There are multiple tools and strategies a fantasy drafter, beginner or experienced, can and should go into a draft with. We’ve provided you with every angle for multiple league types and setups on Fantasy Points, but when you get down to it, fantasy is a simple game: draft the right players. Even Jimmy Johnson, who wheeled-and-dealed the Cowboys to three Super Bowl titles in the early 90s, said that was his big “secret.” There’s no use having a ton of draft picks if you don’t use them correctly.
That’s a lot easier said than done, but let’s get into our methodology for doing just that. Think of this like a Venn Diagram.
A “VALUE” is a player who is likely to outperform his ADP in terms of overall stats, and those players are useful when building a roster. However, these players are often overlooked in drafts because they lack the upside to be true game-changing players on a championship roster. They’re very appealing at their cost, though.
A “TARGET” is, essentially, a player the market has read correctly. This player is priced fairly, but provides enough equity at ADP that drafters should not go bargain-hunting — you need to pay market value to get their championship-level production on your team. ‘Targets” are players who provide the meat-and-potatoes foundation for your roster.
A “LEAGUE-WINNER” is the intersection of these two circles on the Venn Diagram, with a little more weight toward “target.” These are the select few players we’ve identified who are both mispriced by the market and provide the championship-level production you need to take bragging rights. In a day when the fantasy community is sharper than ever, these are the least common of the three categories. A “league-winner” has more in common with a “target” than a “value” — “league-winners” are players for whom we will occasionally go above market value to make sure we secure.
In general, a good, Fantasy-Points-endorsed roster will have a mix of these players, with the least emphasis on pure values. We’re more willing to pay at or above market value for a really good player than trying to go bargain hunting constantly. But securing those values at the right time — especially if the player has massive upside — is what’ll get you across the finish line.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll break it down by position, and put the players in each position in order of ADP. We’ll let you know if that player is a value, target, or league-winner based on that ADP, our projections, and any news and notes that have come out.
Note that we aren’t going to list the most obvious plays in here — everybody knows Dalvin Cook, Travis Kelce, and Davante Adams are league-winning picks.
This article will be constantly updated throughout the preseason.
ADP in this article is based on our ADP tool’s PPR setting, which pulls from NFFC drafts over the last 14 days.
Players Added to Latest Update
Gus Edwards (RB, Bal)
Players Removed from Latest Update
JK Dobbins (RB, Bal) — In a meaningless third preseason game, Dobbins suffered what is feared to be a season-ending knee injury.
In most leagues, which are still one-QB leagues, you can afford to draft the position a little differently. For instance, we have “league-winner” designations on multiple rookie QBs who might not start the entire season. However, given how cheap some of our “values” are, you can afford to sit on that league-winning potential and tread water at the position while being carried elsewhere.
LEAGUE-WINNER: Lamar Jackson (Bal, ADP QB4, PROJ QB3) — While Jackson was obviously excellent for fantasy last season on the cumulative — he led all QBs with 67.0 rushing yards per game in 2020 — he didn’t pay off which was, at times, a 2nd-round ADP. Jackson was QB9 in total fantasy points and ranked QB7 in FPG among QBs who made 10 or more starts (he made 15, missing one with COVID-19). It appeared to us that the Ravens’ insistence of trying to expand their pass game — which was discussed often as a massive focus for their 2020 plans — hurt Jackson’s production. A late-season shift toward what worked better for Jackson in 2019, when he won league MVP, finally provided the production Lamar drafters expected. From Weeks 13 through 17, a five-game stretch, his worst output was 21.3 FP, and his 27.9 FPG ranked #2 to only Josh Allen (28.1) over that stretch, with two of his four top-5 QB finishes coming in that stretch as well. So if teams were able to weather some mediocrity from Lamar for 12 weeks, he was a league-winner. The question for 2021 is, with a more normal off-season and a further buttressed receiving group (Rashod Bateman, Sammy Watkins, Tylan Wallace), if the Ravens will again try to progress Lamar in the pocket. Their plans might have been thrown asunder, this time with the rookie Bateman suffering a groin injury that required surgery in August (he’ll be back in September), but OC Greg Roman can always rely on the Ravens’ run game to carry them through tough times. So what’s the reason we like Lamar so much this year when we avoided him — correctly — last year? It’s simple! With an ADP of QB4, Lamar is often available in the 5th round, which is a dead zone for RBs and potentially other positions. At a three-round discount on last season and an improved team around him, and one that might need to lean on him more — both running and passing — following the JK Dobbins injury, we’re buying Lamar in 2021.
TARGET: Dak Prescott (Dal, ADP QB5, PROJ QB5) — We all know what kind of season Prescott was having before his gruesome Week 5 ankle injury in 2020. He was averaging 28.5 FPG over that stretch, which would have easily ranked him #1 over the full season. He ranked as a top-5 fantasy QB three times in five games, which tied him with Kirk Cousins for 11th among QBs (Cousins started 16 games). He was on pace for 5939 passing yards, which would have shattered the single-season NFL record. His 717 pass-attempt pace would have ranked #2. Yet the Cowboys were losing because of an abominable defense, and the hope for Dallas is Prescott doesn’t have to shoulder (no pun intended, given his current predicament) nearly that much of a load in 2021 as he comes back from injury (Dallas’ entire off-season was basically dedicated to improving the defense through both free agency and the draft). The fact of the matter is Dallas’ defense is still going to be bad, though improved. And Prescott’s receiving group of Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup might be the league’s best. As of publication, we’re still buying Prescott at cost given his massive upside, but we do reserve the right to change our minds in the event his lingering shoulder injury, which has kept him from throwing much at camp. But given his weaponry, the (hopefully) healthier offensive line, and the fact that the defense should still be among the league’s weakest, Dak has the upside to pay off at his ADP.
TARGET: Matthew Stafford (LAR, ADP QB10, PROJ QB9) — The Rams are a team that believes their Super Bowl window is now, and if we believe that Sean McVay is the offensive genius we’re told he is, it’s going to be fun to watch a more aggressive QB in this attack. Last year, Stafford was one of the league’s best passers on throws of 15+ yards downfield, ranking 5th-best out of 29 qualified QBs in on-target throw rate (67%) and 6th-best in passer rating (121.4) per SIS. Meanwhile, Jared Goff ranked a lowly 27th in on-target passes (50%) on throws that traveled 15+ yards downfield. But while Stafford is significantly more aggressive than Goff, which will be a much different look for Rams fans this season, he also fits what McVay does like a glove. Since McVay took over as the Rams play-caller in 2017, L.A. has used play action on a league-high 32.6% of their passing plays. For reference, the next closest team in play-action rate in this span is the Ravens (29.8%) and the league-average is 23.9%. Per SIS, Stafford ranks third-best (of 30 QBs) in EPA/attempt, 12th-best in on-target throws, and 10th-best in passer rating on play-action throws over the past four seasons. Goff ranks 10th-best in EPA/attempt, second-worst in on-target throws, and ninth-worst in passer rating on play-action since 2017. The Rams believe Stafford is the man to take them to the promised land, and as of now, the markets are buying it too — with an 8th-round ADP, Stafford is often the first “non-running” QB off the board, though Aaron Rodgers is now making a consistent move since his “return.” Stafford will have to approach 40 TD passes to pay off that ADP, but he has the weaponry to do it, and with the injury to Cam Akers (Achilles), he may be throwing more than even the Rams expected. We love his potential in this offense.
LEAGUE-WINNER: Jalen Hurts (Phi, ADP QB12, PROJ QB10) — Barring something absolutely crazy, Philly is going to take 2021 to see if it can build around Hurts and use its extensive future draft capital to fill out the rest of the roster. And for our game, Hurts is a stud. Sure, he completed just 55% of his throws in his three full starts when he replaced Carson Wentz in Weeks 14-16, but Hurts rushed for a whopping 238 yards and a score on just 38 carries in that stretch. In those three full starts, Hurts finished as the QB10, QB1, and QB16 in weekly scoring and averaged 25.2 fantasy points per game largely because of his legs. Hurts averaged 0.62 fantasy points per dropback, which ranked sixth-best in the league, and per SIS, Hurts led all QBs in scrambles (15), yards off of scrambles (112), first downs (8), and scramble TDs (1) in his three full starts. And remember, he did this in a broken offense with a horrible supporting cast. While Hurts’ film showed a player who had a tendency to bail the pocket too early, we do have to give him the benefit of the doubt — he started behind a makeshift offensive line in a horrible scheme, and he was a rookie. It’s not like we could expect him to come out looking like rookie Andrew Luck. Under new coach Nick Sirianni, Hurts has been preparing all off-season like he’s the starter, and Sirianni has extensive experience coaching different kinds of QBs (Luck, Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers). He also has an offensive line that, even if not healthy, has a bunch of youngsters who gained valuable depth last year. Moreover, the Eagles added a massive weapon in the NFL Draft, acquiring Heisman Trophy-winning WR DeVonta Smith, who may instantly come in and lead this team in targets. There is a lot of unknown with Hurts, including just how much this team believes in him. That might scare you away from his QB1-level ADP, as he’s often off the board within the first 90 picks of a draft. But we’ve already seen that Hurts can put up titanic numbers even when playing inconsistently. There is certainly some reason to question just how good he is… but what if he actually is good? This ADP will be looking like a bargain by October if that’s the case. And if not, he’s not so expensive that you can’t invest in a higher-end backup just in case. The overall QB1 is in Hurts’ range of outcomes. It might not be the likeliest outcome or close to it, but you’re not paying as if that’s the case.
LEAGUE-WINNER: Trey Lance (SF, ADP QB16, PROJ QB24) — Lance is easily the most intriguing prospect in this year’s quarterback class because of his lack of experience, but he has the size (6’3”, 224 pounds), athleticism, and arm strength to develop into a high-level quarterback. Jimmy Garoppolo will likely open the season as the team’s starting quarterback, but he’s going to have to play at a high level to keep Lance off the field for long. Lance will be given every opportunity to rise up the depth chart and he has a reputation for being a great leader and a sharp kid. The 49ers aren’t necessarily in a rush to get Lance on the field early this season, but he’ll have an explosive receiving corps to work with once he steps onto the field. George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, and Deebo Samuel form the most dynamic trio in the league after the catch so Lance just needs to get the ball in their hands and let them do the work. Lance will get plenty of help getting the rock to his playmakers from arguably the best offensive schemer in the league. Shanahan also has to be itching to design some quarterback runs since he hasn’t worked with a truly mobile QB since his time in Washington with Robert Griffin III. Lance may not open the season as the starter, but that shows the limitations of purely cumulative projections — while he doesn’t have the guarantees to garner double-digit starts like almost everyone else on this list, he has as much or more upside than just about anyone else listed here. The reports out of camp have been spectacular, and fantasy drafters have been buying in, drafting Lance as if he’s going to start the overwhelming majority of San Francisco’s games. While there’s no discount here, we can sign off on drafting Lance at (or even above) ADP because he’s so easy to pair with a QB who is guaranteed to start Week 1 on the cheap. Heck, you can even draft both Lance and Garoppolo. If Jimmy G is holding off Lance, it means he’s playing well, so your fantasy team will benefit.
