2021 Fantasy Football: Players Flying Up Boards This Preseason
The NFL preseason is underway, with each team having played at least one exhibition game. Many fantasy football owners have been watching these contests closely, hoping to glean critical information such as snap-count shares and depth-chart changes.
Because of this surge of intel, the preseason is the time of year that impacts a player's average draft position (ADP) the most. While some leagues hold their drafts prior to the start of training camps, most wait for at least one preseason game, if not the entire slate, before making their selections.
It's understandable given how much changes during these crucial weeks leading up to the start of the regular season. Players who were once considered late-round fliers emerge as key cogs and soar up big boards, while others fall multiple rounds after failing to meet projections.
Team personnel and coaching changes also open the door for new faces to shine. And rookies who flash more potential than expected often see ADP bumps based on the hype.
With that in mind, here is a look at some players who have seen their stock skyrocket over the past month.
ADP figures are based on a points-per-reception (PPR) scoring format in a 12-team draft and come courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator.
TE Irv Smith Jr., Minnesota Vikings
July 16 ADP: Round 14, Pick 2
August 16 ADP: Round 12, Pick 11
The departure of longtime Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph has opened the door for Irv Smith Jr. to take on an increased workload in 2021.
Smith even has a shot at becoming Minnesota's top red-zone weapon. The 6'2", 242-pound tight end possesses elite athleticism and has intangible qualities that quarterback Kirk Cousins could come to rely on near the goal line.
Right now, it appears likely that Smith's role will expand significantly after he saw only 50 percent of Minnesota's offensive snaps last year. The initial reviews from Minnesota's practices are glowing. Eric Smith of the team's official website wrote of Smith making spectacular catches and offering quality blocking in drills.
These camp updates have helped Smith move from a 14th-round flier to a 12th-round pick in many leagues. There is still room to ascend, as Smith wasn't a factor in Minnesota’s first preseason game, one that most of the starters rested for. He'll likely get more chances to prove himself in the team's upcoming pair of exhibition matchups.
Fantasy owners seeking value at a traditionally tough position to find some at should consider drafting Smith no later than the 12th round. There is a real chance this potential breakout star will come off the board earlier in the coming weeks, so capitalize on the opportunity to get him at his current ADP.
WR Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
July 16 ADP: Round 2, Pick 1
August 16 ADP: Round 1, Pick 7
Davante Adams has been a one-man army for fantasy owners over the last few years. Fortunately, his status as fantasy's top wide receiver no longer seems to be in jeopardy.
Earlier in the offseason, the uncertainty surrounding Aaron Rodgers' status with the Green Bay Packers led Adams to slip into the second round of many fantasy drafts. With the future Hall of Fame quarterback making clear his intentions to return to Green Bay for the 2021 campaign, Adams is once again an ideal mid-to-late first-round selection and should be the first wideout off the board in any format.
Adams is coming off an incredible season during which he averaged 25.6 PPR points per game, almost four more than Tyreek Hill, 2020's No. 2 wideout. Pro Football Network's Tommy Garrett noted that since 2018, Adams has been fantasy's best receiver for more than half his weeks and was the No. 2 WR or better in 78 percent of his games.
The only real concern with Adams is his health, as he hasn't played a full 16-game season since 2016. He's never missed more than four games in a single season, however, and does more than enough when he is active to overcome any potential loss of production.
With Rodgers back in the fold and the Packers still devoid of a legitimate No. 2 option, Adams is locked in as a true No. 1 wideout and a centerpiece for fantasy owners to build around.
RB Trey Sermon, San Francisco 49ers
July 16 ADP: Round 8, Pick 7
August 16 ADP: Round 7, Pick 2
The San Francisco 49ers seem to have unearthed a gem in third-round rookie Trey Sermon. The Ohio State product has been lighting it up in camp and has a legitimate chance to usurp Raheem Mostert as San Francisco’s top back.
While his preseason performance didn't jump off the page—Sermon only gained 40 yards from scrimmage—his 11 touches, tied with JaMycal Hasty's 11, were more than any other player received in the opener.
Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle said that Sermon has "held up well" in regard to grasping pass protection and the playbook—hurdles that many first-year backs struggle to clear, often keeping them from seeing the field on Sundays.
The 22-year-old has been showing out since he first arrived in Santa Clara and now has only the injury-prone Mostert to beat before being declared a starter, something that may happen during the 2021 season.
