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Current / Future Fantasy Wolf,
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My 2021 Investing Guide aims to equip you with both player analysis (my targets & fades) and quick-hit strategy / “game theory” to apply during the various stages of your fantasy draft(s).
Overall approaches? How should you start Rounds 1 & 2? What position(s) perform best in Rounds 4-7? Last Round Hail Mary’s that’ll have you singing Hallelujah?! This will be your playbook; a “Cheatsheet” on PEDs.
In short, I aim to give you the who, the why, the how. And I try to deliver the necessary substance with minimal wasted motion.
On that note, let’s delay no longer. KEY NOTES:
SCORING NOTE: I play mostly Half-PPR, so does the public. This is written through that scoring lens. Still, the strategy and player recs hold (mostly) true regardless of format: good players are good players, good practice is good practice. My Projections are sortable by scoring too.
ORGANIZATION NOTE: Throughout, I reference & compare:
OVR - My Overall Big Board Ranking / Grade
ADP - Average Draft Position (via FantasyPros)
ECR - Expert Consensus Ranking (via FantasyPros)
OVR will tell you how I feel about a player; ADP will tell you feelings of the general public; ECR will tell you those of the general “Expert Community.”
The guide is organized into “Draft Stages” using a mix of ADP & ECR -- where you can generally expect players to go. Still: FantasyPros is one source. You should reference the expected “prices” wherever you play (Yahoo, Sleeper, Underdog), which can vary greatly by player. Also know your league trends / fantasy IQ.
Example: I have a Round 8 Big Board Grade on Marquez Callaway (87 OVR). However, his ECR is 219 & ADP 141. He won’t go as high as I have him, but he won’t go as low as moronic 219. So I include him in the Round 10-15 “Draft Stage” -- someone in your league will plunge by 120, and clearly I suggest that be you.. Learn your market, learn my favorites, know your league, adjust as needed. This way you maximize value, while getting the guys you (or I) want.
Here’s the stages / table of contents:
Projections / Auction Values
To check out a Google Sheet of The Wolf's 2021 Projections & Auction Values, click here (Updated 9/3)
Overarching Approach / Strategy
I’m 100% an Upside Chaser. Always have been, and the great Scott Barrett explains clearly why that's the right philosophy here.
To sum up his research: every fantasy season boils down to a small handful of “League-Winners,” and the rest simply don’t matter. If you owned Christian McCaffrey in 2019, you had a 48% chance of making your championship, regardless of who you surrounded him with. Insanity.
While frustrating for “analysts” (addicts) like myself who pour 12+ hours a day researching hundreds of players, perhaps you’ll be comforted knowing your job is unearthing only 2-3 true game-changers.
Thus, every one of your 15-20 “at bats” should be homerun hacks at finding these guys.
If interested in learning the “Anatomy of League Winners,” Barrett dives deep in identifying trends by position. I’ll reference these indicators throughout as I give you the guys who have the upside tilt titles in 2021.
The Optimal Start to 2021 Drafts
Overarching Approach: Find your Bellcow(s): I’ll be starting my drafts with an RB (and likely two), besides four exceptions: Davante Adams, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and Stefon Diggs. The only reason I’m comfortable foregoing a first-round RB for these guys is more Round 2 & 3 RB depth than any year in recent memory -- but I’m still taking an RB with 2 of my first 3 picks every time.
No position is more likely to win you your league. And no position dries up faster.
Look at this chart detailing League-Winners (60%+ higher win rates) from the past four years:
Of 20 players, 12 of them are RBs (60%). Compare this to only two wide receivers, one quarterback, two tight ends, two defenses, and one kicker.
In that span, 9 of the top-10 highest scoring flex players (non-QBs) were all RBs, with Adams’ 2020 the lone exception. Similarly in Best Ball, the five highest single-season win rates all belong to RBs:
As both charts show, too, the vast majority of these RBs come early: 58% in the first two rounds, 63% in the first four.
The rub, of course, is no position busts more frequently than RBs. Higher injury rates + the growing RBBC landscape makes picking the right RB a more difficult, treacherous process. You know the treasure you need, but must navigate more traps to find the right one.
Thus, many owners will side for “guaranteed” production from a WR, going for “floor” in early rounds. In my mind, this is the equivalent of playing to not lose, instead of playing to win.
As mentioned at the top, the lone exceptions for me are Adams, Kelce, Hill and Diggs. These guys not only come with stable floors, but also bring the ceilings to be the rare exceptions that crack through the RBs stranglehold and enter the league-winning crowd.
Given how important Round 1 is, I’ll dive into each of my Top-12 while identifying which RBs I’ll target with that in the hunt for a Bellcow League Winner.
Counter-Research: NBC Sports Edge’s Pat Kerrane dug into early round bust rates, and came away convinced that WRs make far better early round investments, unless you’re certain of said RBs “Legendary Upside.” The numbers do stack up, but as he points out -- RBs have far higher “Legendary Rates.” JJ Zachariasson’s research in “Where do League Winners Come From” supports this: WRs are more likely to hit for you, but the RBs who hit bring more game-changing points. If the goal is a championship, you often need the legend of said season, and he’ll most likely be gone by Round 3.
Tier 1: CMac, DHenry, DCook, NOW KAMARA! No Debate for me.
1) Christian McCaffrey: If you are blessed with No.1 overall and don’t take McCaffrey, you hate winning. In his last full season (2019), McCaffrey posted the second-most FPs of all-tme (471.2, 160 more than the next closest RB), became the third 1,000 yard rusher / 1,000 yard receiver in NFL history, broke his own RB reception record (116 rec), led the league in TDs as well as scrimmage yards (2,392) by a whopping 615 yards… and he averaged more FPs in his limited 2020 action (30.1) than the above season. Don’t let one injury-riddled 2020 blind you to the best selection by a mile.
2) Derrick Henry: Here’s my first departure from the ECR. Most recommend Dalvin Cook, and I can’t fault any of you. Especially in PPR, Cook’s my guy too as the far more versatile player. Still, Henry is a tank. Injuries are impossible to project, but Cook’s missed multiple games in every season, while Henry has yet to miss time for an injury. Henry won’t see 378 carries again with Julio Jones here, but he’ll also crack 20+ TDs and pulverize the lighter boxes he finds. Don’t be shocked if he goes back-to-back-to-back as the NFL leader in yards & TDs.
NOTE: Downgrade Henry to 4-6 in Full PPR.
3) Dalvin Cook: An elite rusher in the perfect “Kubiak Zone Scheme” = a threat to lead the NFL in rushing every season. No player saw more carries inside the five (22), and the o-line & defense has been improved to somehow boost his ceiling. Only concern, admittedly a large one, is health.
4) Alvin Kamara UPDATE: Now that Jameis Winston has been named the starter, draft Kamara comfortably anywhere in your Top-4. Upgrade to No.2 in Full PPR. In this format, a target is worth 2.64x as much as a carry, and Kamara should lead the position. He’s the most efficient back in NFL history, with his 1.59 (2017) and 1.4 (2020) Fantasy Point Per Touch first and third all-time.
Meanwhile, Winston has kept this offense humming even without Thomas, and that’s where Kamara could be an absolute monster:
AK41 became the defacto No.1 WR, averaging an absurd 30.89 FPPG -- most of all time --without MT. In fact, he was the WR4 on just his receiving stats in this span -- insanity! Of course, Drew Brees and his love for checking down helped. Still, Kamara has a limitless ceiling and firm floor with Winston under center, and makes drafting Top-4 so much more desirable.
Tier 2: Rest of Round 1
While I won’t bend on my Top-4, I could see any of the following 9 players finishing among the Top-5:
5) Ezekiel Elliott: The RB3 over Dak’s five games, Zeke’s horrendous finish should be erased from memories. Dak + 2 key offensive line starters return, and Zeke looks to be in the best shape of his career; anyone watching “Hard Knocks” can see the extra burst a leaner Zeke displays, as well as his more varied receiving usage. Tony Pollard is good, but Zeke was top-3 in snap % to start the year and #4 in Weighted Opportunities on the season. Career-highs are possible across the board.
6) Davante Adams: His 25.6 PPR FPPG led all non-QBs in 2020, and Adams tied Josh Allen for the most 30+ FP league-winning days (6). This was largely thanks to his 20 targets inside the 10 that generated 18 TDs -- the third most of all-time for a WR. The WR1, WR4, and WR1 in FPPG the past three seasons, and now gets a “Last Dance” narrative. The first Non-RB I’d take, and one of only two WRs I see possessing true “League-Winning” upside.
7) Travis Kelce: The single biggest positional edge you can gain, summed up in one picture:
He was the PPR WR3 behind only Adams & Hill. He was the RB3 behind only Kamara & Cook. He doubled the TE6 in scoring, and outscored the next closest Waller by 60. Shown in the graphic above, Kelce had 80 yards and/or a TD every single week besides two, and was a TE1 in all but one. Kelce has been fantasy’s TE1 for five straight seasons, missing 0 games in that span. With a prime Mahomes, Kelce brings the safest Round 1 floor and a massive edge to a mostly-barren position.
8) Aaron Jones: The RB2 & RB5 the past two seasons, Jones’ ceiling is actually even higher in 2021 with Jamaal Williams and his 154 opps (119 carries, 35 targets) departed. Sure, AJ Dillon and those thighs will shoulder some of the rushing burden, but Williams ran 194 mostly useless routes, a majority of which Jones should inherit. He’s so deadly in space and with the ball in his hands (1.43 YPRR, 9th) that even a slight bump in targets could astronomically improve Jones’ already-juicy totals.
9) Nick Chubb: Despite missing 4 games last year, Chubb finished as the RB10 (Half), RB11 (Full), and RB9 (STD) and ranked 7th in rushing (1065) and 4th in Rush TDs (12). He was the RB5 (half), RB7 (full), and RB4 (STD) respectively in PPG. The league’s best pure runner is the latest RB to benefit from a zone-dominant scheme, and over a full 17 games, the best threat to Henry’s rushing crown. Many fade Chubb due to the lack of receiving upside -- a fair argument with Kareem Hunt siphoning work (Chubb = 18 tgts, Hunt = 51). Essentially, they’ll say, Chubb needs to again be hyper-efficient while the Browns keep him in positive gamescripts, for him to justify a Round 1 cost. And I’m here betting on the No.1 line in the league & an improved defense keeping things just that way, projecting him for over 1500 rush yards and 15+ TDs. Plus… imagine if Hunt does go down? Chubb would be my No.2 RB today if Hunt disappeared. The floor is high and a ceiling we haven’t seen exists. Fade Chubb at your own risk.
10) Tyreek Hill: There’s not a player more explosive and capable of swinging real-life and fantasy contests faster than Hill. But have we even seen his final form?! Hill’s ranked as the WR7, WR4, WR12, and WR2 in FPPG… despite ranking just 32nd, 18th, 30th, and 10th in targets per game. Yet, last year over the final 11 weeks (including playoffs), Hill saw 10.7 tgts per game, which would’ve been most in the NFL last year -- including 18, 14, and 15 tgt days. With Watkins now gone, there’s a chance this target shower continues, giving Hill the upside to challenge these bell-cows for Round 1 League-Winner status.
11) Stefon Diggs: The last WR who’s acceptable in Round 1, Diggs paced the league in targets (166), receptions (127), and yardage (1535) in just his first season in Buffalo, finally proving to be the ultimate Alpha WR1 he’d always flashed in MIN. With Josh Allen potentially still finding his peak, expect more of the same from Diggs, who’ll give you one of the highest weekly floors & ceilings each and every week. Knowing you’ll get one of Saquon Barkley, Austin Ekeler, Jonathan Taylor, and/or Antonio Gibson in Round 2, plus a good shot at David Montgomery, JK Dobbins, Chris Carson, and D’Andre Swift in Round 3, makes Diggs a fantastic high-floor, high-ceiling WR1 Anchor in the end of Round 1.
