Predicting 5 Fantasy Football Studs in 2021

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIAugust 20, 2021

Predicting 5 Fantasy Football Studs in 2021

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    If you're going to win a fantasy football championship in 2021, you're going to need some studs on your roster.

    Some of these players won't be surprises. If you have a top-four pick in your league's draft, you're going to end up with a top-tier running back capable of putting up huge performances week after week. There are plenty of other running backs and receivers who will be picked in the first two rounds who should do the same.

    But in order to have a ton of success, it requires landing some breakout stars—guys who will outperform expectations and projections. They are not necessarily late-round sleepers but more mid-round selections who can take their games to another level.

    Here's a look at five players who could put up huge numbers in 2021 you could land after the first couple rounds of a fantasy draft.

Matthew Stafford, QB, Los Angeles Rams

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    Johm McCoy/Associated Press

    There hasn't been a ton of hype around Matthew Stafford this preseason. In fact, he's typically not getting drafted until the eighth round. But if Stafford plays up to potential, he could put up numbers that would have warranted him selecting him much earlier.

    Stafford has been a solid player throughout his NFL career, but he's been with the Detroit Lions, who have had a fair share of struggles. Now, the 33-year-old quarterback is with the Los Angeles Rams, and this may be one of the best offenses he's been a part of during his career.

    Although Los Angeles lost running back Cam Akers to a season-ending Achilles injury, Darrell Henderson Jr. should step right in and succeed. Stafford will have top wide receivers Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp to throw to, as well as tight end Tyler Higbee.

    Stafford isn't mobile and won't get you fantasy points with his legs a la guys like Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Kyler Murray. But Stafford could end up as the best pocket passer to have in fantasy, as he's likely to air it out in Los Angeles this season.

Mike Davis, RB, Atlanta Falcons

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Mike Davis has an ADP of late in the fourth round, and that could end up being a steal because the 28-year-old is the clear No. 1 running back on a team that has had plenty of offensive success in recent years. So there's no reason it can't lead to a breakout performance.

    Last season, Davis flashed his potential for the Carolina Panthers while filling in for the injured Christian McCaffrey, posting career highs in rushing yards (642), receiving yards (373) and touchdowns (eight). His weekly numbers weren't always the flashiest, but he proved he could be a solid fantasy option.

    Now, Davis is the Atlanta Falcons' starting running back, and he will likely get plenty of touches considering their other backfield options include Qadree Ollison and Cordarrelle Patterson. This will be Davis' best opportunity for playing time in his seven-year NFL career.

    Depending on how you draft in the first three rounds, Davis could even be the second or third running back on your roster. And that could be a formula for a lot of success.

CeeDee Lamb, WR, Dallas Cowboys

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    After a strong rookie season, CeeDee Lamb is generating plenty of buzz heading into 2021. Still, his ADP is sitting in the third round.

    Lamb has the potential to not only be the top receiver on the Dallas Cowboys but also end up among the best fantasy wide receivers in the NFL this season. While Amari Cooper is getting drafted earlier, Lamb may end up with bigger numbers.

    Consider this: Lamb had 74 receptions for 935 yards and five touchdowns in 16 games last season. He put up those numbers as a rookie who didn't get to play in preseason games and had an unorthodox training camp because of the coronavirus pandemic. And he played only five games with quarterback Dak Prescott, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury.

    With Prescott back and the Cowboys offense still a strong unit, Lamb should have no trouble breaking out in his second season with numbers worthy of a clear-cut WR1 in fantasy.

Brandon Aiyuk, WR, San Francisco 49ers

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Here's another second-year wide receiver who seems to be on the cusp of a breakout. And it may not matter who ends up under center for the San Francisco 49ers (either Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance), because Brandon Aiyuk should be a top playmaker.

    Aiyuk had a solid showing in 2020, notching 60 receptions for 748 yards and five touchdowns in 12 games. But he's capable of putting up even bigger numbers, which he's likely going to prove in 2021.

    With an ADP late in the fifth round, Aiyuk could easily outperform his projections this season. San Francisco has numerous talented playmakers on its offense, so it should perform much better than last year, when Garoppolo was limited to six games and it didn't have Lance.

    Either quarterback's presence will be a big step up from the second half of last season. So if Aiyuk could play that well as a rookie on an offense that had some struggles, he projects to do even better this year.

Irv Smith Jr., TE, Minnesota Vikings

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    How much of a sleeper is Irv Smith Jr.? He's not getting drafted until the 12th round. So there's no reason you shouldn't be able to come away with the Minnesota Vikings tight end if you go into the draft planning to land him. And that could be a great idea.

    Unless you get one of the top three tight ends (Travis Kelce, George Kittle or Darren Waller), it is better to wait until the later rounds to address the position.

    Smith has the breakout potential to help fill the spot for you for potentially the whole season. His 2020 numbers weren't too impressive (30 receptions for 365 yards and five touchdowns), but he was also behind Kyle Rudolph on Minnesota's depth chart. Now, Rudolph is gone and Smith is the starter. That could him the clear No. 3 pass-catching option behind receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen.

    The Vikings offense put up big numbers last season, and that should be the case again in 2021. Only this time, Smith is likely to be more involved, putting him in a prime position to have a breakout performance.


    All average draft positions are based on points-per-reception leagues per Fantasy Football Calculator.