by: Jacob Bourgeois
This is a dynasty fantasy football article focused on watch-out (or bust) WRs for the 2021 season. All dynasty players should be focused on 2021 for two reasons – one, we’re all looking to win, and two, player values fluctuate based on annual output – we want to own/buy/retain players increasing in value. The receivers evaluated here are the top 24 consensus dynasty expert rankings (ADP usually fluctuates towards expert rankings). And the age preference baked into dynasty ranks allows us to ignore the easy “age cliff” answers like Julio Jones you would find on a redraft bust list.
Next, bust is a relative term – it means “didn’t live up to their ADP” – so if Davante Adams (ECR1) has a better season than Jerry Jeudy (ECR23) he can still be a bust if he doesn’t return on investment value (Adams is currently valued at 3 future firsts, and Jeudy at most 1 in dynasty trade tools).
Here are the players included in the analysis. (via FantasyPros.com)
*Note that when I performed my analysis, Cooper Kupp was on this list but has since been (incorrectly I feel) replaced by Chase Claypool.
Simply put, “the better the player, the less susceptible they are to situational changes.” To distill player talent from situational success, I default to PFF.com who have excellent tools focused on grading what production can be attributed to the player vs their situation. But make no mistake, all ships rise in a rising tide – and if Kirk Cousins has a down year, Jefferson’s player grade would be negatively impacted – so its not a perfect science. And players are on the rise generally speaking when they first come out of college, so I have adjusted PFF grades up by 5 points for rookies and 2 points for second year guys (and Courtland Sutton for whom we’re leveraging his 2019 grade because of early 2020 injury). The listing of Adjusted PFF grades is as follows:
Takeaways: to me Sutton (ECR22) and Michael Thomas (ECR9) are undervalued because of their 2020 injuries. On the other side CeeDee Lamb (ECR10), D.J. Moore (ECR13), and Terry McLaurin (ECR11) are elevated by historical production, name value, late season surge, and/or opportunity more so than their graded production. Don’t get me wrong, scoring in the high 70’s and 80’s is good.
Now we’ll look at each of the top 24’s QB situation to see if they’re in about the same situation, a likely improved situation, or if there is inherent risk – be it QB age, return from major injury, or change/uncertainty at the position.
Sure, Dak is coming back from injury, but from all accounts he’s progressing well and will be a huge improvement from the DAL 2020 QB show. Burrow on the other hand was initially thought to need 2 years for recovery, so does carry some risk for Tee Higgins. Allen Robinson is staring down Andy Dalton, and because he’s had success with so many bad QBs gets a pass in this risk category, he’ll be fine. Keep an eye on the Matthew Stafford effect, where Kenny G. is moving to Daniel Jones and Cooper Kupp is getting reprieve from Jared Goff. Ridley, Godwin, Evans, and Diontae Johnson have QBs nearing the victory line who (as already seen with Big Ben) could soon be turning south. Then you have the truly uncertain and riskiest QB situations – Drew Lock, Jimmy G., Jameis/Taysom, and Sam Darnold. The problem here is we just don’t know how these situations will pan out for Jeudy, Sutton, DJ Moore, Aiyuk and Michael Thomas. With Michael Thomas there is as much upside as there is risk, so this could be moved into the even category and his skill is sufficient to outproduce his situation anyways.
One factor in target share is the success/quality of the other receiving options on the team. Every offseason there is movement and the target share stock of players moving or receiving a new teammate can change. Another important thing to remember is injury-based opportunities (i.e. Tyler Higbee’s strong performance in 2019 when Gerald Everett went down).
