2021 Fantasy Football Mock Draft: Latest Projections Entering NFL Preseason
In just a few days, the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers will meet in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio. It marks the official beginning of the 2021 NFL preseason.
And it means that fantasy draft season will be ramping up in earnest.
There are a number of tools at the disposal of fantasy managers as they prepare for draft day. There are fantasy rankings to be perused. Strategy articles to be read. And mock drafts to be participated in before the big day arrives.
Well, what we have here is a combination of the last two.
I recently gathered together a group of folks to participate in a 16-round, 12-team points-per-reception draft. It was a combination of fantasy analysts, longtime players of the game and even a successful (and fantastic) mystery writer. It was a fairly standard fantasy setup—start one quarterback, two running backs, three wide receivers, a tight end, a kicker, a defense and a "flex" option.
Here's a look at how that draft played out, with round-by-round analysis to help you identify both where players are being drafted and which ones could bring the most value on draft day.
1.01: Christian McCaffrey, RB, CAR
1.02: Dalvin Cook, RB, MIN
1.03: Alvin Kamara, RB, NO
1.04: Derrick Henry, RB, TEN
1.05: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, DAL
1.06: Saquon Barkley, RB, NYG
1.07: Davante Adams, WR, GB
1.08: Jonathan Taylor, RB, IND
1.09: Travis Kelce, TE, KC
1.10: Tyreek Hill, WR, KC
1.11: George Kittle, TE, SF
1.12: Austin Ekeler, RB, LAC
Elite Tight Ends Carry Elite Price Tags
The first big surprise of this draft came when San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle came off the board in Round 1. A healthy Kittle could challenge Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs for the title of fantasy's top option at the position, but after missing half of the 2020 season, durability is a significant concern for the fifth-year veteran.
With that said, if you want one of the Big Three tight ends (Kelce, Kittle and Darren Waller of the Las Vegas Raiders) be prepared to pay for them. Kelce isn't making it out of the first round in most drafts, while Kittle and Waller both have an ADP inside the top 30.
Also, while only eight running backs were taken in the first round here, in my experience in 2021 that's more exception than rule. At Fantasy Football Calculator, only three non-RB have first-round ADPs in PPR formats, and until the resolution of the Aaron Rodgers saga in Green Bay bumped Packers wideout Davante Adams up, it was 10.
I gave some thought to Kelce at 1.08, but in the end, I decided to go the safe and steady route and draft a running back. Call me old-school.
After something of an inauspicious start to his professional career last year, Jonathan Taylor of the Indianapolis Colts caught fire down the stretch in 2020—the former Wisconsin star averaged just over 130 rushing yards over his last five games and was fantasy's third-ranked PPR back from Week 13 on.
He's a young workhorse back playing behind one of the league's best offensive lines. And with Carson Wentz now out indefinitely with a foot injury, Taylor will be the focal point of Indy's offense.
2.01: Calvin Ridley, WR, ATL
2.02: DK Metcalf, WR, SEA
2.03: Nick Chubb, RB, CLE
2.04: Aaron Jones, RB, GB
2.05 Najee Harris, RB, PIT
2.06: Joe Mixon, RB, CIN
2.07: Josh Jacobs, RB, LVR
2.08: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, ARZ
2.09: Stefon Diggs, WR, BUF
2.10: David Montgomery, RB, CHI
2.11: Antonio Gibson, RB, WFT
2.12: Keenan Allen, WR, LAC
Running Back Values
The flip side to just eight running backs being selected in Round 1 is that it means better value at the position in Round 2. Sure enough, a pair of backs fell a full seven spots lower than their PPR ADPs.
Despite missing four games and ceding passing-down work to Kareem Hunt last year, Nick Chubb of the Cleveland Browns was still a top-15 fantasy option in 2020—and seventh among backs in PPR points per game. He may well be the NFL's best pure runner and plays behind the league's top-ranked offensive line, per Pro Football Focus.
There were some questions about Antonio Gibson's ability to serve as a lead back in the NFL, but after averaging almost 4.7 yards per carry, topping 1,000 total yards and scoring 11 touchdowns as a rookie, those questions have been answered. Gibson was a fantasy RB1 over the second half of last season, and he has the potential to hit that benchmark again.
