Fantasy Football 2021: 8 Players Going Way Too Low in Early Drafts

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistAugust 3, 2021

Fantasy Football 2021: 8 Players Going Way Too Low in Early Drafts

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    Steve Sanders/Associated Press

    Fantasy football managers will have to make changes to draft plans in August.

    With training camps open and the start of the preseason coming up, position battles, injuries and roster moves can elevate or deflate a player's stock. For instance, the recent news about Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz's foot injury may steer you away from the team's wide receivers.

    In the coming weeks, coaches will give clues as to where players stand in the club's plans for the 2021 season.

    Based on nuggets from press conferences, practice reports and the latest buzz around the league, we've compiled a list of eight players who should come off the board a lot higher than their average draft position (ADP), which is provided by Fantasy Football Calculator.

    Managers should consider these names at least two rounds earlier than their current ADP in 12-team point-per-reception leagues.

RB Darrell Henderson Jr., Los Angeles Rams

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    ADP: 5.04

    Before training camp, Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers tore his Achilles, which will sideline him for the entire 2021 campaign. With the departure of Malcolm Brown in free agency, Darrell Henderson Jr. has an opportunity to break out this year.

    Rams head coach Sean McVay hasn't defined Henderson's workload, but he told reporters he believes the third-year veteran could handle an every-down role:

    "I think he's got the ability, there's no doubt about it. It's really just kind of figuring out what's going to be the best – I don't want to say pitch count – but the best way to utilize him and really have the big picture in mind. He's our most established guy without a doubt. … As far as the three-down (back), I know he's capable of doing that. If we feel like that's the best approach, we'll do that. That's the most important thing is what's best for Darrell and the Rams."

    Xavier Jones, Raymond Calais and rookie seventh-rounder Jake Funk have logged zero carries on the pro level, so you can pen Henderson's name into the starting spot.

    Because of Henderson's potential touch volume, managers should consider him in the third round of drafts.

    Last year, he rushed for 624 yards and five touchdowns while averaging 4.5 yards per carry. As a collegian, the Memphis product caught 63 passes for 758 yards and eight touchdowns through three terms.

    McVay's Rams offenses have ranked top-10 in rush attempts for three of four seasons. Henderson could become a workhorse tailback in 2021.

RB Zack Moss, Buffalo Bills

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    Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

    ADP: 8.03

    Managers should monitor the Buffalo Bills' running back battle through the preseason. According to ESPN's Marcel Louis-Jacques, Devin Singletary and Zack Moss shared first-team reps Saturday.

    Last year, Singletary and Moss nearly split the workload evenly, averaging 9.8 and 8.6 rush attempts per outing, respectively. The latter came on strong in the final quarter of the season, though, logging 12 or more carries in three of the last four weeks.

    Moss started the Bills' AFC wild-card matchup against the Indianapolis Colts but went down with an ankle injury. He then underwent a TightRope procedure, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.

    After Saturday's practice, Moss said he feels "really good" and has put the mental aspect of injury rehab behind him.

    In 2020, Singletary started all 16 regular-season games. However, if Moss picks up where he left off, he'll likely handle a majority of the touches from start to finish in 2021.

    For now, managers can bet on Moss to maintain his complementary role, which pushes him into the sixth round of drafts in PPR leagues because of his pass-catching ability. As a collegian at Utah, he caught 65 passes for 681 yards and three touchdowns from 2017 through 2019.

RB Jamaal Williams, Detroit Lions

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    ADP: 9.11

    This offseason, the Detroit Lions signed Jamaal Williams, who will join D'Andre Swift in the backfield. They'll run behind a stout offensive line that features sixth-year left tackle Taylor Decker, Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow and rookie first-rounder Penei Sewell on the far right end.

    Head coach Dan Campbell told reporters he plans to use Swift and Williams with the "hot hand" approach:

    "The place I just came from, obviously with AK [Alvin Kamara], and to have Mark Ingram when I first got there -- Mark was a stud, still is a stud, by the way -- that's my vision of this one-two punch (in Detroit). … It's a one-two punch. We're going to use both of those guys, they know that. A guy gets a hot hand, he's rolling. If Jamaal is in there, we're rolling. Jamaal is going to be rolling, and we'll use Swift for other things."

    As a ninth-round pick, Williams would have great value if the Lions use him similarly to how the New Orleans Saints employed Mark Ingram II when he teamed up with Alvin Kamara.

    While sharing the backfield with Kamara between 2017 and 2018, Ingram recorded 2,355 yards and 19 touchdowns from scrimmage. Latavius Murray replaced the latter and rushed for 1,293 yards and nine touchdowns over the last two terms.

    As an assistant coach on the Saints staff over the previous five seasons, Campbell knows how a solid running back tandem can coexist.

    Alongside Swift, Williams could command a decent role in the Lions offense as a dual-threat playmaker out of the backfield. In four seasons with the Green Bay Packers, he recorded 122 receptions for 961 yards and eight touchdowns in addition to 1,985 yards and 10 scores on the ground.

WR Mecole Hardman, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    ADP: 10.10

    Managers should feel optimistic about Mecole Hardman, a big-play wide receiver primed for a bigger role.

    The Kansas City Chiefs lost wideout Sammy Watkins in free agency. Last year, he listed fifth in targets (55) among the team's pass-catchers but played at least 72 percent of the offensive snaps in eight of 10 outings.