LEAGUE-WINNER: Justin Fields (Chi, ADP QB18, PROJ QB18) — Fantasy wise, we’re considering Fields and Trey Lance similarly. We think Fields has a better chance to start early in the season, but Lance has more upside once he gets in the lineup. Fields was this year’s most scrutinized quarterback prospect, but he comes into the league with a promising resume after playing the toughest competition among this year’s quarterback class. After a one-year stay at Georgia, he averaged 244.2 passing yards per game and 9.3 YPA with 63 TDs and 9 INTs in 22 games at Ohio State over the last two seasons. His rushing ability is what is most intriguing about him for fantasy, as he enters the league after he averaged 39.4 rushing yards per game with 15 rushing TDs the last two seasons. Fields has the size (6’3”, 227 pounds), athleticism (4.44 40-time), and arm talent to be one of the league’s better quarterbacks, but he needs to refine the nuances of the position to become a higher-level passer. HC Matt Nagy and the organization have insisted Andy Dalton will open the season as the starter. We’ll see if their tune changes by the end of the preseason, but Fields should be in the starting lineup before long. Fields doesn’t have the best cast of receivers around him outside of Allen Robinson, and he’s going to need Darnell Mooney and Cole Kmet to make second-year leaps. (Fortunately, Mooney has been drawing tons of camp hype.) Fields’ fantasy production this season will be contingent on his legs and, hopefully, Nagy learned his lesson after he tried to force Mitchell Trubisky to be a pocket passer instead of consistently catering to Trubisky’s strengths. Fields is an easy buy at his ADP, and if you’re waiting on QB, you can easily pair him with a lower-end option with an easy opening schedule (some of whom are listed in this article).
TARGET: Kirk Cousins (Min, ADP QB17, PROJ QB16) — Cousins is a very compelling fantasy quarterback in that he’s armed with two fantastic WRs (Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson), a stellar receiving back (Dalvin Cook), and a promising young TE (Irv Smith). He also has a head coach who would prefer to run the ball on every play if he could (Mike Zimmer). Cousins finished as the QB12 in FPG in 2020 despite attempting 30 or fewer passes in six games — he attempted FOURTEEN passes in one full game. He posted a career-high 35 TDs on just 516 pass attempts for an elite 6.8% TD rate, which was 5th-highest in the league. He was also more consistent for fantasy than you might think with nine finishes as a top-12 QB, the same number as Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, and Justin Herbert. Kirkie can keep last year’s momentum going with the league’s easiest passing-game schedule to open the season with matchups against the Bengals, Cardinals, Seahawks, Browns, Lions, Panthers, and Cowboys through Week 8. Cousins is an exceptionally affordable QB2 and he’s the perfect bridge quarterback to pair with nuclear-upside options in Trey Lance and Justin Fields because of his pristine opening schedule.
VALUE: Baker Mayfield (Cle, ADP QB19, PROJ QB14) — Baker is looking to lock up a long-term contract and a strong performance with a loaded cast of weapons in 2021 will certainly do the job. The Browns have huge expectations entering this season, but Mayfield is still more of a distributor with a great running game, which is reflected in his current ADP. Mayfield completed 305/486 passes (62.8%) for 3563 yards (7.3 YPA), 26 TDs, and eight INTs while adding 165/1 rushing to finish as the QB25 with 16.3 FPG. His play did significantly pick up at the end last season after a rough, three-game stretch with nasty weather in Cleveland in Weeks 8-11. He threw for 15 TDs and just two INTs while averaging 272.5 passing yards per game, 7.5 YPA, and 20.2 FPG in his final eight games (playoffs included). Mayfield is a rhythm passer and he clearly got more comfortable in Kevin Stefanski’s structured offensive environment late in the season despite playing without his top WR, Odell Beckham, for the final three months of the season. Baker will face one of the league’s easiest schedules early in the season and he’ll get OBJ back in the lineup, so he’s looking like a strong, if boring, QB2 at an affordable ADP.
VALUE: Tua Tagovailoa (Mia, ADP QB20, PROJ QB19) — It’s officially Tua Time for the Dolphins after several starts (and stops) during his rookie season. He admitted this summer that he didn’t know former OC Chan Gailey’s playbook well enough as a rookie, but he'll be better versed in this year’s playbook with George Godsey and Eric Studesville operating as co-offensive coordinators. More importantly, he’ll be healthier than he was at any time during his rookie year as he’ll be close to 22 months removed from the devastating hip injury he suffered in his final year at Alabama. Tua won’t have any excuses this season after the Dolphins brought in two explosive receivers in Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle to pair with DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki. Tagovailoa is a timing and rhythm passer who works well within the structure of the offense to distribute the rock all over the field, and he’ll actually have the weapons to do it this season after he was throwing to all-time greats Mack Hollins and Isaiah Ford at the end of 2020. Tua is being drafted as a low-end QB2 but he has plenty of room for growth in Year Two with better health and an influx of talent. He doesn’t have much of a ceiling with his lack of rushing production after posting 109/3 rushing as a rookie — he ran for just 340 yards over the course of 32 games at Alabama — but he’s worth a late-round pick with a path to easily beat his ADP.
TARGET: Ryan Fitzpatrick (Was, ADP QB21, PROJ QB22) — The QB mercenary is on to his ninth stop of his NFL career, and it’s arguably his best opportunity to lead a franchise deep into the playoffs at 38 years old. Fitzpatrick is in a fantastic spot to succeed this season with the likes of Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, Logan Thomas, and Antonio Gibson surrounding him. Fitz has been a different player at the tail end of his career as he’s tied with Kirk Cousins for ninth in YPA (7.7) and is tied with Matt Ryan for 17th in FPG (17.9) over the last four seasons. He’s also finished as a top-10 quarterback in 55.6% of his starts the last three seasons with 15 top-10 finishes and just 27 starts in that span (per ESPN’s Consistency Rating). He still adds value as a runner despite his advanced football age with 546/8 rushing over the last three years. All Fitz does is produce coveted QB1 finishes late in his career and he can be had for next to nothing late in drafts.
VALUE: Ben Roethlisberger (Pit, ADP QB23, PROJ QB17) — Roethlisberger returned to the lineup last season off of his elbow reconstruction surgery in the fall of 2019, but Big Ben’s arm strength died as the season went along with his aDOT sitting at Drew Brees’ levels at 6.9 yards. Big Ben still finished as the QB13 with 17.8 FPG based on pure volume as he completed 399/608 passes for 3803 yards (6.3 YPA), 33 TDs, and 10 INTs in 15 games. There’s hope around the organization that Roethlisberger’s arm strength will be much improved with another 12 months removed from his elbow reconstruction surgery. He’s been on a normal throwing schedule this off-season after his arm looked dead after the first few weeks last season — he had to throw extra passes last off-season to get his arm strength to an acceptable spot before the 2020 season. Roethlisberger also showed up to training camp noticeably lighter in preparation to actually move in 2021. New OC Matt Canada is going to use more playaction and more under-center snaps, which should breathe some life into this offense. The Steelers used play-action at a laughably low 7.8% rate (51-of-656 attempts) and only the Cardinals and Ravens played under center at a lower rate than Pittsburgh’s 17% rate. Big Ben still has JuJu Smith-Schuster in the slot in 2021 after he opted to return to Pittsburgh in free agency, and Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool should be improved with another year of seasoning. Roethlisberger doesn’t offer huge fantasy upside but he’s setting up as a safe floor option as a mid-QB2 to pair with riskier QB prospects like Trey Lance and Justin Fields.
TARGET: Ezekiel Elliott (Dal, ADP RB5, PROJ RB3) — Elliott had a very disappointing 2020 season, posting career-lows in rushing yardage (979), yards per carry (4.0), yards per reception (6.5), and touchdowns (8) while tying a career-high with six fumbles. He also finished with a career-worst RB13 with just 15.2 FPG. Elliott was much better with Dak Prescott in the lineup, averaging 22.7 FPG and scoring six of his eight touchdowns in that span. The Cowboys’ offense was completely broken after Dak went down, and Zeke is a primo bounce-back candidate in 2021. In addition to Prescott being back, pure luck might boost Elliott in the touchdown department. Zeke ranked dead last in TD rate inside the five-yard line at 19% among 26 players that 10+ carries. The average TD rate for those 26 backs sat at 41%, which means Zeke would’ve scored 10.7 times if he performed at that rate. Zeke also showed up to training camp in the best physical condition of his career so all signs are pointing toward Elliott returning toward elite form this season.
LEAGUE-WINNER: Aaron Jones (GB, ADP RB8, PROJ RB7) — The Packers weren’t going to let Jones walk during the off-season as they handed him a four-year, $48 million contract with $13 million guaranteed. Jones will once again be the featured back in one of the league’s best offenses, and he’s arguably in a better spot to put up fantasy production in 2021. Early-down runner A.J. Dillon is set to take over as the #2 back with Jamaal Williams, and his all-around skill set, bolting for the Lions in free agency. Jones is coming off an RB4 season with 18.5 FPG as he finished behind only Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, and Derrick Henry. He posted 201/1104/9 rushing (5.5 YPC) and 47/355/2 receiving on 63 targets while playing 60% of the snaps in 14 games. Jones and Cook have each scored 30 TDs over the last two seasons, which only Derrick Henry has bettered with 35 scores. One of the game's more explosive and versatile backs — he’s averaging 5.2 YPC for his career — Jones’ carries per game fell from 14.8 in 2019 to 14.4 in 2020 but his receptions per game increased from 3.1 to 3.4. That trend could continue in 2021 since Dillon has basically been a zero in the passing game throughout his career — he handled 845 carries to 21 receptions in three years at Boston College, though that has been a focus for him in camp. Jones could lose out on some goal-line work to Dillion, but he should have a stranglehold on the passing-down snaps with Williams and his 31 catches gone from last season. Jones and Dillon should complement each other well and this backfield could look a lot like New Orleans’ backfield with Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray splitting work. Jones could have 60+ catches in his future in one of the league’s highest-scoring offenses so he’s a great RB1 target at the end of the first round.
LEAGUE-WINNER: Saquon Barkley (NYG, ADP RB10, PROJ RB6) — While it might take some stones to call Barkley a league-winner, but in the last week he’s been activated off the PUP list in his return from ACL surgery. That puts his availability for Week 1 very much in the realm of possibility, and without any major setbacks, Barkley should play for at least three quarters of the NFL season. In his 30 career full games, Barkley has averaged 21.4 FPG, 6.8 targets per game, and 117.8 YFS per game. Those numbers would’ve ranked third, third, and fourth among RBs last season. Keeping up his impressive rushing efficiency (4.7 career YPC) will certainly be difficult behind a poor OL, but that’s nothing new to Barkley, as he’s never played behind an OL that’s ranked top-15 in PFF run-blocking grades. Even so, the combination of recovering from an ACL tear and a poor OL could certainly lead to the least efficient rushing season of Barkley’s career. Thankfully, his pass game work should help make up for any reduction in rushing efficiency. In 2018 and 2019, Barkley was the fifth-most targeted RB in the NFL, and remember, targets are 2.64 times more valuable than carries in PPR formats. With oddsmakers impling 7.0 wins for New York, Barkley will get the added boost of negative gamescript, and that’ll mean more of those high-value targets for the fourth-year RB. The progress of his ACL recovery will determine most of his 2021 fantasy outlook, but there’s no doubt Barkley’s worthy of a first-round pick, especially in PPR, given his incredible talent, the investment New York has made into him, and the volume of touches he should see. Barkley can miss one to three games and still provide ample value on his RB8 ADP, and if he plays all 17, he’s almost certainly a league-winner. He could smash his RB10 ADP if he plays all 17 games, and even if he misses the first few weeks, should still provide an RB1 floor. Keep in mind that our Dr. Edwin Porras has been bullish on Saquon’s recovery all off-season.
TARGET: Najee Harris (Pit, ADP RB11, PROJ RB13) — Pittsburgh’s desire to draft Harris was one of the worst-kept secrets entering the 2021 NFL Draft. Even with Pittsburgh’s love affair for Harris widely known, no other team jumped ahead of the Steelers to steal the Alabama running back before the 24th pick. Harris was a five-star recruit out of high school, and he lived up to the hype immediately during Alabama’s run to the national title in 2017. He became the team’s featured back over the last two seasons when he averaged 103.5 rushing yards per game and 5.8 YPC while scoring 39 rushing TDs. Harris also showed some serious receiving chops with 70/729/11 receiving in 26 games the last two seasons. Najee has a big frame (6’2”, 230 pounds) but he has lateral quickness, loose hips, and excellent hands to make an impact as a three-down back. Harris immediately jumped to the top of Pittsburgh’s running back depth chart, and it would be a mild surprise if he doesn’t step into a true bell-cow role. Harris has a path to tote the rock 20+ times per game this season, especially since the Steelers have been focused on getting their rushing attack back on track. The bigger question is if Pittsburgh’s younger O-line will improve off of its dismal performance at the end of last season with the team moving on from veterans Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, and Ali Villanueva. Harris will have no issues getting volume, which has him in the RB1 conversation, and he could have league-winning upside if Pittsburgh’s O-line outperforms expectations.
