The 10 Most Important Players in Fantasy Football in 2021

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistJuly 9, 2021

The 10 Most Important Players in Fantasy Football in 2021

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    Going into a fantasy football draft, managers should know their targets as well as the value of those players and their projected point totals under various league settings. 

    As is the case in an actual NFL draft, you don’t want to select a player a round or two early and miss out on a foundational piece.  

    Dual-threat running backs have tremendous value in point-per-reception leagues because of their ability to rack up points as ball-carriers and receivers. As such, Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara will likely come off draft boards before top quarterbacks and wideouts.

    To help managers start draft day on the right foot, we've ranked the top 10 most important fantasy football players for PPR leagues. Our list emphasizes position value, average draft position (ADP) and projected points to sort out the selections.

10. WR Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints

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    ADP: 29.8

    Projected Points: 269.4

    Coming off an injury-riddled 2020 with a new quarterback set to replace Drew Brees, Michael Thomas might look like an odd choice in this spot. However, he's in a good situation to bounce back with big numbers.  

    The New Orleans Saints lost No. 2 wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and tight end Jared Cook in free agency. The duo ranked first, second or third among the club's pass-catchers in targets, receiving yards and touchdown receptions last season.

    New Orleans didn't add any notable pass-catchers via the draft or free agency, either. Wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith is slated to take on a bigger role, but he hasn't caught 35 passes in any of his three seasons. 

    Regardless of who wins the quarterback battle between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill, Thomas should see a large chunk of the target share.

    Though he missed nine games in 2020, the 28-year-old eclipsed 100 receiving yards in two games with Hill under center. If Winston earns the job, his ability to stretch the field could lead to big plays for the two-time All-Pro.

    Thomas led the league in receptions in consecutive years (2018-19) and receiving yards in 2019, breaking the single-season catch record with 149. His track record provides enough confidence to put him on the list at No. 10, though he barely made it because of the Saints' unsettled situation under center.

    With the uncertainty around Aaron Rodgers' future and the possibility that quarterback Jordan Love could make his first start in 2021, wideout Davante Adams missed the cut.

9. TE Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders

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    ADP: 23

    Projected Points: 256.8

    Last season, Darren Waller became the Las Vegas Raiders' franchise leader in receptions (107) for a single campaign. He also posted career highs in receiving yards (1,196) and touchdowns (nine). 

    He's racked up 1,100-plus receiving yards in back-to-back seasons. Clearly, he has a strong rapport with quarterback Derek Carr, and that connection should continue to serve as a fantasy gold mine for managers who draft the tight end within the first two rounds.

    The Raiders have a young trio of wideouts set to start in 2021. The Athletic's Tashan Reed and Vic Tafur project that Henry Ruggs III (22), Bryan Edwards (22) and Hunter Renfrow (25) will comprise the first unit in three-wide receiver sets.

    Last year, Ruggs and Edwards caught 37 passes for 645 yards and three touchdowns. Picked in the first and third rounds of the 2020 draft, respectively, they have a lot to prove. Expect Carr to lean on Waller until the youngsters hit their stride. 

    Waller and Carr have two high-production years together. They're a proven duo, which is why the Pro Bowl tight end lists one spot above Thomas, who has limited or no previous track record with his potential starting quarterbacks.

8. QB Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens

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    ADP: 51.8

    Projected Points: 350.2

    Lamar Jackson is one of maybe two fantasy players who could finish with 3,000-plus passing yards and 1,000-plus rushing yards. He accomplished that feat in 2019. Managers in need of a high-ceiling asset shouldn't hesitate to draft him earlier than his ADP.

    Jackson's passing production leaves much to be desired, though. He hasn't thrown for 3,200 yards in a single season, but the All-Pro signal-caller may post career numbers in that category.

    The Ravens selected wideout Rashod Bateman in the first round of this year's draft and signed veteran receiver Sammy Watkins.

    While Watkins brings a physical presence on the perimeter, Bateman is a silky-smooth route-runner who averaged 16.3 yards per reception through three seasons at Minnesota. The rookie can attack the middle of the field, where Jackson carves up defenses.

