Updated 9/10 at 6:35 PM ET. Removed Tre'Quan Smith. Fleshed out the back end of the rankings with a few additions.
Week 1 Receivers
WR Notes: No one has made a bigger deal about the Saints’ cornerback shortage than the Saints, though they still have Marshon Lattimore to follow Davante Adams around in Week 1. … Week 14 against the Steelers was one of nine times Stefon Diggs drew 10-plus targets last season. “Diggs first, second and third” clearly remains the Bills’ passing-game plan for 2021. … Calvin Ridley appears poised to become “DeAndre Hopkins reliable” when it comes to drawing 150-plus targets. … And then there is Nuk himself. Hopkins seemed to take a physical beating in 2020, but he appeared in all 16 games and once again easily cleared the 150 mark. Even with A.J. Green and Rondale Moore’s additions, there is almost no scenario where a healthy Hopkins fails to reach 150. … A.J. Brown (knee) is already requiring maintenance days, but that just seems to be his NFL reality. From a matchup and scoring environment perspective, he is all systems go for Week 1. … As for Julio Jones behind Brown, this receiver corps is big enough for the two of them even with likely limited passing volume. This will be a Vikings-type attack, with the Big Dog getting fed and the two alpha wideouts soaking up prodigious target shares.
The Colts have a solid secondary. They don’t have a “we are going to stop DK Metcalf” secondary. … If there were any legitimate reasons to fade Justin Jefferson this season, they officially melted away following Irv Smith’s season-ending injury. A leap to the 150-target echelon seems all but inevitable. … It didn’t seem possible following Philip Rivers’ departure, but Keenan Allen somehow became even more of a teacher’s pet for his quarterback last season, setting new career highs in catches (7.1) and targets (10.5) per game. No legitimate target competition was added in the draft or free agency as Hunter Henry walked to the Patriots. … Terry McLaurin splashed big plays as a rookie then gutted through injury to compile as a sophomore. Hopefully he is the best of both worlds as a junior as Ryan Fitzpatrick somehow represents the best quarterback of his young career. … Robert Woods’ average targeted air yards and yards per catch both collapsed as Jared Goff bottomed all the way out in 2020. Matthew Stafford will restore not only Woods’ average depth of target, but his big-play upside in what is quietly one of the league’s narrower offenses.
Adam Thielen knows a thing or two about narrow offenses, while the Vikings’ target tree got even shorter following Irv Smith’s season-ending knee ailment. Usage floor should firewall Thielen’s inevitable touchdown regression. The Bengals’ duct tape and glued defense is an excellent way to ring in 2021. … The Bucs’ receiver corps is one of the league’s most enigmatic despite the talent involved. Chris Godwin has a skill-set tailor made for Tom Brady’s middle-of-the-field dominance, but injury issues prevented the duo from hitting it all the way off in 2020. Mike Evans, meanwhile, saw his raw production decline while his touchdown rate soared as Brady made him his new Gronk in the red zone. Then there is Antonio Brown, the best overall receiver of the 21st century who reportedly once again looked like it this summer. I bet on Godwin being the last man standing as he enters the heart of his prime, but this is one that simply has to play out on the field. All three should be running wild on Thursday evening. … D.J. Moore, who has proven it both inside and out, reminds me so much of an early-career Stefon Diggs. Unfortunately, that also includes his shaky quarterback situations. Regardless, there is no ceiling to what the 24-year-old can accomplish.
In the great game between Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, Lamb gets the Week 1 leg up as Cooper likely deals with a heavy dose of Bucs CB Carlton Davis. … Matthew Stafford never ignored the slot in Detroit. Just like Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp is due for an inevitable rebound after last year’s sub-1,000 yard campaign. … Andy Dalton + Jalen Ramsey = the Week 1 darkness before the dawn for Allen Robinson, who has to be counting down the days until Justin Fields takes over as Bears quarterback. … Diontae Johnson is the Steelers’ target hog until proven otherwise. JuJu Smith-Schuster is the slot man until proven otherwise. Chase Claypool is the absolute freak who can only be stopped by his own coaching staff. If Ben Roethlisberger’s arm strength is recovered even a little bit, this will be a more comfortable offense to start in fantasy leagues. … Maybe I’m out over my skis with this Jerry Jeudy ranking. I just think he makes too much sense as a targets-based WR2 in what is going to be Teddy Bridgewater’s nice and tidy passing attack. Bridgewater’s reluctance to pull the trigger on difficult throws coupled with Courtland Sutton still regaining full confidence in his surgically-repaired knee make for a bad combination on the outside. Of course, Sutton is such a special physical talent that this analysis could look extremely dated by this time next week.
While you were busy wondering if Tee Higgins was overhyped this summer, Ja’Marr Chase started talking about how the NFL ball is hard to see. He was allegedly taken out of context. … Elsewhere in Cincinnati, I know Tyler Boyd was hyped as a government bond this summer, but I just can’t help but wonder what his actual ceiling is anymore. ... We have got to project in Week 1, and I expect Laviska Shenault to be the targets leader for the Jaguars after D.J. Chark’s peculiar summer and Marvin Jones’ injured August. Shenault is at the perfect needs crossroads for a team lacking in established short-area threats. … Brandon Aiyuk more than lived up to expectations as a rookie, but even this feels high to me as the 49ers sort out all their moving parts on offense. … I think DeVonta Smith is a special player. We’ll see if he’s “overcomes one of the worst rosters in the league” special as a rookie. ... I spent the summer drafting Marquez Callaway in every league. I spent the past few weeks wondering if I underestimated Tre’Quan Smith’s breakout potential. For as much as Smith has been a letdown in fantasy, Jameis Winston is such a better fit for his field-stretching skill-set than Drew Brees was. … Hate It Here: Corey Davis needs to be ranked ahead of Elijah Moore for the time being. Hopefully “the time being” is one week.