Fantasy Football WR Position Battles 2021: Top 10 Wide Receiver Groups To Watch
Every season, there is value to be found in the late rounds of a fantasy draft due to the uncertainty surrounding positional battles. This usually centers around the running back position, but late-round value is typically centered around wide receivers. Certain players are granted more helium than others due to rookie excitement or having flashy upside, but all that really matters, in the end, is talent and opportunity.
Knowing where the positional battles will take place and how they are likely to turn out can give you an edge in fantasy football. A player going in the ninth round today can easily go in the fourth round tomorrow, and vice versa. That is why it is important to follow along with how teams are using their wide receiver corps in training camp and how they intend to deploy them when the games count.
Let’s take a look at the top 10 positional battles among NFL wide receiver corps to watch out for this summer.
Fantasy Football Position Battles 2021: Top 10 WR Corps To Watch In NFL Training Camp
10. Miami Dolphins
Preston Williams vs. Lynn Bowden Jr. vs. Albert Wilson vs. Jakeem Grant vs. Robert Foster vs. Allen Hurns vs. Mack Hollins
The primary starting wide receivers for the Miami Dolphins are already known: DeVante Parker, Will Fuller, and Jaylen Waddle. The question is all about who else makes the team and which wideout is positioned to see a value boost if there were to be an injury, and by injury of course that means Fuller.
Tua Tagovailoa flashed moments in 2020 that showed he could lead his team, and the Miami front office added plenty of weapons to complement his play style. If you add that to the fact that the Dolphins face one of the easiest schedules in the NFL this season, you are going to want a part of this offense. Even better if the cost is next to nothing.
Preston Williams has been unable to fulfill the promise many fantasy managers had for the young receiver due to injuries the past two seasons. He is a big, physical wideout who could walk into an amazing opportunity playing next to big-time playmakers that would occupy defensive attention.
Two of the receivers most likely to make the team could be Mack Hollins and Robert Foster, given their ability to help on special teams. The favorite among the two could be Hollins due to his larger frame (6-foot-4), but Foster is certainly the faster option. Jakeem Grant ranked third in the NFL last season in punt return yardage with 11.4, so the veteran could have a leg up as well in the competition.
This may seem like a waste of time to many, but Fuller will be serving a suspension during Week 1 of the NFL season, giving an immediate opportunity for the WR4 to shine. Keep an eye on the situation — if anyone is able to lock down a meaningful role, they could hold BYE week value at a minimum.
9. Detroit Lions
Tyrell Williams vs. Quintez Cephus vs. Breshad Perriman vs. Amon-Ra St.Brown vs. Geronimo Allison
Kenny Golladay. Marvin Jones. Danny Amendola. Matthew Stafford.
All of them are gone.
What happened to the Detroit Lions passing game? There were seven wideouts who caught a pass in 2020, and six are no longer on the team.
Jared Goff takes over as the starting quarterback in the Motor City after a trade with the Rams in the offseason sent Stafford to the Rams. Goff will be accompanied by an almost entirely new offense, with tight end T.J. Hockenson as the possible favorite to lead the team in targets. Of course, someone else is going to have to catch the ball, and if Goff develops some rapport with someone, there could be a fantasy bargain to be had.
The favorites to start are Tyrell Williams, Breshad Perriman, and the rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown, given the fact that this group has been on the field with Goff during every opening series in team scrimmages. After that trio, Quintez Cephus is likely next up as the only returning receiver from last season as the WR4.
Geronimo Allison is someone to keep an eye on as well. The former Packers wideout opted out of the 2020 season but has 46 games of experience to fall back on, which may appeal to the Lions coaching staff. Detroit’s wide receiver group may not be pretty, but keep an eye on them in training camp and identify who could be a value late in drafts.