LEAGUE WINNER: Antonio Gibson (Was, ADP RB12, PROJ RB8) — Gibson, as a 22-year-old rookie, answered all of the questions about his ability as a runner last season. He posted 170/795/11 rushing to end the season as the RB19 with 14.7 FPG. Gibson was immediately trusted as Washington’s primary back on early-downs and cemented himself as the goal-line back. He turned his team-leading 13 goal-line carries into seven touchdowns even while their coaching staff gave dusty Peyton Barber seven goal-line carries. With the early-down and goal-line role on lock, the missing piece for Gibson is ironically getting more involved as a receiver. Good news, though! There has been a steady drumbeat all offseason that Washington and OC Scott Turner are jonesing to unlock Gibson in the passing game. That’s huge because J.D. McKissic out-snapped Gibson by a massive 197-to-22 margin on third downs last season. A top-5 finish is well within Gibson’s range of outcomes if he can indeed close the gap and earn a larger role in the passing game.
TARGET: Joe Mixon (Cin, ADP RB13, PROJ RB12) — Mixon had a miserable 2020 campaign, playing in just six games before a lingering foot injury shut him down. Mixon averaged just 3.6 YPC on 119 rush attempts and 6.6 YPR on 21 receptions. He was frequently contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage on a whopping 41.2% of his carries behind a terrible Bengals’ offensive line. Mixon saw 20.2% of his runs result in zero or negative yardage, sixth-most among RBs with 100 or more carries. Mixon still managed to produce when active, averaging 23.8 opportunities per game in his six starts. Mixon was the RB11 in fantasy points per game (16.9), but ranked third in expected fantasy points per game (19.2) tied with Alvin Kamara. Mixon started getting way more work on passing downs, too. He ran 114 routes while Giovani Bernard ran 71 in Weeks 1-5. Bernard is now gone and the Bengals’ coaches have acknowledged that Mixon is likely headed to a significant role. The lack of a proven receiving option behind Mixon is important given how outsized targets produce fantasy value. Mixon’s injury history and the offensive line woes are scary, but he has the chance to rack up a ton of volume in an offense that has a lot of upside.
LEAGUE-WINNER: Gus Edwards (Bal, ADP RB40*, PROJ RB17) — Before JK Dobbins’ catastrophic knee injury in the Ravens’ meaningless third preseason game, we had him as a preferred target and an excellent RB2 in any format, plus the flexibility to be a solid RB1 on a team that went WR-heavy early. Unfortunately, while those dreams are dashed for the gifted second-year player from Ohio State, we had him as a target even with splitting the backfield with Edwards, who now figures to usurp a significant role, potentially pushing 300 carries. That could be a stretch — after all, he’s never had more than 144 in a season — but this close to the season, even if the Ravens add a back (they were flirting with Todd Gurley earlier this off-season), that back is extremely unlikely to challenge Edwards’ lead-dog role. When Edwards was the lead back with Lamar Jackson from Weeks 11 to 17 in 2018, he was the PPR RB18… despite seeing just a single target and scoring just 2 TDs over that span. Our projection accounts for the fact that the Ravens are likely to bring in another back or involve someone like preseason bruiser Ty’Son Williams or scatback Justice Hill. But in this run-heavy offense, the recently extended Edwards (read: they love him) is an easy guy to rank as a top-20 back.
TARGET: David Montgomery (Chi, ADP RB17, PROJ RB18) — Montgomery went from being a frustrating low-end RB2 through the first 11 weeks of last season to being the overall RB2 in the final six weeks of the season behind only Jonathan Taylor. Montgomery took full advantage of a bigger workload and an easier schedule in the final six weeks, averaging 19.3/99.7/1.2 rushing and 4.0/37.7/.2 receiving per game for 25.7 FPG. Overall, Montgomery finished with 247/1070/8 rushing (4.5 YPC) and 54/438/2 receiving (9.2 YPR) on 68 targets to finish as the RB5 with 17.7 FPG in 15 games. Montgomery played well down the stretch with the Bears inserting the mobile Mitchell Trubisky back into the lineup and rookie Justin Fields could open things up for Chicago’s rushing attack. He’s being priced as a third-round pick this summer but he’s been moving up our board since Tarik Cohen has struggled to return from his ACL injury from last season. The Bears added Damien Williamsthis off-season to be his top backup but there’s no guarantee he’ll play at the level he did when we last saw him in the Super Bowl two seasons ago. Montgomery has a tougher path to averaging 21 touches per game like he did last season, but it’s gotten a little easier with Cohen’s status up in the air. Montgomery showed bell-cow traits last season and the two backs behind him essentially didn’t play in 2020 so there’s a chance HC Matt Nagy decides to keep riding him in 2021.
TARGET: James Robinson (Jax, ADP RB27*, PROJ RB18) — Welp. Robinson was actually one of our players on the “overvalued” list… until rookie RB Travis Etienne suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury in the Jaguars’ second preseason game. Now, Robinson looks like he’s going to be the 2021 version of himself as a potential bell-cow back on a bad team. In 2020, Robinson finished with 240/1070/7 rushing (4.4 YPC) and 49/344/3 receiving on 60 targets in 14 games for a Jaguars’ squad that ended the year with a 1-15 record. He might not get the volume (21.4 opportunities per game) and receiving production (3.5 receptions per game) that helped him to average 18.0 FPG last season, as we have no idea what Urban Meyer’s offense — which has struggled mightily in August — will look like, and the line might be a disaster here too. But Robinson is so much better than Carlos Hyde, and we’d have to imagine the coaching staff will realize it at some point. Robinson might be boring, but he’s a fine target if he settles into an ADP around 40 or so.
LEAGUE WINNER: Javonte Williams (Den, ADP RB23, PROJ RB23) — Denver traded up from No. 40 to No. 35 to draft Williams, who projects to be a feature runner and a potential three-down back as early as this season. He split the workload at North Carolina the last two seasons with fourth-round pick Michael Carter, and Williams rose up the running back class with an outstanding junior season in 2020. He averaged 103.6 rushing yards per game and 7.3 YPC while rushing for 19 TDs in 11 games, and he added a career-best 25/305/3 receiving. Williams received some comparisons to Nick Chubb because of powerful build (5’10”, 212 pounds) and his tackle-breaking ability, and it’s hard not to see some similarities in their situations as rookies. The Browns also drafted Chubb with the 35th overall pick in 2018 and, after a slow start to his rookie season, Chubb became a fantasy difference-maker in the second half of the season after overtaking Carlos Hyde. Gordon and Williams are likely to start the season in a timeshare, with the rookie potentially ascending to Denver’s top option by the end of the season. Williams will get plenty of opportunities to take more work from Gordon as the season progresses since he’s the future of the position for the Broncos. Williams is a borderline RB2/RB3 who has league-winning upside if he’s able to completely take over the backfield.
VALUE: Chase Edmonds (Ari, ADP RB27, PROJ RB27) — Edmonds is coming off an interesting season in which he finished 7th among RBs in receptions (52) and 25th in total fantasy points despite sharing the backfield in Arizona with Kenyan Drake. The question now becomes if Edmonds can handle a bigger role, or if he’ll cede a similar amount of work to veteran free-agency addition James Conner. While Edmonds’ receiving ability is a huge fact in driving his ADP into the sixth round, where he’s being selected as a low-end RB2/high-end RB3, he’s never had 100 carries in a season, nor has he ever played 50% of his team’s snaps in a season (his career high was set last year, with 46.4%). All in all, Edmonds was a reliable enough flex play in 2020, finishing as a top-36 RB 11 times, with eight of those finishes coming in the top 24. However, just two of the 11 finishes were as a top-12 RB, so Edmonds provided more of a solid floor than anything resembling upside. However, it’s also fair to consider that Conner’s availability concerns make him a far worse bet than Drake is as part of a two-man committee, and Arizona allowing Drake to walk is at least a mild endorsement of how the team feels about Edmonds. As a very good receiver, Edmonds should get the “calorie-rich” touches for the Cardinals’ backfield, but he likely won’t see more than 10-12 carries in a game, and his goal-line upside is crushed by the presence of Kyler Murray (11 rushing TD in 2020). While he is one of the “dead zone RBs” this year — RBs who are being drafted where more appealing options at other positions are coming off the board — Edmonds’ ADP is more than fair, because he doesn’t need to explode to pay it off. If your roster is looking like a “Hero RB” roster, one in which you have a superstar RB and then loaded up at other positions, Edmonds is a cheap if unexciting PPR RB2.
TARGET: Trey Sermon (SF, ADP RB30, PROJ RB30) — HC Kyle Shanahan loves to keep a full stable of running backs at his disposal, and the 49ers added to their backfield by trading up to No. 88 to select Sermon this spring. Sermon joined Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson, Wayne Gallman, and JaMycal Hasty in San Francisco’s competition for playing time this season — the 49ers also drafted Elijah Mitchell on Day Three. Sermon has plenty of experience playing in crowded backfields at Oklahoma and Ohio State, which limited him to fewer than 500 touches in four college campaigns. He busted out in a big way late last year, averaging 7.5 YPC for the season while totaling 636/4 rushing in his final three full games against Ohio State’s toughest competition. Sermon has great size (6’0”, 215 pounds) and good contact balance to develop into a volume runner, but he doesn’t have game-breaking speed (4.57 40-time). He also wasn’t asked to do much as a receiver with just 48 career catches but he does have skills to become a better receiver in the NFL. He’s a good fit for Shanahan’s offense after running plenty of outside-zone schemes at Ohio State last season. Sermon has a solid chance to eventually become the lead runner in one of the league’s best rushing attacks this season with Mostert sliding into an explosive, change-of-pace role. Sermon is worth a look as an RB3 in the middle rounds, and he has the potential to emerge as a mid-RB2 if he can lead this backfield in touches.
VALUE: Damien Harris (NE, ADP RB33, PROJ RB31) — Harris vaulted to the top of New England’s RB depth chart last season after playing in just two games as a rookie in 2019. He missed the first three games of last season with a hand injury but he took over as the top runner when he returned to the lineup with Sony Michel going down with a quad injury. He never gave up the role until he missed the final three games with an ankle injury, and he’s entering 2021 with a decisive edge over Michel and fourth-round pick Rhamondre Stevenson to be the team’s early-down runner. Harris, like every other fantasy-relevant player in this offense, has a better chance to put up production if Cam Newton is on the sidelines in 2020. He’s not going to be a prolific receiver with James White soaking up most of the opportunities, but he has more potential in the passing game with Mac Jones since the rookie will look to check the ball down more than Cam does. Harris will also have more touchdown upside if Jones is on the field after Cam scored 12 rushing touchdowns last season to bring his career total to 70 scores in 140 games. Harris is priced as an RB3 but he has the chance to be a solid RB2 since he has by far the best chance to lead this backfield in carries and rushing touchdowns, and the latest developments with Newton’s absence from camp plus the Michel trade to LA make it more likely Harris gets the touches he needs to pay off.
