esny 2021 fantasy football preview wrs
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

ESNY’s 2021 Fantasy Football Preview series concludes by presenting you with the top 40 fantasy wide receivers for this season.

Ryan Honey

What a week it’s been.

First, I attempted to explain why I put Lamar Jackson at No. 11 on our fantasy quarterbacks list. I also spoke about the time I heard of a “kicker battle” take place in one league, made a case for why Evan Engram is in our top 10 fantasy tight ends, and most recently, argued that Dalvin Cook is a better fantasy option than Derrick Henry.

Pretty wild, right?

But all good things must come to an end, so with that said, let’s conclude ESNY’s 2021 Fantasy Football Preview with an important position: wide receiver.

No. 40-21

40. Antonio Brown (TB)

39. Curtis Samuel (WAS)

38. Hollywood Brown (BAL)

37. Kadarius Toney (NYG)

36. DeVante Parker (MIA)

35. Michael Thomas (NO) — Injured

34. Brandin Cooks (HOU)

33. Marvin Jones (JAX)

32. Cooper Kupp (LAR)

31. Robert Woods (LAR)

30. Jarvis Landry (CLE)

29. DeVonta Smith (PHI)

28. Tyler Boyd (CIN)

27. Julio Jones (TEN)

26. Cole Beasley (BUF)

25. CeeDee Lamb (DAL)

24. Corey Davis (NYJ)

23. Odell Beckham Jr. (CLE)

22. JuJu Smith-Schuster (PIT)

21. Courtland Sutton (DEN)

20. Chris Godwin (TB)

Chris Godwin remains with the Buccaneers on the one-year franchise tag and should produce for a number of reasons.

First, he’s in the exact same system — Bruce Arians isn’t going anywhere and the Bucs are returning all 11 offensive Super Bowl starters.

Second, this offense has momentum coming off its February title victory.

Third, he has Tom Brady throwing to him.

And last, he’s simply capable of producing at a high level.

Godwin caught 65 balls for 840 yards and seven touchdowns last season.

19. D.J. Moore (CAR)

The expectation is that newly acquired Carolina quarterback Sam Darnold is going to develop given he’s in a situation superior to the one he was in with the Jets.

The Panthers offense should additionally improve in its second season under head coach Matt Rhule and coordinator Joe Brady.

This is all great news for D.J. Moore, who should build on his solid 2020 campaign.

Last year, Moore caught 66 balls for 1,193 yards and four touchdowns.

His yardage ranked 11th in the NFL and ninth among receivers.

18. Ja’Marr Chase (CIN)

Just like with any rookie, we truly don’t know what we will exactly see out of Ja’Marr Chase at the professional level. There’s always the chance he can be a bust.

But taking into consideration his talent (which led to him being the No. 5 overall draft pick) and the fact he’s reuniting with his collegiate quarterback, Joe Burrow, Chase’s production could indeed be at a significant level.

During LSU’s 2019 national championship campaign (with Burrow), Chase recorded 84 receptions for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns — all eye-popping marks.

17. Terry McLaurin (WAS)

I’m definitely a Ryan Fitzpatrick fan, but I obviously don’t think he’s the absolute best option at quarterback. Definitely not a long-term starter, given his age (38 years old).

However, he’s serviceable, which should help out the already talented Terry McLaurin.

The third-year player has quickly established himself as a highly productive receiver in this league, having caught 87 passes for 1,118 yards and four touchdowns for Washington in 2020.

He was 12th in the NFL with 134 targets, proving he’s heavily utilized in coordinator Scott Turner’s offense.

16. Robby Anderson (CAR)

Robby Anderson is in the same situation as D.J. Moore (which we previously discussed) — Sam Darnold should develop and produce with the talent around him and the offense should improve in its second year under Matt Rhule and Joe Brady.

Anderson is also reuniting with Darnold (they played with one another on the Jets from 2018-19) and the duo should be able to once again develop that on-field connection.

Not to mention, Robby underwent a great 2020 season, catching 95 passes (10th in the NFL) for 1,096 yards and three scores.

15. Kenny Golladay (NYG)

Kenny Golladay did experience an injury-plagued 2020 campaign in which he missed 11 games for the Lions.

But his great talent is evident, which is why he signed a four-year, $72 million deal with the Giants in March.