12) Saquon Barkley (-4 ECR): The downside is clear: Barkley’s coming off a torn ACL/MCL/Meniscus (terrible triad) and plays within an awful offense, behind a bottom-10 line. Gross, and why I’m -5 his ADP. But, as a player, only CMac bests Barkley’s versatility at the position. With potential Alpha Kenny Golladay now here, the Giants offense could take small steps forward, although Jason Garrett will forever be a shackle til he’s fired. Still, at this range, Barkley is the most gamescript-proof bellcow capable of 22+ weekly touches. His rookie season, the most FPs by a rookie all-time, still burns bright on my mind, and the potential reward outweighs the risk if Barkley falls to the end of Round 1.
OVERPRICED / FIRST ROUND FADES:
Jonathan Taylor (16 OVR, -4 ECR): It pains me to put Taylor on a Fade List, and has nothing to do with his own ability — rather, it’s his HC. Frank Reich has always been an RBBC enthusiast, to the point it took a Jordan Freakin’ Wilkins injury for Taylor to get the bell-cow treatment he fully deserves. Reich already said Taylor earned the starting role and the highest share of the ground pie (woo!), but in the same breath mentioned a “hot hand” approach and desire to keep all the backs involved for their varied skillsets. Wentz is expected back to begin the season, but we just got a reminder of his fragility — and given Taylor’s susceptibility to game flow, I think he has the lowest weekly and seasonal floor despite the massive spike potential any given week.
Picks 13 - 24
Remaining RB1s, Elite WR1s, & Waller
Overview: Most often, I’m going RB-RB to begin 2021 Drafts in the hunt for one, and God Bless me maybe 2, of the mythical bellcow(s). Still, just like with Kelce, Adams, and co. in Round 1, I’m more comfortable veering in a different direction in Round 2 than ever before -- largely because I like the Round 3 RBs a lot more than in recent years.
That being said: I need 2 RBs (and not opposed to 3) within my first three picks. We’ll cover “The RB Deadzone” when we get to the midrounds, but after my Top-18, the dropoff is steep and ugly. I NEED two of my Top-18, or else I’ll feel sick.
Let’s dive in to some options based on your start:
If targeting an RB in Round 2 (as you should):
Note: If you went Kelce or a WR in Round 1, you better lock up one of these 4 guys with true RB1 upside. Meanwhile, as your RB2, these guys can give you a massive edge and another shot at a “legendary” season.
Austin Ekeler (13 OVR, RB9) : Ranks in my “first-round talent tier” at No.13, anywhere in Round 2 is a steal, especially in PPR formats. Yes, they’ll use a committee, but Ekeler will be the Chargers’ Kamara under new OC Joe Lombardi, formerly of the Saints. Ekeler isn’t quite AK41 level, but he’s similarly hyper-efficient, in an offense I think ranks Top-5 under Justin Herbert, and behind the most improved offensive line in the league. Swap him & Chubb in my rankings if you play PPR.
Note: Bump down to RB14 in Standard, Up to RB7 in PPR
Antonio Gibson (15 OVR, RB10, +3 ECR): While concerning that Gibson was removed on third-downs (McKissic) and short-yardage (Barber) in Preseason Week 1, the team also talks up using Gibson as Turner’s next “CMac-lite.” If he gets even half of the NFL-best 110 tgts McKissic saw, the freakish Gibson could finish Top-3. He’ll benefit from more positive scripts & offensive explosiveness with Fitzmagic, whether his role changes or not, making Gibson a fantastic Round 2 target.
Joe Mixon (18 OVR, RB12): Past Mixon owners may have a hard time forgiving him for his brutal starts to the past two seasons, but so much is working in his favor I’m trying to block it out. He’s been the best player in camp to the point “coaches have not been shy in talking about how much they will lean on Mixon. OC Brian Callahan isn’t interested in any sort of load management. He wants to see as much of Mixon as he can." With Bernard gone, they’ll have to. Alongside Gibson, Mixon is the rare Round 2 selection with the talent and potential workload to finish Top-3. Injury and past inconsistency are the only risks here, but this should be his best workload, within the best offense, behind the best line of his career, giving Mixon a limitless ceiling.
Najee Harris (19 OVR, RB13): Tomlin’s lead RBs averaged 24.7 opps (att + tgts) from 2014-2018. After the failed Conner Experiment, Tomlin clearly needed a bellcow of the future - who better than this Alabama beast, who’s 43 receptions last year trailed only Saquon Barkley and Steven Jackson for backs over 225 lbs since 2000. A beast of a runner & fantastic receiver, only a poor offensive line can hold Najee back in 2021. Comes out to my RB8 in projections, and only ranks this low due to uncertainty as a rookie.
RB(s) I’m Fading in Round 2
Clyde Edwards-Helaire (28 OVR, -6 ECR): No, this is not just bitterness for CEH not living up to my Top-5 expectations as a rookie (I swear… not bitter...not crying. FUCK!) This is still a Mahomes-ian offense, with a vastly improved line. If CEH can carve out more TD & receiving equity, he’ll smash his Round 2 ADP. I’m worried that Jerick Effin’ McKinnon is flashing more as a pass-catcher in camp, though, to the point he could take over the third-down role. Stir in Andy Reid’s “cute” antics at the stripe, and I’m nervous Clyde gets pigeon-holed into a great between-the-20s grinder… not what any of us seek in Round 2.
If looking elsewhere Round 2 …
Darren Waller (22 OVR, +2 ECR): If drafting towards the top of the draft with a locked-in RB1, Waller makes perfect sense. The Raiders only added John Brown (who's now released), locking Waller into 130+ targets again (tied Kelce with 145 in 2020). Waller’s ceiling is astronomical at the most barren position, and my preferred option to Kittle in this price range. I love RB-TE-RB builds with Waller, as only 2-3 TEs offer this type of high-floor & spike-week consistency:
Calvin Ridley (14 OVR, WR4 +5 ADP), last year’s WR4, could justify a Round 1 price tag with the massive target share he’ll see following Julio Jones’ departure. His play last year + all reports camp reports suggest he’s more than ready for the Alpha treatment he’ll receive. The perfect WR to complement Round 1 Jones, Chubb, or Barkley.
DeAndre Hopkins (17 OVR, WR5) needs no justification as the clear No.1 (160 tgts) for an ascending QB. The lack of TDs (6) was concerning, but with 10+ targets in 9 games and only 1 with less than seven looks, Hopkins’ steady volume makes him an elite WR anchor to your squad.
These are the obvious WR1s of Round 2. But what if they’re off the board?
You’ll be staring at AJ Brown v. Justin Jefferson v. DK Metcalf.
My pick: Justin Jefferson (20 OVR, WR6).
Granted, I think all three of these guys should be solid selections, and can’t think of a world, outside of injury, where any of the three bust hard.
I don’t think you can go wrong, but you can be more right. Jefferson, fresh off setting the rookie receiving record (1400), finds the steadiest value of this trio. Even in a run-heavy attack, Jefferson projects to see more work than either Metcalf or Brown after Julio Jones’ arrival. Sure, Adam Thielen remains a GL monster, but he’s on his back nine and Jefferson is fired up about doubters predicting a sophomore slump. Whereas Metcalf and Brown bring risk of disappearing any given week, Jefferson should see 6+ targets every game, more often in double-digits. I project him to finish as the WR4.
Pick 25 - 36
Last WR1s & High-End RB2s (before a cliff)
Overview: Round 3 is still loaded with Quality WR1s (Allen Robinson, Keenan Allen, Terry McLaurin, Both Cowboys WRs, Both Rams). My favorite teams usually start RB-RB before dipping into that WR talent pool.
However, I also still like the high-end RB2s still available in David Montgomery, Chris Carson, and James Robinson… I want to love D’Andre Swift, last year’s leader in Fantasy Points per Touch, if he could just get on the field, and stay there. They round out my Top-18 RBs before a monster positional drop off; I want to ensure that one of these guys is, at worst, my RB2.
Favorite Round 3 WR Picks:
Early - Mid Third:
Allen Robinson (24 OVR, +10 ADP): Despite a Trubisky / Foles carousel of crap at QB since arriving in Chicago, Robinson has finished as the PPR WR8 & WR9 over his last two seasons. Whether Andy Dalton or rookie phenom Justin Fields, ARob will be playing with THE best QB of his career. Shockingly just 27, Robinson is still in his prime and routinely grades within the Top-5 of Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception in all meaningful categories. Robinson is elite, could lead the league in targets, and finally has a QB to maximize his skill set — all ingredients that could lead to a legit Top-3 finish in 2021. A steal in Round 3
Keenan Allen (25 OVR, +3 ADP): If you remove Weeks 5 and 15 when Allen left early due to injury, he averaged a staggering 20.9 expected fantasy points per game in full-PPR, second only to Davante Adams among wide receivers. While he was slightly better in full-PPR, his 15.4 points per game average in half-PPR was good for the WR5 overall on the season (still removing Weeks 5 and 15). Justin Herbert sure looks like the real deal, and Allen saw 10+ targets in every game he played the full time, including two massive 19 target weeks. An amazing WR1 Anchor for those blessed with CMac - Cook - Henry at the top of drafts.
Terry McLaurin (26 OVR, +6 ADP): Shackled to ultra-conservative Alex Smith, who’s aDOT of only 5.1 yards last season (35th) was a full yard less than any other QB in the league, McLaurin still finished as the WR19 in fantasy as a sophomore. I expect him to explode into the Top-10 in 2021 with gun-slinging Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. Fitz has squeezed career-bests out of Brandon Marshall, Mike Evans, Eric Decker, Stevie Johnson among others for his willingness to let it fly & trust his WRs to do their job. Perfect, considering McLaurin led the NFL in contested catch win rate as rookie. I’m expecting 90+ rec, 1300+ yards, and 9+ TDs.
Both Cowboys - CeeDee Lamb (28 OVR, +9 ADP) & Amari Cooper (37 OVR, +6 ADP): The Cowboys averaged 371 passing yards and 32.8 PPG before Dak Prescott’s injury. While I don’t expect that level of Aerial Pie (especially with reports Dak may be at less than 100% all year), 330+ yards and 30+ PPG isn’t far-fetched. Lamb is the superior player in my eyes, and reports that he’s the most dominant player in camp aren’t surprising. He’s about to take the NFL by storm. Still, Cooper may go down as the better value; in the first 5 weeks, Cooper led the NFL in FPs and targets (49) as Dak’s go-to guy, while Lamb saw just 28 looks -- albeit to a WR12 output. I think the volume distribution is much closer, if not in favor of Lamb, but love snaring any piece of this offense in the mid-to-late third.
Note - Rumblings Dak isn’t at 100% and won’t be all season have me slightly squeamish on the Cowboys. Still the latest suggests he’s humming it all over the yard, connecting on multiple 20+ yard passes in 11-on-11s. I'm hopeful this won’t linger into the season, but this added risk needs to be noted alongside the limitless ceilings.
Mike Evans (33 OVR, +7 ADP): Sure, this WRs corps is a bit crowded. But Brady & the Bucs could very-well pace the NFL in passing yards and TDs, especially if they pick up where they left off to close 2020. Evans' role as a field-stretcher and GL monster in this massive Aerial Pie remains secure -- the 6’5” beast trailed only Adams in targets inside-the-10 (14) while he ranked top-20 in deep targets (21). In 2021, Evans will surely streak the field, plus see another 12+ fades & jump balls in close again all while racking up 1,000+ yards for the sixth straight year. Love his value late Round 3.
