B/R App Community 2021 Fantasy Football Mailbag: How to Avoid Big-Time Busts

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystAugust 25, 2021

B/R App Community 2021 Fantasy Football Mailbag: How to Avoid Big-Time Busts

0 of 9

    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Do you hear that? That ticking noise?

    That's the countdown to the 2021 NFL season and another year of fantasy football.

    With the season opener only two weeks away, fantasy draft season is in high gear. That has fantasy managers searching for answers to the questions that could pave the way to a fantasy championship.

    What's the best strategy for the early rounds? When is the best time to attack certain positions? What players could be set to disappoint in 2021?

    Those were just a few of the questions posed by Bleacher Report app users over the past few days.

    Let's answer some of them in a fantasy football mailbag.

Bust Alert

1 of 9

    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    Who is the biggest bust you see this year? What backup running backs do you think rise to starter? — @jacobiolsen

    Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans is a top-five fantasy pick for a reason. The bruiser from Alabama has led the league in rushing each of the past two years and topped 2,000 rushing yards last season. He was third in PPR points among running backs last year despite next to no passing-game usage.

    With that said, the historical data for backs who carry the ball more than 370 times in a season and who top 2,000 rushing yards in a year is not good. If Henry experiences the average drop-off 2K rushers have experienced, he'll be more of a low-end RB1 or high-end RB2 than an elite fantasy option.

    Those numbers would be disappointing, but Henry would still be a weekly fantasy starter. We might not be able to say even that for Detroit's D'Andre Swift.

    Swift is a talented player running behind a solid O-line in Detroit. But he has had some durability issues, and the Lions' lack of passing-down weapons will mean he'll face eight-man fronts approximately 137 percent of the time. The Lions may have to abandon the run early in games as they start playing catch-up, too. 

    The presence of veteran back Jamaal Williams also looms large, as Detroit's staff has been talking him up ever since he joined the team. With an ADP late in Round 3, Swift is a major disappointment waiting to happen.

    As to a backup back headed for stardom, I am all aboard Team Sermon.

    Trey Sermon is a hard-charging rookie back with a running style that is perfect for San Francisco's zone-running scheme. The only thing standing between Sermon and lead back duties for one of the league's most potent rushing attacks is the oft-injured Raheem Mostert.

    It's just a matter of time until Sermon has his coming-out party.

Bust Alert, Part 2

2 of 9

    Derick Hingle/Associated Press

    My feeling is that (Alvin) Kamara is going to take a hit this year without Brees dumping the ball off to him. Feelings? — @BruBuc2020

    Alvin Kamara was the highest-scoring PPR running back last year. But there's reason to believe a major drop-off could be coming in 2021.

    For starters, Kamara is almost certain to experience a regression in touchdowns. The 26-year-old scored a jaw-dropping 21 times last season, and he had an 18-score campaign in 2018. However, he had only six touchdowns in 2019.

    Then there's the change at quarterback in the Big Easy.

    Drew Brees threw at his running backs 28.1 percent of the time over Kamara's four NFL seasons, per Michael Fabiano of Sports Illustrated. Conversely, during his tenure in Tampa Bay, Jameis Winston threw to the running back 16.4 percent of the time.

    Things won't get much better if Taysom Hill wins the starting job.

    In four starts for the Saints last year, Hill targeted Kamara only 16 times (he caught 10). Extrapolate that over an entire 17-game season, and you have 68 targets, which is 41 fewer than Kamara had last year.

    With Michael Thomas out indefinitely, no player on the Saints offense other than Kamara frightens opponents. Every defensive game plan will be the same: stack the line of scrimmage and bracket Kamara in coverage.

    Kamara is immensely talented. But he's more likely to finish outside of the top 10 running backs than inside the top five.

Rookie Roundup

3 of 9

    Rich Schultz/Associated Press

    Best Rookie WR? — @DerangedTatumFan

    This is essentially a three-man race between the first three wideouts taken in the 2021 draft.

    Two years ago, Ja'Marr Chase had a season for the ages for LSU, hauling in 84 catches for 1,780 yards and 20 scores. Chase opted out of the 2020 season amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Cincinnati Bengals liked the idea of pairing Chase with former LSU teammate Joe Burrow enough to make him the fifth overall pick.

    "He's going to make a lot of big plays for us," Burrow told reporters about Chase. "We're going to get him the ball in space, and he's going to score a lot of touchdowns."

    Miami reunited a pair of college teammates, too. Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will be throwing to former Alabama teammate Jaylen Waddle, whom the team selected sixth overall.