TARGET: Zack Moss (BUF, ADP RB35, PROJ RB33) — The Bills surprised many by drafting Moss in the third round in the 2020 draft after they used a third-round selection on Devin Singletary in the 2019 draft. He played the 1B role as a rookie, racking up 112/481/4 rushing (4.3 YPC) and 15/95/1 receiving (6.8 YPR) on 18 targets for 7.8 FPG in 13 games. Singletary held an advantage in snap share (57% to 37%) and in targets per game (3.1 to 1.4) last season with Moss struggling through a toe injury he picked up in September. He then needed ankle surgery in mid-January after getting carted off the field in their Wild Card Round victory over the Colts. He could take a slight advantage in this backfield if he’s able to maintain his health since he has more traits to be a foundational back. Moss is looking to take over as the team’s top goal-line option since Josh Allen has been the team’s primary goal-line option to start his career with 8+ rushing TDs in each of his first three seasons. Allen is also averaging 100 carries per season to open his career so check-down passes to his backs have been a bit limited. Moss has a chance to jump into the RB2 conversation if OC Brian Daboll scales back Allen’s running some after the franchise handed their quarterback a six-year, $258 million extension in August.
TARGET: AJ Dillon (GB, ADP RB36, PROJ RB29) — The Packers drafted Dillon in the second round in 2020 to eventually replace Aaron Jones and/or Jamaal Williams when they hit free agency during the 2021 off-season. The Packers ended up retaining Jones while letting Williams walk to Detroit, so Dillon will get his chance as an early-down complement to Jones this season. Dillon has been compared to Derrick Henry because of his size (6’0”, 247 pounds) and speed (4.53 40-time) our Greg Cosell said Dillon has lighter feet but he doesn’t have the short-area explosiveness that Henry does. Dillon managed just 46/242/2 rushing (5.3 YPC) while playing 16% of the snaps in 11 games. Most of that production came in a blowout victory on Sunday Night Football over the Titans in Week 16 when he rumbled for 21/124/2 rushing with Williams out of the lineup. Historically, Dillon has been basically a zero in the passing game with just two catches in 11 games as a rookie, and he totaled just 21 receptions compared to 845 carries in three seasons at Boston College. That’s something he’s tried to change this off-season, and we’ve gotten multiple reports that he actually looks spry in the passing game. While common sense suggests Dillon will hold more value in non-PPR formats, we wonder if the Packers actually view him as a versatile Williams replacement (keep in mind Jones has been the second-most prolific scorer in the NFL the last two seasons, with 30 TD). Dillon is being drafted as an RB3 this summer, but he’ll jump into RB1 status in great running-game matchups and if Jones misses time at any point this season. And if even a little bit of receiving work clicks, he’s a league-winner if Jones goes down.
VALUE: Jamaal Williams (Det, ADP RB42, PROJ RB36) — In four years with the Packers, Williams established himself as a reliable power type of back, carrying the ball over 100 times in each of his four seasons in a rotation with Aaron Jones. Over that four-year span, he also developed into a reliable, if not explosive, receiver, and one of the better pass-blocking backs in the league. That’s what worries us — coaches, especially conservative ones like new OC Anthony Lynn, will default to “reliable” over “untapped potential and youth” frequently. And hell, you don’t even need to ask us, as Lynn himself has suggested Williams is more of a “classic ‘A’ back” and second-year stud D’Andre Swift more of a slasher in comments this off-season. And Williams has proven to be a useful bell cow back when Jones has missed time. Since the start of the 2018 season, Williams has averaged 14.6 FPG in games Jones has missed vs. 7.9 FPG in games Jones has played — for reference, 14.6 FPG in PPR would have tied Swift for RB18 in 2020. Ultimately, we think the most likely outcome is the Lions realize that Swift is a special talent and play him as such, with Williams mixing in around 30-40% of the time. And with the chance that Williams’ snap share falls on calorie-rich downs like third down or in the red zone, he’s probably a worthwhile investment at his modest 10th-round ADP. Given his history in Green Bay when taking a lion’s share of the snaps when called upon, he can also produce big numbers if Swift were to be unavailable. That’s a useful guy to have on a fantasy roster.
TARGET: Giovani Bernard (TB, ADP RB53, PROJ RB55) — The Bengals parted ways with Bernard this off-season after eight seasons with the franchise, and it didn’t take long for the Buccaneers to snatch him up to join their crowded backfield. He was forced into a big role for the final six games of last season after Joe Mixon went down with a season-ending injury in Week 6. Gio finished as the RB26 with 12.1 FPG from Week 7 on by posting 112/372/2 rushing and 31/240/3 receiving. He either posted 20+ FP (four times) or he fell below 10 FP (six times) in each of his 10 games without Mixon. Bernard excels as a receiver after catching 79.7% of his targets for a 7.6 YPR average last season, and the Buccaneers signed him in to be another weapon for Tom Brady in the passing game. Bernard joined a crowded backfield with Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones, and Ke’Shawn Vaughn already in the mix, and he’ll mostly be confined to a role in passing situations. His main competition for passing-down snaps will come from Fournette, who excelled in the role at the end of the regular season and in the postseason. Bernard could be a flex option in PPR formats this season if he take control of the passing-back role.
LEAGUE-WINNER: Calvin Ridley (Atl, ADP WR5, PROJ WR4) — Ridley has made steady progress in each of his first three seasons since the Falcons drafted him in the late first round in 2018, and it culminated in his WR4 finish with 18.8 FPG last season. He could be primed to cement himself among the position’s elite this season after the organization traded away franchise star Julio Jones, which will give Ridley a chance to become the new face of the offense as long as he can hold off Kyle Pitts. Ridley finished with 90/1374/9 receiving on 143 targets in 15 games last year and he easily paced the league with 1918 air yards — Stefon Diggs was the next closest at 1700 air yards. Ridley averaged 7.3 catches, 107.0 yards, and 11.1 targets per game in the eight games Jones missed in 2019-20. It’s no wonder he’s snuck into the top five at his position and he's been a mainstay as a second-round pick in fantasy drafts since the Falcons shipped Jones to Nashville in early June. Ridley not only has a chance to repeat as the air yards champ in 2021, but he could vie for the league lead in target share depending on Pitts’ learning curve as he transitions to the next level in a new offense. He’s probably closer to the elite tier of fantasy WRs — Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, Stefon Diggs — than he is to the second tier, and getting that kind of player in the second round is stealing.
LEAGUE-WINNER: DK Metcalf (Sea, ADP WR6, PROJ WR5) — Metcalf was an impactful player immediately upon entering the league in 2019, but the leap he took in his sophomore season pushed him into the conversation as one of the best WRs in the NFL. Among 2nd year WRs since 2015, Metcalf’s sophomore season ranks 6th in FPG (17.0), 4th in receiving yards (1303), and 5th in yards per target (10.1). Metcalf also formed a great connection with Russell Wilson on deep throws, as he recorded a league-leading 480 yards on his 29 deep targets last year (1st). Those deep targets led to some compelling ceiling performances from Metcalf, who had games of 40.1, 27.7, and 27.3 fantasy points. Unlike teammate Tyler Lockett, Metcalf’s game-to-game consistency was outstanding last year, as he saw 5+ targets in 15 of 16 games and scored double-digit fantasy points in 12 of 16 games. This all sets up for another dominant season in 2021 for Metcalf. Lockett is his only serious competition for volume, so an additional season of 125+ targets is a near-guarantee for the 3rd-year WR. He’s a WR1 anyway you look at it. While he goes in the same range as multiple other impressive WRs in the 2nd round, Metcalf is an obvious high-end pick at the WR position and provides both the ceiling and consistency needed to help win fantasy managers a championship.
TARGET: Justin Jefferson (Min, ADP WR7, PROJ WR6) — It’s not that Jefferson is being undervalued — he is rarely on the board 30 or so picks into a draft — but it does feel kind of weird that someone coming off the best rookie season of all time at the WR position in terms of yardage (1400) isn’t getting a little more buzz. In addition to setting the rookie yardage record, Jefferson just posted the fourth-most fantasy points (17.1) and second-most yards (87.5) per game by a rookie wide receiver all-time. Keep in mind, Jefferson wasn’t a full-time player until Week 3. From that point on, Jefferson averaged 95 yards and 18.4 FPG. From Week 3 on, Jefferson got 28% of the targets and 41% of the air yards. Adam Thielen saw 23% of the targets and 31% of the air yards. Among the 40 receivers to see at least 25 targets that went 15+ yards in air, Jefferson saw the highest ratio of catchable targets (77%). Tee Higgins was second (76%). Still, Jefferson did “only” rank as a top-24 WR in half of his games, behind 10 WRs, and he finished as a top-12 weekly WR just five times. What’s the reason, despite the huge season? Touchdowns. While Jefferson clearly emerged as the WR1, Thielen was the preferred red-zone weapon. Thielen had 13 targets inside of the 10-yard line while Jefferson had two. Per PFF, Thielen led the league in end-zone targets with 20. In all, Jefferson had 7 touchdowns on his 88 catches, while Thielen had 14 on his 74 catches. So believe it or not, despite Thielen having 475 fewer receiving yards than JJ, he had more finishes as a top-12 (7) and top-5 (4) WR. That’s by no means a “bad” season for Jefferson, it goes without saying, but it just shows how the location of his targets hurt him in the long run for fantasy. TDs are fickle beasts, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Jefferson and Thielen begin to meet in the middle as Jefferson’s career progresses, but Thielen has that trust from Kirk Cousins, which goes a hell of a long way. Nonetheless, Jefferson was so impressive in Year 1 — his tape blew away our Greg Cosell upon rewatch — that it’s impossible to consider his ADP of 24 overall unfair. It’s also completely reasonable to expect he can put up WR1 numbers, perhaps massive WR1 numbers.
TARGET: Terry McLaurin (Was, ADP WR10, PROJ WR9) — “F1’s” ascension continued in 2020 and it culminated in a remarkable season despite the musical chairs at quarterback. McLaurin dropped 87/1118/4 in 15 games and was the WR20 by FPG (15.1). McLaurin did have wide splits with the different passers under center, though, as he averaged just 12.9 fantasy points per game when Alex Smith was the starter and 17.4 FPG without Smith under center. A large part of that dip in production was because Smith refused to push the ball downfield and his average depth of target was just 5.1 yards, which was by far the lowest in the NFL. McLaurin’s QB upgrade from Smith to Ryan Fitzpatrick can not be understated. Fitzmagic has a history of supporting elite fantasy receivers in recent years from Brandon Marshall (WR3 in 2015) and Eric Decker (WR14 in 2015), to Mike Evans averaging more FPG with Fitz (17.3) than without him (14.7) in 2017-18, and DeVante Parker scoring a career-high 15.4 FPG en route to a WR16 finish in 2019. McLaurin is among the strongest receiver targets in the third round.
TARGET: CeeDee Lamb (Dal, ADP WR11, PROJ WR11) — Lamb was less productive than Amari Cooper as a rookie, but his line of 74/935/5 on 111 targets (66.7%, 12.6 YPR) in an offense that was much less than the sum of its parts after Dak Prescott went down has fantasy players extremely excited. With Prescott healthy from Weeks 1-5, Lamb averaged 17.1 FPG, just 0.7 FPG behind Cooper and good enough for 11th among all WRs over that span (it would have been good for a tie with fellow rookie Justin Jefferson for 9th on the full season). Lamb had at least five receptions in every game during Week 1-5. He had five such games over the remainder of the season. He was second on the Cowboys in targets during Prescott’s five starts — 37 — behind only Cooper’s 52. He also averaged 86.6 yards per game in Prescott’s starts, which would have ranked third-best behind Jefferson (87.5) and Odell Beckham (108.8) for most all-time by a rookie WR. Like the rest of the Cowboys’ offense, Lamb’s production went in the tank when Dak went down, averaging 11.6 FPG without him in the lineup. The question for 2021, beyond if Prescott will stay healthy enough for this offense to reach its potential, is if Lamb will stick in his comfortable slot-only role — per SIS, he ran 437 of his 480 routes from the slot in 2020 (91.0%). Only JuJu Smith-Schuster, Keelan Cole, and Tyler Lockett ran more total slot routes. The Cowboys were moving Lamb and Michael Gallup around more during camp, and while Lamb is more than capable of producing from the outside, it’s possible he’s more volatile if he’s running a lower percentage of his routes from inside, where he sees more favorable matchups. All considered, it’s more than fair to be bullish on Lamb. But just be aware how much you’ll have to pay up to get him — he’s going nearly a full round ahead of Cooper on average, so he’d have to maintain that early-season pace with Prescott (or surpass it) to pay off that ADP. This should remain a pass-heavy attack, though, and there’s no reason to think that Lamb — with his first-round pedigree — was a fluke in his rookie season. Sometimes, you do have to pay for youth and talent, and we can sign off on doing so for Lamb.
