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Fantasy Spotlight: Why Terry McLaurin Is A Must Start Vs. 49ers

Terry McLaurin runs past Joe Haden in the Washington Football Team's against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 7, 2020. (Alex Mowrey/Pittsburgh Steelers)
Terry McLaurin runs past Joe Haden in the Washington Football Team's against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 7, 2020. (Alex Mowrey/Pittsburgh Steelers)

With many leagues starting the fantasy football playoffs, here's why Terry McLaurin needs to be one of your starting receivers. (NOTE: All rankings are based on ESPN Standard scoring, which includes one point per reception.)

(All fantasy football analysis is based on the opinions of staff writer Zach Selby and editor Kyle Stackpole.)

Start: WR Terry McLaurin

Fantasy owners who look at McLaurin's recent stats might be perplexed as to why he deserves to be in their starting lineup. He only had two receptions for 14 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers, which turned into a minuscule 3.4 fantasy points.

But those numbers are largely an aberration from how McLaurin has played this season. In fact, despite only having three touchdowns on the year, McLaurin has quietly turned into one of the NFL’s best young wide receivers with 71 receptions and 977 yards and three touchdowns.

"He's extremely talented, but that competitiveness, when it kicks in -- you can see it in his eyes," quarterback Alex Smith said of McLaurin. "He's a guy that you want to get the ball to in those situations. Certainly, I think he's grown into really accepting that role and really being kind of the bell cow, the guy that really gets us going outside on the perimeter. I think he's embraced that challenge and really grown into it, which has been great to see."

Outside of three games -- Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles, Week 5 against the Los Angeles Rams and Monday night against the Steelers -- he has finished with at least 10 fantasy points in every matchup. He averages 15.6 fantasy points per game in PPR leagues, which ranks 13th among his fellow receivers. Despite routinely being pitted against each team’s best defensive backs, he still averages 81.4 yards per game, which ranks 10th in the NFL.

The only knock on McLaurin's fantasy value is his scoring production. He only has three touchdowns on the year, which is far behind some of the other top tier receivers. And yet, McLaurin averages more fantasy points than touchdown targets like Mike Evans, JuJu Smith-Schuster and A.J. Brown, and that is because McLaurin has more receptions than Brown (44) and Evans (48). He also has more yards than Smith-Schuster (600).

McLaurin has 108 targets this year, which ranks ninth among all pass-catchers, and has a catch rate of 65.7%. He has been a reliable option for all three Washington quarterbacks who have been in the starting lineup, and Rivera believes that is largely because of his daily preparation.

"Daily preparation in meetings, daily preparation in getting ready for practice, his daily preparations as each period goes by," he said. "You watch him getting prepared for the next period and the next things he has to do. Those are the intangibles that you want all your young players to carry with them as they go forward and develop into their careers."

McLaurin's production was limited because Pittsburgh has the second-best passing defense, but that likely won't happen Sunday against the 49ers. San Francisco is sixth in total yards allowed, but it is 11th against the pass. McLaurin has also performed well against better secondaries. The Dallas Cowboys are currently sixth in passing yards allowed, but McLaurin hung at least 90 yards on their secondary in both of Washington's matchup with them and earned 22 and 16.2 fantasy points, respectively.

The 49ers have also been prone to allowing big games against quality receivers this season. Arizona Cardinals receiver DeAndre Hopkins 151 yards and 29.1 fantasy points in Week 1 and Buffalo Bills receiver Cole Beasley had 130 yards, a touchdown and 28 points in last week's game.

So don't let last week's numbers fool you; McLaurin is a reliable and productive fantasy receiver. He will likely get back on track against the 49ers, and if fantasy owners keep him in the starting lineup, there's a chance they will be moving on to the next round.