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Terry McLaurin is the top former Buckeye WR you want to target in fantasy football

Scary Terry has already exceeded early expectations in the NFL. If you want your fantasy team to do the same, lock him up in the first few rounds.

McLaurin broke out in a big way last year, but his fantasy football numbers should be even better in 2021
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Terry McLaurin was a fan favorite and leader for the Buckeyes, as well as a personal favorite of mine. He embodied the culture that has helped elevate Ohio State to truly elite status. As a four-year player and two-time captain, he was willing to do anything and everything asked of him by coaches: special teams, blocking, you name it. McLaurin epitomized unselfish play and emphasized a strong bond/brotherhood in the wide receiver room. The comradery he shared with K.J. Hill, Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon, and others (in addition to their beginning-to-end development) further pushed the narrative that if you want to be a part of something special, sharpen your skills as a wide receiver, and win football games, Ohio State is the place to be. I truly believe that guys like McLaurin are part of the reason why Chris Olave came back for a fourth season, and why the best receivers in the country are all willing to come to Columbus to compete for playing time. Nothing is handed to you at Ohio State. You are expected to work your tail off every day, and if your skill matches your work ethic: you can be successful at this level, as well as the next. McLaurin put in the work, and now he is a borderline star in the NFL. His star has risen so much, that you may want to snatch him up as a WR1 in your fantasy football drafts.

After the 2018 season, most Ohio State fans and fantasy football players would have called you crazy if you predicted that McLaurin was going to be the first former Buckeye wide receiver taken in 2021 fantasy drafts. Michael Thomas had become a perennial Pro Bowler and first-round fantasy draft pick. He was fresh off a 125 catch, 1,400 yard season with the New Orleans Saints. Meanwhile, McLaurin had just finished a season in Columbus with 35 catches and 700 yards. Both were career highs, with the yardage total eclipsing what he had accumulated during his first three seasons combined. He had a strong pro day, and NFL talent evaluators loved what they saw at the Senior Bowl. McLaurin was taken in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, and many people viewed him as a complimentary receiver or one who could have success out of the slot. At a compact 6’1”, 200 pounds, he did not project as a primary weapon on the perimeter… yet, here we are.

McLaurin has blossomed into a legitimate threat and playmaker on the outside, and exceeded early expectations. He is now in a position to be taken near the top-10 of fantasy WR’s, and he has leapfrogged Michael Thomas on fantasy big boards. Thomas is obviously dealing with an injury, but even before the surgery announcement, there were questions about his ceiling for 2021. New Orleans will have a new starting quarterback, and Thomas has been at odds with the Saints franchise. I was bullish on his fantasy potential in a previous column, but even healthy, I think it is fair to question whether or not “Can’t Guard Mike” can match the production he had with Drew Brees behind center. Thomas has recently come across in the media as potentially being difficult to deal with, and he should now be viewed as a draft-and-stash lottery ticket in fantasy.

McLaurin is (and has been, since entering the league) the number one target for the Washington Football Team. They now have Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback, and I believe he raises the ceiling for his top receiver’s fantasy production. While he is never going to be confused with Pat Mahomes or Aaron Rodgers, Fitzpatrick is no slouch. His completion percentage is pedestrian, and he throws too many interceptions, but the grizzled vet is willing to take risks and make plays. He will push the ball downfield, and that will be a boost to McLaurin’s fantasy potential. The former Ohio State captain has dealt with below-average QB play since being drafted, and he has not had a ton of other weapons around him. Fitzy’s confidence, Antonio Gibson’s development, along with the additions of Curtis Samuel and Adam Humphries, will all take pressure off of McLaurin.

Despite the situation around him and missing one game, McLaurin was a top-20 fantasy WR last season. He finished with 87 receptions, 1,118 yards, and four touchdowns… catching passes from the likes of Kyle Allen, Alex Smith, Dwayne Haskins, and Taylor Heinicke. He was the regular recipient of double coverage and poorly-thrown balls, and also dealt with two high ankle sprains. It is honestly a borderline miracle that he put up more than 500 yards. If all the odds were stacked against McLaurin, and he still ended up as a top-20 fantasy WR, I think there is very good chance he cracks the top-10 or even top-5 in a much better situation. ScaryTerrySZN incoming…

McLaurin’s current ADP (average draft position) is right around 50. In most mock drafts, he is being selected as the 12th to 15th wide receiver off the board. I would grab him sooner. The upside is far beyond what it was in 2020. McLaurin averaged nine targets per game last year, and had a 65 percent catch rate. I’ve already mentioned his quarterbacks from 2020, so let’s just say there is optimism for those numbers to improve. If he were to see ten targets per game and catch 70 percent of the passes thrown his way, that would put him on pace for 112 catches in a 16-game season. The new NFL schedule calls for 17 games, but I want to compare apples to apples here.

The addition of FitzMagic should provide McLaurin with better opportunities down the field. When Fitzpatrick started for Miami in 2019, DeVante Parker was his go-to receiver. Parker saw 128 targets, and finished the season with 1,202 yards and nine touchdowns. He averaged 16.7 yards per reception, an increase of over three yards from every other season of his career (except his rookie season: small sample size). Parker’s stats further speak to Fitzpatrick’s willingness to throw downfield. For better or for worse, he has a short memory and a long leash in Washington. McLaurin had to rely heavily on his route running and YAC in 2020, and his average depth of target fell to 9.9 yards (14+ as a rookie in 2019). With a new quarterback, he should be able to do more damage over the top.

Lastly, McLaurin was very unlucky when it came to finding the end zone in 2020 (only 4 TD). Sometimes a receiver can suffer from what I call Julio Jones Syndrome — where they put up all the stats you could ask for, but mildly disappoint from a fantasy perspective due to their lack of touchdowns. Jones is arguably one of the best receivers to ever play the game, but he only has one double-digit touchdown season… all the way back in 2012. His second best total is eight touchdowns, which he has achieved three times. Some guys have a nose for the end zone, and Jones is just not one of those guys. McLaurin accounted for seven touchdowns as a rookie, after scoring 11 in his last season at Ohio State. If you want to make an argument that college numbers don’t translate, I would point out that Julio Jones scored only 17 total TD as a three-year starter at Alabama. Like I said: some guys have a nose for the end zone, and McLaurin seems like one of them.

Do not wait around for “Scary Terry” to fall. His current ADP is well below his potential ceiling. That ADP puts him in the fourth or fifth round, but I think he’s a smart pick in the third. While he does not possess the speed of Tyreek Hill or the physicality of a D.K. Metcalf, he has a dynamic overall skillset — and he is still getting better. The offense around McLaurin should be much improved in 2021, and even a subtle improvement from the former Buckeye’s 2020 season would make him a lock for top-15 fantasy production. I’ll go one step further and predict a significant improvement. McLaurin is the current heavyweight champ of former OSU receivers in the NFL, and he may not give up the belt any time soon.