Since Week One is only a little over a week away there is no better time to start looking into players to target in DFS Leagues. The preseason did a great job revealing potential breakout candidates for this upcoming year. When it comes to picking wide receivers in DFS leagues it is crucial to aim for receivers to can see a large share of the targets that given week.
In most scenarios, it is better to choose a primary receiver on a bad team than a second or third receiver on an extremely talented roster. Here are a few wide receivers to target in DFS leagues who can outplay their value throughout the first couple of weeks.
Brandin Cooks (HOU)
Week 1 Value: Fanduel: $6,300, Draft Kings: $5,300
It is no secret that the Houston Texans franchise is currently a trainwreck and will likely go through a major rebuild following the upcoming season. That being said it isn’t a stretch to say that Brandin Cooks may be the best player on their roster besides Laremy Tunsil (and Deshaun Watson if on the field). This is an unfortunate situation for Cooks because he had been traded away from three Super Bowl contending teams and wanted to settle in Houston. However, it seems more than likely that his long-term future with the team is not secure.
Looking at the skill position players on offense none are nearly as talented as Cooks, especially at wide receiver. Now that Will Fuller has left Houston Cooks is now the team’s official WR1. Cooks will be sharing targets with former second-round pick Anthony Miller, Chris Conley, and 2021 third-round pick Nico Collins. It would be shocking if Cooks did not lead the team in targets every single week. According to Footballguys, Cooks led the team with a 23% target share following Fuller’s suspension. Before Fuller’s suspension, he was second on the team in targets with 73 which was two fewer than Fuller. It should be expected that Cooks’ target share raises after the team lost Fuller and Randall Cobb in free agency who finished the year second and third on the team in targets.
It also helps Cooks’ case that Houston is more than likely going to be a bottom-3 overall team this season. Houston’s defense was awful last season and it got worse when they let go of future Hall of Famer J.J. Watt. Since their defense will be awful the Texans will more than likely have to compete in shootouts and have a pass-heavy game script in order to compete. This means more opportunities for the Texans to get the ball in Cooks’ hands.
An important thing to consider which is why Cooks can be added to lineups at a premium is that there is a major decline in quarterback talent in Houston this season. Last year’s starter Deshaun Watson is dealing with major off-the-field issues on top of the fact that he has requested a trade. The Texans will go into the season with veteran journeyman Tyrod Taylor as their starting quarterback. During his tenure in Buffalo as a starter, Taylor was known for his conservative gameplay. Taylor was a great game manager and limited turnovers. However, he hasn’t been known for his touchdown production. His career highs came in the 2015-16 season in Buffalo when he threw for 3035 passing yards and 20 touchdowns. Cooks should still be able to produce with Taylor under center because he has run offenses before that featured a top-30 fantasy wide receiver. This includes Sammy Watkins during the 2015-16 season.
Corey Davis (NYJ)
Week 1 Value: Fanduel: $5,800, Draft Kings: $4,900
Former fifth overall pick Corey Davis became the second-highest-paid wide receiver of the 2021 free agency period when he signed a three-year $37.5 million deal with the New York Jets. Davis had a breakout season in his final season with the Tennessee Titans. He posted career highs in both receiving yards and touchdowns this past season with 985 yards and five touchdowns.
Davis is joining a situation in New York where there are a lot of questions on how it will look. Not only is there a new coaching staff, but the Jets also have a new rookie starting quarterback and new pass catchers as well. Robert Saleh hired former San Fransisco 49ers passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur to be their new offensive coordinator. So it is expected that this offense mirrors Kyle Shanahan’s offense in San Fransisco. It is important to note that Shanahan-style offenses have a great track record for producing both on the field and fantasy success in recent years. Along with the 49ers, the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers have achieved offensive success with a similar style of offense. Just this past season the 49ers had two receivers on their roster in Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk who were extremely viable receivers in fantasy football last season (when healthy).
The main focus for the Jets this season will be to develop the second overall pick from this past draft Zach Wilson and help him grow as a quarterback. This means that the Jets will likely not be super competitive in most games. New York is expected to be down in most games so will have to pass the ball often late in games to potentially pull out a win. This means there are more opportunities for Davis to get more targets in a given week.
The biggest question about the New York Jets before the first game is who will be their starters among their skill position players. New York has a plethora of talented receivers along with a solid committee of running backs. Davis will have to compete with 2020 second-round pick Denzel Mims, Jamison Crowder, Keelan Cole, and 2021 second-round pick Elijah Moore. This receiver group seems crowded, but there are really only two candidates that could lead the team in receiving this next season. Davis and Moore have the clearest opportunity to lead the team in multiple receiving categories.
