2021 Best Ball Rankings, Tiers & Draft Strategies For WRs

2021 Best Ball Rankings, Tiers & Draft Strategies For WRs article feature image
Credit:

Getty Images. Pictured: Stefon Diggs, Calvin Ridley, D.K. Metcalf

With less than 100 days until the 2021 NFL season kicks off, it’s time for us to start drafting for fantasy football, and there’s no better format to get some reps in with than best ball.

Since the highest-scoring players automatically compose each week’s starting lineup in best ball, this format is all about the draft — that’s why I’ve organized my initial wide receiver rankings for best ball into tiers. While these tiers are based on my very early projections that will continue to shift throughout the offseason, they’re a good starting point for the purposes of mid-summer best ball drafts.

These tiers also factor in Best Ball Points Added (BBPA), which is a metric I created to evaluate which players offer the most value in this format. Each point a WR scores more than that week’s WR36 is counted toward their season-long BBPA score while any WR37 performance or worse in a given week is scored as a zero since “dud” (or even missed) games don’t have as big of a negative impact in best ball. (You can skip ahead to BBPA scores for key WRs by clicking here.)

Now let’s run through my WR tiers for best ball drafts!

Note: All ADP data is via Best Ball 10s.


More Best Ball Tiers: QB | RB | TE


Best Ball Rankings: WRs

Click this dropdown to preview the full set of WR tiers
Tier WR
1 Tyreek Hill, Chiefs
2 Stefon Diggs, Bills
Davante Adams, Packers
3 DeAndre Hopkins, Cardinals
D.K. Metcalf, Seahawks
A.J. Brown, Titans
Calvin Ridley, Falcons
Justin Jefferson, Vikings
4 Michael Thomas, Saints
Keenan Allen, Chargers
Terry McLaurin, Washington
Allen Robinson, Bears
Amari Cooper, Cowboys
Mike Evans, Buccaneers
Julio Jones, Titans
Robert Woods, Rams
CeeDee Lamb, Cowboys
Chris Godwin, Buccaneers
Tyler Lockett, Seahawks
Adam Thielen, Vikings
D.J. Moore, Panthers
5 Cooper Kupp, Rams
Tee Higgins, Bengals
Ja’Marr Chase, Bengals
Kenny Golladay, Giants
Brandon Aiyuk, 49ers
Diontae Johnson, Steelers
Chase Claypool, Steelers
Odell Beckham Jr., Browns
6 JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers
Courtland Sutton, Broncos
Brandin Cooks, Texans
Robby Anderson, Panthers
D.J. Chark, Jaguars
Tyler Boyd, Bengals
Jerry Jeudy, Broncos
Will Fuller, Dolphins
Curtis Samuel, Washington
Deebo Samuel, 49ers
7 Marquise Brown, Ravens
Jarvis Landry, Browns
Devonta Smith, Eagles
Laviska Shenault, Jaguars
Corey Davis, Jets
DeVante Parker, Dolphins
Michael Gallup, Cowboys
Marvin Jones, Jaguars
8 Jaylen Waddle, Dolphins
Antonio Brown, Buccaneers
T.Y. Hilton, Colts
Mike Williams, Chargers
Michael Pittman Jr., Colts
Cole Beasley, Bills
9 Mecole Hardman, Chiefs
Darnell Mooney, Bears
Jalen Reagor, Eagles
Henry Ruggs, Raiders
10 Nelson Agholor, Patriots
Rashod Bateman, Ravens
Sterling Shepard, Giants
Gabriel Davis, Bills
Allen Lazard, Packers
Tre’Quan Smith, Saints
Jamison Crowder, Jets
Elijah Moore, Jets
Rondale Moore, Cardinals
Breshad Perriman, Lions
Christian Kirk, Cardinals
Josh Reynolds, Titans
John Brown, Raiders
11 Denzel Mims, Jets
Parris Campbell, Colts
Emmanuel Sanders, Bills
Tyrell Williams, Lions
Terrace Marshall, Panthers
A.J. Green, Cardinals
Randall Cobb, Texans
Jakobi Meyers, Patriots
Amon-Ra St. Brown, Patriots
Kadarius Toney, Giants
Hunter Renfrow, Raiders

Tier 1

Tyreek Hill, Chiefs

Hill is the prototypical best ball WR. He was the only wideout to post 12 games of WR24 value or better and finished outside of WR48 value only once.