Gibson very nearly didn't get past me at 2.05—it was a three-back race between him, Joe Mixon of the Cincinnati Bengals and rookie Najee Harris of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Mixon has the most experience, and Gibson has the best offensive line of the trio.
Harris admittedly has the worst—Pittsburgh's O-line has the makings of a real dumpster fire. But he's also a first-round talent who averaged over 110 rushing yards while piling up 26 touchdowns at Alabama last year.
Pittsburgh has to get the league's worst run game in 2020 going, and Harris is expected to play a featured role from the jump.
Over 300 touches as a rookie isn't an unreasonable projection.
3.01: Allen Robinson II, WR, CHI
3.02: A.J. Brown, WR, TEN
3.03: Justin Jefferson, WR, MIN
3.04: Darren Waller, TE, LVR
3.05: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, KC
3.06: J.K. Dobbins, RB, BAL
3.07: D'Andre Swift, RB, DET
3.08: Miles Sanders, RB, PHI
3.09: Chris Carson, RB, SEA
3.10: CeeDee Lamb, WR, DAL
3.11: Kareem Hunt, RB, CLE
3.12: Robert Woods, WR, LAR
Let's Hear it for Lowered Expectations
Three rounds into this draft, the running backs continue to fly off the board—21 of the first 36 picks have been backs. It's something you absolutely need to bear in mind come draft day.
Here's something else to bear in mind—whereas Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire was overvalued in 2020 (he was drafted 11th overall in the first mock draft I did here at B/R last year, and his ADP actually went up from there), he's undervalued in 2021.
Even in his "down" 2020 campaign, Edwards-Helaire was still a top-20 PPR option. Now, the former LSU star has an NFL season under his belt and gets a "normal" offseason entering year two of his career.
Andy Reid's offense has produced a fantasy RB1 12 times in 22 years. It hasn't happened in a couple of years, but there's a real possibility the dry spell ends in 2021.
Now I've gone from "old school" to "Captain Caveman"...three straight running backs to open the draft.
Would have loved to have gotten Edwards-Helaire here, but that was wishful thinking. That pick started a run on backs that cost me two more players (J.K. Dobbins of the Baltimore Ravens and D'Andre Swift of the Detroit Lions) I would have strongly considered over the back I did wind up drafting.
Miles Sanders of the Philadelphia Eagles has had some durability issues, missing four games in 2020. But the third-year pro finished inside the top 20 in PPR points per game last season and projects as a solid RB2 (or excellent flex option) if he can stay on the field.
4.01: Mike Evans, WR, TB
4.02: Justin Herbert, QB, LAC
4.03: Cooper Kupp, WR, LAR
4.04: Patrick Mahomes, QB, KC
4.05: Terry McLaurin, WR, WFT
4.06: Amari Cooper, WR, DAL
4.07: Julio Jones, WR, TEN
4.08: Mike Davis, RB, ATL
4.09: Chris Godwin, WR, TB
4.10: Ja'Marr Chase, WR, CIN
4.11: Aaron Rodgers, QB, GB
4.12: Chase Edmonds, RB, ARZ
Go Get Your Guy
Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers is a talented young quarterback with a bright future. But his ADP of 61 is almost two full rounds after he was taken here.
Even if Herbert has an MVP-caliber season and out-points Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers (the other two signal-callers drafted in Round 4), most would still consider this a reach that Mr. Fantastic (who has to be the lamest superhero in the Marvel Universe) would envy.
Here's the thing, though—generally speaking, I have no issue with drafters "reaching" for a player. Maybe you think a breakout is coming. Maybe you're a fan of a player's NFL (or even college) team. The only person who has to live with the team you draft is you.
Had that manager waited until their next selection at 5.11, it's possible Herbert would be gone. This isn't to say that consistently drafting players well ahead of ADP is a winning strategy.
But if you're convinced a player is worth it, don't be afraid to do it once or twice.
When you don't draft a wide receiver until pick No. 44, it's a safe bet that your position group isn't going to be headlined by a stud. It's a calculated risk—a gamble that the superior depth at wideout will allow you to build a competitive roster that will be bolstered by your edge in the backfield.
That said, all things considered, "Scary Terry" McLaurin isn't a bad place to start at the position.