Both Rams - Robert Woods (34 OVR, + 10 DP) & Cooper Kupp (35 OVR, +11 ADP): I have third-round grades on both Rams guys, who actually leapt to Top-12 WRs in my latest projections. With Cam Akers out, I’m predicting Matthew Stafford and Sean Mcvay come out slinging, potentially at the highest rate in the NFL. Without many other mouths to soak up these juicy targets, I project Woods & Akers to eat 24% and 23% of the looks, amounting to 140+ for both. Most often, they’ll fall to Round 4 - especially Kupp. Gobble them up as the ideal WR2s.
Favorite Round 3 RB Picks
Honestly, I like all of the Round 3 RBs, but rank them as follows: Chris Carson > David Montgomery > James Robinson all over D’Andre Swift > JK Dobbins. Give me the established vets over the sophomores. Here’s why:
Chris Carson (RB16, +2 ADP): Carson will now play in the same Rams offense that made Todd Gurley a megastar. The outside zone-scheme will be new OC Shane Waldron’s backbone so he can “marry the run and pass.” Beats have already noted a bevvy of “screens, empty formations that split running backs out wide, blitz-beating tosses to the fly” in this “running back friendly” scheme. The RB13 & RB14 in FPPG the past two seasons, Carson’s floor is so sturdy, as he’s finished Top-24 in 20 of his last 27 games (74%), falling below 10 FPs just 3 times (11%). If Waldron’s scheme helps the Seahawks regain the explosiveness of Weeks 1-8, Carson could again average 17.5 FPPG (RB7) and rush for 1,000 yards.
David Montgomery (RB15, +1 ADP): Montgomery was the RB4 in both full and half PPR, yet falls to the end of Round 3. He finished the season with 5-straight 20+ FP days, and was the No.1 RB from Weeks 12-17. Was it a creampuff schedule? Yes. He also gets the easiest SoS among RBs. Was Cohen gone? Yes. And he’s still “weeks” away from returning as of Aug 9th. The switch flipped on for Montgomery, who’s steam-rolling defenders in practice and, according to Nagy, due for 20+ carries a week. An incredible Round 3 steal.
UPDATE James Robinson (RB17, 32 OVR, +26 ADP): August 25 update: Robinson was originally among my fades. However, Travis Etienne will miss all of 2021 due to a Lisfranc injury suffered Preseason Week 2. Suddenly, Robinson once again becomes the centerpiece to what projects as one of the NFL’s run-heaviest teams. Urban Meyer’s offense has always centered around the inside-zone, a scheme that fits Robinson like a glove. Meanwhile, OC Darrell Bevell and passing game coordinator Brian Schottenheimer (lol) both led the league in rush attempts when working with rookie QBs. Carlos Hyde will prevent Robinson from hitting 90%+ snaps again and likely be a bigger thorn than he ever should, so owners shouldn’t expect a repeat of 289 touches (49 rec) & 1400 YFS. Still, Robinson is a bull, and shouldn’t have much trouble going for 1200 YFS and another 10+ TDs, especially if Trevor Lawrence is the real deal.
Given Carson, Montgomery, and Robinson usually fall after the sophomores, I guess this means I’m fading D’Andre Swift and JK Dobbins. UPDATE - Dobbins is done for the year with an ACL tear.
D’Andre Swift (39 OVR, -3 ECR): Swift’s upside is insane, and I love the player. In his 5 career games with more than 12 carries, Swift has averaged 21.22 FPPG, which would’ve been the RB3 in 2020. Moreover, Detroit vacated 243 carries (66%) and 360 targets (64%), clearing the path to tons of volume. Still, I’m mostly fading unless he falls to Round 4. Jamaal Williams may be gross, but Anthony Lynn has already labeled him the “A Back,” while HC Dan Campbell also suggested a “1A & 1B approach.”
Meanwhile, Swift has dealt with a groin injury for most of camp. Still, RB coach Duce Staley suggests Swift should see “25+ touches,” and Lynn’s lead RBs have finished as the RB4, RB6, RB5, and RB6 the past four seasons. If I need to swing for a “legendary” RB1 after a WR-WR or TE-WR start, Swift is my preferred play among all four. This is also true in PPR leagues, where Swift carries 75+ reception upside. Otherwise, I’ll side with the veterans.
JK Dobbins (38 OVR, -13 ADP): Last year’s leader in YPC (6.0), Dobbins is a blast to watch and a perfect fit for the Greg Roman’s blend of zone and power concepts. Indeed, reports of an increased pass-catching role make me tingle a little downstairs. I’ll believe it when I see it after Dobbins logged just 24 targets last season, with the Ravens’ 62 total RB targets ranking second-last. Moreover, Gus Edwards has replaced Dobbins on third-downs throughout the preseason while seeing a near-even workload. Ingram’s 29 targets in 2019 are the most from an RB under Lamar yet. As efficient of a runner as Dobbins is, he’ll cede too many TDs to Lamar Jackson to justify a low-usage receiving back that’s stuck in a timeshare at a Round 3 price.
Other Round 3 Fades
I like most of the Round 3 talent. Yet, in addition to Swift and Dobbins feeling a bit overpriced, I also will be avoiding Patrick Mahomes (40 OVR, -22 ADP).
Of course, Mahomes ranks as my No.1 QB. Yet, I feel he belongs in the same tier as Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, and co. around Picks 40-50, rather than a whole 1-2 rounds ahead. Thus, Mahomes’ opportunity cost becomes far too great in Round 3, given how there are WR1s still available, and the insane RB drop off looms large. There are ~15-16 QBs I’d be comfortable starting as my top-guy, so this is more about my overall approach -- I typically prefer having 3 RBs, 3 WRs, + 1 TE before even considering my QB. There’s just so many more startable QBs going in the same range as pure dart throw RBs & WRs. Gobble up the multi-position talent while it’s still viable.
In this same vein, George Kittle (31 OVR, -4 ADP) falls under the “too high of an opportunity cost” umbrella, even if he’s the best “real” TE in the league. Unlike Kelce or Waller, Kittle isn’t a lock for 140+ targets with much stronger surrounding talent and a run-centric scheme. Moreover, his aggressive playing style, though a joy to watch, also makes him more susceptible to injury. Inexplicably, Kittle also seems allergic to the end zone, never topping 5 TDs in a season. The floor is just a little too low for a ceiling I don’t think as others suggest.
Picks 37 - 84
The Dreaded “RB Dead Zone,” WR Load Up Time
Overview: Tread carefully, drafters. You’ve officially entered “The RB Dead Zone.”
Coined by Jack Miller, the RB Dead Zone refers to how rapidly RB scoring falls after the first two rounds, especially when compared to WRs:
As this graph shows, WR scoring has held fairly steady through ~5 rounds, and is significantly higher than RB.
This is why I love pounding RB-RB (and sometimes another RB) to start, before hammering away at WRs from Rounds 3-7 and abandoning reinforcements to the stable. Especially this year, with Damien Harris, Trey Sermon, Javonte Williams, Raheem Mostert, and James Robinson falling to the 7th-8th range, hammering three, four, or even five WRs from Rounds 3-7 is the best approach historically, as well as based on my board.
Let’s dive into who I like targeting in these rounds.
First, make sure neither Rams WR (Woods or Kupp) or Cowboys WR (Lamb & Cooper) slip into Round 4. They often do, and you need to capitalize if so.
Similarly, if any of the final Top-18 RBs (Carson, Montgomery ) fall, scoop them up, even if you already have two horses. That depth is too good to pass up.
Once you’ve performed Round 3 clean-up duty, let’s get into the actual Round 4-7 WRs to load up on.
Note: Know your leaguemates and the ADP they’ll be using. These are based on FantasyPros data -- and even if I have Higgins at 42 as an insane +31 value, if you know he’ll fall at least a Round or two later, you’d be foolish to burn the 42nd pick on him. Scoop Adam Thielen if you know he’ll be gone but Tee Higgins will make it back, even if he’s lower than Higgins on my list. Still - don’t get cute and miss the players you love either, just keep opportunity cost in mind if you’re confident your target will fall to you your next at-bat.
Round 4-7 WR Targets
Round 4: If Rams, Bucs, and Cowboys WRs are gone…
Tyler Lockett (41 OVR, +10 ADP): Lockett’s maddening inconsistency has blinded many to his career-highs in targets (110), receptions (100), and fantasy points (265.4) last year. Despite a WR8 finish, Lockett is falling to Round 4 and beyond as the WR20 off the board. I understand the reservation -- three games over 33 FPs (one over 50!), but 7 games under 10 PPR FPs. Yet, in speaking with The Seattle Times’ Bob Condotta, he feels Lockett will find more YAC opportunities in Waldron’s scheme, which could help balance out some of his stats. He’s a huge upside injection at WR2 / 3, with upside for another step forward in a “Robert Woods” style role.
Julio Jones (44 OVR): I don’t love Julio… but it’s still Julio. AJ Brown is “expected” to be ready for Week 1… but the fact it’s even a question suggests he may not be 100% following offseason knee surgery. Enter the all-time WR leader in yards per game. With or without Brown, Jones should feast in this hyper-efficient Titans attack, especially if Derrick Henry and Brown help afford him single coverage. Perhaps a change of scenery can help Jones capitalize on his historic TD woes -- a 6’4” beast that can control his body like Julio should be a Red Zone terror. One of the few WRs you can find in Round 4 with an outside shot at leading the league in yardage… and fantasy points.
Late 4th through 5th:
Bengals WRs: Tee Higgins (42 OVR, +31 ADP)
Plenty of analysts and owners are expressing concern over how targets will shakeout in Cincy. Don’t be one of them. Joe Burrow was throwing over 40 attempts per game and on pace for 646, which would’ve set a record. This pie should be more than big enough to fill everyone, assuming Burrow’s training camp yips subside. If, at the end of August, we’re still reading about offensive struggles in Cincy and Burrow failing to trust his knee, we will of course adjust. For now, let’s dig into my favorite:
Anyone with eyes that watched any Higgins in 2020 could see: this man can ball. Higgins took over as a starter in Week 2, and in 9 games with Burrow, he averaged 14.74 FPPG - the 236 FPs would’ve ranked at WR16. OC Brian Callahan said Higgins “is going to play a huge role” in the offense, adding Higgins “put in a lot of work in the offseason” and the team is “counting on a big leap.” The OC noted Higgins has also been “markedly more explosive.” Higgins’ long 6’4” frame should be deadly in the Red Zone, for a team that could visit a whole lot more often in 2021 with Chase added. Speaking of Chase, he’s struggled with drops and separation throughout Training Camp -- including 3 drops on 3 targets in Preseason Week 2. I’m confident he’ll overcome the issues given his college dominance -- the last time he and Burrow shared the field, Chase ranked first in yards (1780) and TDs (20)... with Justin Jefferson on the same team. Still, Chase’s lackluster camp only boosts the shine of Higgins, who goes nearly three rounds past where I value him.
Brandon Aiyuk (48 OVR, +13 ECR): Aiyuk flashed elite WR1 ability throughout last year. In fact, from Weeks 7-15, only Davante Adams (28.5) and Tyreek Hill (27.5) scored more PPG than Aiyuk (20.3). He can run the full route tree, in particular bringing more long-speed for Trey Lance’s cannon arm than his forty may suggest. According to beat reports, Aiyuk ““has to be mentioned among the best players at any position during this camp,” to the point Deebo Samuel said he’s approaching “unguardable.” Sure, this will be a run-first offense, and Aiyuk will contend with the hefty mouths of Kittle and Deebo for targets. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Aiyuk emerge ahead of Kittle, hence why he’s a target here in the 4th / 5th range, while I’m fading Kittle a round earlier. I like Aiyuk 20 picks more than his current price.
