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Which WRs will Fall from the Fantasy Top Ten in 2021?

By Joseph Hutchins | 7/31/21

For the past decade, I’ve been attempting to identify which top performers at the quarterback, running back, and wide receiver positions will fail to maintain their elite fantasy status moving forward. I’ve used a mix of look-back analysis, rudimentary statistical projection or “trendcasting,” and some good ol’ gut instinct to call these shots, which have been right enough to keep me coming back year after year. Or maybe that’s just what I tell myself to justify firing up the laptop and writing the same article every summer, which I thoroughly enjoy and which now seems to mark the unofficial start of football season in my mind. Here’s what I’m hoping YOU get out of it, even if the details are quickly forgotten: The top performers in 2021 won’t look very much like the top performers in 2020, which didn’t look very much like the top performers in 2019...and so on. That’s my thesis, it will never change, and I have 10 years’ worth of data to prove it.

Without further ado, here’s this year’s take on the most likely Top 10 dropouts for the coming NFL season.

Note: All rankings are based on FFToday’s Non-PPR league scoring.

  Top 10 Wide Receivers - 2019
Rank Player
1 Michael Thomas
2 Chris Godwin
3 Kenny Golladay
4 Cooper Kupp
5 Julio Jones
6 DeVante Parker
7 Amari Cooper
8 A.J. Brown
9 Mike Evans
10 DeAndre Hopkins
  Top 10 Wide Receivers - 2020
Rank Player
1 Davante Adams
2 Tyreek Hill
3 Stefon Diggs
4 Calvin Ridley
5 DK Metcalf
6 Justin Jefferson
7 Mike Evans
8 Adam Thielen
9 DeAndre Hopkins
10 A.J. Brown

Who Missed the Cut in 2020 (7/10): M. Thomas, C. Godwin, K. Golladay, C. Kupp, J. Jones, D. Parker, & A. Cooper

There have been, on average, slightly more than six Top 10 WR dropouts per year since I started writing this series over a decade ago. Even by that fairly gruesome standard, 2020 stood apart. Not only did seven top pass-grabbers from 2019 fail to meet expectations, the most in five years. Those seven also happened to be THE top seven and plummeted so far down the pecking order that they ended up ranking, collectively, as WR54. Ouch.

In true “harder they fall” fashion, Michael Thomas toppled from WR1 all the way to WR102 last season, undone by an ankle injury that cost him nine games...and counting. Coupled with Drew Brees’ retirement, Thomas’ continued absence into 2021 virtually ensures one of the game’s most reliable passing attacks has suddenly become one of its most suspect. Kenny Golladay and Julio Jones suffered similar 2020 fates, missing 11 and 7 games, respectively. They’ll both attempt to rebound in new settings this coming year, Golladay in Gotham and Jones in Nashville.

Amari Cooper, Chris Godwin, Cooper Kupp, and DeVante Parker all managed to salvage some measure of respectability for the Top 10 class of 2019, though only Cooper (Amari, not Kupp) cracked the top 20. It didn’t hurt that he played all 16 games for the fourth time in his career. It absolutely did hurt that he played most of those games without Dak Prescott under center. Godwin had no such issues with his new battery mate, Mr. Seven-time SB champ, but missed games early, middle, and late (four total), suppressing his overall output. The final two dropouts, Cooper Kupp and DeVante Parker, stayed relatively healthy all year long, but were done in by substandard quarterback play. Of the two, Kupp is most likely to rebound thanks to a huge upgrade at QB.

Most Likely Candidates to Fall from the Top 10 This Year:

DK Metcalf, SEA: History could repeat itself, sure, but the chances of last year’s top 7 wideouts suffering a similar fate to their 2019 counterparts seems very, very remote. That’s not to say some of them won’t, though, and of the bunch, Metcalf’s splits were easily the most worrisome, making him a prime candidate for regression heading into 2021. In his first eight games, the freakishly talented Seahawk racked up 15.9 FPts/G, notching double digits in all but one contest, a 2.3-pt dud in Week 7 (aka the Ty Lockett game). In his last eight, however, those totals dipped considerably, to 7.9 FPts/G and just three double-digit outings.