The third-year pro out of Ohio State has averaged over 1,000 receiving yards a season despite playing with a poo-poo platter of quarterbacks. Ryan Fitzpatrick will be easily the best passer McLaurin has reeled in throws from as a pro.
Breaking into the top 15 wide receivers is a real possibility, and the top 10 isn't out of the question.
5.01: Darrell Henderson Jr., RB, LAR
5.02: Adam Thielen, WR, MIN
5.03: Myles Gaskin, RB, MIA
5.04: DJ Moore, WR, CAR
5.05: Diontae Johnson, WR, PIT
5.06: Josh Allen, QB, BUF
5.07: Brandon Aiyuk, WR, SF
5.08: Lamar Jackson, QB, BAL
5.09: Tyler Lockett, WR, SEA
5.10: Travis Etienne Jr., RB, JAX
5.11: Damien Harris, RB, NE
5.12: Kyler Murray, QB, ARZ
For the most part, I'm not a huge fan of drafting early in August. If you're in a deep league that conducts a "slow" draft online, there often isn't much choice, though, and fantasy managers sometimes just get impatient and want to get to drafting.
Of course, the problem with that is a high draft pick like Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers suffering a season-ending injury.
It would appear that third-year pro Darrell Henderson Jr. will assume the role of lead back in Los Angeles, although it's possible the team could add a veteran at the position. Henderson has shown flashes at times over his first two seasons, and managers are in scramble mode trying to figure out the sweet spot where to draft the 23-year-old.
Between his ADP of 54 at Fantasy Football Calculator and his selection with pick 49 here, it looks like he won't make it out of the fifth round moving forward.
I'm usually not the sort of fantasy manager who takes a quarterback this early. With the depth at the position, it's not necessary—you can literally be the last team to acquire a starting quarterback and still land a viable starter like Ryan Tannehill of the Tennessee Titans or Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons.
But one of the most important abilities a successful fantasy manager can have is flexibility, so I decided to try a different strategy here and grab an elite fantasy option under center.
Some have soured on Lamar Jackson of the Ravens after his numbers dipped in 2020 relative to his MVP campaign the year before. But that was bound to happen. Jackson's rushing ability gives him a tantalizing fantasy floor, and his ceiling is...well, we saw his ceiling in 2019.
6.01: Kyle Pitts, TE, ATL
6.02: JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, PIT
6.03: Tee Higgins, WR, CIN
6.04: James Robinson, RB, JAX
6.05: T.J. Hockenson, TE, DET
6.06: Michael Thomas, WR, NO
6.07: Courtland Sutton, WR, DEN
6.08: Mark Andrews, TE, BAL
6.09: Dak Prescott, QB, DAL
6.10: Russell Wilson, QB, SEA
6.11: Logan Thomas, TE, WFT
6.12: Kenny Golladay, WR, NYG
What to Do with Michael Thomas?
In the first of these mock drafts last year, New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas was the first player at his position drafted—at No. 4 overall.
That didn't work out so well, but even after last year's injury-marred faceplant, Thomas was still being drafted as a low-end fantasy WR1. Or at least he was until news broke that the same ankle injury that robbed Thomas of so much time last year would also affect his availability for the opening weeks of the 2021 season.
Is it possible that once Thomas gets back on the field he could recapture the form that saw the 28-year-old lead all wideouts in PPR points in 2019? Yes.
But between the injury and the uncertainty under center in New Orleans in 2021, it isn't especially likely.
Trusting Thomas as anything more than a speculative WR3 this season is asking to be disappointed, and even his relatively modest (by his standards) asking price of WR27 in this draft is too rich for my tastes.
It's not easy to get excited about the Detroit Lions passing game in 2021. The array of wide receiver talent at Jared Goff's disposal is...calling it unimpressive is being kind. This is also likely to be a team that is playing catch-up in approximately 17 games.
Both of those factors bode well for the potential of a breakout from third-year tight end T.J. Hockenson—that is, if you don't already consider his 67/723/6 stat line and TE3 fantasy finish from a year ago in this scoring a "breakout."
Given that production in 2020 and his ADP of 59th overall, he's a good get in the front half of Round 6.
