Terry McLaurin Has the Fantasy Football Ceiling of a League-Winning Receiver

After two years of shoddy quarterback play, McLaurin should get a lift this season from Ryan Fitzpatrick. Will that boost be enough to push McLaurin into the ranks of the elite wideouts?

Perhaps no fantasy football player in 2021 has a better outlook based on the changes that happened around him than Terry McLaurin does.

Ready to enter his third season in the NFL, Scary Terry has impressed in his young career, finishing as WR27 in his rookie season in half-PPR leagues and slotting as WR21 in 2020. These strong finishes have been accomplished despite the lack of a competent or capable NFL quarterback throwing him the ball.

McLaurin entered the league with elite talent and speed (95th percentile speed score, according to PlayerProfiler), and he has been lighting it up from the very beginning no matter who gets him the ball.

But in 2021 fantasy football drafts, McLaurin's average draft position (ADP) stands at 10th among all wide receivers and 36th overall, according to FantasyPros. That's steep for a guy who has never been a top-20 wideout.

Why the sudden faith in the youngster? The Washington Football Team plans to start Ryan Fitzpatrick, Fitzmagic himself, under center in 2021. It's hard to overstate just how much this will positively impact McLaurin's outlook, but this upgrade could actually be enough to propel McLaurin into the upper tier of NFL wide receivers, making him a steal at his draft cost.

Just how good can McLaurin be this season? With legitimate quarterback play finally running the Washington offense, we might uncover the rest of what has been only the tip of the iceberg of McLaurin's talent and abilities.

Production Despite Poor Passers

Take a look at some of the upper-level production McLaurin produced in 2020 despite the stable of quarterbacks he had in addition to two different ankle injuries in the last quarter of the season.

Category 2020 Finish Rank
Snap Share 98% 1st
Targets 135 10th
Target Share 26.8% 6th
Receptions 87 16th
Receiving Yards 1118 11th
Red Zone Targets 18 T-14th
Yards After Catch 468 6th

Essentially McLaurin put up top-15 numbers across the board, yet finished as only the WR21. Why? Under the hood, the quality of his quarterbacks -- or lack thereof -- really stands out. (Net Expected Points [NEP] is our in-house metric. You can ready more about it in our glossary.)

Category 2020 Finish Rank
Net Expected Points Per Target 0.64 66th
Catchable Target Rate 73.90% 75th
Target Quality Rating 5.2 69th
Target Accuracy 7.24 51st
Fantasy Points Per Target 1.67 72nd

Starting with NEP per Target, McLaurin ranked only 66th in per-target production behind such receivers as Damiere Byrd, Jalen Reagor, and Keelan Cole (among others).

The other numbers are from PlayerProfiler's efficiency metrics, and they show that McLaurin had some of the lowest quality targets in the whole NFL last season. The Football Team quarterback room did McLaurin no favors in how and where they tried to get him the ball.

Looking at these figures, it's tough to justify how McLaurin could finish even as high as WR21 in 2020. But that's a testament to how talented he is and how much he can do with so little. With Fitzpatrick and his bearded bravado on the field for Washington this season, McLaurin has the opportunity to take his elite possession skills -- sixth in yards after catch and only a 2% drop rate -- and turn them into a WR1 season.

The Impact of Fitzmagic

Just how much of an impact can one (admittedly old) quarterback have?

Is the upgrade from the likes of Dwayne Haskins, Alex Smith and Kyle Allen really that meaningful? In a word, yes.

First, Fitzpatrick has a strong and solidified track record of peppering his elite WR1s with targets.

So, if Fitzpatrick can start at least 10 of Washington's 17 games, McLaurin is all but guaranteed at least 130 targets. This puts McLaurin in a strong place to set a career-high mark in targets, but these should also be higher-quality targets than what he has seen the past two seasons

In 2020, Washington ranked 30th in the NFL in yards per pass attempt, at 5.8. Only the New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles were worse as the trio of Smith-Haskins-Allen frequently short-armed and dumped off passes when facing any pressure or moments of indecision. Fitzpatrick, on the other hand, had an intended air yards per pass attempt of 7.8 yards. That may not sound like a lot, but consider that it is 40% higher than the number Washington attempted last season.

Below is a breakdown of the passes attempted by Washington over the last decade, courtesy of NFL Savant. Notice the huge gap between the number of short throws attempted versus the deep passes in 2020. Washington passed short early and often last year. The duo of Fitzpatrick and McLaurin should help change that.

Elsewhere, completion percentage can be a flawed statistic as it doesn't account for distance of passes or who the intended receiver is, but it serves as a quick introduction for how Fitzmagic should aide McLaurin. The Washington Football team ranked 21st in the NFL last season with a 64.3% completion rate. Not absolutely horrific -- but not great either. Mostly this is because of all of the short dump-offs to Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic. Fitzpatrick finished 2020 with a much more respectable 68.5% completion percentage.

No one is going to mistake Fitzpatrick for an elite quarterback at this stage of his career, but he is light years ahead of what McLaurin had last year, which should lead to more efficiency on top of McLaurin's elite raw skills.

Terry McLaurin's Fantasy Football Outlook for 2021

numberFire's projections for 2021 have McLaurin taking a significant step forward in 2021. We have him pegged as the WR12 with 153 targets, 100 receptions, 1,305 receiving yards, and 7 touchdowns. It's the lack of touchdowns -- both projected and throughout his first two years -- that have so far kept him out of elite territory.

With a couple extra goal-line crosses this season, McLaurin could push up near the ranks of the truly elite, which is a hot take I can get behind.

What might keep McLaurin from achieving these lofty heights this year? First, the addition of gadget man Curtis Samuel should not be overlooked. But Samuel should figure to be the guy to keep defenses and zone coverages busy underneath while McLaurin flashes to the outside. Samuel had an average depth of target of just 7.3 in 2020, so more attention taken away from McLaurin is a good thing.

The emergence of Gibson is also a real thing. Gibson had 44 targets in 14 games last season, leading to 36 catches for 247 yards. But he had zero receiving touchdowns, ranking 37th among running backs with only five red zone targets and 20th with just 31 red zone rush attempts. When the offense gets in close, Gibson wasn't much of an option.

McLaurin finally has the combination of competent quarterback play, defense-drawing playmaker teammates, and elite raw skills to put it all together this season and knock on the door of the elite NFL wide receivers.