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Fantasy Football: Where experts go wrong on wide receiver rankings

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ECR stands for “Expert Consensus Ranking,” which means the average ranks of many members of the fantasy football industry and is typically similar to ADP (which differs from site-to-site). This will be an ongoing series highlighting some big differences between ECR and my own ranks. Knowing your league’s ADP/scoring remains equally important when drafting, but I rank the following wide receivers higher than the general fantasy community.

Other overlooked players by position: Quarterback | Running Back | Tight end

Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers (ECR = WR27 vs. DDD = WR15)

Aiyuk is coming off a highly impressive rookie season that saw him rack up 45 catches for 568 yards and four touchdowns over his final six healthy games — despite catching passes from Nick Mullens. Aiyuk benefitted from injuries, but Deebo Samuel and George Kittle remain two of the bigger durability risks, and there’s zero on the depth chart afterward. The 49ers may lean run-heavy, but this is a very narrow passing tree. Aiyuk has the same wingspan as Calvin Johnson and should remain a popular option at the goal line; last season Aiyuk’s eight targets inside the five-yard line tied for second in the NFL, and he was a rookie who missed 4-plus games.

There’s the added benefit of Jet Sweeps in Kyle Shanahan’s system that could become unguardable once Trey Lance takes over at QB, and Year 2 is also when wide receivers make the biggest leap in the NFL. The 49ers have the most favorable projected fantasy schedule for wideouts, including by far the softest matchups in the playoffs. Aiyuk was Shanahan’s top-rated WR in the 2020 draft and looks like a superstar in the making, so it’s unclear why nearly 30 wideouts are being ranked ahead of him.

He’s a top-15 WR on my board.

DeVonta Smith, Philadelphia Eagles (ECR = WR39 vs. DDD = WR29)

There's rightfully some skepticism with Smith being around 170 pounds, but he posted a 96th percentile college dominator, recording a silly 117 catches for 1,856 yards and 25 total touchdowns over 12.5 games last season. Despite his stature, Smith certainly looks like a legit prospect who’s ready to help right away. With Dallas Goedert Philadelphia’s best pass-catching alternative, Smith enters his rookie campaign as the heavy favorite to lead the Eagles in targets. Jalen Reagor should improve as a sophomore, but he’s coming off a brutal first season and is nowhere near the prospect Smith is.

Questions remain regarding Jalen Hurts — I'm higher on him than consensus — and the new Philadelphia coaching staff, but the QB showed underrated accuracy in college and led all NFL passers in average depth of target in 2020. Smith is explosive and joins arguably the thinnest WR group in football (Greg Ward led the team in catches last season), making him an immediate top-30 fantasy receiver on my board.

Brandin Cooks, Houston Texans (ECR = WR37 vs. DDD = WR28)

Cooks is a boring veteran without massive upside, but he’s also going far too late in fantasy drafts for a receiver who should be projected to be among the league leaders in targets (and target share). With Will Fuller joining DeAndre Hopkins in leaving Houston, the team's No. 2 WR appears to be third-round rookie Nico Collins. Whoever is playing QB for the Texans will likely be facing prevent defenses frequently in second halves, which should lead to plenty of “garbage" fantasy stats. Cooks will be the primary beneficiary.

Michael Gallup, Dallas Cowboys (ECR = WR46 vs. DDD = WR35)

Gallup continues my theme of targeting Cowboys, who averaged the fewest seconds per snap (with a strong 61% pass rate) and the most combined plays per game last season and will now be getting Dak Prescott and both starting tackles back. Gallup enters 2021 as Dallas’ No. 3 receiver and CeeDee Lamb looks like an emerging star, but his modest ADP overcompensates. Gallup caught as many touchdowns last season as Lamb and Amari Cooper, who may miss the start of training camp after suffering a setback while recovering from ankle surgery.

Wide receiver Michael Gallup #13 of the Dallas Cowboys
Michael Gallup is a valuable part of the Cowboys offense. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

While it's more common to discuss injuries opening doors for backup running backs, the same can be true for receivers, and Gallup would suddenly become a top-20 fantasy wideout should Cooper or Lamb go down. Gallup finished top-15 in yards per target and yards per route run in 2019 and enters his prime in a Dallas offense that figures to score a ton of points this season.

Mecole Hardman, Kansas City Chiefs (ECR = WR55 vs. DDD = WR36)

While Hardman has without question struggled up to this point in his career and disappointed fantasy managers, he also has a much lower ADP this year compared to last despite having more experience and with Sammy Watkins gone. Hardman entered the pros raw (60 career catches in college), so it should hardly surprise it’s taken some time for development. And this is someone with 4.3 speed (99th percentile) whom KC drafted ahead of DK Metcalf, and he has the NFL’s best player throwing to him with a much-improved offensive line.

Travis Kelce is just a few months younger than Rob Gronkowski (and has played into February in back-to-back years), and if he or the diminutive Tyreek Hill were to get injured, Hardman’s fantasy upside would increase even further along with his target share. Only Justin Jefferson and A.J. Brown have gotten more yards per target since Hardman entered the league, and he’s about to see a lot more volume.

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