8. Los Angeles Rams
DeSean Jackson vs. Tutu Atwell vs. Van Jefferson
Over the past several years, the Rams offense has been a three-headed monster at wide receiver. This is why Todd Gurley was able to explode during his breakout as opposing teams were unable to stack the box against him. Entering the 2021 season, with new quarterback Stafford behind the wheel, the Rams lost their starting running back for the season (Cam Akers) and are without an obvious WR3 behind Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp.
The obvious option would be veteran speedster DeSean Jackson. The former Philadelphia Eagles star has shown flashes of his former greatness, but has been unable to stay on the field. The 35-year-old certainly has the big-play ability to make some noise, but it’s unlikely that he takes on a heavy role considering he has played just eight games over the last two seasons combined.
Van Jefferson, another speedster, is a far safer bet in fantasy if he is able to earn the job in training camp.
It is likely a two-horse race between Jackson and Jefferson for the WR3 job, but for the sake of being thorough, we can talk about Tutu Atwell. Many fantasy managers may look at a second-round pick in the NFL Draft as a reason to bank on Atwell, but he is more likely to be the primary punt returner and backup wideout than a regular in 2021.
7. New Orleans Saints
Tre’Quan Smith vs. Marquez Callaway vs. Deonte Harris
Michael Thomas, the Saints’ WR1, is expected to need four months of recovery time after undergoing surgery to repair the ligaments in his ankle in June. The superstar wide receiver could be sidelined between 5-8 weeks into the regular season. This development makes the wideout competition in New Orleans all the more important. The WR1 right now may very well be running back Alvin Kamara, but with Emmanuel Sanders now in Buffalo, there is an interesting void as the open for the true WR1 on the field come Week 1.
Right now, reports seem to indicate that Taysom Hill has a leg up on Jameis Winston in the quarterback battle, so it may be a headache trying to figure out the direction of the offense and how targets will be filtered throughout the roster.
Tre’Quan Smith is a perennial sleeper in fantasy football who has more than enough talent to succeed. However, the 25-year-old has struggled to provide consistent value so far in his career. This may be the year — it’s now or never.
Marquez Callaway finished his rookie campaign with 21 catches for 213 yards, but was productive whenever he was given the chance. In Week 6 against the Panthers, Callaway generated 10 targets which he turned into eight receptions and 75 yards. Smith may be the de facto alpha wideout while Thomas recovers, but Callaway has excellent burst speed that can create a ton of yards after the catch in the open field. It’s possible that he is no more than a vertical threat capable of making big plays, but the Saints will need him to be more than that.
Deonte Harris has a real opportunity in his third NFL season. The 23-year-old posted a seven-catch performance along with a 55-yard punt return during the playoffs last season, giving a glimpse at what he’s capable of.
This may be one of the most important situations to watch in training camp.
6. Jacksonville Jaguars
Lavishka Shenault vs. Marvin Jones vs DJ Chark
The truth is that the only real “battle” is between Phillip Dorsett and Collin Johnson for the WR4 job, but there are plenty of fantasy implications following the pecking order of the top-3 options in training camp. Whoever is first to develop a rapport with Trevor Lawrence could go a long way in deciding which wideout ends up as a fantasy asset rather than a flex-option paperweight.
DJ Chark is likely to open as the primary “x” receiver in Jacksonville but was heavily (and publically) criticized by new head coach Urban Meyer due to his fading production down the stretch last season. The “x” wideout needs to be able to beat press coverage and gain separation, and Chark has reportedly put on some muscle this offseason in order to combat issues during his second half. Fantasy managers have witnessed how effective Chark can be, and he is the only receiver on the roster with such a lethal combination of size and speed. It will be interesting to see if Chark becomes a go-to option for Lawrence as a deep threat.
The “z” receiver in Jacksonville will be new addition Marvin Jones. The 31-year-old will likely lineup up opposite Chark on the outside, leaving Lavishka Shenault as the primary slot receiver. However, Jones could certainly see time in the slot himself. Jones may have an advantage in this competition for primary wide receiver given the fact that he has already thrived in the system of Jaguars’ offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Bevell was the Lions coordinator, and Jones has gone on record with how comfortable he is in the offense. Only five players have caught more touchdowns over the last two seasons than Jones.