    While at joint practices with the Falcons, Waddle made quite the impression on Atlanta safety Duron Harmon.

    "He looked like the college football Tyreek Hill," Harmon told reporters. "You know, just how he was able to run through defenses, and then, when he got the ball, you know, make one cut and then he's running up the sidelines.

    Meanwhile, Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith reunited with his former Alabama teammate Jalen Hurts in Philadelphia. Smith missed some practice time with a knee sprain, but his explosiveness has been on display in preseason games.

    Chase has struggled with drops in camp, but those are likely temporary, and he's a generational talent. He was the first wide receiver taken in the overwhelming majority of dynasty rookie drafts for good reason.

    But in addition to those drops, Chase has to compete with Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd for targets in Cincy. Waddle faces a similar situation with DeVante Parker and William Fuller V in Miami. On the other hand, Smith should serve as the No. 1 wide receiver for the Eagles from Day 1.

    Those targets give Smith the edge over Chase and Waddle in redraft fantasy leagues. And with Smith coming off the board a round later than Chase on average, there's an opportunity for value.

Bye Week Blues

4 of 9

    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    If two stars have the same bye week, should I be discouraged from drafting both? — @Maxeymus_Prime 

    Bye weeks can have a substantial impact of fantasy leagues, especially now that they stretch all the way into Week 14. Even so, this question doesn't have a set answer.

    Some fantasy managers pay no attention to bye weeks during the draft. They just let the chips fall where they may and select the best player available in each round. If that means four guys are off in Week 5 and four more are off in Week 8, so be it.

    Other fantasy managers intentionally "stack" bye weeks. The thinking here is that while having most of your roster unavailable in Week 7 may result in a virtually guaranteed loss, the team will be at full strength (or close to it) for the rest of the season.

    Then there are those who make a concerted effort to spread out byes as much as possible, even if it means passing on a player in a position of value.

    I tend to ascribe to the first school of thought. Drafts are about building the best team possible.

    If you land Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott in Round 1 and Austin Ekeler of the Los Angeles Chargers makes it back around to you in Round 2, passing on him just because they both have Week 7 off is silly. Worry about Week 7 in Week 7.

    With that said, if I'm looking at closely ranked players like Antonio Brown of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (bye in Week 9) and Corey Davis of the New York Jets (bye in Week 6) as a WR3/4 and already have Calvin Ridley of the Atlanta Falcons (bye in Week 6), I'll use that bye week to break the tie and go with Brown.

Strategy Two-Fer

5 of 9

    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    What round should I draft my first WR in the 10 spot in a 12-team league? — @zachewing

    By the time the elite running backs are gone, is it better to go elite TE like (Darren) Waller or (George) Kittle, second-tier WR like (Chris) Godwin or (Allen) Robinson or gamble on a third-tier back? — LYNCHMOB24 

    These questions aren't identical, but they are close enough to answer together.

    Plenty of fantasy pundits advocate drafting an elite wideout like Davante Adams of the Green Bay Packers in Round 1. I am not one of them.

    I'm either drafting Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce late in Round 1 or I'm taking the highest-ranked RB on my board. The backs fly off the board too quickly to get cute.

    If Kelce is your first pick from that No. 10 spot, you should take a running back at 2.03. Antonio Gibson of Washington and Clyde Edwards-Helaire of the Kansas City Chiefs are two options with top-10 upside who should be there (per ADP data). Jonathan Taylor of the Indianapolis Colts and Najee Harris of the Pittsburgh Steelers could fall to that spot, too.

    Once Joe Mixon of the Cincinnati Bengals comes off the board, there's a drop-off at running back. That's generally where grabbing a high-end wide receiver becomes just as attractive as taking a second back. Pairing a top-five running back with a wide receiver like Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings or Waller is a pretty strong start.

    From that 10 spot, the earliest I'd consider a wide receiver is Round 3. It's either Kelce/RB or two top-15 backs. Even then, pass-catchers like Robinson and Tampa's Mike Evans could be there at 3.10.

    If you can get two top-15 backs (or one and Kelce), then go for it. If you do take Kelce in Round 1 or a wideout or Waller in Round 2, give serious consideration to grabbing a second back in Round 3.

    By the time you hit the fourth round, the RB2 options (Myles Gaskin of the Miami Dolphins, Miles Sanders of the Philadelphia Eagles, Mike Davis of the Atlanta Falcons) don't inspire a ton of confidence.

Breaking Down the Tight Ends

6 of 9

    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Top 5 fantasy tight ends? — RUNE89

    Actually, we'll go one better and list the top six fantasy tight ends in 2021. Because that's where the drop-off is.

