While we’re in fantasy playoff time, there may be a significant subsect of readers here who did not make the playoffs in their leagues — maybe a few injuries were just too much to handle. Those readers are going to look to 2021, when it’s entirely possible we have something that looks like a normal NFL season (including an actual training camp, fingers crossed). And come February, best ball drafts will be open and drafting for next season will begin. We’re closer to the start of best-ball season than we are to the start of the 2020 NFL season!
So I decided I’d prepare for that with a little exercise. Finding the right values in the middle rounds is so imperative to winning in fantasy, it goes without saying. I want to try to pick out some of the potential middle-round targets we’ll be looking to when we start drafting our best-ball teams in a couple of months.
It’s easy to say that guys like James Robinson, Justin Jefferson, Antonio Gibson, and D’Andre Swift are going to rise to be early-round picks. But what about the players who have impressed in a quieter fashion, and might not be as expensive as those names and others? Here are some guys I think I’ll be targeting at what I anticipate to be an appealing price in 2021.
Ryan Tannehill (Ten) — There’s nothing sexy about the way Tannehill gets his numbers, which is why his ADP was outside of the top 150 for much of the 2020 off-season despite his excellent 2019 campaign. And talk about value — Tannehill is currently the QB7 in total fantasy points, and has finished as a top-12 QB in six of his 12 games this year. He’s finished outside the top 24 at the QB position exactly zero times. Even on his worst day, Tannehill hasn’t killed your fantasy team. I would like to see the Titans either re-sign WR Corey Davis or add an option outside of AJ Brown to keep this fantasy performance steady, but Tannehill almost certainly will be available in the 100-120 pick range and has performed much better than that two seasons running.
Dak Prescott (Dal) — There is plenty we don’t know about Prescott. First on our minds will be the recovery from his horrific ankle injury, and there’s no guarantee he’s 100% by the start — or even the end — of the 2021 season. Second is that his injury has covered up the other Prescott story that dominated the news cycle for seemingly two full years before the injury — he isn’t under a long-term contract with Dallas and is an impending free agent given he’s signed for 2020 on the franchise tag. But those uncertainties could make Prescott a value for fantasy. As the likes of Kyler Murray, Josh Allen, and Justin Herbert move up draft boards, while Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, and Russell Wilson stay at the top, Prescott is almost certain to drop below his QB5 ADP in 2020, perhaps significantly so. And while the Cowboys’ historically bad defense had something to do with it, Prescott in just four full games played had three top-5 fantasy QB finishes — more than 2020 second-round pick Lamar Jackson has so far this year.
Matthew Stafford (Det) — I’ll admit I’m taking a guess here — I think the Ford family has been sufficiently shamed for firing Jim Caldwell and the ensuing Matt Patricia disaster that they’ll bring in a progressive GNM candidate and an offensive mind to work with Stafford, who is one of the most undeservingly disrespected players of his generation. Stafford hasn’t been great for fantasy this year, but he’s still managed to finish as a top-12 QB in four of 12 games this season despite having star WR Kenny Golladay in only four full games. The Lions need to get some youth at WR — and re-sign Golladay, for that matter — but Stafford has continually shown the talent that the Lions have utterly failed to prop up.
Chase Edmonds (Ari) — Perhaps it is because he’s been used in a rotational role, but Edmonds has been superior to Kenyan Drake by pretty much every reasonable metric this year — 5.7 YPC for Edmonds to 4.2 YPC for Drake, 7.3 YPR to 4.4, 2.3 EPA as a runner to -4.5 (SIS). Drake, playing under the transition tag for 2020, is an impending free agent, while Edmonds has one year left on his rookie deal. While I anticipate the Cardinals will add someone to this backfield, Drake hasn’t done nearly enough to justify his $8.5 million paycheck in 2020, and if he’s looking for anything close to that, he’s probably going to be waiting around a long time. Yes, Edmonds may be benefiting from a timeshare, but I think he’s earned a more serious look as the lead back in a dual backfield, at minimum.
Damien Harris (NE) — The Patriots stink on offense, and they need to evaluate the QB and WR positions (Cam Newton isn’t under contract, and the WRs are atrocious). But despite not being very good for fantasy — Newton has vultured double-digit rushing TDs — Harris has been one of the few bright spots of the Patriots’ season. Per SIS’ EPA metric, Harris has added more value as a runner than Dalvin Cook this year (!). But with just 2 rushing TD and 4 receptions on the year, it hasn’t translated to fantasy success. Quite frankly? For Harris to hit his ceiling, I want to see Newton gone, because he’s been a fantastic, under-the-radar story. But the Patriots also don’t have James White under contract beyond this season, which could open some doors for Harris to be a more well-rounded back in 2021.
Cam Akers (LAR) — I’m fully acknowledging this take could be blown up with whatever might happen over the next couple weeks as Akers seems to be finding his stride, but the usage of Darrell Henderson this season vis-a-vis 2019 proves that Sean McVay is willing to sit down a rookie who hasn’t learned his offense and truly unleash that guy the next season. The difference is Henderson never got his shot in 2019, while Akers, with a strong finish this season, could propel himself into the 4th round or so, or even higher if he explodes in December.