TARGET: Allen Robinson (Chi, ADP WR12, PROJ WR8) — A-Rob has been hamstrung by terrible quarterback play throughout his pro and college careers, but there could be some hope this season after the Bears traded up to select Justin Fields. He’s been hanging around as a low-end WR1 the last two seasons even with Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles throwing him the rock, finishing as the WR13 last season with 16.4 FPG and as the WR10 in 2019 with 15.9 FPG. A-Rob’s aDOT has fallen every year in Chicago (12.0>11.1>9.6) and it bottomed out below 10 yards last year, but the addition of Fields should open up more downfield throws and more big plays. Robinson averaged 12.4 YPR with 17 scores in his first three seasons with the Bears after averaging 14.9 YPR with 20 TDs in his last two full seasons playing with Blake Bortles in Jacksonville. Robinson is one of the league’s biggest target hogs with 150+ targets in each of his four full seasons in the NFL — he’s averaging 9.5 targets per game in those campaigns. While second-year man Darnell Mooney is making some camp noise, A-Rob remains a rock-solid investment in the early to mid-third round as a low-end WR1. He also has a touch more upside than he’s had in recent campaigns if Fields can make an instant impact once he takes over for Andy Dalton, which could offset some volume loss if Mooney comes on and/or Fields’ presence makes the Bears open up the run game. No one is ever excited to draft ARob, but all he’s done is produce consistent value at a fair price.
TARGET: Robert Woods (LAR, ADP WR13, PROJ WR13) — Woods is a “boring” pick, as someone who isn’t what we’d call “flashy” and doesn’t often make big plays down the field. But what he has done consistently since signing with the Rams in 2017 is produce, and we’ll take his numbers on our fantasy team any day. Here are the finishes for Rams Woods in the last three seasons — WR13 (2020), WR14 (2019), WR11 (2018). It’s possible that the lack of dominant “spike” weeks for Woods is a factor in his relatively mild ADP, and that’s fair. He had just two 100-yard receiving games in 2020, and has scored multiple TDs in a single game just once in the last two seasons. He hasn’t had multiple receiving TDs in a game since Week 3 of 2018, so Woods seems to fit the stereotype of a boring lineup filler who won’t win you matchups, but won’t lose them either. However, we’re trusting Sean McVay here, and he was clearly fed up with Jared Goff. The eye test also showed the Rams’ offense was missing something — it was like a luxury convertible that was spinning its wheels in the driveway. The numbers bear that out as well, however. In McVay’s first season in Los Angeles, the Rams ranked 6th with 5.8 yards per play. They followed that up with a 2nd-place finish (6.4) in 2018. But they fell to 13th in 2019 (5.7), and posted McVay’s first bottom-half finish at 18th (5.5) in 2020. Our belief is that Matthew Stafford is a significant upgrade for this offense. And Woods’ consistency in an offense that’s been on the decline suggests he could flirt with WR1 numbers again if Stafford is the upgrade both we and McVay believe he will be. Keep in mind that, while he’s no burner, his aDOT is a virtual guarantee to rise — his 6.8 aDOT last year was 71st of 77 WRs to see 40 or more targets. He’s going in a fantastic range for multiple roster builds, too. He can be a hammer WR3 in a WR-heavy build, or a value WR1 on teams that go RB heavy or perhaps invest in an elite TE.
TARGET: Diontae Johnson (Pit, ADP WR19, PROJ WR20) — Johnson lived up to the preseason hype last season but his end result as a top-24 WR still felt a bit hollow at the end of the year. He pissed off his fantasy owners by leaving in the first quarter of Pittsburgh’s third and fourth games of the year. Diontae then went on to miss the team’s fifth game and he had a dreadful one-catch performance in the seventh game of the season. Johnson frustrated his owners even more with all of the fantasy points he left on the field with his league-leading 14 drops. On the positive side, he still finished as the WR21 with 14.8 FPG in 15 games as he posted 88/923/7 receiving (10.5 YPR) on 144 targets. If you toss out the two contests he left early in, Johnson averaged 6.7 receptions, 71.2 receiving yards, and 10.8 targets per game. He’ll once again have major competition for targets from Chase Claypool and JuJu Smith-Schuster, but he’s the clear favorite to pace this passing attack since he’s in the coveted X-receiver spot that Antonio Brown and Santonio Holmes have held down before him. Ben Roethlisberger has always shown complete faith in his boundary receivers and he has one of the best route-runners and separators on the perimeter in Johnson. Diontae needs to do more damage in the intermediate to downfield areas of the field after he saw his aDOT plummet to 7.9 yards with Big Ben after it sat at a more respectable 9.2 yards with mostly Mason Rudolph. Diontae needs more creative play calling from Matt Canada and improved arm strength from Big Ben to get more fantasy-friendly targets in 2021. Johnson is setting up to be a fairly safe WR2 around 50 picks into drafts with his heavy weekly workload, and he has WR1 upside if he can clean up his drops and if he sees deeper targets from Big Ben this season.
LEAGUE-WINNER: Adam Thielen (Min, ADP WR22, PROJ WR14) — The flashy star of Minnesota’s 2020 campaign was record-breaking rookie WR Justin Jefferson, but the more consistent option was Thielen, who caught 14 TD passes on 74 receptions, an absurd 18.9% rate, en route to a finish as the overall WR10 and WR11 in FPG (16.9), missing one game on the COVID-19 list. While Jefferson did outscore Kirk Cousins’ favorite red-zone target (17.1 FPG), Thielen was often the better receiver to have on a roster. Despite Thielen having 475 fewer receiving yards than JJ, and playing in one fewer game, he had more finishes as a top-12 (7 to 5) and top-5 (4 to 3) WR. Thielen’s market — he’s routinely a fifth-round pick — suggests the obvious, that fantasy drafters believe heavy TD regression is coming. That’s fair, and it’s also worth pointing out that he’s 31 years old to Jefferson’s 22. But we’d be remiss to not say that Thielen’s 18.9% TD reception rate was actually a decline from 2019, when he caught TDs at a 20% rate, albeit on a small sample of 30 catches. Why is he scoring so many TDs? Well, per PFF, it’s because Cousins simply trusts him most where it matters most. In 2020, Thielen’s 20 end-zone targets (18.5% of his total targets) led the NFL. In 2019, his 17% end-zone target rate ranked second, behind only DK Metcalf. He’s just really good at getting open in the red zone, and Cousins expects him to be. While Jefferson is justifiably going ahead of Thielen in fantasy drafts, we’re not sure Thielen should be dropping as far as he has. In the late-4th or early-5th round (at his current ADP), he’s a screaming value and will be on a metric ton of our teams.
TARGET: Ja’Marr Chase (Cin, ADP WR24, PROJ WR23) — The Bengals passed on what many would have considered a bigger need — offensive line — to draft Chase at #5 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. But if you’re just evaluating the skills of the prospect and not team need, there’s a chance Cincinnati got the best overall prospect in the class. Moreover, Chase is reuniting with his college QB Joe Burrow, with whom Chase posted a ridiculous 84/1780/20 (21.2 YPR) season in LSU’s 2019 National Title campaign. Chase opted out of the 2020 season, leaving behind absolutely pristine tape. A true alpha “X” with no discernible weaknesses in his game, Chase reminded our Greg Cosell of a bigger Steve Smith and DeAndre Hopkins. Outside of Chase’s competitiveness, route quickness, strength, and hands, his overall playing personality suggests he could be one of the NFL’s best receivers in short order. Moreover, one of the least efficient players in all of football in 2020, AJ Green, is leaving behind 104 targets. Green averaged just 7.0 FPG on those 104 targets, despite an expected average of 12.1 FPG per Scott Barrett’s XFP metric. That was by far the worst negative difference in the NFL among players with 10 or more games played (Zach Ertz was next, not even in the same ballpark at -3.7). If Chase gets Green’s target share and performs like a league-average player, he would have finished at WR40 last year, right behind teammate Tee Higgins. But here’s the thing — Chase isn’t a league-average talent. Presuming his performance is higher-level, he should command more attention from Burrow. So while it seems perhaps a little aggressive that the markets value Chase so highly — he’s a 5th/6th-round pick and often the first Bengal receiver to be drafted — he should be a solid value if he merely takes the looks Green leaves behind. We’re projecting him to command much more than that. Keep an eye on his ADP, as it also might fall a bit with Burrow still getting his feet under him after last year’s devastating knee injury,
TARGET: Brandon Aiyuk (SF, ADP WR25, PROJ WR22) — The most legitimate deep threat in the San Francisco offense, 2020 first-rounder Aiyuk certainly didn’t disappoint in his rookie season. He was the WR18 in FPG (15.4) while impressively offering 7 games of more than 17.5 points and 4 games with 10+ targets. With Kendrick Bourne leaving behind 72 total targets and 33 vacated targets from 10+ yards (2nd-most on team), Aiyuk is set up to potentially be the No. 1 WR, especially from deep. The 49ers passing attack is a low-aDOT (average depth of target) scheme, but a borderline monopoly of their deep targets gives Aiyuk arguably the highest game-to-game fantasy ceiling of any 49er, while the departure of Bourne lifts his overall target floor to that of a safe WR3. It’s important to remember, however, that five out of seven of Aiyuk’s best games came without George Kittle, and four out of seven came without Deebo Samuel. Trey Lance entering the fold at QB could tilt the scales further in the “run-heavy” direction Kyle Shanahan has leaned into, limiting the potential of a large target increase for Aiyuk. Those are valid concerns, but Aiyuk’s locked into a full-time role in an explosive offense, and he offers the real potential of a low-end WR1 season at a WR3 price tag. He’s a great fit on any kind of roster.
LEAGUE-WINNER: Chase Claypool (Pit, ADP WR27, PROJ WR25) — The Steelers found yet another Day Two gem at wide receiver in Claypool, who became the first rookie in the post-merger era to score 10 touchdowns in his first 10 games. The Steelers tried to limit his snaps early in the season as they broke him into the lineup, but they were forced to play him more after he got the NFL buzzing when he caught an 84-yard touchdown against the Broncos in Week 2. The cat was fully out of the bag when he dominated the Eagles in Week 5 when he totaled 116 scrimmage yards and four touchdowns. Claypool ended his rookie season with 62/873/9 receiving (14.1 YPR) on 109 targets and he added two rushing TDs on his way to finishing as the WR34 with 13.5 FPG. He’ll still be in heavy competition with Diontae Johnson and JuJu Smith-Schuster for weekly targets but at least he should become more of a full-time player after seeing just a 63% snap share last season. Claypool would also be the biggest beneficiary if Ben Roethlisberger’s arm strength does improve, with a second year removed from his elbow reconstruction. Claypool’s aDOT sat at 13.2 yards while Big Ben averaged an aDOT of just 6.9 yards on his attempts, and he snared just 29.0% (9 of 31) of his targets that traveled 20+ yards. Claypool also has some room for growth around the goal line after he saw just eight end-zone targets, which he converted into an impressive four TDs. Claypool’s ADP is suppressed a bit because of his target competition but he has major upside entering Year Two because of his downfield and red-zone ability — much like D.K. Metcalf at a similar ADP last season. We’ve heard fantastic reports from our Adam Caplan out of Steelers camp, and Claypool is getting drafted in a fantastic range where Ben’s arm isn’t too worrisome for us. The kind of upside Claypool might give us as a WR3, given his ADP, is very hard to pass up.