Steelers WRs Diontae Johnson (44 OVR, +12 ADP): Johnson is a sneaky target hog, as his 144 targets ranked 6th in the NFL last year. Yet, it’s even more pronounced when you consider he missed 1 week and left in Q1 in 3 other games. Check these stats:
Granted, I don’t expect the Steelers to chuck the most passes again in 2021 after adding Najee Harris, who’ll siphon 70ish targets himself. Still, Johnson is the Aerial Engine to this attack, which makes sense given how unguardable he is in the short-to-intermediate ranges. You won’t find anything close to this volume or upside in Round 5 or beyond.
Jerry Jeudy (51 OVR, +30 ECR): Jeudy already runs some of the best routes and footwork in the league, can be deadly at the catch point and after the catch, but some rookie-year drops have people overlooking just how dominant Jeudy could be. He was labeled “unguardable” in joint practices with the Vikings, and every single day another report praises Jeudy’s dominance. It’s easy to bet on rebounds for elite talents, and Jeudy drips in the “it” factor. QB play is a concern, but Teddy Bridgewater winning the gig is a significant boost for Jeudy. Bridgewater, far more accurate than Drew Lock, will be markedly better at the timing and anticipation routes in which Jeudy thrives. Falling to Round 6 and beyond, Jeudy will prove a steal, and is someone I value at 2 full rounds ahead of his price.
Robby Anderson (61 OVR, +20 ADP): Going a full 2+ rounds after teammate DJ Moore, Anderson actually led the Panthers in targets (136) and receptions (95), and is my much preferred Panthers WR at their prices. Joe Brady and Matt Rhule, Anderson’s old college coach who banged the table to get him in the NCAA and now in the pros, fed Anderson the full route-tree, and he thrived in the short-to-intermediate range. The team is handed Anderson a two-year extension, showcasing how much they value him as their sneaky top-dog. Stir in a pre-established rapport with Sam Darnold, and Anderson makes for an excellent high-floor, medium-ceiling WR3 investment in the late 6th / early 7th.
What about the TEs in this range?
TJ Hockenson (52 OVR, +7 ADP): As mentioned with Swift, the Lions vacated 360 tgts (64.1%), and only brought in Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams to fill the void. He saw 101 targets last year, which was already fifth, but should be in line to see that bump to 130+ in 2021. In games when he’s seen 8+ targets (128 for a season, very reasonable), Hock has averaged 15.27 PPR pts (244 for season), which would’ve had him nipping on the heels of Darren Waller for the TE2. His PlayerProfiler comparable is Travis Kelce given Hock’s 74th percentile for 40-yard, 77th for Speed, 88th for Agility, 90th for Burst, and 92nd for Catch Radius. Plus, with high College Dominator and YPR ranks, Hockenson’s proven to be an Alpha before. I absolutely love securing Hock as my TE1, especially when he falls to Round 6 when I’ve already gotten 2 RBs + 3 WRs.
Kyle Pitts (50 OVR, -3 ADP): This is no slight on Pitts, perhaps the most unique TE prospect to ever enter the league given he’s drawn CALVIN JOHNSON comparables!?!?!? Still, he’s often being drafted a full round ahead of Hockenson and/or Andrews, despite never stepping on an NFL field, and playing the hardest position for rookies to translate to. I think he does smash some rookie records, and still doesn’t pay off an ADP that would have you foregoing Kupp, Higgins, and/or Aiyuk. Of course, given Pitts’ ability, he could also spit all over my face and go for 1200 & 10+ TDs right out of the gate -- that ceiling doesn’t exist with any TEs outside of the first two rounds, and is the main case for drafting him. I just think that chance is 5%, and I’ll take the surer volume and production of Hock a full round later.
Could any RBs escape The Dead Zone?!
While I hate relying on any of the Round 4-7 RBs as anything beyond a potential flex, I do love securing an upside RB3 in the Round 6-7 range, once I feel great about my top 3 WRs -- think Antonio Gibson last year. This often means a stab at later-blooming rookie RBs, or guys in new, uncertain situations that carry real “best case” upside.
Here’s who I’m targeting:
Darrell Henderson (45 OVR, +4 ADP): UPDATE (8/25): I am no longer in on Henderson after the Rams traded for Sony Michel. Michel is coming off career-highs in efficiency: highest YPC (5.7), yards per route run (2.38), yards after contact per attempt (3.41) and elusive rating of career, while setting career-highs in receiving yards and PFF grades as runner & receiver. THE DEAD ZONE GROWS SCARIER!
UPDATE (8/28): Gus Edwards (42 OVR, +31 ECR): Edwards, unfortunately, has skyrocketed after JK Dobbins suffered a torn ACL and will be out for the year. The Ravens have led the NFL in rush attempts per game for three straight seasons since Greg Roman arrived (33.5, 36.8, 34.6), and Dobbins’ injury won’t change that. Edwards is now in-line for the largest slice, even if the team signs a veteran to help shoulder the load. Edwards is sneaky-efficient, tying Dalvin Cook, Jonathan Taylor, and Alvin Kamara for 7th in YPC (5.0), and he already led the team in GL attempts last year -- a role this train should absolutely retain. If you need anymore proof Edwards is legit good, he is one of 2 players in NFL history to produce at least 700 yards rushing and average 5-plus yards per carry in the first 3 seasons of a career. The other is Nick Chubb. Edwards won't light the world on fire as a pass-catcher, but he’s more than capable here. The Top-12 Upside is so real, and Edwards is immediately my favorite “Dead Zone” RB.
UPDATE (9/6): Miles Sanders (45, -7 ADP): Though I'm technically still "lower" than Sanders' ADP, I've seen him falling to Round 5 or beyond in most drafts I've seen this year. I like to gobble him up here. On the negative front, his receptions dropped nearly in half (50 down to 28) last year, and Sanders has already been in a near-even split throughout camp with Boston Freakin' Scott. The lack of receiving upside is nerve-wracking. Fortunately, potential short-yardage nuisance & GL nuisances Jordan Howard & Kerryon Johnson were released, which significantly boosts Sanders' ceiling -- the only other RBs on the roster (Scott & Gainwell) profile as scat backs, and Sanders should monopolize short-yardage work now. Sanders was also a Top-12 RB in two of his three weeks with Jalen Hurts, includng his highest score of 2020 (29.3). Sanders clearly benefitted from the wide-open lanes afforded by Hurts' rushing threat. While Jordan Howard lingers on the practice squad and could be obnoxious, Sanders' outlook has improved drastically. He's an excellent RB2 or RB3 selection in Round 5+.
Mike Davis (49 OVR, + 6 ADP): Everything is set up for Davis to succeed. Zero competition (Patterson? Ollison? C’mon) within new HC Arthur Smith’s dominant run scheme (10th & 2nd most rushes last two years), and in an offense capable of posting plenty of points. Davis, meanwhile, trailed only Nick Chubb in missed tackles per rush while snaring 84% of his 76 targets last year (5th best rate), so he can be a complete back. Still, Davis slowed down big time when fed last year. The team is hyping up an RBBC even with trash on the roster. I like the upside this late, but wouldn’t be shocked if he fizzles out if fed too heavily.
Damien Harris (55 OVR, +10 ADP) UPDATE: Pats RBs have historically been a nightmare to figure out. James White will still monopolize the receiving work, which does lower Harris’ floor and ceiling. Still, the Pats might have the second-best run-blocking line in the NFL. Their defense should be Top-5. Their identity will be centered around clock-control & power-running: enter Harris. A bull of a runner, Harris can catch when called upon. His impressive preseason and camp play led the Pats to trade away Sony Michel, removing at least one mouth. Rhamondre Stevenson has looked incredible so far this preseason, but Harris has consistently been the first man up in games and practices. He’ll be a great bet for 80+ yards and a TD each and every week, giving him a solid shot at rising above this RB Dead Zone.
UPDATE - With Cam Newton released, Harris’ ceiling is through the roof. Newton’s 12 rushing TDs & 19 attempts inside-the-five both ranked 4th in the league. Harris should be the next man up
Javonte Williams (60 OVR, +9 ADP): Here’s perhaps my favorite RB in the “Dead Zone,” but not as an immediate starter. Williams will likely start the season behind Gordon, but the team didn’t trade up in Round 2 with the incumbent in place to not use him. Williams broke the record for PFF’s broken tackle metric, and he’s already flashed that power and decisiveness through early preseason. Despite sharing a backfield with Michael Carter, Williams absolutely possesses three-down traits, and Patrick Shurmur’s scheme typically functions with a sole bellcow. Plus, the Broncos field a top-10 run blocking line. It may take a few weeks, but when Williams inherits that role, he’ll be a weekly RB1 -- especially Bridgewater continues to show out in the regular season.
Update: Williams got “starters treatment” rest in Preseason Week 3. Could it be a sign of things to come?
49ers RBs: UPDATE - Raheem Mostert (62 OVR, +2 ADP) & Trey Sermon (66 OVR, +16 ADP):
Before diving into the backs, here’s a reminder of the league-winning upside of a Shanahan Workhorse within this unrivaled zone scheme. Dating back Kyle’s father Mike, nobodies like Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson and Reuben Droughns have gone for 1500+ yards, while beasts like Clinton Portis, Arian Foster, and Terrell Davis all hit 2,000+ and 18+ TDs. Though his recent backfields have been committee-ridden due to injury, Kyle himself called plays for the following beasts:
Steve Slaton: 318 touch (50 rec on 59 tgts), 1659 YFS, 10 TDs, RB7
Alfred Morris: 346 touch (11 rec on 16 tgts), 1690 YFS, 13 TDs, RB7
Alfred Morris: 285 touch (9 rec on 12 tgts), 1353 YFS, 7 TDs, RB20
Devonta Freeman: 338 touch (73 rec on 97 tgts), 1634 total yards, 14 TDs, RB1
Devonta Freeman: 281 touch (54 rec on 65 tgt), 1541 total yards, 13 total TDs, RB6
Carlos Hyde: 299 touch (59 rec on 88 tgt), 1288 YFS, 8 TDs, RB8
6/13 (46%) seasons yielding these type of results (and 280+ touches) ain’t a bad bet for a 6th-7th round price. Especially when Trey Sermon is a glove-like fit for his offense -- so much so that Kyle traded up, telling him on a call “We couldn't wait til our pick. We've been wanting you for a while so we came up and got you. You're in the right spot man."
Yet, Raheem Mostert got the “clear-cut” starter treatment throughout the preseason, resting Weeks 1 & 2 before a dazzling single series with the first team offense. He looked DYNAMITE, especially in the cutback lanes when Trey Lance was in as a running threat. Mostert may be among the deadliest RBs with space, logging the 2 fastest ball-carrier speeds of 2020 in just the first two weeks. I had been preferring Trey, but have since switched it to Mostert. He glides like no other, and will put up solid stats when healthy even in a timeshare.
That’s the rub though. Mostert is a sports car -- lightning fast, sexy to ride, but breaks down often. At some point the door will open for Sermon, and he could thrive and slam it shut. (Though he’s had his own injury concerns)
Never mind that the 49ers finish the year with the Bengals, Texans, Titans, and Falcons, four of the softest defenses in the league. Whoever is manning the backfield with Trey Lance for those four games will bring league titles. Especially if I don’t need to rely on him for early season production, Sermon is one of my favorite Round 6-7 picks that my (ample) gut tells me will win leagues.
Other Round 4-7 Fades
DJ Moore (57 OVR, -13 ECR): Moore flashes WR1 upside, with rare speed and YAC abilities... but based on his consistent misusage, his ADP is far too rich. Moore was out-targeted and out-scored by Robby Anderson in 2020, who goes 2+ Rounds later. If the new coaching staff didn’t fully utilize Moore last year, why is everyone so optimistic he’ll turn it around under the same direction in 2021? This is doubly true with Terrace Marshall dominating camp and preseason, and monopolizing the slot snaps. Sure, his TDs should regress positively after 4, 4, and 2 through his three seasons… or maybe the 6’5” terror that is Marshall feasts here and keeps Moore under 5 TDs once again. Either way, more expensive than Higgins, Aiyuk, and Jeudy, I will own exactly 0% of DJ Moore in 2021.
