Now that the first wave of free agency has passed and the NFL Draft has officially been put in the books, we have a near full layout of what NFL rosters are going to look like for the upcoming season. With that, we have a host of rookie content and freshly updated ranks for season-long and dynasty formats already up in our 2021 content hub.
During the draft, a number of veteran players had their 2021 fantasy dynamics impacted for better or worse. Throughout the week, we are going to highlight some of the biggest winners and losers from the draft from each position. So far this week, we looked at eight quarterbacks who had their stock rise and seven running backs who increased their appeal post-draft. Now, let’s look at some pass catchers.
A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans
Brown has already been one of the most efficient wide receivers over the first two years of his career. Among all wide receivers, Brown is 33rd in the NFL in targets (190) and 35th in receptions (122) over his two years in the league, but ranks 16th in receiving yardage (2,126 yards), fifth in touchdown receptions (19) and 14th in PPR points (464.6) on those opportunities. Brown ranks fourth in the NFL in yards after the catch (893 yards) among those wideouts and trails only Tyreek Hill in touchdowns scored of 40 yards or longer (eight) since he entered the league.
In 2020, Brown played 14 games through injury as a hyper-efficient player once again. Brown was the WR6 in points per game (17.7) despite ranking 23rd among wideouts in targets per game (7.6) and 27th in receptions per game (5.0).
All that has been missing for Brown shattering his ceiling has been added opportunity. He has just two career games with double-digit targets and just five career games receiving more than eight looks come his way. Part of that is the offensive philosophy in Tennessee (which I will argue down the line has fragility in sustainability big picture despite their 2019-2020 success), but with the number of targets that have been purged from the Titans’ offense this offseason, Brown is arguably their only reliable pass catcher left standing after the draft.
Despite losing Corey Davis (92 targets), Adam Humphries (35 targets), and Kalif Raymond (15 targets) from their receiving unit a year ago, and only signing Josh Reynolds (who has 113 career receptions in four years) via free agency, Tennessee did not add a wide receiver until the fourth round in this draft (Dez Fitzpatrick) and in the sixth round (Racey McMath). Fitzpatrick was a Senior Bowl riser, but will already be a 24-year-old rookie. McMath had just 33 receptions over his three seasons at LSU with four touchdowns.
Brown has already been an established fantasyWR1 producer in partial parts of his first two seasons. We have yet to see the best of what he is capable of from a ceiling stance over a full season and 2021 is the runway he needs in matching his ADP peers in opportunity.
Anthony Firkser, Tennessee Titans
Not only did the Titans lose a lot at the wide receiver position during the free agency period, they also have a similar situation at tight end. Tennessee watched Jonnu Smith (65 targets) leave while backup MyCole Pruitt (who played 262 snaps) remains unsigned. Despite those added departures this offseason, the Titans did not draft a tight end with any of their eight draft picks while adding Miller Forristall and Briley Moore as undrafted signings afterward.
Firkser signed his restricted tender for 2021, coming off career-highs with 53 targets (fourth on the team), 39 catches, and 387 yards to go along with a touchdown. Firkser posted lines of 8-113-1 and 5-51-0 in the two games Smith was out or exited early last season.
T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions
Hockenson took a large step forward in year two. After averaging 2.7 receptions for 30.6 yards per game as a rookie, he turned in 4.2 receptions for 45.2 yards per game in 2020 and raised touchdown total from two to six.
With the Lions having no clear direction in terms of wide receiving depth and an expansion-level wide receiver room entering the draft, they could have added a number of prospects to come in and play immediately. Instead, they went offensive line and defense with their four draft picks over the first two days, solely adding Amon-Ra St. Brown in the fourth round with their seven draft picks in total.
So exiting the draft, Hockenson has this group of players to contend with as 2021 target competition…
- Quintez Cephus: 20 catches as a rookie.
- Tyrell Williams: Has not had more than 43 receptions in a season since 2016.
- Breshad Perriman: Has not had more than 36 catches in any of his five seasons in the league.
- Kalif Raymond: 19 career receptions in five seasons.
- Geronimo Allison: Has not had more than 34 catches in any of his four seasons in the league.
- St. Brown: Just 10 wide receivers selected in the fourth round or later have reached 75 targets in their rookie season (St. Brown is a solid bet to do so, however) over the past decade.
