Fantasy Football 2021: Early Preseason Rankings Before Hall of Fame Game

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIAugust 4, 2021

Fantasy Football 2021: Early Preseason Rankings Before Hall of Fame Game

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    At last, the offseason is almost over. Football will be back on our TV screens later this week, with the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers set to open the preseason in Thursday's Hall of Fame Game matchup in Canton, Ohio.

    The return of the NFL also signals the upcoming start for fantasy football. Preseason games don't matter in fantasy, and plenty of leagues don't even hold their drafts until after these exhibition contests have been completed. But there's plenty of research that can be done while watching preseason action.

    There won't be as many preseason games to watch this year. The NFL has reduced the number of matchups each team will play to three (except for Dallas and Pittsburgh, which will each play four). So keep a close eye on any interesting developments that could impact your draft strategy in fantasy.

    With the Cowboys and Steelers soon taking the field, here's an early look at preseason fantasy rankings, followed by a breakdown of some options from each of those two teams.

Early 2021 Fantasy Rankings

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    1. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers

    2. Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings

    3. Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans

    4. Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints

    5. Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants

    6. Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs

    7. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys

    8. Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns

    9. Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers

    10. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts

    11. Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

    12. Aaron Jones, RB, Green Bay Packers

    13. Stefon Diggs, WR, Buffalo Bills

    14. Austin Ekeler, RB, Los Angeles Chargers

    15. Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

    16. Antonio Gibson, RB, Washington Football Team

    17. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Arizona Cardinals

    18. Calvin Ridley, WR, Atlanta Falcons

    19. DK Metcalf, WR, Seattle Seahawks

    20. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

    21. A.J. Brown, WR, Tennessee Titans

    22. Justin Jefferson, WR, Minnesota Vikings

    23. Terry McLaurin, WR, Washington Football Team

    24. Darren Waller, TE, Las Vegas Raiders

    25. David Montgomery, RB, Chicago Bears

    26. Miles Sanders, RB, Philadelphia Eagles

    27. George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers

    28. Najee Harris, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

    29. J.K. Dobbins, RB, Baltimore Ravens

    30. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs

    31. Keenan Allen, WR, Los Angeles Chargers

    32. D'Andre Swift, RB, Detroit Lions

    33. Chris Carson, RB, Seattle Seahawks

    34. Allen Robinson II, WR, Chicago Bears

    35. Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    36. Amari Cooper, WR, Dallas Cowboys

    37. Josh Jacobs, RB, Las Vegas Raiders

    38. Julio Jones, WR, Tennessee Titans

    39. Chris Godwin, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    40. Darrell Henderson Jr., RB, Los Angeles Rams

    41. CeeDee Lamb, WR, Dallas Cowboys

    42. Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills

    43. Robert Woods, WR, Los Angeles Rams

    44. DJ Moore, WR, Carolina Panthers

    45. Adam Thielen, WR, Minnesota Vikings

    46. Kenny Golladay, WR, New York Giants

    47. Tyler Lockett, WR, Seattle Seahawks

    48. Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams

    49. Myles Gaskin, RB, Miami Dolphins

    50. Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals

Lamb Could Soon Be Top Fantasy Receiver in Dallas

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    Michael Owen Baker/Associated Press

    At some point during your fantasy football draft, likely around the third round or so, there could be two Cowboys wide receivers near the top of available players: Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb. And it could be a tough decision regarding which one you want to take.

    Cooper has finished with more than 1,000 receiving yards in five of his first six NFL seasons. He even exceeded that mark last year, despite Dallas losing quarterback Dak Prescott to an ankle injury in Week 5. He should be a reliable fantasy option again in 2021.

    But it's possible he won't have the largest output among Cowboys receivers, because Lamb is likely to be on the rise. After a solid rookie campaign in 2020, the 22-year-old is putting on a show early in training camp.

    "CeeDee continues to make play after play, catch after catch, that are jaw-dropping," Prescott said, per Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News. "Looks like another 88, I guess, that wore that number."

    Comparisons to the likes of Michael Irvin, Drew Pearson and Dez Bryant may seem premature, but Lamb could have a breakout season. So he's definitely a receiver to target in fantasy, perhaps even if Cooper is still on the board.

    Another storyline to monitor in Dallas is whether running back Ezekiel Elliott can have a bounce-back year. He may still be getting taken in the first round of fantasy drafts, but he's going to have to prove he can put up better numbers than he did in 2020, when he rushed for a career-low 979 yards and six touchdowns in 15 games.

    The Ohio State product is still only 26, and with Prescott back, it should make the whole offense better. But there is a risk factor with taking Elliott in fantasy. But it's not enough to avoid him, considering the high ceiling he has shown in the past as a premier fantasy player.

    It may still be wise to draft second-string running back Tony Pollard in case, but it's likely Elliott is going to return to putting up big numbers, cutting into Pollard's workload and making it so there's only one Dallas running back worthy of starting consideration each week.

    As for Prescott, he should be among the top fantasy quarterbacks, behind only the fantasy elite such as Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Kyler Murray in drafts.

    If Prescott stays healthy, he'll live up to those expectations, because he was putting up huge numbers in 2020 before his season was cut short.

Harris the Most Intriguing Fantasy Option on Steelers' Offense

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    The first Steelers player getting taken in fantasy drafts will be one who wasn't even in the NFL last season. So, it will be a risky selection for managers to consider, but it's also one that could pay huge dividends throughout the 2021 season.

    Najee Harris will be Pittsburgh's lead running back as a rookie, and because of the number of touches that should be coming his way, the former Alabama standout is getting taken around the second round of most fantasy drafts. Will he put up the numbers he's projected to? That remains to be seen.

    For those who want to see the 23-year-old in action before drafting him, there should be plenty of opportunity to do so this month. On Tuesday, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin alluded to the fact that he could play in all four of the team's preseason games.

    "He's a rookie. Man, he needs the process of game preparation and ultimately play," Tomlin said, per Brian Batko of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We've got four opportunities for him to do that."

    It will be intriguing to see how Harris performs. He has a ton of potential, and if he carries over the success he had at the college level, he could end up being a top-12 running back by the end of the season. So that's why he's worth taking a chance on in the second round of drafts.

    Pittsburgh returns all three of its top wide receivers from last year in JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson. They all had their moments as strong fantasy options in 2020, but it can be difficult to know which ones are good plays on a given week.

    Claypool and Johnson had higher yardage totals than Smith-Schuster last season, but Smith-Schuster has proved he's capable of better than his production in 2020. Claypool may be the most intriguing option among the three, considering he was only a rookie last year and could continue to get even better.

    However, Johnson was the most targeted receiver in the Steelers' offense last year. So if quarterback Ben Roethlisberger continues to look his way that frequently, perhaps he could be the No. 1 receiver again.

    All three of Pittsburgh's top receivers are solid options to consider around Rounds 6-8 in fantasy drafts. But if you have to pick one, the suggestion here is Claypool.