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Fantasy Football Wide Receivers: Identifying Regression Candidates

2021 Fantasy Football Wide Receivers - Identifying Regression Candidates: Which players overperformed and underperformed relative to usage?
Fantasy Football Wide Receivers

The 2020 fantasy football season has come and gone, which means it’s time to start working on predictions for the upcoming 2021 wide receivers. However, before we can predict what will happen next year, we need to take a look back at what happened last year. The events of 2020 will obviously shape projections for the upcoming season, and we need to have a good grasp of how every player SHOULD have performed given their usage.

Over the past few weeks, I have been working on a wide receiver model that identifies expected fantasy points based on red-zone usage, snap count, and average depth of target. Using this, we’re able to get a rough approximation of expected points per game for every wide receiver. We can then compare it to what they actually did as a way to identify potential regression candidates.

It’s worth noting that my model does not account for a receiver’s talent, as that really wasn’t my intention going in. Great players are obviously more likely to be effective on a per-touch basis, so let’s go through the biggest overachievers and underachievers and see if there’s anything to learn.

Fantasy Football 2021 Wide Receivers: Overachievers and Underachievers

The Overachievers

1. Davante Adams (8.45 PPG Over Expectation)

Davante Adams was a fantasy cheat code in 2021. Despite playing in just 14 games, Adams finished as the WR1 overall in both actual fantasy points and expected fantasy points per game. He might just be NFL’s most complete receiver, is an absolute target hog, dominates in the red zone, and has one of the best quarterbacks ever throwing him the ball. Don’t worry about Adams’ overproduction – he’s one of the safest wide receivers in fantasy football.

Verdict: No regression incoming – he’s that good

2. Will Fuller (7.33 PPG Over Expectation)

Will Fuller was one of my biggest sells throughout the season, and this is why. The wide receiver dramatically overperformed based on his expected usage, and it’s probably too late to sell him now. Even if he and Deshaun Watson both return to Houston, the odds of him performing this well for a second-straight season are slim to none. He’s good, but he’s not THAT good. That said, Fuller and Watson both have good odds of playing somewhere else in 2021, and that’s not good for Fuller’s value.

Verdict: Major regression candidate

[pickup_prop id=”5034″]

3. DeAndre Hopkins (6.81 PPG Over Expectation)

Just like Adams, I’m not too worried about DeAndre Hopkins breaking my model. I was (foolishly) off Hopkins throughout the offseason, as I believed he would need some time to develop full chemistry with Kyler Murray. This is one of my biggest misses of the year, as Hopkins proved he’s good enough to succeed with a new quarterback in a shortened offseason. If anything, this duo could improve with improved chemistry from a full offseason.

Verdict: No regression incoming

4. Tyreek Hill* (5.94 PPG Over Expectation)

You don’t need much of an explanation from me on this one. Tyreek Hill is the single most dangerous offensive weapon in the league. He plays in the NFL’s best scheme and catches passes from the NFL’s best quarterback. There is no reason to ever fade this combination of talent and scheme.

Verdict: No regression incoming

*Kenny Golladay was actually fourth, but I didn’t include him since he missed so much time to injury.

5. Stefon Diggs (5.55 PPG Over Expectation)

Just like Hopkins and Adams, Stefon Diggs is an elite receiver that will always overproduce in my model. However, I do believe that some minor regression could be coming in 2021. After being one of the most inaccurate quarterbacks in football through his first two years, Josh Allen suddenly became a pinpoint passer in 2020. This was a fantastic development from a fantasy perspective, but I do see some regression coming here.

Truthfully, this reminds me of what Lamar Jackson did in 2019, albeit not quite to the same extent. Like Jackson, I fully expect Allen to be a good quarterback moving forward, but I do believe 2020 was probably a best-case scenario for the young quarterback. Chances are, Diggs will have to deal with a few more inaccurate passes next year, which will hurt his overall numbers.

Verdict: Slight regression candidate

Other Overachieving Fantasy Football Wide Receivers

6. Amari Cooper – Slight regression candidate
7. Corey Davis – Major regression candidate
8. Adam Thielen – Major regression candidate
9. Chris Godwin – Too early to say
10. Julio Jones – No regression incoming


1. Jerry Jeudy (4.55 PPG Under Expectation)

I don’t care that Courtland Sutton is coming back – go buy Jerry Jeudy right now. The Denver Broncos wide receiver is one of the best prospects to come around in quite some time, and I don’t expect his drop issue to be a significant problem moving forward. It wasn’t a big issue in college, so this was probably just a one-year fluke. Even if this issue remains throughout his NFL career, he’s so talented that he’s still going to be a great dynasty asset for a long time. Capitalize on this buy-low window and secure one of your starting wide receiver spots for the next decade.

Verdict: Positive regression incoming

2. A.J. Green (4.19 PPG Under Expectation)

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. A.J. Green used to be one of the elite wide receivers in the NFL, but those days are sadly gone. The Bengals tried to keep him as a featured part of the offense, but he just wasn’t the same. Injuries clearly took their toll on the former first-round pick, and he just doesn’t have the talent to make the most of his opportunities. He lost touches to Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd as the season progressed, and it’s hard to imagine any team investing too much in him as a free agent.

Verdict: No positive regression

[pickup_prop id=”5030″]

3. Denzel Mims (3.76 PPG Under Expectation)

Denzel Mims is the safest candidate to be the 2021 Adam Gase Reclamation Project. The second-round pick missed a large portion of the season to injury, but became something of a target hog once he returned to the field. With a new coach and (presumably) a new quarterback, life should be a lot easier for Mims in 2021. The New York Jets could add a receiver in free agency, but this should be offset by losing Jamison Crowder as a cap casualty. The opportunity should be there, and Mims has the talent to capitalize on the opportunity.

Verdict: Positive regression incoming

4. Michael Thomas (-3.22 PPG Under Expectation)

I have spent the majority of the offseason trying to acquire Michael Thomas. As described in an earlier article, everything that could go wrong with Thomas in 2020, did go wrong. He should be back to full strength in 2021, which means he should be an elite wide receiver once again. Even though Drew Brees is probably gone, Thomas proved over the past two years that he can succeed with quarterbacks like Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill. No matter who’s calling the shots, Thomas should live up to his old standards in the upcoming season.

Verdict: Positive regression incoming

5. Jalen Reagor (-2.52 PPG Under Expectation)

Before we get started, I want to point out that I love Jalen Reagor as a wide receiver. While he’s no Justin Jefferson, I fully believe that he has the talent to thrive in the right situation. However, this is not the right situation. Jalen Hurts is anything but a proven commodity under center, and he was one of the least accurate quarterbacks in the NFL. Even if he improves his accuracy, Hurts’ ability to take off with his legs means fewer targets and touchdown opportunities. Reagor will probably be the top option in this passing attack, but the volume is so low that I don’t think it will matter.

Verdict: No positive regression

Do you want a copy of my buy-low model and data rankings featuring week-by-week breakdowns, consistency rankings, and expected points? Reach out to @DLPatsThoughts on Twitter

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