7.01: Noah Fant, TE, DEN
7.02: DJ Chark Jr., WR, JAX
7.03: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, CLE
7.04: Chase Claypool, WR, PIT
7.05: Russell Gage, WR, ATL
7.06: Corey Davis, WR, NYJ
7.07: Javonte Williams, RB, DEN
7.08: Trey Sermon, RB, SF
7.09: Robby Anderson, WR, CAR
7.10: Jerry Jeudy, WR, DEN
7.11: Matthew Stafford, QB, LAR
7.12: Brandin Cooks, WR, HOU
Wide-Open Wideout Run
There was an extended run on wide receivers in the seventh round, and most of those wideouts come with substantial question marks surrounding them. Five of the pass-catchers picked in the round will (probably) be playing with a new quarterback.
The first and last wideout taken in the seventh are both looking at new quarterbacks. For DJ Chark Jr. of the Jaguars, that's a good thing—the move from Gardner Minshew II to Trevor Lawrence is viewed as an upgrade by most. The switch from Deshaun Watson to Tyrod Taylor or Davis Mills doesn't bode as well for Brandin Cooks in Houston.
Still, Cooks is one of two receivers drafted in the seventh who topped 1,000 receiving yards in 2020. Corey Davis of the Jets just missed that mark, and there was a time not that long ago when Cleveland's Odell Beckham Jr. was a no-brainer top-10 option at his position.
Most of the wideouts taken in this round have the potential to substantially exceed their draft slot. Which ones fulfill that potential could go a long way toward determining the playoff participants in this league.
While the rest of the league was zigging, I zagged—taking my fourth running back in the first seven rounds.
Cooks was tempting at 7.09 after he posted his fifth 1,000-yard season in the last six years in 2020. But the QB situation in Houston is a mess—so much so that I decided to get speculative with a young running back who could have sky-high fantasy upside.
The San Francisco 49ers thought enough of Trey Sermon to use a third-round pick on the Ohio State standout, and the only thing standing between him and lead back duties in a Kyle Shanahan offense is oft-injured veteran Raheem Mostert.
8.01: Tom Brady, QB, TB
8.02: Jonnu Smith, TE, NE
8.03: Joe Burrow, QB, CIN
8.04: Melvin Gordon III, RB, DEN
8.05: Tyler Boyd, WR, CIN
8.06: Dallas Goedert, TE, PHI
8.07: Jalen Hurts, QB, PHI
8.08: Ryan Tannehill, QB, TEN
8.09: Raheem Mostert, RB, SF
8.10: Leonard Fournette, RB, TB
8.11: David Johnson, RB, HOU
8.12: Matt Ryan, QB, ATL
Run Under Center
The run at quarterback finally came in Round 8, with nearly half the round consisting of signal-callers. There were some high-floor veterans like Matt Ryan of the Falcons and Tom Brady of the Buccaneers who should be good for low-end QB1 numbers available at a modest price. And some youngsters in Jalen Hurts of the Eagles and Joe Burrow of the Bengals who could shatter their ADP if things break the right way.
But the best of the lot could be the guy who falls in between.
Ryan Tannehill of the Tennessee Titans has been an underrated fantasy option for most of his tenure in Nashville—the 33-year-old was quietly seventh at the position in fantasy points in 2020 despite the team ranking 30th in pass attempts.
Now, the Titans have Julio Jones—and Tannehill could be on the verge of his best fantasy campaign yet.
With the arrival of Ja'Marr Chase in the Queen City, the fantasy community appears to have cooled considerably on the prospects for Tyler Boyd in 2021. But according to Adam Baum of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Boyd told reporters at minicamp that he thinks he, Chase and Tee Higgins can all eclipse 1,000 yards in 2021.
"I believe us three will achieve a thousand yards," Boyd said. "Even if [defenses] blitz us heavy, there's going to be a guy open every single time."
Boyd failed to hit 1,000 yards a year ago, but his 79/841/4 stat line was good for a WR28 finish in PPR scoring systems—10 spots above where he was drafted here.
And that was without Joe Burrow for a big chunk of the season.
9.01: James Conner, RB, ARZ
9.02: Michael Carter, RB, NYJ
9.03: Tyler Higbee, TE, LAR
9.04: Ronald Jones II, RB, TB
9.05: Jarvis Landry, WR, CLE
9.06: Robert Tonyan, TE, GB
9.07: Trevor Lawrence, QB, JAX
9.08: Deebo Samuel, WR, SF
9.09: Curtis Samuel, WR, WFT
9.10: AJ Dillon, RB, GB
9.11: Nyheim Hines, RB, IND
9.12: James White, RB, NE
Running Backs Running Low
By the end of Round 9, there was actually one fewer running back taken (40) than wide receiver. But while the quantity of players taken might be similar, the quality most assuredly is not.