Kenny Golladay (93 OVR, -30 ECR): Golladay was already on my fades list, less because of his own talent: third in deep receptions per game, seventh in air yards per target, and ninth in receiving yards per game since 2018. He’s among the best contested catchers in the game with a 93rd percentile speed score at 6’4”. Rather, Daniel Jones flat out sucks, and HC Jason Garrett is even worse. Sure, Garrett coached some Alpha Seasons out of Terrell Owens, Myles Austin, and Dez Bryant -- but I believe firmly that had more to do with Tony Romo and QB play and less to do with “The Clapper.” Plus, Golladay has a sketchy injury history, and has been out nearly all of Training Camp with a hamstring injury he still hasn’t returned from 24 days later. With the deck stacked against him in NY, on a bum hammy, I want 0 to do with Golladay or any Giants not named Saquon.
All RBs, but especially….
Josh Jacobs (56 OVR, -26 ADP): First, the Raiders dismantled their Top-12 offensive line, shipping out Trent Brown, Rodney Hudson, and Gabe Jackson. Then, they signed Kenyan Drake, who’s working as the clear pass-catching RB, both on third downs and also out wide. Jacobs saw the third most carries (273) and overall touches (306), but still just finished just 12th in FPPG, suggesting severe inefficiency -- highlighted by more games outside the Top-24 (6, 40%) more often than inside the Top-12 (5, 33%), despite insane volume. I doubt he sniffs 25 targets after seeing 45 last year. If Drake, who ranked 4th behind Jacobs in goalline carries, also eats into Jacobs’ TD share, then Jacobs will be worth even less than this current -26 ranking.
Kareem Hunt (71 OVR, -26 ADP): I don’t have a huge case against Hunt besides: A) I think Nick Chubb goes berserk. With an improved defense, game scripts will favor Chubb, and it was clear once Chubb returned from injury that the team wasn’t getting cute with the early-down or GL work any more. B) Hunt showed even in a “best case” scenario -- a Chubb injury -- that his ceiling wasn’t the Top-5 RB we expected. He was fine, but I expected so much more. Stir in OBJ coming in to eat targets and Hunt’s floor and ceiling are lower than his current Round 5 Price Tag.
Darrell Henderson (71 OVR, -26 ADP): Originally one of the few RBs in the Dead Zones I was OK with, Henderson has become an immediate fade following the Rams’ trade for Sony Michel. As a Pats fan, I can confirm Sony’s not anything special. Still, he’s coming off career highs in efficiency: Highest YPC (5.7), yards per route run (2.38), yards after contact per attempt (3.41) and elusive rating of career, while setting career-highs in receiving yards and PFF grades as runner & receiver, plus ranking Top-10 in pass protection grades. Michel’s far from cooked and passed the eye ball test last year and this preseason, and will be a far bigger nuisance than many think -- I liken it to Carlos Hyde ruining the Duke Johnson breakout we all craved two seasons ago. The team clearly has worries about Henderson in a feature role, as they should -- he’s always hurt. Give me Sony 7+ rounds later with a fair shot at being their most valuable RB.
Myles Gaskin (72 OVR, -25 ADP): Gaskins looked phenomenal in Preseason Week 2. Don’t let this distract you that the team started Malcolm Brown in Week 1, while Gaskins also played just 19 of 37 first team snaps Week 2, nearly matched by Salvon Ahmed (13). Gaskin is undoubtedly the best back to own in MIA, but Brian Flores has already promised a three-headed committee. Going among the above WRs with Top-12 upside, Gaskin will create a severe midround hole in lineups.
MELVIN GORDON?!?! (96 OVR, -25 ECR): There’s a handful of guys I can’t believe their ADP / ECR on FantasyPros, and Gordon going in Round 6/7 fits the bill. Granted, in Underdog and DraftKings Best Ball, Gordon typically falls to Round 9 and beyond, so again -- check your source. Any Round before 10 makes Gordon an easy fade. The Broncos traded up for Javonte Williams, who does everything Gordon does but better. Moreover, Pat Shurmur has typically preferred a workhorse; his preseason usage of RBs, with ~55% going to Williams and ~45% going to Royce Freeman (including third downs) suggests otherwise, and could hint Gordon will remain involved no matter what. Still, I’m banking on Williams being a true three-down horse and league-winner by midyear. Either way, in the final year of his contract, Gordon won’t be seeing the 9th most carries (and 11th most total opps) among RBs in 2021.
But what about the elite QBs?
From 2012-2019, only five QBs topped 360 FPs, and never in the same season: Peyton Manning (2013), Cam Newton (2015), Aaron Rodgers (2016), Pat Mahomes (2018), and Lamar Jackson (2019). All won MVP in said season besides Rodgers, and most set at least one record.
In 2020, six QBs achieved over 370 FPs: Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, and Russell Wilson -- and Dak Prescott averaged more FPPG than all six before going down! In DFS, you essentially needed one of these guys to win in both GPPs and 50/50s throughout the year.
So the same must’ve been true for seasonal leagues? And snaring one of these guys is a must in 2021, right?
No, and no. At least in single-QB leagues.
For one, I expect 2020 to go down as a massive outlier year for QB scoring. Indeed, with more and more “Konami Code” runners that possess strong arms entering the league, QB scoring will remain high. But 2020 was absurd, and likely aided by the lack of real Training Camp and preseason for defensive preparation + the absence of crowds to swing homefield advantages.
Moreover, outlined by Scott Barrett in his “Anatomy of a League-Winner,” the highest scoring QBs rarely provided a truly meaningful edge compared to RBs, and then WRs. To drive this home, in 2018, Mahomes scored the most FPs by any QB in any season in NFL history, with a 10th+ round ADP, and still was just 10th in terms of win percentage that season.
This is because the high supply and low demand of QBs when you’re only required to start one in a given week. JJ Zachariason has routinely proven you can stream a Waiver Wire QB in a positive matchup to yield a Top-10, and usually Top-7, average in a given season.
Thus, 10 of 14 QBs with the highest “win rates” from the last four years were drafted in the final five rounds of drafts, or not selected at all. Amidst historic QB scoring, Justin Herbert had a higher win rate than any other QB last year, and he wasn’t drafted.
As tempting as the “Big 4” QBs may be in Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, and Lamar Jackson, history suggests you’ll be far better served bypassing these guys. They’ll cost you high-quality starters like the WRs listed above, with plenty of upside still lingering at QB late -- especially when compared to the WRs and RBs going in the same Round 10+ range that, outside 4-5 total players, are destined to be bench fodder.
Thus, I’ll pass on these guys every time. Instead, target one of the rookie Konami Code guys in Trey Lance or Justin Fields, and select 1-2 other “Bridge QBs” (Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ben Roethlisberger, hell even Zach Wilson for a bit of upside) to keep you afloat while you wait for the league-winning upside to come to fruition. More on this strategy later.
Picks 85 - 120
Depth + Depth + More Depth & Round out those Starters
Welcome to Round 8. By now, you should have at least 2 RBs (and ideally a solid third or upside stash), 3+ WRs (4+ if you play 3WR & Flex, especially in PPR), and possibly a Top-6 TE.
Hopefully, you’ve remained patient on QB while rounding out your starters at the other positions. By now, specifically by Round 5 your chances of uncovering true “League-Winners” drop dramatically -- only 11% of League-Winning WRs came after Round 5 the last 10 years, compared to 25% at RBs (often due to handcuffs / RB2s becoming RB1s after injuries).
Still, even if our pool of true league-winners is mostly dried up, usable Top-24 RB & WR depth can still be had in these ranges. In particular, I really like the WRs who fall here, while I mostly despise the RB pool: from Pick 72 - 102, I rank just three RBs. As such, the players to target in the Round 8-10 consists mostly of WRs, QBs, plus the few RBs I’d consider here (and a whole lot of fades). But before diving into them…
If you don’t have a TE by now...
Logan Thomas (80 OVR): My TE7 in a tier by himself, Logan Thomas is the last TE1 I truly want, especially with Irv Smith now done for the year. The TE4 last year, Thomas was a snaps & routes-run monster (87.6% route-per-drop back led the NFL). This has carried into 2021, as Thomas has been in on all 37 first-team snaps, seeing 13 in the slot, 3 out wide, while running 22 routes on all 22 of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s dropbacks and generating three targets (14.2%). The converted QB drips in athleticism: 4.61 forty (89th percentile) & 112.1 speed score (91st percentile) to complement 87th percentile agility & a 94th percentile catch radius thanks to fantastic leaping ability. Though Thomas’ competition for targets increased with Curtis Samuel, Dyami Brown, and Adam Humphries added, the quality should increase, with the gun-slinging Fitz roping more deep-seamers his way, and generating more Red Zone opportunities for this 6’6” monster. I absolutely love being able to snare 7 players (3 RBs, 4 WRs) & then still get an A+ TE in Round 8. The drop off is steep, so don’t get too cute letting LT3 pass you by.
ROUND 8-10 RECEIVERS
Corey Davis (73 OVR, +38 ADP): Often, rookie QBs find their go-to guy & lock-in, especially when the pocket gets awry. If the preseason has been any indication, that is unequivocally Corey Davis. Yes, I’ve spit venom about Davis, avowing “never again” after he’s tortured me routinely. And here I am, seeing an Alpha WR1 -- 10 targets on his 13 route runs (77%, lol) who’s soaked up the role of my presumed No.1, Elijah Moore, who's sat out with a quad injury. Davis had his best pro year in 2020, notching more 100 yard games than elite teammate AJ Brown and commanding a 23% target share. Beyond Davis’ own volume and ability, Zach Wilson looks legitimately good. The ball zips from his hand, he moves well in the pocket, and the Jets defense projects to be among the worst again after being ravaged with preseason injuries. Meanwhile, Mike LaFleur has looked like the next great branch on the “Shanahan / McVay” tree, scheming WRs wide open with excellent spacing between routes and usage of play-action. With volume, QB play, and scheme all in his favor, Davis has all the makings for a Round 9 steal -- the only risk being Moore’s impending return.
Laviska Shenault (74 OVR, +36 ADP): If you want a WR who could absolutely explode in Round 9 or beyond, make Shenault your guy, especially following Travis Etienne’s season-ending injury. The most valuable role in Urban Meyers’ college squads was always the “joker” RB / WR -- think Percy Harvin & Curtis Samuel. These two averaged 24.1 and 25.2 FPPG respectively, thanks to both voluminous and versatile usage. Both averaged ~750 rushing yards & ~800 receiving yards thanks to 24% & 26% target shares + 25% & 28% of non-QB runs. Meyer drafted Etienne to fit this role, yet Shenault could prove this to be a wasted pick. He’s currently falling to Round 9 & 10, so no need to reach… but if his ADP starts to climb in light of the ETN injury, I wanted to show how high I’d value him.
