Fantasy Football: Are Drafters Too Low on Tyler Boyd in 2021?

The Cincinnati Bengals selected quarterback Joe Burrow with the first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. The stage wasn't too large for him. However, his season was ended abruptly in Week 11 when he tore the ACL in his knee. Nevertheless, we have a significant enough sample to see how the offense functioned with him playing quarterback and who he targeted.

Still, the dynamics have changed since the end of last year. After playing in only six games last year, Joe Mixon is healthy, and the team selected supremely talented receiving prospect Ja'Marr Chase with the fifth pick in this year's draft. Further, second-year receiver Tee Higgins is an ascending talent who will command targets.

So does that leave enough meat on the bone for Tyler Boyd to provide gamers value where he's being selected in fantasy drafts?

2020 Recap

Burrow suffered his season-ending injury in Week 11, making the first 10 games (the Bengals had a Week 9 bye) the most relevant for evaluating the 2021 fantasy outlook for Cincinnati's offense.

The following table shows the receiving work for incumbent wideouts Boyd and Higgins and departed receiver A.J. Green on Burrow's passes -- although the yards per route run data from Pro Football Focus includes the 18 offensive snaps from Ryan Finley in relief of Burrow in Week 11.

Player Tgts Rec Rec Yards Air Yards Rec Tds Tgt NEP/Tgt Y/Tgt Y/RR
Tyler Boyd 85 68 696 705 3 0.61 8.19 1.76
A.J. Green 75 34 352 1044 1 -0.04 4.69 1.00
Tee Higgins 67 43 629 851 4 0.58 9.39 1.81

With Burrow hucking the pigskin, Boyd led the team in targets, receptions, receiving yards, and Target Net Expected Points per Target. He also narrowly trailed Higgins in yards per route run and touchdowns. As for Green, he vacates 75 targets and the most air yards among the trio, providing Chase an opportunity to step in without gobbling up too much of Boyd's and Higgins' work.

Boyd, the team's primary slot receiver (84.2 percent slot rate, per Pro Football Focus), clearly had Burrow's trust. I don't expect him to go away in Burrow's sophomore campaign. Also, he wasn't merely a between the 20s option. I was surprised to see the following red zone numbers on Burrow's 55 pass attempts 20 yards to scoring or closer.

Player Tgts Rec Rec Tds Tgt NEP/Tgt
Tyler Boyd 11 7 3 0.40
Tee Higgins 7 5 4 1.40
A.J. Green 5 1 1 -0.42

Boyd was a busy man in the red zone. Higgins was extremely efficient, and the big-bodied receiver should continue to thrive in scoring territory. Chase's physicality should play well in the red zone, too.

Nonetheless, it was Boyd who Burrow targeted the most frequently in the red zone last year. I wouldn't label Boyd the favorite to lead the team in touchdown receptions this year, but when considering his usage last year, it's a possible outcome.

Fantasy-Friendly Passing Attack

The Bengals' offensive pace and passing rate through Week 11 are promising for all of the pass-catching options in Cinci's offense.

According to Sharp Football Stats, with a scoring margin ranging between trailing and leading by seven points in Week 1 through Week 11, the Bengals tied for the ninth-fastest pace of play. Additionally, the Bengals passed at the highest rate during the same time frame with the same scoring margin parameters, passing at a 65 percent clip.

A fast-paced offense that airs it out at the highest rate in a neutral game script is capable of supporting Boyd, Higgins, and Chase in fantasy football.

However, you might be wondering how the offense looked in the first six weeks when Mixon was healthy. There's good news. It was still an uptempo and pass-happy unit. Cincinnati played at the eighth-fastest pace and passed at the fourth-highest clip, hucking it 62 percent of the time.

Tyler Boyd's 2021 Fantasy Football Outlook

I'm encouraged by last year's pass-happy attack. Chase represents a likely significant upgrade from the woefully inefficient Green. Regardless, Green soaked up targets last year, leaving Chase a role to step into without cannibalizing too many looks from his fellow fantasy-relevant receivers.

The club's decision to bypass a blue-chip prospect on the offensive line at the fifth pick could actually bode well for Boyd, too. Pro Football Focus graded Cincinnati's offensive line 27th in pass blocking. Further, Football Outsiders ranked them 24th in adjusted sack rate. While the team signed offensive tackle Riley Reiff in free agency and spent a second-round pick on guard Jackson Carman and a fourth-round pick on offensive tackle D'Ante Smith, they still have a ways to go to be league average in pass protection this year.

This may all sound like a bad thing for Boyd, but one way to mitigate pass-protection issues is getting the ball out quickly. As a result, Boyd is a good bet to be utilized on short, quick passes. According to Sports Info Solutions, Boyd had an average depth of target of 8.3 yards downfield, much shorter than Higgins' 12.0 yards. Perhaps Chase will absorb some short looks, too, but Boyd will get his share.

numberFire's model projects a finish of WR23 for Chase, WR24 for Higgins, and WR43 for Boyd in standard-scoring formats. If Boyd finishes as the WR43, he'd come up short of his current WR33 average draft position (ADP) in standard-scoring formats, per FantasyPros.

However, I'm more bullish on Boyd's outlook. In standard-scoring leagues, his current ADP feels fair with room for him to exceed expectations.

But I'm even more enamored with Boyd in full point-per-reception (PPR) and half-point-per-reception formats. He's going as WR37 in PPR and WR35 in half-PPR leagues, where I view him as a fringe WR2 rather than a low-end WR3.

Joshua Shepardson is not a FanDuel employee. In addition to providing DFS gameplay advice, Joshua Shepardson also participates in DFS contests on FanDuel using his personal account, username bchad50. While the strategies and player selections recommended in his articles are his/her personal views, he/she may deploy different strategies and player selections when entering contests with his/her personal account. The views expressed in his/her articles are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of FanDuel.