    There are a half-dozen high-end options at the position broken into two tiers, and then a whole lot of "maybe" and "whatever."

    TIER ONE (The Elite Guys)

    1. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs: Kelce is essentially a tier unto himself. In each of the past five seasons, he has topped 80 catches and 1,000 yards while finishing first in PPR points among tight ends. Last year, the 31-year-old set career highs across the board with a gaudy 105/1,416/11 line. But he also carries a steep first-round asking price.

    2. Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders: Waller tied Kelce with a position-leading 145 targets last year on the way to 107 catches, 1,196 yards and nine scores. Given the Raiders' so-so receiving corps, Waller should be the focal point of their passing game again in 2021. The 28-year-old generally comes off the board in the second half of Round 2.

    3. George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers: As Kittle's 1,000-yard seasons in 2018 and 2019 showed, he can be as productive as any tight end in the NFL when healthy. But he has never reeled in more than five touchdowns in a season, and his durability is a genuine concern he missed half of the 2020 campaign.

    TIER TWO (Could Be Elite)

    4. T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions: Hockenson is probably my favorite tight end target of 2021. He's coming off the board over two full rounds after Kittle despite finishing the 2020 season third in PPR points at the position. The third-year veteran is an excellent bet to lead the Lions in targets, and they project to be playing catch-up a lot this season.

    5. Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens: Andrews doesn't have the ceiling of the other top-tier tight ends since he's playing in Baltimore's run-first offense. However, he should get 90-plus targets, rack up 800 receiving yards and change, score 8-10 touchdowns and finish inside the top five if he stays healthy.

    6. Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons: Pitts is being drafted ahead of both Hockenson and Andrews on average, although I'm a bit lower on him. He's a matchup nightmare who dominated the SEC, but he's being drafted as though a breakout season is inevitable. First-year tight ends often take time to acclimate to the NFL, which could hamper his fantasy output a bit.

Late-Round Bargain Quarterbacks

7 of 9

    Don Wright/Associated Press

    What late-round QB should I target? — @agibbs8

    "Late round" can be a relative concept. For argument's sake, we'll say that only quarterbacks being selected outside the 10th round qualify. Fortunately for fantasy managers, there are a few signal-callers available at that point in drafts with substantial upside.

    Justin Fields, Chicago Bears (ADP: 132.3, QB17)

    Managers who target Fields need to have a fill-in option for the beginning of the season like Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons or Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Washington Football Team. But once Bears head coach Matt Nagy figures out what the rest of us already know—that Chicago's best chance of winning games isn't with Andy Dalton under center—Fields' arm talent and mobility will offer plenty of fantasy upside.


    Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers (ADP: 152.9, QB20)

    If last week's preseason game against the Detroit Lions was any indication, reports of Roethlisberger's demise were greatly exaggerated. He went 8-for-10 for 123 yards and two scores before ceding way to his backups, posting a perfect passer rating of 158.3. Roethlisberger tossed 33 touchdown passes and finished as a top-12 fantasy option in 2020 in a "down" year. In Matt Canada's new offense in Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger might wind up being the cheapest top-10 quarterback in fantasy.


    Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins (ADP: 154.5, QB22)

    Tagovailoa's ADP is on the rise after he lit up the Atlanta Falcons for 183 yards and a score on 16-of-23 passing in a half of action. The fifth overall pick of the 2020 draft has a solid array of passing-game weapons at his disposal, can gain yardage with his legs and looks much more comfortable than he did as a rookie. Fantasy managers were too quick to write Tagovailoa off after his ho-hum rookie season. He's healthier and appears to be benefiting from an actual offseason in 2021.

How to Navigate the Mid-Round Wideouts

8 of 9

    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    Having Trouble with the mid-round WRs. Right around the 3 Cincinnati Wide Receivers. — @Lakersnation569

    The middle rounds are the sweet spot for drafting wide receivers. The bust rates among wideouts at that point in the draft is almost 12 percentage points lower than at running back, per Matt Dunleavy of Player Profiler.

    The Bengals wideouts are an interesting group with the arrival of Ja'Marr Chase. In terms of ADP, Chase and Tee Higgins are coming off the board at essentially the exact same time. For drafters, it's a matter of floor vs. ceiling.

    If you're risk-averse, Higgins is the play. If you're willing to gamble that Chase will get over the dropsies and light up the NFL like he did the SEC, then roll the dice on the rookie.