- Jonathan Adams, Javon McKinley, and Sage Surratt as undrafted rookie signings.
Darnell Mooney, Chicago Bears
Although he was the 24th rookie wide receiver selected last season in the draft, Mooney ended the season fifth among all rookies in receptions (61) and seventh in yardage (631 yards) to go along with four touchdowns.
As a 4.38 speedster, Mooney only averaged just 10.3 yards per reception as a rookie, however, because nobody could get him the ball downfield. Mooney received 23 targets on throws over 20 yards downfield (tied for 15th in the NFL), but connected on just four of those targets (17.4%). Just six were deemed catchable per Pro Football Focus (28.6%), which was 52nd in the league.
With the selection of Justin Fields, the Bears and Mooney get attached to one of the most prolific deep-ball prospects to enter the league over the past five years. From that Dan Pizzuta article, Fields ranks sixth among all college quarterbacks since 2016 in on-target rate (67.7%) on those throws 20 or more yards in the air. Pizzuta then went back in on Fields and his deep-ball prowess as well as his intermediate success to remind everyone that Fields was in fact a pretty good passing prospect.
You can also make an argument that Fields has the potential to be the best quarterback Allen Robinson has played with in his career to give him some added appeal when Fields inevitably takes over under center.
Nelson Agholor, New England Patriots
Agholor (and his wallet) was already a big winner in free agency after signing with the Patriots, but he also exited the draft as the top wideout for the Patriots, as they only added one wide receiver (Tre Nixon in Round 7).
In 2020, the Raiders moved Agholor back outside for 67% of his routes where he thrived. With a career-high 15.7-yard average depth of target, Agholor’s 18.7 yards per catch were also a career-high while he produced the fourth-most points in the league on throws over 15 yards downfield (108.3).
Whether Agholor’s 2020 season was a revolution or just an anomaly remains a question, Cam Newton was actually solid pushing the ball downfield when they did throw deep. Newton completed 52.7% (29-of-55) of his passes on throws over 15 yards downfield, which was fifth among all quarterbacks with 50 or more such attempts on the season.
With the selection of Mac Jones, Agholor also gets another hyper-efficient passer downfield when Jones gets inserted into the lineup. In that same study as mentioned with Fields, Jones was on target for 74.4% of his deep passes, which was second.
Agholor is due touchdown regression this season (his 16.7% touchdown rate in 2020 is not sustainable), but he should easily press his 82 targets from 2020 while he offers big-play upside. Entering the draft, Agholor was the WR64 in ADP in FFPC formats, bottom-rung pricing with little to no risk in adding him to your receiving corps.
Blake Jarwin, Dallas Cowboys
Last offseason, Dallas re-signed Jarwin to a four-year, $22M contract. Unfortunately, Jarwin made it just 25 snaps into the season before suffering an ACL injury. His replacement, Dalton Schultz, then went on to rank ninth among all tight ends in targets (89), but was largely a replacement level producer on those looks with 6.9 yards per target and 9.8 yards per catch.
Jarwin has turned in 8.8 yards per target and 11.6 yards per grab over his early-career sample.
Shultz is a free agent after 2021 and Dallas can get out of Jarwin’s remaining two seasons after the 2021 season for just a $2M hit if he does not bounce back from injury, but the team did not indicate that was an immediate concern during the draft when they did not draft a tight end, only adding tight Nick Eubanks as an undrafted free agent. A kind of forgotten player in a high-powered offense, Jarwin is as good of a dart throw as any longshot tight end.
Tre’Quan Smith, New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans passing game has largely run through just Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara the past three seasons, but with a potential transition coming without Drew Brees here, the Saints entered the draft with a lot to be desired behind Thomas at the wide receiver position. When Thomas went down last season, they had veteran Emmanuel Sanders step in and lead the team in receiving, but he left the team this offseason via free agency.
With that, the Saints still only added one wideout in the draft, selecting Kawaan Baker in the seventh round at pick No. 255.
That gives 2018 third-rounder Smith another lifeline. Smith enters the final season of his rookie contract coming off career-highs in targets (50), receptions (34), and yardage (448) to go along with four touchdowns. Smith has been a popular breakout candidate for multiple seasons and has yet to crash through, so also keep Marquez Callaway and Adam Trautman as potential winners here with the Saints foregoing the addition of tangible receiving assets in the draft.