You know what you can get out of Golladay, and that’s a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver who’s capable of recording a 1,000-yard season (he accomplished that in both 2018 and 2019) and a double-digit touchdown total (he led the league with 11 receiving scores in 2019).

Golladay is also part of an offensive system that carries the potential to be successful.

The expectation is that quarterback Daniel Jones will develop given the improved assistance around him and the fact he’s in the same offensive system (with coordinator Jason Garrett) for the second straight year.

The Giants also possess what could be a talented slate of weapons that additionally includes Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, tight end Evan Engram, running back Saquon Barkley, and first-round wideout Kadarius Toney. Thus, opposing defenses won’t be able to only focus their attention on Kenny, which could free him up for significant targets.

14. A.J. Brown (TEN)

Julio Jones is now in Nashville, but don’t expect that to completely diminish A.J. Brown’s target total. Brown will be a notable part of this Tennessee offense just like he was in 2019 and 2020.

Brown recorded a pair of 1,000-yard seasons to commence his career and additionally carries a knack for the end zone. The 2019 second-rounder recorded 11 touchdowns for the Titans last year.

13. Adam Thielen (MIN)

Justin Jefferson, a highly talented receiver, is on the Minnesota roster and that could take targets away from Adam Thielen in 2021. Nonetheless, Thielen’s talent is still present and so is his knack for the end zone.

The 30-year-old caught 14 touchdowns last season — the mark was third in the NFL and second in the NFC.

He’s still heavily used even with Jefferson also in the mix. Thielen was thrown to 108 times in 2020 and caught 74 of those passes for 925 yards.

12. Mike Evans (TB)

Like Godwin, Mike Evans is in a superb situation with this dominant offense, intelligent coaching staff, and Tom Brady under center.

Evans is one of the more productive receivers in the league and that shouldn’t change in 2021.

Last year, the veteran reeled in 70 catches for 1,006 yards and 13 scores (fourth in the league).

11. Keenan Allen (LAC)

Do not sleep on Keenan Allen whatsoever.

The veteran is one of the more underrated but talented wideouts this league has to offer and has an up-and-coming star quarterback in Justin Herbert throwing him the ball.

Herbert’s talent and pending development at the professional level should be great for Allen and his production.

For what it’s worth, Keenan caught 100 balls for 992 yards and eight scores in 2020.

10. Tyler Lockett (SEA)

There shouldn’t be many concerns with Tyler Lockett in this Seattle offense, just as long as the coaching staff lets Russell Wilson cook.

Lockett notched 100 receptions (career-high) for 1,054 yards and 10 scores (tied a career-high) last season. His 132 targets also marked a career-high.

He was playing the best football of his life, which you, a potential fantasy owner, should take into consideration during your draft(s).

9. Amari Cooper (DAL)

Amari Cooper recorded a career-high in receptions (92) last year to go with 1,114 yards and five touchdowns…while the Cowboys didn’t even have a consistent plan at quarterback for much of the season. Just think of the production level Cooper could’ve reached if he had Dak Prescott healthy for all 16 games.

Well now that Dak is returning, the seventh-year wideout should be heavily successful in 2021.

8. DK Metcalf (SEA)

The size; the strength; the hands; the speed; Russell Wilson throwing him the ball; the trajectory to becoming one of the league’s top receivers.

Many signs point towards DK Metcalf significantly producing in the passing game in 2021.

His 1,303 receiving yards (seventh in the league), 83 receptions, and 10 touchdown catches last year proved he’s heavily valued in this Seattle offense.

The 129 targets stood out as well — Wilson prefers throwing to him and is confident his large frame can be used to make the tough catches.

7. Calvin Ridley (ATL)

Julio Jones is gone.

You know what that means.

Calvin Ridley will be utilized that much more in the Atlanta offense, even with rookie first-round tight end Kyle Pitts now in the mix.

With Julio on the team last year (healthy for nine games), Ridley still finished with 143 targets (ninth in the NFL) — think of the attention he could garner with the future Hall of Fame receiver now in Tennessee.

Ridley is capable of capitalizing on the on-field opportunities as well; he reeled in 90 catches for 1,374 yards (tied for fifth in the league) and nine scores in 2020.