LEAGUE-WINNER: Jerry Jeudy (Den, ADP WR31, PROJ WR26) — Though Jeudy is an outstanding route runner who got open as will in his first year, Jeudy’s rookie season wasn’t great statistically (WR59 by FPG), and it was mainly due to a litany of injuries (ribs, ankle, and shoulder), poor luck with dropped passes, and bad QB play. Jeudy played all 16 games, but he showed up on the injury report in eight different weeks, and averaged just 6.2 FPG in those weeks, which was a huge dropoff compared to the 13.5 FPG he averaged in the eight weeks he was left off the injury report. Jeudy also dropped 12 of his 110 targets in his rookie season, which is as many drops as he had in his entire Alabama career on 240 total targets. Just 65.5% of Jeudy’s targets were deemed ‘catchable’ by SIS, the 3rd-worst mark among 71 qualifying WRs. Drew Lock’s inability to deliver accurate passes inspired the Broncos to go and sign veteran QB Teddy Bridgewater, who posted a 81.3% catchable target rate (10th-best) in 2020. That’s a significant potential improvement for Jeudy’s miserable catchable target rate, if, of course, Bridgewater starts. Regardless, Jeudy staying healthy and returning to his college baseline with drops gives him a solid WR4 floor — and if he comes close to recognizing his stellar potential this season — a league-winning ceiling. This is a player we love, one our Greg Cosell was impressed with on tape even after a meh campaign, and we’d take him on every team if possible. The good news is, he’s available at such a discount that buying into that potential upside is one of the easiest bets to make in fantasy this year. He’s regularly available in the 6th round of drafts. There might not be a single player our staff will draft more this off-season.
VALUE: DeVonta Smith (Phi, ADP WR36, PROJ WR29) — A crisp route runner who dominated SEC competition en route to the Heisman Trophy, he instantly gives Philly and new coach/WR guru Nick Sirianni a #1 WR. While Smith’s sub-170-pound frame absolutely makes him an outlier, the rest of his prospect profile absolutely booms. He has great hands, great YAC ability, and — perhaps most importantly for a team that struggled with leadership last year — a bulldog playing personality. Given the uncertainty with Jalen Reagor, Travis Fulgham, and summer superstar Quez Watkins behind him, plus the chance Zach Ertz is moved at some point, it is in no way outrageous to think Smith leads Philly in targets as a rookie. Oh, by the way, he’s playing with former college teammate Jalen Hurts, so the two already have an established rapport. A minor knee sprain is going to cost Smith a couple weeks of summer camp and the preseason (he’s already missed one game), and Eagles fans may be experiencing deja vu given the team’s recent history with crippling injuries. But all indications are that the Eagles are just being cautious. Hopefully, Smith will be able to get some preseason action in. Presuming that’s the case, the call here is Hurts will look to Smith early and often, and we have Smith outperforming his relatively modest ADP as a rookie. He should challenge Ja’Marr Chase to be the most productive rookie WR in 2021, presuming he recovers from his MCL sprain as expected.
VALUE: Tyler Boyd (Cin, ADP WR35, PROJ WR30) — Like many Bengals, it was a tale of two seasons for Boyd last year, who was returning excellent value on a moderate ADP while Joe Burrow was QB. In Burrow’s 11 starts, Boyd put up 16.2 fantasy points per game, which would have made him the WR14 over the full season. Boyd scored just 6.1 FPG without Burrow (WR116). Boyd averaged 8.7 targets per game with Burrow and just 4.6 without him. So obviously, Burrow being healthy is critical for Boyd to make a significant impact in 2021 — we don’t want to see Brandon Allen out there. That being said, he has one of the most stable roles in football as a true slot master. He had 97 targets from the slot in 2020 per SIS, which ranked 4th in the NFL. He had 108 such targets in 2019 (also 3rd in the NFL), and was tied for 11th in 2018 with 87 slot targets, same as Michael Thomas. That role, even with rookie stud Ja’Marr Chase in the fold, isn’t going to change, even if he loses some volume. Boyd had one game as a top-5 WR in 2020, two more as a top-12 option, and three more as a top-24 option. All six of those games came in Burrow starts. The only time he ranked even as a top-36 WR (and right at WR36) without Burrow came in Week 13 against Miami … when he turned his only catch into a 72-yard touchdown. So it’s pretty simple. Boyd was an excellent fantasy option with a high floor with Burrow, and a zero without him. His current price indicates the markets are quite scared of the presence of Chase and second-year stud Tee Higgins, but Boyd is also one of the best in the world in the slot, and given the Bengals’ lack of a receiving threat at tight end, the predominant “11” personnel looks we’re expecting to see should keep him productive enough to pay off his modest 7th/8th-round ADP.
LEAGUE-WINNER: Deebo Samuel (SF, ADP WR37, PROJ WR27) — Deebo has unfortunately been massively hampered by injuries in his first two seasons, appearing on the injury report in 16 of 34 regular-season weeks and missing 10 total games. But what he’s done with the ball in his hands, when healthy, has been nothing short of electric. Over the last two seasons, Samuel leads all WRs with more than 50 receptions in yards after the catch (9.83) and avoided tackles (0.31) per reception. If you extend that two-year sample to include TEs and RBs, Deebo becomes the only WR to rank top-10 in avoided tackles per reception (8th overall), and one of only two WRs to rank in the top-25 of YAC per reception (2nd overall). He’s essentially a RB playing WR, and that’s how SF treats him. In Samuel’s two seasons, he ranks tied for second among WRs in screens and carries per game (2.7). That essentially gives him the highest touch-floor of any WR in the league. Granted, Deebo also has one of the shortest route trees in the NFL, seeing just six 20+ yard targets in his 22 career games. From a fantasy perspective, Samuel’s role has led to a compelling floor (10 games of 12.0+ fantasy points) but a more modest ceiling with only two games of 22.0+ fantasy points. A strong argument could be made that unlike teammate Brandon Aiyuk, Samuel’s fantasy production is unlikely to take a hit when Trey Lance takes over, as the carries, screens, and much shorter throws he usually sees all should be on the table immediately for the rookie QB. With that in mind, Samuel’s usage is arguably the safest among wide receivers on the board that are drafted in the WR4 range — and he has ridiculous upside there to boot.
TARGET: Antonio Brown (TB, ADP WR39, PROJ WR38) — In his first season with Tampa Bay, Brown finished with 45/483/4 receiving on 62 targets for 117.1 FP while playing 62% of the snaps in eight games. He ranked as the WR25 with 14.6 FPG in Week 9-17 thanks in large part to his 231 receiving yards in two games against the Falcons — he had just 333 yards in his other nine games last season (playoffs included). He picked up a knee injury in the Divisional Round against the Saints, which slowed his production in the playoffs and the injury required a clean-up procedure this off-season. Brown became an underneath receiver playing with Tom Brady with Mike Evans and Scotty Miller handling most of the deep passing work. AB averaged a 10-year low 10.7 YPR but, digging a little deeper, he averaged a healthy 2.07 yards per route run and he averaged a seven-year best 5.2 yards after the catch. Brady also didn’t have a favorite receiver in the final nine weeks of the regular season with Evans (21%), Brown (20%), and Chris Godwin (18%) each finishing with similar target shares in Weeks 9-17. AB managed to stay quiet and out of the headlines and he returned to Tampa Bay this off-season to chase another ring with Brady and company. Brown isn’t the safest WR4 option because of his advanced football age at 33 years old and because of his past off-the-field indiscretions, but he should beat his current ADP easily if he stays on the field with Brady spreading the ball all over the field in one of the league’s best offenses.
VALUE: Michael Gallup (Dal, ADP WR44, PROJ WR34) — Pigeonholed as the Cowboys’ deep threat, Gallup posted 59/843/5 on 105 targets last season (56.2%, 14.3 YPR). His 10.8 FPG made him more of a bench type of receiver, as he averaged about as much production as guys like Tim Patrick, Laviska Shenault, and Christian Kirk. But in true deep-threat fashion, Gallup was an extreme boom-or-bust player. He had three finishes as a top-12 weekly WR (including one as a top-5 finish) … but didn’t have any finishes between WR13-24. He finished three more times from WR25-36… and had nine finishes outside the top 50 at WR. And while his floor and ceiling both would have been higher with Dak Prescott in there the whole year, his production fluctuated the least of any of Dallas’ top-three WRs, averaging 11.6 FPG with Prescott in the lineup and 10.5 without him. When Prescott was healthy, Gallup’s average depth of target downfield was 17.6 yards (fifth-highest among WRs in this span). It was just 10.3 without Prescott in the lineup, still the highest among the “big three” but only 0.5 ahead of CeeDee Lamb over that span. News from Cowboys OTAs suggests Gallup and Lamb could be more interchangeable this year in terms of alignment, including Gallup lining up more on the slot and that would be good news for Gallup increasing his consistency, and could be a reason to be wary of Lamb’s ever-increasing cost. We’re a little bit more optimistic on Gallup than his ADP suggests, and especially best-ball drafters should look to invest cheaply in this receiving corps — both Amari Cooper and Lamb are almost always off the board in the first four rounds of drafts. We feel the market has dinged Gallup just a bit too much, even if he might be a frustrating player to have on rosters. He’s a cheap way to invest in this passing game.
VALUE: Marquise Brown (Bal, ADP WR46, PROJ WR37) — “Hollywood” Brown was a disappointment in 2020, there’s no getting around it, but a slightly deeper dive suggests his season wasn’t as bad as we might think. Yes, on the full season, Brown’s rank of WR41 at 11.4 FPG among WRs with 10 or more games played (he was WR48 otherwise) was completely underwhelming. His 9 drops tied him for 4th-most in the NFL (per SIS), and his 12.5% drop rate was 4th-most among any receiver with 80 or more targets. However, it’s worth noting that the Raven offense was totally out of sync for the first two to three months of the season, as the abbreviated pandemic off-season ruined plans for OC Greg Roman to expand Lamar Jackson’s passing game. Over the first 10 games of the season — statistically, Jackson’s worst as well — Brown had just 32/431/2 on 59 targets (8.7 FPG). But counting playoffs, Brown cleared 80 yards and/or scored a touchdown in each of the final eight games of 2020, posting 37/534/6 on 57 targets. That was good enough for 15.8 FPG, which over the full season would have ranked him #16 at WR, between Bucs stars Chris Godwin and Mike Evans. There is much more competition for targets for Brown this year — first-round pick Rashod Bateman (currently injured), fourth-round pick Tylan Wallace, vet Sammy Watkins — but he remains one of the game’s most explosive vertical threats. His weekly inconsistency could make him a headache in traditional leagues, but a 9th-round price on Brown in best-ball leagues is one of our favorite values on the board. We pushed him too much last year, but the markets have overcorrected too much as well. With Bateman being out after core muscle surgery for at least a month, Hollywood has a chance to really step up… if he can get over his own hamstring issues. Fortunately, the price is still appealing.
