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Mid-Round Draft Values - Wide Receivers

brandon aiyuk fantasy football rankings news NFL DFS lineup picks

Once you reach the mid-to-late rounds of drafts, everyone wants to draft high-upside picks that can provide a great return on value. You can afford to take risks on a variety of different players, including prospects, forgotten veterans, players returning from injuries, or even skilled players with potential playing time concerns.

It's essential to have at least a handful of undervalued targets at each position heading into your fantasy football drafts, no matter the format. Today, we're looking at some mid-round wide receivers for you to consider drafting this season.

Our editors have hand-picked these specific NFL players for your draft prep enjoyment. Normally only available to Premium subscribers, the outlooks below are meant to give you a taste of the in-depth analysis you receive with our industry-leading 2021 Draft Kit. Be sure to subscribe today and start reading all 300+ of our 2021 player outlooks, and many other premium articles and tools, available exclusively in our 2021 Draft Kit.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received five total writing awards and 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, tops in the industry! Congrats to all the award winners and nominees including Best NFL Series, MLB Series, NBA Writer, PGA Writer and Player Notes writer of the year. Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!

 

Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers

Brandon Aiyuk came on strong in the second half of 2020 and ended up being as productive as just about any rookie receiver not named Justin Jefferson. Aiyuk was the ninth-best fantasy scorer during the 12 weeks when he was active, earning a 60-748-5 line and running for two more touchdowns while flashing speed, separation, and a knack for making chunk plays.

And for the majority of that time, the first-rounder out of Arizona State might as well have been playing with a piano on his back. Injuries to 49ers starter Jimmy Garoppolo left Aiyuk spending seven games working with shaky replacement quarterbacks Nick Mullens and C.J. BeathardThe aggregate passer rating on throws targeting Aiyuk was 86.6, according to data from Pro Football Reference. That compares with 112.7 for Jefferson and more than 100 for CeeDee LambChase Claypool, and Tee Higgins -- the only other rookies who outscored Aiyuk.

Aiyuk’s run-after-catch prowess could make him a longshot to stay healthy for 17 games, and there’s no guarantee San Francisco’s quarterback play will be improved in 2021. The likelihood, though, is that dynamic dual-threat Trey Lance, the No. 3 overall pick in the NFL draft, will either seize the job early or provide enough competition to motivate Jimmy G to be his best.

-- Josh Friedman

 

Curtis Samuel, Washington Football Team

Curtis Samuel entered 2020 with career averages of 5.2 targets, 2.8 receptions, and 32.5 yards per game. Yet, he delivered the most prolific season of his four-year career, as Carolina head coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady designed a highly effective plan for maximizing his unique assortment of skills. This propelled Samuel to new career highs in receptions (77/5.1 per game), receiving yards (851/56.7 per game), and first downs (39), while he also averaged 6.5 targets per game.

Samuel's expanded output vaulted him to 14th in scoring from Weeks 9-17, as he finished 17th overall in receiving yards (589/73.6 per game) and 22nd in targets (63/7.9 per game) during that sequence. His statistical surge was largely fueled by Brady's ability to capitalize on Samuel's versatility, which included increased deployment from the slot (65.7%). Samuel's aDOT (average depth of target) dropped to 7.3, which was exactly half of his average during 2019 (14.6). His percentage share of air yards also decreased from 29.8% (2019) to 18.9%.

However, his catch rate (79.4%) was nearly 20% above his previous career-high (60.0%), while increased usage as a runner propelled him to career-highs in attempts (41), and rushing yardage (200). Samuel joined a restructured Football Team passing attack that will be spearheaded by Ryan Fitzpatrick, while also reuniting Samuel with offensive coordinator Scott Turner - who served as Carolina's interim coordinator (four games) in 2019. Samuel should operate as the Football Team's WR2 behind Terry McLaurin and can function as a strong WR3 for fantasy managers.

-- Phil Clark

 

DeVonta Smith, Philadelphia Eagles

It's rare that a wide receiver gets drafted and immediately steps into a WR1 role. That's exactly what Heisman-winner DeVonta Smith will be during his rookie season in Philadelphia. Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson are gone, and it's only a matter of time before Zach Ertz is traded. The Eagles' top two wide receivers in 2020 were sixth-round pick Travis Fulgham and UDFA Greg Ward. Together they combined to see 146 targets.

The team drafted Jalen Reagor in the first round a season ago, but he projects as more of a complementary WR2-type. While QB Jalen Hurts is sure to run the ball a fair share, don't forget he attempted 37.7 passes in his first three full games as a starter. Only 10 other teams threw the ball more on a per-game basis a season ago. Reagor and Dallas Goedert are the only two pass-catchers other than Smith guaranteed to see significant targets this season.

The former Alabama product could very well be walking into a 20% target share his rookie season, which would put project him at around 125 targets. That's the same number of targets Justin Jefferson saw his rookie season in Minnesota, and he put up 88 receptions for 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns on his way to becoming the overall WR6 in 2020. DeVonta Smith's upside is massive if he can develop early chemistry with Jalen Hurts

-- Adam Koffler

 

Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals

Tyler Boyd developed immediate chemistry with rookie quarterback Joe Burrow in 2020. Before Burrow's ACL injury, Boyd averaged 6.9 receptions for 71 yards on 8.7 targets per game. For comparison, only nine wide receivers averaged more than 8.7 targets per game a season ago. The Bengals selected Burrow's former LSU teammate, Ja'Marr Chase, with the 5th overall pick, but the most likely scenario is that he takes A.J. Green's vacated role as an outside receiver alongside Tee Higgins.

Burrow attempted 40.4 passes during the 10 games he played his rookie season. Only the Pittsburgh Steelers attempted more passes per game (42.6) in 2020, so there will be plenty of targets to go around for all three receivers in Cincinnati. 125+ targets is a reasonable expectation for Tyler Boyd this season, which makes him a safe option in PPR leagues as a high-end WR3. Temper expectations in non-PPR and half-PPR leagues, however, as Boyd has just 16 total touchdowns in his last three seasons as a starter.

-- Adam Koffler

 

Laviska Shenault Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars

Laviska Shenault Jr. enjoyed a breakout rookie year in 2020 in the midst of uneven quarterback play. Entering Shenault's sophomore campaign, the Jaguars have made a transformative improvement in quarterback play from Mike Glennon and Gardner Minshew to Trevor Lawrence. With subpar quarterback play, Shenault pulled in 58 catches for 600 yards and six touchdowns, while also adding 5.1 yards per carry on 18 attempts. Over the last five games of the season, Shenault recorded 25 receptions and four touchdowns as he gained additional shares of the offense.

Gone from last year's receiver depth chart are Keelan Cole and Chris Conley.  They've been replaced by an aging Marvin Jones and versatile rookie running back, Travis Etienne. Shenault is the de-facto WR2 opposite DJ Chark, and with the top pick Lawrence, and new head coach Urban Meyer, his trajectory is directed upwards. Look for Meyer to possibly use Shenault in a similar fashion to his usage of the versatile swiss army knife, Percy Harvin, while at Florida. Shenault is definitely someone to look at as your fantasy WR4 or WR5 with upside

-- Nick Federline



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