Tier 2

Stefon Diggs, Bills
Davante Adams, Packers

Until we get clarity on Aaron Rodgers’ situation, Adams’ rank will be pretty fluid:

  • Rodgers stays in Green Bay: Adams moves up to Tier 1
  • Rodgers is traded/sits out season/retires: Adams drops to Tier 3/4

Tier 3

DeAndre Hopkins, Cardinals
D.K. Metcalf, Seahawks
Calvin Ridley, Falcons
Justin Jefferson, Vikings
A.J. Brown, Titans

There’s a steep drop-off after this tier, and there’s little separation between the next 25 WRs, so it’ll be critical to draft at least one WR before Tier 3 is off the board.

Ridley will see a boost with Julio Jones gone, though the market was out in front of Ridley’s value before the trade. And while Brown fell from my WR6 to WR8 as a result of Jones’ addition, it may not impact Brown’s value much — he doesn’t need a ton of targets to post WR1 numbers, and he’s unlikely to face double coverage now with Jones in the mix. Brown’s average draft position (ADP) should remain inside the top 10.

Tier 4

Michael Thomas, Saints
Keenan Allen, Chargers
Terry McLaurin, Washington
Allen Robinson, Bears
Amari Cooper, Cowboys
Mike Evans, Buccaneers
Robert Woods, Rams
CeeDee Lamb, Cowboys
Chris Godwin, Buccaneers
Tyler Lockett, Seahawks
Adam Thielen, Vikings
Julio Jones, Titans
D.J. Moore, Panthers

McLaurin has put up WR2 numbers in each of his first two seasons … with Case Keenum, Dwayne Haskins and Alex Smith throwing him the ball. Now McLaurin gets Ryan Fitzmagic? Sign me up.

As for Jones, his value actually takes a hit as a result of joining a much more balanced offense in Tennessee. When healthy, I have him projected as a WR1/2, but his durability is a concern at 32 years old. My projection for his games played is lower than other WRs in this range, hence his ranking as the WR20 being lower than his per-game value.

When we have a tier this big, I tend to be underweight on players at the top while having more exposure to players at the bottom. This should make sense because when we know players similar in value will be available later on, we can attack a different position.

There are two WRs toward the bottom of this tier who I’ll be targeting.

Every season there’s an up-and-coming WR being drafted in the WR16-20 range who I’m projecting as a potential WR1. In 2019, it was Kenny Golladay and Chris Godwin. In 2020, it was Calvin Ridley. In 2021, Lamb appears to be that guy.

Lamb has WR1 potential heading into Year 2, and it doesn’t take much imagination to believe it — Lamb was the WR12 when Dak Prescott suffered his season-ending injury in Week 5.

Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images. Pictured: CeeDee Lamb

Thielen quietly posted the sixth-highest BBPA last season. He saw a 27% DUD rate while posting a top-12 score 40% of the time — a range of outcomes that’s much more valuable in best ball than in season-long head-to-head formats since you don’t have to predict when those top-12 scores will occur.

Jefferson had a similar range of outcomes in 2020, which makes sense considering the two tend to alternate big games at the expense of the other.

Tier 5

Cooper Kupp, Rams
Tee Higgins, Bengals
Ja’Marr Chase, Bengals
Kenny Golladay, Giants
Brandon Aiyuk, 49ers
Diontae Johnson, Steelers
Chase Claypool, Steelers
Odell Beckham Jr., Browns

A year ago, Golladay was being drafted as the WR7 in best ball. After an injury-plagued 2020 season and signing with the Giants in free agency, it makes sense that his ADP has fallen.

Golladay is a contested-catch artist who struggles to separate from defenders. In 2019, he had the lowest average separation in the league at 1.9 yards (according to NFL’s Next Gen Stats). He needs a quarterback who is willing to target him even when he’s tightly covered, and Next Gen Stats’ Aggressiveness % is an excellent way to gauge which QBs are willing to throw into tight windows. Well, Daniel Jones ranked 13th in 2020 and third in 2019, so I wouldn’t underestimate the potential for Golladay to be the reason Jones turns the corner this year.