TARGET: Jaylen Waddle (Mia, ADP WR47, PROJ WR46) — Waddle averaged a silly 18.9 YPR in 34 career games with Alabama, and he posted 3.1 catches per game and 58.8 receiving yards per game with 17 TDs. He received Tyreek Hill comparisons in the pre-draft process because of his electric speed and quickness in a smaller frame (5’10”, 183 pounds). He moves effortlessly at a high velocity, which helps him to create explosive plays at all levels of the field. Waddle can line up all over the formation but he primarily played out of the slot at Alabama, which is likely where he’ll find himself the most this season playing between Will Fuller and DeVante Parker in three-WR sets. The Dolphins had no downfield presence for Tua Tagovailoa outside of Mike Gesicki last season, but that’s changed in a big way with Fuller and Waddle in the fold. It’s yet to be seen if Tua will be able to take full advantage of his speedy WRs after he finished near the bottom of the league in percentage of 20+ yards passes (10%) and NFL passer rating on those attempts (76.7). Waddle doesn’t have as much upside as Ja’Marr Chase and DeVonta Smith in this year’s rookie class because of his competition for targets and because of Tua’s unimpressive rookie season. However, Fuller will serve a one-game suspension to open the season and he’s had plenty of injury issues before 2020, and he’s already dealing with injury problems this summer. Waddle’s history with Tua at Alabama could give him a chance at more targets than anticipated, and he’s worth a look once fantasy drafts reach the double-digit rounds as a WR4/5 target. If Fuller’s absence extends even deeper, Waddle is worth a much longer look.
VALUE: Michael Pittman (Ind, ADP WR48, PROJ WR41) — A big, explosive receiver, Pittman had some flashes of greatness as a rookie but ultimately just left a solid foundation to build on more than he contributed in the boxscore. In 13 games, Pittman posted 40/503/1 receiving on 61 targets (12.6 YPR, 65.6%). Only twice in 13 games did Pittman finish as a top-24 WR, so he was better served being on the Waiver Wire than on fantasy rosters. However, a midseason surgery for compartment syndrome cost Pittman three games, and he was pretty good in his return. Including playoffs, Pittman put up a respectable 35/514/1 line in his final 10 games (Pittman’s 90-yard performance in the playoffs was his second-best of the season). Again, Pittman is a big man who can run, and the Colts loved his YAC ability (he averaged just 8.9 aDOT, over three yards lower than TY Hilton). The expected development for Pittman, plus Hilton being another year older, is a reason he’s being drafted ahead of Hilton. That said, we know how erratic Carson Wentz can be, and if Pittman’s target share doesn’t increase dramatically, he might have trouble truly breaking out statistically — when he came back from injury, Hilton out-targeted him 61 to 51. Still, a 9th/10th-round ADP of WR44 is not overly difficult for him to pay off, and if Wentz (foot) is back early in the season, it’s a good bet he will do so.
LEAGUE-WINNER: Darnell Mooney (Chi, ADP WR49, PROJ WR36) — Our guy Adam Caplan turned us onto Mooney well before he even took the field as a rookie last season, and the speedy fifth-round pick out of Tulane didn’t disappoint as an early contributor. Mooney quickly established himself as the #2 receiver behind Allen Robinson, and he finished with the fifth-most receptions (61), the seventh-most receiving yards (631), and the sixth-most targets (94) among rookies. He played well above his low expectations even with the likes of Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles throwing him the rock, and his poor QB play strongly contributed to his shaky YPR (10.3) and YPT (6.4) averages. He could see a significant uptick in efficiency this season after the team drafted Justin Fields at No. 11, and the two were already striking up a strong downfield connection during minicamp, which continued into training camp, where Mooney has been absolutely blowing up. Fields has the potential to unlock Mooney’s potential this season and the Bears didn’t make a major at receiver to take away targets from the second-year receiver. Mooney’s ADP has been on a consistent rise given his camp hype, but we contend it still isn’t high enough. This guy has star potential.
TARGET: Mecole Hardman (KC, ADP WR50, PROJ WR48) — While Hardman’s explosiveness has been on display multiple times in his first two NFL seasons, he’s been more of a “splash play” kind of receiver than a consistent factor. That’s actually borne out in his snap shares — the 78% share he played in the first game of his career back in 2019 is still the highest percentage he’s registered in any game. In fact, he’s topped 70% snaps in just three games in his career. All three came in his rookie campaign, and two of the three were in the first two games (when Tyreek Hill was injured). So, through two years, Hardman has had more of a gameplan-specific kind of role, and it’s led to inconsistency for fantasy. In all, he posted 41/560/4 receiving on 62 targets in 2020 (13.7 YPR, 66.1%). His 7.8 FPG ranked him as the overall WR82, and he finished as a top-36 weekly WR just three times in 16 games (one of them was a top-12 finish). So his inconsistency was barely bankable in best ball, let alone redraft. So the question is how much better Hardman can be. Sammy Watkins is not in town any more, and the Chiefs didn’t make a significant move to replace him. While Hardman has clearly been viewed as a direct Tyreek backup through two seasons, he has earned praise from beat writers and teammates for his spring and summer practices, in which he reportedly showed a new focus on both on-field skills and demeanor as he looks to secure the #2 WR role during the preseason. Clearly, the Chiefs had bigger plans for him than have come to materialize so far, but his main competition for #2 WR roles are just Demarcus Robinson, Byron Pringle, and fifth-round rookie Cornell Powell. That role is, at best, #3 on the pecking order for targets in Kansas City, and it’s concerning too that Hardman was never the major beneficiary of snaps whenever Watkins was inactive the last two seasons (he’s averaged just 8.6 FPG without Watkins, compared to 7.6 with him, a negligible difference). But he’s the most explosive of the Chiefs’ secondary receivers, and his affordable 11th-round ADP makes it easy to invest in someone who might be figuring it out in the NFL’s best passing game.
LEAGUE-WINNER: Elijah Moore (NYJ, ADP WR53, PROJ WR47) — GM Joe Douglas could’ve drafted for bigger needs at the start of the second round, but he elected to go with the best player on the board in Moore after he unexpectedly slipped out of Day One. Douglas was hellbent on giving No. 2 pick Zach Wilson the best possible chance at success right out of the gates as a rookie after watching Sam Darnold flame out in New York after just three seasons. Moore became the focal point of Ole Miss’ passing attack over the last two seasons after D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown moved onto the NFL after the 2018 season. He averaged a healthy 7.7 catches and 102.2 receiving yards per game with 14 receiving scores in his last 20 games in 2019-20. His speed (4.35 40-time) and quickness (6.66 three-cone) make him a dynamic route runner and a threat after the catch. The Jets went from having one of the thinnest WR depth charts to having one of the deepest receiving corps after signing Corey Davis and Keelan Cole and drafting Moore this off-season. Moore was once thought to be a slot-only WR because of his small frame (5’9”, 178 pounds), but the Jets moved him all over the formation in off-season workouts. New York could use him primarily as the Z receiver with Davis working as the X and Jamison Crowder operating at the slot receiver. Moore was also the star of New York’s off-season workouts and straining camp, and it could be just a matter of time before he develops into Wilson’s go-to receiver as a rookie… presuming a quad injury suffered in early August isn’t concerning (our Dr. Edwin Porras doesn’t seem to think it is). Moore is being drafted as a WR4/5 but he has the potential to turn into PPR gold and a weekly plug-and-play WR3 if he earns a full-time role as a rookie.
VALUE: DeVante Parker (Mia, ADP WR54, PROJ WR42) — Parker’s career took a new trajectory in 2019 when he broke out for a top-12 WR finish in overall FP, but he couldn’t maintain his high level of play in 2020 as he struggled through a hamstring injury and a quarterback carousel. Parker posted 63/793/4 receiving on 103 targets to finish as the WR40 with 11.9 FPG in 14 games. His fantasy production from 2019 to 2020 plummeted mostly because of his dip in touchdowns (9>4) and in YPR (16.7>12.6). Parker missed two games with a hamstring injury and he’s now missed 13 games in six seasons and he has just one 16-game campaign (2019). Parker easily paced the Dolphins in target share in each of the last two seasons, but he’ll be facing much tougher competition in 2021 after the Dolphins signed Will Fuller and they drafted Jaylen Waddle sixth overall to play alongside Parker. Miami is also handing over the keys to the offense to Tua Tagovailoa full time after a rocky rookie season so this passing game could have a little more volatility than we’ve seen with Ryan Fitzpatrick in recent seasons. Parker is the best bet to lead the Dolphins in target share this season since he has stretches when he can be a dominant X receiver while the other receivers do more of their work deeper down the field, but it should be pretty tight competition for targets overall. Parker has been the forgotten man in this passing attack with Fuller (who is hurt), Waddle, and Gesicki each being drafted in front of him, but there’s a solid chance he’s the most productive fantasy receiver in Miami and he beats his WR4/5 ADP.
VALUE: Sterling Shepard (NYG, ADP WR64, PROJ WR58) — In his five NFL seasons, Shepard has been remarkably consistent from a fantasy perspective. He’s finished no worse than WR48, and no better than WR30 in any season, and he’s always logged between 83 and 107 targets. Remarkably, Shepard managed that consistency despite missing four or more games in three different seasons. While Shepard is viewed by most as a slot receiver only, he’s actually played the majority of his offensive snaps over the last two seasons lined up outside (63.5% in 2020 and 54.9% in 2019). That’s a significant change from his first three seasons in the league, where he averaged a 71% slot snap share. Shepard certainly benefited from his added outside snaps, as he led the Giants in targets in both 2019 and 2020 while also earning his best PFF receiving grades (73.8 and 79.4) and FPG (14.2 and 13.5) over the last two seasons. It should come as no surprise that Odell Beckham’s departure from New York in 2018 resulted in Shepard’s boosted outside role, as the Giants have lacked a dominant outside WR since he signed with the Browns. The addition of Kenny Golladay changed that. With Golladay as the overwhelming favorite to lead the team in targets, along with the emergence of Darius Slayton as a stellar deep threat, Shepard is likely to be pigeon-holed in the slot, similar to his first three seasons in the league. First-round WR Kadarius Toney will also steal snaps and touches — granted he’s likely to be involved as more of a gimmick player, at least initially. Regardless, this shapes up as the most competitive Giants’ receiving room since Shepard’s rookie year. Because of that, his ceiling is likely capped around that of a low-end WR3, but his floor is significantly safer than most WRs available after WR50, making Shepard a strong pick in deep season-long leagues, but a much weaker one in best ball or smaller leagues.
TARGET: Jakobi Meyers (NE, ADP WR61, PROJ WR62) — Meyers needed a Julian Edelman injury to break into the lineup last season, but the former UDFA WR never looked back after he got his chance to play starting in Week 7. Meyers led the Patriots with a 29% target share last season on his way to posting 59/729/0 receiving (12.4 YPR) on 81 targets for 143.5 FP in 14 games. He ranked as the WR34 in the final 11 weeks of the season with 12.9 FPG despite throwing for more touchdown passes (2) than he caught (0). Meyers had the most receiving yards (729), targets (81), and receptions (59) without a touchdown catch last season — Danny Amendola was the next closest in each category with 46/602/0 receiving on 69 targets. The Patriots weren’t going into 2021 without upgrading their pathetic wide receiver corps from last season as they signed Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne to compete with Meyers for targets and playing time. All three receivers have plenty of experience playing out of the slot to start their careers, but Meyers has the best chance to lead the group in slot snaps after running 60% of his routes from inside the last two seasons. The problem is the Patriots could run fewer sets with three WRs on the field after they signed Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry this off-season. New England’s receivers also need Mac Jones to see the field sooner rather than later after Cam Newton threw for a miserable eight touchdowns in 15 games last season while averaging a league-low 177.1 passing yards per game. All that said, Meyers has reportedly been the Patriots’ best receiver in camp, and Jones looked good in his preseason debut. Meanwhile, Agholor is dinged up. It’s hard to call Meyers a “league winner” with a slot-only role that might not have a bunch of touchdown equity, but he’s surely a nice, cheap option to have at the end of benches in the event his role is even bigger than anticipated.