    The best value of the lot might be Tyler Boyd, who is being drafted over two full rounds after Chase and Higgins. The 28-year-old has topped 1,000 yards in two of the past three seasons and finished 10 full spots in 2020 ahead of where he is being drafted in 2021. He's a bargain at WR38 late in Round 8.

    Speaking of bargains, here are some other receivers to keep an eye on in that middle-round sweet spot. 

    Jerry Jeudy, Denver Broncos (Round 6): Jeudy's rookie season was forgettable, but that was due in no small part to subpar QB play. The second-year pro is a consummate route-runner who has drawn rave reviews throughout training camp. Don't be surprised if he outscores teammate Courtland Sutton.

    Robby Anderson, Carolina Panthers (Round 8): Anderson found the end zone only three times last year, but he also caught 95 passes for 1,096 receiving yards. Throw in a built-in rapport with new Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold, and Anderson is being undervalued.

    Corey Davis, New York Jets (Round 10): Davis' ADP is bound to soar after his first two preseason games. It has become abundantly clear that Davis is far and away Zach Wilson's favorite target. His target share in 2021 could be massive. 

Rapid Fire

9 of 9

    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    In the last mailbag, Rapid Fire was all about keeper questions. This time out, we'll diversify...and start with a keeper question.

    Hey, I never said how much we'd diversify.

    12-team .5 PPR 1 QB. Keep (Antonio) Gibson in the 7th or Lamar (Jackson) in the 11th? — @amur88

    Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens is a top-five fantasy quarterback who is a great value in the 11th round. But Gibson is at worst a high-end fantasy RB2, and a top-12 finish is a possibility. Given the relative scarcity of running backs, getting him for a seventh-round pick is an absolute steal.

    What's the deal with Jakobi Meyers? — @ForrestGump

    After Meyers 3/56/1 line in last week's preseason game, his ADP is sure to shoot up this week. He is showing real upside as a late-round dart-throw with a puncher's chance of cracking the WR3 ranks in PPR formats. But don't get carried away, as passing-game volume (or the lack thereof) in New England will likely cap his upside.

    I'm in a PPR keeper league. Two keepers each year. One will be Tee Higgins in the 14th. Who should be the 2nd? Dak Prescott (5th), Mike Williams (10th) or Giovani Bernard (13th)? — @aarrington88

    Bernard is out because the Tampa backfield is too crowded. Given how much buzz has surrounded Williams this summer, he's tempting in the 10th, but that isn't especially good value. I'm generally not a "keep the quarterback" guy, but Prescott is your best bet in this particular instance.

    Who do you take at pick No. 3 assuming Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey are gone?  @douglasquaid

    In 20-plus drafts, I have yet to pick from the No. 3 slot. (On the other hand, it feels like I have picked at No. 8 about 47 times.) I've already voiced my concerns about Derrick Henry's workload and Alvin Kamara's offense earlier, so my pick would probably be Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys. He appears to be in excellent shape, and that Dallas offense could be in for a big-time bounceback in 2021.

    Is James Robinson worth drafting?  @josephrios

    This question was asked before rookie Travis Etienne suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury Monday night, but it allows me to offer an estimate on what that injury means for Robinson's fantasy value. Given his production as a rookie and the fact he should be in for a much larger workload sans Etienne, Robinson has vaulted inside the top 20 PPR running backs. In two drafts I participated in Tuesday, he didn't get out of Round 3.

    .5 PPR. Need to keep one player. Choice is between Davante Adams, Travis Kelce and Calvin Ridley  CMac96

    Wow. Talk about a nice problem to have. Adams and Ridley are both elite fantasy options who could finish the year as the No. 1 wide receiver. But they also play a much deeper position in fantasy drafts than Kelce, who has five No. 1 finishes at his position in a row. There's no wrong answer here, but it's easier to find value at WR after throwing Adams and Ridley back than to land a lock to be a top-three tight end if you let go of Kelce.

    I have to keep 2 out of Chris Godwin, Allen Robinson, Terry McLaurin, Antonio Gibson or JK Dobbins. .5 PPR. Any thoughts? — @Afran

    Assuming there's a viable option, you're going to want to keep at least one running back. Of this duo, Gibson is the better option. J.D. McKissic won't steal as many touches from him as Gus Edwards will from Dobbins. Keeping both backs is a consideration, but when you have a top-10 wide receiver like Robinson who should be among the league leaders in targets, you have to hang on to him. Gibson/Robinson is a good start for your team.

    Scoring data courtesy of My Fantasy League

    Gary Davenport is a two-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association Football Writer of the Year. Follow him on Twitter at @IDPSharks.