The reason why Davis may get the nod over Moore is that he is a veteran also that Davis’ production in the past comes through a large number of targets. Davis is not a burner receiver or deep threat that will take the top off a defense and have a productive day with two catches off three targets. Instead, the Jets should feed Davis anywhere from five to seven targets a game for him to be worth the $12.5 million per year they are paying him. Also in the sample size of this offense that was displayed during the first two games of the preseason Davis had 10 targets on 13 routes run and had six catches for 88 yards.
Laviska Shenault Jr. (JAX)
Week 1 Value: Fanduel: $5,600, Draft Kings: $5,000
Second-year wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. has emerged as a popular breakout candidate for this upcoming season. In his rookie season, Shenault Jr. had 56 receptions for 600 yards and five touchdowns. Coming out of the 2020 NFL Draft Shenault was considered a prospect who could get taken late in the first round. But multiple injuries pushed him down to the middle of the second round.
The Jacksonville Jaguars made some major changes to their organization this offseason. They have brought in a new head coach, general manager, and spent the first overall pick on a new franchise quarterback. This is significant to Shenault Jr. because both head coach Urban Meyer and quarterback Trevor Lawerence gives him an opportunity to expand his role from a season ago. Lawerence is a major upgrade over the three quarterbacks Jacksonville started last season. A potential star quarterback like Lawerence could increase the production of all of the Jaguars’ skill position players including Shenault Jr.
During his time at college Meyer have utilized gadget-type receivers in his offenses. Notable gadget receivers that Meyer has had include Percy Harvin during his time at Flordia and both Curtis Samuel and Parris Campbell during his time at Ohio State. Even this past draft Meyer was disappointed when gadget receiver Kadarius Toney was not available for them to select at 25th overall. Instead, the Jaguars took Clemson running back Travis Etienne, who they may feature in a gadget role when he returns healthy next season. Similar to those players, Shenault Jr. has the skillset of a gadget receiver. Last season Shenault lined up all over the field including at running back where he had 18 carries and averaged 5.1 yards per carry. This is extremely similar to how he was used during his time in Colorado.
But what makes Shenault Jr. so intriguing is the fact that it is unclear who will emerge as their number one receiver in the passing game. Jacksonville has two former second-round picks in Shenault Jr. and DJ Chark along with veteran receiver Marvin Jones Jr. The Jaguars signed Jones Jr. to a two-year $14.5 million deal which means they perceive him to be a complementary receiver than the team’s primary pass-catcher. Shenault Jr. should have the edge over Chark for a few reasons. The first reason is that after Etienne’s injury the Jaguars will likely split the plays designed for him between Shenault Jr. and James Robinson thus increasing the opportunity to get the ball in Shenault Jr.’s hands. Secondly, Meyer has publicly criticized Chark’s play from last season. According to ESPN, Meyer commented “I just didn’t like his size. His strength, I just thought, was way below average, way below what we expect from our receivers” when asked about Chark. The fourth-year receiver out of LSU took that as a challenge to get in better shape to bounce back from the down year he had last season. He also told Chark “to get in the weight room” and to “get bigger and stronger because if you don’t, you won’t be able to help us”.
The writing appears on the wall for Chark which is in a contract year and maybe the next notable Jaguars veteran to be replaced by the new administration. The new Jaguars executives and coaching staff have had no problem replacing or shopping players who felt like foundational pieces of the team before they took over. Those players include James Robinson (will eventually be replaced by Travis Etienne), 2020 ninth overall pick C.J. Henderson (being shopped after cornerback additions this offseason), Joe Schobert (traded to the Steelers), and Gardner Minshew (traded to the Eagles after the conclusion of the preseason). This can benefit Shenault Jr.’s short-term and long-term future with the team. He can very well emerge as the number one receiver on a team that will have to pass and score a lot to stay competitive in games due to the youth and inexperience across their roster (especially on defense).
