There is often confusion when we talk about regression, that saying a player is going to regress means we don't like them or don't want to draft them. The fact that Davante Adams still projects as my No. 1 receiver, even with pending regression, should clear all that up.
Adams scored on 12.1% of his targets in 2020, a rate that is wholly unsustainable even if Aaron Rodgers returns. Touchdown rate is notoriously fickle, as evidenced by Adams 3.9% rate in 2019. That's what makes it one of the most difficult numbers to project. I generally lean on a combination of a player's career rate, their rate over the past three seasons and what they did last year.
Those numbers point to projecting Adams for 12 touchdowns on 180 targets this year, for a touchdown rate that's just over half what he posted last year, but still one of the tops in the leagues for high volume receivers. I also project Adams' 77% catch rate from last year to drop 10 points, closer to his career mark of 65%.
While that doesn't change where he ranks amongst wide receivers, it makes a huge difference where I'd take him in a PPR draft. If you guaranteed me he was going to score at the rate he did last year, I'd take Adams third overall in full PPR and he'd be an easy first round pick in non-PPR. With regression factored in, Adams is a late first round pick in full PPR and a second round pick in non...assuming Rodgers shows up at some point before the season.
Here are seven other receivers primed for regression in 2021:
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MIN Minnesota • #18
Age: 22 • Experience: Rookie
It's always uncomfortable saying that guys who were awesome as rookies will regress. But Jefferson's 11.2 yards per target was historic, and almost certainly unsustainable. That doesn't mean he has to be worse in 2021, it just means he'll need more targets to match his production. I wrote the same about A.J. Brown last year and his yards per target fell from 12.5 to 10.1. That's still an elite rate, but it's why Brown only produced 24 more yards in his second season despite 22 more targets. If Jefferson doesn't see an increase in targets this year you should expect a significant drop in yardage.
Corey Davis WR
NYJ N.Y. Jets • #84
Age: 26 • Experience: 5 yrs.
Corey Davis' breakout in 2020 was marked by a major increase in efficiency. His yards per target (10.7) was 2 full yards higher than his prior career-best and his touchdown rate was nearly two points better than anything he'd done in the past. Some of that certainly could have been due to him finally reaching his potential, but you should expect a little drawback even if everything remained the same. Considering he's also changing teams and going from Ryan Tannehill to a rookie quarterback, Davis may just be a Fantasy afterthought again in 2021.
ARI Arizona • #10
Age: 29 • Experience: 8 yrs.
At this point it's time for a reminder that not all regression is negative. It can simply mean reverting back to the mean of a player's career. Hopkins had scored on 5.2% of his career targets entering 2021. With Deshaun Watson, those numbers were even higher. Last year, Hopkins only scored six times on 160 targets. If his role remains the same, you should expect at least two more touchdowns from Hopkins and if Kyler Murray takes a leap, we may get another double-digit touchdown season.
CHI Chicago • #12
Age: 27 • Experience: 8 yrs.
Like Hopkins, Robinson scored at a rate below his career average in 2020, and since he's being drafted as if he'll be worse than he was in 2020, any positive regression could provide some major value. This is especially true if Andy Dalton and /or Justin Fields proves to be a major upgrade over Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles. Robinson has sneaky WR1 overall upside.
CAR Carolina • #11
Age: 28 • Experience: 5 yrs.
Robby Anderson went to Carolina, and played a role different than he ever has. His aDOT cratered, his catch rate soared, yet remarkably, his yards per target remained constant at 8.1. What didn't remain constant was his touchdown rate, with Anderson scoring just three times on 136 targets. While his role could contribute to some of that, there's no doubt Anderson is one of the most likely receivers to score more than he did in 2020, well except maybe Cooper Kupp.
Cooper Kupp WR
LAR L.A. Rams • #10
Age: 28 • Experience: 5 yrs.
Coming into 2020, Cooper Kupp's career 16-game pace was for 116 targets, 80 catches and nine touchdowns per year. Last year he bested the target number by eight, the catch number by 12, and scored just three touchdowns. Now in 2021 he gets not just a chance at touchdown regression, but a chance to play with a much better quarterback in Matthew Stafford. If Kupp plays a full season, he should be a borderline No. 1 receiver and he's being drafted as a borderline No. 2.
PIT Pittsburgh • #19
Age: 24 • Experience: 5 yrs.
Unless you think JuJu Smith-Schuster forgot how to play football, you should expect him to be much more efficient in 2021. His yards per target was 1.4 yards below any other season of his career and 2 yards below his career average. That's a big difference for a player targeted as often as Smith-Schuster. Certainly some of that was because of the offense and his role in it, and the Steelers change of offensive coordinators should benefit him as much as anyone else.