UPDATE (9/7) Antonio Brown (75 OVR, +28 ECR): Sure, AB may be third-fiddle here. That didn’t stop him from ranking as the WR24 in PPG across his 8 games in Tampa, including 13 and 14 target days -- in fact, he tied Evans for the lead in targets after joining the team (62), and led the team in receptions in that span (45). This, despite joining the team midseason and learning on the fly. He’ll remain highly involved, and now benefit from a full offseason of learning the playbook and strengthening his rapport with the GOAT. Brown has looked “faster, more explosive” this offseason. Though older, Brown’s a route-running wizard playing with the best to ever do it. The cheapest way to get a piece of the No.1 pass attack in the NFL, with league-winning upside if Evans or Godwin go down. UPDATE: To further my love for AB, he's been looking "faster & stronger" throughout camp than he has in 4-5 years-- to the point ESPN writers predict AB will lead the Bucs in receiving?! Wow. I don't agree, but it still shows the upside this guy carries
Deebo Samuel (76 OVR, +9 ADP): Even in an injury-ravaged 2020, Samuel flashed elite separation (fifth in avg cushion), downfield ability (11th in yards per route run), and sure hands (13th catch rate), all while remaining among the best YAC receivers in the game. While it’s a crowded corps (Kittle, Aiyuk ahead) on a run-centric team, Deebo maximizes his opportunities, and I think this team could border on indefensible if/when Lance takes over. Injury risk is very real here, with Deebo hurting himself twice in 17 preseason practices (groin, then glute). But, as the perfect fit for Shanahan’s scheme, you’ll get explosive stats for the contests Deebo’s in.
Devonta Smith (79 OVR, +20 ECR): No rookie has a clearer path to 120+ targets than Smith, who reunites with Jalen Hurts in an ideal landing spot. Recovered from a sprained MCL, Smith looked every-bit his indefensible, shifty self in his first NFL action (albeit with 2 drops). The Slim Reaper was labeled “the best player they played against” by all the SEC guys Albert Breer interviewed and “the best football player I’ve been around” by all his Bama teammates and coaches. Yes, the hit rate of WRs his size is slim, but so are the odds of a WR winning the Heisman (first time in 29 years). Smith has outlier written all over & has no competition in his way to proving just that.
Mike Williams (84 OVR, +30 ADP): Though Williams’ latest “minor hip issue” is annoying, particularly for a guy who’s played with a variety of ailments as a pro, the upside at his price is undeniable. He has alternated between “game-changer” and nonfactor as a pro, but as the “X” WR in new OC Joe Lombardi’s Saints-inspired scheme, Williams could finally find the consistency he’s so often lacked. This is the same role Michael Thomas set the league record for receptions in; while many of those slants will go to the smoother Keenan Allen, just a slight bump in more high-percentage looks would do wonders for Williams, who’s operated almost exclusively as a big-playfield stretcher. Lombardi has promised “a big role for him” while Herbert gushed “he’s one of those guys we need to find more ways to get him involved.” A bump in both the amount and quality of volume would be massive for a WR with Williams’ skillset. Given I think Herbert hucks for 45+ TDs and approaches 5k yards, 900+ yards & 10 TDs are well-within his grasp.
Brandin Cooks (85 OVR, +12 ADP): I want absolutely NOTHING to do with the Texans… outside of Brandin Cooks. With 1,000+ yrs in five of his last 6 years, Cooks has been the model of consistency. Granted, he’s also played in QB Nirvana, rotating from Drew Brees, to Tom Brady, (miss Jared Goff) to Deshaun Watson. Assuming Watson is gone, Cooks will deal with the worst QB play of his career in 2021. Still, the Texans should BLOW. No matter how run-heavy Dave Culley would like to be, they’re going to need to air it out late in games. Who is there behind him to throw to? Will Fuller is gone. On just sheer volume, Cooks could easily hit 1K once again, even if the TD ceiling is capped here.
Round 8-10 RBS
AJ Dillon (95 OVR, -1 ADP): First of all: THIGHS. Second… THIGHS. OK, third...THIGHS.
Dillon may have usability right out of the gate. If he inherits the GL role of the team that led the NFL in TDs last year… look out. He can be a quality RB2 even sharing the field with Aaron Jones. But that’s not why you’re taking Dillon. Should anything happen to Jones, who has missed times in all but one season, Dillon would vault to the Top-10 in RBs. He can sneaky catch, and is an absolute bull who has only impressed every time he’s gotten the rock. He’s my favorite RB to target in this range after the Javonte & Sermon types are off the board.
Sony Michel (97 OVR, +59 ADP): Based on ECR & ADP, Sony belongs in the 10-15 round range below. Still, I expect Michel to go by Round 10 in most drafts, and would be wary of waiting too long because Michel’s upside is sneaky high. The Rams have ranked Top-10 in Rush TD in all four seasons under McVay, also ranking Top-10 in yards and attempts three-of-four years. The system, built on the zone-scheme that marries the run & pass through screens and splitting the RB out wide, has made fantasy mega-stars before. Meanwhile, people assume Sony is washed, but that’s just not true. Beyond passing the eye test this preseason and last year, Sony is coming off career-highs in efficiency: highest YPC (5.7), yards per route run (2.38), yards after contact per attempt (3.41) and elusive rating of career, while setting career-highs in receiving yards and PFF grades as runner & receiver, and ranking Top-10 in pass-blocking. Schefter labeled Michel the likely lead back, and even if not, we know it’s only a matter of time for Darrell Henderson to get hurt. Outside Dillon, no RBs match Sony’s upside after Round 8.
USABILITY (w/ some upside):
Note: Gus Edwards was originally here, but has leaped into Rounds 4-7 as an RB target
James Conner (99 OVR, -2 ADP): Conner likely won’t inherit all of Kenyan Drake’s work (7th most att, 9th most opps)... but he should get what matters most: goalline work. Even with Kyler Murray vulturing, Drake ranked third in carries inside the 10. Meanwhile, Chase Edmonds has only 1 career GL attempt. Conner has a nose for the End Zone, and as sketchy as his own injury history may be, Edmonds has missed time in both professional seasons so far too. Don’t love it, hope to have enough RB depth not to need it, but if I do...I’ll hold my nose and plunge.
Round 8-10 QBs (& overall QB strategy):
I still prefer waiting a bit later, seeing plenty of value on legitimately 24+ QBs this year. However, I am a firm believer that one of Trey Lance and/or Justin Fields will win leagues once they’re starting. I will leave every draft with at least one. If you like an extremely safe floor to bridge to these guys, this is where to invest.
Justin Herbert, Russell Wilson, and Aaron Rodgers are likely gone in this range. If not, gobble up whoever has fallen.
Otherwise, you’ll be looking at my Tier 4 here: Tom Brady (QB8), Matthew Stafford (QB9), Ryan Tannehill (QB10), and Jalen Hurts (QB11),. Let’s touch on each one:
Tom Brady (87 OVR, -13 ADP): In 2021 at age 43, Brady finished 2nd in attempts, (610), completions (401), passing TDs (40), third in yards (4616), and 8th in PPR FPs (350). He crushed it, despite the Arians-Brady marriage starting a bit rockier than expected. By midseason, the two were rolling, especially once Antonio Brown was added, and I expect them to pick right up where they left off -- giving Brady as good a bet as any to lead the league in passing yards and TDs in 2021. He should fall off the theoretical cliff sometime, but I’ll believe that when I see it.
Matthew Stafford (88 OVR, +3 ADP): If Tom doesn’t lead the NFL in passing, Matthew Stafford might be next. Sean McVay is a brilliant offensive mind, but he’s been shackled by Jared Goff his entire tenure (who somehow squeezed out multiple Top-10 seasons, largely due to McVay). Enter Stafford, who should immediately boost this offense in two key facets: performance under pressure, and play-action. Goff ranked second-worst among starters under pressure last year, while Stafford ranks 7th the last two years. The Rams used play-action at the third highest clip, but Goff ranked 24th on EPA per play using play-action; Stafford ranked second-best. This is the perfect scheme for Stafford, who’ll be throwing to his top-weapons in years, within the best scheme he’s ever played-in. Very real 5K & 40+ TD upside.
Ryan Tannehill (89 OVR, +4 ADP) This math is simple: Tannehill is throwing to AJ Brown and Julio Jones, and defenses can’t cue in on either because King Derrick Henry awaits in the backfield. The loss of OC Arthur Smith could sting, but how could any playcaller mess this up? Tannehill was the QB7 last year, and in 2019 finished second with 22.5 FPPG as a starter, behind only Lamar Jackson. He’s been reborn away from Gase, and should have another phenomenal Top-8 season assuming his weapons stay healthy.
UPDATE Jalen Hurts (90, +1 ADP): Jalen Hurts has the most upside of this group to explode into the Top-10 and be the "Lamar / Allen" of 2021. The obvious reason is his legs, and Scott Barrett explains Hurts’ ceiling far better than I:
“Last season, Hurts averaged 24.8 fantasy points per four quarters (11.3 rushing). Or 25.9 FPG in games started and finished (9.9 rushing FPG). For perspective, 24.8 FPG would rank as the eighth-best QB season all-time and 25.9 FPG would rank fifth-best all-time. 11.3 rushing FPG would rank best all-time and 9.9 rushing FPG would rank third-best since 1975. In other words, if Hurts remains who he was last year and doesn’t lose the starting job, he doesn’t just have high-end QB1 upside, he has overall QB1 and historically great levels of upside.”
Although the Eagles have been lukewarm in their endorsement of Hurts, he's officially been named the starter after a "great camp" according to Sirianni. The risk is real -- Hurts' leash is likely shorter than most starters, especially with his accuracy woes and Gardner Minshew now nipping at his heels -- but that risk is worth absorbing considering the rewards. The name of the game is league-winners, and Hurts has all the makings of one if he can play all 16.
Round 8-10 Fades
Most RBs… but especially:
Michael Carter (132, -54 ADP): The single biggest “faller” of the preseason, Carter has quickly gone from a Round 8 target to a DO NOT DRAFT within 3 weeks. He’s played behind Tevin Coleman, Ty Johnson, AND LaMical Perine (so much for running with the ones?!?!), and has looked mediocre when he does finally get in… against fourth stringers. Ravaged with defensive injuries, I think the Jets will be airing it out early and often. Carter was among the best pass-catching RBs in this class, so maybe this ultimately helps him. But to be buried behind this much crap and not separate… means he could just be crap too.
Bucs RBs: Ronald Jones (144 OVR, -48 ADP) & Leonard Fournette (150, -66 ADP): What was already a gross two-headed RBBC became a three-headed nightmare when Gio Bernard was added. In fact, despite going the last of the three, I prefer Bernard to either of the Bucs early-down guys. That’s because his role as the third-down and pass-catching specialist is clear and predictable each week, evidenced by him logging every single third-down snaps thus far in the preseason. There couldn’t be an easier fade than two early-down only grinders who’ll be constantly nibbling one another’s cheese, especially when they play for such an erratic HC in Bruce Arians. Hard pass.
Bills RBs:Devin Singletary (126 OVR, -20 ECR) & Zack Moss (141 OVR, -49): I’ll preface this with: I want nothing to do with either Bills RB. No team utilized their backfield less, and the pair combined for just 1 Top-12 game between them, despite playing in the third-highest scoring offense. Josh Allen is the ultimate goalline hammer, capping both their TD ceilings, and neither is active enough in the receiving game to help balance out the lack of scores. Of the two, I prefer Singletary, who has played 29/44 first team snaps (66%) while racking up 74 YFS and 2 TDs this preseason, while playing 18-of-20 first team snaps ahead of Moss in their action together. He also goes later & has less injury risk. Still, the answer here is NO. Especially to Moss. The nonfactor roles of the RBs couldn't have been clearer in Allen's limited preseason action, where the QB threw it 17 times in the first 18 plays.
David Johnson (184 OVR, -85 ADP): I cannot believe David Johnson has an ADP within the Top-100. He has played third-string on this new regime, well behind both Phillip Lindsay and Mark Ingram. But even if he were No.1, I still wouldn’t touch him in the Top-150. A three-headed nightmare is gross enough to avoid, but especially when it’s based in the league’s worst offense. Anyone taking Johnson this high should have their sanity checked.
