking Elijah Moore’s way.
I predict Moore to finish as a top 40 wide receiver, averaging close to 13 points per game and well outperforming his WR66 ADP. Hopefully, the injury scares folks off and his ADP drops further. Make sure to buy the dip to cash when he hits!
Terrace Marshall Jr. – Carolina Panthers – WR67
The Panthers let Curtis Samuel move on in free agency and chose to go in a different direction when they drafted the 6’2” 205lbs Terrace Marshall Jr. out of LSU to take over the slot receiver duties in 2021. Marshall steps into a Panthers offense that has 111 vacated wide receiver targets up for grabs.
Marshall was a standout collegiate wide receiver while at LSU whose 4.45 speed and physical style of play translates well to the NFL game. Since his rookie pre-season debut, his ADP has skyrocketed from WR83 to WR67. Marshall is a receiver that should easily outperform his ADP and has a shot to put up close to 600 yards receiving.
Rondale Moore – Arizona Cardinals – WR68
The Arizona Cardinals Offense got a whole lot better in the offseason, and no, I am not referring to the A.J. Green signing, though I don’t completely hate it. Mostly because it overshadowed the move that I think will be the most impactful, drafting Rondale Moore from Purdue in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Last season the Cardinals averaged 66 offensive plays per game, which was fourth-most in the NFL. With the 12th most vacated targets available, Moore is walking into potentially 75 targets on a team that averaged over 25 points per game.
According to Ryan Sanudo of the Heavy.com, “Arizona Cardinals rookie WR Rondale Moore has been electric in training camp. The second-round pick from Purdue looks comfortable and is a sneaky candidate to be the WR3 or even WR2 in this offense.”
Training camp hype is a real thing, but in this case, it appears to be warranted, as Moore has already demonstrated that he can be successful at more than just the slot receiver. Moore is a rookie that I will be stashing on all of my teams unless someone beats me to it.
Marquez Callaway – New Orleans Saints – WR70
With Michael Thomas scheduled to miss several weeks recovering from offseason ankle surgery, Marquez Callaway has emerged as the dark horse darling to be the WR1 in New Orleans this season. Currently, he is being drafted after Thomas (WR30) and four sports ahead of Tre’Quan Smith.
The Saints already had 100 wide receiver targets available with the departure of Emmanual Sanders to Buffalo, the Michael Thomas injury blows this WR1 competition wide open. Whether it turns out to be Callaway or Smith, both are extremely underpriced and have the potential to pay off as late-round fliers. Whether it is Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston, all the passes can’t go to Alvin Kamara, can they?