Fantasy Football 2021: Players to Target Early in Drafts

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistAugust 24, 2021

Fantasy Football 2021: Players to Target Early in Drafts

0 of 6

    Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

    It's "sleeper and bust" season for fantasy football peeps, but finding a single sleeper or avoiding a single bust might not make or break your fantasy season on its own. 

    It's usually more important that you make the right calls in those first few rounds. And with that in mind, I've got six players who are expected to be drafted relatively early but still aren't getting close to enough credit based on their average draft positions. 

    Using ADP charts at FantasyPros and focusing only on top-60 players, here are the guys that should outperform their projections this season. 

New Orleans Saints RB Alvin Kamara

1 of 6

    Terrance Williams/Associated Press

    New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara is a no-brainer top-five pick in most eyes, but his ADP still falls below those of Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook and Derrick Henry. And while he may never get the touches to outscore all of those guys and outproduce the fantasy field, he's actually a surer thing than McCaffrey, Cook or Henry. 

    McCaffrey comes with durability concerns and has really only put together one megaseason out of four. That came in 2019, and he was also strong in 2018, but injuries derailed him in 2017 and 2020, and I don't totally trust him. Cook dominated the past two seasons but also dealt with injury issues in 2017 and 2018, and it's fair to wonder if the bruising Henry will slow down soon. The man has carried the ball 681 times the past two seasons. 

    But Kamara has been almost comically reliable as an elite fantasy producer. He's recorded between 1,300 and 1,700 yards from scrimmage in each of his four seasons, he's caught between 80 and 85 passes in each of those campaigns, and he's missed just four games because of injury in his career. 

    The Saints' quarterback situation is murky as they embark on the post-Drew Brees era, but that might mean even more work for Kamara as the safety valve and centerpiece of the offense. He could be in for his most productive year yet, and he's much less likely to blow up your fantasy team than the boomier and bustier guys typically drafted ahead of him. 

    Stat predictions: 92 receptions, 1,850 total yards, 21 TDs

Seattle Seahawks WR DK Metcalf

2 of 6

    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    It's easy to understand why Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf isn't typically coming off fantasy draft boards before Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill or Stefon Diggs. Those guys have been more productive in general. 

    But you gotta consider Metcalf's trajectory. The man is just 23 years old but coming off a sophomore season with the Seahawks in which his receptions jumped from 58 to 83, his yardage shot up from 900 to 1,303 and his touchdowns climbed from seven to 10. 

    Remember that he entered the league quite raw. His progress has been astounding, and there's room for him to get a lot better with quarterback Russell Wilson

    Could there be some growing pains here and there as Metcalf adjusts to new coordinator Shane Waldron's offense? Sure, but his evolution in 2020 indicates he should be able to handle those changes and become a better receiver as a result. 

    His ceiling is higher than that of Diggs. If one were to take a fairly safe option like Kamara or Aaron Jones in Round 1, you should strongly consider rolling with Metcalf rather than Diggs or a question-mark running back like Austin Ekeler, Najee Harris or Antonio Gibson in Round 2. 

    Stat predictions: 92 receptions, 1,600 yards, 15 TDs

Baltimore Ravens RB J.K. Dobbins

3 of 6

    Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

    From December onward last season, Baltimore Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins averaged 6.9 yards per carry and scored in each of Baltimore's final five games. He somewhat quietly led all qualified NFL running backs by a large margin with 6.0 yards per attempt on the season, scoring nine touchdowns in the process. 

    Now, with Mark Ingram II out of the picture, Dobbins should explode as dominant left tackle Ronnie Stanley returns from injury for a run-oriented offense.

    Yes, that unit will have more options in the passing game with Sammy Watkins and Rashod Bateman joining the fray, and Lamar Jackson runs so much that Dobbins isn't likely to receive enough reps to become an RB1. But it's still rather shocking that 14 backs are typically going off the board before the 22-year-old Ohio State product ahead of his sophomore season. 