DeVonta Smith (PHI)
Week 1 Value: Fanduel: $5,200, Draft Kings: $4,500
After last season fantasy players are looking to find the next Justin Jefferson. In this loaded rookie wide receiver class, there are many options that can emerge similarly to how Jefferson did a year ago. The rookie wide receiver with the best odds of breaking out like Jefferson did a year ago is DeVonta Smith. The Eagles traded up to the tenth overall pick to take Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith. Last year Smith had one of if not the greatest season by a college wide receiver ever. He recorded 117 receptions for 1,856 receiving yards and 23 receiving touchdowns (24 total). His receiving yards and receiving touchdown total broke Ja’Marr Chases’ total for the most in SEC history. He also set CFP Championship when he put up 12 receptions for 215 yards and three touchdowns in the first half of the National Championship game. Smith also broke the record for most receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in a two-game stretch during the College Football playoffs with 345 yards and six touchdowns. His performance last season was the reason why he was the first wide receiver to win the Heisman since 1991 and fourth to ever win the award.
Even though the Eagles have two solid tight ends and a young promising receiver group, they were lacking a true number one receiver. Before the draft, it was apparent that Zach Ertz is not going to be a part of the team’s long-term future and that 2020 first-round pick Jalen Reagor may not be able to fill that number one receiver void. This situation creates the clearest opportunity for a rookie receiver to start the season as a team’s number one. It isn’t crazy to believe that Smith could see a 25% target share for the Eagles offense this season. Even if he doesn’t reach that total it wouldn’t be shocking for Smith to lead the team in targets, receptions, and receiving yards.
Marquez Callaway (NO)
Week 1 Value: Fanduel: $5,200, Draft Kings: $3,400
Over the last few seasons, the New Orleans Saints have been able to hide their lack of depth at the wide receiver position since their offense was extremely dynamic. However, now that Drew Brees has retired and Michael Thomas is expected to miss time next season it becomes the biggest question mark on the roster. During training camp and the preseason was receiver as emerged as the Saints’ potential number one receiver to begin the season and that receiver is Marquez Callaway. New Orleans signed Callaway as an undrafted free agent out of Tennesee after the 2020 NFL Draft. In eleven games and three starts, last season Callaway had 21 receptions on 27 targets for 213 yards.
Despite not being a household name Callaways should be on fantasy radars in DFS, redraft, and dynasty leagues because he is being thrust into the number one receiver role for one of the best offensive minds in the league Sean Payton. As we’ve seen in the past Payton has been able to turn multiple offensive skill players that were late-round draft picks or undrafted players and turned them into stars including Tony Romo (during his time as the Offensive Coordinator for Dallas), Marques Colston, Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory, and Taysom Hill. Callaway is in a great position to be the next player on that list.
Also, the change at quarterback from Drew Brees from Jameis Winston may actually help Callaway grow in this offense. The last time Jameis Winston was a starter was in Tampa Bay in 2019-20. In Bruce Arians’ offense, Winston would air the ball out deep to his receivers on a consistent basis. Hense why Mike Evans and Chris Godwin each at over 1,100 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. Even Breshad Perriman who came on late for the Buccaneers that season putting up 506 yards and four touchdowns in the last five weeks of the season. Callaway compares very favorably to Perriman and what he brings to the table. Both are considered vertical deep threats.
During the preseason Callaway doubled down on the reports that were coming out of Saints camp. During the first preseason game, he caught three of his four targets for 61 yards when Taysom Hill was throwing him the ball. Then the following week Callaway caught all five of his targets for 104 yards and two touchdowns. Jameis Winston started the second preseason game and unleashed two bombs to Callaway that went for touchdowns. The first went for 43 yards and the second was 30 yards. Since Winston was named the team’s starter that should bode over well for Callaway and his fantasy value early in the year.
Amon-Ra St. Brown (DET)
Week 1 Value: Fanduel: $5,000, Draft Kings: $3,000
Amon-Ra St. Brown may the rookie wide receiver with the most hype around him that was not selected within the first 35 selections. St. Brown landed in a great situation when he was drafted to the Detriot Lions in the fourth round. Many thought this was a value for Detriot because many had a Day 2 grade on St. Brown, but he fell to them to the fourth due to the depth at the position in the 2021 draft class. He also finds himself in a situation to see consistent playing time early despite being a Day 3 selection.
This offseason Detriot lost their top receivers former Pro Bowler Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr., and Danny Amendola. They surprisingly did not do much to replace them. The new Lions front office signed veterans Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman (cut at the end of the preseason) to fill the void left by those three receivers. St. Brown didn’t have an outstanding preseason. He caught six of his ten targets for 28 yards which feels underwhelming. However, the expectation is that St. Brown could emerge as the team’s starting slot receiver while Williams and Quintez Cephus line up on the outside. There is definitely some risk in playing St. Brown in DFS leagues early in the year. However, at his price tag, it may be worth it considering he could emerge as the team’s number one wide receiver at any point.