Fantasy football projections in February might seem a little silly. Truth be told, a lot is going to change between now and the traditional draft season. But it's also true that Best Ball drafts are happening right now, and besides, who doesn't want to start thinking about next season already? Later in the offseason, these projections will be updated and included in our position previews, just like last year. For now, let's just take a look at the first (or second) run and what it's telling us.
The first thing you notice in the wide receiver rankings is who's not there. No Chris Godwin, Kenny Golladay, Allen Robinson, or any other unrestricted free agent wide receiver. While some of those wide receivers may stay home, until we get a more clear understanding of the free agent market, they'll show up in rankings only, not projections.
The second thing you may notice is A.J. Brown's outlandish projection. Brown projects as a top-four wide receiver in both formats with career highs across the board. While it's not unusual for a wide receiver to make a leap in Year 3, it is a little unusual to project this type of leap without putting your thumb on the scale. If anything, I've tried to do the opposite this early in the process.
Brown is projected for 129 targets, which is 13 more than he saw in 15 games last year (including the playoffs). This number could come down a little if the team finds a way to bring back both Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith or upgrades at either position. But this is a team with major holes on the defense, needs on the offensive line, and very little cap room. I don't anticipate a major addition to the passing game.
As for Brown's efficiency, if anything I've downplayed it in this projection. He's averaged 17.4 yards per reception in his short career, but he's "only" projected for 16.0 in 2021. His 64% catch rate is right in line with his career mark, but two points shy of what he did in 2020. That gives Brown a yards per target projection of 10.2 yards, which is absurd, but also a full yard below his career average. His nine percent touchdown rate is amongst the highest I projected for any wide receiver, but again a full point below what he's done his first two years in the league.
My main takeaway? We shouldn't sleep on Brown as a potential first-round pick and it shouldn't surprise anyone if he finishes as the No. 1 wide receiver.
We used to say that same type of thing about Odell Beckham Jr., but those days appear to be long gone. You have to scroll all the way down to No. 40 in PPR to find Beckham's name. One spot behind Cole Beasley. That comparison may seem a bridge too far, and yet they've been remarkably similar in production the past two seasons.
16-game pace since the start of 2019— Heath Cummings (@heathcummingssr) February 22, 2021
Odell Beckham 67-942-5 on 122 targets
Cole Beasley 79-931-5 on 114 targets
It's fair to point out that Beckham's projection is even worse than what he's been the past two seasons. But there are two good reasons he should be. First, he'll turn 29 years old this season and he's coming off of yet another major surgery. Second, his target volume in 2019 is kind of irrelevant since Kevin Stefanski wasn't yet in Cleveland. Beckham was only on pace for 112 targets in his six healthy games last year.
A low-volume receiver who has been fairly low-efficiency each of the past two seasons is not someone you should count on as a Fantasy starter. Let someone else draft Beckham based on what he used to be.
Here's an early look at the full 2021 wide receiver projections. They'll be updated as the offseason heats up.