Fantasy Football 2021: 5 Players Generating Buzz Entering Preseason Week 1

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIAugust 10, 2021

Fantasy Football 2021: 5 Players Generating Buzz Entering Preseason Week 1

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    As the 2021 NFL season gets closer, the hype is building for some players who have been standouts in training camp. That buzz will only get louder if these players start to perform well during preseason games.

    Some of these camp showings were expected, but others are from players who may be surprise stories. And all of them could have an impact on fantasy football, especially with most leagues holding their drafts over the next few weeks.

    Here's a look at a handful of players who are creating hype heading into the preseason and should be targeted during upcoming fantasy drafts.

Trey Lance, QB, San Francisco 49ers

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Trey Lance isn't getting taken until late in fantasy drafts, if he even gets picked at all. And he may not help your team early in the season, considering the rookie is currently the backup to Jimmy Garoppolo.

    However, the 21-year-old's performance so far in training camp can't be ignored, as he continues to show his potential fantasy upside.

    The Athletic's Matt Barrows noted last week that the rookie "has been unafraid to go deep and to throw outside the numbers." And he had two practice sessions last week in which he threw only two total incompletions, going a combined 20-for-22, per Barrows.

    It's hard not to get excited about Lance's potential and what he could do for a San Francisco offense with plenty of talented playmakers. While the 49ers have maintained that Garoppolo is the starter, can they keep sending him out during the regular season if he's unimpressive knowing Lance is on the bench in waiting?

    San Francisco opens its preseason slate with a home matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday night. If Lance plays well in that game and the following two preseason contests, perhaps he'll work his way into the starting job sooner than some expected.

    Even if it doesn't happen in the short term, the North Dakota State product has the skills and athleticism that make him an enticing choice late in fantasy drafts, one who could give your team a huge second-half boost.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Clyde Edwards-Helaire had a solid rookie season, but it wasn't quite the huge showing that warranted him getting picked in the first round of many fantasy football drafts last year. He rushed for 803 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games while also notching 36 receptions for 297 yards and one touchdown.

    But there are reasons to believe that a second-year breakout is on the way for the 22-year-old. For one, he's getting to work with the Kansas City Chiefs' offense for a full training camp, after last year's practices were limited because of the coronavirus pandemic.

    Also, Kansas City lost wide receiver Sammy Watkins in free agency. So, while receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce will remain the top two options for quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the passing game, Edwards-Helaire's receiving abilities make him an enticing fantasy player, particularly in points-per-reception leagues.

    The LSU product has been working on running screen plays in camp and said they're "going well and looking great," per Ed Easton Jr. of Chiefs Wire. Add that to his impressive running game (assuming he's given the opportunities), and he could be poised for a big year.

    While Edwards-Helaire may not get taken in the first round of fantasy drafts this year, he could provide tremendous value as a second-round pick.

Terry McLaurin, WR, Washington Football Team

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    The Washington Football Team's offense struggled in 2020, as it never had a quarterback who would consistently air it out with success, with Dwayne Haskins Jr., Kyle Allen and Alex Smith all starting games.

    And yet, Terry McLaurin still had a strong sophomore season, notching 87 receptions for 1,118 yards and four touchdowns in 15 games.

    Now imagine what the wide receiver may be capable of in an offense led by veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, a 38-year-old gunslinger who is certainly not afraid to throw deep passes and squeeze passes into tight windows. It could lead to even bigger numbers for McLaurin in his third year in the NFL.

    The 25-year-old is also impressing another one of his new teammates in Washington. Cornerback William Jackson III, who played for the Cincinnati Bengals last season, likes what he's seen in camp.

    "His releases are definitely better. Way better since I played him last year," Jackson said, per Ethan Cadeaux of NBC Sports Washington. "He’s doing sudden moves, he gives you a little something at the line so he’s making it harder for DBs."

    It will take an early pick to land McLaurin in fantasy drafts, but it sure seems like he'll live up to it again in 2021.

Elijah Moore, WR, New York Jets

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    The New York Jets' offense is going to look a bit different this season, as they're likely going to have several rookies immediately in starting roles. Quarterback Zach Wilson will be under center, while Michael Carter could get plenty of carries out of the backfield.

    Another first-year Jets player to watch is Elijah Moore, who could also be earning himself time on the field during training camp. A second-round draft pick, he is receiving consistent praise. On Monday, The Athletic's Connor Hughes wrote that "no Jets receiver has dominated daily like Moore," and that New York "believes it has a star on its hands."

    "The hype surrounding the 21-year-old is undeniably justified," Hughes noted. "He catches everything thrown his way. His route running is extremely advanced for a player with no NFL game experience. He’s electric and dynamic both before and after the catch."

    If that's the case, then it's hard to imagine the 21-year-old not making some kind of fantasy impact this season. The Jets have some other talented receivers, such as Corey Davis and Jamison Crowder, but the Ole Miss product seems to be earning himself one of the top spots on the depth chart.

    Moore is a great rookie receiver to target in the middle rounds of draft because of his breakout potential.

Irv Smith Jr., TE, Minnesota Vikings

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    There's a big drop off for tight ends in fantasy drafts after the top three of Travis Kelce, Darren Waller and George Kittle. Atlanta Falcons rookie Kyle Pitts has the potential to end up in that group, too. But Irv Smith Jr. is one to watch as a possible breakout candidate in his third NFL season.

    The 23-year-old was a solid No. 2 TE for the Vikings the past two years, but he was stuck behind Kyle Rudolph on the depth chart. Now, Rudolph is gone and Smith is the No. 1. And not only that, but he may also be the clear No. 3 receiving option behind wide receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen.

    Judd Zulgad of SKOR North noted that "it's become clear that Kirk Cousins is very comfortable throwing to Smith." While Cousins threw to the Alabama product some in 2019 and 2020, he could be doing it a lot more in 2021, so that should be important.

    While Smith may not quite put up the numbers that the top-tier fantasy tight ends will, he should be a reliable option at the position and prevent managers who take him from having to stream on a weekly basis.

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