We’ll not spend time looking at situations considered even – in general, they may have added or subtracted a WR3, but large in part the target share should be consistent from the year prior. For Aiyuk, Sutton, Jeudy, and Ridley the unknown is injury based, where Deebo/Kittle, Sutton, and Julio missed significant time in 2020. Ridley gets the pass here as he’s already shown no issues in his splits with Julio on the field. In the four games where Julio was a WR1, Ridley had 30 targets, 300 yards, and 4 touchdowns. Contrast that with Aiyuk who in three games with both Deebo and Kittle at full strength he managed a total of 74 receiving yards and 1 total touchdown on 7 catches (divide by 3 and it’s not pretty). With Jeudy and Sutton we’re just not sure how the targets will be spread around, but the PFF grades favor Sutton. McLaurin is now paired with Round 1 talent Curtis Samuel, by far the most talented receiver he’ll have played with, but McLaurin’s success at so early on and with no help, makes me believe this could even help him vs. hurt him. Golladay is joining a new crew in New York, where he projects as the X receiver but where the talent around him is a little more established and plentiful than were his colleagues in Detroit – I consider this only a slight risk. That leaves Higgins who are in the greater than 50% likely to draft Ja’Marr Chase category (or Kyle Pitts). The team needs to add a receiving weapon be it in the first or second round who will play opposite of Higgins with Boyd in the slot. This could wind up a 1b situation for Higgins depending on how things go in the draft – note that Mixon and Uzomah are also back from injury.
Check out the DK Metcalf / Tyler Locket stats from the first and second half of 2020. The biggest delta allowing the team to play more ground and pound was the improved play on defense (helped by Jamal Adams and Carlos Dunlap). Changes to a team’s overall defensive play from year to year can be hard to predict, so instead, I’m just going to list out their 2020 ranks for your consideration.
Tampa Bay finished 2020 really strong on defense and could carry that momentum into 2021, same with Seattle – so Godwin, Evans, Metcalf may lose some value due to average game scripts. Pittsburg is getting Devin Bush and TJ Watt back, which go spell trouble for Diontae. Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr will return for Minnesota who would be hard-pressed not to improve on last years finish (fewer long balls to Jefferson?). Nick Bosa will be a big addition back in SF who missed all of 2020 – but will they take a step back because of Robert Selah taking the head coaching job in New York? The chargers definitely underperformed without Derwin James, but will the new coaching staff be able to pull much together? And with Herbert playing like he is, would they even want to turn down the dial? Denver (Jeudy/Sutton) could definitely improve locking up one of the best free agent CBs and getting healthy on the D-Line with defensive guru Vic Fangio still at the helm. Does TEN draft a top corner or edge rusher – and how much impact could that have year one? All just food for thought, as I said, it’s hard to predict.
I didn’t review injury history above – with the nature of the sport and the overall success of sports-medicine I consider it to be more random than people give it credit. Speedier guys tend to suffer hamstring injuries (Tyreek, Diggs, Golladay, McLaurin, Lamb, Metcalf). Soft tissue injuries are more predictable than major joint issues (like a knee or ankle). And concussion history is definitely something to watch out for. But an O-lineman landing on your leg as you’re blocking your DB is no respecter of persons.
The dynasty top 24 are that for a reason, they’re the most valuable assets for long term performance on your dynasty team. From the above assessment you can see that there are variables increasing the risk for some and improving the stability of others. With all things considered, I propose the below top 3 riskiest players of this group when accounting for their current value (cost to acquire).
Honorable Mention: D.K. Metcalf
The unknown of Pete Carrol’s defensive minded run-heaviness should cause pause when selecting Metcalf as a needed every week contributor.
3) Kenny Golladay
Who has seen his share of injuries and carries a ton of uncertainty at the QB position and with a totally new supporting cast.
Rebuttle: He’s the X and the best they have in the red zone.
2) D.J. Moore
Who had a down 2020 by PFF’s metrics and has a 3rd QB in 3 years to gel with – Robby on the other side has the benefit of an established rapport with Darnold and neither know if they have a rookie QB throwing to them by mid-season.
Rebuttle: His 2019 PFF was 82.2 and he has mid 1st round draft capital so should be a priority in the passing attack regardless.
- Brandon Aiyuk
This risk here is basically summed up by the Deebo / Kittle splits and the chance that the team’s defense takes a step forward.
Rebuttle: Outside of those three games (4, 5, and 6) which were early in the season, he balled out showing Alpha WR upside in Shanahan’s offense.
Again, I believe these are great players and we don’t often have the luxury of picking which horse we have in the race, but if you’re a cautious owner looking to win now, I recommend moving these pieces for something with a higher chance of returning value in 2021 (Michael Thomas, Courtland Sutton, Keenan Allen, Amari Cooper, Cooper Kupp).