Fantasy Football Players You Must Draft 2021
We all have our own opinions. Some people like pineapple on pizza, while others despise it. Neither person is “right,” hence the emphasis on “opinions.” Fantasy football is no exception.
I believe it’s important for you to separate your opinions about a player’s talents versus that player’s fantasy value. I can give numerous examples of players who I feel are extremely talented, yet shouldn’t be drafted too high (Nick Chubb, George Kittle). But you didn’t come here for scouting reports. You came here for fantasy advice, I hope.
Fantasy drafts are in full swing, so I looked at five players I’d be more than willing to draft at their Average Draft Position (ADP). For the sake of consistency, I only picked players with ADPs in the top 100 at Underdog Fantasy. Let me know who you’d draft at their ADP on Twitter @ZachCohenFB and follow us at @TDNFantasy for more fantasy content!
Saquon Barkley (RB - NYG)
Underdog ADP: 8th overall (RB6)
Barkley is an interesting case. I believe he deserves recognition among the most talented running backs in football. However, as I explained a few moments ago, I need to set aside my bias toward him and focus on how he fares in this world of fictional points.
At Barkley’s ADP, he’s square in the middle of two tiers. The first tier is the elite fantasy running backs: Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, Derrick Henry, and Ezekiel Elliott. All are typically being drafted within the first six picks, per Underdog. The second tier consists of running backs typically being taken at the turn of the first round: Austin Ekeler, Jonathan Taylor, Aaron Jones, and Nick Chubb. The difference in tiers is fairly simple. Tier 1 players are the focal points of their offenses. Taylor is close to being a Tier 1 player, but I worry about his 50% snap rate last season—tied for 25th among all running backs. That stat is inflated a bit because certain players lost snaps due to injuries, such as Barkley. We know there’s no way Barkley would normally play 50% of the Giants’ snaps—which was his snap rate last season—because he was injured early in Week 2. We also know Barkley is easily New York’s best offensive player. He played 86.8% of the team’s snaps in Week 1. While one week never tells the full story, that lines up with his production in 2019.
The main reason I’ll draft Barkley at his ADP is because Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill are typically being drafted ahead of him. Adams and Hill are fantastic fantasy players, but good running backs are much more valuable than good wide receivers. Last season, 13 running backs reached 200 fantasy points, whereas 27 wide receivers hit that mark. It’s smarter to get one of those running backs because you’ll be able to get one or two of those wide receivers later. It’s simple mathematics, people. With his upside and past production, I’d totally take Barkley at No. 8.
Calvin Ridley (WR - ATL)
Underdog ADP: 16th overall (WR5)
As it stands, the top five wide receivers in fantasy football by ADP are Tyreek Hill, Stefon Diggs, Davante Adams, DeAndre Hopkins, and Ridley. The order varies across platforms, but Underdog’s ADP reflects this consensus. What do all five players have in common? Each receiver is the clear-cut No. 1 option on a team with a potent passing offense. It’s also notable that Hill, Diggs, and Adams get to catch passes from three of the best quarterbacks in football. Matt Ryan may not be an MVP candidate anymore, but he may have something Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers and Josh Allen won’t have: Volume.
Let’s not kid ourselves, those three passers are on good football teams. The Falcons have a ways to go until they’re playoff contenders again, which likely means they’ll be playing from behind more than intended. That equates to more passes and hence, more targets for Ridley.
Atlanta’s underwhelming roster isn’t the only reason Ridley will see more targets. In case you’ve been living under a rock, Julio Jones is no longer a Falcon. Barring a cataclysmic turn of events, Ridley will be Ryan’s favorite pass catcher. While Kyle Pitts will likely be Atlanta’s de facto WR2, so is Travis Kelce in Kansas City. Of course, Kelce and Hill have vastly different skill sets, yet that doesn’t mean Ridley and Pitts can’t coexist. Ridley saw the sixth-most targets per game in 2020, and there’s no reason to suggest he’ll see any less in 2021. He has a floor of WR5 with clear upside to become the WR1.
Darren Waller (TE - LV)
Underdog ADP: 21st overall (TE2)
The other day, a friend asked me why on Earth people were picking Kelce in the first round. It’s a fair question since tight ends don’t often offer the glitz and glamour that running backs and wide receivers do. However, Kelce is no ordinary tight end. He’s gone five consecutive seasons with more than 1,000 receiving yards, including the second-most in the league last season. That translated beautifully to fantasy, as he averaged more than 17 fantasy points per game (in PPR leagues) while seeing nine targets per game. Only one other tight end did that in 2020, and he’s being drafted nearly a round later: Waller.
Waller actually led all tight ends in targets, and he may do it again in 2021. Sure, Bryan Edwards or Henry Ruggs III may finally break out, but I doubt they’d ever be as good as Waller. Simply put, Waller is the Raiders’ passing offense. Since 2017, only once have more than three tight ends averaged 14 or more fantasy points. You better hope your tight end is one of the three-to-four top options or you’ll be scouring the waiver wire each week. Waller can put up Kelce-like numbers and be had for a cheaper price.
Myles Gaskin (RB - MIA)
Underdog ADP: 66th overall (RB24)
I’ve written extensively about Myles Gaskin’s fantasy football value this offseason and for good reason (I can’t believe it’s already August). Per Underdog’s ADP, Gaskin is typically being drafted behind Josh Jacobs, David Montgomery, Mike Davis, Javonte Williams, Travis Etienne, and Darrell Henderson.
Not only did I break down Gaskin’s RB1 potential in that article, but I also explained why I’d take Gaskin over Jacobs, Montgomery, and Etienne. Now, let’s look at Davis, Williams, and Henderson.
Davis is a hot sleeper at his current ADP because he seemingly faces no competition in the Falcons’ backfield. He also put on some impressive performances with the Panthers last season while Christian McCaffrey missed time. However, Gaskin just has a better situation. He has a better offensive line and— if last year’s trends hold—Gaskin should see more carries than Davis. (I wrote a bit about how the Falcons’ offense could look, too.) As for Williams, I like him a lot as a future starter, yet he’s still the backup to Melvin Gordon—for now. Henderson saw his ADP skyrocket when Cam Akers tore his Achilles, but all signs indicate Sean McVay won’t make Henderson a bellcow running back. When healthy, Gaskin was the clear-cut No. 1 running back in Miami last season. He should have every opportunity to be the Dolphins’ primary ball carrier.
Underdog ADP: 95th overall (QB9)
Let’s get one thing out of the way: I don’t expect Rodgers to repeat his MVP season. The 37-year-old led the league in touchdown rate with a whopping 9.1%. It’s nearly impossible for a quarterback—even of Rodgers’ caliber—to sustain such a high touchdown rate. Regardless of his expected regression, Rodgers is still a solid QB1 in all formats.
Aside from being a future Hall of Famer, he also has one of the best wide receivers and one of the best offensive lines in football. I see the upside in Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts, but Rodgers is a safer bet. Yet, the veteran is being drafted below the two youngsters. Not to mention, if Rodgers is still playing with a mean streak, maybe he’ll buck the trend of regressing quarterbacks. It certainly helps that Rodgers had the best touchdown-to-interception rate in each of the last three seasons.
I’m not entirely sure what type of super serum Rodgers has been taking lately, but I’d gladly take him as QB9. Just don’t expect him to put up mind-bending numbers again.