In Arizona, James Conner faces an uncertain role in a timeshare with Chase Edmonds. Ditto for Ronald Jones II in Tampa. AJ Dillon of the Packers has limited fantasy value unless Aaron Jones gets hurt. Nyheim Hines of the Colts and James White of the Patriots are passing-down backs whose workload (and fantasy value) is largely tied to game script.
Simply put, the odds of finding a viable weekly starter in fantasy leagues at wide receiver in Round 9 (and beyond) are exponentially better than hitting on a viable running back.
Partly, it's because so many backs are selected early. And partly, it's why they are.
Per ESPN's Nick Wagoner, San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel has impressed in the early days of training camp.
"Speaking of Samuel," Wagoner tweeted, "he is clearly leaner and healthier than he's been in a bit and he's been very solid in first two practices. Had about a half dozen catches between team and 7s today."
Samuel's ability to rack up yardage (and fantasy points) has never been in question. His problem has been durability—the third-year pro has missed time in both pro seasons and made it through just seven games last year.
If he can stay on the field, Samuel has a good chance of outplaying his draft slot. If he doesn't? No fantasy team has ever been sunk by a ninth-round bust.
10.01: Jared Cook, TE, LAC
10.02: Michael Gallup, WR, DAL
10.03: Mike Williams, WR, LAC
10.04: DeVonta Smith, WR, PHI
10.05: Zack Moss, RB, BUF
10.06: Gus Edwards, RB, BAL
10.07: Irv Smith Jr., TE, MIN
10.08: Kenyan Drake, RB, LVR
10.09: William Fuller V, WR, MIA
10.10: Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, JAX
10.11: Marquise Brown, WR, BAL
10.12: Antonio Brown, WR, TB
Another Receiver Run
The wideout position got hit hard again in the 10th round—seven of the 12 picks were receivers. And a number of those picks have a chance to be real steals for the teams that drafted them.
Michael Gallup has been relegated to near-irrelevance by CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper in Dallas, but the Cowboys' high-octane passing game can support three fantasy-relevant wide receivers. Mike Williams has been talked up as a big part of Joe Lombardi's new offense in Los Angeles. DeVonta Smith could easily be the No. 1 receiver for the Eagles as a rookie. Antonio Brown would have been a high-end fantasy WR3 last year if you project his numbers over 16 games.
None of those players are sure things in fantasy. But all they need to do in this spot to be solid values is crack the top 40 at the position—and that is absolutely doable.
By the time you hit the double-digit rounds, the pool of running back talent is more like a puddle—there just ain't much left in the way of fantasy-relevant talent. There was, however, at least one back considered by many fantasy pundits the lead runner for his team—at least nominally.
As the Athletic's Joe Buscaglia wrote, if fantasy managers are going to put draft capital into a Bills back, second-year pro Zack Moss should be the guy.
"Moss can take over the backfield in 2021 if he continues to improve, which could be a 60 to 70 percent snap player in the Bills’ case," he said. "In redraft, his ninth-round cost is entirely worth the price of admission if you wind up with a starting back on a prolific offense."
It's a risk worth taking in the 10th round—in that it really isn't one.
