I remember the moment in my 2019 Dynasty league rookie draft when I was picking in the 3rd round. I was looking at the two rookie WRs on Washington’s team, I was torn between Terry McLaurin and Kelvin Harmon. As much as I liked Harmon as a prospect, I decided to go with McLaurin given his athletic profile and the recent success of Ohio State skill players in the NFL like Ezekiel Eliott and Michael Thomas. That would end up being one of the best draft decisions I’ve ever made, as McLaurin quickly became one of my favorite WRs in the NFL. Plenty of people are excited about McLaurin going into 2021, but here is why I think he has only scratched the surface of his potential and will be a top-10 fantasy WR.
Terry McLaurin was somewhat overlooked by most throughout the NFL Draft process, going 76th overall to Washington in 2019. His college production was unimpressive, being overshadowed by Ohio State teammates Curtis Samuel and Parris Campbell during his time there. Not many would have imagined a 919-yard rookie season and top-30 fantasy WR finish (in 14 games played). Especially when you consider the “electric” (not really) QB duo of Case Keenum and Dwayne Haskins that year. PFF rated McLaurin’s rookie season as the 2nd highest of the decade, behind only Odell Beckham.
Highest Graded Rookie WRs of the Decade
1. Odell Beckham – 91.2
2. Terry McLaurin – 86.5
3. Michael Thomas – 86.3
4. Mike Evans – 84.0 pic.twitter.com/LXObssZ5x6
— PFF (@PFF) June 8, 2020
2nd Year overview
Expectations for McLaurin rose going into his 2nd year as his ADP jumped up to WR25, and he got off to a fantastic start for his fantasy managers in 2020. Through the first nine weeks of the season, he was the WR12 in PPG. We weren’t aware of this during the season, but in March, McLaurin told Jim Rome that he suffered TWO separate high ankle sprains. He didn’t specify when, but I’d guess that one of them was around Week 12 because we saw the worst two-game stretch of his career in Weeks 13-14 (4 catches for 38 yards in both games combined).
Washington WR @TheTerry_25 told @jimrome that he dealt with not one, but two high ankle sprains last season. "I didn’t really use that as an excuse. I had plenty of examples around my building to not use certain things or ailments … as an excuse."https://t.co/PY0xt4HsC5
— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) March 4, 2021
He battled through it for the rest of the season and had some respectable games, including 75 receiving yards against the Super Bowl Champion Buccaneers’ defense in their Wildcard loss. It was clear that he wasn’t 100% though, and he was even forced to miss a game in Week 16 because of the ankle.
Analytical Profile *(source: Player Profiler)
McLaurin was the definition of a “Target Hog” in 2020, receiving a 25.5% target share, which was the 10th highest among all WRs. He was also top-10 in number of routes run, air yards share, and Dominator Rating (% of a team’s receiving yards and TDs). Some would say that it was beneficial for McLaurin to not have much competition for targets on the team, but this also means that he received the most attention from the defense on every single play.
I mentioned how bad the QB play was in Washington, but Player Profiler does a good job of quantifying it. McLaurin had a Target Accuracy rating of 7.24 in 2020, which ranked 51st among other WRs (it was even lower his rookie season). Dwayne Haskins’ Bad Throw percentage was 2nd highest among qualified QBs (200+ attempts). Alex Smith was more accurate, but his 5.0 air yards/attempt was the lowest in the NFL, which didn’t do McLaurin any favors for his yardage totals.
Imagine Terry McLaurin with a good QB…
No.5 in targets
No.4 in routes
No.8 in Target Rate
No.2 in Air Yards Share
No.2 in YAC
No.68 in Target Accuracy
No.72 in Target Quality
No.76 in Catchable Target Rate
— Alex Johnson (@a_johnsonFF) October 22, 2020
So, what’s the case for McLaurin to be a top-10 fantasy WR this season? I mentioned before that he was WR12 in PPG through 12 weeks last season before the speculative injuries started to occur (I can’t confirm the exact point of the high ankle sprains). When you consider the terrible QB play that I outlined in the previous section, that shows us how close he already is to the top-10.
On top of that, the WFT has two new additions to the offense that should set McLaurin up for his best performance yet. First, Ryan Fitzpatrick was signed to a 1-year deal back in March. Even though Fitz is definitely on the “back nine” of his career, we’ve seen the wonders that he can do for his fantasy WRs. Here’s a great breakdown below from Dave Kluge on the history of Fitz’s top receiving targets:
Ryan Fitzpatrick may be the best QB McLaurin has ever played with.
He’s started 10+ games in eight seasons as a pro. Over those seasons, his WR1’s 16-game pace has been:
14.63 FPPG pic.twitter.com/qh3ZzGL2G5
— Dave Kluge (@DaveKluge_FF) April 6, 2021
Fitz will add a combination of the accuracy that Haskins lacks and aggressiveness that was missing from Alex Smith’s game to fully unlock McLaurin. I’m especially excited about the deep passes that we will see from Fitz, as his Deep Ball Completion % was 2nd best in 2020. The other new WFT offensive weapon is Curtis Samuel. For McLaurin’s career so far, the most productive 2nd WR in Washington has been Cam Sims (career high of 477 receiving yards in 2020). Samuel will bring an alternative threat for defenses to pay attention to, which is something that Terry has never had the benefit of in his career. This offseason has been nothing but positive for McLaurin.
The difficulty in projecting 2021 for McLaurin will be the target share that Samuel will command. As I said before, McLaurin’s never had much competition for targets, so this will be the first time a secondary Washington WR will be expected to see a healthy share. With that being said, I don’t expect a major drop-off in his targets. J.D. McKissic and Logan Thomas saw 220 targets combined last season. I expect most of Samuels’ looks to eat into their shares instead of taking the ball away from the best player on the team.
McLaurin’s career catch rate is about 64%, but with Fitzpatrick coming in, I will bump up to the league average which is around 67%. I also expect his efficiency to increase from better QB play, so I will use 9.3 yards/target (up from what we saw in his injured 2020 season, but still below his rookie-year mark of 9.8). TDs are always tough to estimate and can be random. It’s safe to say this will be the best offense that he’s played in, so I’ll add two more to his rookie total of 7 TDs.
2021 Projection: 130 Targets, 87 Receptions, 1,209 Yards and 9 TDs
Based on 2020 WR finishes, this stat line would have put him right at WR10. If he can match his rookie season efficiency levels, we are looking at him breaking into top 5 territory. I’m all in for “Scary Terry” going forward and you should be too!
Editor’s Note: We know it’s early, but check out where McLaurin ranks in our Way Too Early Redraft Rankings.