I feel most WRs are appropriately, if not under, priced here. But one guy I have universally avoided is:
DJ Chark (103 OVR, -14 ADP): Very little of the Urban Meyer transition has gone smooth in Jacksonville, especially for Chark. He was called out as “a big WR who plays small.” He then suffered a small fracture in his hand, costing him valuable rapport-forging time. He already fizzled out last year, so why are we drafting 2019 numbers in a situation that could be significantly worse? No, not from a QB-talent standpoint -- that could only go up. But he’ll now be competing for targets with Marvin Jones, who has looked like Trevor Lawrence’s go-to guy, as well as Laviska Shenault, who profiles perfectly for Meyer’s “Joker Role.” Chark realistically could land third on the target totem pole, in an offense that will likely rank Top-5 in rush attempts under Meyer and Darrell Bevell, yet is more expensive than any of his fellow Jags WRs, and many other far superior fantasy WRs. Hard pass.
Note: SI beat writer John Shipley did rave about how good Chark looked before going down, and cautioned being too low on him given he's the Jags' best deep threat to pair with Trevor Lawrence's amazing deep ball. Food for though, but I still prefer the other Jags WRs.
After Logan Thomas, the only TE worth foregoing the Round 8-9 WRs or upside RBs for would be Robert Tonyan. Otherwise, I am mostly fading all other TEs due to opp. cost, although Tonyan and Higbee do have clear “ceiling” narratives.
However, one play I absolutely cannot get on board with is...
Dallas Goedert (122, -36 ADP): Everyone assumed Zach Ertz would be gone from Philly this offseason, and this has been baked into Goedert’s pricetag as a Top-9 TE. Yet, Ertz is still very present here -- he’s actually out-snapped and out-targeted Goedert all preseason -- but Goedert’s price has yet to change. Stir in Hurts’ accuracy concern, and Goedert is among the worst TE investments you could make at his price, no matter how “talented” he’s been hyped to be.
Rounds 11-15: Penny Stocks, Pt1
Picks 121 - 180
Shoot for the fuckin' moon!
At this point, you should have 3+ RBs, 5+ WRs, 1 TE. Perhaps you snared a Top-10 QB.
Whether you have your signal-caller or not, you must promise one thing. This is THE QB strategy I am implementing in all single-QB leagues.
QB: DRAFT TREY LANCE (99, +48 ADP) OR JUSTIN FIELDS (100, +41)
THE KONAMI CODE
Neither Fields nor Lance will be starting in Week 1. As such, they often fall to the last few rounds of standard 15 round drafts, if not to the waivers entirely. Yet both provide astronomical upside as “Konami Code” poster boys. This refers to the “cheat code” provided by QBs who can run. Again referencing the great Scott Barrett, since 2000, 41 QBs have played 12+ games and averaged 5.5+ rush attempts per game. Of them, 34 finished as Top-12 QBs (83%) and 24 finished Top-6 (59%) in FPPG.
Rushing yards are worth 2.5 times as much as passing yards, and rushing touchdowns are worth 1.5 times as much as passing touchdowns. Thus, QBs capable of “leg points” become infinitely more valuable than typical pocket statues.
But Lance & Fields could approach levels we’ve never seen, since they both possess insane arms too, with ample weapons around them to do serious damage.
Of the two, I think I prefer Lance. His weapons and play-calling both edge out Fields; if there was a “Mahomes Breakout” set up, it’d be Kyle Shanahan pulling an Andy Reid and masterminding the perfect offense for Lance’s skill set alongside high-end weapons. Lance has flashed a Mahomesian arm, and, after racking up 1100 yards and 14 TDs in college, the kid can clearly run. He’s a north-south bruiser who’s first TD throw went for 80 yards. Lance does it all, and the 49ers get the Falcons, Titans, and Texans in their final 3 contests.
Yet, Fields has been more impressive this preseason. He’s displayed his prowess through the air and ground throughout the preseason: in roughly 1 game of action, he’s gone 30-of-49 (61%) for 276 & 2 TDs through the air, while racking up 11 carries for 92 yards (8.4 YPC) & a score on the ground. In other words: 34 FPs.
Don’t forget: Fields trailed only Mac Jones in deep accuracy from this class, and only Joe Burrow and Jones among QBs in the last 5 years. Yet, he also ran the third fastest forty time of all time among QBs, behind only Mike Vick and RGIII. I have less faith in Matt Nagy, although he does hail from the Andy Reid tree. Maybe he just needs the right QB?
The risk with both is they are dead roster spots until they take over, if they do at all. For both organizations, the preference is Garopollo and Dalton do enough to win games and keep afloat so the rookies can be brought along slowly and not even touch the field this year. Fortunately, Dalton sucks, and Shanahan is waiting to show-off the next level of the “Shanny Scheme.”
Thus, you must have at least 1 good bridge QB, if not multiple, to ensure you stay afloat while waiting for this league-winning upside. If you plunged before these rounds -- great! Secure the precious bench cargo without worry.
Otherwise, it’s time to Dumpster Dive:
(Note: This strategy (and really the overall approach to the QB position) can be much trickier in 2QB leagues with 3 QB roster caps -- suddenly you must rely on the two same guys every week and lose the ability to rotate based on matchup, at least until the rookies are starting. This can burn a major hole in the roster if the rookies are benched for 6+ games, so tread carefully in these formats).
Late Round “Bridge” QBs to Target:
Ryan Fitzpatrick (128 OVR, +54 ADP): Across his last 18 full starts, Fitzpatrick has been a Top-12 QB & topped 22 FPs a whopping 12 times (66%). This includes FOUR top-three finishes, and a surprisingly high floor, with just one disaster outside the top-24. Now consider: this was throwing to GARBAGE (Devante Parker his No.1?!), on an offense that ranked 26th in pace and 20th in total plays. In WASH, Fitzmagic will be throwing to Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, Antonio Gibson, Logan Thomas, Dyami Brown while operating a pass-happy Scott Turner offense that ranked 10th fastest and 9th in total plays, despite ultra-conservative Alex Smith under center. I think Fitz could go completely berserk with these weapons, within this scheme… and you get to root for the most likable guy in the NFL. Ultimate WIN WIN.
Kirk Cousins (145, +3 ADP): So vanilla and bland, but from a pure bridge perspective, look at Cousins’ early season schedule:
He ranked 6th in pass TDs (35 - career high) and 8th in yards (4265), while giving you Top-12 numbers in 50% of contests, while never losing you a week. He won’t excite you, but Cousins looks like the PERFECT bridge to higher upside later.
Ben Roethlisberger (138 OVR, +23 ADP): Defines unsexy upside. Everyone loves Najee Harris, Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool… JuJu Smith-Schuster ain’t a slouch either. And yet, Ben goes undrafted in most leagues? He is the opposite of “Konami Code,” but Ben’s arm looks rejuvenated this preseason as he carved up the Lions for 137 yards and 2 TDs in just a quarter. The Steelers won’t likely lead the league in pass attempts after adding Harris, but I doubt they’ll regress to the point they fall out of the Top-10. A boring but safe & sturdy bridge.
Zach Wilson (143, +41 ADP): I LOVE snaring Wilson as a QB3 in leagues with enough bench space. He may not have the floor of some other safer “bridges,” but Wilson brings more sizzle. The ball zips out of his hand effortlessly, and Wilson’s live arm will be called upon early and often given this injury-ravaged, abusable defense. Mike LaFleur could go down as the next great branch of the Shanahan Tree, giving this exciting young talent a very real ceiling, especially if Elijah Moore can be a genuine Alpha and allow Corey Davis to thrive in a 1B “Eric Decker” style role that he was made for.
Late Round WR Sleepers (11-15)
Now is the time to shoot for the moon. In 2021, I especially love the WRs falling into this range -- hence why I like to load up on RBs early. Yes, I understand that, based on JJ Zachariason’s research, only 11% of WRs beyond Round 5 finish as “league-winners,” compared to a 25% rate of RBs.
Still, even in my hunt for upside, I don’t need every swing to hit a homerun -- and I am confident a solid handful of these WRs end up highly usable, Top-30 players.
Marquez Callaway (84 OVR, +56 ADP) - Even before Callaway exploded for 5 catches (5 targets), 104 yards, and 2 TDs in roughly a quarter of Preseason Week 2 action, he was at 100 on my Big Board. He has since risen to 86 overall. Callaway's explosion shouldn't surprise anyone, as the hype train has been fierce: "go-to man"; "ownership of being the top dog"; "breakout star" are just a few pieces of praise lobbed his way. Unlike lots of puff, Callaway has backed it up on the field. Sure, Michael Thomas will be the No.1 here when he returns (who knows when that'll be); Alvin Kamara is likely the No.1 until he's back. But Sean Payton's offense has made monsters out of Marques Colston, Lance Moore, and countless other no-name guys. Callaway will be his next breakout, especially with Jameis Winston given the starting role.
Darnell Mooney (85 OVR, +47 ADP): Mooney flashed his blazing 4.38 forty speed all rookie year, surprising the Bears and fantasy world by taking over their WR2 role. He often ran wide-open, but saw balls sail over his head or hit the dirt short -- on his 22 deep targets, 15 were deemed uncatchable (70%). His 17% deep-passing completion rate ranked 6th worse. Enter Justin Fields, who completed nearly 60% of his deep passes, which ranked just behind Joe Burrow and Mac Jones over the last two seasons, and ranks sixth best in the last five years. Not only should Mooney’s production spike on these deep looks, The Athletic’s Kevin Fishbain told our podcast Mooney was the best player of camp, showing far crisper routes and predicting he will be the “breakout player” of this offense. Among my favorite bench stash WRs.
Elijah Moore (92 OVR, +52 ADP): I have higher exposure to Moore than any other player on Underdog -- and slightly mixed emotions. Let's get the negative(s) out of the way: a Training Camp quad injury afforded Corey Davis extra solo time with Zach Wilson, and their chemistry has routinely been displayed this preseason -- 10 targets on 13 routes run is no lie.
Onto the many more positives: at his best, Davis is a 1B -- in the mold of Eric Decker. Comparatively, Moore has all the makings of an Alpha WR1. Not necessarily in size and build... just in terms of sheer dominance & route running. Prior to his injury, Moore generated daily hype pieces. From "another ridiculous deep catch" to "he does this every day" to a personal favorite: “The more Gang Green uses Elijah Moore the better, because through five days of training camp, Moore has been unstoppable.” The train was pulling ahead faster than any player.
Nevermind beat writer opinions, what about some of the elite past an present NFL WRs?
-AJ Brown: "I couldn't do none of the shit you do. I never told you this but you way better than me bro. The shit you do I'm still trying to do. The sky's not the limit for you, you can go as far as you want. Not worried about you. You're special. You going to be the best. I believe that."
-Odell Beckham: "He's the one! I swear just wait, he know shit I didn't know at that age... mark my words! May be all-pro as a a rookie."
-Chad Johnson: "The Jets have a receiver better than me with the same DNA in Elijah Moore, just get 'em the damn ball, it's all really simple."
Perhaps the quad injury will be a blessing for us fantasy owners, driving an otherwise skyrocketing price down. By all accounts, Moore has returned at 100%, making the highlight reel catches and redisplaying the insane chemistry with Wilson that had previously been routine. Don't forget, Wilson gushed: “He’s someone I want to be around because he wants to be great...He’s definitely a motivating person. We’re gonna have a good time doing this thing together.” This, after a nice bromantic Italian Dinner.
OK, my love for Moore is gushing out here, and I'm breaking my rule about not rambling. But let's wrap up with this: Moore wrote the names of all five WRs selected ahead of him on his mirror for motivation -- the first thing he sees each morning and last before sleep.
"I'm going to show them why I should have gone first."