11.01: Kirk Cousins, QB, MIN
11.02: J.D. McKissic, RB, WFT
11.03: Devin Singletary, RB, BUF
11.04: Tony Pollard, RB, DAL
11.05: T.Y. Hilton, WR, IND
11.06: Mike Gesicki, TE, MIA
11.07: Evan Engram, TE, NYG
11.08: DeVante Parker, WR, MIA
11.09: Latavius Murray, RB, NO
11.10: Los Angeles Rams D/ST
11.11: Alexander Mattison, RB, MIN
11.12: Jamison Crowder, WR, NYJ
12.01: Malcolm Brown, RB, MIA
12.02: Rob Gronkowski, TE, TB
12.03: Gerald Everett, TE, SEA
12.04: Marvin Jones Jr., WR, JAX
12.05 Michael Pittman Jr., WR, IND
12.06: Jamaal Williams, RB, DET
12.07: Henry Ruggs III, WR, LVR
12.08: Washington Football Team D/ST
12.09: Tarik Cohen, RB, CHI
12.10: Adam Trautman, TE, NO
12.11: Darnell Mooney, WR, CHI
12.12: Tampa Bay Buccaneers D/ST
13.01: Jaylen Waddle, WR, MIA
13.02: Pittsburgh Steelers D/ST
13.03: Justin Fields, QB, CHI
13.04: Tua Tagovailoa, QB, MIA
13.05: Baker Mayfield, QB, CLE
13.06: Rashod Bateman, WR, BAL
13.07: Derek Carr, QB, LVR
13.08: Zach Ertz, TE, PHI
13.09: Daniel Jones, QB, NYG
13.10: Phillip Lindsay, RB, HOU
13.11: Baltimore Ravens D/ST
13.12: Buffalo Bills D/ST
The Value of Handcuffing
There's plenty of dissent among fantasy pundits regarding the value of "handcuffing" big-name running backs. Three of the bigger handcuff backs (Tony Pollard of the Cowboys, Alexander Mattison of the Vikings and Latavius Murray of the Saints) went in Round 11.
In defense of the team that drafted Ezekiel Elliott fifth overall, they had no choice in the matter—Pollard came off the board one pick before their turn in the round. The Alvin Kamara and Dalvin Cook managers could have purchased insurance but chose not to.
That decision is one every fantasy drafter must make for themselves. Just know that by the 11th round, it's going to be time to make it.
The Colts Conundrum
This draft took place the day before Carson Wentz went down in practice for the Colts with a foot injury that required surgery and could sideline him well into the regular season—much to the chagrin of the guy who took both running back Jonathan Taylor and wide receiver Michael Pittman.
Taylor's fantasy value is still high as the focal point of Indy's offense with Wentz out, although an argument can be made for dropping him a spot or two. However, unless the news is better than expected with Wentz or the team gets an upgrade on Jacob Eason and Brett Hundley under center, the Colts pass-catchers are dart throws at best or undraftable at worst.
Much of the shine came off the selection of Pittman in Round 12, but both he and DeVante Parker of the Dolphins have a legitimate chance to lead their respective teams in both targets and receiving yards. After a summer of trade speculation, it looks more and more like Zach Ertz will be on the field for the Eagles in Week 1. Given his resume, he's a decent late grab as depth at tight end behind T.J. Hockenson.
14.01: Harrison Butker, K, KC
14.02: Demarcus Robinson, WR, KC
14.03: Ben Roethlisberger, QB, PIT
14.04: Hunter Henry, TE, NE
14.05: Trey Lance, QB, SF
14.06: Justin Tucker, K, BAL
14.07: Elijah Moore, WR, NYJ
14.08: Anthony Firkser, TE, TEN
14.09: San Francisco 49ers D/ST
14.10: Tre'Quan Smith, WR, NO
14.11: Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, WFT
14.12: Austin Hooper, TE, CLE
15.01: Younghoe Koo, K, ATL
15.02: Wil Lutz, K, NO
15.03: New England Patriots D/ST
15.04: Darrynton Evans, RB, TEN
15.05: Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, DET
15.06: Indianapolis Colts D/ST
15.07: Deshaun Watson, QB, HOU
15.08: Denver Broncos D/ST
15.05: Cleveland Browns D/ST
15.10: Hayden Hurst, TE, ATL
15.11: Michael Badgley, K, LAC
15.12: Giovani Bernard, RB, TB
16.01: Ryan Succop, K, TB
16.02: Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR, GB
16.03: Daniel Carlson, K, LVR
16.04: Tyler Bass, K, BUF
16.05: Greg Zuerlein, K, DAL
16.06: Green Bay Packers D/ST
16.07: Jason Sanders, K, MIA
16.08: Rodrigo Blankenship, K, IND
16.09: Matt Prater, K, ARZ
16.10: Matt Gay, K, LAR
16.11: Cole Kmet, TE, CHI
16.12: Blake Jarwin, TE, DAL
Don't Be That Manager
Harrison Butker of the Kansas City Chiefs is an excellent young kicker playing for one of the most prolific offenses in the National Football League.