Even if Sermon doesn't overtake Mostert, he is in line to receive a large volume of touches in Kyle Shanahan's system.
The head coach prefers to pound the rock as much as possible, as evidenced by the team rushing on 51 percent of its plays—more than any team but the Baltimore Ravens—during its successful 2019 campaign. Even last year, when the injury-ravaged Niners were often forced to play from behind, the offense ran 43.4 percent of the time, a mark that fell within the upper half of the league.
Fantasy owners have seen enough from Sermon to realize he's a star in the making. The running back is coming off the board early in the seventh round, up almost two rounds from his initial ADP in mid-July.
Don't be afraid to take him in the sixth or seventh if he is still available when you are on the clock, as he is a big preseason showing away from moving up into the fifth round.
RB Michael Carter, New York Jets
July 16 ADP: Round 7, Pick 11
August 16 ADP: Round 6, Pick 9
The New York Jets have been searching for an elite running back for years, most recently striking out with the pricy acquisition of Le'Veon Bell. Instead of going back to the well and signing another expensive veteran, the Jets are opting to begin the era of head coach Robert Saleh with a budget vet in Tevin Coleman and a slew of unproven backs.
While Coleman is likely to be named the team's Week 1 starter based on the team's current depth chart, it shouldn't be long before one of the younger backs emerges to take over that role.
Michael Carter is the most promising of the bunch, with the fourth-round rookie impressing at training camp.
While Carter hasn't proved to be the second coming of Curtis Martin just yet, he's one of the more exciting players to link up with Gang Green since the Hall of Famer joined the club from New England in 1998. Carter still needs to beat out guys like Ty Johnson and La'Mical Perine to even secure the backup job, but the UNC product's blend of speed (4.5-second 40), athleticism, intelligence and patience should win out.
Fantasy owners are taking note of Carter's performances in practices and the preseason, where he picked up 31 yards from scrimmage on eight touches against the New York Giants on Saturday. He's also seen his stock soar over the last month.
The 22-year-old's ADP will only increase as he climbs the depth chart and separates from the pack. Secure him in the mid-rounds now, as he could be one of the biggest draft steals when his reps increase along with his experience during the 2021 season.
WR Mecole Hardman, Kansas City Chiefs
July 16 ADP: Round 12, Pick 6
August 16 ADP: Round 9, Pick 11
The Kansas City Chiefs are ready to deploy one of the league’s most explosive aerial attacks again this year. Despite this, Tyreek Hill was the team's only wideout being drafted prior to the 10th round until this week.
Fantasy owners are finally warming up to the idea of Kansas City's offense supporting a second productive receiver. Mecole Hardman was coming off the board in the 12th round in mid-July, but most recent drafts have seen the emerging wideout get selected before the 10th round begins
While Hardman probably won't see nearly the same usage rate as Kansas City's Big Three of Travis Kelce, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Hill, he has a tremendous amount of upside as a fantasy WR2. Sammy Watkins' exit in free agency makes Hardman the squad's best option for a No. 2 wideout, a situation Hardman is primed to take advantage of.
This will be his third season with the Chiefs after the organization drafted him No. 56 overall in 2019. He should ultimately emerge as a reliable big-play threat who can burn slower defenders, excel against single coverage and exploit other weaknesses in the defense created by head coach Andy Reid's scheming.
RB Darrell Henderson, Los Angeles Rams
July 16 ADP: Round 11, Pick 3
August 16 ADP: Round 4, Pick 5
Perhaps no fantasy football player has seen a more meteoric rise this offseason than Los Angeles Rams running back Darrell Henderson.
Henderson skyrocketed from an 11th-round afterthought to a fourth-round pick owners can build around after news broke that Cam Akers suffered a season-ending Achilles injury. Henderson was initially expected to share L.A.'s rushing workload with Akers but now looks like he'll take on more of a bell-cow role.
The situation behind Henderson is a bit muddy, as Xavier Jones is penciled in as the top backup. He'll be pushed by Jake Funk and Raymond Calais for snaps, but none of these players are ready to threaten Henderson's grip on meaningful touches this season. Henderson is only established back on L.A.'s roster and has an opportunity to make the most out of the coaching staff's trust in him.
Although Henderson—a third-round pick in 2019—has only rushed 177 times for 771 yards and five touchdowns across his first two seasons, he could double those career numbers in 2021.
While he will no longer fall to the latter rounds in any competent draft, Henderson is well worth adding if you can secure him in the fourth or fifth round.