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2021 Yardage Regression Candidates - Wide Receiver

While touchdowns are the most coveted play outcome for wide receivers in fantasy football, total receiving yards must be taken into serious consideration when deciding who to draft for the position. It is true that receivers have to work harder to rack up yards, and that they don't have an overly great value at only one point per 10 receiving yards, but the volume of yards per game WRs gain is much higher than the number of touchdowns they score and much more reliable.

That's why we're always on the look for highly-targeted receivers awarded the most possible chances to catch passes and put up as many yards as possible.

Here, I'm taking a look at some of the best wide receivers from the 2020 season due to regress in 2021 in terms of their receiving yards. Don't be fooled by the high numbers they put up last year because a few slumps could be coming!

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2021 Fantasy Projections

 

Curtis Samuel, Washington Football Team

Curtis Samuel finished 2020 as the WR23 of the season, good enough for a borderline WR2 level of performance. He ranked in the 62nd percentile among wideouts with at least 600 snaps, above 39 of them. He ranked even higher in receptions with 77 on the season (21st-most) yet he was "only" the 30th-best WR at amassing receiving yards with 844 over his 15 games. Those numbers don't scream regression, and we might be just in front of a case of steady development and improvement from Samuel. That being said, the change of scenery gives me some pause.

Samuel will play for a new team for the first time in his soon-to-be five-year career after signing with Washington. Samuel has not stopped improving since his rookie year, going from 32.9 FP to 136.8, 171.7, and 212.1 last year. It's been the same in terms of receptions and receiving yards, although last year's career-mark of 851 yards needed Samuel to sustain a league-leading 79.4% catch rate. Are we sure he will be able to keep up that rate, though?

Only Michael Thomas was able to have back-to-back seasons with at least 95 targets and catch rates above 79%. But this is not about back-to-back seasons, it's just that even on a single-season basis, only 10 times since 2000 has a WR posted a catch rate of 76+ percent with 95+ targets. Let me doubt that will happen again.

Samuel should experience some regression when it comes to catching the ball and therefore suffer a hit too on the receiving yards counting stat. Not only that, but he will be playing next to talented wideouts such as Terry McLaurin (clear go-to Footie and WR1 of the team), freshman Dyami Brown, veteran Adam Humphries, and a plethora of tailbacks with high pass-catching prowess. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick should help Curtis Samuel a bit, sure, but the competition won't be easier to leave behind in Washington for him.

 

Hunter Renfrow, Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders didn't move a lot this offseason when it came to bolstering their offense. Sure, there were additions such as those of Kenyan Drake and über-veteran John Brown, but other than that, it is not that the receiving corps was altered that much. In fact, we could even think that Nelson Agholor's signing with New England could open the door for the likes of Hunter Renfrow to rack up more targets, receptions, and yards by extension.

Renfrow, while not a league-winning player, has produced enough to finish inside the top-60 group of wide receivers in back-to-back seasons. He posted 133.5 PPR points as a rookie and virtually the same tally last season with 131.6 fantasy points. Again, not a must-draft player but someone good enough to deploy as a FLEX play. Has Renfrow hit his peak already, though? Could be the case, as on similar usage rates (71 targets as a rookie, then 77; 49 receptions, then 56), his numbers have not improved that much and even more, regressed a bit going from 12.4 YPC in 2019 to 11.7 YPC last season.

One of the things to worry about in Renfrow's 2020 stat sheet was his impossible 4.5 YAC/Target mark. It ranked in the 96th percentile among WRs with at least 500 snaps played. That is the third-highest, only bested by Cam Sims (5.1) and Michael Pittman Jr. (4.8). Can he sustain it, though? If he suffers the slightest regression there, odds are Renfrow loses a ton of his appeal and his total yardage over the season.

On top of all that, the Raiders are adding another WR with a very similar profile to Renfrow's: Willie Snead. I'd get it if you're not too afraid of Snead eating from Renfrow's opportunities, but both played out of the slot on most of their routes, posted incredibly high YAC/Target, and had similar aDOT marks. It's going to be a real share between the two of them, and I haven't even mentioned the presence--and expected positive regression--of second-year man Henry Ruggs III, who should see quite the uptick in usage come 2021.

 

Emmanuel Sanders/Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills

I was about to write exclusively about Stefon Diggs here, but given Emmanuel Sanders is joining him in Buffalo, it made sense to include both in this little section. Diggs was an easy one to pick for this column: career-year and regression to the mean. That's it, that's the story here. Diggs had a top-24 season in receiving yards last year looking at data from 2000 on. He joined Michael Thomas, Julio Jones, and DeAndre Hopkins as the only wideouts to post 1535+ yards in the past five years. Not bad if you ask me.

Is that sustainable, though? Ha! Let me laugh about that, please. I am Diggs' No. 1 stan but even I find it impossible for him to have a similarly-productive season in 2021. It's just not going to happen, folks. Accept it (the sooner the better) and move on.

Diggs needed 166 targets to get there, which is already a massive number and a top-50 mark over the last 21 years. No joke. He caught 66.9% of those targets to finish with 127 receptions which, again and to even greater extents, rank inside the top-six single-season receptions in the past 21 years. If you don't consider the 2020 campaign as a true outlier, then I don't even know.

Obviously, by now, you know why I added Sanders here and why every single person expects him to drop his counting yards when all is said and done. Even though Sanders played just 14 games in 2020 and could go for 17 this season, he amassed 726 yards in those 14 outings for an average of 51.8 Yds/G. He had a couple of explosions in back-to-back games (93 and 122 yards in W4 and W5) but other than that, he only topped 80 yards once more in the season, with only one more game above 66 receiving yards, a much more realistic average and expectation for him.

I don't want to be bullish, so I'll let PFF's numbers do the talking. The site has Diggs losing -177 yards from his 2020 season and Sanders falling almost -170 himself. They will eat from each other's target rate as they'll be sharing the field on outside positions with WR Cole Beasley manning the slot on most plays. John Brown (now a Raider) is vacating only 52 targets, and the Bills didn't let any other high-volume player go while adding Sanders and retaining RBs Zack Moss and Devin Singletary--this last one a true factor in passing plays, getting targeted 52 times in 16 games and being wildly productive in pass-catching duties.



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