Jaylen Waddle (93 OVR, +29 ECR): Far more is working in Waddle’s favor than this price would suggest: freakish 4.37 forty speed; an injury-ravaged WRs corps in front of him; a pre-established rapport with Tua. Thus far, all have been on display in camp, leading beats to believe Waddle wll be “an instant impact player.” He looked the part in Preseason Week 2, with three catches (four targets) for 21 yards, moving all over the formation. Waddle gives Tua a deadly YAC threat he sorely missed last year (and Tua is at his best throwing anticipation routes / leading his receivers), and Waddle could easily lead this WRs corps in yards and fantasy points -- especially when none others can stay on the field. He does have some injury risk himself, but that’s far overbaked into Waddle’s price.
Jakobi Meyers (101 OVR, +64 ADP): Scott Barrett labeled Meyers among his League-Winning WRs when we podded together earlier this month, and I fully support the prediction. Bill may suck at evaluating early-round WRs, but has a clear talent for late-round ex-QB converts, and Meyers could truly be the next great one. Before 2020, Patriots slot WRs had been on pace for 140+ targets & 24% market share in 12/12 seasons. They've also finished Top-12 in PPR PPG in 9/12 seasons, while ranking outside the Top-20 in PPG just once. I doubt Meyers sees that much work on a team that’ll prioritize defense and controlling the clock via the run, but it could be close, especially now that Mac Jones has taken over. Meyers has been labeled “the most consistent receiver,” “most reliable and productive WR for 2021” and “No.1 receiver throughout camp” from three separate sources, backed-up by his preseason stats so far: 4 rec, (6 tgt) 67 yards, 1 TD in roughly 1.5 Qs of football. Plus, with zero career touchdowns, all the positive scoring regression in the world could be coming. Won’t leave drafts without him.
Michael Gallup (102 OVR, +20 ADP): Yes, Dak Prescott’s shoulder concerns are sketchy. At this pricetag, however, Gallup is the cheapest way to gamble on this Cowboys team and Dak regaining their early-season mojo: 371 passing yards and 32.8 PPG. On our podcast, RJ Ochoa noted Dak’s chemistry with Gallup was the strongest among all his WRs, and noticed Gallup moving all over the formation more often in camp. This was echoed by ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, who said the Cowboys "envision interchangeable parts among [Amari] Cooper, [Michael] Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb, going with the favorable matchup each passing down” while Gallup saw “increased work from the slot.” Gallup will rank behind CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper, but more varied work beyond just stretching the field could give him numbers that rival his peers, at a steep 9+ round discount.
Terrace Marshall (106 OVR, +87 ADP): I haven’t left a single draft without Marshall, and don’t plan to. I don’t understand how the man can continue to ball out every.single.damn.week and still be so cheap. Through roughly a game (~4 QTRs) of action, Marshall has racked up 9 rec (12 tgts), 181 yards, and 1 TD. Yes, much of this production came with DJ Moore and/or Robby Anderson off the field. Still, even with both on the field in Preseason Week 3, Marshall ripped off 3 rec (4 tgts), for 43 yards & 1 TD. He’s moved all over the field, playing every single WR spot, but especially the slot in 3 WR sets. This is crucial, as new Panthers QB Sam Darnold peppers his slot WRs:
If that wasn’t enough, Marshall also played under Joe Brady at LSU, where he dominated the “big body slot” role. He may be behind Christian McCaffrey, Moore, and Anderson, but Marshall -- at a whopping 6’5” -- could easily pace this team in receiving TDs. He’s a must draft at this price tag, often available with your last pick or undrafted completely.
Marvin Jones (104 OVR, +33 ADP): Though dealing with a sprained AC Joint, Marvin Jones has been Trevor Lawrence’s go-to guy, both in practice and also in games. Through two preseason contests, Jones had paced the team with 7 rec (10 tgts) for 93 yards -- including multiple contested catches, his bread and butter. Yes, DJ Chark was out, but Meyer “fell in love” with Jones’ veteran presence throughout camp, and it seems Lawrence did too. He was shockingly the WR18 last year, and seems to always come up big whenever used. I prefer Viska & his joker role, but the No.1 prototypical WR for NCAA’s “most sure QB since Andrew Luck” isn’t a bad fall back.
Late Round Usable RBs (11-15)
James White (118, +45 ADP): White was already among the best values in early drafts even with Cam Newton as the presumed starter. Now that Mac Jones has taken over, White becomes the single best value at RB in 2021 fantasy. He’s monopolized all third-downs and passing situations all preseason, and now will get a QB who can legitimately deliver him the rock. White should again be a safe bet for 4-5+ weekly catches, and has always had a sneaky nose for the end zone. Especially in Full-PPR leagues, White is a bonafide late-round steal. The ultimate pick for anyone punting RB early or in need of a bridge to a rookie.
Gio Bernard (136, +31 ADP): Speaking of White, go out and get the Bucs version of him in Giovani Bernard. I expect him to be the Bucs most valuable fantasy RB, simply because he's the most projectable week-to-week: Bernard's locked into the third-down & passing situation role, evidenced by him taking every single one of these snaps with ones this preseason. Tom Brady ranks alongside Drew Brees and Philip Rivers in terms of QBs & RB Target share, giving Bernard very real 55-60+ reception upside. Oh... and this...this...QUAD:
Devante Parker (157, -31 ECR): Was Tua's only viable WR last year. Still mustered just 9.44 and a season-long pace of 58 rec, 690 yards, and 4 TDs in their 8 games together as a poor fit to Tua's style. Now may be 4th on the target totem pole. No upside, no interest.
Nyheim Hines (170, -40 ADP): Useful enough in PPR... I guess. Give me James White or Gio Bernard 2+ rounds later for the same type of player.
Alexander Mattison (180, -40 ADP): Why is he considered the premier handcuff when, in his lone spot start in a juicy matchup versus the Falcons, Mattison mustered 10 carries, 26 yards, 1 rec, 4 yards. 4 PPR points. FOUR! He's also been banged up all camp, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him lose the No.2 role.
Latavius Murray (192, -54): Similar to Mattison - was once a premiere handcuff, yet has reportedly lost the No.2 job to Tony Jones Jr. while looking sluggish. Survived roster cuts, but where does he sit on the depth chart?
Rounds 15-20+: Deep Penny Stocks, Pt2
For Deeper Leagues & Best Ball drafts, below are players going in the 175 - 240+ range that carry juicy upside.
Player Notes Coming Soon
Tony Jones Jr
Demarcus Robinson & Byron Pringle
Draft Day Cheat Sheet:
Targets / Value + Fades By Round
= Top Targets
Round 1: Bellcow or Bust
- Target: Any Bellcow or Davante Adams + Travis Kelce
- Fade: Lower on Saquon Barkley, Jonathan Taylor
Round 2: Bellcow No.2, Elite Target Hog, or Waller
- RB Target: Bellcow Pt 2 - **Antonio Gibson > Joe Mixon > Najee Harris
- WR Target: **Calvin Ridley **> DeAndre Hopkins > Justin Jefferson
- TE Target: Darren Waller (~Pick 20)
- Fade: Clyde Edwards-Helaire
Round 3: WR1s, Last Remaining RBs
- WR Target: Allen Robinson > Keenan Allen > Terry McLaurin > CeeDee Lamb
- RB Target: Chris Carson > David Montgomery > JRob
- Fade: Patrick Mahomes, George Kittle, D’Andre Swift
Rounds 4-7: Load Up on WRs, Avoid the “RB Dead Zone,” Tier 1 TEs
First check for:
- Did Chris Carson, David Montgomery fall
- Both Rams WRs: Robert Woods (34 OVR, +8 ADP) & Cooper Kupp (36 OVR, +11 ADP)
- Mike Evans (33 OVR, +7 ADP)
Then Target the following great WR values + Pitts / Hockenson / Andrews:
- Tyler Lockett (41 OVR, +10 ADP)
- Julio Jones (42 OVR):
- Bengals WRs: **Tee Higgins (42 OVR, +31 ADP)
- Diontae Johnson (48 OVR, +10 ADP)
- Brandon Aiyuk (49 OVR, +20 ECR)
- TE TJ Hockenson (50 OVR, +7 ECR)
- Jerry Jeudy (60 OVR, +28 ECR)
Rounds 4-6 Fades:
- QBs (don’t bite! They aren’t the edge you think!)
- RBs in general, especially:
- Josh Jacobs (56 OVR, -26 ADP)
- Kareem Hunt (65 OVR, -17 ADP)
- Darrell Henderson (71 OVR, -26 ADP)
- Myles Gaskin (72 OVR, -25 ADP)
- DJ Moore (57 OVR, -13 ECR)
- Kenny Golladay (70 OVR, -6 ECR)
But I reallyyyyyy need an RB, or would like an upside stash!
- Gus Edwards (42, +7 ECR, +28 ADP)
- Miles Sanders (45, -3 ADP)
- Mike Davis (53 OVR, +3 ADP)
- Damien Harris (59 OVR, +8 ADP)
- Pure Upside Stash = **Javonte Williams (55 OVR, +12 ADP)
- Raheem Mostert (64 OVR, +3 ECR) & Trey Sermon (66 OVR, +18)
Rounds 8-10: Clean up any falling depth, round out the starting lineup
- Logan Thomas (80 OVR) huge drop off after him
- Deebo Samuel (72 OVR, +12 ADP)
- Corey Davis (73 OVR, +38 ADP)
- Laviska Shenault (74 OVR, +36 ADP)
- Antonio Brown (75 OVR, +28 ECR)
- Mike Williams (80 OVR, +35 ADP)
- Brandin Cooks (82 OVR, +16 ADP)
- Jaylen Waddle (92 OVR, +30 ECR)
- AJ Dillon (95 OVR, -1 ADP) - upside stash
- Sony Michel (97 OVR, +59 ADP) - upside stash, could be usable too
- James Conner (99 OVR, -2 ADP) - usability
QB Targets: - I preach waiting (still high opp. cost)… but if you MUST:
- Tom Brady (87 OVR, -13 ADP)
- Matthew Stafford (88 OVR, +3 ADP)
- Ryan Tannehill (89 OVR, +4 ADP)
Round 8-10 Fades:
- Michael Carter (132 OVR, -48 ADP)
- Bucs RBs- Ronald Jones (144 OVR, -48 ADP) & Leonard Fournette (150, -66 ADP)
- Bills RBs - :Devin Singletary (126 OVR, -20 ECR) & Zack Moss (141 OVR, -49)
- David Johnson (184 OVR, -85 ADP)
- DJ Chark (103 OVR, -14 ADP)
- All TEs besides Logan Thomas, but especially: Dallas Goedert (122, -36 ADP)
Round 11-15 -- Penny Stocks, Pt1: Rookie QB Stash + WR Central + Some Usable RBs
QB MUST DRAFT FOR BENCH:
- Trey Lance (99 OVR, +48 ADP ) OR Justin Fields (100, +41 ADP)
QB Bridges to get to ^^
- Ryan Fitzpatrick (128 OVR, +54 ADP)
- Kirk Cousins (145, +3 ADP)
- Ben Roethlisberger (138 OVR, +23 ADP)
- Zach Wilson (143, +41 ADP):
LOVE WRs in this range, including:
- Marquez Callaway (86 OVR, +55 ADP)
- Darnell Mooney (85 OVR, +47 ADP)
- Elijah Moore (93 OVR, +51)
- Michael Gallup (94 OVR, +27 ADP)
- Terrace Marshall (104 OVR, +87 ADP)
- Marvin Jones (102 OVR, +33 ADP)
- Jakobi Meyers (108 OVR, +78 ADP)
Usable RBs if depths needed:
- James White (115, +45 ADP)
- Gio Bernard (136, +31 ADP)
- Devante Parker (157, -31 ECR)
- Nyheim Hines (170, -40 ADP)
- Alexander Mattison (180, -40 ADP)
- Latavius Murray (192, -54)
Round 15-20+-- Penny Stocks, Pt2:Rookie QB Stash + WR Central + Some Usable RBs
Tony Jones Jr
Demarcus Robinson & Byron Pringle