Shenault is the wideout that everyone is talking about after showing off in OTAs and minicamp. He has the skillset to line up in the backfield, but has already proven to be explosive as a receiver with the ability to create separation. In 14 games last season, Shenault earned 79 targets and caught 58 for 600 yards and five touchdowns. The former Colorado standout also added 18 rushes for 91 yards, but one would expect Shenault to see a more traditional role as a wide receiver this season.
The overall production of the Jaguars offense will come down to how Meyer wants to run it and the success of rookie quarterback Lawrence, but it should make for an exciting situation to watch for in training camp.
5. New York Jets
Denzel Mims vs. Jamison Crowder vs. Keelan Cole vs. Elijah Moore
Rookie quarterback Zach Wilson is going to have an embarrassment of riches at his disposal in the Jets offense. Corey Davis is set to be the primary wideout, but after that, you have a long line of names lining up for targets in New York.
Jamison Crowder has become a safe, albeit boring fantasy asset in PPR due to his ability to vacuum up targets in the slot, but he will have plenty of competition for that role with Elijah Moore looking for an opportunity. The 34th pick in the NFL Draft looked impressive in minicamp, and has the ability to be the Jets’ WR1 down the line if Davis were to stumble. The smart money would be on Davis and Crowder leading the team in targets.
Denzel Mims was working with the second-team offense in minicamp, which is interesting. It’s possible, if not likely, that Keelan Cole could end up as the starting outside receiver opposite Davis.
This is a very intriguing group of wideouts. Training camp is going to go a long way in shifting their fantasy value in redraft leagues.
4. Kansas City Chiefs
Mecole Hardman vs. Demarcus Robinson vs. Byron Pringle vs. Cornell Powell
This is an interesting group, but not for the reason you think it is. The Chiefs have a dynamic offense, but if Tyreek Hill were to go down, Kansas City would find itself in big trouble. There is a path to massive production here for anyone — that’s how questionable the depth is in Kansas City.
Mecole Hardman is widely expected to fill the void at WR2 left by Sammy Watkins, especially given that his targets have produced a 132.2 passer rating since 2019. However, that was in a different role with far less defensive attention. It is unknown how effective Hardman may be as the primary WR2 in the Legion of Zoom.
Demarcus Robinson, who started nine games last season, is the next man up and primary competition for Hardman for secondary targets in this wide receiver group, along with third-year wideout Byron Pringle. Both are highly motivated to perform, given their opportunity and the fact they are both on one-year contracts. Robinson reeled in 45 catches last season for 466 yards and three scores while Pringle caught 13 for 160 yards and one touchdown.
The wild card to watch is rookie Cornell Powell, who caught 53 passes for 882 yards and seven scores during his redshirt season at Clemson. The former Tigers wide receiver has strong hands and has impressed during 11-on-11 drills. Powell is on the outside looking in, but in this thin wide receiver group, it pays to be aware of the options.
A league-changing value could come from this group of wide receivers, so be sure to pay attention during training camp.
3. Las Vegas Raiders
Henry Ruggs vs. John Brown and Bryan Edwards vs. Zay Jones vs Willie Snead
Henry Ruggs is certainly going into the season as the Raiders WR1, but after a disappointing rookie campaign, there is no telling how the target share may work out between him and fellow deep threat John Brown. Either could make a play for Derek Carr‘s favor as the top target of the team. Ruggs hauled in just 26 catches in 13 games last season, but reports suggest that the former first-round pick has been sharp so far in offseason workouts.
Las Vegas has a very respectable running attack between Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake, which should provide plenty of big-play opportunities for Ruggs and Brown. However, there is another job up for grabs on the Raiders offense for the WR4 position between Bryan Edwards, Zay Jones and Willie Snead, with Hunter Renfrow locked in as the WR3 in the slot.