6. Allen Robinson (CHI)

Allen Robinson has proven to be one of the league’s top receivers even without the most consistent of quarterbacks.

Last season, he was sixth in the NFL with 102 receptions and ninth with 1,250 yards with Nick Foles and Mitch Trubisky throwing him the ball.

He’s also extremely valued in this Chicago offense — in 2019 and 2020, Robinson was targeted a whopping 154 and 151 times, respectively.

The Matt Nagy-led staff relying on him that much is great for fantasy owners given Robinson will have a noteworthy number of chances to garner points.

The reason I leave him out of the top five, however, is because despite his talent and ability to adapt to negative offensive situations, I still think the lack of consistent quarterback talent is an issue. I just feel more confident about the upcoming receivers’ quarterbacks — it’s unclear if Andy Dalton will be persistently reliable and rookie Justin Fields (if and when he plays) will likely need time to develop.

5. Justin Jefferson (MIN)

Trading Stefon Diggs was obviously a tough move to make for Minnesota.

But Justin Jefferson’s 2020 rookie campaign certainly made the organization feel somewhat better about its decision to send Diggs to Buffalo.

The former first-rounder out of LSU earned a Pro Bowl bid and a spot on the AP All-Pro second team last year after catching 88 balls for 1400 yards (fourth in the league) and seven touchdowns. He’s solidified himself as the Vikings’ No. 1 receiver and is definitely valued in the offense given he was targeted 125 times.

Jefferson should also continue producing with Kirk Cousins by his side — the veteran quarterback threw for 4,265 yards with a 67.6% completion rate in 2020. He additionally recorded a career-high 35 touchdown passes.

4. Tyreek Hill (KC)

One of the more exciting receivers we’ve ever seen comes in at No. 4.

Do we even need to explain why Tyreek Hill is near the top of this list?

He’s incredibly dynamic and could be used in various ways, which will lead to much attention being focused on him by the coaching staff (i.e opportunities for fantasy points).

Tyreek caught 87 balls for 1,276 yards and 15 touchdowns (second in the league) in 2020. He additionally rushed for a pair of scores on the ground

His 135 targets also prove Patrick Mahomes loves to look his way when the ball is in his hands.

3. DeAndre Hopkins (ARI)

DeAndre Hopkins is in a great offensive system (the Cardinals were sixth in total yards in 2020) and has an up-and-coming star quarterback in Kyler Murray.

Combine all that with his tremendous talent and you have a guy who’s certainly capable of being the third-best fantasy receiver in the NFL.

In a PPR league (in case you somehow don’t know, that means “point per reception”), Hopkins can clean up. He tied for second in the NFL last year with 115 receptions to go with his 1,407 yards (third in the league) and six touchdowns.

He earns a great number of opportunities to produce as well — Hopkins was second in the NFL with 160 targets last season.

2. Davante Adams (GB)

A top-five offense; the reigning NFL MVP and one of the greatest quarterbacks in league history remaining with the team; the absurd knack for the end zone.

Davante Adams has solidified himself as one of the top receivers in the NFL and it doesn’t seem that reputation will be escaping him in 2021.

If Aaron Rodgers wasn’t returning to Green Bay, maybe Adams’ ranking would be different. But that’s not the case.

Adams’ spectacular production is nothing to overlook. Last year, he tied for second with 115 receptions, was sixth with 1,374 yards, and led the league with 18 touchdown receptions.

That’s right — he averaged just over a touchdown per game.

It’s tough not to take that level of production on your fantasy team, but there’s still one receiver that could be drafted over him…

1. Stefon Diggs (BUF)

The 2020 leader in receptions (127) and receiving yards (1,535) takes the No. 1 spot.

But Stefon Diggs’ production from last season isn’t the only reason why he’s atop the list.

The man simply has a quarterback that’s one of the best in the game and one that will only keep improving.

Josh Allen is coming off a superb 2020 campaign in which he earned a spot on the AP All-Pro second team. Given the size, arm strength, and mobility, he has the upside and potential to continue growing as an NFL quarterback, which is great news for Diggs.

In the first season they teamed up, Diggs and Allen made one another better and both played their best football to date. Since Allen should further develop, expect Diggs to further produce at a significant level and either lead the league or be near the top in receptions, yards, and/or touchdowns.