Fantasy News & Analysis

Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: Breakout and bust wide receivers in 2021

Targeting young wide receivers who have posted a 20% target share (minimum eight games) by the age of 24 can provide your fantasy football team with a strong return on investment. Having said that, the key is specifically targeting the wide receivers who have done this before their 23rd birthday.

It is essential to be comfortable with this concept, as receivers are flying off the board in fantasy football drafts faster than ever.

Since 2011, 50 players have garnered a 20% or higher adjusted target share based on the number of games played by age 24.

Below is a breakdown of how those players faired in terms of adjusted target share in the following year on average:

Breakout Age (N) N+1 N+2 N+3 N+4 N+5 N+6 N+7
<= 24 years -1% -1% 0% 0% 0% -0% -4%
<= 23 years 0% -1% 2% 1% -1% -2%
<= 22 years 1% -2% 1% -0% 0% -3%


  • N+ = Difference year over year (YOY) (i.e. N+1 minus N+0, N+2 minus N+1, N+3 minus N+2).
  • I removed the seasons with under eight games in the year measured or the previous comparison year.
  • There is a natural fall-off in sample size for players who haven't played outward seasons.

The grid above doesn't tell the whole story since the outer years are looking at YOY, but the biggest takeaway is once a player reaches the 20% mark in adjusted target share, they typically have staying power through the N+5 season.


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The Boom Breakouts

Most of the N+1 breakouts have come from players who reached adjusted 20% target shares by age 23 and before their second season:

Player >=20% Target Age >20% Target Season >20% Target Season Adjusted Target Share N+1
A.J. Green 23 1 22% 29%
DeAndre Hopkins 22 2 25% 30%
Dez Bryant 24 3 21% 27%
Mike Evans 21 1 23% 29%

Here are the receivers who fit this profile for 2021:

Player >=20% Adjusted Target Age >=20% Target Season >=20% Target Season Adjusted Target Share N+1
A.J. Brown 23 2 24%
Brandon Aiyuk 23 1 22%
Christian Kirk 23 2 22% 15%
D.J. Chark 23 2 21% 18%
D.J. Moore 22 2 22% 22%
D.K. Metcalf 23 2 22%
Jerry Jeudy 21 1 20%
Justin Jefferson 21 1 23%
Marquise Brown 23 2 23%

Brown, Metcalf and Jefferson all cost a late-second to early-third-round pick in 12-team PPR leagues and are worth the price of admission.

Aiyuk, Moore and Jeudy offer affordable exposure to significant upside between Round 5 and Round 6.

Chark battled injuries all of last season but will only be 25 this season and is currently a Round 9-10 selection in fantasy drafts, making him a sleeper worth considering.

Brown is falling down draft boards due to missing time at camp, but he is back at practice this week and offers excellent value going off the board between Rounds 10 and 12.

Kirk could be the odd man out in Arizona with the Rondale Moore and Green additions, but he is worth a late-round flier in deep formats.

Honorable Mentions (hit the adjusted 20% mark at 24):

The Rookie Breakouts

Rookie receivers can be hit or miss in fantasy football, but one specific group offers a solid hit rate since 2011 – those taken in the first six picks of the NFL draft.

Player NFL Draft Selection PPR WR Finish
A.J. Green 4 WR17
Amari Cooper 4 WR21
Corey Davis 5 WR85
Julio Jones 6 WR21
Justin Blackmon 5 WR29
Sammy Watkins 4 WR29

Ja'Marr Chase and Jaylen Waddle both meet the top-six pick criteria this season. Chase is currently going between Rounds 4 and 6.

There are concerns around Chase's readiness due to rust after opting out of his 2020 season at LSU. He is struggling some in camp, but he becomes a viable target when he slides into late Round 5 or beyond. So be prepared to let him sit for a bit.

Waddle is a much cheaper option in the ninth round who should operate from the slot most of the season and eclipse 75% routes per team passing play. I am drafting him every time I can.

The Potential Busts

Here are some significant receivers entering N+6 or greater seasons:

PFF's 2021 Fantasy Football Draft Kit includes links to every article, tool and chart to best prepare you for your fantasy football draft. This will be updated regularly between now and Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season.
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