    Last month, The Athletic's Nate Taylor projected Hardman would benefit most from Watkins' exit.

    "From the voluntary workouts and the team's mandatory minicamp, Mecole Hardman, a third-year player, appears to be in position to have a breakout season, as he is expected to have the role previously held by Sammy Watkins," he wrote in a mailbag response.

    Taylor also mentioned Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle but thought Hardman had the best showing during spring practices.

    Hardman has a chance to claim the No. 2 spot at wide receiver, but he would list as the third option in the passing game behind fellow wideout Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce.

    Last season, the Chiefs ranked third in passing attempts. They have arguably the league's best quarterback in Patrick Mahomes, so the No. 3 receiving option in Kansas City is better than the No. 2 target for plenty of other teams.

    In two seasons, Hardman has recorded 67 receptions for 1,098 yards and 10 touchdowns while playing 45 percent of the offensive snaps. With an expanded role, he's a high-upside middle-round pick who should come off the board in the seventh or eighth round.

WR Henry Ruggs III, Las Vegas Raiders

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    David Becker/Associated Press

    ADP: 11.06

    After consecutive 1,100-plus-yard receiving seasons, Pro Bowl tight end Darren Waller will likely lead the Las Vegas Raiders in most pass-catching categories, but the departure of Nelson Agholor in free agency opens up targets for the wide receiver group.

    In 2020, Agholor ranked second on the team in targets (82), receiving yards (896) and touchdown receptions (eight).

    According to The Athletic's Vic Tafur, we can "lock in" Henry Ruggs III for "a lot of targets." The Raiders beat reporter believes head coach Jon Gruden wants to make great use of his top pick from the 2020 draft to quiet skeptics who are critical of the selection.

    During the offseason, Ruggs added 13 pounds to his frame. Quarterback Derek Carr commended the second-year wideout on his route running.

    With Ruggs' offseason development on display, he should see plenty of opportunities to become a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver and possibly the No. 2 target in the Raiders' aerial attack behind Waller.

    In 2020, Ruggs only saw 43 targets and hauled in 26 passes for 452 yards and two touchdowns. After averaging 17.4 yards per catch, he has major boom potential if Carr targets him consistently.

TE Irv Smith Jr., Minnesota Vikings

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    ADP: 13.03

    All signs point to a potential breakout campaign for Irv Smith Jr.

    New Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak said Smith "will have more opportunities" in the upcoming campaign. Following the departure of tight end Kyle Rudolph, who served as the starter, managers can take the play-caller's words at face value.

    Judd Zulgad of SKOR North noted the rapport between quarterback Kirk Cousins and Smith during practices.

    "It's become clear that Kirk Cousins is very comfortable throwing to Smith—more than he was throwing to Kyle Rudolph—and that could result in a big season for the tight end entering his third season," Zulgad wrote.

    In 2020, Smith caught 30 passes for 365 yards and five touchdowns; he recorded three of those scores in the final quarter of the season.

    Despite wide receiver Justin Jefferson's strong rookie campaign (88 catches for 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns) and Cousins' three-year rapport with wideout Adam Thielen, Smith could carve out a solid role as the consistent No. 3 target in the Vikings' aerial attack.

WR Tre'Quan Smith, New Orleans Saints

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    Derick Hingle/Associated Press

    ADP: 13.11

    While wideout Michael Thomas recovers from ankle surgery, the New Orleans Saints will need a perimeter pass-catcher to fill a void in the aerial attack.

    Last year, Tre'Quan Smith played 63 percent of the offensive snaps, starting 10 of 14 games while Thomas missed nine outings because of an ankle injury and a suspension. He recorded 34 receptions for 448 yards and four touchdowns with a 68 percent catch rate.

    Smith must adjust to a new full-time starting quarterback in Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston, but he'll have plenty of opportunities with either signal-caller. The fourth-year veteran provides speed with the ability to stretch the field on offense.

    Though managers would take a risk with Smith because of his gradual development, questionable quarterback situation and Thomas' uncertain timetable, he'll probably start as a lead receiver and see the most targets among Saints wideouts in the first half of the season. Take a look at him in Round 9 or 10.

QB Taysom Hill, New Orleans Saints

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    Derick Hingle/Associated Press

    ADP: 14.06

    The New Orleans Saints have a wide-open quarterback battle, so managers will hesitate to move Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill up their draft boards until the team leans toward a clear favorite. However, the latter should have value regardless of the outcome.

    If Hill wins the quarterback competition, he'll rack up points as a ball-carrier in addition to his passing numbers. The dual-threat signal-caller rushed for 209 yards and four touchdowns in four starts under center last season.

    Though the Saints may not have wideout Michael Thomas for several weeks (ankle surgery), Hill could make up for modest passing performances with his rushing numbers.

    If Winston wins the starting job, Hill would likely see carries and possibly targets while Thomas recovers from surgery. Other than running back Alvin Kamara, the Saints don't have top-flight offensive playmakers. Head coach Sean Payton could use Hill as a high-end Swiss Army knife.

    Since 2019, Hill has scored 16 touchdowns from scrimmage. If the 30-year-old plays a versatile role as a ball-carrier and receiver, he'll become a solid flex option in Round 10 or 11.


    Average draft positions for players are courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator and are current as of Monday.