Metcalf should shoulder much of the blame here as his eight drops tied for fifth at the position and cost him (and us) a ton of fantasy points. More than half of those drops were 15+ yards downfield and at least one, if memory serves, was in the endzone. Even when he managed to haul in those Russ Wilson moon shots, the former Ole Miss star managed to squander points, most disastrously so in Week 3 v. Dallas when he was stripped by Trevon Diggs while prematurely celebrating what should have been a sure six points. Though it’s likely Metcalf will clean up his game some as he matures, the opportunity cost of his sloppiness is currently very high.

More concerning might be the fact Pete Carroll is still coaching Seattle. Metcalf was so spectacular during the season’s first half primarily because the characteristically conservative Carroll finally “let Russ cook.” Sadly, this more liberal offensive mindset was short-lived and the Hawks returned to their more balanced ways down the stretch. Carroll will be 70 soon, so consider me skeptical a fundamental philosophical shift is in the offing.

Mike Evans, TB: Evans is still the most talented and dangerous receiver the reigning champs have and he proved that by snatching back his role as Tampa’s top threat after playing second fiddle to Chris Godwin in 2019. The former A&M great notched a career-high 13 touchdowns, good for fourth overall at the position, and even posted his highest catch percentage as a pro (64.2%). Maybe that latter figure isn’t too surprising considering whom he was playing catch with, the historically accurate Tom Brady, but it’s a pretty impressive rate for a guy who specializes in homers as opposed to singles and doubles.

Evans’ TD production and Super Bowl success masked some more troublesome statistical information, however, namely the fact he set a career low in targets (109) and barely surpassed his previous career low in receiving yards (1,006 v. 1,001 in 2017). From 2014 to 2019, the star wideout averaged 9.3 targets and 81.6 yards/game. Last year, those averages declined steeply, to 6.8 targets and 62.9 yards/game. The Bucs’ brass likely doesn’t miss the freewheeling days of Fitzmagic and Famous Jameis, but WR1’s bottom line sure seems to.

Speaking of WR1s, Tampa has no fewer than three of them now thanks to last year’s midseason addition of Antonio Brown. And that’s not even accounting for the TD vacuum at tight end. Tom Brady can certainly feed a lot of mouths but Evans, Godwin, Brown, and Gronk (plus Scotty Miller) are a lot of mouths to feed. Brown, in particular, may pose the most serious threat to Evans this fall. He’s had an offseason to work with the game’s foremost perfectionist and, barring injury, will get to play a full 17 as a Buc. Don’t overspend on Evans this year.

A.J. Brown, TEN: Our final predicted dropout for 2021 is the only repeat mention from last year’s series, which is basically an open admission I was wrong about him. Tennessee’s Brown clung to his Top 10 status as a sophomore by doing precisely what I didn’t think he was capable of doing, maintaining a stellar yards-per-catch rate and continuing to rack up six-pointers at an unusually high rate, despite playing in a very conservative offense. He dropped from WR8 in 2019 to WR10 last year, yes, but actually improved his FPts/G rate from 10.3 to 12.4. Had he not missed two early tilts, Brown would’ve made me look even more foolish than he did.

Before I explain why he won’t do it again—it’s a pretty short explanation—understand that he absolutely can. Brown isn’t the fastest WR out there but plays faster in pads and is also a lot bigger and stronger than 99% of his peers, with the possible exception of his former teammate at Ole Miss (see above) and his new teammate in Nashville (see below). Rewatch him dragging multiple Ravens into the end zone last November if you don’t believe me.

Now, for that explanation: Julio freaking Jones. He’s on the decline at age 32 and coming off an injury-shortened 2020 campaign, but there still isn’t a more complete physical specimen at the position. Even if the former Falcon great plays second banana to Brown, it’s hard not to see Jones posting better numbers than Corey Davis did as the Titans’ WR2 last season (9.2 FPts/G). That matters because First Banana in Music City is still, indisputably, Derrick Henry. Only two teams threw fewer passes than Tennessee last season. There are more mouths to feed, just as in Tampa, but less food.

Next: Quarterbacks

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