    Dobbins looks like a pretty obvious breakout candidate. Gus Edwards and Justice Hill will also factor in as well, but The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec pointed out this summer that Ravens head coach John Harbaugh wants to work his backs into the passing game more. Zrebiec added that Harbaugh believes Dobbins has "really made strides" in that area after catching just 18 passes as a rookie. 

    It's too risky to take him in Round 1, but there should be no issue grabbing Dobbins instead of Ekeler, Harris, Gibson or Clyde Edwards-Helaire late in the second round.

    Stat predictions: 36 receptions, 1,600 yards, 14 TDs

Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray

4 of 6

    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    We're also thinking about trajectory with Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray. His numbers increased across the board as a passer and rusher as a 23-year-old sophomore in 2020 and now enters what is often a breakout year for quarterbacks with a loaded supporting cast. 

    Keep in mind that Murray, who started just one year in college, hardly had a proper chance to get used to top receiver DeAndre Hopkins during what was supposed to be his first full NFL offseason because of the impact COVID-19 had on the league last spring and summer. But it's been a different story this offseason, and the sky's the limit for Murray with Hopkins, A.J. Green and Christian Kirk in Kliff Kingsbury's offense. 

    He's ready to explode. And while it's fair that Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen are receiving more draft love than Murray, his incredibly high ceiling should make him a third-round pick. There's just no way you should  take a borderline RB2 like David Montgomery, Chris Carson or Miles Sanders before taking a shot at Murray. 

    Simply put, he has a much better chance of killing it in an MVP-caliber season and winning you your league than any of those backs with higher ADPs. 

    Stat predictions: 5,000 passing yards, 35 TDs, 10 INTs, 700 rushing yds, seven rushing TDs

Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson

5 of 6

    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    Wilson essentially lobbied for more help in the Seattle offense this offseason, and that came with new guard Gabe Jackson, new tight end Gerald Everett and new rookie receiver D'Wayne Eskridge. He also sounds fired up about Waldron's new offense. 

    "I think we can be the No. 1 offense in football," he told the media this month after noting he and Waldron are on the same page. "I don't see why not. We were really good last year, with a lot of things that we did, but we can be even better."

    Look for Waldron's playbook to open up new opportunities for the consistently productive seven-time Pro Bowler. Ditto for the continued evolution of Metcalf at wide receiver. This really could be a special season if it all comes together for Wilson and the Seattle offense, and even if they don't completely take off, the floor is pretty damn high. 

    So much so that you should be thrilled to make him your QB1 in Round 4 or 5, well before even thinking about question marks with higher ADPs like Kyle Pitts, Chris Godwin and even Dak Prescott. 

    Stat predictions: 5,000 passing yards, 45 TDs, 12 INTs, 600 rushing yds, four rushing TDs

Baltimore Ravens TE Mark Andrews

6 of 6

    Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

    Mark Andrews might never peak close to as high as Pitts, but the Atlanta Falcons rookie has no business coming off the board earlier than the steady veteran. Tight ends are often too unreliable as rookies, and Pitts isn't worth the risk when you've got a guy available who has averaged more than 700 yards and eight touchdowns the past two seasons. 

    The Ravens offense wasn't right for much of the 2020 season, and Andrews' numbers took a dip as a result. But that's created plenty of value now as Stanley returns to the left tackle position. Jackson will undoubtedly work it around to Bateman, Watkins, Marquise Brown and even Dobbins, but Andrews was his primary security blanket during his MVP season, and Jackson should go back to that well throughout the 2021 campaign. 

    Again, though, the floor is high considering that he went over 700 yards with seven touchdown grabs in a down year last season. 

    Andrews, who is still only 25, absolutely has the ability to push 1,000 yards and put up a dozen touchdowns in that offense. He's a Round 5-worthy tight end who should go off boards before Pitts and other players with higher ADPs like James Robinson and Cooper Kupp. 

    Stat predictions: 75 receptions, 950 yards, 11 TDs