    More importantly, offensive coordinator Greg Roman told Clifton Brown of the team's website he intends to open up the passing attack. He'll utilize more play-action designs, which means Jackson will go under center rather than take snaps in the pistol or shotgun formation. The Ravens plan to attack downfield as safeties move into the box to play the run.

    If Jackson is effective with that new offensive wrinkle, he'll have his most productive season as a passer.

    Despite Jackson's ADP, his projected point total and position value push him ahead of Waller.

7. QB Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals

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    ADP: 46

    Projected Points: 358.1

    In 2020, Kyler Murray finished as QB2 in fantasy points (390.7). Yet because of an underwhelming final stretch that saw him throw for 334 yards and an interception without a touchdown in the last two weeks, he didn't take a major second-year leap in passing numbers even alongside wideout DeAndre Hopkins.

    Murray is at his best when he uses his legs. He rushed for 819 yards and a team-leading 11 touchdowns. Because of his ball-carrying ability, managers can count on him for additional fantasy points in rushing categories. 

    The Cardinals added 10-year veteran A.J. Green and rookie second-rounder Rondale Moore to the wide receiver unit. The former has value as a possession pass-catcher, while the latter brings more speed to the slot position. They'll join Christian Kirk and Andy Isabella in a versatile group.

    With a bevy of playmakers at wideout and his tendency to run the ball, Murray should remain at the top of the list in fantasy output. In terms of passing yards, he's made more strides than Jackson, which is why the Cardinals quarterback takes the No. 7 slot. 

6. TE Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs

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    ADP: 9.3

    Projected Points: 313.4

    For five consecutive seasons, Travis Kelce has eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards and finished as TE1 in fantasy points. Keep in mind, that streak started before quarterback Patrick Mahomes took over the starting job in 2018. He's arguably the most reliable fantasy asset at any position.

    Kelce's consistent high-end production makes him a must-draft player at a position that doesn't have much fantasy depth.

    Last season, Kelce ranked top-six in targets (145), receptions (105), yards (1,416) and touchdown receptions (11). If you don't want to draft a wide receiver in the early rounds, consider the three-time All-Pro tight end. He's durable, and you can start him in any matchup. 

    With the Kansas City Chiefs' pass-heavy offense, Kelce will continue to rack up big numbers in 2021. For a tight end, a top-10 ADP might seem a bit high, but he's a can't-miss pick.

    Though Murray has a higher points projection, the disparity in average draft position between him and Kelce moved the latter into the No. 6 spot.

5. QB Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills

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    ADP: 37

    Projected Points: 381.5

    Last year, Josh Allen scored the most fantasy points (406.2) among all players. 

    In terms of fantasy value, Allen has leapfrogged Jackson and Murray because of his passing. He threw for 4,544 yards, 37 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions last year. 

    The Buffalo Bills lost John Brown, who had an injury-riddled 2020, and added Emmanuel Sanders. The latter has caught at least 61 passes in each of the last three seasons. 

    Buffalo also kept its offensive system in place. Play-caller Brian Daboll will work with Allen for a fourth consecutive season. The QB still has his go-to target in Stefon Diggs, who led the league in receptions (127) and yards (1,535) in 2020.

    Fantasy managers who plan to target Allen early in drafts should feel encouraged by the Bills' big plays through the air. Last season, Allen recorded the fourth-most completions (62) that resulted in 20-plus-yard gains.

    Projected as QB1 in points, Allen ranks one spot above Kelce, who plays a less valuable position in most fantasy leagues.

4. QB Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

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    ADP: 26 

    Projected Points: 377.6

    Patrick Mahomes has the passing consistency you're looking for in a quarterback who doesn't offer much in rushing production. He can move in the pocket, but the 2018 league MVP has averaged just 263 yards and two touchdowns on the ground since that season. 

    Last year, Mahomes averaged a league-leading 316 passing yards per game and threw for multiple touchdowns in 13 out of 15 contests.