Tier 6

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers
Courtland Sutton, Broncos
Brandin Cooks, Texans
Robby Anderson, Panthers
D.J. Chark, Jaguars
Tyler Boyd, Bengals
Jerry Jeudy, Broncos
Will Fuller, Dolphins
Curtis Samuel, Washington
Deebo Samuel, 49ers

Sutton and Jeudy offer built-in upside based on my estimated 20-25% chance that Aaron Rodgers is traded to Denver. It makes sense to target them pretty heavily now (and even stack them with Rodgers), then if/when it looks like Rodgers will stay in Green Bay, I would fade them enough to balance out my shares.

The sneaky move here would be to stack Cooks with Deshaun Watson in a few drafts. There’s a ton of risk because we don’t know if Watson will be traded away or even play a snap this season, but Cooks would crush his ADP if Watson ends up starting 12 or more games for the Texans. That’s why it makes sense to limit Cook’s exposure to any drafts in which you also intend to roll the dice on Watson.

Tier 7

Marquise Brown, Ravens
Jarvis Landry, Browns
Devonta Smith, Eagles
Laviska Shenault, Jaguars
Corey Davis, Jets
DeVante Parker, Dolphins
Michael Gallup, Cowboys
Marvin Jones, Jaguars

Davis managed to rank 17th in BBPA last season despite missing four games. His ADP (WR49) seems a bit low, especially considering that the Jets may release Jamison Crowder before the season starts. It would be sharp to load up on Davis at his current ADP to get ahead of that potential news.

Tier 8

Jaylen Waddle, Dolphins
Antonio Brown, Buccaneers
T.Y. Hilton, Colts
Mike Williams, Chargers
Michael Pittman Jr., Colts
Cole Beasley, Bills

Waddle’s landing spot was great news for Tua Tagovailoa, but I’m afraid it hurt Waddle’s stock. It will be tough for him to see enough volume in the Dolphins’ offense to offer consistent value. However, his big-play ability will give him a boost in best ball formats as he could see a few spiked weeks.

Tier 9

Mecole Hardman, Chiefs
Darnell Mooney, Bears
Jalen Reagor, Eagles
Henry Ruggs, Raiders

A fitting title for this tier would be “Up-and-Coming Wideouts with a Ton of Upside Who Have Yet To Hit Their Potential.”

It makes sense to take a flier on one of these WRs in most drafts. They may not offer the consistency we want in season-long head-to-head formats, but they offer the upside we crave in best ball and are all capable of crushing their ADP.

David Eulitt/Getty Images. Pictured: Chiefs WR Mecole Hardman

Tier 10

Nelson Agholor, Patriots
Rashod Bateman, Ravens
Sterling Shepard, Giants
Gabriel Davis, Bills
Allen Lazard, Packers
Tre’Quan Smith, Saints
Jamison Crowder, Jets
Elijah Moore, Jets
Rondale Moore, Cardinals
Breshad Perriman, Lions
Christian Kirk, Cardinals
Josh Reynolds, Titans
John Brown, Raiders

I like the idea of stacking Smith with Jameis Winston on a few teams as Smith would likely benefit the most if the Saints were to go with Winston over Hill as their new starting quarterback.

Davis’ stock took a hit when the Bills signed Emmanuel Sanders, but now that Davis’ ADP has plummeted to WR59, he may be worth a late-round flier. He’ll likely return break-even value at that price if Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley and Sanders stay healthy. However, Davis offers a ton of upside if one of those three were ever to miss time.

Davis is a cheap way to invest in a Josh Allen-led offense.

Tier 11

Denzel Mims, Jets
Parris Campbell, Colts
Emmanuel Sanders, Bills
Tyrell Williams, Lions
Terrace Marshall, Panthers
A.J. Green, Cardinals
Randall Cobb, Texans
Jakobi Meyers, Patriots
Amon-Ra St. Brown, Patriots
Kadarius Toney, Giants
Hunter Renfrow, Raiders

Denzel Mims offers a ton of upside heading into Year 2. He could be another beneficiary of the Jets potentially releasing Crowder, so like Corey Davis, it makes sense to target Mims now — I can’t think of a scenario for which his ADP would drop over the coming months.

Williams seems like a no-brainer at WR87 — there’s a very real chance he enters the 2021 season as the Lions’ No. 1 WR. He offers the big-play ability we want for best ball, and the Lions may be forced to throw quite a bit this season. As long as Williams stays healthy, he should crush his ADP.


Best Ball Points Added: WRs

“Duds” represent weeks that a WR finished outside of the top 36 at the position.

How would you rate this article?