LEAGUE-WINNER: Marquez Callaway (NO, ADP WR80, PROJ WR61) — Our Greg Cosell first turned us onto Callaway last year, who went undrafted out of Tennessee in 2020. He has a very similar size (6’2”, 204 pounds) and speed (4.55) profile as Tre’Quan Smith, whom he’ll be battling for the #2 WR spot along with Deonte Harris and a host of others. The Saints WRs will also be battling with Adam Trautman to be the #1 target for Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill in the first month or two — and possibly longer — while Michael Thomas is out of the lineup with his ankle injury. Callaway was once a coveted four-star safety prospect out of high school before he switched to WR with the Volunteers. He had a moment as a rookie with Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders out of the lineup in Week 7 as he posted 8/75 receiving on 10 targets against the Panthers before he injured his ankle late in the game. Callaway ended his rookie season with 21/213/0 receiving on 27 targets in 11 games as he missed time due to knee and ankle injuries. While Callaway played just a 36% snap share a year ago, he’s been working in training camp as the Saints’ #1 WR, with Thomas both injured and disgruntled, and Smith missing time with an injury as well. Reports indicate he’s been the star of camp, and while his ADP is on a steady rise, it still isn’t in the area of where he could end up producing just in terms of sheer volume. We’d take Callaway on every team at this point.
LEAGUE-WINNER: Darren Waller (LV, ADP TE2, PROJ TE2) — Waller certainly proved that his breakout campaign in 2019 was no fluke by once again resetting his career-best numbers in 2020. He went from finishing as the TE6 (13.9 FPG) in 2019 with 90/1145/3 receiving on 117 targets to finishing as the TE2 (17.5) in 2020 with 107/1196/9 receiving on 145 targets. Waller ended the year on an absolute heater, posting a ridiculous 43/654/4 receiving for a TE-best 26.7 FPG in the final five weeks. Waller firmly established himself as one of the league’s best receivers in the league, regardless of position. He finished behind only Davante Adams (25.7), Tyreek Hill (21.9), Travis Kelce (20.9) Stefon Diggs (20.5), Calvin Ridley (18.8), and DeAndre Hopkins (18.1) in FPG last season. Waller will once again enter the 2021 season as the clear focal point of Las Vegas’ offense with one of the weakest receiving corps behind him, which is led by Henry Ruggs, who managed just 26 catches as a rookie. Derek Carr is coming off arguably the best season of his career and Waller’s ability to align and dominate anywhere on the field made Carr’s life much easier — Waller’s 151 routes run on the perimeter were second to only Kelce at 249. Waller is locked into the TE2 spot behind Kelce and he could give you a major leg up at the position if he continues to play at an elite level.
LEAGUE-WINNER: T.J. Hockenson (Det, ADP TE5, PROJ TE4) — Hockenson is looking to continue the growth he experienced from his rookie season to his sophomore year. He exploded for 67/723/6 receiving on 101 targets for 11.0 FPG (TE5) in 2020 after posting just 32/367/2 receiving for 6.7 FPG in 12 games as a rookie. Hockenson was remarkably consistent last season with a run of 4+ catches and/or a touchdown in 12 of his first 13 games before his quarterback situation went to hell in the final three weeks. His quarterback situation could once again be an issue this season after the organization traded franchise star Matthew Stafford to the Rams for Jared Goff in the off-season. Hockenson at least has a path to potentially lead all TEs in target share this season after the Lions moved on from Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones. The Lions vacated a league-high 360 targets from last season and Hockenson could push for a quarter of the team’s targets after seeing an 18% share last year. Hock has reportedly dominated in training camp and, to no one’s surprise, he’s been the clear top option for Goff with Tyrell Williams leading a shaky Lions’ WR corps. Hock has a chance to vault into the elite tier of tight ends this season if Goff can just do his part to feed him the rock.
TARGET: Mark Andrews (Bal, ADP TE6, PROJ TE6) — Andrews had a rock-solid 2020 season, turning 88 targets into 58/701/7 receiving, finishing as the TE4 in FPG (12.2) in 14 contests. Andrews and Marquise Brown essentially split the lion’s share of the Ravens’ targets when they were both healthy, with both averaging roughly 6.3 targets per game. The question for Andrews now is if he has room to grow. Andrews has played just 65.5% of the Ravens’ offensive snaps when active (22nd among TEs), and a small boost there could go a long way. Andrews actually saw a higher share of the Ravens red-zone targets last year (28%) compared to the 2019 season (22%), but he scored only four TDs on 16 red-zone looks. Among the nine players who saw at least 25% of their team’s red-zone targets in 2020, seven of them scored at least six touchdowns. The Ravens now have much more at receiver but Andrews has been Lamar Jackson’s go-to guy in big spots, and he could see a nice boost with better red-zone efficiency, especially if the Ravens need to throw more following the JK Dobbins injury.
TARGET: Noah Fant (Den, ADP TE8, PROJ TE10) — Fant, who is just 23 years old, has shown excellent promise as a receiving TE in his first two seasons. Among TEs with 50 or more targets in 2020, he ranked sixth in yards per route run (1.64), second in YAC per reception (6.0), and third in missed tackles forced (10). His ability to make plays with the ball in his hands can’t be understated as he ranks second to only George Kittle in YAC per reception among TEs over the last two seasons (6.89). Fant scored five or more fantasy points in 12-of-15 games after doing it just seven times as a rookie. Teddy Bridgewater should boost the Broncos quarterback play and that’s certainly important to Fant, who saw the fourth-most uncatchable targets among TEs (21) last season. He’ll have to contend with a loaded WR corps for targets this season, but he could make a leap this season with improved quarterback play and more development at such a young age.
LEAGUE-WINNER: Logan Thomas (Was, ADP TE9, PROJ TE7) — Thomas is the latest player to successfully transition to tight end from another position after his break-through season in 2020 when he easily posted career-best numbers with 72/670/6 receiving. He could have a tough time duplicating his 19% target share and 110 targets from last season after Washington added Curtis Samuel to play slot this season, but Thomas should see higher quality targets this season to offset any dip in targets. OC Scott Turner sent him out on a position-high 609 routes last season as he ran a route on 90.9% of the passing snaps that he was one the field for. He also easily paced the position in slot routes with 440, which was 121 more slot routes than the next closest TE in Mike Gesicki. Thomas averaged an ugly 7.0 yards on his depth of targets last season mostly playing with the ultra-conservative Alex Smith last season, but he should see deeper targets this season playing with the more aggressive Ryan Fitzpatrick taking over the offense. The Football Team should also have a more explosive offense after they scored the eighth-fewest points per game (20.9) in 2020 so Thomas has a chance to build upon his nine end-zone targets and six touchdowns from last season. Thomas is an older prospect at 30 years old, but he still has room for more growth since he’s just learning the nuances of the position after playing most of his football career at quarterback.
VALUE: Tyler Higbee (LAR, ADP TE10, PROJ TE8) — Higbee flamed out last season after being drafted in the top 10 at the position, which was a major disappointment after he hung three touchdowns against the Eagles in Week 2. Gerald Everett proved to be a major thorn in his side by seeing more targets (62 to 60) despite running fewer routes (262 to 295). With Everett departing to division rival Seattle during free agency, fantasy drafters are not holding a grudge against Higbee, drafting him similarly to last season as a top-10 TE. They’re back on the bandwagon after the Rams got one of the biggest quarterback upgrades in the league by switching out Jared Goff for Matthew Stafford this off-season. Stafford isn’t afraid to rely on his TEs with Eric Ebron topping 70 targets three different times and with T.J. Hockenson eclipsing 100 looks last season. Higbee’s rate stats are impressive, as well: his 1.80 yards per route run since 2018 are behind just George Kittle, Darren Waller, Travis Kelce, and Mark Andrews at the position. Don’t be afraid to give Higbee another chance this season even if he burned you last season. He has a much better chance to live up to the hype this year with Everett out of the mix and with a significant upgrade at quarterback.
TARGET: Robert Tonyan (GB, ADP TE11, PROJ TE11) — Tonyan came out of relative obscurity at the start of training camp last year to become an early-season waiver wire darling with a run of five touchdowns in Weeks 2-4. He kept up the touchdown production for the rest of the season as he matched Travis Kelce for a position-best 11 scores. Tonyan finished with 52/586/11 receiving (11.3 YPR) on 59 targets to finish as the TE5 with 11.0 FPG while playing 61% of the snaps in 16 games. Tonyan took Jimmy Graham’s old job and he ran with it, easily pacing all players with 50+ targets in catch rate (88.1%) and he hauled in an absurd 18.6% of his targets for a touchdown (11 of 59). He scored touchdowns on an unsustainable 7-of-8 end-zone targets and 11-of-14 red-zone targets. Tonyan’s role outside the 20-yard line must grow this season if he wants to remain a top-12 fantasy TE. He averaged just 3.7 targets per game with an ugly 12.6% target share, and he saw more than five targets in a game in just 2-of-18 contests (playoffs included). Tonyan is unlikely to maintain his touchdown production from 2021, but he should see an increase in targets to potentially offset any slip in scoring to keep him as a viable TE1 in one of the league’s best offenses.
LEAGUE-WINNER: Jonnu Smith (NE, ADP TE16, PROJ TE13) — Jonnu’s talent never seemed to line up with his production in his first four seasons with Tennessee. The Titans’ offense has been one of the best in the league over the last two seasons, but Jonnu played more of a bit part with Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown soaking up most of the fantasy production. Smith never reached 500+ receiving yards or 45+ catches in any of his first four seasons. Jonnu went from being a top-three TE through his first four games to being an unusable fantasy option by the end of last year. He scored 70.1 FP in his first four contests in 2020 before scoring exactly 70.1 FP in his final 11 games. Smith flashed when he was actively used in Tennessee’s offense, and Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick will look to unlock his fantasy potential. Patriots TEs saw a league-low 33 targets last season, and they remedied the situation by signing the two biggest free agents in Jonnu and Hunter Henry to give them the league’s best 1-2 TE combination. Jonnu should see an uptick in volume as the potential #1 receiver in New England, but the entire passing game needs Mac Jones to take over for Cam Newton sooner rather than later. Smith is being drafted as a mid-TE2 but he has the potential to break out if he’s finally let loose as the potential focal point of New England’s passing game.
TARGET: Adam Trautman (NO, ADP TE15, PROJ TE16) — Trautman has been one of our most popular second-year breakout receivers. He’s steadily seen his ADP rise this summer since the Saints did nothing of note to address the departures of Jared Cook and Josh Hill this off-season, and Michael Thomas (ankle) could be out for the first 1-2 months. The Saints traded a small farm to draft Trautman in the third round last year in preparation for Cook’s departure after the 2020 season. Trautman is built like a three-down TE at 6’6”, 253 pounds, and he posted a 96th-percentile three-cone drill (6.78 seconds) at the combine. He has the chance to carve out a significant role in this passing attack this season with the Saints vacating the 10th-most targets (174) this off-season. Trautman is unlikely to go from the Saints’ bench as a rookie to an elite fantasy option in his second season at 24 years old, but his situation is good enough to break into the top-12 at the position after being drafted as a mid-TE2 this summer. He’s also the type of player who could surge in the second half of the season when he gets more playing time under his belt so don’t be afraid to add him off the waiver wire if a frustrated owner drops him early in the season.
VALUE: Austin Hooper (Cle, ADP TE25, PROJ TE19) — The Browns gave Hooper a generous four-year, $42 million contract with $23 million guaranteed last off-season, and he continued to play his solid, unimpressive brand of football. Hooper ended his first season in Cleveland with 46/435/4 receiving on 70 targets while playing 64% of the snaps in 13 games to finish as the TE19 with 8.7 FPG. He built some momentum with Baker Mayfield late in their first season together when he had a run of 14+ FP in four straight games (Week 15-Wild Card) before the Chiefs stifled Hooper and the Browns’ passing attack in the Divisional Round. Hooper is looking to build upon his late-season surge and an 18% target share from last season, and he should be his ADP as a steady PPR option.