    The Chiefs have two top-tier pass-catchers in Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill. They lost Sammy Watkins to the Ravens in free agency, but speedy wideout Mecole Hardman could blossom in an expanded role. He's caught 67 passes for 1,098 yards and 10 touchdowns while playing just 45 percent of the offensive snaps over the last two campaigns. 

    Kansas City also patched up its offensive line, acquiring two-time Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Brown from the Ravens and signing left guard Joe Thuney. 

    Mahomes has high-end playmakers, stronger pass protection and a brilliant offensive-play-calling head coach in Andy Reid. He's another must-have fantasy asset at a key position.  

    Based on ADP, managers will need to think about drafting Mahomes a round earlier than Allen. As a result, the former takes the No. 4 slot. 

3. RB Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

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    ADP: 4.0 

    Projected Points: 316.4

    Alvin Kamara led all running backs in fantasy points (377.8) last season. He's a dual-threat offensive playmaker, having posted at least 700 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in all four of his campaigns.

    Because of his high volume of touches, Kamara will remain a PPR darling. He's the lead ball-carrier and the second-best receiver on the Saints. 

    The New Orleans offense will undergo a shift in the post-Brees era, but fantasy managers should expect head coach Sean Payton to lean on his top two offensive weapons in wideout Thomas and Kamara. 

    Either Hill or Winston will look to Kamara on wheel routes, screens and short pitches to move the ball when Thomas draws double- and triple-teams downfield. 

    Thanks in part to a dominant six-touchdown performance against the Minnesota Vikings on Christmas, Kamara led the league in scores from scrimmage with 21 in 2020. Though he has a solid running mate in Latavius Murray, the four-time Pro Bowler can carry the majority load for an offense in transition.  

    A durable dual-threat running back is a stable building block for a league-winning roster. Kamara has eclipsed 1,300 scrimmage yards in each of his four seasons, and he's missed just four career games. Because of his position value and ADP, the Saints tailback lists third over Mahomes.

2. RB Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings

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    ADP: 2.0

    Projected Points: 337.2

    Dalvin Cook saw an increase in his yards from scrimmage every year. Last season, he finished second (1,918) in that category. 

    The Minnesota Vikings will likely continue to field a run-heavy offense under coordinator Klint Kubiak, who served as a quarterbacks coach under his father and predecessor Gary Kubiak.  

    With Cook's numbers on the rise, the Vikings can rely on him. As one of two players to record at least 300 carries last year, he's a workhorse tailback who can make an impact on the ground and in the short passing game, which makes him one of the most valuable fantasy commodities.

    Unlike Kamara, Cook has two 1,000-plus-yard rushing seasons. The latter has a more prominent role on the ground, which is a more predictable workload. 

    Though Kamara should have a steady role despite the changes in the Saints offense, Cook has a stable situation, and he's logging more touches every year. 

    For those reasons, Cook slots ahead of his Saints counterpart.

1. RB Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers

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    ADP: 1.0

    Projected Points: 400.8

    Managers who have the No. 1 pick don't have to put much thought into their choice. Christian McCaffrey is projected to score the most fantasy points as the top player at the most valuable position.

    Yes, McCaffrey battled various injuries throughout 2020, missing 13 games, and the Carolina Panthers selected running back Chuba Hubbard in the fourth round of this year's draft. However, the All-Pro running back should still see 350-plus touches.

    In 2019, McCaffrey led the league in yards from scrimmage (2,392) and touchdowns (19). That year, he became the third player in NFL history to record 1,000-plus rushing and receiving yards during a single season. Subsequently, the Panthers signed him to a four-year, $64 million extension, which made him the highest-paid running back. 

    Expect the Panthers to feed McCaffrey the ball while he's still in the early stages of his career. At 25 years old, the dynamic tailback can make life easier for quarterback Sam Darnold, who will adjust to a new environment after three seasons with the New York Jets.

    In any given week, McCaffrey can record 100 rushing or receiving yards. He's highly effective as a ball-carrier and receiver, while Cook still has room to grow in a pass-catching role.

    As the ultimate dual-threat option out of the backfield, McCaffrey takes the top spot. 


    Average draft positions are current as of Thursday and courtesy of FantasyPros.