But drafting any kicker before the final round is a waste of draft capital.
Butker finished outside the top 10 in total fantasy points among kickers in 2020. And even if he had been the No. 1 player at his position, the difference between the top kicker and the No. 12 one was less than three fantasy points per game.
Add depth. Take a flier or two. And then always draft the kicker last.
In 2020, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger averaged 6.3 yards per attempt. With the exception of his two-game 2019 campaign, it was easily a career low. He looked every bit of his age.
Here's the thing, though. Roethlisberger also threw for 3,803 yards and 33 touchdown passes—numbers that slotted him 12th in fantasy points among quarterbacks in this scoring.
Sure, Pittsburgh's offensive line is awful. But the receiving talent is there. Big Ben was the 22nd quarterback taken in this draft and has an ADP even lower than that (QB28).
At that non-existent asking price, he makes a lot more sense late as a QB2 than taking a kicker before the last round.
I would have been all over Roethlisberger had he lasted two more stinking picks, but with glowing reports from 49ers training camp, Trey Lance's upside won the day as Lamar Jackson's backup. The Denver Broncos open the season with three straight favorable fantasy matchups (at NYG, at JAX, vs. NYJ). Greg Zuerlein has a big leg and kicks for a potent Dallas Cowboys offense.
Lamar Jackson, BAL (5.08); Trey Lance, SFO (14.05)
To be completely honest, with the benefit of hindsight, part of me wishes I had waited to draft a quarterback. Nine times out of 10 it's a smart play. But if Jackson's passing numbers rebound somewhat in 2021, he could have another monstrous fantasy season.
Jonathan Taylor, IND (1.08); Najee Harris, PIT (2.05); Miles Sanders, PHI (3.08); Trey Sermon, SFO (7.08); Zack Moss, BUF (10.05)
As is normally the case, my running backs are the strength of my team. Wentz's injury might hurt Taylor's efficiency, but it could also bump his touch count. The sky is the limit for the two rookie backs. Harris needs competent line play. Sermon needs touches. Moss is admittedly not much more than a flier, but he's one with some potential. There's been talent and depth here at fantasy's most important position—you aren't gonna win much without a solid cadre in the backfield.
Terry McLaurin, WFT (4.05); Tyler Boyd, CIN (8.05); Deebo Samuel, SFO (9.08); DeVante Parker, MIA (11.08); Michael Pittman Jr., IND (12.05)
Admittedly, this is the weakest position on my roster—it's the price you pay for wailing away at running back, taking a quarterback in the fifth round and even selecting a tight end relatively early. Still, McLaurin is a legitimate threat to post WR1 numbers, and if Boyd can come close to the top 25, all that's necessary is finding one weekly starter from Samuel, Parker and Pittman (or a free-agent pickup like John Brown of the Raiders). It's a brand of roulette I'm all too accustomed to, and while there's no guarantee I'll pull it off, it has worked more than once in the past.
T.J. Hockenson, DET (6.05); Zach Ertz, PHI (13.08)
There's little disagreement among fantasy analysts that Kelce, Waller and Kittle are the top three fantasy tight ends in 2021 (in that order). That unanimity ends when discussion of tight end No. 4 enters the conversation. For my money, it's Hockenson, who could threaten for the league lead in targets among tight ends. Garbage-time points count the same as the others. Ertz is a one-week starter—in Week 9 when Hockenson is on bye.
Kicker and Team Defense
Denver Broncos D/ST (15.08); Greg Zuerlein, DAL (16.05)
In addition to that juicy set of matchups to open the season that were already mentioned, the Broncos have a pair of talented edge-rushers in Von Miller and Bradley Chubb and maybe the best secondary in the entire league. Even so, come October 3 when the Ravens come to town, it's off to the waiver wire they go most likely. With Dak Prescott back, the Cowboys offense should be among the NFL's best—and that means scoring opportunities for "Greg the Leg."
Were I grading this draft, I'd likely give it a "B-." That Lamar Jackson pick was an unnecessary blow to an already shaky WR corps. But it's a team capable of vying for the playoffs, and at day's end, that's all you can reasonably ask from a draft.
You can view the entire draft board here.
Gary Davenport is a two-time winner of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association Football Writer of the Year Award. Follow him at Twitter at @IDPSharks.