Jones has developed a strong relationship with Carr and may be due for a breakout season with the silver and black if given the chance, but Snead is a veteran playmaker who was brought in this offseason. Edwards had a tough time staying on the field during his rookie season, but was able to generate a 142.6 passer rating on his 14 targets — a small but impressive sample.
The likely top-four of the wide receiver corps will be Ruggs, Brown, Edwards, and Renfrow, with Jones and Snead left to fight it out for the last spot. However, the battle between Ruggs and Brown may prove to have the biggest impact in fantasy if one were to take an alpha role.
2. Arizona Cardinals
Christian Kirk vs. AJ Green vs. Rondale Moore
DeAndre Hopkins is the king of the wide receiver group in Arizona, but the WR2 job appears to be wide-open. Christian Kirk would seem to be the de facto favorite as the incumbent wideout who has fallen short of his breakout expectations, but the addition of AJ Green certainly makes this battle more intriguing.
Rookie wideout Rondale Moore had a massive season for Purdue back in 2018, but has not seen the field very much over the past two years due to injury and opting out of the 2020 season. He’s undersized, but with a 4.29 40-yard dash, there is no denying his speed.
The fantasy value for each player will depend on how many four-wise sets Kliff Kingsbury decides to use in 2021. Next Gen Stats had the Cardinals installing a 10 personnel set (1 RB, 4 WR, 0 TE) 20.3 percent of the time last season, which was the highest usage in the NFL.
Current projections have Kirk generating 58 receptions on 85 targets with 675 yards and four touchdowns, with Green hauling in 46 passes on 74 targets for 560 yards and four touchdowns. Not a huge difference, which would make the younger and less flimsy Kirk as the superior choice. This does not take into account Green’s ability to be a huge difference-maker, but we have not seen that consistently for a few years now. Moore rounds out the trio with a projection of 530 yards on 50 receptions and 71 targets.
1. Cincinnati Bengals
Tyler Boyd vs. Tee Higgins vs. Ja’Marr Chase
Tee Higgins seemed to be in for a breakout season heading into 2021 alongside Tyler Boyd, but then the Bengals decided to draft Ja’Marr Chase with the No. 5 pick in the NFL Draft. To say this is an exciting group led by Joe Burrow would be an understatement. Chase is an electric playmaker capable of being the WR1 right out of the gate, especially considering that he and Burrow already have a strong connection, but he has proven competition.
Boyd has a steady track record of reliable production that should provide a safe floor. The 36-year-old produced back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2018 and 2019 before falling short on his 79-catch, 841-yard effort last season. Boyd has earned 108, 148, and 110 targets over the last three campaigns while being projected for 110+ this season in an improved Bengals offense.
Higgins, not Chase, was the one garnering positive reviews out of minicamp after showing up in fantastic shape. Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan mentioned that Higgins was more explosive, which is great to hear after the 22-year-old posted a 67-catch, 908-yard effort in his rookie season with six scores. A projection of 85-plus catches and 1,100-plus yards is currently on the table with upside for more.
The production for Boyd and Higgins will come down to health, opportunity, and how the aforementioned Chase can perform in his first season. Many expect the former LSU Tiger to come out of the gate strong and post a 1,000-yard season in year one. There is absolutely no reason that he can’t, but last season’s mega breakout of several wide receivers (such as Justin Jefferson) is an anomaly. Most rookie wideouts do not “pop” out of the gate, historically speaking. However, most rookie wide receivers do not have their college quarterback throwing to them.
The bottom line here is that the Bengals are going to throw a ton, and they already carried three wide receivers with over 100 targets each in 2020 (Boyd 110, Higgins 108, Green 104). The opportunity for Boyd, Higgins and Chase to all succeed together is there, but if anyone were to come out as the lead receiver, there would be profit from ADP. Keep an eye on how the Bengals use their wide receivers in training camp.