2021 NFL Predictions: Fantasy Studs and Duds at Every Position

Keegan PopeContributor IIIAugust 16, 2021

2021 NFL Predictions: Fantasy Studs and Duds at Every Position

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    If everyone could boast Patrick Mahomes, Derrick Henry, Tyreek Hill, Stefon Diggs and Travis Kelce on their fantasy rosters, we would all be competing for championships.

    There are a few dozen players across the board who will put up massive numbers every year, and a fantasy owner is lucky to get two or maybe three of them on their squad. At the other spots, value picks are what decide whether you are contending for a championship or are subject to whatever punishment is dealt out to the last-placed finisher.

    A couple extra points can make that difference, and finding the players who get you those is often more of an art than a science. It's nearly impossible to predict whether a running back will get those three extra receptions per game or if a kicker's offense is good enough to get into field-goal range but not so good they score every time in the red zone and never kick it. It's also a best-guess scenario, but it's not a thoughtless exercise.

    Here are the best bets for breaking through this fantasy season if you don't get your dream lineup.


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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Studs: Justin Herbert, Dak Prescott, Matthew Stafford

    Duds: Joe Burrow, Ben Roethlisberger, Kirk Cousins

    Dak Prescott and Matthew Stafford have significant injury histories, but when healthy, they are fantasy studs. Stafford gets a fresh start with the Los Angeles Rams, with whom he'll have an upgraded offensive line and slate of skill position players around him, plus a dynamo play-caller in Sean McVay.

    Prescott is surrounded by some of the best talent in the league yet again, and Justin Herbert put together one of the more impressive rookie campaigns we have seen in recent memory last year.

    On the flip side, Joe Burrow is coming off an ACL injury, and the Cincinnati Bengals didn't exactly fortify the offensive line during the offseason. He has a lot of young skill position talent around him, but can he stay upright to get the ball into their hands?

Running Backs

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    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    Studs: Jonathan Taylor, Najee Harris, Clyde Edwards-Helaire

    Duds: David Johnson, Chase Edmonds, Kareem Hunt

    It used to be that drafting a running back in the first couple rounds guaranteed a workhorse who would get 25-30 touches per game. Now, not so much. Unless you can snag Derrick Henry or Christian McCaffrey, you're likely looking for a clear-cut starter who will have to share some touches.

    After a midseason slump last year, Jonathan Taylor outscored his expected point production in each of the Indianapolis Colts' final six games, and he gets one of the easiest schedules in the league this year.

    Najee Harris, while a rookie, should see a significant workload as the Pittsburgh Steelers' No. 1 back. Clyde Edwards-Helaire didn't meet some pretty oversized expectations as a rookie last season, but with what seems to be a healthy Patrick Mahomes and a revamped offensive line, he could break out in 2021.

Wide Receivers

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    Studs: Keenan Allen, Julio Jones, Courtland Sutton

    Duds: Terry McLaurin, Kenny Golladay, Michael Thomas

    Because of the variation in production, receiver is often the biggest difference between winning and losing games. Very few can be counted on for double-digit receptions, 100-plus yards and a touchdown every week, so finding the guys who tend to get open more often or get lots of red-zone targets is key.

    Hence Keenan Allen, Julio Jones and Courtland Sutton. The latter two either missed some or all of last season because of injury, but Jones gets a fresh start with Ryan Tannehill in Tennessee, and Sutton is one of the league's rising stars when healthy. Allen, meanwhile, is Justin Herbert's favorite target, and he's caught more than 100 passes in three of the past four seasons.

    It feels strange to include Michael Thomas on the other side of this list, but his injury status and the unpredictability of Jameis Winston makes him a hard No. 1 to count on.

    Kenny Golladay left the friendly confines of Detroit and Stafford to join up with Daniel Jones, who has been wholly inconsistent in his first two years with the New York Giants.

    Terry McLaurin, meanwhile, could have a similar issue with Washington's quarterback situation, with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke all in the mix.

Tight Ends

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Studs: Kyle Pitts, Noah Fant, Tyler Higbee

    Duds: Hunter Henry, Anthony Firkser, Jonnu Smith

    There are few, if any, players as NFL-ready from this year's draft class as Kyle Pitts. He steps into a situation in Atlanta where he could be Matt Ryan's major safety blanket now that Julio Jones has departed.

    Noah Fant, who slightly underperformed last year, is one of Drew Lock's favorite targets. And with Sutton back, he could see some openings as defenses shift their attention to the Denver Broncos' talented wideouts. 

    Hunter Henry's inability to stay healthy raises some concerns. He's only played in 26 games during the past two seasons, and while he's been productive, having a starting tight end out for even a few games can set back a team.

    Anthony Firkser was a bit of a breakout player last year behind Jonnu Smith, but with Jones now in the fold, it's hard to see him getting a starter-worthy amount of targets. Smith, meanwhile, remains a good player, but with the uncertainty at quarterback in New England, there are better options available.


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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Studs: Philadelphia, Seattle, Arizona

    Duds: Baltimore, Indianapolis, New England

    None of these units have gone through wholesale changes from a year ago, so much of their projection comes down to the strength of offenses they will face.

    The Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals all have schedules that rank among the 12 easiest in the league for defenses. That includes the latter two facing each other twice as NFC West rivals. Meanwhile, the three duds all face slates that rank among the five toughest in the league.


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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Studs: Ryan Succop, Greg Zuerlein, Rodrigo Blankenship

    Duds: Younghoe Koo, Nick Folk, Ka'imi Fairbairn

    There's arguably no position more dependent on the rest of the team than kicker. As mentioned above, being on an offense good enough to move the ball down the field is important, but they can't be too good at converting inside the opponents' 30-yard line, otherwise there aren't enough opportunities.

    Younghoe Koo was a huge beneficiary of such a situation last year in Atlanta, but he could take a step back with Jones' departure taking away a big downfield threat for the Falcons.

    Greg Zuerlein and Ryan Succop, meanwhile, could benefit from being attached to extremely potent offenses in Tampa Bay and Dallas, respectively, which have the chance to put up a lot of yards and points.