Corey Davis (Ten) — The Titans had no faith this version of Davis would ever show up — if they did, they would have picked up his fifth-year option. Instead, Davis has posted over 80 receiving yards per game in a contract season, and he’s looking like a player the Titans might not be able to let go given their lack of depth opposite AJ Brown. With just 199 receiving yards over the final four games (Davis has missed two this year), he will have 1000 yards on the campaign, and I reckon it’s been overall a pretty quiet 1000-yard type season — we always seem to have one or two of them a year. For Davis to have maximum fantasy value, he needs to re-sign with the Titans or go somewhere where there’s another perceived “#1” receiver. He could be overhyped if he takes the big dollars to sign with a bad team to be a “#1” himself.
Curtis Samuel (Car) — Speaking of contract years… I’d love to see Samuel land with a team that will use him like Joe Brady has in 2020 (if he moves on from the Panthers at all). He’s not just a deep threat, as he was so woefully miscast as in 2019, and his rushing upside gives him some juice the modern NFL loves. He’s finished as a top-12 fantasy WR three times in 11 games so far this season, more than DeVante Parker, Brandin Cooks, Stefon Diggs (!), and the aforementioned Corey Davis. While he can take the top off the defense, Samuel’s value is in being a weapon from whom the defense doesn’t know what’s coming. If he signs somewhere to be a “traditional” WR, it’d be a mistake.
Jerry Jeudy (Den) — I don’t think Drew Lock will be Denver’s QB next year, and that could be a positive for Jeudy, who has gotten open consistently but can’t seem to get on the same page as his QB — he’s caught just 46.3% of his targets this year, though his 82.2% catch rate on “on-target” throws is one of the 10-worst rates in the NFL per SIS. He needs to clean up the drops, but the struggling Lock isn’t helping him either, and the ease with which he’s getting open suggests to me better days are ahead.
Michael Pittman (Ind) — Pittman hasn’t had the kind of rookie season I’ve hoped for, but you have to give him some time for the flavors to come together given he missed three games with a leg injury. While TY Hilton has had a resurgent last two games, he’s a free agent after this season, and there’s no reason for the Colts to bring him back on a big-money deal. Meanwhile, Pittman’s flashes have been seriously impressive. Guys his size shouldn’t move the way he does. He’s got a shot to have a major breakout season next year, though the QB situation will be one to monitor.
Gabriel Davis (Buf) — I keep thinking back to the off-season, when our guy Adam Caplan couldn’t stop raving about Davis and what the Bills thought of him, calling him their future at the “X” WR position. Davis has flashed this year when John Brown has been unavailable due to injury, and while Brown has been an excellent player in his time with the Bills, he’s currently on IR, and Buffalo would save over $8 million if it cut him prior to the 2021 season. Has Davis shown enough to start at “X” next season opposite Stefon Diggs? He’s going to continue to get opportunities down the stretch, and with Josh Allen playing the way he’s played this season, this is an offense I want to invest in for 2021.
Darnell Mooney (Chi) — Mooney is another young receiver here with QB problems — neither Mitchell Trubisky nor Nick Foles will be here in 2021, and it’s possible the decision-makers (both GM Ryan Pace and HC Matt Nagy) will be gone as well. But while it was those decision-makers raving about Mooney this off-season, Mooney might well be the best Bear WR on the roster under contract for 2021 (Allen Robinson is a free agent), and his development pushed him past Anthony Miller on the food chain and pushed Ted Ginn off this roster. A 4.38 speedster, Mooney would make many coaches salivate with his athleticism.
TJ Hockenson (Det) — Man, I am going to have a stupid amount of Hockenson next year. As it stands now, he’s the Lions’ best weapon under contract for 2021 (Kenny Golladay is a free agent). I think a new coach here will be a good thing, and though Hockenson hasn’t blown up to Gronkian levels this year, his fantasy performance has been exceptional for such a weak position group. Hockenson is 3rd among TEs in total fantasy points this season, behind only Travis Kelce and Darren Waller, but has finished as a top-5 TE just four times (tied with Rob Gronkowski and Robert Tonyan), which could keep his price depressed enough that he provides significantly more value than Kelce, Waller, George Kittle, and others.
Dallas Goedert (Phi) — I don’t know who will be making the decisions in Philly in 2021, nor who will be calling the plays, nor who will be throwing the football. What I do know is that Philly needs to get younger and cheaper, and that must involve moving on from Zach Ertz and allowing the more explosive Goedert to be the unchallenged TE1. Goedert’s 11.7 FPG in eight games so far is 6th-best among TEs, and he’s been a top-5 fantasy TE in three of the eight games he’s played. For whatever QB is here, he should be one of the top two targets in Philly in 2021.
Robert Tonyan (GB) — Trust goes a long way with Aaron Rodgers, and the potential league MVP has developed it with Tonyan, who is fourth among all TEs in fantasy scoring! The Packers need some WR help this coming off-season, but I see no reason why Tonyan won’t be one of Rodgers’ most trusted red-zone options in 2021. Tonyan is an RFA, but I can’t imagine one of Rodgers’ boys won’t get a tender at minimum. I’d expect a new contract.
Noah Fant (Den) — This goes hand-in-hand with the Jerry Jeudy blurb above, but a new QB will only do matters good here, and we can throw in a hopefully healthy season for Fant to boot. Fant’s just the TE13 in total fantasy scoring, but he’s been playing through injuries all season, and his QB play isn’t helping matters. He, Jeudy, and a returning Courtland Sutton is an excellent trio for a QB to gravitate towards. Now, who will be throwing the ball?