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Darkhorse wide receivers to finish as the fantasy football WR1 in 2021

Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers wide receiver DJ Moore (12) runs after a reception in the second quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

After previously highlighting the darkhorse running backs who could finish as the overall RB1 in fantasy football in 2021, we now turn our attention to the wide receivers.

This time, we are examining what makes a receiver end the season as the fantasy WR1. The position isn’t as top-heavy as running back, but there is still juice to squeeze when targeting second- or third-tier wideouts.

Here are the WR1 finishers from the past five years using 0.5-PPR scoring:

Season WR1 Total Points PPG PPG Rank
2020 Davante Adams 300.9 21.5 1
2019 Michael Thomas 300.1 18.8 1
2018 Tyreek Hill 284.5 17.8 3
2017 DeAndre Hopkins 261.8 17.5 2
2016 Jordy Nelson 256.2 16.0 2

As mentioned, the fantasy points per game are considerably lower for top-end receivers compared to running backs.

For the past two seasons, both Davante Adams and Michael Thomas were first-round ADP receivers. However, the three prior WR1s were each outside of the first round.

One interesting thing to note is that the benchmark for points per game has slowly risen over the past five years:

Season WR1 Tgt Tgt Share Rec RecYDS Total TD
2020 Davante Adams 149 27.1% 115 1,374 18
2019 Michael Thomas 185 30.9% 149 1,725 9
2018 Tyreek Hill 137 22.2% 87 1,479 13
2017 DeAndre Hopkins 174 30.3% 96 1,378 13
2016 Jordy Nelson 152 23.1% 97 1,257 14

Taking a look at the stats breakdown tells us one fairly obvious thing: targets, targets, targets. If you adjust for Adams’ two missing games in 2020, his market share would have clocked in at 32.3%. The largest reason that Tyreek Hill finished as the WR1 in 2018 was due to a massive 17 yards per reception and some added rushing work.

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